ReThinking Religion

I just finished reading a book, “ReJesus” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.  I will be doing a full book review tomorrow, however, there was a great quote that I thought I would post today.   The quote comes as a bit of a “side-note” in the greater context of the book, but is well worth the space re-typing it  here.

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“For many suburban, middle-class churches, niceness is the supreme expression of discipleship.  But any cursory reading of the Gospels will serve to remind you that Jesus wasn’t always nice.  He was good.  He was loving.  He was compassionate.  But he wasn’t always nice.  The church must abandon its preference for good-manners piety and adopt again the kingdom values as taught by Jesus.

rejesusAllow us to give you an example.  Some time ago Michael wrote an article for a Sydney newspaper, commenting on the influence of Sydney’s largest church, Hillsong.  In the article, he defended the church against various attacks in the media, but he also gently raised his concerns about Hillsong’s emphasis on prosperity doctrine (the so-called health and wealth gospel).  He received an avalanche of letters and emails berating him for daring to be publicly critical of another church.  A significant number of these angry correspondents claimed that it was un-Christlike to criticize the church in any way.

Now, whether you agree with Michael’s decision to write such a thing in the media or not is beside the point.  But the point is that somehow these people, most of them ministers, failed to recognize that Jesus was regularly and scathingly critical of the religious leaders of his faith community.  Furthermore, Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation (Rev. 2:1-3:22) contain plenty of harsh critical comments directed at the church!

To claim that it is un-Christlike to criticize the church is to disregard the example of Jesus.”

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Wow!  Nicely said.  In the Spirit of Jesus and the personality of those like yesterday’s Soren Kierkegaard, maybe the call is for at least a few to become this new voice of reformation in the church today.   Could it be that what is needed is not so much a voice that is critical of unbelievers, but an “inner-voice” within the church that is critical of what we have created out of Jesus’ teachings and life?

Of course there is no room for a spirit of meanness, disrespect and destruction, but maybe as much as any time in history, the church needs the new voices of Luther, Kierkegaard, Calvin and even Jesus Himself to be heard.

Rather than reacting with anger towards these voices calling us to reform, perhaps it is time to evaluate the merit of what is being said and look again with a critical eye at the static religion we have created out of the wild and beautiful revolution Jesus initiated.

Possibly we are due for a total re-calibration and re-centering on the person of Jesus in our organizational churches.

For a great start to this discussion, consider picking up a copy of “ReJesus“.

Think about it…

Personality Highlight – Soren Kierkegaard

“My mission is to introduce Christianity into Christendom.”

kierkegaardLike Jesus attacking Pharisaism, Soren Kierkegaard came out swinging against every phoney form of institutionalized Christianity.

“An apostle proclaims truth, an auditor is responsible for discovering counterfeits,” wrote this nineteenth-century Danish philosopher and theologian.  He saw it as his mission to be an auditor of Christendom, an institution he charged with sanitizing Jesus and makeing light of his message.

Denmark’s state church, he wrote, was “just about as genuine as tea made from a bit of paper which once lay in a drawer beside another bit of paper which had once been used to wrap up a few dried tea leaves from which tea had already been made three times.”

One of the fathers of existentialism, this remarkably complex and intelligent man underwent a profound spiritual transformation at the age of thirty-five and thereafter sought to apply some of his existential ideas to Christianity and thus reintroduce his nation to Jesus.  Individuals, not the state, Kierkegaard argued, needed to make a “leap of faith” in order to enter into authentic Christianity.

As a little Jesus, he hoped that his attacks against the banality of institutional religion would anger Danish Christians enough to make them re-examine their relationship to Jesus.

(taken from “ReJesus” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost)

While I don’t agree with everything that Kierkegaard wrote and said, I love his spirit and passion for reform.  One wonders if we could use a few more people to take up his mantle in this culture and at this time to call us away from our religious idolatry and back to Jesus.

Think about it….

The End of Christian America

[great article link at the bottom of this post!]

Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.

Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years).  But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.

Newsweek coverWhich is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is.   [see "The End of Christian America" and  "The Coming Evangelical Collapse"]

Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever.  Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.

So what does this mean?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.  Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal.  I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon.  Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you?  =)

But, it isn’t among just preachers.  There is panic among many everyday Christians.  There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless.  I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly.  Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena.  It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.

Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear.  I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way.  It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken.  I can sympathize with this uncertainty.

christian_america2However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely.  If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church.   In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus.  I do.  I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people.  I want more people to experience this life, not less.  And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church.  Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions.  I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message.  Too often, the methods have become the message.  Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people.  Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”

Fear of the end of Christian America.

Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love.  Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.

Because of fear we have reacted poorly.

But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought.  Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all.  Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.

You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is.  I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week.   I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry.  I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.

But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading.  The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe.  In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.

Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them.   And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously.  It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.

church_stateOf course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus.  This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.”  It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus.  This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus.  And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.

I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country).  I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes.   It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation.  It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!

I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd.  His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline.  Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.

“Don’t Weep for the Demise of American Christianity”

But he also has two excellent books on this subject.  The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic.  Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America.  If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.

themythofachristiannation

myth of a christian religion

“Day of Silence” – Will You Be Heard?

I don’t think I’ve ever gone a whole day without talking.

In fact, I’m not actually sure I’ve made it through very many complete hours without talking.  It seems that I’m vary rarely at a loss of words or something to say.  (If you read this blog, you’ve already figured this out).  =)

But, tomorrow, I’m gonna stay quiet.

day of silenceTomorrow is the annual “Day of Silence.”  Many high school students will choose to “not talk” during the day tomorrow in order to show their solidarity with their many peers that are wrestling with LGBT issues in loneliness and fear.

Now, I know many Christians who vehemently oppose this movement each year.  In fact, last year I think I witnessed an all new low in Christian depravity as a local church actually held a protest outside a high school in my area (read last year’s blog here).

A church protesting high school students?  Huh?

Effectively, though the church leaders claim nobler intentions, the message was “God hates gay people and so do Christians.”

And while many people will not go so far as to hold a protest outside a school tomorrow, a noticeable amount of “Christian” students will be absent tomorrow in an effort to make their own statement of condemnation about it.  Others will attend but simply ridicule those participating and be as boisterous as possible in their disruption.

However, I would like to humbly suggest another alternative: PARTICIPATE.

In fact, I’d like to propose that maybe participation is the most CHRIST-LIKE thing we could possibly do.  For while I may not agree with a particular lifestyle that may be reflected in some people of this movement, Jesus calls me to show love to people that are different than me, not condemnation.

Wayne Jacobsen is the publisher of the best-selling book, The Shack. Recently on his Lifestream blog, he wrote:

…many public school students will observe a Day of Silence as a means to protest harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been going on for almost a decade and many parents who are against ‘the gay agenda’ feel the need to keep their kids home that day, or participate in a Day of Truth that makes sure everyone in their district knows they consider homosexuality to be immoral. Is this the way Jesus would respond?

Perhaps a better way to encourage faith-based students to respond would be to adopt the Golden Rule Pledge. “I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.” It allows a pro-active response to sharing the burden to increase mutual respect for all, regardless of our differing points of view.

I agree whole-heartedly.  Maybe we should spend less time trying to “win a battle of accepted morality” and more time living a life of CHRIST-LIKE love.  Maybe Jesus’ model of love, compassion and grace really is more powerful than our protest.  Maybe to be silent in solidarity with the weak, in some Kingdom of God way, really is more transforming than our disruptive and polarizing vocalization.

So, I’m gonna stay quiet because even if I disagree with people about their lifestyle, I don’t think Jesus will allow me to treat them with any less love than everyone else.

I’m gonna stay quiet because too many young people wrestling with complex sexual orientation issues are afraid to talk about it for fear of ridicule, ostracization, or even physical harm.

I’m gonna stay quiet because Jesus commands me to treat other people like I would like to be treated, and I so desperately want to let His way of life direct and control my own.

If you’d like to consider participating or supporting those who do as well, please visit this great site for more information on an excellent alternative/compliment to the DOS:

www.goldenrulepledge.com

golden rule pledge

So, join me in trying a new way of life: LOVE.

Consider staying “SILENT.”  It may be that our LBGT community has heard enough of our voices already anyway.

Love Connection – Passage 3/29/09

So, we wrapped up our series, “Love Connection” this last Sunday night.  And in one way, I’m kinda sad to see it go.  Even though it has taken a bit of work, it has been fun entering an on-going dialogue here through student’s text questions.
I have been very impressed by the intelligent and honest questions that have been texted in each night.  And more than a little humbled to be given opportunity to respond to some of your deepest questions about such an important issue.

love-connection-jpg1We have FIVE final questions from this last Sunday, and I will be responding to THREE of them in today’s post followed by the last TWO tomorrow.

But, even as we bring this conversation to a close, I pray that we would not leave this discussion to drift off into the wind.  My prayer is that this new generation would take to heart a more revolutionary way to do relationships.  I pray that the relationships and friendships and marriages of these high school students would be more whole and complete and fulfilling than those same relationships of their parents.

And so, may we care more about others than ourselves.  May we look only to God for ultimate fulfillment and never another human being.  May we live with compassion, honesty, integrity and purity in our relationships with each other.   And in that, may we find true love and healing.

Here are the questions from this weekend’s PASSAGE message.


Question #1:
At the beginning of your message all I got out of it was that it is okay to rebel against almost everything.  Is that what you were trying to say?

Wow . . . clearly I need to get my point across better.  LOL.  I was NOT trying to say that you should rebel against EVERYTHING.  What I was saying was that Christians tend to cave-in and go with the major cultural assumptions of the day as much as anyone.

So, when it comes to relationships, we (more often than not) believe the common cultural myths about “soul-mates” or that love is a feeling you fall into, or that sex is just a meaningless physical act like playing chess.  And on and on . . .

We don’t approach relationships and romantic love any different than the rest of the people in this culture because we don’t THINK anything different about it than they do.   We believe the same myths of love that everyone else does!

flower childMy point at the beginning of the message is that it we should pick up the “rebellious spirit” of the 1960’s “flower children” and as people who follow Christ be willing to be counter-cultural.  Instead of mindlessly buying into what our cultural tells us love is about, we should approach relationships with the radical “choice” and “sacrifice” oriented love of Jesus.

Interesting thing about this rebellion, though, is it isn’t about force but love.  We rebel against the world’s definition of love by loving people better; by putting them first.  We become the most rebellious by becoming the most loving.

Anyway, I encourage you to think through your past, present and future romantic relationships.  Do you find connection only skin deep?  Do you put the needs and dreams of your date above yourself?  Do you participate in healthy aspects of affection and abstain from damaging aspects in order to protect the other person?  Are you looking for happiness and fulfillment in another person or in God?”

How you answer these questions will reveal whether you are stuck in “The Matrix” of our culture’s assumptions of love, or whether you are choosing to participate in the revolution and restoration of relationships that Jesus came to empower.  I pray that you would choose the revolution.


Question #2:
Are you telling us to be gay?

Hahahaha….. (ROFL)

Honestly, I have no idea what this question is referencing.  I’m almost positive that I never said the word, “gay” or “homosexual” or anything referring to that orientation and/or behavior.

However, you texted it in and so I’m staying faithful to post your questions.  I wish I knew the context of what you are asking, and if you’d like to comment and clarify I would be happy to answer more appropriately.

But, just to answer the question as is, let me respond by saying . . . “No.”


Question #3:
If a lot of your friends are beginning to lose their virginity and you are almost the only left still a virgin, is it bad if you are feeling like you should do it too just so you can be on the same emotional level and know how they are feeling?

This is a really good question and probably more of an important one than most people are willing to admit.  I think that if we are being honest that a lot of our relationship decisions get made based on the coercive pull of “the norm” around us rather than what we believe is best for the relationship.

So, what do we do?  Well, let me at least respond with several thoughts.

First, it is not bad that you feel like you want to do it too in order to fit in.  When it comes right down to it, I doubt if hardly any of us like being the person “left out” or “not included.”  It is the feeling of loneliness; of missing out.  And it isn’t a fun feeling to have.

And, it isn’t wrong to feel that way.  It isn’t bad to feel like you want to be “included” in a community.  You were created by God to be included in a group of people.  You were, as we have said, made for authentic relationship.  And the feelings of being left out are real, they do hurt, and it is ok to feel that way.

However, even though you are entitled to those feelings, I don’t think it benefits you to go along with whatever it takes to make them go away.

chastity underwearSecondly, even though you feel like it, you aren’t the “only one” left out there that is still a virgin.  In fact, over the last few years, lots of studies have shown that the statistics of high school students waiting until later to have sex is going up.  One recent study showed that 40% of all high school students will graduate without even having had an intimate date!

So, you are not as much of a minority as you might think.  However, I know it feels like you are.  The reason is that very few people go around parading the fact that they are virgins (its usually more embarrassing due to cultural pressures), and so you don’t hear about the people that are waiting.  What you hear are the more vocal group that isn’t waiting and then you assume that everyone MUST be a part of this group.

In fact, though I don’t know your friends, I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that some of them are maybe embellishing the truth a bit about their sex lives.  I know, crazy huh?  High school students lying about getting laid more than they really are!!  How could that be true?  ☺

But lastly, I think we find ourselves back at the question of “The Matrix”.  Do you go along blindly with what everyone else has been culturally conditioned to believe just so that you can fit in, even at the expense of your own personal happiness and the happiness of the person you end up having sex with?

That seems like a very steep price to pay for having another topic of conversation with your friends.

Perhaps, rather than “jumping off a cliff because your friends do it so you can have something to talk about on the way down,” you could find ways to love your friends better and in more sacrificial ways.  Maybe the way Jesus wants to redeem broken relationships in your friends’ lives is through you.  Maybe their greatest shot at having real romance and love is through your example in how you deal with the romances in your life with integrity and your loving compassion of them.

You see, I know you can’t relate to their sexual experience yet.  But they can’t relate now to yours (speaking of a lack of experience) either.  At any time, you can become like them.  But they can never become like you again.

the matrix (morpheus)And so, maybe your perspective helps them see relationships differently.  Maybe you can be like Morpheus in “The Matrix” and help them see what they couldn’t about love because all they knew was what they were culturally programmed to see.

And regardless of what your friends choose to do, you have a lifetime of love with someone you will be much closer to for much longer to protect.  Feeling out-of-place is difficult.  I totally sympathize with you.  But trust me.  In this case, it is totally worth it.

That pain won’t last forever.  You’ll get married and know what they are talking about eventually.  Or they’ll accept you as you are.  Or you’ll get new friends.  But either way, think long-term.  Short term happiness is a bad trade for long-term trouble.