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How Jesus came to preach on Hell (a parable)


At that time Jesus and his disciples entered a prosperous land.  Hearing of his arrival, many of the people came to hear him speak.  Thousands gathered around him.

” I bring you good news.  God loves you, all of you.  You have no need to fear or worry. Eternal life is yours.  Peace and happiness are at hand. ”

The crowd began to murmur. They didn’t understand what he was saying.

“How is this possible? How do we get this eternal life you speak of ?” they asked.

Smiling, Jesus spread his arms wide. “Just follow me. I am living this life right now.  I have come to share with you  the Way of eternal life  and how to be in tune with God. You may hear all kinds of people on television pitching their self-help programs,  but there is good reason there are so many of them. They don’t work. Not for long. But follow me and I can assure you of eternal life.

” OK, so what’s the catch? How much does this cost? What kind of sacrifices do I have to make?” a man asked.

“There is no catch” said Jesus. “This life is free. No fees. No purchase necessary. No sacrifice.”

“Alright”,  another shouted.  “Tell us. What is this secret?”

“Simple” said Jesus. “Love each other as much as you love yourself and love God with all your heart.  The only way to love God is to love others.”

“How do we do that?” someone asked

“Always put the needs of others before your own” Jesus said. ” Visit the sick and  imprisoned. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.  Take in the homeless.  And -very importantly – forgive everyone, especially your enemies.”

“That’s crazy!” someone shouted.  “We don’t live in some sort of dream world. We have families to take care of – we can’t just bring bums and vagrants into our homes!”

“I have to worry about my kid’s college tuition!” another shouted “I can’t buy clothes for a bunch of slackers. Let ’em get jobs and buy their own.”

A woman stood up, shaking her fist. “What kind of fuzzy-wuzzy crap is this? Love your enemies?! I guess you expect us to love all those elitist god-haters that want to destroy this great nation?  You just want us to open our arms to foreign heathens as they pour into our country, taking our jobs, speaking their own languages, praying to the wrong gods and plotting violent revolution?  You’re just a sissy wing-nut that hates his own country!”

The angry crowd turned their backs and began to leave, grumbling and shaking their heads.  Nervously, Jesus glanced  around. Looking up,  he smiled and suddenly  jumped on a nearby boulder, waving his arms frantically.

“Wait! Wait!” he cried. “There is another way! A better way! Come back. Give me another chance.”

Most ignored him but some turned back.  “This better be good”, they said. They sat down on the grass and waited.

Jesus  sat down in the middle of them. ” OK, the other stuff was good, but that was only half the story. This is the real deal. You see, there are these two places called Heaven and Hell….

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The Bible is not The Good Book or a bad book. It is just a….book.


The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book.  It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways,  to encounter God.  By this definition alone, it is a sacred book.  But as St. Paul  once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.

The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral.  Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.

The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples.  These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice.  At the same time,  different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.

The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha.  Everything else  (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences.  There has always been a very active, and often heated,  debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.

The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today.  The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice.  They have also been  used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war.  If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.

Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions,  it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden.   It is undeniably a very, very important book.  It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest.  But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book.  In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.

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But if you’re a Christian, then what am I?


Over on the Wall Street Journal blog, one of the members has (hopefully) started a thread by asking this question:

How do Christians define Christians? What makes you or not a Christian?

I often come across the argument that “said person is not a real Christian”, many tend to use this argument to exclude particulars who happen to shame the religion calling themselves part of it, or act in the name of it.

I think it would be interesting to see, how does every one define it, is it simply believing in a higher authority?. Is it taking every literal word of the bible?. Is it following the “reasonable” aspects of the bible?

Now, so far, only one person has given an answer, and it is one that I suspect the majority of American Christians would agree with:

A Christian is somebody who believes that Christ died on the Cross and shed his blood as the ultimate atonement(replacement for the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament law) for the sins of mankind. They believe that Christ is who He said He is. ie, The Son of God, and therefore God Himself. The concept of the Trinity applies here. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christ was the product of the immaculate conception. Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Isaiah 53:3-7 is an example, among others of the prophesy.

The first chapter of John in the New testament, gives a good representation of what Christians believe about Christ.

To be saved (ie a Christian), is nothing more then the realization that man is born into sin, and the acceptance and acknowledgment of the free gift of eternal life(made possible because of Christ sacrifice on the Cross), that is offered to mankind, should they(exhibit their “free will”) except it. It is nothing more then Gods grace being demonstrated through mans faith.

If all of the above needs to be believed in order to be a Christian, then I guess I am not one.  Of course, for many reasons I think the above definition, although perhaps “orthodox”,  is incorrect.

Over on Ric Booth’s blog there is an interesting conversation taking place about a new organization that John Shore is spear-heading called ThruWAy Christians, particularly their controversial acceptance of gays and lesbians.   The stated goal of ThruWAy Christians is to provide moderate Christians with a new forum.  As it says on their website:  “If you find conservative Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive Christianity too theologically tenuous, you’re probably a ThruWay Christian.”   Which means that, though I agree with much of the content of their founding document, my theology is much too “tenuous”  (something which I am sure the Conservative Christians could accuse the ThruWay people).

Surprisingly,  I don’t believe my theology is any weaker than theirs or any one else.  It’s different to be sure.  Maybe not as orthodox as they would like.  And like Christianity, it is evolving. But that doesn’t mean that it is “flimsy, insubstantial or lacking in strength”.  This is a charge that the orthodox have always levied at those who had the audacity to question theological authority.

The good folks over at ThruWAy Christian are not really challenging conservative Christian theological authority, though. They are only challenging the  conservative interpretations of certain scriptures that they believe lead to intolerant and mean spirited attitudes and behavior.  But I would suggest that the overarching theology that both the moderates and the conservatives still hold in common ( much of which has been condensed by the commenter from the WSJ blog and jives with the  first line of ThruWay’s creed )  is actually what drives this intolerance.  And has for centuries.

I ‘ve found that it is nearly impossible for Christian moderates to  engage Fundamentalists in any meaningful dialog that might result in a change of perception on the part of either, so  I’ve given up on it myself.  If this is the goal of the folks at ThruWAy, well then, have at it.  But  if they would be open-minded enough to engage some Christians whose convictions are not quite as solid, substantial or strong as theirs then perhaps they might find that ‘progressive’ is not such a bad word after all.

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Thumping loudly on the Bible and the Constitution


Today the Republicans in the House of Representatives are reading the Constitution aloud, as symbolic token to the Tea Party’s devotion to the document.  A good civics lesson, or “sanctimonious reverence” ?

The Tea Party. Why is it that bible thumpers (of which the Tea Party abounds) claim to love the Constitution so?   Because it’s not that the two world views are inextricably wed, there are plenty of conservatives and libertarians who are religious moderates or even atheists (like Ayan Rand).  And there are even a number of left wing Evangelicals like Tony Compalo and Jim Wallace. But today’s political conservatism embodies the yin and yang of both Christian and historical fundamentalism.  Biblical literalism meets Constitutional orginalism.

Which I guess should not be too surprising.   It makes sense that if you hold to a literal and inerrant view of the Bible that you would look at the US Constitution in much the same way, especially if you you believe that Americans have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people (and  like the Israelites, we have often gone astray).  If we asked a  Tea Partier,  I think we would hear some interesting similarities in how  both the Constitution and the Bible are viewed.

They both:

-should to be taken literally, meaning that the written words are to be  understood precisely as they were written and not subject to individual interpretation

-share the ultimate authority on how Americans should live their lives, holding to the author’s  original intent (and God’s will)

-are able to transcend time, speaking  as authoritatively on today’s issues as within their own day, having been written by devoutly religious  men who were directly inspired by God to be  both prophetic and prescient, able to anticipate every correct response to all future events.

These assertions are, of course, absolutely incorrect, as proven by a reading of the historical record, accompanied by a dash of the much heralded “common sense”.  It is obvious to most who study scripture that the circumstances and situations  addressed in the Bible are not always, if even very often,  germane to today’s world.  Christian fundamentalists realize this as well, since they are very selective about which ‘fact’ they will believe or which stricture or dictate they will obey. Very few still believe that the Earth is flat, as suggested in Genesis, and no one (outside of the Chalcedon Foundation) wants to have sassy children put to death.  Though they may not allow women to be ordained, they no longer force them to wear scarves in church.

Times change and not everything written 200 or 2000 or 4000 years ago is relevant today. Though it may have made perfect sense in that time and place, neither the Bible or the Constitution present the perfect solution to every challenge we are presented with today. They were written by flawed men (and maybe women) who were doing their best to define the truths of the universe while addressing the challenges of their day.  Like it or not, their work must be interpreted, which means that there will always be differences of opinion and no accurate or permanent orthodoxy can ever take form.  No orthodoxy  has ever endured without some sort of evolution.  Centuries later we cannot delve into the writers’ minds and we cannot know their intent, any more than their writings can convey to us the true will of God.  Nor are the authors’ intentions (or their understanding of God) necessarily relevant today.

Though the Constitution is undoubtedly a work of genius and in its time came very close to offering the ideal formula for engineering a sustainable American liberty, it was not then and is not now perfect.  If it was perfect then it is unlikely that there would still be heated scholarly debate over its meaning.  The perfect Constitutional solutions to so many problems have long eluded us.  If perfect, there would have been no allowance for slavery and there certainly would have been no Civil War.

If Americans had allowed themselves to become slaves to their rigid interpretations of both the Constitution and the Bible, we would have no Emancipation Proclamation, no Civil Rights Act, and  no women voters.  Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams  and St. Paul could  never envision a world in which the injustices of slavery and misogyny did not exist and each day produces new challenges that they never could have imagined.

But there is something very comforting to think of both Bible and Constitution in special supernatural ways, providing us with a cosmic link to the past and the men we have come to see as our spiritual fathers.  And as devoted children, we develop a fierce defensive posture whenever the work of our fathers is threatened, or even questioned.  Especially when that work provides us with a sense of security, a defense against those who might take from us or as a means of preventing rewards being bestowed upon those who do not deserve it.  “Strict” interpretation of both Constitution and Bible have been used to shore up the positions of the powerful and the entitled at the expense of the underrepresented and the different.

I can think of no other reason for the forced marriage of the Bible to the Constitution other than that religious fundamentalism and a fundamentalist view of history are both the result of psychological insecurity and fear. Which becomes  abundantly clear when we see the slogans and signs and  hear the speeches emanating from the Right, hysterically linking God the Father with the Founding Fathers,  equating love of the Bible with love of the Constitution. It is ironic  that so many of these folks, when asked to provide some positional support from their two most sacred texts, seem to know so little about either of them.  Or of those who wrote them.

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human”    – Thomas Jefferson

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‘Anti-Christian’ bus ads appear in major cities


What if….?

A group called ‘Stop Christianization of America’ is promoting ads on major city public transportation that urge people to leave the Christian faith. The anti-Christian campaign is sparking thought about the religion’s place in American society.

Several groups are engaging in something of a religious ad war over the merits and misconceptions of Christianity, a religion that remains a mystery to many Americans.

Ads by a group calling itself Stop the Christianization of America, which aims to provide refuge for former Christians, read: “Hell on your mind? Is your family or community threatening others? Leaving Christianiy? Got questions? Get answers!”

Those ads, appearing on dozens of buses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, and New York, are a response to ones from an interfaith  group that say, “The way of life of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam. Got questions? Get answers.”

In New York, the Christian Ecumenical  Community sponsored this campaign: ” Christians  for Peace. Love for All – Hatred for None.”

The ads are part of a larger conversation over Christianity’s image, which Christian organizations say has been hurt by extremists both at home and abroad. But many conservative groups say that concern about the spread of Christianity isn’t alarmist, pointing to evidence of preachers and televangelists  in this country inciting militancy and a growing number of American Christians being arrested for hate crimes and sexual deviancy.

A self-described “anti-crusader,” Mustafa el Amin  is the conservative blogger and executive director of “Stop the Christianization  of America”  who conceived of the “Leaving Christianity” ad campaign.  His campaign was inspired by the hate filled and violence provoking actions of the Westboro Baptist church and the Southern Street Preachers Association.

Mr. Amin  described his campaign as “a defense of religious freedom,” in an e-mail response to questions. The goal, he says, is mainly “to help ex-Christians who are in trouble” and also “to raise awareness of the threat that apostates live under even in the West.”

But some religious rights organizations contend that the real intent is to incite fear about a faith that, according to recent studies, remains misunderstood. A 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent believe Christianity  is more likely to encourage violence than other religions.

But… that’s not how it really went down. For the rest of (and the real) story go to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Cruising the Bible/Porn Belt


From: atypicaljoe.com

Over the Memorial Day weekend my daughter, Dot, and I took a last-minute road trip to visit some friends in Nashville. We left B’more Thursday morning and got back Sunday afternoon.  Around 1300 miles, all told.

To help pass the time we invented a new travel game that I think can only be played down South: God vs. Larry Flynt.  I would count the billboards with in-your-face evangelical messages and she would count the number of advertisements for lewd and prurient past-times.  “JESUS SAVES!” and “HELL IS A REAL PLACE!” vs “ADULT BOOKS!” and “NOW IN – THE FLESHLIGHT!!”. Once we hit Tennessee there were at least one or two per mile. Kentucky was almost as bad good. It was close, but Dot won. And it was pretty funny, if maybe a tad depressing if you thought about it, which we didn’t.

But it got me to thinking later on: what was it about the Southern demographic that encouraged the erection construction of all this annoying signage? Is one in response to the other? A lot of the  big G.O.D. signs were pretty close to the big S.E.X. signs.  But I figure that the Bible Belt existed long before the advent of the Rural Porn Belt. (Or did it? Sex in the country: Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Daisy Dukes? )   So maybe the “Adult” signs are in response to all those obnoxious condescending  Fire ‘n’  Brimstone (with lime? salt?) signs: “Stop hollern t’us like kids, dangit! I kin do what Ah wanna!” Which might mean that overly overt evangelism isn’t getting the desired result.

Or, considering all the scandalous clergy stories we’ve heard about for years forever, perhaps they’re just two sides of the same coin.  Maybe Religious Fundamentalism and Sexual Licentiousness are passionately engaged in making the moral beast with two backs. The attraction of opposites, that maybe are not quite so opposite after all – just using different tools to scratch the same itch. Like Victorian prudes and those quaint black and white postcards of mustachioed men in straw boaters doing the nasty with plump ladies wearing bonnets and garter belts.  Just that, in this case, it’s not going on behind closed doors anymore, but out in the great wide open

Times sure have changed, ain’t they?

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