Category Archives: theology

Am I Still A Christian?

Doubt TillichOver the years, I’ve had people ask me, “How can you call yourself a Christian with some of the things you believe?” It’s a fair question, seeing as I don’t put much stock in a lot of orthodox beliefs anymore. The short (smartass) answer comes in two parts: 1) I’m a progressive Christian, which means I’m not hung up on a lot the stuff Christians have traditionally worried about: sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc. 2) I’m not really that good of a Christian.

But, a better question is “Why do I still call myself a Christian?” I think the answer to that will make more sense if I tell what I do and don’t believe these days.

  • The Biblical creation story _ I don’t believe the story told in Genesis is a historical, factual account of the world’s creation. The evidence presented by science about the Big Bang and evolution is overwhelming and to believe otherwise is to be willfully ignorant. That is not to say that I think the Genesis story should be tossed out. For me, it exists as myth or allegory and has to do with why we’re here, not how we got here.
  • That the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God _ I gave this one up a long time ago, if I ever really believed in the first place. That was only reinforced by the fact that, for me, learning the history of the Bible was a lot like watching sausage being made: it wasn’t pretty. The Bible has a place in my life, to be sure. But, it’s not the be all, end all of things.
  • The Virgin Birth _  I no longer believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. That’s just not how biology works. Besides, the whole thing is based on a mistranslation of one word. In my opinion, the virgin birth story was a literary device that, like several other historically questionable events in the birth narratives, was meant to show that Jesus was special. Personally, I prefer to spend my time working on living the way he taught than how he was conceived.
  • An actual physical resurrection _ A few years ago, there was a bit of a dust-up between Tony Jones and Marcus Borg about whether the resurrection was physical or spiritual, with Jones arguing for physical. As I followed this discussion (between Jones and his detractors. Marcus was smart enough not to get down in the mud with them), I began to realize I had trouble accepting that Jesus’ body was reanimated and he walked around in it. The best I can do with this one is to believe that something happened in that tomb that inspired his followers to carry on, even in the face of persecution, oppression and death at the hands of the state.
  • The Trinity _ Actually, saying I don’t believe in the Trinity isn’t accurate. A better way to put it would be that I don’t really give a shit. Like the preceding items on this list, I don’t see how spending any time on it makes me a better follower of Jesus, so why bother?
  • Whether God even exists _ I suppose this makes me more of agnostic than anything else. I say this because I’ve never had that moment that some people talk about where God knocked me to my knees. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt the presence of God at any point in my life. At least, not in the way others have spoken of.

So, in light of all this, why do I still call myself a Christian? Because the way Jesus taught us to live is a pretty damn decent one. It  definitely makes makes me a better person. And, understand when I say “the way Jesus taught us to live”, I’m not talking about the perversion that is American Christianity, I mean what he actually said: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive those who treat you badly, don’t hoard your wealth, share with those who have less…, you get the picture.

Michele Bachmann: The End Times Are Upon Us…, Again

Heeeere's Michele!!!
Heeeere’s Michele!!!

Just a few days ago, former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann took batshit crazy to new levels, claiming that President Obama would attempt “to extend his presidency, even enhance it and expand it” by taking over the United Nations. Why? Because he’s the Antichrist and wants to bring about the End of Days, that’s why.

Actually, that was just subtext in a larger narrative of insanity about how the Syrian Civil War is paving the way for Armageddon. I’m not making this up, I swear. This woman, who until recently was an elected official of the U. S. government, truly believes that a) the End Times are upon us and b) Barack Obama is Satan’s agent on Earth, doing his part to make all this come to pass.

This isn’t the first time Bachmann has hinted that Obama is the Antichrist. Last April, on Jan Markell’s “Understanding the Times” radio show, she said the Iran nuclear deal had stepped up the timeline for the Rapture™ because the President’s “number one goal” was to make sure that Iran obtained nuclear weapons and thus “cut the legs out of Israel and lift up the agenda of radical Islam”. Oh, and God is punishing America for marriage equality and abortion. Which, of course, has nothing to do with any of this, but what’s that got to do with anything? 

On a side note, the President takes these claims of his demonic status with amazingly good grace. At last year’s White House Correspondence Dinner, he told the crowd that bringing on the End of Days would be one hell of an accomplishment, cementing his legacy as a great leader.

Unfortunately for Bachmann, her concerns rest on an interpretation of scripture that is…, let’s say “sketchy”. And, by “sketchy”, I mean, “something that isn’t even in the Bible”. It’s based on dispensationalism, which can best be summed up as “John Nelson Darby’s fever dream”. As if Revelation isn’t weird enough on its own, dispensationalism pulls in various bits and pieces of other books in the Bible, both apocolyptic (Daniel) and not (I Thessalonians) to “interpret” this odd piece of literature.

The belief is understandable, though. Unless you’ve spent a lot of time studying it, the book of Revelation makes about as much sense as the space opera back story of Scientology. I mean, seriously, is there really that much difference between Lord Xenu loading several billion of his citizens onto Douglas DC-8’s and sending them to Earth, only to be killed by h-bombs exploding inside volcanoes (to steal a line from South Park, “This is what Scientologists actually believe”) and the fifth angel’s trumpet unleashing hordes of scorpion-locusts whose sting inflicts such terrible pain that people try to kill themselves, but can’t die? Or, what about a skanky chick riding on 7-headed beast that’s covered in blasphemous names? They both sound like drug-induced hallucinations, but only one is about “what happened when God got religion.” But, I digress…

Bachmann is unhappy that Americans just aren’t as excited as she is about the “End Times”. I believe there’s a couple of reasons for that: 1) most Americans aren’t psychopaths who become giddy at the thought of billions of people suffering and dying in horrible ways and 2) we just aren’t able to complete the mental gymnastics necessary to keep with Bachmann’s lunatic ideas. Considering what’s going on in this country right now, that is a ray of hope. A small one, sure. But, I’ll take it.

The Real Christian Candidate?

Vote Jesus Christ

In country whose founding fathers swore wasn’t based on any religion, Christianity plays a humongous role in American political life. To get any traction in a political campaign, it’s pretty much a given that a candidate has to lay out their faith credentials for all to see. And, it’s also pretty much a given that those credentials had better be of the Christian variety if said candidate wants to get elected to anything, down to and including dog catcher (or whatever the lowest possible elected office is these days). There are, of course, exceptions like Keith Ellison, who’s a Muslim, or Pete Stark and Barney Frank, both atheists. Interestingly, Frank didn’t mention his non-believer status until after he retired, but had no problem coming out as gay while still in office, 25 years ago. If that doesn’t speak to America’s obsession with Christianity, I don’t know what does.

This religious fetish is…, let’s say problematic, for most progressives (not to mention infuriating for atheists), but it does exist. However, since this is the way things are, why don’t we see who the real Christian candidate is in the race for president? Now, don’t get bent out of shape when I say “the real Christian candidate”; I’m not talking about who adheres to the twisted evangelical/fundamentalist version that prevails in this country today. I mean which candidate’s policies most closely follow the words and teachings of Jesus. You know, the guy we Christians claim to follow? Since we have to have a way to determine this, I’ll use following scriptures: Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 5-7, Mark 10:17-27,  Matthew 25:31-42 and John 13:34, as they capture what I believe is the essence of Jesus’ message.

So, weighed against these passages, who is the most Christian of all the candidates running for the highest office in the land? Strangely enough, it’s a non-religious Jewish guy named Bernie Sanders. Even a cursory look at his campaign’s website shows that Sanders’ policies (especially those concerning economic and justice issues) hit more of the points addressed in these scriptures than anyone else in the race, Republican or Democrat. Oh sure, there are places where other candidates may come closer, but taken as a whole, Sanders is most Christian of all the people running for president this time out. Well, except for that whole “not being a Christian” thing.

But wait, you say, Bernie’s a socialist! How can a socialist be a Christian? While we can’t say that Jesus was actually a socialist (mostly because that label didn’t exist in the 1st century), I’d have to say he was closer to that than a capitalist. And, the early church (as described in Acts 2:42-47) was the quintessential commune. And, that’s “commune” in the communist sense, not just a bunch of people living together. The truth is, the actual Kingdom of Heaven as described by Jesus sounds a lot more like a Israeli kibbutz than anything you’ll find in Atlas Shrugged (a book that holds at least as much sway in conservative circles as the Bible these days). I know that’s hard on the American ear, what with our mania for individualism, but it’s the truth.

Now, some of you might accuse me of stumping for Bernie and maybe I am. But, the fact is, I won’t be voting for any candidate until the general election because I’m an independent (North Carolina doesn’t allow us indies to vote in primaries).That means I’m about as close to a disinterested party as you’re going to find these days. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that if i could vote, I’d probably pull the lever for Bernie (at least in part because I really don’t like Hillary). So, what was the point of all this? Basically, I find it interesting that a) the candidate whose platform most closely follows Christian tenets isn’t even a member of that religion and b) that man’s platform is considered by most Christians as “socialist”, as if that’s a bad thing. Only in America, my friends. Only in America.

It’s (Not) The End Of The World

End of the world

I have to admit I was a little bummed last week, when I missed the opportunity to write about yet another End Times “prediction”; aka, the blood moon. Well, as bummed as one can be while on vacation in the (sub)tropical paradise that is Florida’s Tampa Bay area. Early in the week, when this story was actually relevant, I was having some computer problems after “upgrading” to Windows 10 and by the time I got it all sorted out (which cost me $100. Thanks a lot, Microsoft), the iron really wasn’t hot enough to strike anymore. With more than a little sadness, I let it go; figuring I could use it for background sometime in the future. Imagine my elation when I read that someone else claims the world is going to end today, a little more than a week from the earlier prediction.

In a series of podcasts, online Christian broadcaster Chris McCann informed us that, “According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away.” McCann is basing his theory on an earlier prediction by Harold “Save the Date” Camping, who said The Rapture™ would occur on May 21, 2011. And, when that didn’t pan out, changed his prediction to say that the world would end 5 months later, on October 21. McCann, using what has to be some of the most impressive mental gymnastics ever, has decided that A) on May 21, 2011, God stopped saving people and B) October 7th marks the 1600th day since that happened, so it’s all going down today…, maybe. You see, McCann did learn something from Camping’s little boo-boo. Not “better understanding of the text” or anything else so mundane, of course. No, what Brother Chris seems to have gathered from the shitstorm that surrounded Camping’s failed attempt at prophecy is “hedge your bets”.

Everything I’m reading from this latest “the world is gonna end!” hysteria is filled with phrases such as “strong likelihood” and “it does appear that”. McCann even goes so far as to say that there is “an unlikely possibility” that we won’t have a hot time of it today (because God will burn all this shit up, per 2 Peter 3:10). Is it just me or is that some weak tea when it comes to an end-of-the-world prediction? I don’t know about you, but I prefer my End Times prophets to have a little more conviction than McCann is showing. I mean, shit, if you’re not sure you believe it, why should I?

As have others in the past, McCann’s divination has me wondering where all this…, “stuff”, came from. Because, after engaging in some bible study, I know that most of what they go on about isn’t even in the Bible. Of course, that brings up the question of why do people believe it if it’s not in there?  I think it’s because that nutjob Darby came up with a cracker jack story. You’ve got to admit that while futurism might be sucky theology, it does makes one hell of a science fiction/fantasy tale. In fact, it already has. I’m speaking of the Left Behind series, of course. And, maybe I’m reaching here, but an amazing story is the only way I can think of that explains the popularity of books whose writing makes “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Gray” come off like classical literature.

I know this is a bitter pill to swallow, but we must face facts: the historical interpretation of Revelation (e.g., it’s “the declaration that Jesus will return, justice will be granted to the oppressed, and all things will be made new“) is nowhere near as interesting as the craziness version that occurs in “Left Behind”. While we’re at it, we should also admit that, unless you’ve spent a lot of time studying it, the book of Revelation makes about as much sense as the space opera back story of Scientology. I mean, seriously, is there really that much difference between Lord Xenu loading several billion of his citizens onto Douglas DC-8’s and sending them to Earth, only to be killed by h-bombs exploding inside volcanoes (to steal a line from South Park, “This is what Scientologists actually believe”) and the fifth angel’s trumpet unleashing hordes of scorpion-locusts whose sting inflicts such terrible pain that people try to kill themselves, but can’t die or a skanky chick riding on 7-headed beast that’s covered in blasphemous names? They both sound like mushroom dreams; but only one of them is about “what happened when God got religion.”

Do you honestly think an appeal to reason is going to stand up against that kind of thing? Hell, we can’t even get conservatives to understand that the Planned Parenthood videos are full of shit when the evidence is right under their noses, so what makes anyone think  boring explanations about what Revelation actually means won’t fall flat? Part of me says we need to come up with a story that can compete with dispensationalism, but another part says that reinterpreting scripture to counter a reinterpretation of scripture makes about as much sense as saying the Beast of Revelation 13 is the Anti-Christ when that term doesn’t even appear in Revelation. (See what I did there?) But, right now, we’re pretty much fiddling while Rome burns (A Nero reference. Get it?) and we all know how that ended up.

Why, That’s Just Crazy Talk!

Recently, a friend shared an article that quoted part-time pastor and full-time shill for Israel John Hagee as saying that women should be put in jail for calling out, “Oh god” when they’re knocking boots. I have to say I was ecstatic at this gift from comedy heaven; maybe not as thrilled as Jon Stewart was when the Donald announced he was running for president, but pretty damn happy. That ecstasy was short-lived, however; a friend pointed out that the post was on Newslo. You see, Newslo is a “hybrid News/Satire platform” that presents a “unique brand of entertainment and information.” That’s a nice way of saying they take an actual story and embellish it for comic effect. But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to do that. There are plenty of Christians out there saying things that are at least as crazy as the words Newslo put in Hagee’s mouth. Here are a few of the more…, let’s say, “interesting” ones:

  • We’ll kick this list off with an oldie, but goodie: Pat Robertson. Pat, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club, is known for making outrageous comments. A quick rundown of his greatest hits includes such gems as “…those who are homosexual will die out because they don’t reproduce” and that people are gay because they were “attacked [or] molested by some authority figure, or else a magazine or something has confused them.” His latest, however, may just trump every other boneheaded statement he’s ever made: God let a 3-year-old child die because he/she could’ve grown up to be the next Hitler. Or, Stalin. Or, a serial killer. Well, that theology isn’t fucked up at all.
  • Next up is Franklin Graham, who may be to me what Donald Trump is Jon Stewart, i.e. the gift that keeps on giving. On June 5th, we were treated to an anti-LGBTQ rant that called on Christians to boycott companies that are friendly to “the gays” and it appeared on Facebook. Then, just few days later, he told Washington Watch guest-host Craig James that full inclusion of LGBTQ people will “destroy our church in this country if (it) continues.” Hmm, I’d have to say straight Christians are doing a fine job destroying the church on their own.
  • I don’t want to limit this list to preachers because there’s some really good stuff out there coming from lay people. Take the Jensens, from Canberra, Australia for instance. Nick and Sarah Jensen have announced that if same-sex marriage becomes legal in their country, they’re getting divorced.  They’re rationale for this move? According to Nick, “The truth is, ‘marriage’ is simply too important. It is a sacred institution, ordained by God … Any attempt to change the definition of marriage by law is not something in which we are able to partake.” So, it sounds like they’re getting divorced to save marriage. That doesn’t even make as much sense as having sex to save the friendship.
  • No list of crazy Christian statements could be considered complete without something from Michele Bachmann. Like Robertson, Bachmann has an impressive catalog of hits, but my personal favorite was when she claimed the nuclear treaty being hammered out with Iran would bring about the Rapture. On Jan Markell’s “End Times” radio show, she said, “We in our lifetimes potentially could see Jesus Christ returning to earth and the rapture of the church. We see the destruction, but this was a destruction that was foretold” and that, “We need to realize how close this clock is getting to the midnight hour.” Basically, Obama is the anti-Christ and he’s doing his damnedest to take over the world. Bachmann takes bat-shit crazy to a whole other level; if only she were more prolific. Oh well, a boy can dream, can’t he?
  • Then, there’s the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer. Like Bachmann and Robertson, Fischer is no stranger to crazy-ass remarks. We are, after all, talking about the man who said you could “make a geographical connection between the flooding and the practice of the occult and witchcraft and the embrace of homosexuality“. So far, we haven’t had a comment about that favorite evangelical bugaboo, abortion, so let’s rectify that situation right now. Earlier this month, Fischer warned that we’re going to face “the destruction of this land through the shedding of blood in our streets” unless we outlaw abortion. Like, right now. I’m going to go out on a limb and say America is probably safe from divine retribution on this account as abortion has been legal for over 40 years and nothing has happened.
  • Any sarcastic/satirical article worth its salt must have a good closer and, with that in mind, I saved the best for last. It seems that Arizona pastor Steven Anderson took time off from screaming about the “gay menace” to weigh in on the Holocaust and did something I never thought possible: he made his anti-LGBTQ statements seem almost sane. Now, you would think that the real controversy here would be his contention that Holocaust survivors are liars. And, yeah, it is. But, that’s not all; you see, in addition to denying that the Holocaust even happened, he said “Remember, Holocaust means whole burnt offering. You know what the real Holocaust is? The real burnt offering is going to be when all these Jews that don’t believe in Jesus Christ go to Hell for eternity. That’s the oven they ought to be worried about.” But, the most telling line in the whole ugly mess is this: “Now first of all let me just start out by saying this, no, I’m not a racist.” Guess what, Steve? If you have to tell us, “I’m not a racist” before saying whatever is on your mind, we all think there’s a pretty good possibility that you’re a racist.

Like I said back in the first paragraph of this article, who needs to make stuff up when all this is floating around the internet?

Esther’s Story

Still a little too old, but closer than any other picture representing Esther I could find.
Still a little too old, but closer than any other picture representing Esther I could find. FYI, she was probably somewhere around 14.

So, yesterday’s sermon at College Park Baptist Church was based on the story of Esther. I hear a lot of people who say this is their favorite one in the bible. And, really, who can blame them? The tale of Esther is great storytelling and has everything you could ever want: intrigue, revenge, misogyny, sex, violence. Oh yeah, there’s some courage, a little love and a smattering of devotion in there, too. You may be scratching your head and wondering “What the hell is he going on about, now?” So, let’s unpack this not-so-vaguely disturbing story, shall we?

Early on, a drunken King Ahasuerus orders his queen to dance naked in front of his guests. When Vashti (obviously one of those damn feminists) refuses, he gets pissed. One of his counselors says this affront must be punished because if the word got out that Vashti had refused an order from the king, all the other women would get uppity and there would be “no end of put-downs and arguments.” God knows, we can’t have women thinking for themselves, so the king had Vashti banished (and possibly executed), sending a message to the women in the kingdom to know their place and stay the hell in it.

Of course, that meant there was an opening in Ahasuerus’ harem and he began looking for a replacement. That’s where Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, come into the picture. Every time I hear the name “Mordecai”, I can’t help but think of a character on the totally surreal cartoon “Regular Show”. That Mordecai, a blue jay who works as a groundskeeper at a park with his best friend Rigby (a racoon), is a slacker whose attempts to goof off invariably lead to crazy, weird misadventures. But, he stands head and shoulders over the Mordecai of the Bible. I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a dude who forced a young girl he had adopted after her parents died (who may have been only 14 years old) into prostitution. Why? It doesn’t really say, but later events show he may have done so for political advantage. What a sterling fellow. Whatever the reason,  the king takes Esther into his harem and she quickly becomes his favorite. Well, of course, she did. What dirty old man worth his salt wouldn’t favor a pretty, unspoiled teen age girl?

Later on, Mordecai pisses off the king’s chief advisor, Haman, by not bowing to him because, as a Jew, he only bowed to God. Haman, being a text-book villain, decides to get back at Mordecai for his disrespect by getting the king to authorize wiping out all the Jews in the kingdom. When Morty found out about this, he decides to use his strategically placed asset in the king’s household (i.e. Esther) to stop the plot.  When she balks, he throws a guilt trip on her, saying “Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” Seriously? “Perhaps you became queen for such a time as this”??? Hell, a situation is probably what he had in mind when he gave her to the king in the first place. I hear people talk about how courageous Mordecai was, but I think he was one manipulative mother-fucker.

 But, his guilt trip works and Esther gives him one condition for going to the king: for all the Jews in Susa (the city where this story takes place) to fast for three days in order to help her be brave enough to carry out this crazy-ass plan. Really, Esther? You’re  going to risk your life and all you want is for Morty and his people to fast? I believe I’d have asked for a little  more than that.And, finally, there’s the payoff. Eventually, Haman’s schemes come to light and he is impaled on the very pole he had planned to use for Mordecai’s execution (a very gruesome way to die, I assure you) and Esther begs the king to rescind his genocidal decree. The king, however, is too much of a chicken shit to do that and passes the buck, allowing Mordecai to issue a decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves. And, it works: Mordecai and Esther’s people are prepared for the attack and successfully defend themselves. Of course, that isn’t where the story ends, because the Jews take this opportunity to exact revenge on everyone who had ever wronged them; even sweet little Esther gets in on this orgy of violence, asking the king to impale Haman’s sons. When the dust settles, 75,000 of their enemies lay dead. The Bible says this occurred on the 13th day of Adar and, on the 14th day, they rested and had a day of feasting and rejoicing. And, that boys and girls, is the origin of the Feast of Purim.
 So, what’s the point of me pissing on a story that many people find inspiring? Well, for one thing, I’m tired of stories from the Bible being white-washed because the truth is unpalatable. Second, these white-washed versions often miss a valuable aspects of the stories. Like this one; maybe one of the things Esther’s story was meant to show is that there’s nothing good that humans can’t fuck up. Because that point comes out clearer than any of the other ones I’ve heard.

You’re Making Jesus Cry, Anne

Anne Graham Lotz recently wrote on her website that “Jesus is soon to return to take all of His followers to Heaven with Him in what is referred to as The Rapture.” She followed that gem up with this:

“While this will be deliverance for His people, can you imagine the impact on our nation, let alone the world, when suddenly every single authentic Christian disappears?

Institutions will collapse. Banks will close. The Stock Market will plunge. Planes will fall out of the sky. Cars will crash on the road. Government in America at every level will disintegrate. Families will be torn apart. In the unprecedented turmoil, our nation will be vulnerable for our enemies to seize the moment and attack us. There will be mass chaos, confusion, fear, grief, despair, anger, threats, danger… judgment.”

Don’t you just love it when Christian celebrities try to evangelize by scaring the shit out of people.

There’s just one little hitch with Annie’s idea of the Apocalypse: it’s not in the Bible. What’s that you say? It is in the Bible? Really? Would you mind looking it up and showing us where it says that “every single authentic Christian” will disappear. Don’t worry, we’ll wait. And, while you do that, the rest of us will check out this cool video:

Didn’t find it? Yeah, I was pretty sure you wouldn’t. Like I said, it’s not in there. Oh, there are a few things that have been twisted around and made to fit that story, but the idea that Jesus will come back and suck all his people up to Heaven while everyone else goes through hell on Earth is…not…there. It gets worse, though: Michele Bachmann is a big believer in the Rapture. And, when you agree with Michele Bachmann on something, maybe it’s time to take a look at what you believe.

This current conception of “The Rapture” started about 180 years ago when John Nelson Darby attempted to interpret St. John the Divine’s fever dream (aka, the Book of Revelation). Ease up, theology nerds; I know it’s eschatological literature and, once you understand the symbolism, it’s not all that weird. But, even the most hardcore among you have to admit that, taken literally, it would make a great sci-fi/fantasy read. Unfortunately, all we have on that front is the “Left Behind” series. Let’s be honest, those books aren’t even good Christian fiction. And, yes, that bar is set just as low as you think it is.

I figure Billy Graham pretty much has to be incapacitated.  As a father, I feel sure if he could still lift his arms, he’d beat both his kid’s asses for the way they’ve destroyed the ministry he worked so hard to build. I mean, seriously, between Anne hanging out (ideologically, at least) with people like Michele Bachmann and Kirk Cameron and Franklin’s Islamophobia/Obama Derangement Syndrome, the BGEA‘s credibility is taking some massive hits. Well, outside of fundamentalist/evangelical circles, that is; in that insular world, they’re probably celebrated for “fighting the good fight” and standing up against the “moral relativism” and subsequent decline of this “shining city on a hill”. Give me a fucking break, will you?

Look, if you want to believe some crazy-ass idea that has absolutely no biblical backing whatsoever, that’s your business. But, scaring the shit out of people so they’ll join your failing club is another story. You really, really need to stop that shit. It makes Jesus cry.

 

Jesus Wants You To Buy Me A Jet

Dollar G650A couple of weeks ago, the head of World Changers Church International, the Right Reverend Creflo Dollar, asked his supporters to buy him a $65 million Gulfstream G650 jet. Yes, you read that right, a “pastor” (and I use that term loosely in Dollar’s case) has asked the general public to buy him an airplane. And, not just any airplane: the G650 is no rinky-dink puddle jumper, it’s the biggest, plushest, most expensive private jet money can buy. And, Dollar needs one to carry on his ministry. You can’t expect the man to “continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ” in Piper Cub, you know.

‘Flo might not be as well-known as Joel Osteen, the modern face of prosperity gospel, but he is certainly one of the foremost American proponents of this shakedown theology. With a $2.5 million home, a garage full of cars (including more than one Rolls Royce) and a private jet, Dollar is the living embodiment of the “Name it and claim” doctrine which says if you’re a faithful Christian, God will reward you with all sorts of material goodies (translation from Christianese: “if you’re an expert grifter, you can too can bilk poor, gullible people out of their savings and live like a king”).

Here’s an interesting fact: Dollar’s net worth of $27 million is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 times greater than the average in the area where he “conducts his ministry” (and by “conducts his ministry”, I mean “steals from those who can least afford it”). Perhaps just as interesting is something I mentioned in the previous paragraph: this new aircraft won’t be his first, it will replace an aging Gulfsteam. Now, you may be wondering why he needs a new jet when he already has one. Well, it seems that his current plane is getting a little long in the tooth, having been built in 1984 and purchased by the “ministry” in 1996, logging 4 million miles in the past 19 years. Plus, Dollar claims had engine trouble and once skidded off the runway due to other mechanical issues while his family was on board. We can’t have that, now can we?

Of course, some wags might say that if Dollar wants this flying New Orleans whorehouse, he should pony up and buy it himself. Puh-leeze, the man only has $27 million. What’s he supposed to do, take out a loan like normal people? And, Kirsten West Savali (the journalist who broke this story) thinks Dollar should fly commercial. What? But, that would mean rubbing shoulders with the people he’s been  shaking down all these years. And, if Dollar has to associate with the riff-raff people he ministers to, they might begin to realize that, like all prosperity gospel preachers, he’s a full-of-shit con man who should be in jail, not behind a pulpit.

You might be wondering why I chose to share all this with you, since none of it’s really news anymore. Two reasons: 1) Dollar’s request for $65 million to buy a new jet is not really out of the ordinary when it comes to this racket-masquerading-as-theology; other practitioners, like Osteen and Kenneth Copeland, are just a little more circumspect in their extortion. And, 2) it seems the fund-raising page for the jet has disappeared due to a pretty significant social media backlash. For a short time, you could still donate via the ministry’s general funding page, but now, even that option is no longer available. Is that pushback a sign that people are finally getting tired of all this prosperity gospel/Word of Faith/name-it-and-claim-it bullshit? Only time will tell, but it is encouraging.

I’m Not Praying For You

See, I'm doing you a favor.
See? I’m actually doing you a favor.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like praying. In fact, I don’t like praying to the point that I don’t do it. Well, that’s not exactly true, a more accurate version of that statement would be that I don’t like praying to the point that I don’t do it in public. My aversion to public prayer is well-known to my friends and family; so much so that one of my Sunday school co-teachers makes jokes about it. Part of the reason for that reluctance stems from my private prayer habits. They’re not exactly what you’d call “orthodox”.

I’m sure that last statement comes as a massive surprise to readers of this blog, given my well-documented love of orthodoxy (that, my friends, is what’s known in the trade as “sarcasm”), so let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. One Sunday morning a few years ago, I was running late on my way to church but still needed to stop and get some cash for the offering (I don’t like a record of what I give. But, that’s post for another day). I hit an ATM at a shopping center that was on the way, but got caught at a stoplight as I was leaving. It was one of those looooong ones, too. You know the type: you sit there for what feels like an hour, as exactly zero cars pass in front of you. I was tempted to run it, but the town had recently installed red light cameras, so that really wasn’t an option. As I sat there, stewing, I began talking to God.

Me: “You know, I’m only in this situation because I stopped to get some money for you. The least you could do is make the damn light change.”

God: “So, you decide to be a lazy fuck and sleep in  and it’s my fault?(Yes, in my head, God is a smart ass with a dirty mouth. Big surprise, huh?). Besides, you know I don’t work that way. I may not take you out of a bad situation, but I will take you through it.”

Me: “Oh, that’s so god-damned helpful. Please, tell me how you’re going to “take” me through this.

God: “Hmm, let’s see. How about I help you learn some patience?”

Me: “And, how are you going to do that?”

God: “By having you sit at this light for a while.”

Me: “Wow, that’s so fucking helpful, God. Sitting at this light, watching the time tick away as I get later for church every god-damned second is so not a big deal anymore. Your brilliant plan totally worked!” (I may muttered “Asshole” under my breath. I’m not going on record with that, though)

God: “Okay, fine. How about I help you learn to get off your ass and leave home early enough to get where you’re going on time. Asshole.” (God, being God, didn’t need to mutter the word under his/her breath)

Me: “Okay, I got the point. Leave earlier. Fine.”

God: “No, you don’t have the point. The point is “Ease the fuck up. I don’t really give a shit if you’re couple of minutes late for church. Hell, I’m happy you bothered to show up at all.” At that point, the light turned green and I went on my way.

You can see where that style of prayer might not go over so well in a Sunday school class (or anywhere else, for that matter). But, prayer is an intensely personal practice and you’ve got to find what works for you. For me, it’s a personal conversation with a snarky God who drops f-bombs and talks smack about my screw-ups. For you, it might be kneeling in an ornate cathedral saying The Lord’s Prayer. And, there’s nothing wrong with either version.

It’s Advent (Sigh)

My expression whenever one of my friends waxes eloquent about Advent
My expression whenever one of my friends waxes eloquent about Advent

Yesterday was the beginning of Advent and posts about it are starting to show up in my news feed. I am not happy about that, in part, because Advent posts are almost as irritating as people who are whiter than sour cream saying “That’ll preach” at every opportunity, thinking it makes them sound hip((And, by “hip”, I mean black. Just so you know, it doesn’t. It makes you sound like a nerdy white person trying to sound hip)) While Advent is a lot of things, it’s not fun. Especially because, from now until Christmas, all my progressive Christian friends are going to yap incessantly about it. Talking about their Advent calendars, what Advent really means, lighting candles((after 23 years as a firefighter, I’m not really a fan of candles because I’ve seen what they can do)) and God knows what else. As if listening to conservatives yammer on about their made-up “War on Christmas” and yuppie parents posting pictures of that super-creepy Elf on the Shelf isn’t bad enough, I’ll also have to listen to a bunch of high church freaks “educate” me about how I’m supposed to view this season. I wish I could fucking hibernate until December 24th and miss all this bullshit.

That previous paragraph is a satirical look at my views on Advent and I don’t really feel that way when people talk about it. Well, I don’t always feel that way. Okay, I pretty much always feel that way, but that’s my fault, not yours. Advent is hard for me for several reasons, most notably the words associated with it: hope, peace, joy and love. I realize having problems with those words seems a little odd, but then I’m kind of an odd guy. I also struggle with the whole “expectant waiting” thing. After all those years as a firefighter, I’m better at doing than waiting. Couple that with my ADHD and you get someone who isn’t exactly what you’d call patient. Saying that waiting is hard for me is an understatement on the order of saying the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t like minorities.

So, what do I do with all this? If I was a normal person, I’d sit down with my pastor and/or therapist and work out my issues in private. But, as we all know, I’m not normal, I’m a writer. So, I’ll write about it. Once a week over the course of this season, I’ll take one of those words and write about my difficulties with it. Will it be fun? Probably not, but that’s okay; I doubt anyone’s coming here for laughs. Will it be interesting? I hope so, since there’s not much that scares me more than being boring. Will it help anyone? Again, I hope so, even if it’s just me. Helping people figure things out is one of the main reasons I write all this crap. So, tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel((and, Wednesday this week)), for an inside look at what passes for my thoughts on the wonderful season of Advent.