A Practicing Christian

“Doctors practice medicine, lawyers practice law. Christians should certainly practice Christianity.”  Sky McCracken 

When I found this quote, I planned on taking this entry in an entirely different direction.  I had written several paragraphs laying into the way Christians act, how arrogant we are and how we drive the unchurched away with that attitude.  Which was cool, until I went back and read it.  At that point, I realized I was doing the very thing I was lambasting others for.   I didn’t have a title at that point and the one that’s up there now slapped me upside the head.  I was looking at the word practice in the sense of practicing medicine, but the attitude apparent in what I’d just written said I needed to look at it a little differently.  In essence, I need more practice at being a Christian because I suck at it. 

I have always marveled at my current pastor’s ability to clearly show the love of Christ in any situation.  I’ve seen her maintain her cool while listening to someone pervert the very Gospel that she’s dedicated her life to, while I wanted to slap the person spewing the garbage in question.  To say that I don’t have a pastoral disposition would be the understatement of the century.  I identify more with Peter in the garden when the soldiers arrested Jesus.  You remember what he did, don’t you?  Cut some dudes ear off, that’s what.  And, what did Jesus do?  Picked up the guy’s ear and put it back on.  That, in itself, is pretty amazing.  I mean, he just picked it up, stuck it back on and it healed!  But, to me, the truly amazing part is that he did that for someone who’d come to arrest him and ultimately take him to his execution.  Jesus was under no illusions as to his fate.  He knew what happened to people who made too much trouble for the Romans: crucifixion.  He’d seen enough to know what a gruesome death it was.  Yet, in the face of this, he not only stops Peter from inflicting anymore harm, heals the man who’s leading him to his doom.  I couldn’t do that, I’d be looking for another ear to lop off.  Heck, I can’t even hold my temper when I think someone slights me.  If being a Christian is following in the footsteps of my rabbi Jesus, I’m not doing so well.  But, Peter finally got it, so maybe there’s hope for me.  And, the coolest part is even if I don’t, God loves me anyway. 

What would practicing Christianity look like?  Maybe something like what a fellow named Hugh Hollowell is doing.  Hugh lives just up the road from me, in Raleigh, and runs a ministry called Love Wins.  It’s a homeless ministry, but he doesn’t approach it like a lot of folks might.  Hugh does whatever he can to help the homeless in downtown Raleigh.  That’s it, nothing else.  That’s the key, the nothing else part.  He doesn’t give out tracts, make them sit through a sermon to get a meal or a pair of pants, or even witness to them.  Overtly, that is.  There’s plenty of witnessing going on, just not verbally.  As St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words“.  Not to say he won’t take an opportunity when it rears its head.  The following exchange is from the Love Wins blog: 

“You are a nice man. Why you so nice? I mean, you help us out, you talk to us… I ain’t nothing, man. My own Momma don’t want to talk to me, you don’t even know me and you help me. Why you doing this?” 

I hesitate a minute here. I know folks who would see this as an opportunity to swoop in, tract in hand, tell them about how Jesus will solve all their problems, fix everything. I try to imagine what Jesus would say. 

“I care about you guys when it makes no sense to because Jesus loved me when it made no sense for him to,” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to set anyone up on a pedestal, I’m just saying Hugh’s doing a hell of a lot better job than I am.  And, it’s embarrassing and inspiring all at once.  I hope both feelings last.

Does it Matter?

Tuesday, scientists announced the results of an experiment involving matter and anti-matter in an attempt to understand the foundations of the universe.  I’m not going to go into the science of it (I’ve attached a link for that), but the basic result is that, contrary to earlier thought, when matter and anti-matter come together there is not complete annihilation.  Approximately, 1% of the matter is not consumed and this matter is what makes up our universe.  What does this have to do with what I usually talk about?  The author of one of the many blogs I read, Jason Boyette , was offering a free copy of his latest book to the best metaphor using the matter/anti-matter thing to describe faith.  Always on the lookout for a freebie, I posted “How about this for a metaphor: matter is love. Antimatter is everything else. Love wins.”  Pretty good, I thought.  It’s pithy, succinct, to the point and I thought I had a pretty shot.  Until I read Amber’s, that is.  See what you think:

“The collision of quark particles takes such an extreme amount of energy that the project took 17 miles of high power acceleration…all to crash together particles that are so small we only know they exist because they interact with other particles.

And yet, with all that energy, effort, toil and sweat and speed and explosive power that was so huge some scientists were afraid it would create a black hole large enough to swallow the world, we get…almost nothing. The energy collides the quark particles and instantaneously creates matter and antimatter that consume each other so quickly that they literally only exist for a fraction of a second. They don’t turn into something else, they don’t melt, they don’t fry, they don’t burn, they don’t even disappear, they just…aren’t.

Except 1%. Of the millions of joules it took to make that creation in the first place, only 1% of it remains. And yet, that is the difference between hot and cold, light and dark, life and death. That 1% is the difference between IS and WAS.

And so it is with Christ. He pours continually into us, with such a passion, such a fervor, such an energy that two millennia ago a glance of its power seemed to nearly split the world in two. He pursues us with such energy it’s quite literally unfathomable. And yet, we are not. We see not. We feel not. We breathe not. We know not. We hear not. But he keeps pouring massive amounts of Himself toward us because He knows that even though 99% is absorbed in the antiChrist that surrounds us, 1% will come through. And that 1% is all that matters, for it’s the difference between hot and cold, light and dark, life and death, IS and WAS.”

Great things about being a Methodist

In the introductory post to this wonderful destination on the World Wide Web, I told you I was a Methodist.  I am a Methodist for many reasons, not least because I grew up in the Methodist Church and I’m comfortable there.  That’s why, when I decided to come back to church after a long absence, my first choice was the local UMC.  Now, I could tell you the reason had deep theological roots and that would be kinda true.  But, there are other reasons, too.  A few of them are listed below.

  1.   We invented grape juice._ Okay, we didn’t really invent grape juice.  But, a former Methodist minister did come up with a pasteurization process that kept the juice from fermenting.  In the 1860’s, the General Conference decided that only the “in all cases the pure juice of the grape be used in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”  Problem was that “pure juice of the grape” had a tendency to ferment and that was bad because the Discipline said “unfermented wine only should be used at the sacrament.”.  So, Thomas Bramwell Welch (dentist and former pastor) discovered a method of pasteurization that stopped fermentation.  He got local churches to use it, calling it “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine”.  His son’s eventually formed the Welch’s Grape Juice Company and the rest is history. 
  2.   Church year is color-coded._ The United Methodist Church is a curious blend of high and low church styles.  We use more ritual than some other denominations, while eschewing the Roman Rite and remain stubbornly Protestant.  One of those high church things is using colors to denote the liturgical year.  Why is this a good thing?  I have no earthly idea, but I like it.  For that reason alone, it makes the list.
  3.   You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized._ In some churches, if you want to get baptized, you have to get wet.  I don’t mean a little wet, I’m talking dunked under water wet.  Go to many Baptist churches and, somewhere in there, you’ll find a baptistery, a pool specifically for baptism by immersion.  If it’s a small church, they’ll go to a local river, pond, lake, etc. to do this.  The preacher takes you out in the water, intones something along the lines of “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” and lays you back under the water.  In the Methodist Church, we just sprinkle some water on your head in honor of the ancient practice.  Church really shouldn’t entail a change of clothes.
  4. We’ll speak to you in the liquor store._ Let’s face it, almost all of us enjoy a drink now and then.  But, as we all know, good Christians don’t admit that.  In fact, a lot of them will deny they like a nip and look down on you for saying you do.   There are some Methodists like that, too.  But, I knew I was in the right place when I ran into my pastor’s husband at the grocery store and he had two of the biggest bottles of wine I’d ever seen.  I snuck up behind him, pointed at the bottles and whispered “What you do if the bishop saw that?”  He looked me in the eye and said “Invite him over for a drink”. 
  5. Worship service isn’t an aerobic workout._ If you’ve ever been to a Catholic mass, you know what I’m talking about.  Stand up, sit down, genuflect, kneel, get some holy water, kneel again, go down for communion, sit back down, stand up again, etc.  Geez, I’m tired just writing about it.
  6. We’re done with church in time to see the game._  Garrison Keillor put it best when he said ” A minister has to be able to read a clock. At noon, it’s time to go home and turn up the pot roast and get the peas out of the freezer.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love church, but those marathon sermons that go on till 1:30 or 2:00 are a bit over the top.  Sunday is the only day I can be lazy without feeling guilty and the day is only so long.  So, wind it up, pastor.
  7. Covered dish dinners._ I’ll grant that this may be a Southern thing more than just a Methodist thing, but you can’t have a church gathering without something to eat.  And, in every church all over the world, there are little old ladies that don’t have anyone to cook for anymore and they bring in the most amazing food for these occasions.  And, they more than make up for the obligatory bucket of KFC and the disgusting looking pasta salad that someone always brings.
  8. Real bread at communion instead of those weird little wafers._  I don’t know about your church, but at mine the communion host is always a loaf of King’s Hawaiian Bread.  Which is amazing.  The communion wafers look (and taste) like styrofoam.  You tell me which is better
  9. We get to decide if we want to be saved._ Methodists are Wesleyans, which is an offshoot of Arminianism.  Short version of Arminianism is that people get to choose whether or not to accept salvation from God, while Calvinism says that God chooses who He will save.  That’s an extremely simplistic view of an extremely complex concept, but it’s okay because I’m not being very serious today. 
  10. We have metaphors and acronyms for everything._  We have the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (no, that’s not a football play involving 4 passes), Wesley’s house metaphor, acronyms like ZOE project, UMCOR, MERCI Center and I could go on.  I think Methodist seminaries have a class on all the things like this that a pastor needs to know about. 

Like I said, that’s just some of the things I like about the United Methodist Church.  There are some things I’m not so thrilled about, too.  But that’s a post for another day.

Social Justice is a Code Word

There seems to be a lot of talk about the concept of social justice in the church.  Even in the Methodist church (of which I’m a member), which has had a strong social justice bent since it’s inception, is experiencing debate on the subject.  And, political pundit Glenn Beck has even weighed in on the subject.  Why all the ruckus?  I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that for every person you ask “What is social justice”, you’ll get a different answer.  For some, it’s all about a “level playing field”, for others it’s the back door to socialism or even communism, still others see it as no less than a biblical command.  Saying we’re all over the place on this subject is putting it mildly.

As usual, I’m going to start with a definition.  You can’t really discuss something intelligently until you know what it is you’re discussing.  So, social justice is “the concept in which a subjective notion of justice and/or equality is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than the administration of law”.  Or, it “refers to the concept of a society that gives individuals and groups fair treatment and an equitable share of the benefits of society. In this context, social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equity”.  Or, could it be “the fair distribution of advantages, assets, and benefits among all members of a society”?  See what I mean?  I think all of us agree with the idea that no one should go hungry, lack shelter or decent medical care.  The problem lies in how this is achieved.  Some of us think the government should provide these most basic of necessities, while others believe that this is best handled through the private sector and personal philanthropy.  And, of course there are those who believe in social Darwinism (strangely, many of these same folks don’t care for Darwin’s actual theory at all).  Where do I come down?  Well, I believe that everyone’s basic needs should be met, although I’m not so sure the government is the body to accomplish that.  At least, not by themselves.  I’ve spoken about this in another post, so click the link if you want to know more about that. 

In March of this year, Glenn Beck told listeners on his radio and television shows that “I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”  For Beck and many others, social justice is a code word for socialism.  Which, in their minds, is the worst evil to befall the world in recent history.  I understand this mindset because I used to think the same way.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union and some growth in my faith walk, I’ve come to realize that’s not necessarily the case.  There are many greater evils than socialism, like thousands of children dying of hunger all over the world, soldiers as young as 8 years old being forced to fight tribal or civil wars, an AIDS pandemic in Africa leaving teenagers raising families and the list goes on.  While I think Glenn Beck is a huge douche (yes, I realize that’s not a very Christian comment), other people who I respect agree with him in some measure, so I try not to dismiss this idea out of hand. 

Some of things being said about social justice is off-base, ill-informed or just plain wrong.  For instance, I’ve seen people saying that helping others is fine, but salvation is the most important thing.  I don’t think you can separate the two.  If you try preaching to someone who’s hungry or worrying where his family is going to spend the night, he isn’t going to listen to you.  That’s actually a best case scenario, he’ll probably think you’re an asshole for talking about that stuff while he’s starving instead of offering to share your dinner.  There is a psychological theory called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs about…, well, human needs.  Very quickly, the needs are 1)survival: food water, etc. 2) safety: security, shelter, etc. 3) love and belonging: friendship, family 4) Esteem: self-esteem, respect 5) Self-actualization: morality, creativity, etc.  Guess where religion and spirituality fall in this list?  Probably is the last one, self-actualization.  Why is this important?  Because, until the needs of one level are met, the needs of the higher levels can’t be addressed.  That’s why the scenario I mentioned above would be fruitless.  The hungry person is so concerned with daily survival, they can’t take the time to listen to stuff that doesn’t put food on the table.  And, that’s where social justice comes in.  How are we to spread the Gospel of God’s love to folks who can’t hear it?

One thing the folks so het up about social justice either don’t understand, or refuse to see, is that one the main thrust’s of Jesus’ ministry here on earth was one of social justice.  The Sermon on the Mount is riddled with it.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the Beatitudes.  Those nine statements turned Jewish society of the time on its ear.  Sit down and read the whole thing, looking for social justice ideas and see what you come up with.  Still have a problem with social justice? Remember what Jesus told the rich young man who asked how to get to heaven?  “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me“.  And, if that’s not enough, read Matthew 25:34-46.  For me, that settles the debate. 

To be honest, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  In all my days in church, I’ve never heard socialism put forth as way to bring justice to the world.  One of the things I’ve seen or heard that people have a problem with is the idea of a “level playing field”.  What’s wrong with that?  Isn’t that kind of what the United States is all about?  I mean,  the concept that “All men are created equal” and that we all have “certain inalienable rights” are the foundation of this country.  Sounds like someone creating a level playing field to me.  Some feel the need to apologize for their belief in social justice.  Not me, I’m proud of it.  As a Christian and an American, how could I feel any other way?

In the title of this post, I say “Social Justice is a Code Word”.  And, it most definitely is, just not the one that most people who use that phrase are thinking.  One that, decoded, shows us the way to spread God’s Word.  The Word that he loves ALL his children and wants us to love them as well.  Not just the ones that we’re comfortable with, all of them.  The ones that are a different color, have horrible diseases, are guilty of sins that we find abhorrent (remember, we’re not pure as the driven snow ourselves), have politics that don’t align with our own…, I could continue this list indefinitely, but I think you get the point.

Feast and Famine

As I write this, I’m surrounded by a group of teenagers participating in the 30 Hour Famine.  30 Hour Famine, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a program sponsored by World Vision for youth groups around the world to raise money and awareness about hunger in the Third World.  In it, the kids fast for 30 hours (and it’s a hard fast, clear liquids only), engage in activities to educate them to the crushing poverty experienced outside the privileged enclaves of the West and few other spots.  It’s been very informative, so far.  We’ve gotten tidbits like 13,000 children die everyday from hunger-related causes or every 7 seconds a child dies from starvation.  Tough, huh?

We watched a video earlier shot in Swaziland on the African continent, which in the grip of a ten year drought.  These people were so desperate for water, they were digging about 6 feet down into the bed of a dried up reserOne death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.voir.  They were carrying home buckets and jugs of water we wouldn’t we let our dog drink and were thrilled to get it, while we turn a tap and have fresh, clean water on demand and in abundance.  And, ten-year drought.  Ten years, my God.  A few years back, we experienced drought conditions here in the Southeastern U.S. and people were freaking out.  But, were they freaking out because there may not be enough drinking water?  No, they were losing their minds because the city instituted water restrictions and they couldn’t wash their cars or water their lawn.  Sometimes, I’m amazed at our affluence has turned us into.  Wasteful, ungrateful and selfish children it seems sometimes.

Around midnight, we had a short worship service.  Sean, my friend and the youth leader, was reading from a book called “The Hole In Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns.  In it, Stearns talks about the media’s reaction to the crash of an airliner and then asks what would happen in 100 planes crashed in one day.  And, then another 100 crashed the day after that, and the day after that, and the day…, well you get the picture.  The uproar would be tremendous.  Flights would be grounded and investigations started so we could get to the bottom of things.  Then, he points that enough people die everyday to fill 100 airliners.  Everyday, day after day.  And, what happens?  Not much, really.  People give lip service and that’s about it.  Why is it like that?  Part of it, I think, is one of scale.  As Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” 

So, what’s the answer?  I don’t know about the big picture, but I’m pretty sure as Christians we’re not supposed to worry about that.  What we are supposed to do is get involved on whatever level we can.  Whether it be your own 30 Hour Famine, getting involved in(or starting ) a ministry or other type organization helping those who can’t help themselves, contributing money to help out, or protesting for 3rd World debt relief, you need to do something.  Speaking of doing something, I’ll write more tomorrow when I have more to tell and I’m a little less punch drunk.

The Last Cookie

“Sometimes me think what is love, and then me think love is what last cookie is for. Me give up the last cookie for you.”
Cookie Monster.
 
If you’re a friend of mine of Facebook, you’re familiar with my daily quotes. It started a while back when I noticed how banal most of my friend’s status posts were.  About 2 seconds after that, it dawned on me that their’s weren’t the only ones lacking substance.  I mean, really, who cares if I’m working or what scintillating activity I may be engaging in at that moment.  It was really rather arrogant.  I had to do something different.  At first, I tried to think of something worthwhile to say, but nothing I could think of seemed worth the effort to write (I’ve gotten over that trifling notion, as you can see).  So, I started pulling quotes from others and posting them in my status.  Shortly after that, the quotes became spiritual and religious in nature.  Most of the time.  I still break it up with the occasional comic line or two.  You’d think I wouldn’t get surprised by the sources of the quotes after this long, but it still happens now and then.  Like the quote above.  I mean Sesame Street, of all places.
 
At the age kids these days are into Sesame Street, we couldn’t get it.  This was back in the Dark Ages when almost no one had cable.  In fact, you were lucky if you had an outdoor antenna and didn’t rely on a set of rabbit ears and tin foil to get 3 (that’s right, 3) TV stations.  When we got a better antenna, reception improved but we still lived to far from the PBS transmitter to pick it up very well.  In fact, I was almost a teenager before I even heard about the Street.  But, even at that advanced age, something about a few the characters resonated with me.  One of my favorites has always been Cookie Monster.  Maybe it was his lack of impulse control where baked goods are concerned (we have that in common), his intensity or maybe because the dude is just plain funny.  Blue fur, googly eyes and a voice that makes me smile every time I hear it.  But, I never thought Cookie Monster could reach me now that I’m pushing 50.
 
I’m with him, sometimes I think what is love.  Depends on what you’re talking about, I suppose.  The dictionaries have plenty of definitions and we think we know what love is, but do we really?  The word has taken a bit of hit in the English language.  The Greeks had 4 different words for it and we make do with one, which leads to a little confusion.  I mean, you say love these days and folks think you mean that deep, abiding affection we reserve for those special people in our lives, sex or just liking something a whole lot.  Think about it for minute, how often do we profess love for some inanimate object?  Or, worse yet, throw back our head and bark “I LOVE IT!” when someone we don’t care for gets their comeuppance.  One word for all that???  Like I said, love hasn’t fared to well in our times.  Kinda sucks, huh?
 
Of those four Greek words, the one I’m really concerned with at the moment is Agape.  Agape is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.  Unconditional love…, I’d like to think that’s the way I love my children.  That I love them no matter what.  And, I do the best I can with that.  Truly, I can’t think of a circumstance that would cause me to withdraw my love from them.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means I can’t conceive it.  Even worse, I don’t show it.  When either of them don’t do what I want, I’m not the loving, understanding father that I want to be.  Sometimes, I’m mean, vindictive, even a little nasty.  Or, I pretend to be that loving father I want to be, but with an ulterior motive: I try to clandestinely manipulate them into doing what I want.  And, occasionally, I get it right.  But, only occasionally and nowhere near often enough. 
 
Fortunately, our Father (notice the capital F) doesn’t have that problem.  Unconditional love is His nature and good thing for me.  Regardless what you hear some “Christian” folks say, there is nothing, nothing, that I can do to cause God to turn his back on me.  No sin is too vile, no act base enough to make God reject me.  While I constantly turn my back on Him and stray away, He’s always there, waiting for me, loving me.  Without condition.  Pretty cool, huh?
 
Bet you’re wondering how I’m going to tie in that Cookie Monster quote from the beginning, aren’t you?  Since you’ve stuck around, I’ll tell you.  For me, it’s a metaphor.  God is telling us how much He loves us and how He’s shown that love.  The Last Cookie…, take a guess who that is.

Who Was That Masked Man? Part II

I’ll be honest, I had every intention of writing this post yesterday but outside forces conspired against me.  Namely, faulty AC and a bad case of ADD.  The AC’s repaired and I’m trying to put a lid on the ADD, with varying success.  But, I’m finally here, so let’s get to it.  My last post was about the masks we all wear and what they do.  To others and ourselves, with a slant toward other believers.  Today, I’m writing about what our masks do to any witness we may have with the “unchurched”.  I don’t really like that term, it seems a bit mealy-mouthed, but for the life of me, I can’t think of anything better.

So, what mask do we show to our unchurced friends and coworkers?  The most common is one of purity.  You know what I’m talking about, so don’t act like you don’t.  Some Christians have a tendency to act like we’re better than we really are.  Of course, I’m talking those brothers and sisters who walk around with a smugly superior attitude that says “I used to be like you, but I’m saved now”, like accepting God’s grace was some major act on their part.  Then, they proceed to point out the faults of everyone else, paying particular attention to the ones they feel are most egregious (usually the ones related to sex).  They rail on about sin and how if you don’t get saved you’re bound for Hell.  And, they do it all with a distinct air of condescension that puts everyone off, even other Christians.  But, we tell ourselves, there’s not that many folks like that and, best of all, we’re not them.  Sure, we’re not (that was sarcastic, btw).  There are a few folks like that, but give them a little time and they’ll shoot themselves in the foot.  For example, take a look at Westboro Baptist Church.  Even the KKK doesn’t want anything to do with them.  No, these misguided souls aren’t the reason the people outside the church are staying away in droves.  It’s us.  The ones that think we’re such great folks.

For some reason, Christians are loath to let anyone know they’re sinners, to air their dirty laundry in public.  For some twisted reason, we think we have to “be good” and have it all together.  But, here’s the hitch: you can’t be good enough.  Just ain’t happening folks, that’s why the Man had to come down and His thing.  So, you can hang that up.  I’m not saying that you should go out sin wildly, fun though it would be.  I’m just saying to give up acting like that’s even an option.  As for the “having it all together” bit, give me a break.  If I could get it all together on my own, why would I need God?  And, believe me, I’m not even close with God’s help.  So, acting like I’m good and have it all together is a lie.  And that, my friends, ain’t a good thing.  Here are a couple of problems with whole purity thing.  1) If (and that’s a big IF) someone outside the church actually believes my mask of purity, instead of inspiring them, it will probably drive them away, thinking they could never live up to my example.  The more likely outcome of this encounter would be that they see though my bullsh_t and realize I’m just like them, flawed and broken.  This time, the response is “What hypocrite!  I don’t want anything to do with his crowd.”  I’ve created a stumbling block, just not the way we usually interpret that bit of scripture.  

So, what to do about this mess?  First and foremost, don’t be shy about how screwed up you are.  Admit it, hell, embrace it.  Let others see that you’re not perfect, not that it’ll be a big surprise to them.  I don’t know what will happen if you do, but I do know this: it’s kinda freeing.  In the last post, I gave you a peek at just how f_cked up I am.  I’d kept much of that under wraps for quite a while and finally putting it out there to be seen by all was scary, nerve-wracking and …kind of exhilarating, all at once.  It’s been out there for a few days and no mobs have shown up with torches and pitchforks calling for my hide, so maybe it’ll be okay.  I hope that at least one person, churched or unchurced, who read it said, “Wow, I thought I was the only one like that.”  If they did and got something from it, then it was worth all the village mobs in the world.  So, take off your mask and be exactly who you are.  God made you and He thinks you’re the bomb.

Who Was That Masked Man? Part I

Lately, I’ve been reading a book by Steve Brown called “A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel”.  In it, Brown says that we are burdened with a standard of behavior forced on us by other Christians that God, himself, doesn’t require.  We are free, he says, to screw up massively and God will continue to love us.  That there is nothing we can do to lose that love.  Steve also tells us that we’ll never get better by trying to be better.  That no matter how hard we try, the bar is set impossibly high and there’s no way we can clear on our own.  The only way to get better is to give up trying and immerse ourselves in God’s love.  I like that and it sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  I mean, isn’t that what we’ve always been told?  That we are vile, corrupt sinners and that we can’t even realize that we need grace without God’s help?  If that’s true, why do we keep trying to do it on our own?  You know what I’m talking about.  We, as Christians, are notorious for secretly obsessing over the log in our own eye while pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s.  I not even going into the damage we do to unbelievers with this attitude, that’ll be in the next post.  But, what do we do to our brothers and sisters in Christ with this? 

In any Christian gathering, group, church, etc. certain standards of behavior expected.  And, if someone doesn’t meet those standards, sometimes people aren’t so understanding.  Think about it for minute.  Remember a time when you or someone you know said or did something that went against the prevailing wisdom of your church.  What happened?  I’m guessing an awkward silence followed by a quick change of subject at the very least.  Even that relatively mild reaction would make you question your acceptance within your peer group.  And, we all know it doesn’t always go that well.  So, what happens then?  As Brown says “When the requirement for acceptance in any particular group is to think certain thoughts, to act in certain ways, and to fit certain molds ~ and we don’t think or act that way, or fit the mold ~ we tend to fake it. We put on a mask that says, ‘I’m just like you. Now, will you please love me and accept me?’ I can think of hardly anything that will kill your joy and freedom more than wearing a mask geared to get others to accept you because you’re acting like them.”  Ever since I read that, I’ve been thinking about what kind masks I wear, at church, at work and at home. 

The character of the church I attend, Knightdale United Methodist, is pretty standard.  Many in the congregation are like most Americans, fiscally conservative.  Some are more liberal than others, especially when it comes to social issues, but everyone believes in helping those who can’t help themselves.  But, there are several things about me that would definitely bring about that awkward silence, if not get me fired as a youth leader.  You see, I don’t think homosexuality is a sin.  I believe the passages concerning sex have been misunderstood for who knows how long.  I also have a secret: I’m an addict.  I won’t say what kind, because it doesn’t really matter, an addict is an addict.  And, it’s like a pair of ugly sunglasses: no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of it.  But, I manage it, with His help.  The point of this is that I’m a horrible sinner and, rightly or wrongly, I don’t reveal any of this because I’m afraid of what my church family will think.  Which is stupid, really, because if you can’t be honest at church, where can you be honest?

I wear mask at work, too.  I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years and I remain deathly afraid that my co-workers will find I’m kind of a geek.  The man the fire service draws is an action-oriented sports fan and outdoorsman.  A guy that’s really into whatever sport is being played, that likes fishing and hunting, a real guy’s guy.  While I like some of those things, they’re not top on my list.  Frankly, I’d much rather spend my free time reading, goofing around on the computer or listening to music.  But, I don’t say that.  I put on the boisterous front and act like I’m into all that stuff, because I don’t want to be the “weird” guy at the station.  Truth is, anyone who’s worked a few tours with me knows exactly who I am.  I’m the dude who always has a book in his duty bag, the one who knows how to spell the hard words and most spectacularly, the guy that can kick ass when Jeopardy’s on.  The only person I’m fooling is myself.

At home, I’m Superdad.  Acting like I can fix anything, cook dinner, clean up, help with homework and solve all my children’s problems.  In reality, the only thing I do well is cook dinner, I’m smokin’ in the kitchen (hey, I’m cutting myself up pretty good here, I deserve to brag a little).  I’m just good enough as a parent to get myself into trouble.  Just when I think I’ve got it goin’ on, something yanks the rug out from under me.  The worst part of this mask is that my children believe it.  They think I know I what I’m doing because I’m Dad.  Truth is, I’m making it up as I go along.  A lot of the time, I have no idea what to do.  I make mistakes and, from now on, I’m not hiding them from my children.  They need to know it’s okay to screw up now and then. 

I’m done with masks, I’m done with rules and I’m done with what others think of me.  The only one who matters is God and, strangely enough, he loves me just the way I am.

A Few Words

I want to talk about some words I’ve heard lately.  They’re not very nice ones, either.  No, not those, most of the common curse words aren’t near the problem some folks think they are.  The words I’m talking about sound fine on their face, but when you look a little deeper at what’s really being said, they’re not so fine.  These are words that some Christians are throwing around to describe other Christians.  Ones that don’t agree with them, and that challenge long-held beliefs.  Rather than wax poetic (or not poetic, in my case), let’s get started.

1) Unbiblical_  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this word means “contrary to or unsanctioned by the Bible”.  This one comes up a lot in relation to Emergence theology, liberal Christianity and anything else that doesn’t fit with a strictly fundamental understanding of the Bible and what it says.  It sounds very profound, but the problem is that who decides what the Bible is saying on a particular subject?  As a Methodist, I read and interpret the Bible using Scripture, Reason, Experience and Tradition (Wesleyan Quadrilateral).  Someone else would use another method and come up with something else.  Who’s right? 

2)Orthodox_ “conforming to established doctrine especially in religion”.  This is one that some folks get beat up with because they have the temerity to disagree or ask questions.  I’m trying to figure out when doctrine became so important that it’s defense was worth trashing a brother or sister in Christ, to the point of accusing them of:

3)Heresy_ controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma.  Doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?  Yeah, until you realize that all those people tortured and burned during the Inquisition were considered heretics.  There’s something else at work in using this word.  If someone’s a heretic, you don’t have to refute, or even listen to, what they say.  Bad as heresy is, it’s still better than:

4)Apostasy_ is the formal religious disaffiliation or abandonment or renunciation of one’s religion.  If a heresy is bad, then this one must be “don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, go straight to hell” bad.  I mean, you’re not just changing things, you’ve turned your back on it all!   If that’s not bad enough, there’s:

5)Blasphemy_ irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, and beliefs.  I don’t know about you, but I think a little irreverence now and then is a good thing.  If we’re not careful, it’s easy for Christians to get snotty and arrogant.  Nothing lets the air out of your balloon like laughter.  It works better if you join in. 

That’s a lot of negative stuff.  What’s it all about, you ask?  Those engaging in this type of speech would tell you that they are fighting for the soul of Christianity.  If that’s true, then Christianity has already lost its soul and it’s time to scrap it and start over.