Week in Review: 7/29/17

Doubting Our Faith Like Jesus and the Disciples

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Carvaggio

The fear of doubt, for many Christians, is the fear that God will cast them out for doubting God’s truth. It is a fear preyed upon by those who tell them “The End is Near,” and those who want to use that fear to get in their wallets. What is Jesus came back just in that moment of doubt, and I miss my chance to be taken into heaven forever, because right at that moment I wasn’t so sure about something? Leaving aside the inherent problematic, and non-Biblical nature of such an apocalyptic worldview, the use of fear to coerce people into faith is surely one of the greatest sins one can engage in. “Fear not,” Jesus commanded. “There is no fear in love,” the author of 1 John writes. To cause others to fear, intentionally, is to go against God. To strike fear into the hearts of good people because they might have doubts is spiritual malpractice.

Especially because, doubt is Biblical!

Big Changes Ahead

I have been accepted into the Master of Theological Studies program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in Evanston, Illinois, beginning this fall semester. Obviously, this means I am leaving Phillips Theological Seminary here in Tulsa, where I have been enrolled for the last two years. A variety of factors have played into this decision, and I am excited to get up to Chicago and finish my Masters work so I can begin working on my Ph.D! I will miss Phillips and all the wonderful colleagues I had there, but I am also excited for a whole new cohort of peers and teachers at GETS!

“Let Obamacare Fail” Is Immoral

The concept of “letting Obamacare fail” is highly immoral. It strikes against the oath at the very heart of the medical field, which states “First, do no harm.”

These guys have your future in their hands. Yikes.

Obamacare has real problems with the way it is built and the way it has worked in the real world. But these problems are all fixable. The mandate needs to have better enforcement. Subsidies could be more generous. CSR (cost-sharing reduction) payments to insurers need to be assured and generous as well. Medicaid expansion needs to take hold in all fifty states.

The three-legged stool of Obamacare – universal coverage, subsidies, and the individual mandate – is a proven model. It’s not perfect; we would be better off with Medicare-for-all, with the eventual goal of single payer. But Obamacare, when it is funded and not sabotaged, works. No one can deny it: more people are insured under Obamacare than were before, and that is a unqualified good. No matter what your opinions on health policy, no one can deny that more people (24 million more people, to be exact) having access to affordable, decent health coverage is a good thing for this country, politically and morally.

What I’ve Been Reading (And Watching And Listening To) This Summer

One of my goals this summer has been to do a lot of reading. During the school year, any personal reading is very obviously out of the question. Being a lover of books, this means that I obtain a healthy stack of “to be read” books. This last year was especially fruitful on this front; between a pastor friend retiring and letting me raid his shelf, another friend downsizing for a cross country move and allowing the same, and just my own general buying and collecting of books, the to-be-read pile on the corner of my desk has swelled to well over 70 titles.

Obviously, getting through all of them this summer is impossible. But I’m doing my best! Here is what I have read so far this summer.

The Bookshelf: At The Heart of the White Rose

Hans and Sophie were brother and sister, alternately the oldest and youngest of a larger brood of children, growing up in the first half of the 20th century in Nazi Germany. In their early 20s at the outbreak of war on the continent, both are conscripted into national service for the Reich, Hans as a military doctor, and Sophie in the compulsory Nazi youth organizations.

Yet, neither are Nazi supporters. Hailing from a highly educated, well-to-do family, they are well-read and intellectual, and both write obliquely of their horror at the rampant nationalism and violence going on around them. Eventually, along with a substantial group of friends and acquaintances their age, they begin writing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in Munich. Their group is dubbed “The White Rose.” After six subversive pamphlets, Hans and Sophie are caught distributing leaflets at the university in Munich, and subsequently executed. Hans was 24; Sophie just 21.

At The Heart of the White Rose is a collection of excerpts from their letters and personal diaries, kept between 1937 and their deaths in February of 1943.

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Week in Review: 7/22/17

This week’s blog posts:

The Heresy of Make America Great Again

The “Make America Great Again” song – and really, the whole MAGA concept – is about as anti-Christian as one can get. The fact that a major church in America can really build an entire brand around MAGA just shows the theological bankruptcy of much of American Christianity. Most Christians, it seems, regard no more than a few verses of the Bible – those having to do with “gnashing of teeth” and Jesus being the only choice and those allegedly about sexual orientation – and discard the rest, especially those places about justice and compassion and mercy and caring for the least, the lost, and the alien.

The Way exemplified by Jesus, as we read it in the Gospels, is anti-empire. Jesus consistently stood against the coercive use of power – economic, political, military – in pursuit of human achievement. Jesus understood that so often power is used by one tribe or group against another, and that as a result, people suffered.

Instead of wielding power and promoting an “us-against-them” ideology, Jesus showed that abundant life comes through love of neighbor, through spreading a big tent over all humanity, and welcoming everyone in, especially those on the margins of society. Jesus stood against empire, showing its moral bankruptcy through his use of the power of love for its own sake.

“Theology Needs Periodical Rejuvenation”

Theology needs periodical rejuvenation. Its greatest danger is not mutilation but senility. It is strong and vital when it expresses in large reasoning what youthful religion feels and thinks. When people have to be indoctrinated laboriously in order to understand theology at all, it become a dead burden.”

 

 

Blog Update: I’m Gonna Write About Trump! (And other things too)

So I wrote a few months back about the intense writers block I’ve been experiencing. You can read about all the details here.

I’m working on getting back in the writing space by forcing myself to write daily. Usually, that has meant handwriting whatever has been going on in my days in this big black unlined sketch book. I force myself almost daily to do this just to exercise the writing muscle. I figure most of it is crap, but 1 out of 100 times something good will come and that, over time, I’ll get back in the swing of things.

So I’m now trying to work blogging daily back into the mix too. This is a much heavier lift, but I want to do it. And I’ve realized something that I think will help.

The Theological Bankruptcy of American Evangelicals (as explained by Tony Perkins)

Perkins himself reinforces a point I make often about so much of American Christianity: it can be boiled down to exactly two facets: opposition to abortion, and opposition to LGBT equality. For the court evangelicals, and for the millions of people who follow them, this is the sum total of what being a Christian in America looks like in 2017. As long as you oppose abortion and oppose gay marriage, you can brag about sexually assaulting women, show a profound lack of knowledge about Scripture, and govern in a way that not just neglects the needy, but goes out of its way to actively do harm to them. Actual beliefs about God or Jesus are beside the point; hence the growing evangelical-Catholic alliance.

Members of the clergy lay hands and pray over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on September 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Public practice of Christianity doesn’t include any theological grounding, nor does it include traditional forms of Christian social action, such as missions, or care for the indigent. The only public form of Christian action that matters is woman shaming in front of Planned Parenthood, and protests at the Supreme Court anytime they hear a case concerning the LGBT community.

The proof is in the numbers: on Election Day 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, despite his clear indifference to faith, his hateful and disgusting comments about just about every group in America outside of straight, white men, and his overwhelming greed and hunger for power. This from the same group of Christians who had a collective aneurysm over the moral shortcomings of Bill Clinton just 20 short years ago.

Week in Review: 12/20/15

Myths of the Nativity: Bethlehem vs. Nazareth

stained glass nativityUnderstanding the situation of Jesus’ early life, his family situation, his status as a child with no father, and his inconsequential hometown, we can begin to make sense of why Jesus was so committed to the worst and most forgotten of society. I think we often think of Jesus as one high and mighty, deigning to stoop down and notice these people. But in reality, Jesus was one of those people. He wasn’t crossing class lines; he was standing with his people, with the ones he grew up around, the ones he most understood. Jesus identified with the oppressed because he was one of the oppressed. The great teacher, the Messiah and inspiration for the world’s  largest religion, was no more than provincial trash, worth no more than he could produce for the empire.

Myths of the Nativity: The Adoration

To make the stories in the Bible “science” is to demythologize them, as Tillich describes, “the removal of symbols and myths altogether.” The attempt to resist the identification and interpretation of myth in favor of the myth being reality leads to command and control structures of faith, in which the goal becomes not reading to become better understand the human relationship to God, but instead reading to affirm the power structure that claims a monopoly on interpreting the Bible (even if they don’t recognize what they are doing as such.)

Reducing Scripture to nothing but the “infallible, inerrant Word of God” negates the power of it’s variability. To give full respect and deference to the Bible and it’s writers, we must grapple with the multiplicity of form and intent we find therein. To make the Bible unquestionable and infallible is to make the Bible God, is to practice that most deadly of sins according to Paul, idolatory, in the form on Biblolatory.

Myths of the Nativity: Herod’s Decree and the Flight to Egypt

The birth of a peasant boy in rural Galilee was an event of no special occasion. In a community that was largely illiterate, there would have been no time or energy wasted in remembering such details. The Nativity stories instead serve to orient Jesus as Matthew and Luke want him understood: as the Jewish messiah, as the bringer of a peaceful rule to God’s world. This was not history being written; it was myth pointing us towards Truth. As Tillich describes it,

Symbols of faith cannot be replaced by other symbols, such as artistic ones, and they cannot be removed by scientific criticism. They have a genuine standing in the human mind, just as science and art have. Their symbolic character is their truth and their power. Nothing less than symbols and myths can express our ultimate concern.

Myths of the Nativity: How Jesus’ Birthday Ended Up on December 25th

December 25Obviously, we celebrate Christmas, and thus the birth of Christ, on December 25th. But why? There is no Biblical tradition of Jesus being born on this day. In fact, to judge from the stories of the Nativity, if you just look at what is recounted, it makes no sense for the story to be taking place in deep winter. First, if shepherds were out in the field, this indicates pasturing season, March to September. Second, it is highly unlikely that if Joseph were going to take his very pregnant wife on a long journey to Bethlehem, that he would do it in the deepest, darkest part of winter. Not exactly the best weather for travel by foot or donkey.

Myths of the Nativity: Jolly Ole’ St. Nick

coke santaWe all know the bearded, jolly old man dressed in red and fur, who spends Christmas Eve delivering gifts to children all over the world, with the aid of his elves and flying reindeer. Santa as we know him evolved as an amalgam of several different figures, and really took off in popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the work of various poets and writers and storytellers.