“I’m spiritual, not religious” is a popular Millennial colloquialism used to express both a distance from rigid religious institutions, but also a confirmation of belief that there is divine purpose to life. It is a term I have used as well while struggling to understand my place in a world where I hate what “Christian” has come to mean, but I still deeply value the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you relate to this struggle, consider joining me in saying the opposite: “I’m religious, not spiritual.”Read More
On an individual level, sanctimony refers to someone trying to appear holy without actually working to be holy. On a cultural level, sanctimony refers to a group of people who elevate others for appearing holy. Without a doubt, modern Christianity is a very sanctimonious culture. This toxic culture has allowed predators and misogynists to thrive in our midst, and the innocent will keep suffering until we address the root of the problem.Read More
As with most progressive issues in the Christian community, the case for women in leadership seems to boil down to one side saying, "This is outdated thinking," and the other saying, "But, the Bible!" As someone who loves Scripture, I am worried about arguments like these destroying its perceived relevance. The Bible, and the values taught within it, are the core foundation of Christianity. The issue here is that we are throwing away those core values for a specious defense of our own backward traditions.Read More
I am a rich man. It is not a boast, it is something I only came to understand by sharing in the lives of others who actually suffer true poverty. I am healthy (mostly), self-sufficient, have regular income, a safe place to live, and a variety of luxuries I indulge in from time to time such as good tea, coffee, and the occasional bourbon. If that doesn't sound rich to you, then you need to read this article.Read More
The word “freedom” is as abundant, if not more so, in modern Christian culture as faith and forgiveness. The word brings to mind rugged individualism, Mel Gibson wearing a kilt, and political rallies decrying the overreach of government. But we should be hesitant to confuse the Gospel’s message of freedom with our reluctance embrace public transportation. The freedom of the Gospels is a freedom from internal prisons, not external ones.Read More
We are all born pagan. Idol worship and superstition come naturally to us. We quickly develop rituals to help our favorite sports teams have "good luck". Gamblers blow on dice, lottery players have lucky numbers, and Friday the 13th still brings out caution in many (and maybe a rabbit's foot or two). But even those of us enlightened "mono-theists" have our own methods of bargaining with "forces out of our control" to try to get what we want.
For even the most well-intentioned converts, these pagan habits follow us into our beginnings of discipleship. The sad truth is so many people approach Christianity as a method of appeasing God as opposed to actually following the teachings of Jesus Christ. It's a bargain, "God, I will do what you want if you help me *insert favor*". It's also the first thing you must purge to grow in sincere faith.
Many things in life are beyond our control. It would seem that humanity as a whole has developed a habit of personifying everything we can't directly manage. All pagan cultures throughout time have created gods for fertility, harvest, weather, hunting (ample game), love, and health... all the things we can't directly control (or couldn't until recently). Throughout the years of human history, man has taken everything out of his control, assigned it a god, and tried to gain that god's favor. (Notice there are no ancient gods for "get your ass out of bed", hard work, perseverance, charity, forgiveness, or rehab.)
Now that we live in a Judeo-Christian culture, we just take all those things out of our province and blame one God for them..which leads me to ask the question: Aren't we just being pagan if all we have done is consolidated our gods together but still think and behave the same? How have we changed if our prayers, rituals, and sacrifices are done in the hopes of getting good fortune from an appeased God?
IS GOOD LUCK DIVINE?
"Rain falls on the just and unjust alike" - Matthew 5:45
So the question becomes, just how should we approach good luck/fortune or bad? Is good fortune a sign of God's approval and bad fortune a sign of God's punishment? NO! Any kind of assumption regarding fortune and God creates a kind of insanity.
Are we to question our purity when lightning strikes our home and destroys our Playstation? Are we to assume our sins have gone overlooked when we find a twenty dollar bill in our coat pocket left from last winter? Is our sports team more in favor with God the year they won and offending Him the year they lose (in which we can only conclude that one sports team can appease God at a time)? To look for "omens of fortune" to interpret God's Will drives us to paranoia.
Life is hard for everyone, period, and God does not show favoritism. Expecting life's challenges to go away or diminish just because we are on "God's side" is foolish and arrogant. If one looks at Scripture, we find just the opposite; Jesus warns us to expect life to actually get HARDER when we choose to follow Him. True Christian discipleship is not the way of safety and comfort; it is the Way of the Cross.
LIFE DOESN'T CHANGE. WE DO.
So as the blog title says (Look out! Shameless self-promotion coming up), let's bring this back to some practical Christian Mysticism (Told ya!). We don't follow Jesus Christ for some shallow hope in worldly blessings. We carry our Cross because we are convicted of our own need to change. Discipleship isn't about DOING, it is about BECOMING. We strive to become like Christ, but more accurately, we strive to become what Christ intended us to be.
The world around us changes, not because we have favor with God, but because when we seek the face of God we change and begin to affect the world. Life doesn't get easier, we get stronger. Our fortunes don't improve, they just become less relevant. If we truly believe God loves us, and we cannot earn or lose this love, then it is not God who changes His attitude toward us, we change our attitude toward God.
"Even the demons believe" - James 2:19
Everyone starts their spiritual and religious journeys with pagan/superstitious habits of some kind. It is just our nature, and it takes time to mature. I write this article in large part from self-reflection of my own habits. I often find myself losing perspective and trying my own bargains. However, I see many people struggle because they bargain with God and use that as the basis for their faith. I see people live "moral" or religious lives in hopes of convincing God to give them something, just to become jaded and discouraged.
Bargaining with God cheapens faith and robs us of the true blessings God has for us. There is so much to learn, to discover, and to experience in life. When we use our religion as a bargaining tool, we keep ourselves stuck in a worldly perspective. We may believe in God, but we are keeping our hearts in material and shallow concerns. Besides, we don't get any credit for "believing."
"God's grace is sufficient for me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9
To temper this article a bit, I want to end with God's grace. Grace is something we all have access to, but it is not to be confused with luck, fortune, or even blessings. Just like God's love, we don't earn God's grace, it is given. God gives His grace so we can have room to grow and mature in Christ. If God did not give His grace, we would be crushed under the weight of our own sins and foolishness.
God gives grace to us generously, and all who trust in God enough to just go out into the world and live experience it. The grace we receive is sufficient for us to learn from our mistakes and have a chance to recover from them. God's grace is sufficient for us to grow each day, not being dragged down by what we were before.
GOD IS A FATHER, NOT A MOB BOSS
God is our Father, not a tradesman or mob boss. Does a good father demand actions from a child before offering his love (I said "good" father)? Does a good father wait for his child to grow up and prove himself before he takes the child into his home? So why do we think of God this way? Everything God has for us, He has already given, which means it is up to us to seek it, accept it, and live it.
“There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.” — Pat Buchanan
Why is racism so hard to eliminate? Why do otherwise “good” people around us seem to hold on so strongly to prejudice, while blissfully denying they have any? How can evangelicals, who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, support so many policies and politicians who work to harm minority communities? The answer is in the ephemeral yet powerfully galvanizing term “culture wars."
This is About Power, Not Race
Listening to NPR and well-meaning liberals trying to inject some gentle understanding into our race issues can give one the false, and oddly comforting idea, that politics harmful to minorities simply comes from a lack of awareness to “inherent bias” (which we all do have) and a primitive instinct to fear those different from us. For sure, this is a factor. However, if it was the only factor, one can reasonably assume these issues would not be so hard to overcome in society. There is something deeper going on.
If you confront the average religious-right activist, you will always here a direct denial, “I’m not racist! This isn’t about race!” As controversial as this sounds, I encourage you to consider for a moment they are telling the truth. The truth is that this is not about race or skin color, this is about power. The religious right has a place of social and political power and they are terrified of losing it.
Why the Religious Right Cherished Their “Black Friends”
A lengthy confrontation with religious-right activist will also inevitably lead to a listing of their “black friends.” Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, and Michael Steele are welcomed with open arms because the color of their skin provides a sense of comfort to the religious-right, but carry no cultural affectations associated with actually being “black.” They talk, dress, and carry themselves in a way that is unthreatening and does not challenge the subtext of white, right, evangelical culture.
This doesn’t just apply to the black community. If your culture isn’t from Europhile Anglo-Saxon background, you are considered a threat to white evangelical culture. What is feared the most from the religious-right communities is change. Dramatic cultural differences challenge the norms at the core of society. This war for culture is what allows a powerful majority to hide it’s motives behind a rhetoric of “tradition” and “cultural values” when it is really fear and oppression.
The Culture of the Religious Right is Extremely Fragile
If you ever feel like minorities in America endure a lot, requiring extreme events to stand out in protest, but white America feels like it screams “foul” at the slightest offense, you are feeling correct. You see, white culture is full of unspoken rules, judgements, pitfalls, and fights for social status. As a straight white man who grew up in the Evangelical church, even I live in the knowledge that any room of people who look like me are still judging my speech, dress, and crediting me according my ability to mirror their political and religious views.
Rising through the ranks of a white Evangelical community is all about being able to outwardly display an achievement of their ideal “lifestyle.” This is why hypocritical, and obviously vapid, religious leaders like Joel Osteen thrive in this country. But even Joel, the untouchable, is one caught-on-camera “dap” away from losing his entire base of support. This hidden fear, at the base of everything in our communities, comes out in spades when confronted with the possibility of having to learn another culture. After all, we spend our whole lives trying not to get burned in our own.
Let’s Face the Culture Wars Head On
My entire point here is that while progressive Christians, the free press, and social activists shouts “racism!” – Evangelicals just keep tuning it out with “culture wars!” But here’s the thing: Culture wars are terrible! Culture wars are worse than racism because they go after people’s souls, not just their skin. They target free-thought and free-will in the claim that conformity is a form of “righteousness” and diversity in life itself is somehow evil.
I could rewrite this entire article for the LGBTQ+ community as well, just replace “Ben Carson” with “Peter Theil.” Even that is an issue of power in gender roles, instead of an actual conviction for sexual morality. We need to start using THEIR WORDS when confronting them. Culture wars insight violence, perpetuate economic inequality, and dehumanize those around us. After all, there is another group in the world devoted to cultural purity, regardless of race, and we call them terrorists.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter go in. Who to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much of a child of hell as yourselves.” — Matt 23:13–15 (ESV)
It didn't take long into the story of mankind for God to feel the first tinge of helplessness. The decision to give humanity free will immediately results in corruption and cruelty. Every time God feels helpless, it is at that sacred line drawn at the founding of creation: choice.Read More
Stop saying God closed a door,
because life is not a hallway.
Jesus compares life to
a vineyard, treasure hunting, farming,
fishing, building, and a journey.
All of which share two traits,
difficulty and uncertainty.
“God’s Will” is one of those terms thrown around so frequently and carelessly in Christian culture is has almost lost all meaning. Many people live with a constant anxiety that all their hardships, struggles, and pain are somehow being caused because they can’t figure out God’s Will, and that, if they could, it would make everything better. What if I told you God’s Will was already simply explained to us?Read More
I was born into a white middle-class class Christian Evangelical family. I was raised to believe in a culture war, the gay agenda, and the liberal “conquest” of science. I had grown out of most of it during my twenties, but this is not what I am apologizing for. I am apologizing that my evolution never translated into activism.Read More
While it is true that our attitude can greatly affect our ability to handle life's challenges, positivity too is often used as a mask for keeping those in need at a distance or deflecting our responsibilities to show actual kindness and compassion to one another.Read More
We are told that “heresy” is referring to bad theology or inaccurate doctrine when, more accurately, heresy is ANY doctrine, theology, or requirement that make is hard for people to approach the Gospel of Christ.Read More
Many atrocities have been committed recently, and throughout history, in “the name of God.” ...I have also struggled to understand how common beliefs lead some to seek peace, but also seem to inspire others to violence. At this point, I have come to understand that I have been looking at religion all wrong.Read More
There is a lot of hidden and emotional baggage given to a child when they think they have to “get ahead.” Not the least of which is an idea that they are in a kind of brutal competitive race with their peers.Read More