This poor homeless statue of Jesus is still having trouble finding a home without controversy.

Appropriate, I think.  It challenges our sensibilities in a way that I think only Jesus does.

But, here’s the thing: this is not controversial from a Biblical perspective.

index

 

 

 

 

If Jesus wasn’t actually homeless (for a dude who might have had a home, he doesn’t hang much there in scripture), he certainly was found with the homeless and destitute, probably sleeping many nights under a sheet with the sky as a roof.

But this?  This is absolutely controversial:

muscular-jesus-breaking-cross

OMG, Jesus! Where did you get those quads from? Biking?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d say it’s damn near blasphemous…and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t think much is very blasphemous.

This is pretty controversial, too:

jesusarm-wrestlingwithsatandemon

Ugh…dualisms make me want to punch someone. Exorcising them from Christianity is like arm-wrestling the devil. Wait a sec…

 

 

 

 

 

Look at how crazy creepy that really white Jesus is wrestling with the good-guy from the Hellboy comics…

An uproar over this statue…that’s screwed up.  We see Jesus as Jesus is and get all offended.  That’s a teachable lesson for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  But I haven’t heard much said about those other pics or others like them that appear on bulletin covers, emails, Facebook memes, or bumper stickers…in fact, I’d dare guess that most Christians would see them and not think two things about them: their veracity, their message, their scandal.

And they’re far more scandalous…

Want to know what else doesn’t seem to cause much controversy?  The fact that people die of starvation in the city of Chicago, one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

Or the fact that farm owners are committing suicide because they can’t make a living anymore, what with our demand for everything cheap and mass produced and all.

Or the fact that $600,000 was stolen from smiley Joel Osteen’s mega church a few weeks ago, and that was just one Sunday’s offering from plate-giving. For some perspective, that is almost double my faith community’s total operating budget.

Don’t let Jesus be shown homeless, but it’s sure ’nuff OK for the imago dei to be starving and dying while hundreds of thousands are collected each week from one place…and the only thing we can say is that we can’t believe someone would have the nerve to steal that money from a “church”…

Where’s really-ripped abs Jesus when you need him?

 

Today begins the long week of the church year that we call Holy Week.

485585_10151478304920983_1287496397_n

Our Easter Vigil fire at my faith community…a fire of sacred flame used for lighting candles for a profane/sacred people.

It’s the culmination of this walk toward Jerusalem that we take with Jesus every year…and every year it’s called Holy Week.

Even when some years the week seems holier than others.

I remember my first Holy Week as a pastor.  I spent most of every morning that first year coming early to the church to pray at the altar, with my prayer beads, being faithful to the hours as best I could.

This year, though, I spent this morning coming early to the crib of my son, with cheerios in hand, being faithful with breakfast as best I could.

And now, having been up for just as long but involved more in holy play than holy prayer, I’m reflecting on the difference.

Sure, I’ll keep the hours as best I can today, being mindful of Terce, Sext and None (though I’m a bit behind on Terce already), but I’ll do my best.

In college I took a course where we read a book called Holy Things by Gordon Lathrop, a premier Lutheran theologian, pastor, and scholar. I took exception to the title back then. Newly out of my atheist phase, “things” weren’t holy…only God was holy.

I was an idiot.

Now I see that things are, indeed, holy.  Bread, wine, water, yes…all of this.

And time mindfully spent.  And icons mindfully written.  Sermons, songs, prayers, hands, beads, stained glass, more prayers…mindfully said or not.

Holy does not mean “magical,” by the way.  That’s nonsense.  I don’t have time for nonsense…there are holy things to attend to.

No.  Holy means “set apart,” or better in the Latin, sacrum.  Sacred.

It’s funny, in my tradition we set things apart all the time.   But I meet so many with my college mindset who think nothing is holy; nothing is sacred.

And yet these are the people who I so often hear willing to damn people and things: that divorcee is in the wrong; that homosexual is an abomination; that movie, the song, that video is a disgrace to God.

So willing to damn things…so unwilling to lift things up as holy because it all seems so much hocus pocus.

That, actually, is most of us much of the time, I think.  As if our damning isn’t just as much the hocus pocus of personal opinion, prejudice, and the trappings of self-righteousness.

What makes a thing holy?  I’d say it’s purpose seen in light of the Divine.  The purpose of our time spent together, the bread, the wine, the water, the beads, the hands laid on to heal…

What makes a thing profane?  I’d say it’s probably us.  We so often take the place of God, damning people, places, and things in righteous indignation.

Progressive Christians do this, too.  You don’t get off the hook…no one does.  The sacred/profane line is thin.  So thin, in fact, that some might say it is imaginary…

But today, on this Holy Monday whose purpose it is to further our walk to Jerusalem as we lean toward Maundy Thursday, hear that time is set apart today for you to reflect on God’s work in your life, God’s purpose for your sacred existence, for the sacred existence of your neighbor, and this world.

And that purpose is not to damn you or any of it…

So spend a little less time doing that, and a little more time honoring things as sacred.

That, at least, is what I’m meditating on these hours.

 

So, funny enough, liturgical-calendarone of the things that I think makes the most sense about the way the church does things has to do with the liturgical season.

The liturgical calendar.

I’ve written about this before, but we’re at the tail-end of our Catechumenate class here at my faith community, and it’s come up again as we discuss the church year.

See, when I was an atheist, the only thing that kept me in the pew was practicing this greater current that we call “the liturgical calendar”; this greater movement that connected all of life together.

Which makes me wonder why all corners of the Christian church don’t follow the church calendar.

Because even though I couldn’t believe, I could sense, I knew, that whether or not there was a God, there was definitely life.  And that life had seasons.  Not just the outside world, not just flowers and hibernating bears and all that stuff, but my life had seasons.

Has seasons.

In fact, in the winters of my life, the ability to practice the season of the church was one of the most important things in the world to me.

Even as someone who had broken up with Jesus as his boyfriend.

And there’s some good wisdom to the church year.  Like, for instance, that Lent is 40 days long, but Easter is 50 days long.  If that is not an implicit message that your life will laugh more than it cries, I don’t know what is.

Or how that season that we call “Ordinary Time,” the time in the church year of spiritual growth, takes up almost fifty percent of the calendar.  Take a look at your life.  About half of your life will be spent learning and growing.

Lord, that’s deep wisdom.

And see, the church year helps us to practice these seasons in our lives.  It gives us rhythm.

I like to talk about it as breath.  The seasons of the church year help me to breathe.  If you think yoga is good for your breath, dive deeply into the church calendar as a practice…

Because there are times in my life where I wait, and will have to wait: for diagnosis, for biopsy results, for birth, for a death.  Advent helps me wait.

There are times in my life where I’ll need to do some adjustment, some realignment: after a disgrace, after a significant relationship break, in a season of vocational or personal drought.  Lent helps me to do the introspective work necessary to live well.

There are times in my life of “Ah-ha” and “feeling most alive”: having a breakthrough, gaining insight, feeling zealousness over a cause.  Epiphany and Pentecost teach me to be on the look out for these moments and not pass them by.

And there are times in my life for rejoicing, for birth and re-birth: in reconciliation, after a literal birth, on holidays, after an illness has passed, “sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”  Christmas and Easter help me to celebrate well.

And the three days of that time we call “The Triduum,” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil…well…that’s a whole life-span in one fell swoop.  A life of serving, of dying, and of rising.  And when it’s honored it is the most important gift of the church year.

It is Christ’s body emblazoned on a calendar.  And it helps me see my body and my calendar and how they mix.

There is just such wisdom to the church year.  It’s like a Mr. Miyagi for your soul: you “wax on” and “wax off” and think you’re not doing anything but refurbishing a car…and then, boom, you’re forced to wait or repent or celebrate or learn or grow.

And, as T.S. Elliot says, it’s like you “know the place for the first time”…and yet, you’ve been there before.  It’s that familiar/foreign experience that this journey with God always puts upon us when practiced well.

A lot of churches are getting away from the liturgical calendar.  And they do so at the expense of the Christians they serve.  It has deep roots, even deeper than the church itself.  The roots of marking time and specific periods goes all the way back to when our ancient mothers and fathers figured out that a dead seed will live again if planted, watered, tended, and nurtured.

And that the thing that grew from that would be good for you.

A friend of mine talked about going to a church on Easter Sunday one day.  They had all the attraction details down: welcoming people, if you signed up on a bulletin board as a first time visitor Krispy Kreme donuts would be delivered to your house the next week, the music was loud, the pastor had an engaging sermon.

But they didn’t talk about the resurrection.  They just talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that was abstracted not only from Easter as a celebration day, but from the whole history of Christianity.

He said he left feeling…empty.

He had come for food, for deep roots, for a personal relationship in some ways, but also an historical relationship that lifted up so much more than just he and Jesus one-on-one time.

But he didn’t find it there because, Lord, if all we’re offering is shallow theology and Krispy Kreme donuts…well…skip the church service and just go to the coffee shop.

And many people, now, do.

And I think it’s probably because we haven’t really done a good job rooting them in this practice, this deeper rhythm.

Look, Christianity is nothing without Jesus.  But Jesus, and a personal relationship with Jesus, is not all there is to Christianity, either.  And the deeper undercurrent that speaks truth about the heartbeat of life, all life, that is made plain by the church calendar can and should be lifted up.

And it’s not just about changing church parament colors.  It is about living differently in different seasons of life.  It is about Ecclesiastes 3, and asking “what time is it?” for our lives personally and communally.

But instead we lift up an empty Jesus devoid of rootedness with my life, with the rhythms of life, a Jesus who is no more connected to the current of life than a Krispy Kreme donut.

And, let’s be honest, I love Krispy Kreme donuts.

But they don’t really feed me.

Glasses on Open Bible

Please note: Not all theological progressives wear glasses.

I’m a theological progressive.

When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity.  I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language.  One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.

And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well.  Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”

For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit.  I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.

And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured.  A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second.  In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.

I came out as a theological progressive.

To me this means a couple things:

-I have a heart for justice.  Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions.  My justice is not just for society, though.  It’s for the world in sum.  Shalom is a better Biblical term for it.  I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace.   Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.

-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all.  We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.

-I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do.  Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God.  For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box.  But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus.  In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian.  I get that.  But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors.  Why?  Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus.  And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…

-I want to be inclusive.  Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies.  In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies.  Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully.  What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives.  “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin.  So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive.  Of everyone.  It’s dangerous; I know.  Try it out, though.  You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…

To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:

-I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience.  And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either.  Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform.  Sure, faith is political.  My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics.  In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political.  After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively.  But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.

-I don’t take the Bible seriously.  Actually, I take the Bible very seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it.  I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all!  They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity.  But life isn’t simple.  The books of the Bible aren’t simple.  God isn’t simple!  Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.

-I’m a Communist.  Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world.  The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.

-I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing.  We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians.  And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.

So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more.  Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions.  Because Jesus is getting a bad rap.  And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.

And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him.  This is true.  Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet.  And God sees in secret.

But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”

And she’s right.

Timothy Brown:

 

If you all are wondering how this pastor tries to use the Biblical texts and current events to comment on one another, here is some insight into my sermon prep work…

Originally posted on A New Day!:

2952906522_26eb2b9637_z Been musing on this Sunday’s Gospel text , as I think it probably gives us some insight into this whole mess with World Vision.

In the text Jesus uses mud to give this man sight.

Or, as I would say for the modern hearer, this man, in the muddiness of life, feels that Jesus has given him some new sight.

In the text it’s literal sight, but I love the over-arching metaphor, too, of how God, through the muddiness of life, gives us new insight.

Perhaps World Vision felt they had some new insight as they looked at their Christian brothers and sisters from all walks of life who had talent and vision and the ability to do good work, but were barred from employment because they were openly gay and partnered.  Perhaps they saw it as a justice issue.  Perhaps they saw it as a way to bring diverse…

View original 633 more words

I found out this afternindexoon that World Vision reversed their decision to allow people in same-sex monogamous relationships to have the pleasure of being employed by the largest Christian charity in the world.

It’s taken me this long to calm down and write a response…

Look, I’m not that mad at World Vision.  If you, from a charitable perspective, were facing thousands of sponsored children losing their sponsorship (food, education, clothing, shelter, companionship, medical care…you know, basic dignity), you might also have second thoughts about retaining the policy that caused the defection.

From a charitable perspective it makes some business sense.

But one ethical dilemma gives way to another…

World Vision not only reversed their policy decision, but they’ve also “asked for forgiveness.”

And, to me, the group that needs to ask for forgiveness are the bullying bigots who forced World Vision’s reversal.

Less snark in this one.  Snark isn’t called for.

This is a come-to-Jesus moment, as a former Sunday School teacher of mine would say.  And Jesus is not to be found with the bullies.

How dare you?

You hold up the clobbering texts that tout a very ancient understanding of homosexual behavior (that hold very little in common to same-sex monogamous relationships in the modern understanding), and you forsake hundreds of other Biblical texts, texts about feeding the poor and needy, texts about loving neighbor as yourself, texts about welcoming the stranger in the name of God.

All things that World Vision, at its best, does. And all things you were willing to chuck out the homophobic window just because World Vision might hire someone in a same-sex relationship.

Any ethicist will tell you that the one wrong does not cancel out the other.

And any playground attendant will tell you that this “I’m taking my marbles and going home” stunt you pulled is nothing more or less than an old-fashioned shake-down.

You’re bullies.  Plain and simple.

Have you read Luke 17?

Let me refresh your memory

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Bullies who withdrew support from World Vision, listen up: you just caused stumbling.

Should we now tell our children that when we don’t get our way we just get to go home no matter the consequences?  You don’t think your children are watching?  “It’s OK, Johnny, to not feed those children because first you have to hand it to that same-sex partnered person, and it’s no good coming from their hands.”

In what freaking world is that defensible?

Because it’s not in the Christian world.  That mess only works on the playground.  But, perhaps, you think this whole life thing is one big playground; one big game of tit-for-tat.

Grow the hell up.

See, I think that you don’t even realize the consequences.  Many of the people, most of them children, that World Vision helps are continents away from your theological smugness.  You can withdraw support and never feel the pinch.  It’s far away from you and your lovely privilege.

Lord, isn’t it nice to “believe” all the right things if you’re privileged enough to have the time and resources to do so?

And all the while these World Vision folks saw children losing support…you forced their hand.

Some might say “shame on them” for giving in to bullies.  Fine; we can say that.  There is some truth there.

But you want to know what I bet?

I bet the World Vision folks are betting that the theologically progressive Christians who are in support of their briefly-held new hiring policy won’t pull their support now that they reversed the decision.

And you know what?

They’re damn right.

But I’ll go to bed alright tonight, knowing that my actions, both the support of their briefly-held hiring policies and my gifts to the people they help, are as pure as possible.  I am not sinless, but I am not on the wrong side of this issue.

You who bullied them into this, on the other hand, please know that you leveraged what you called a “gospel issue” on the backs of children.

And that is never gospel.

Would be better to have a millstone thrown around your neck, so I hear.  If that’s not a literal stumbling block (have you ever tried to walk when dying of starvation?  I imagine there’s quite a bit of stumbling involved…) I don’t know what is.

But, take heart.  There is always a chance for repentance.  There is always forgiveness.  I’m serious about that.  Whether or not World Vision switches their policy back, I plead that you repent.

If anything, you’ll sleep better. And nothing is better than forgiveness.

And if you don’t go to bed a little uneasy tonight, well, that’s indicative of a whole host of other issues.

Finally, a quick word to my theologically progressive friends: don’t pull your support from World Vision.

We won’t be bullies.  Millstones don’t belong around necks.  We cannot play these games.

So we pray, we watch, we encourage, we lift our voices.

And we feed children.

Because that’s what the Christ calls us to.

 

 

stolen-scream-noam-galai

World Vision announced yesterday that they would start hiring Christians in same-sex relationships.

And then the arrows started flying from all the usual bows.  Thanks to my sister Katie Kather for alerting me to the madness…

Franklin Graham was his normal, eloquent self, offering up a response in mere hours.  Just a few weeks after claiming that Russian President Vladmir Putin has “the right idea” about gays, he burst onto the scene with this little gem of questionable scholarship.

Did you read Graham’s thoughts?  No, c’mon, click it.  It takes two minutes to read. Graham is, if anything, shallow…which means it doesn’t take long to read.

Read it? Good.  Now, let me clear some things up for you for reference sake: the Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, gives a variety of marriage situations, and even supports most of them, and while they usually involve men and women, the idea that all of them involve just one man and one woman is an outright lie.  Read Leviticus.  Or maybe the Abraham story where good ‘ole Abe impregnates a couple of women to make sure his family has heirs.

Most of the marriage arrangements in the Bible you probably wouldn’t recognize as “Christian” these days.  But, see, Graham thinks he can just say something and make it true.  He doesn’t think you’ll actually go do research.  Shame on him.

You’d think someone like Graham, coming from a family of such influence, would have spent the money to get a decent undergraduate education where this could be pointed out to him…

But I digress.  Enough snark.  Well, no, not enough.  Cause I’m kind of mad in this post.

World Vision notes that they’re changing the hiring policies to “unite the church,” a nod toward churches who do have Christian men and women in same-sex partnerships.  The same great work continues, it’ll just be done by people who actually represent the wide swath of the Christian landscape.

Funny how an organization called “World Vision” would actually want to cast a vision that represents the larger world.  Whoda thunk?

And now there are reports that some people and organizations are dropping their sponsorships because of this move.  I was pointed to this fact by “Rage Against the Mini Van,” a lovely little blog run by, what appears to be, an insightful writer and advocate for all things awesome.

Uhm, let me say that again because I don’t know that you sufficiently heard me.

People are deciding not to feed and clothe children because a partnered person may or may not be the middle man.

To quote MJ, “Makes me want to scream.”

What about that action, I’d like to know, do they think is Christian?  Because I hope to hell they aren’t getting a latte from Starbucks, an equal opportunity employer.  I hope they aren’t shopping at Aldi or Kroger, ordering from Amazon or buying music from iTunes…all equal opportunity employers.

I hope they’re divesting from every single organization that may or may not have partnered gay employees, forcing them to eat the food they grow in their backyard, give up all TV channels (because, well, all providers are also equal opportunity here in the States), stop buying clothes and start making them, and cancel all of their utilities.

C’mon bigots, stick to your guns.  If you’re going to divest from a charity because it hires openly partnered gay people, I want you to go ahead and divest from every organization, charity or not, Christian or not, who may or may not have a partnered gay person on the payroll.

I’m pretty sure divesting from every organization that hires partnered gay employees would leave you destitute.

And then, by the grace of God, I’d sponsor you with food and shelter and clothing.  And I mean that, literally.  By the grace of God.

Because whether or not you agree with me on this theological issue, I do not want you to die or go without.  Nay, I’m not allowed to let you die or go without.

Why?

Because the Bible tells me so.

I’m just wondering what their Bible is telling them…