My most recent blog post made some waves, and I certainly didn’t expect it. When I wrote down “5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say,” I never imagined that it would be sent far and wide for consideration and comment.
I’ll no doubt offer some more thoughts on those phrases. As with all public statements, there are other thoughts to give and more clarification needed.
I’ll also probably add to that list, too. Christians say a lot of unhelpful things in the attempt to explain everything in the world. I find that fact interesting, actually. In my ordination I was entrusted to be a “steward of the mysteries” for the community…and yet so much of the community of faith just seems to want to explain away mysteries with vacuous, pat answers that end up being about as useful as a boat in the desert.
But, I’ve been pondering my previous list, and I’d like to offer up some phrases that I think should be said as well. So, here are 5 phrases that I think Christians should say more often. And, of course, there are undoubtedly more…
5) “Let’s read a book together; your choice.”
This might seem like a dumb request, or some awkward way to try to curry favor with someone, but I’m absolutely serious. So many times I find people of faith utterly petrified by engaging in serious conversation over a text that might challenge their faith because they feel they might not have “the right answer.”
And the problem there, of course, is that someone along the line explained faith to them as some sort of equation, a specific formula where certain values must be plugged in for the desired outcome. In short: we’ve made faith into a system instead of a conversation.
So, here’s an experiment: go to a person of a different faith: Buddhist, Sikh, Atheist, etc. Or maybe they’re a different denomination of your own faith…whatever. Engage with someone different than you and invite them to read a book with you, but let them choose.
And go with whatever they choose.
So, let’s say they pick Christopher Hitchens and “god Is Not Great” is what they’re asking to read. Read it. Let it come into conversation with your faith. And then talk about it.
Or, let’s say they pick a translation of the Qur’an (or if you can read Arabic, read the actual Qur’an).
Read it. It’s not a sin.
Read it and let it come into conversation with your faith. We need to be a society where people are reading together. Right now I’m reading The Kingdom of God is Within You by Tolstoy with a congregation member who identifies as “questioning.” His idea; his invitation. Tolstoy is fascinating. And not only are we having a great discussion about faith and values, we’re getting to know why we think the way we do while also learning more about how the other person thinks.
But for this to work, you have to let them choose the text. So often people of faith think they only have something to impart on people with other worldviews and nothing to learn. God save us from such blind certainty.
4) “That’s interesting! Tell me more…”
Too often people of faith only utter this phrase if they’re talking about gossip. That’s a topic for a different post, I think…
But what if we said the above phrase when people came to us with a different perspective on God, being, the meaning of life, or the authority of scripture? What if our first reaction to hearing something that may not line up with what we’ve been taught/have come to believe isn’t a rebuttal or an argument, but an invitation to hear more?
And what if you seriously meant it?
So many times people have said, “that’s a slippery slope…” when it comes to questioning tenets of faith and critically listening to other perspectives. But just as often I’ve met people who have said, “(that particular tenet of faith) didn’t prove true…so I abandoned faith altogether.” To both statements I just have to sigh.
When we have been taught that questioning is bad or that all statements rest on one singular foundation, we invite unthinking automatons whose sole purpose in life is to defend their own thoughts, or people primed for disbelief because some premises (like the inerrancy of scripture, for example) just can’t stand up to experience.
Instead, we should invite people to tell us more about their thoughts and beliefs. And, yes, share our own. But too often we’re all to eager to do the latter and not interested in the former because…gasp…we might actually be changed in the process.
3) “I can’t buy that…it doesn’t square with my faith…”
This one might rattle some nerves. Hear me out.
It’s amazing to me that people of faith can shun pornography but buy 7000 square foot homes for a family of four. It’s amazing to me that people of faith can censor Showtime on their cable TV’s so that their kids won’t see a sex scene, but they’ll spend thousands of dollars on a birthday party for a two year old.
It’s amazing to me that people of faith can see money as “theirs” because they earned it, but can look at another person’s sexual orientation and see it as a “choice.”
Now, I’m not saying that you can’t have a 7000 square foot home. I just want you to think and ask if your faith has anything to say about it. And if so, what? I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here; I just want to see that conversation happen!
And the point of me bringing this up isn’t to cause someone to feel guilty, it’s actually to ask the question: Does your faith have anything to say about what/how you consume?
And if so, does your checkbook reflect it? Money is just as powerful as sex, and yet somehow it seems that Christians only want to talk about sex and not about money (probably, in my view, to distract from their use of money…but that’s also a different post).
2) “You’re right, I struggle with what is written in the Bible there, too…”
I’m a pastor who wrestles with the Bible. I think every person of faith (and arguably, everyone) should wrestle with the Bible..and any text. Converse with it. Engage it.
Don’t look at scripture like an encyclopedia that just gives “answers;” view it as a conversation partner! Professor David Lose at Luther Seminary in Minnesota writes eloquently on this in his book Making Sense of Scripture. (The title is misleading in that he doesn’t actually offer a way to “make sense” of scripture, but a way to view scripture)
His point, though, is that when we look at the Bible as simply a reference book, we don’t engage it.
But if we engage it, then when someone with a different worldview brings up the fact that it’s hard to accept that God really sent “she-bears” to devour children who were mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24), we can admit it! It’s ludicrous to believe that that actually happened. Plus, I’m balding, and I sometimes get mocked. Please, Lord, send the she-bears!
And it doesn’t hurt my faith, or my witness, to say that it doesn’t make sense because I don’t believe that the authority of the Bible is dependent upon the absolute inerrency of every little verse.
One of refrains that I heard over and over again from atheist/agnostic readers of the previous blog post was that it was refreshing to see/hear a person of faith who actually thought. That fact made me sad because it means, by and large, that unthinking morons are the poster-children for faith in the eyes of many skeptics.
And, yes, I know that is not a charitable description…but I’m not sure how to soften that phrase and still make the despair it causes me hit home. And part of that perception problem, I think, comes from the fact that people of faith refuse to admit that some of the Bible is weird and doesn’t seem to square with experience.
And my mention of 2 Kings, by the way, doesn’t mean that I write off the book or even that I want to exclude from the canon. It’s there; it’s not my place to exclude it. But I converse with it. I make a distinction between story and history. I make a distinction between fable, myth, and fact. And I admit that scripture can hold all three…and that that doesn’t have to impede it’s ability to have Truth.
1) “That’s not OK…”
As evidenced by some of the responses I received over the weekend, some Christians are all too ready to say that it is not OK for me to suggest that we dump “Love the sinner; hate the sin” as a phrase.
I’ll just repeat my belief that this phrase, no matter how you want to defend it, is disingenuous. I’ve filed it under “complete nonsense” in my file cabinet.
But we need to speak out when people who represent the faith say things that are outrageous and downright dangerous. I know, that’s a statement that involves a lot of subjectivity.
An example? Where is the public outcry from people of faith against the pastor in Maiden, North Carolina who preached that homosexuals should be corralled and given just enough food to survive in an effort to let them die out?
If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, you can find the video here.
It is graphic. And despicable. And disgusting. And I cannot see how it squares with my faith. And I will tell anyone and everyone so. (By the way, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973, no matter what the Focus on the Family might want to tell you. And I think it is high time that the church remove it from the list of spiritual disorders, too.)
Now, it’s true that this pastor is small-time. The community he serves is small, and his influence is small (although I see his video is now on CNN). But if we hear this extremely vehement nonsense and keep quiet, can we be surprised that people think this is what all people of faith believe?
We need to decry Robertson and Graham publicly when they make ridiculous comments. We need to call Olsteen into question when he says that God wants you to be rich. We need people of faith to say that Mark Driscoll doesn’t speak for me or my faith when he starts spouting off about masculinity or marriage in ways that are derogatory to both men and women.
And we need to do the same with some others in the faith, too. Luther, Wesley, Calvin…not to mention modern day heads of the church, are not infallible. Some of their writings deserve some denouncing.
And until people are willing to call such things ridiculous loudly, publicly, and without exception, we can’t be surprised if people dismiss Christians as unthinking and hateful. And we can’t be surprised, either, when people defect from faith in an attempt to distance themselves from this sort of thing.
I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that we, too often, only engage the world and those around us with a defensive stance as if we have something to prove. Engage life in a meaningful way, in a way that calls faith into practice; in a way that invites questions and not just recitation. Engage this world in a challenging way.
Oh, and while you might have expected the #1 phrase that I wish Christians would say more often to be a cuss or a curse, I just figured that would go without saying…