The Superior Losers

I was privileged to preach this sermon on January 22, 2017, at Waverly Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Audio:

Transcript (ish):

Our scripture comes from I Corinthians 1:9-18.

God is faithful; by whom you were called into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The word of the Lord.

“I want you all to be in agreement.” This scripture comes to us after a weekend that showed more painfully than many that our country, and even the church, could not be more visibly divided.

Franklin Graham, the son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, spent the last few days celebrating the inauguration of our new president.

Famous Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber marched in the women’s march in Denver, my wife Kristen marched in DC, and I marched in Pittsburgh.

So what does it mean for Paul to say he wants all the Corinthian Christians to be in agreement? Does he want Stepford Christians, who all smile politely and agree with each other on literally everything? Granted, that would be kinda nice, but the entire history of the church is opposite of that.

So is Paul being unrealistic here? Or is there something more going on? Maybe we can get a better sense of that by looking at the divisions in the Corinthian church.

Where do these divisions come from? “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.”

What are they saying when they say “I belong to so-and-so?” What’s that about?

I’m Presbyterian. (This may come as a surprise to some of you.) My friend Joel is Methodist. We sit around my apartment and talk about his new Prius Prime, except last week when we looked at surveys of Protestant youths.

He told me that Methodist youths are more likely to believe in God than Presbyterian youths. So, naturally, I started digging around in the data looking for metrics that look better for Presbyterians. I sent a few messages like this:

Huh. More Presbyterian youth feel very or extremely close to God most of the time than UMC. How ’bout them frozen chosen.

Intriguing. Of all the groups they surveyed, 86% of Presbyterians (more than believe in God) expressed religious beliefs in school some or a lot. More than any other group.

Presbyterians are also highest in “church usually feels warm and welcoming.”

He completely ignored me.

What I was looking for in that data was a way to say, “Presbyterians are better than Methodists in some ways,” or, essentially, “My church is better than your church.” Joel and I are good friends so part of it was just good-hearted teasing, but under all that there’s still this sense of competitiveness.

It starts when we’re kids. “My dad could beat up your dad.”

So I think when the Corinthians say “I belong to Paul,” they’re not just making that simple statement that “I belong to Paul,” like I would say “I live on North Highland Avenue.”

They’re saying, “I belong to Paul,
and belonging to Paul is better than belonging to Apollos or Cephas.

“I belong to Apollos,
and belonging to Apollos is better than belonging to Paul or Cephas.”

“I belong to Cephas,
and belonging to Cephas is better than belonging to Paul or Apollos, because Cephas was one of the twelve.”

Remnants of Luke 9 where the disciples are arguing about who is going to be the greatest.

Then if you really wanna go for superiority,
“Well I belong to Christ, and all your guys are the servants of who I belong to.”

Boom.

I’m sure glad we don’t have those problems today.

On a totally unrelated topic, I’m registered as a Democrat and I voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m glad I’m not like those uninformed Republicans who voted for Donald Trump. I belong to the Democrats.

Oh.

Right.

Superiority.

But if you read Paul here, it seems like he doesn’t even bother to address this issue about superiority. He scolds them and then he moves straight into talking about the message of the cross. If I preached that message, Beckie would be like, “It wasn’t a bad sermon, but you really need to work on your transitions.”

Listen to this transition: “(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel…” What? And then this next verse about “The message of the cross is foolishness?” Where are you going with this, Paul? What does the message of the cross have to do with “I was baptized by Paul, so I’m better than those who were baptized by Cephas or Apollos”?

What Paul has done is set up a contrast, between the messages of the Corinthian Christians about their superiority, and the message of the cross.

The message of the Cross is not “I’m better than you.”

The message of the Cross is, “I’m dead.”

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)

Nobody walks through the graveyards saying, “This dead person is better than that dead person.” Maybe this person was better, but their bones are all in the ground.

But the gospel that Paul is preaching is commonplace for many of us. Yes, yes, the death and resurrection of Jesus, saved by grace, blah blah blah.

So I started thinking, how I could make this make sense? How can I bring this up to date, reveal it for the foolishness that it is? Then it hit me.

Imagine Hillary Clinton didn’t just lose, but that President Trump stuck to his promise to lock her up. Now imagine instead of just being locked up, she was brutally executed. It’s far-fetched and ridiculous, but stay with me.

Now, imagine a few years after the execution, Clintonian missionaries come knocking on your door asking if you have a few moments to talk about their Lord and Savior Hillary Clinton! Foolishness!

But this is what we find in the words of scripture. Jesus is a loser, and not just a loser but a failure, and an executed loser.

And there the Corinthians are, arguing about which of them got baptized into this loser’s execution with the best baptism. It’s absurdity!

This baptism is an identity-taking thing. Nitpicking who’s better because of which door they came through or which doorman opened it for them doesn’t make any sense, Paul says. Galatians 3:28, “You are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t get to be better than my fellow Christians who post fake news on Facebook.

I don’t get to act like I’m better than my fellow Christians who said Obama was going to pronounce himself dictator for life and declare martial law, which, God forgive me, I did while I was writing this sermon!

And what does that superiority get us, anyway? It doesn’t even change others; it just makes us feel better about ourselves.

When my friend Joel told me his Methodist statistics, I didn’t convert to Methodism. I just started hunting down Presbyterian statistics instead. It turns into a back and forth of “Oh yeah?” “Oh yeah!”

We don’t win people over by announcing that we’re better than they are. Look how it turned out for Hillary Clinton and her “Basket of Deplorables” comment. I went on Twitter and every third Trump supporter had stuck the world “Deplorable” in front of their first name! But let’s not pretend this is a one-sided problem; I’ve seen the word “libtard” floated around more times than I can count. I didn’t react by thinking, “Dang, conservatives are so much smarter than me,” I just assumed the people who wrote those comment were idiots.

And around and around it goes.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

I’ve written what I thought was eloquent-sounding wisdom, only to find someone calling me an idiot. Conservative blogger Matt Walsh has done the same, and I could not believe how wrong he was.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Paul tells us this message is foolishness so we will get off our high horses. Even though he says it’s foolishness to those who are perishing, which might tempt the Corinthians to think more highly of themselves than of those who are perishing, make no mistake: It is foolishness.

The message of the cross, my friends, is foolishness because none of us gets to be superior.

We don’t sign our names under the name of a winner.

We sign our names under the name of an executed loser.

That is our primary identity.

Christ is not divided – not into Paul or Apollos or Cephas, not into Methodist and Presbyterian, not into Republican and Democrat and Libertarian and Green and Socialist.

Our baptism into Christ is an exclusive identity, an identity that subsumes and absorbs all others. Whatever other identities we may have, we are Christ’s first. We belong to God, first.

This is not to say that we should not support politicians we think will support out our values that we receive from Christ, or critique politicians who are exercising values that are anti-Christ – no! Nor is it to say that all politicians are morally equivalent.

It’s just to say that our sense of superiority isn’t helping.

What is helping is the message about the cross.

What is helping is the message I’m reading from the Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith, which begins,

In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.

We trust in Jesus Christ,
fully human, fully God.

Jesus proclaimed the reign of God:
preaching good news to the poor
and release to the captives,
teaching by word and deed
and blessing the children,
healing the sick
and binding up the brokenhearted,
eating with outcasts,
forgiving sinners,
and calling all to repent and believe the gospel.

Unjustly condemned for blasphemy and sedition,
Jesus was crucified,
suffering the depths of human pain
and giving his life for the sins of the world.

God raised this Jesus from the dead,
vindicating his sinless life,
breaking the power of sin and evil,
delivering us from death to life eternal.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.


So, I wrote that sermon just after the inauguration. I had been on Twitter before I wrote it, and after I finished, I found that somebody had disagreed with one of my tweets. I fired off a quick reply and thought, “That’ll show ‘em.”

And I think maybe it was the Holy Spirit who asked, not in an audible voice, but sort of a thought popping into my head: “Show ‘em what, exactly?”

“That… I’m… better… than… Darn.”

So it’s a work in progress.

Hymns & Verses Corrected; Homophobia Restored

Those liberals are always saying there are only six or seven anti-gay verses in the Bible, but they’re wrong.

I was digging through the Fundamentalist’s Hymnbook the other day and discovered that some of our modern liberal Bible translations seem to have erased words and phrases from some of the more popular Bible verses and hymns.

I present some samples from the correct and original 1610 edition (before the 1611 KJV came along and corrupted it).


John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, unless they’re gay, in which case they shall surely perish.

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was gay, but now am straight,
Was wrong, but now am right.

John 3:17

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him, except for LGBTQ people, whom God did send the Son into the world to condemn. [Emphasis from the original Hebrew]

Romans 11:32

For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all, except for transgendered people, who are abominations. Continue reading

Reflections from the Gay Christian Network Conference

Last weekend, I was privileged to attend the Gay Christian Network Conference. It was a very moving experience. Here are some of my takeaways.

Worship

Worship at GCN was… unexpected.

I used to attend services with GCN-like worship, with the band on the stage and the lights and the projected song lyrics written in this century. I was that person who would cry and raise his hands and the whole thing.

But as I grew more progressive, I found that churches that worshiped in the style I enjoyed were often paired with horrible theology and sermons that made me not particularly want to be a Christian.

Since then, I have gotten used to more formalized liturgies and hymns and organs and pianos and the Presbyterian liturgy, but there’s still a part of me that wishes for drum kits and guitars and maybe one song by Chris Tomlin, even though I know – I know – I’m going to walk out of that service furious.

So I walked into the first session and was immediately thrown off-balance. GCN had the modern worship style I liked without the horrible-theology-that-made-me-immediately-angry rest of the service that often goes along with it.

I’ve been looking for that worship service for the past three and a half years, and there it was – but only for one weekend. Continue reading

Herod Wishes You a Merry Christmas

Our scripture this morning comes from Matthew chapter 2, verses, 13-23.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.

There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

The word of the Lord.

The war on Christmas is apparently a thing. Herod started it. Seriously, how paranoid do you have to be to commit infanticide “just in case.”

From what I understand, the war on Christmas got revived in recent years. There have been attacks on all fronts. Two years ago, it got so bad that Christian actor Kirk Cameron, best known for his role in Growing Pains and a whole slew of overly long sermons badly disguised as movies, produced an abomination called Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. It has 1.5 out of 10 stars on the Internet Movie Database, where it currently ranks at #2 on their list of the top 100 worst films of all time. It used to be #1, but apparently 2015’s Code Name: K.O.Z. was really, really bad. Anyway, I watched Saving Christmas so you don’t have to. I took that bullet for you. You’re welcome.

Kirk Cameron was worried because some Christians didn’t like Santa Claus, or thought candy canes, Christmas trees, and presents weren’t 100% all about Jesus, so he wasted an hour of my life trying to explain how setting up a pine tree in your house is definitely about Jesus because there were trees in Eden and Jesus died on a cross, which some Bible translations call… wait for it… a tree. Also, there’s a tree in the new Jerusalem in Revelation, so of course Christmas trees are all about Jesus.

That’s not a joke, he was serious.

Delighted that he had saved Christmas, Kirk Cameron engaged in a 10-minute dance party that I can never un-see.

During the movie, though, a few minor characters referenced the slightly-better-known “war on Christmas.” Apparently, in an attempt to be inclusive and recognize that (gasp!) not everyone is a Christian and celebrates Christmas, some stores started telling their employees to say “Happy Holidays,” and that apparently constituted a war. If you believe some of the recent commentary, Christmas is now winning the war on it, but I’m not so sure that’s the right war, or that Christmas is winning the right one.

That war on Christmas, too, appears to be failing. On December 15, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly declared that the “War on Christmas” was over and pronounced Christmas the winner because many stores that had stopped using the word “Christmas” re-introduced it.

Five days before Christmas day, my grandmother posted a video with the caption “People are losing their minds over Trump’s lack of political correctness saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘God Bless You.'”

I commented with a link to a video on Slate.com, a compilation of a bunch of times President Obama has also said “Merry Christmas,” without causing people to “lose their minds.”

But as Kristen and I were driving home from celebrating Christmas with her family, I kept hearing people in my NPR podcasts say “Happy Holidays” and I got to thinking: What does it mean for people to wish us a Merry Christmas? What does it mean for a president or president-elect of the United States, or a department store employee, to wish us a merry Christmas?

What does Christmas mean? Obviously, Christmas means the birth of Jesus Christ, as Linus wisely tells us in A Charlie Brown Christmas… but what does the birth of Christ mean? I’m in a Christology class in seminary where we’re spending a whole term exploring what that means. But more specifically, what’s the relationship between Christmas and government, between Christmas and stores, between Christmas, and power and money?

Let’s start with power. What does the birth of Christ mean to governments, or leaders of governments?

Who was the top government leader to become aware of the birth of Jesus? Well, Herod. How did Herod think Christmas related to him? Matthew does not leave much to the imagination. Matthew 2:3 says “When King Herod heard [about the birth of Jesus], he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Frightened. Herod’s fear led to innocent children being murdered, as the fear of the powerful so often does.

But why was Herod afraid? Why did he have the babes of Bethlehem killed? What was he afraid of?

Maybe it had something to do with the song Jesus’ mom Mary wrote, with its lyrics about God bringing down the powerful from their thrones. Continue reading

Fact Check: Religious Wars: Only 123 of 1763?

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A friend shared the image above from a Facebook page called WHY?Outreach. I thought the statistic was interesting, so I followed the links they cited for their claim in the caption text.

In one of them, an article at CARM, which I despise and link under protest, Robin Schumacher makes the following claim, which is cited verbatim in the meme:

An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature,2 which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%.

Footnote 2 is a broken link, but it’s supposed to take readers to a Google Books preview of a book called The Irrational Atheist in which author Vox Day adds up “all the wars that the authors of the Encyclopedia of Wars saw fit to categorize as religious wars for one reason or another.” Day includes several caveats, like some wars being lumped together, but is generally satisfied with his work. At the risk of another dead link like the one suffered by CARM, I include a link to the book preview here.

The claims that (1) there have been 1,763 wars in human history, and (2) only 123 of them are a result of religious causes, appear explicitly nowhere in Encyclopedia of Wars. Those numbers were tallied up by Vox Day using data from Encyclopedia of Wars. Sort of. Continue reading

The Peaceable Kingdom is Still Coming

I had the privilege of preaching this sermon on December 4, 2016, at Waverly Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our scripture reading comes from Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The word of the Lord.

The world described in Isaiah 11 is not our world. I want to live in this world, but this is not our world. This is literally a counter-vision of our world. If you doubt that, go back on Facebook for thirty seconds. After the service. Or turn on Fox News, or CNN, or open the Post-Gazette.

This is not the world we live in. We live in a world of snap judgments, of angry Facebook reactions and shares of stories that may not even be true just because they make us angry. We are so quick to judge by what our eyes see and what our ears hear.

Our politicans judge the rich with unrighteousness and decide with firm in-equity against the meek of the earth. Our hearts are inundated with news of the innocent being killed as the breath of their mouths are stolen by those in authority. Finding a righteous and faithful politician isn’t unlike unicorn hunting. And this business about predators and prey living in harmony sounds like something out of Zootopia. Everyone thinks vegetarian lions and bears are a good idea… except the lions and bears.

They will not hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain for sure, but just as surely, this world is not God’s holy mountain, and God’s holy mountain is not to be found on earth, and earth is painfully not filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Earth is filled with the knowledge of the tragic ways of the world. It is filled with politicians who compromise what they know will do the most good for the most people because they know congress won’t approve it, or their constituents will vote them out at the next election. It is filled with people who vote for the less-evil candidate because the good candidate cannot possibly win. We know our clothing and electronics and chocolate are made by unpaid or underpaid workers, but this is the way the world works.

The sad knowledge of the world is that drones and bombs and missiles and assault rifles are the only way to make peace. Most people I know of who buy guns buy them for self-defense, because it is painfully clear that the world imagined in Isaiah 11 is not the world we live in, and because earth is filled with the knowledge of the tragic ways of the world, and not filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas.

So what do we do with Isaiah 11? What good is it? Is it just a beautiful fantasy that doesn’t connect at all with the world we live in today? Is “peace,” the theme of this second Sunday of Advent, just a tragic joke? Are we who live in hope of this coming peaceable kingdom doomed to the fate of the magazine “The Christian Century,” so named because they thought the 1900s were going to be the time when people finally got it right and lived in Christian charity, only to find the 20th century the setting for the first world war, and the second one, and the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, and countless others.

Calling the 20th century “The Christian Century” was more than a little optimistic. Is hope the same as optimism, a “glass-half-full” state of mind? No! For Isaiah, the glass is not half-full. Isaiah’s glass is all but completely empty, and what’s left of the contents is on fire. He just finished prophesying that the kingdom of Assyria is going to come and crush his country. Isaiah’s hope for peace is not a different way of thinking about reality. It doesn’t “depend how you look at it;” from all angles, the situation is objectively terrible.

All angles, that is, except one: the angle of the eye of faith. For Isaiah, as surely as the King of Assyria is coming to destroy Israel, the King of Assyria will himself be destroyed. Isaiah knows that the King of Assyria’s coming violence has an expiration date – not because of term limits, but because of divine limits.

Isaiah knew the future because Isaiah knew his history. Isaiah was steeped in the Exodus, because it was part of the Passover celebration his people commemorated every. single. year. Egypt held Israel captive, God broke their power. And we have access to even more history than he did.

We know Assyria defeated the northern kingdom and attacked the very gates of Jerusalem… but Assyria fell.

Babylon ultimately did haul Israel off into captivity, but Babylon fell.

Babylon was defeated by Persia, which continued to rule over the people of God, but Persia fell.

Persia was defeated by Greece, which then took over Israel, but Greece fell – first to the Maccabees, and then to Rome.

Rome executed Jesus, but Jesus was resurrected.

Rome persecuted the early church, and tried to destroy it, but Rome fell.

And in the twentieth century, as surely as the Third Reich built concentration camps and killed the innocent, the Third Reich fell.

The Soviet Union fell.

The Berlin wall fell.

Proverbs 29:16 says,

When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases,
    but the righteous will look upon their downfall.

Psalm 37 reminds us that the day of the wicked is coming, and it will not be long.

The people of God can take heart from the words of Isaiah 11, because Isaiah 11 is the next episode of the story of this world.

When I was younger, I used to read the Hardy Boys Mystery Series. Sometimes, those stories got just a little too scary for me to handle. Our eternally-young heroes Frank and Joe get captured, and the bad guys tie them up and throw them into a van and set the van to drive off a cliff into the ocean. When you’re eleven years old, that’s pretty scary. I would always pull myself out of the story for a minute and remember: Frank and Joe have to survive, because there’s another story after this one, and they’re in it. Then I returned to the story with courage.

That’s what Isaiah 11 is about. Isaiah 11 is the sequel. No matter how much trouble our world is in, as Christians, we can pull ourselves out of the story for a minute and remember; we can look with hope at Isaiah 11 and say, “I know the bad guys have our world tied up and thrown in a van that’s set to drive off a cliff into the ocean, but THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM IS STILL COMING!

And from where Isaiah sits, all the bad guys and rope and vans and cliffs and oceans in the universe cannot do a thing to stop it. They can slow it down, but it. is. still. coming.

But right now, we live in the middle of the story. We live between the world restored, and the world tied up and thrown in a van set to drive off a cliff into the ocean. Which is to say, we live in advent. We live in waiting to see how we get from here to there.

Now, just as surely as Frank and Joe have to pull off some clever tricks or get rescued by their friend Chet and the police, we still have our part to play, but while we’re doing it, we can remember: there’s another story that’s coming after the one we’re in now. And in that story,

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all God’s holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

That is the sequel.

Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom

==Benediction==

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage.
Be patiently impatient.

And when you see our world
tied up in a van
that’s about to drive off a cliff
into the ocean,
may God remind you
that this story has a sequel,
and if the Bible is to be believed at all,
you’re in it.

Now may the love of God,
the Light of Christ,
and the power and communion of the Holy Spirit
be with us all.
Go in peace.

Amen.

A Map of My Faith Community

I took a class last term called “Education and Pastoral Imagination” with Dr. Helen Blier.

One of our assignments was to make a map of our faith community that shows where knowledge is, and how one gets there. Dr. Blier passed out large sheets of paper, some National Geographic magazines for images, glue sticks (I still have mine – whoops!), and pencils and crayons.

This is my map. (Click to enlarge, or keep reading for close-ups).

Full Map

Continue reading

Matthew Vines Might Win the Evangelical Gay Debate After All

A while ago, I wrote a post arguing why Matthew Vines can’t win the evangelical gay marriage debate.

Today, I’m here to admit that maybe I was wrong. Why?

Because of Lee Strobel.

I’ll explain.


Lee Strobel was a reporter. He was an atheist because atheism made sense. He met Christians. He started digging. Eventually, he converted to Christianity.

I saw a Lee Strobel video where he told his story and what arguments convinced him that Christianity made sense. The arguments and the reasons he shared were entirely unconvincing. He interviewed Biblical scholars – all of whom were Evangelical Christians – to find out why they believed and what evidence they thought there was. This methodology isn’t wrong; it merely exposes Strobel’s bias: He wanted to be a Christian but needed evidence that it was true.

His friends were Christians, and they were nice. His wife was a Christian and his atheism/agnosticism was creating challenges in their relationships. As a result, he started compiling evidence that it was true. Strobel found the evidence he was looking for specifically because he was looking for it. Whether that evidence was sufficient evidence compared to other evidence to the contrary was not as relevant as the fact that there was evidence to be had, and Strobel snatched it up. Continue reading

The Eternal Homes: A Short Story

I have not done the work required to justify this story, and I have no way of knowing for sure what heaven is like, but the Bible verse at the end makes me think there might be some truth in it.


A rich man died.

After a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he found himself at the gates of heaven.

He was surprised to find at the gates not Saint Peter or Jesus or an old man with a beard, but the Black woman who used to be the gatekeeper at the parking garage he had parked in every day for the past twenty years. She didn’t look tired anymore.

“Who vouches for you?” she asked.

“Jesus?” He had been in church almost every Sunday of his life, and he had donated a large sum of money to the building project a few years ago, so he figured Jesus would recognize him.

“Jesus is busy,” she said. He thought about asking if maybe she could get Jesus on the phone, but she didn’t seem to be in the mood. “Got anybody else?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Who’s here?”

“Lots of people.”

He thought for a moment.

“You knew me, right?”

“I recognize your face, but I can’t say I know you.”

“Well,” he said, “maybe I’ll just wait for Jesus to not be busy.”

“Up to you,” she said. “I hear there’s a war down on earth and he’s awful busy.”

So he sat down on the bench beside the gate.

All day long, Jesus never came. A whole bunch of other people came by, though. People who had been hurt by war and famine and disease were ushered right in. A few others were told to wait until somebody could vouch for them. It seemed that the lower one’s station in life, the quicker one got in.

One day, the ragamuffin who had begged on the street corner approached the attendant. She checked her clipboard and let him in. “Your place is waiting.”

“Wait a minute!” said the rich man. “I know the person you just let in.”

“Hold on, kid,” she said. “Can you vouch for this guy?”

The ragamuffin looked him up and down. “I think I saw him once in a suit maybe, but he never gave me anything.” The rich man was not allowed in.

More time passed.

A few weeks later, an old homeless man walked up to the gates. The attendant recognized checked her clipboard. “Jacob. Welcome home. Your place is waiting.” But the homeless man just stood there looking at the rich man, who by now had begun to despair of ever getting in.

“Is something wrong?” asked the attendant.

“I know this guy!” said the homeless man. “He used to be my friend before I dropped out of college. One time he paid to get my car fixed when I just didn’t have the money.”

“Are you vouching for him?” she asked. “That means he lives with you.”

“Of course,” said the homeless man. “If he don’t deserve to get in, nobody does.”

The woman swung the gate open wide and they walked in together.


And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

-Luke 16:9, NRSV.

What Shall the Righteous Do?

This morning* I had Hebrew homework to do, but someone shared a link in one of my Facebook groups to a story on PinkNews.co.uk called “Christian groups are handing out these creepy ‘gay cure’ comics to children.”

I read the story. The American Family Association was giving away Bibles with comics in them. “Creepy” is accurate.

Then I went down the rabbit hole. The Bibles they were distributing are called “Truth for Youth Bibles,” because of course they are.

I googled “Truth for Youth Bible,” which led me to the website of the organization that publishes it. The organization’s name is “Revival Fires International.” Because of course it is.

Were there more sample comics at the Truth for Youth Bible website? Of course there were.

The Truth for Youth Bible is the God’s Word Translation (remind me to never support them), and contains “100 pages of powerful, full-color comic stories that present the “absolute truth” about issues that young people are confronted with.” (Spoiler: They’re all evil.)

What are these issues? Just the usual fundamentalist boogeymen, including:

  • Homosexuality
  • Abortion
  • Secular Rock Music
  • Evolution
  • Pluralism

The comic on the Supernatural seems to have renamed Dungeons and Dragons (or some other role-playing game) to “Detestable Practices.” You can read them all in their full-color glorious awfulness.

Seriously, they’re like Chick Tracts, if Chick tracts were full-color and drawn by people with a modicum of talent.

Yes. They’re really that bad.


I dropped by Revival Fires International’s About page and read this paragraph:

Tim [Todd] has a special message for the church during this end-time revival. He conducts special services where God’s Word is preached under the anointing of the Holy Ghost. Tim’s message is pure gospel, his delivery is dynamic, and his heart is aflame with the power of God.

…He exhibits a God-given ability to preach in a clear and powerful manner under a strong anointing of the Holy Ghost.

“Under a strong anointing of the Holy Ghost.”

“His heart is aflame with the power of God.”

The Truth for Youth Bible is endorsed by a lot of Christian leaders, including a number of dead ones.


What do I do with that?

This guy, Tim Todd, is preaching a “gospel” of awful. He’s distributing Bibles with comics in them that tell stories about how bullshit is truth and truth is bullshit. He’s basically reduced the Bible down to a book of rules about morality and how everything is bad and truth is lies and lies are truth…

And his website says that he is under a strong anointing of the Holy Ghost.

Are they lying?

Is it my place to say they’re lying?

Is there anywhere I can go to get authoritative proof that he’s not anointed? (Nope, we’re both Protestants).

Can I just say about him, as I’m sure he would about me, that Tim Todd isn’t a Real Christian™ because I consider myself a Christian and think what he believes is horrible?

This right here is why I feel so screwed up: There’s a part of me that wants to go back to being that person who saw God’s handiwork everywhere and felt like he had this almost-romantic relationship with God, but when I see Tim Todd claiming that he has the same kind of relationship, but more so, it freaks me out. I don’t feel safe.

There’s a part of me that wants to run as fast as I possibly can away from anything that feels like “the anointing of the Holy Ghost” because Tim Todd’s PR firm thinks that’s why he’s so much they way he is.

But there’s another part of me that wants to visit his Facebook page (it took some digging, but I did find it) and post “How dare you presume to speak for God?”

Honestly, it reminds me of Luke 11:52, where Jesus says,

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.

And that’s how it feels – like Tim Todd and his ilk have taken away the key of knowledge but don’t go in to the Kingdom of God, and hinder anyone else who tries to get in.

Tim Todd would call me a compromiser. He’d say my gospel is “soft.” Just like in a Chick tract, the people who say God isn’t an asshole are always on the short train to hellfire and damnation.

I think he’s dead wrong, about God and about me, but what can I do about it?

What can you do when you’re confident that your religion has been hijacked by people who have made it about literally everything except what you believe it’s about – and when you know these people place their interpretation of the Bible as the ultimate source of authority and think their interpretation is just “the Bible” and there’s nobody around to say “these Christians don’t speak for God or for Christianity”?

Your thoughts?

* Post first composed 8/23, but went unpublished at the time because I couldn’t figure out how to land it. I still don’t have an answer, but I decided to post anyway in case you do.