Stop Mocking Trigger Warnings; you look like a jerk

Content Warning: Abuse.

I was sitting in a class with my laptop open, trying to save some links and close some tabs while a classmate was reading a handout the professor distributed.

The professor peered over the lid to see what I was doing since I obviously wasn’t paying attention to the poetry reading.

I gave a sheepish grin, but instantly felt ashamed. I spent the rest of that class period trying to decide what to do, wishing I was somewhere else, and trying to remain as small as possible. I couldn’t pay attention at all.

Well that’s strange.

Yeah, it is. It doesn’t make sense as a reaction. “Normal people” would just shrug and go back to paying attention. I am a grown man and all it took was a peek over my screen from a professor to throw me into a vortex of bad thoughts. Continue reading

How To Make Your Favorite Doctrine Essential

(or, “How ECO* made a secondary issue, marriage between one man and one woman, a central tenet of the Christian faith, and you can too!”)

Note that if you’re in a non-denominational or independent church that doesn’t have any historic confessions other than scripture, you can skip this entire post and just

  1. find the thing you want to condemn anywhere in scripture,
  2. proclaim from the pulpit that it is a central tenet, and 
  3. it will be one.

So I was looking for the “essential tenets of the Reformed faith” because if I’m going to be an ordained PC(USA)* minister one day, I have to

sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do,

and I was trying to find a document that explains what counts for the PC(USA) as “essential tenets.” Fun fact: Such a document doesn’t exist. We have a Book of Confessions, but I couldn’t find any documents that delineated which tenets in those confessions count as essential. ECO and the EPC* have one, but the PC(USA) does not.

This aroused my curiosity.

I know ECO was (in part) formed and filled as a reaction to the PC(USA)’s allowing non-celibate but otherwise-qualified LGBTQ people to be ministers, and later permitting (not requiring) marriage equality.

The ECO website pretends it was about concerns around declining denominational membership and disputes of theology and bureaucracy, but the seven founding pastors met for the first time to “find new ways to encourage each other in faith, ministry, and mission” in summer 2010.

I’m sure it was just a coincidence that the General Assembly approved Amendment 10-A, which allowed for non-celibate gay and lesbian ministers, that exact same summer. Continue reading

Anointing Eliab (David’s Older Brother)

Our scripture this morning is I Samuel 16:1-13. I grew up in Sunday School, so of course I heard this story more times than I can count. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve known the story, and I’ve known the moral: “Humans look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” It’s right there in verse 7.

But I didn’t just have that answer, I had all the answers – at least, all the important ones. I could have given people a run-down of all God’s opinions on every important issue, and I often did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m reading from the Common English Bible because the NRSV, your pew Bible, is really good with accuracy but really bad at story-telling. Listen for the word of the Lord in the story of the anointing of King David.


The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”

“How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it he’ll kill me!”

“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

“Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

When they arrived, Samuel looked at David, Jesse’s youngest. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. Samuel thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right there.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t chosen him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.”Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the oldest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

So Jesse sent and brought him in. Eliab was tall and good-looking, and reminded Samuel a little of Saul. He was exactly what Samuel thought a king should look like. The Lord told Samuel, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over Eliab from that point forward.

Then Samuel left and went to Ramah.


The word of the Lord?

Thanks be to God.

No it’s not. Come on, this is the story of the anointing of David and I just said God rejected David and Samuel anointed Eliab instead! Continue reading

The Danger of Confusing Yourself with God

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

-Exodus 17:2, NRSV, emphasis mine.

Notice what happens in this verse. The people quarrel with Moses, and Moses asks them why they’re testing God. Incidentally, when Moses complains to God about this, God gives Moses a commonsense answer: Give them water.

Moses in this story has a problem that is shared by a frightening number of American Christian leaders: confusing themselves with God. Not in the sense that they’re encountering God and becoming confused, which would be good, but in the sense that people are challenging them, and they think people are challenging God.

I could give oodles of examples, but I’m sure you’ve seen them too. The most recent example I’ve seen is this post from Owen Strachan on The Gospel Coalition. Responding to a line in a book by William Paul Young, author of The Shack, Strachan says,

Don’t miss this: The most popular Christian writer in our time labels the biblical God a “cosmic abuser.” Ancient false teaching returns.

No, Owen. Young didn’t label God a cosmic abuser. He labelled your ideas about God cosmic abuse. There is a critical difference between the two – and a painfully underappreciated one.


The best example, I think, comes from a particularly dogmatic Bible professor who, as recently as winter 2015-2016, is known to have said, in so many words, on several occasions,

You can disagree with me on this, but if you do, know that you’re disagreeing with Paul, you’re disagreeing with Jesus, and you’re disagreeing with God.

The person who heard this dropped the class shortly thereafter. Learning is always a challenge, but it’s a special kind of difficulty to learn from someone who thinks their opinion is identical with God’s.


Some Christians have a painfully difficult time distinguishing God from their ideas about God. Many think the two are one and the same – that God is identical with what they think God is like. This leads to those same Christians assuming that an attack on what they think about God is identical with an attack on God.

On the contrary, many such “attacks” are not attacks on God at all. They are attacks on dangerous false ideas about God, and as such are defenses of God’s character, not attacks on it.

Let those with ears, hear.

Ash Wednesday Meditation

The lectionary passages for Ash Wednesday are about repentance, and for me as a recovering fundamentalist, especially reading Psalm 51, repentance is all about wallowing in guilt and what Brennan Manning called cultivating ingrown eyeballs, where you try to imagine all the ways you might have offended God and debate whether you’re sufficiently penitent.

I went to a thing called a Prayer Advance once, because Christians don’t retreat, they advance, get it? So at the Prayer Advance, they have this time called “Sweet Hour of Prayer” where you go off into the woods and work your way through this list of things that are… well, I’m pretty sure many of them aren’t actually sins.

“Am I really concerned about revival?” I used to be, back when the problem was other people.

“Am I willing to pay the price for personal revival?” I don’t know. What are personal revivals going for these days?

“Am I sinning the sin of prayerlessness?” Prayerlessness is a sin?

“Do I get angry?” Especially when I read lists like this.

“Have I paid all my debts to others?” You try owing the cost of a college education to Great Lakes Student Loan Servicing, Prayer Advance People.

“Is my home a testimony for Jesus?” Well, we do have that sign that says “No matter who you are, you’re welcome here,” so… yes?”

“Does my pastor KNOW that he can count on me?” Well, first, you misspelled “she,” and second, judging by her helpful reminder emails, I think she knows she can count on me when I reply.

You get the picture. You can’t read through that and take it seriously without starting to think, “You know, I kind of suck.” And that’s the point of it. It’s to make you feel bad so you come back to your home church with this testimony of how you repented and did a soul cleanse and you’re basically sinless. When I came back, I was pretty much perfect by fundamentalist standards for, oh, a good three days at least! Continue reading

How to Choose Life

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Photo Credit: Kristen Schell

So there were these ancient Jews living in captivity. I don’t know how many there were, or what their names were, but let’s say there were two (there were probably more) and call them Rachel and Eli.

Like most people in unhappy situations, Rachel and Eli had questions – questions like “How did this happen,” “How can I fix it,” and “How can I keep this from happening again?” And like most people with those questions, they started digging through their history looking for clues.

They would have found that their ancestors worshiped a lot of idols, and read about King David and Solomon, who worshiped the God Rachel and Eli worshiped, Yahweh. They would have found that King Rehoboam made some bad decisions and split the kingdom, and his servant Jeroboam, who took the Northern half of the Kingdom, made some worse decisions and set up two golden calves for worship.

Then in 721 BCE, the Assyrians captured Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Worship Yahweh, Rachel and Eli would have concluded, you get David and Solomon. Worship other gods, you get captured by Assyrians. Continue reading

Book Review: The Remnant

I grew up on Left Behind, among lots of other books. One of my uncles found out I was an avid reader and made it his business to send me books. That’s how I ended up in a Walmart one night just before midnight when one of the books was coming out. I had finished it by the next afternoon. Nothing was more disappointing than when, at the end of Glorious Appearing, Jesus finally returned – and quoted Paul. I thought after 2,000 years he might have developed some new material. Gosh.

Then I took a class on the book of Revelation at Huntington University, where I discovered, to my disappointment, that the theology in the Left Behind series was complete nonsense. In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright called Left Behind “pseudotheological fiction.”

After I watched Left Behind II: Tribulation Force in the light of that class, it seemed Tim LaHaye must have acquired his theology of the end times by tacking a few chapters of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation to a wall and throwing darts at them to determine the attributes of the Anti-Christ.

The Remnant…Which is why I was delighted to find in my inbox an invitation to read and review a book by Monte Wolverton called The Remnant, a title it shares with Left Behind book 10. I trust the people who sent me the offer, so I knew it was going to be decent. Plus, I needed a little more fiction in my life.

Wolverton’s The Remnant is not about the rapture, though. Not even a little bit. Like the Left Behind books, however, The Remnant is about a post-apocalyptic world. In this one, though, Jesus didn’t come back. The world has ended because of World War III and been rebuilt without religion, as much as possible.

The prologue is set in Tunisia in 2063. The second sentence of The Remnant reads this way: “In the year 2062, a cataclysmic global war prompted the World Federation to ban all religion.” The banning process is cartoonish. While I was reading it, I kept telling myself, “Willing suspension of disbelief. Willing suspension of disbelief. Just let it happen.”

In chapter 1, we are introduced to Grant Cochrin, his wife Dana, and their son and daughter Tadd and Lissa. Also featured are Sara Davenport, Owen Fenbert and Bryan Hantwick. To be honest, I got them mixed up sometimes.

Anyway, the world is divided up into three areas:

  1. Safe Zones, cities where moral atheists live protected  by drones and zappers from anyone and anything dangerous.
  2. Work camps for anyone religious, where we find our heroes.
  3. The Wilderness, which is mysterious, unknown, and lawless.

Our little group isn’t particularly persecuted. They live in crappy one-bedroom apartments, and they can’t leave the camp, but they’re otherwise generally well-taken-care-of. They work long hours, apparently doing some kind of manual labor.

The book opens as they escape their work camp, under cover of darkness, in danger of being zapped to death by Federation drones. They leave because they are looking for a faith community they’ve heard exists somewhere in the Wilderness. Continue reading

Breitbart and Fox News Perpetuated a Trump Lie

I read something yesterday that freaked me out. Like a lot.

But first, you need to know two things:

  1. The women’s march on Washington was bigger than Trump’s inauguration.
  2. Obama’s inaugurations were both bigger than Trump’s.

This has been substantiated by numbers from the Washington Metro. Politifact has links to tweets from the Metro about the numbers of riders on the individual days about 2/3 of the way down this article. (Politifact rated White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claim that “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period” as “pants on fire.”)

Fox News posted an AP fact-check article about the claim that Trump was wrong about the crowd size. They said, “THE FACTS: Trump is wrong,” and followed up with the evidence linked above.

Here’s a video. (It zooms in at the end when Trump starts speaking).

Review the evidence. Take as long as you need. Do your own research; use google. Article after article confirms that Trump did not have the biggest crowds. Not even close.

Done? Good.

Because this is the part where Fox News and Breitbart (and God knows who else) perpetuated Trump’s lies. Breitbart is infinitely worse. Like “Dear God I wish their readers were being lied to by Fox News instead” worse.
Continue reading

The Superior Losers

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

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? Continue reading

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