Monthly Archives: August 2013

How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the gospel is concerned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on hell and the existence thereof. I have no idea what threats of hellfire are supposed to accomplish. It’s like screaming at someone, “I think you’re ugly and awful! Date me and I’ll fix all of your flaws!” Sign me up? Not to mention the fact that most people who don’t believe in the Christian concept of God DON’T BELIEVE IN HELL. Therefore, your threats are meaningless. How does threatening someone with something they don’t believe in do anything other than make you (and by extension all Christians) look silly? That’s like telling me that if I don’t behave, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will boycott stopping by my home with their treasures.

“Oh, you think I’m going to hell? Well, then I’d like to be a part of your community and worship your God!” said no one, ever.

2) Stop “speaking truth in love” or whatever you call it. This includes love the sinner, hate the sin (which sounds more like hate than love every time).

Let’s be honest, the most often I see this line used is in the attempt to “correct” the gays, so that’s my primary focus here. Look, I get that for many Christians, correcting someone on their behavior can be a soul saving act. But, let me be clear: speaking the truth in love just about never feels like love. It feels like judgment, anger, hate, prejudice, bigotry, evil, immaturity and a bunch of other negative adjectives (and often times, that’s because that is what it is). Now, there may be times someone needs to be called out on their behavior, like when they are being a total jerk (see this post) or when they are harming themselves or others. Usually, it is best when someone has given permission to have truth spoken into their lives. That means they are ready for it, and what you have to say is valued. Proceed with caution and love. It is important that, in the event you feel the need to correct someone on their behavior, you ask yourself some things:

A) How well do I know this person? If the person you are about to “speak truth in love” to isn’t a close friend, stop yourself right there. Just stop. The phrase “speak truth in love” comes from the letter to the Ephesians, a worshipping community of the early church. These were people who lived in community together, not random people shouting at each other what they were doing wrong.

B) Is anyone getting hurt by this person’s behavior? And by hurt, I am not talking about the state of their everlasting souls regarding eternity in heaven or hell (which is up to God, BTW, not you or me). Drugs destroy bodies and relationships; abuse of a partner or child is life damaging and soul killing. Have the talk. The sex lives of consenting adults (unless they are cheating, knowingly spreading a disease, or engaging in super risky compulsive behavior) are not hurting anyone.

C) Have I thoroughly examined my heart to make sure I am acting out of love, not fear, prejudice, or wrong teaching? If I am not engaged in a regular prayer practice that involves looking into my own heart and confronting my own sin, I am are in no place to correct someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of confronting to do. A lot. Try thinking of what love is according to 1 Cor 13: 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Which brings me to #3:

3) STOP WITH THE JUDGING ALREADY

In the gospel of John, Jesus comes across a crowd of people about to stone a woman who was caught in adultery. He says to them, “If you are without sin, go ahead and cast a stone. If you have sin (which face it, is all of you) go ahead and stone her but make sure you throw some stones at yourself for good measure after you stone her.”

Wait, that’s not the story.

All too often I hear people talk about other’s sins, convict others of sins, then add at the end, “But, I mean, I’m a sinner too, I know that.” Dude, that’s not what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to stone her only if you were without sin. How about instead of stoning/judging each other, we love each other? Real, deep, compassionate love that sees the brokenness and aches to see it healed with love.

4) Stop saying that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, Muslims, Atheists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. I’ve already written about it here. These storms are happening at an increased rate not because of our personal “immorality” but our corporate sin of degrading the environment and acting like we’re just gonna get another one.

5) Get right with science. I don’t even know how to explain this one. Climate change is a thing. Evolution is also a thing. The ancient people who wrote the Bible would have looked at us like we were nuts if we told them we were taking their stories as actual fact. The United States is falling behind in global education ranking because of our math and science scores. Kids from very religious households are going to college unprepared for intro science classes because they haven’t learned about evolution and they think the Earth is 6,000 years old. There are plenty of scientists who are people of faith and believe that there is an unmoved mover behind all of this. In fact, many people believe that knowing more about science actually makes God all the more wondrous.

If you can’t get right with science, try to understand that there are very valid reasons to believe in science (I really can’t handle that I just typed believe in science, like it is a choice). We would do a better job of spreading God’s love and salvation if we listened and loved instead of shouted and judged.

6) Understand that there are people who are never going to believe, for whom the idea of God makes no sense whatsoever. Faith, according to the Bible, is a gift of the Spirit. Some people don’t have it. Be cool about it. Be friends. Love, laugh, chill and talk. Have conversations about ultimate things, come to understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. Even for those who have been given faith, it is a hard thing to sustain in this world. Know someone who doesn’t believe in God? Love her. Be salve to his wounds. And let up on the witnessing.

7) Empower women. Paul had women working with him. The woman at the well brought her village to belief, women were the first to witness the empty tomb and tell others. Women are smart, strong and equipped for leadership at home, in the workplace and in the congregation. Our bodies are not made to be ogled at, commodified or make medical decisions about. How someone else feels about my body is not my fault. I will show others respect and Christian love. I don’t owe anyone fielty or subservience disguised as complementarianism, and I don’t have to wear long skirts or cover my head, TYVM.

8) If you know/hear/suspect someone has been molested, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a church member/leader, listen, trust and report it. That’s just a big old duh.

9) Stop trying to legislate using the Bible as your main argument. The Bible can’t be used to make public policy. It can certainly influence reasoning for supporting or opposing a policy, but it must not be the sole reason. Evidence, studies, economic impact, human rights and constitutionality — these are reasons to make or take down laws. Not because the Bible said so. Even in situations when our religious beliefs call us to end injustice, we must (as people living in a democracy, not a theocracy) find reasons to supplement/complement our Biblical reasons for legislation.

10) Focus more on corporate sin than personal sin. Care more about racism than what a woman is wearing or who someone is sleeping with. Get more outraged by war and poverty than something scandalous and/or titilating on tv. Worry more about the melting glaciers than who is marrying whom.

11) Understand you lose any and all moral high ground when you decide to support a racist, xenophobic, sexist, petulant, lying, cheating, oppression supporting demagogue WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE HE NEEDS TO CONFESS SIN TO GOD OR ATONE FOR ANYTHING for president. You cannot talk about the sanctity of marriage and at the same time support someone who has been married three times, cheated on his wives, and likely continues to sexually harass/intimidate women (and who will be on trial in December for raping a child). You cannot talk about how you value life and support someone who a) refuses to allow people seeking life into this country b) seems to be fine with people threatening the life of his opponent and c) still thinks innocent men should get the death penalty. And you can never, ever ask others to repent when you claim into the Christian family someone who believes he is above that.

When I was going to church camp, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I want that to be the truth. I want to know that when I tell people I’m a Christian, they will think of all the work my people do on behalf of the poor and outcast. I want to be proud not only of my God, but of my people. But that’s really hard. Because, right now, our public image is more like, “They will know we are Christians because our leaders say weird things about AIDS and storms, support sexist, xenophobic racists, would rather refugees die, and we yell a lot about who can marry whom.” So, let’s cut that shit out, shall we?

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A sermon on discernment and using the Bible to guide our lives

Scripture: Isaiah 58:9-14 and Luke 13:10-17

I get easily overwhelmed by an abundance of choices. If I’m having a hard day or I’m tired and I make an attempt to go to Target to get some toothpaste, I will get stuck in the toothpase aisle for a good 20 minutes just staring. I’m not even thinking about what is in each toothepaste, whether I want whitening or tartar control or total care, baking soda, peroxide, fluoride, mint, fresh mint, minty clean, sporty mint, cool mint or super ultra mega mint. I can’t even get that far. Just the awareness of all of the options stops me in my tracks. I zone out, get paralyzed. I don’t want to think about all of the options, I just want someone to come by and hand me a damn tube of toothpase. Seriously, I don’t care what kind. It could have the flavor of urinal cakes and I’d be cool with it. As long as I got out of the toothpaste aisle.

Just looking at this stresses me out. Too. Many. Choices.

Just looking at this stresses me out. Too. Many. Choices.

Does this happen to any of you? You go out for a simple errand and get totally overwhelmed by choices? An information and sensory overload?

Sometimes, we just want the decisions made for us. After a long day with lots of complicated decisions to be made in work and home life, with our friends, families and lovers, sometimes it sounds really nice to just have someone else pick out our toothpaste (or whichever product causes you to freeze in the aisle of your local giant store).  Sometimes, we don’t want to discern. We want discernment to be quick, clean and clear. But figuring shit out doesn’t usually happen that way. It’s messy and awkward and confusing and painful (sometimes). Sometimes, it’s just way easier to have someone tell us what decisions to make. For me, this is the appeal of theologies that keep people out of God’s kingdom, theologies that are so very certain and clear about what God wants and who God is. We just want clear directions on how to live life. Why is that so hard? 😉

But like life, the Bible is messy. Theology is messy.

Today’s gospel reading involves discernment: discernment of how to read and apply scripture in regards to the Sabbath. On one hand, we have the religious leader condemning Jesus for working on the Sabbath by committing an act of healing. On the other, Jesus condemning the religious leader (and the people) for all the work they do on the Sabbath that is not God’s work. The leader of the synagogue has a vision of Sabbath observation that is likely influenced by the story in numbers where a man is stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath or an overcomplication of the Levitical procolamation that no work is to be done on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ vision of the Sabbath and proper Sabbatical behavior seems to be influenced by our Isaiah reading today. Isaiah proclaims that the Sabbath is a day to live in the way God wants us to live. It’s not a day off, it’s a day on for God. The Sabbath is

“A day for removing the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, offering your food to the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted.”

Same day. Same law. Two different ideas of what the Sabbath is all about.

This is not the only time the Bible gives us different ideas on how to live out God’s commands.

I know, shocking.

The Bible is not absolute black and white, clear do this not that. It is more nuanced, more complex. Messier. In this light, how can we use it as a guide for our lives? How in the world can a book that seemingly contradicts itself so much be of any use?

First, we have to learn how to discern what the Bible means for us in our lives today without using it primarily to support the beliefs we already have.

This is freaking hard.

Especially because we all want the Bible to have our backs. We want it to say what we already believe.

Don’t like gays?  There’s a verse for that!

Think women should be silent but for when teaching children? There’s a verse for that!

Think that God has chosen a finite number of people to be saved and everyone else is screwed? There’s a verse for that!

Think women should preach? There’s a verse for that too! (yay!)

So, how do we figure it out?

How do we discern how we should behave on the Sabbath? How we should behave in matters of relationships, sex, social justice, business?

Have you ever seen someone stating that the Bible has all the answers to guide through life as though it were some map? Did you look at them like they were nuts? If only it were that easy.

If only we could pick up scripture and find immediate, quick and clean answers to life’s questions.

Should I drink tonight God? Let’s see… Habakuk says not to get you neigbor drunk in order to look on your neighbors nakedness but to get drunk yourselves and lie unclothed.  Sweet! Tonight I drink and lie naked!

Should I have sex? Well, Ecclesiasties asks “If two lie down together, they will keep warm, how can one keep warm alone?” That’s a yes, right? Warmth and all?

So, what do we do? How do we discern a) what the Bible is saying to us in our day and time and b) what God is calling us to do in our lives?

We need a guide, something to help us interpret the Bible.

Now, God wrote the word on our hearts, so it is tempting to rely on our hearts for interpretation. We can do that, but, um, has your heart ever told you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear? Yeah. So, we need something else.

As Christians, we are to interpret scripture through Christ’s life, teachings, death and resurrection. Our Lutheran tradition provides us with lots of great theology and guidance when it comes to interpreting scripture. But this is not a lecture in Biblical interpretation. So, here’s something easier to keep in mind.

Christ gives us a great rule when he gives us the greatest commandment: love the lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself…

If we combine our knowledge of God’s word written in our hearts, what we have been taught through our tradition and ask if it is loving to God and neighbor, we should be alright.

But still… we will get it wrong sometimes…

We will go to the Bible, go through the work out… reflect upon what Jesus would do, pray for guidance, interpret all of these things through our Lutheran lens of salvation by grace through faith and the greatest commandment and still we will fuck up.

Things will go wrong. Good intentions turn bad. Good ideas go wrong. We still manage to get what we want in front of what God wants. The world changes our understanding of basic tenants of the gospel and we end up in a bad place. We end up broken or breaking someone else.

We aren’t always going to get it right. Other’s aren’t always going to get it right.

Like, I know a dozen people who really, truly believe that telling gays that they are going to hell is a loving act because it may save them from damnation. I see no love in this act, I don’t see Christ, but they do. This is really hard to swallow. I also know people who believe that telling rich business men who are using up global resources that they are going to hell is a loving, salvific act for this world. Both groups of people are trying to bring about God’s kingdom, but creating boundaries of who is in and who is out, building a fence around God’s love. We’re never going to get it 100% right. We can (and should) try to live be God’s word, discerning God’s desires for us and our world as best we can with the tools available to us. But we are going to fail.

Deal with it.

This is where God’s love for us steps in. When we get it horrifyingly wrong, God’s love is still there. Waiting for us. When other’s get it wrong, God’s love is still there, waiting for them.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that the rule for determining the course of our lives? Love? God’s love entering into us and overflowing out of us onto those around us so that God’s love can’t help but spread? Isn’t that how we do? Is it loving? Does the work we do engender love throughout the earth? Does the entertainment we consume lead us to love? Do the things we buy create more love on this planet? Or do they create pain, misery and degredation?

Love. That is what Christ lived and died for. That is why we are here. That is the center of our discernment practices. It’s all about love.


On my own

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The view from my campsite on Lake Diablo in The North Cascades. It was a-ma-zing.

The other day I was grousing to a friend about all of the things I need to re-learn now that I am single. There are many, many things (did you know there are rules to texting? There are). Quite a few are simply the rules to navigating socially as a single person (specifically a 35-year-old single female almost pastor), and many of those things I’m learning for the first time (some because I didn’t learn them well the first time). Other things, however, are pieces of knowledge I once had, but somehow lost by virtue of being married to someone who was better at certain things than I was. For example, I used to be really good at hooking up electronic equipment. I recently bought some new pieces for my stereo and it took me for freaking ever to get it put together. I used to feel like I was smart about cars, I could fix basic broken things around my house. Somehow, by virtue of having a man around (and, let’s be honest, some of these things he was better at, some, not so much) I forgot how to be self-sufficient.

I remember fighting it at first, insisting to do things on my own. Then it just became easier to let him do it (with computers it really was easier. I do miss having my own personal IT guy). In doing so, I lost some of the strength that came along with being able to do things myself. Without realizing it, I gave away some of my power and became dependent on the presence of another to get through parts of my daily life.

This became glaringly apparent to me this weekend. I went on my first solo camping trip without my dog. That’s where the problem begins. I kept thinking it was my first solo camping trip. I had totally forgotten that I had gone camping with Rocky a bunch before meeting my husband.

Camping is one of the many things that is a harder to do alone if you are a woman — or at least that is the perception most women have. We (women) are so acutely aware of the dangers in our world that we often fear things that we don’t really need to fear (like camping). I was hiking solo a few weeks ago and there was a guy hiking by himself behind me. I was afraid the whole damn time he was behind me. I finally stopped so he would get in front of me. I spent 20 minutes of my hike totally stressed out about getting attacked. Ugh. We spend so much time learning about how not to be raped (because that is apparently more important than teaching men to, you know, not rape), learning about statistics about violence against women, and, likely, watching too damn many crime shows (SVU, Criminal Minds…) that we freak ourselves out. It is hard to balance a reasonable wariness of the world with the desire to explore and do new things. Plus, I’m kind of afraid of the dark. For reals.  Add this to my love for shows like Ghost Hunters, and you’ve got one nervous first-time-solo-camper.

Then I realized that it is really rare to hear a story about someone getting raped or killed while camping. In fact, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. So I started thinking about perceived danger versus actual danger and realized that much of my fear was of perceived danger, not actual danger. This doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen while camping, but the changes are better that the bad thing is something stupid I’m going to do to myself (which I am just as likely to do at home) than something someone else is going to do to me. According to this article, of the 273 million visitors to the national parks in 2006, there were 11 violent deaths. That percentage is so small it’s barely a number.

I took precautions. I picked a spot next to some nice women who I think were professors, I listed my campsite as having two people, and I slept with my knife next to me (I’m kind of amazed I didn’t stab myself with it while searching for my headlamp. That was probably a not-safe precaution). I told a few friends where I would be.

After setting up I went for a spectacular solo hike. At one point I was so overcome by the beauty surrounding me I just stopped and got on my knees to give thanks. No joke. Then I hugged some trees (yeah, I’m a hippie, what of it?). I hiked partway back in the twilight (sadly, no sexy sparkly vampires), cooked with my camping stove and then sat on a tree trunk in the lake and watched the meteor shower. All by my damn self. All of it.

Sitting on that tree in the lake I started to remember all the things I can do by myself. The love of God overwhelmed me. I realized that I have a partner in God. I don’t need a romantic partner to do things. I don’t need to be made whole by another person, I am whole on my own. I am enough. It is nice to have someone to compliment me, and there were points when I really wish I could have expressed my appreciation for the beauty surrounding me to another person, but all in all it was pretty awesome doing it alone.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying I can get through life alone. That’s crap. I absolutely could not have gotten through the past four months without the amazing cloud of witnesses with which God has blessed me. I need love, I need hugs, and I don’t think I will ever stop hoping for that spark that happens when two people are well matched (or just think the other one is pretty neat), but I can do this on my own, with the help of my friends and family. That was an amazing thing to remember.