Religion

Hmmmm….


Fear of Time Running Out

 

 

X Trapped in Facebook

 

 

SLAVE TO TECHNOLOGY:

X Slave to Technology

HAVE WE REACHED “NEWSPEAK”? 

X Newspeak

 

HERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF GENDER DECONSTRUCTION FROM A 7 YEAR OLD:
(there’s a typed version of it below her handwritten letter)

X shame on lego

 

AND TO END WITH: 

X God approves

X Defense Box Tops

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Categories: Ideas & Philosophy, Politics/Current Events, Religion | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Reasons Christians Should Stop Whining about Secular Xmas

Keep-Christ-in-Christmas

I came across this blog post the other day (the link to the original is at the bottom), and I thought it paired nicely with my “Is Xmas Blasphemy?” post.  I don’t agree with every single thing Rev. Wathen says below, but overall, I support her points.  Happy Holidays, yall!

********

“Keep Christ in Christmas!”

“Jesus is the reason for the season!”

“It’s OK to say Merry Christmas!”

I don’t disagree with any of these statements. However, as a PR rep for Jesus, I cringe whenever I see them printed on a sign somewhere. I know we all lament the commercialization of a sacred day; I know that it’s frustrating to see something so meaningful reduced to plastic snowmen and frozen fruitcakes. That said, it’s not worth getting all offended by a ‘season’s greetings’ card, or a ‘winter holiday celebration’ at your kids’ school or your workplace. Here’s why we should stop demanding “our holiday” back:

1. ’Season’s greetings,” refers to that broad expanse of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Muliple holidays=holiday season. It’s nothing against Jesus, really.

2. Also, Christians are not the only people of faith who celebrate a high holy day around the winter solstice. Christianity is a global faith with a regrettable lack of global awareness. “Happy Holidays” is a simple means of acknowledging that some of our neighbors–even some of our friends and relatives–are also in the midst of living their faith. And let’s face it: the “this is mine” attitude surrounding December 25 feels less like Christmas cheer, and more like Black Friday hoarding. Just sayin…

3. “Xmas” is not a dirty word. In fact, “X” is the Greek letter, Chi–which, in the olden days, was often used as a literary symbol for Christ. So, there you go.

4. Jesus never went around saying “Merry Me-Smas.” While I’m sure he’d appreciate all the to-do around his birthday, he was a pretty humble guy. I think he’d blush and say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” And you know…when i hear ‘keep Christ in Christmas,” what it sounds like to me is keeping for ourselves. Not the best celebration of God’s love incarnate.

5. Do you really want the public school system to be responsible for your child’s faith formation? No? i didn’t think so. However…when we insist that public schools–funded by state and local tax dollars–speak the language of faith, it is kind of the same thing. (I have similar boundary issues with posting of 10 Commandments and school prayer…post for another day!) Let’s just say, while i think many public school teachers model wonderful values and moral behavior, and many are model Christians, I’d much rather my kids learn to read and do math at school, and get their language of faith from my family and the church of my choosing.

6. We might often feel that the secularization of our favorite holiday has deprived it of all meaning. But on the contrary, Christmas is the time when many who would qualify themselves as ‘non-believers,’ feel a stirring of the spirit that leads them seeking. If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should celebrate any element of the season that urges people toward the holy.  It may start with the mall or the Hallmark channel, but it often lands them in church. I’ll take it.

7. Speaking of shopping–if you are bothered by all the secular expressions posted around malls and big box stores this season, might i gently suggest that you spend less of your Christmas season at the freakin mall? If you don’t like the signage, spend more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out in nature, and spending time with the people you love. I’m pretty sure the birthday boy would be all for it.

8. Life is too short to worry so much about what everyone else is saying and doing. Apply this to other areas of life and civilized culture, as well.

9. When you get right down to it, the best way to “keep Christ in Christmas” is to model Christlike behavior. Jesus was for feeding people. Jesus was for healing and compassion. Jesus was for getting a bunch of loud, messy, mismatched people around a table and having a big dinner. Not a moment of his life did he spend trying to get his name up on a sign.

10. And speaking of signs…this just does not make for attractive seasonal decor. Martha would not be pleased:

Keep Christ

Any way you shake it, simple is best; and joy comes in much smaller packages than we’ve come to expect.

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Phoenix, AZ. Visit her blog at www.irreverin.com.

Categories: Religion | Tags: , | Leave a comment

A Preaching Genius Faces His Toughest Convert

 

By John Blake, CNN

December 14, 2011 — (link to original article here.)

Blue Ridge, Georgia (CNN) — Fred Craddock was a young preacher trying to find his voice when he received a call from his mother one day.

“You need to go see your father,” she said. “He may not live longer.”

Craddock found his father in a VA hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Fred Craddock Sr. had whittled down to 73 pounds. Radiation treatments had burned him to pieces. He couldn’t eat or speak.

When he saw his son, he picked up a Kleenex box and scribbled on it a line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”

“What is your story, Daddy?”

His father’s eyes welled with tears. He wrote:

“I was wrong.”

‘A preacher like no other’

Craddock never became a televangelist, built a megachurch or preached to an adoring crowd in a packed stadium. He is a diminutive, bespectacled man whose voice is so soft that he once compared it to “wind whistling through a splinter on the post.”

Yet he is a pulpit giant, a man who, one preaching scholar says, tilted the preaching world “on its axis” after creating a revolutionary method that led to him being selected as one of the 12 best preachers in the English-speaking world.

“He is a preacher like no other” is how the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, who also made the top 12 list, describes him.

Craddock preached his last official sermon in October. He is 83 and struggling with Parkinson’s disease. When he greets a visitor, he moves gingerly to his seat. He is 5-foot-5 with a plump belly and an impish smile.

He lives in Blue Ridge, Georgia, a small town in the Appalachian Mountains that looks like a rustic postcard, with its small white-steeple churches and autumn forests bristling with burgundy and gold.

Friends worry about Craddock’s health, but he seems to treat his illness as an annoyance.

“I should have something by 83,” he says with a quick smile when the conversation turns to Parkinson’s.

His arms shake when he talks at length, but everything else is there: his phenomenal recall of names, details, places.

Though he has gathered all manner of awards during 50 years of preaching, he never received praise for his calling from the one man he wanted to hear it from most: his father.

“I struggled with his silence,” Craddock says. “I wanted him to say he was proud of me.”

A father like no other

Fred Craddock Sr. had plenty to say about other subjects. He stood 5-foot-7, weighed 150 pounds and even in his 50s could do one-arm chin-ups. He liked to dance, race his horse at county fairs.

Most of all, he loved to tell stories.

His son and namesake, Fred Jr., was one of his most devoted fans. Father and son developed a storytelling ritual. At the end of the day, the elder Craddock would return to his home in the small town of Humboldt, Tennessee, roll a Bull Durham cigarette by the fireplace and say to no one in particular, “Boy, I never hope to see what I saw today.”

Craddock, his three brothers and his sister flocked around their father.

“What’d you see today?”

“Oh, you kids still up? No, you go to bed. You don’t want to have nightmares.”

His children protested. Back and forth they’d go before Craddock Sr. finally said, “Well, sit down, but don’t blame me if you have nightmares.”

Craddock Sr. thrilled his children with adventure stories about Chief Loud Thunder, Civil War battles and, on occasion, stories from the Bible. The elder Craddock taught his son some of his first lessons in theology.

Each student in Craddock’s first-grade class was required to answer morning roll call with a Bible verse. Craddock didn’t know any, until his father taught him one. One morning, he stood up “like a bantam rooster” and repeated his father’s scripture:

“Samson took the jawbone of an ass and killed 10,000 Filipinos.”

The teacher sent Craddock home with a stern note to his parents for his use of profanity. Ethel Craddock chided her husband, but he chuckled, saying, “I bet the class enjoyed it.”

The elder Craddock developed a following. Storytellers were admired in rural Tennessee during the first half of the 20th century. Television was nonexistent. Books were expensive. People spent their day around pot-bellied stoves, whittling wood and spitting tobacco while swapping stories.

When Craddock Sr. stopped on a corner to roll a cigarette, crowds gathered, because they knew a tall tale was coming. They rarely guessed how it would end. Craddock Sr. would uncork a story, lead his audience up to the edge, then suddenly announce that he had to go to work and walk away.

Says his son: “I’m convinced now that he didn’t know where his stories were going when he started.”

‘Another name, another pledge’

Stories, however, don’t feed hungry children.

Craddock’s father had enough education to devour Shakespeare in his spare time. But he discovered, after inheriting 10 acres, that he couldn’t farm. He wasn’t good with his hands, either. Doors, fixtures and steps hung off-kilter in his house.

The elder Craddock had a bigger problem. He was an alcoholic.

When the Great Depression tore into rural Tennessee, Craddock Sr. drank to cushion the pain. His drinking, though, only magnified his self-loathing. His mood darkened. He yelled at his family, but Craddock says he never saw his father hit his mom. When visitors came by, though, everyone was embarrassed.

Sometimes, Craddock saw his father break down in tears.

“He wanted to do better by his family. He didn’t know how.”

At times, Craddock Sr. would sober up. He vowed never to drink again. He found an odd job. Once, he even arranged for a dentist to pull a gold crown from one of his molars so he could buy Christmas toys for his children.

“Sometimes, when something nice happened,” Craddock says, “he would just go into the kitchen, take my mom away from the stove, and they would dance around the house.”

His father’s pluck, though, couldn’t prevent the family’s slide into poverty. They lost the farm and moved into a shack with a dirt floor and no electricity. A spigot in the yard was the only running water.

Craddock’s family even struggled to clothe him. He still remembers walking to grade school on a cold day, hiding his donated sweater under a bridge and walking to school shivering in his shirtsleeves. He didn’t want to risk any classmate recognizing that he was wearing a sweater that had once belonged to them.

“There’s something worse than being poor,” Craddock said. “It’s being ashamed.”

Ethel Craddock held the family together. By day, she worked in a factory, sticking labels on Buster Brown shoes. At night, she gathered her children around the fireplace to play word games: “If you can say it, you can spell it: omnivorous.”

And faith held Ethel Craddock together. She took her children to church, sang hymns at home to the accompaniment of her harmonica and welcomed down-on-their luck strangers who needed a hot meal or a place to stay.

At first, Craddock’s father shared the pews with his family. He was even named after a preacher. But he stopped attending as his drinking grew worse.

“He felt guilty,” Craddock says. “He’d say, ‘Every time I go to church, they preach against the drunks like they can’t go to heaven.’ ”

Craddock Sr.’s hostility toward the church deepened when they decided to come to him. The church dispatched preachers to his home, hoping to draw him back to the pews. He belittled them so much that Craddock’s mother worried a fight would erupt.

“I know what the church wants,” he’d say. “Another name; another pledge. Right?”

Craddock, though, found acceptance in the church. It was the only place where he didn’t feel different — any less or any more than anybody else. Pastors told him he would be a good preacher one day; church ladies doted on him with new shoes and a picture book filled with stories about Jesus.

“We loved our dad, but we loved the church,” Craddock says.

Home was a place filled with fantastic stories. But Ethel Craddock kept one story from him. It centered on the horrible night when she decided her son had been set apart by God.

Saved by a miracle?

A winter night in 1928, Humboldt, Tennessee.

Ethel Craddock is sprawled in a barn on a bale of hay, crying and praying to God. Her 8-month-old son, Fred, is dying.

He has diphtheria, a highly infectious disease that forms blockages over the lungs, gradually suffocating a child.

The boy can barely draw breath. His father has run a mile to summon a doctor. But the doctor can’t do much, and Craddock’s breathing has grown more labored.

His mother couldn’t watch him suffer any more. She has fled to the barn, where she prays:

“Dear God, if you will let him live, I will pray every day that he will serve you as a minister.”

She falls asleep on the hay. When she awakens at daybreak, she runs to the house, where the doctor says her son is going to be fine. He leaves without asking for payment.

Ethel Craddock didn’t reveal this story to her son until he came to her after turning 17 to tell her that he was thinking about becoming a minister.

She began to cry after hearing the news, quickly regained her composure and told Craddock the story.

He was bewildered. Why hadn’t she told him before?

She didn’t want him to feel pushed into becoming a minister, she said. She believed that a deed couldn’t be good if the motive was wrong.

When Craddock told his father of his decision to join the ministry, he listened intently before finally saying it was a big decision. Then he simply said: “Good, son.”

Craddock was deflated. No tears. No sober, fatherly advice. The only reaction his father would give to his calling in the days ahead would be to crack jokes. “Don’t be like John the Baptist and lose your head.”

“He might have been embarrassed that I became a preacher,” Craddock says. “It was kind of the opposite of him. Maybe that created some discomfort.

“I wanted more.”

His father seemed to rub away some of the luster from his calling again when Craddock went off to college.

Wanting to make sure his call to the ministry was genuine, Craddock sought out a counselor. Over several sessions, the young student ended up talking about his childhood. The counselor’s verdict was devastating:

“I think I’m clear why you’re in the ministry: to redeem your father.”

The counselor didn’t elaborate, and Craddock was too stunned to ask questions. He thought about what his mother had taught him — and knew what he had to do.

“I thought I was disqualified,” he says. “My mother had always told me nothing can be right if the reason is wrong.”

He quit the ministry and started picking up odd jobs.

“It crushed me,” he says of the conversation with the counselor. “I didn’t have a Plan B in my life. I was kicking the can down the road every night, trying to figure it out.”

The answer came while reading one of his favorite books in the Bible.

The book of Philippians, written by the Apostle Paul, is regarded by some as one of the most uplifting in the New Testament. Yet the backdrop for Paul’s composition is grim. He is imprisoned, and the church is splintering into factions. Paul thinks he’s about to be executed; his enemies are spreading division and preaching Christ out of selfish motives.

But Paul says that none of that matters. Whether he lives or dies, or whether his enemies preach Christ out of selfish gain, what ultimately matters is that Christ is proclaimed.

Something shifted inside of Craddock. What did it matter if he preached Christ to save his father or save souls? Christ is preached.

“They’re preaching for the wrong reason, yet Paul said thanks God for that,” he says.

The message was clear; living it would prove more difficult:

“I had to get to a point where I disagreed with my mother. That was tough.”

Craddock returned to school and started preaching at rural churches. He had ignored his father and defied his mother’s teaching to pursue the ministry.

Now he was about to revolutionize preaching.

Changing the rules of preaching

Craddock had three books in his childhood home: his mother’s King James Bible, his father’s complete works of Shakespeare and “The Life and Times of Billy Sunday.”

Sunday was a Major League Baseball player who became one of America’s most famous preachers during the early 20th century by transforming preaching into an athletic event.

He’d smash chairs, throw parts of his clothing into the audience and run across the preaching platform as if he were sliding into home plate while proclaiming, “Safe at home — by the blood of Jesus!”

Sunday was the type of pastor Craddock grew up admiring. They strode the pulpit like human firecrackers: booming voices, explosive movements, big men who radiated power.

Craddock had a problem. He couldn’t bring the thunder. He was short, and his voice was weak. His high school counselor tried to talk him out of becoming a preacher because of his size. And his first church sermon landed with a thud. While preaching about three wise men visiting baby Jesus, an elderly man stood up in the back and blurted: “How do you know there were three?”

A flustered Craddock had no reply. But he eventually found a way to be heard and owed part of that breakthrough to his father.

When he started preaching in rural Tennessee during the 1950s, Craddock employed the traditional “deductive” preaching style. The sermon is structured like a term paper: thesis, three supporting points, restatement of thesis.

“Something in me said that’s not the way to do it,” he says.

Maybe it was the stories he heard growing up, but Craddock gradually stumbled onto his preaching style.

While serving as a young pastor at a church in Columbia, Tennessee, he noticed that people responded more to his informal talks outside church service than to his sermons.

He started experimenting. What if you didn’t structure the sermon like a legal argument but more like an extended conversation? The listener — not the preacher — would be challenged to give the sermon its meaning.

Craddock never took to preachers who tried to bulldoze people into converting. He had seen plenty of preachers try to goad his father back to church. And his mother, by withholding the story of his near-death experience, had taught him that people’s faith decisions must be genuine, not coerced.

So Craddock became a preacher who didn’t preach. He once said that a “yes” is no good unless a “no” is possible.

“No one wants to listen to pulpit bullies, behaving as though they had walked all round God and taken pictures,” he wrote in the introduction to his book “Craddock on the Craft of Preaching.”

Over the years, people have tried to describe Craddock’s style. Some use the term “inductive,” a word he resists because it sounds like a legal term. One of his prize students, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, offers one of the best descriptions of Craddock’s preaching style.

In an introduction to “The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock,” Taylor wrote:

“He assumes from the start that we are capable of attending to the text, handling some scholarship, dealing with open-ended stories, and drawing our own conclusions. He does not tell us what he is going to tell us, and then tell us what he told us. He sits down before we are ready. He lets us chew our own food.”

Craddock’s sermons, though, don’t go down like broccoli. They are playful, inventive, filled with hyperbole. They sound like probing short stories or front-porch yarns.

In one sermon, Craddock recounts a conversation with an overweight sparrow that doesn’t know it can fly. In another, he imagines bored teenagers who “sat out on the hoods of their camels” listening to a shaggy John the Baptist preach in the desert, and in another he pretends to emcee a debate at a dreary church committee meeting between early Christian leaders arguing over whether Gentiles should be included in the church.

Craddock didn’t have to break chairs to get people’s attention. His stories did the job. His reputation spread. He began writing influential preaching textbooks. When he became a preaching professor at Emory University in Atlanta, he spawned a new generation of preachers who took his style out into the pews. People started describing him as a pulpit genius.

In 1996, Craddock received one of his most celebrated honors. Baylor University in Texas polled 341 seminary professors and editors of religious periodicals and asked them to name the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Newsweek magazine published the top 12.

Craddock was selected for the list. So were two pastors he heavily influenced: Taylor and the Rev. Thomas Long.

Long says Craddock tilted the homiletic world “on its axis” with his 1971 book on preaching, “As One without Authority.” He calls it one of the most pivotal books on preaching to appear in the past century.

“There’s a homespun nostalgic quality to his sermons,” says Long, who now teaches at Emory. “He rarely preaches about the engineer with the complex ethical decision. It’s more about the pot of beans served at the back door.”

Taylor still remembers the first time she heard Craddock speak at Yale Divinity School in 1978. She was working as a secretary at a local church on the weekends, but listening to Craddock stirred her desire to preach.

“He simply spoke of the gospel so compellingly that I wanted know more — about the way of life he was describing, about why his words struck me with such force and about how I could learn to use language that way, too.”

Some preachers transform their eloquence into business ventures. They build megachurches, TV empires. Some even get entourages. Craddock wasn’t driven to build a personal brand. He has no e-mail address, doesn’t drive and refused to turn on a personal computer his son and daughter bought him several years ago.

“If Fred Craddock ever tweets, I’ll know the world has come to an end,” Taylor says.

Craddock used some of his renown to reach out to the region that nurtured him. He gave preaching workshops to itinerant pastors in the Appalachian Mountains and established the Craddock Center, a nonprofit group that offers free meals and storytelling to needy kids in three Southern states.

He built a family as he built a career. He married his high school sweetheart, Nettie, and they raised their two children, John and Laura, as he taught at various seminaries and accepted preaching invitations across the country.

“Sometimes we felt like we were in competition with the church and God,” says Laura, his daughter, who named her son after her father.

His son, John, never felt pressured to become a minister. He is the CEO of America’s First Choice Warranty company in Atlanta. His father, he says, is the most remarkable person he has ever known.

“I don’t care if it’s a guy on the street asking for a dollar or the president of the United States, he makes you feel as if you’re the most important person in the world when he’s talking to you.

“I won the lottery as far as great fathers go.”

Telling his father’s story

Craddock yearned to hear such praise from his father.

Yet his father never even came to hear him preach. Craddock says he sometimes overheard his father accept praise for his son’s decision to enter the ministry, but he can’t recall ever hearing his father admit to anyone that he was proud of his son’s choice.

“He never said it. I looked for little signals. I finally decided that I was reading into things that were not there.”

His father may not have acknowledged him, but Craddock affirmed his father. In the dedication in his book “As One without Authority,” he wrote:

“To my mother, and in memory of my father: She taught me the Word. He taught me the words.”

One Sunday, he did get a sign that maybe his father would have enjoyed hearing him preach. At his childhood church in Humboldt, Tennessee, a man approached after hearing him preach. The man was about his father’s age.

“You sound like your daddy,” he said.

The comment stirred strong emotions in Craddock. He had to compose himself before he shook the man’s hand and thanked him. He says it was the grandest compliment he’s ever had about a sermon.

“He was a good storyteller and a good man,” Craddock says of his father. “For him to relate me to my father … I spent a lot of time working through my relationship with my father.”

Perhaps he still is.

When asked in one interview whether he became a minister to save his father, he says, “I’ll never know.”

Yet in his memoirs, “Reflections on My Call to Preach,” he wrote:

“I was confident that my being a Christian minister would have a life-changing effect on my father. With a son, his own namesake, going into the ministry, would not Daddy toss the bottle forever and return to the pew beside my mother? Surely. But I was naïve, knowing nothing about the power of addiction.”

Craddock’s last visit with his father revealed to him the results of addiction. His father never stopped drinking or smoking and was hospitalized with throat cancer. He was 63.

That’s when Craddock received the phone call from his mom: You need to go see your father.

When he entered his father’s hospital room, he noticed that it was filled with flowers and a stack of get-well cards 20 inches deep besides his bed. Every card and every blossom came from Craddock’s childhood church in Humboldt, the church his father scorned.

His father confessed that he was wrong about the church and the people in the pews. They didn’t just want a name and a pledge. They wanted him.

His father’s admission didn’t provide relief. It deepened his grief.

“It was so late. It was at the end. With his personality and his education — he was generous to a fault; give you the shirt off of his back. He could have been such a good person, helping people, talking to people, playing with children — he could do all these things.”

Would it have been better if his father had said he was also wrong about his son and his decision to become a minister?

Would it have been better if he had finally said, “I’m proud of you, son”?

Craddock doesn’t dwell on those questions.

“In my tendency to choose between yes and no, I choose yes. I really think he would be proud of me because he loved a storyteller. He would have taken credit for it, though. He would have said, ‘I taught you real good, son.’ ”

What Craddock remembers of their last moments together is not just his father’s confession but something his father did.

After he asked his son to “tell my story,” Craddock reached out and clutched his gaunt hand.

“I just held his hand. … He couldn’t move. I couldn’t move.”

Craddock squeezed his father’s hand, and both men cried.

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The Christian Case for Gay Marriage

I’m done fighting people on what the Bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality and gay marriage, because I think people that use the Bible as a weapon to discriminate are simply doing so to cover up their own prejudices.  And so, it’s hard to have a decent conversation with someone who thinks their prejudices are backed up by the word of God.  But I did come across this article by a professor of law (a Christian one at that), who doesn’t just pick and choose which parts of the Bible he reads.  He says that it really doesn’t matter if Christians believe homosexuality is a sin or not; what matters is that they should spread God’s love and acceptance (“we don’t have the moral authority to deny anyone the blessings of a holy institution”), and let God sort it out later if he so feels he needs to.  Just a few Bible verses before I post the article: 

Matthew 7:1-4:  “Do not judge, lest you too be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  

John 8:7 – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” 

1 Corinthians 13:13:  “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” 

Matthew 22:36-40:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  And Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like this:  Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

And now for Professor Osler’s article: 

Editor’s NoteMark Osler is a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By Mark Osler, Special to CNN (original article here).

I am a Christian, and I am in favor of gay marriage. The reason I am for gay marriage is because of my faith.

What I see in the Bible’s accounts of Jesus and his followers is an insistence that we don’t have the moral authority to deny others the blessing of holy institutions like baptism, communion, and marriage. God, through the Holy Spirit, infuses those moments with life, and it is not ours to either give or deny to others.

A clear instruction on this comes from Simon Peter, the “rock” on whom the church is built. Peter is a captivating figure in the Christian story. Jesus plucks him out of a fishing boat to become a disciple, and time and again he represents us all in learning at the feet of Christ.

During their time together, Peter is often naïve and clueless – he is a follower, constantly learning.

After Jesus is crucified, though, a different Peter emerges, one who is forceful and bold. This is the Peter we see in the Acts of the Apostles, during a fevered debate over whether or not Gentiles should be baptized. Peter was harshly criticized for even eating a meal with those who were uncircumcised; that is, those who did not follow the commands of the Old Testament.

Peter, though, is strong in confronting those who would deny the sacrament of baptism to the Gentiles, and argues for an acceptance of believers who do not follow the circumcision rules of Leviticus (which is also where we find a condemnation of homosexuality).

His challenge is stark and stunning: Before ordering that the Gentiles be baptized Peter asks “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

None of us, Peter says, has the moral authority to deny baptism to those who seek it, even if they do not follow the ancient laws. It is the flooding love of the Holy Spirit, which fell over that entire crowd, sinners and saints alike, that directs otherwise.

It is not our place, it seems, to sort out who should be denied a bond with God and the Holy Spirit of the kind that we find through baptism, communion, and marriage. The water will flow where it will.

Intriguingly, this rule will apply whether we see homosexuality as a sin or not. The water is for all of us. We see the same thing at the Last Supper, as Jesus gives the bread and wine to all who are there—even to Peter, who Jesus said would deny him, and to Judas, who would betray him.

The question before us now is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but whether being gay should be a bar to baptism or communion or marriage.

The answer is in the Bible. Peter and Jesus offer a strikingly inclusive form of love and engagement. They hold out the symbols of Gods’ love to all. How arrogant that we think it is ours to parse out stingily!

I worship at St. Stephens, an Episcopal church in Edina, Minnesota. There is a river that flows around the back and side of that church with a delightful name: Minnehaha Creek. That is where we do baptisms.

The Rector stands in the creek in his robes, the cool water coursing by his feet, and takes an infant into his arms and baptizes her with that same cool water. The congregation sits on the grassy bank and watches, a gentle army.

At the bottom of the creek, in exactly that spot, is a floor of smooth pebbles. The water rushing by has rubbed off the rough edges, bit by bit, day by day. The pebbles have been transformed by that water into something new.

I suppose that, as Peter put it, someone could try to withhold the waters of baptism there. They could try to stop the river, to keep the water from some of the stones, like a child in the gutter building a barrier against the stream.

It won’t last, though. I would say this to those who would withhold the water of baptism, the joy of worship, or the bonds of marriage: You are less strong than the water, which will flow around you, find its path, and gently erode each wall you try to erect.

The redeeming power of that creek, and of the Holy Spirit, is relentless, making us all into something better and new.

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The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions

My Take: the 3 biggest biblical misconceptions

Editor’s note: John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, is author of “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.”

By John Shelby Spong, Special to CNN

John Spong

The Bible is both a reservoir of spiritual insight and a cultural icon to which lip service is still paid in the Western world. Yet when the Bible is talked about in public by both believers and critics, it becomes clear that misconceptions abound.

To me, three misconceptions stand out and serve to make the Bible hard to comprehend.

First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.

The facts are that Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story forms the earliest content of the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.

Can a defining tribal narrative that is passed on orally for 45 generations ever be regarded as history, at least as history is understood today?

Moses, the religious genius who put his stamp on the religion of the Old Testament more powerfully than any other figure, died about 300 years before the first story of Moses entered the written form we call Holy Scripture.

This means that everything we know about Moses in the Bible had to have passed orally through about 15 generations before achieving written form. Do stories of heroic figures not grow, experience magnifying tendencies and become surrounded by interpretive mythology as the years roll by?

Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all.

Instead, it’s an interpretive account designed to conform the story of Jesus’ death to the messianic yearnings of the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

The Bible interprets life from its particular perspective; it does not record in a factual way the human journey through history.

The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim. The Bible portrays God as hating the Egyptians, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more daylight to enable Joshua to kill more Amorites and ordering King Saul to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? The book of Psalms promises happiness to the defeated and exiled Jews only when they can dash the heads of Babylonian children against the rocks! Is this “the word of God? What kind of God would that be?

The Bible, when read literally, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents, for those who worship false gods, for those who commit adultery, for homosexual persons and for any man who has sex with his mother-in-law, just to name a few.

The Bible exhorts slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be obedient to their husbands. Over the centuries, texts like these, taken from the Bible and interpreted literally, have been used as powerful and evil weapons to support killing prejudices and to justify the cruelest kind of inhumanity.

The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.

It was a long road for human beings and human values to travel between the tribal deity found in the book of Exodus, who orders the death of the firstborn male in every Egyptian household on the night of the Passover, until we reach an understanding of God who commands us to love our enemies.

The transition moments on this journey can be studied easily. It was the prophet named Hosea, writing in the eighth century B.C., who changed God’s name to love. It was the prophet named Amos who changed God’s name to justice. It was the prophet we call Jonah who taught us that the love of God is not bounded by the limits of our own ability to love.

It was the prophet Micah who understood that beautiful religious rituals and even lavish sacrifices were not the things that worship requires, but rather “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” It was the prophet we call Malachi, writing in the fifth century B.C., who finally saw God as a universal experience, transcending all national and tribal boundaries.

One has only to look at Christian history to see why these misconceptions are dangerous. They have fed religious persecution and religious wars. They have fueled racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism and homophobia.They have fought against science and the explosion of knowledge.

The ultimate meaning of the Bible escapes human limits and calls us to a recognition that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called to be all that that life is capable of being. The Bible is, thus, not about religion at all but about becoming deeply and fully human. It issues the invitation to live fully, to love wastefully and to have the courage to be our most complete selves.

That is why I treasure this book and why I struggle to reclaim its essential message for our increasingly non-religious world.

Other CNN Belief Blogs to check out: 

Actually, that’s not in the Bible

My Take: Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?

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Why Do So Many Have Trouble Believing In Evolution?

So, I was just sitting here drinking my coffee, trying to push off the start of the school day as much as possible, when I came across this article.  It addresses an issue that I find puzzling:  Why is it so hard for people to believe in a creator god and the natural process of evolution at the same time?  I personally feel that the processes of evolution do not scientifically need a grand designer to function, but honestly, I do not see why  the two must stand at odds with each other (but then again, maybe that’s just the mediator in me coming to the surface…)

I think that the main reason so many people are against evolution is that they simply do not understand it.  And for many, the idea that “we came from monkeys” is absurd and a disgrace.  Eh, even if that were as true and simple as it sounds, I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.  But framing it in the “we came from monkeys” framework vastly oversimplifies the different processes of evolutionary that contribute to the progress of our species.

Here’s one situation that tests my patience:  Someone else and I are discussing life and evolution comes up:

Other person: “Oh yeah – if we came from monkeys, HOW COME THERE ARE STILL MONKEYS?” (And then they sit there with a smug smile on their face, as if they have just issued an intellectual check-mate, boo-ya! Now whatcha gonna say, Mr. Smarty McScience-pants?!)

And then I usually get a smug smile on my face, for two reasons: #1 to try to hide the fact that I, too, once thought this was the Achilles Heel of Evolutionary theory; #2, because that statement reveals that that person doesn’t understand even the basics of evolution. (Of course, you might not necessarily be able to blame them – they could have been like me – I went to a school in which evolution was hastily mentioned one day in science class, and that was when the teacher told us “Just so you know there is a theory out there called evolution.  If you want to know about it, you’ll have to read about it on your own; we’re not going to learn about it here because it goes against the Bible.”)

To simplify what I’ve learned after high school: Evolution is not a process of replacement; it is made up of different, branching processes.  That’s why humans did not “come from” monkeys to “replace” them.  Different apes and primates share a common ancestor, which we all branched from.  Sometime in the past, we branched off from that ancestor because we had evolved some type of advantageous difference.  That’s why humans and apes/monkeys can coexist.

And to address the other “slam dunk” against evolution:  It’s just a “theory.” Well, let it suffice to say that a scientific theory is much different than your theory of where the other sock goes in the drier.  Without even going into all of the experiments, results, facts, etc. that the scientific process uses to back up its theories, here’s a little example to show just how solid “theories” can be.  Evolution is a theory just as gravity is a theory.  WHAT?  GRAVITY? THEORY? Yeah.  No one can prove that one day we won’t drop the apple and it will fall up instead of down.  And since that can’t be proven, theory is a gravity.  Evolution shares the same “theoretical” standing as the theory that is keeping us glued to the Earth right now.

AND, I’ve just realized that I’m up on my soapbox and halfway through a rant, which was not my intention (this coffee must be stronger than I thought!).  So, I’m going to stand down now, and leave you with two things.  First is a short YouTube video in which a scientists explains the process of change known as evolution.  It helped me understand it a lot better; maybe you can benefit too.

And as far as the evolution vs. God thing: I have my opinion, but I guess that’s a personal decision.  I’m not sure how anyone can look at the evidence and not have to rethink how they’ve been interpreting the Bible…and I’m not sure why people think God couldn’t or wouldn’t use a million-year long, intricate, beautiful, and awe-inspiring process to ensure that life on the planet progressed…Anyways, I digress.  On to the video and the NPR article!

And now the NPR article: 

by MARCELO GLEISER, NPR.com, 1/19/12

The evidence is clear, as in a February 2009 Gallup Poll, taken on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, that reported only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don’t have an opinion either way.

The same poll correlated belief in evolution with educational level: 21 percent of people with a high school education or less believed in evolution. That number rose to 41 percent for people with some college attendance, 53 percent for college graduates, and 74 percent for people with a postgraduate education.

Clearly, the level of education has an impact on how people feel about evolution.

Another variable investigated by the same poll was how belief in evolution correlates with church attendance. Of those who believe in evolution, 24 percent go to church weekly, 30 percent go nearly weekly/monthly, and 55 percent seldom or never go.

Not surprisingly, and rather unfortunately, religious belief interferes with people’s understanding of what the theory of evolution says.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It’s in the fossil record, carefully dated using radioactivity, the release of particles from radioactive isotopic decay, which works like a very precise clock. Rocks from volcanic eruptions (igneous rocks) buried near a fossil carry certain amounts of radioactive material, unstable atomic nuclei that emit different kinds of radiation, like tiny bullets. The most common is Uranium-235, which decays into Lead-207. Analyzing the ratio of Uranium-235 to Lead-207 in a sample, and knowing how frequently Uranium-235 emits particles (its half-life is 704 million years, the amount half a sample decays into Lead), scientists can get a very accurate measure of the age of a fossil.

But evidence for evolution is also much more palpable, for example in the risks of overprescribing antibiotics: the more we (and farm animals) take antibiotics, the higher the chance that a microbe will mutate into one resistant to the drug. This is in-your-face evolution, species mutating at the genetic level and adapting to a new environment (in this case, an environment contaminated with antibiotics). The proof of this can be easily achieved in the laboratory (see link above), by comparing original strands of bacteria with those subjected to different doses of antibiotics. It’s simple and conclusive, since the changes in the genetic code of the resistant mutant can be identified and studied.

However, there are creationist scientists who claim that mutation is not the true mechanism of resistance. Instead, they claim that bacteria already had those genes in some sort of dormant state, which were then activated by their exposure to antibiotics. For example, Dr. Georgia Purdom argues that this inbuilt mechanism is “a testimony to the wonderful design God gave bacteria, master adapters and survivors in a sin-cursed world.” I couldn’t identify any data to back her hypothesis that bacterial resistance to antibiotics comes from horizontal gene swap and not mutation.

Does evolution really need to be such a stumbling block for so many? Is it really that bad that we descended from monkeys? Doesn’t that make us even more amazing, primates that can write poetry and design scientific experiments? Behind this strong resistance to evolution there is a deep dislike for a scientific understanding of how nature works. The problem seems to be related to the age-old God-of-the-Gaps agenda, that the more we understand of the world the less room there is for a creator God. This is bad theology, as it links belief to the development of science.

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TED Talks

Here’s a link to a website that I love :  TED Talks.  It’s a simply awesome collection of speeches, talks, and conversations that last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes – perfect for our culture whose attention span has diminished since the onslaught of Twitter, Facebook statuses and 2-minute sound bites.

The topics of the talks run the gamut – from technology, to religion, to business, to adventure and compassion.  You click on the topic and TED.com will bring up all videos related to that theme.  And then you sit back and absorb some wisdom from some of the planet’s most brilliant, creative (and perhaps idealistic, but then again, what’s wrong with being idealistic) minds.  I’m hoping I can find one or two that fit into my class this semester and I can share them with my students.

The website began with offering just the twenty minute clips, but now they have TED Conventions, TED Conversations, and even TED grants and fellowships.  TED.com also offers iTunes Podcasts for free:  Here.

From the About TED webpage:

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”

 

Here are a couple of TED Talks that I found interesting this morning while drinking my tea:

Lakshmi Pratury on Letter Writing: 

For any of you out there who still cling to the idea that Islam is only a religion of violence, please educate yourself. Also, these 16 and a half minutes may shed some light on just how central a role Jesus plays in Islam. As Imam Rauf implies, it’s time to let go of our egos and practice Compassion…

 

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Is “Xmas” Blasphemy?

Well, we’re deep into the Christmas season and I’ve seen my fair share of Facebook updates asking me not to use “Xmas” because it’s “taking the Christ out of Christmas.”  I just wanted to take a few minutes to explain the history of “Xmas” to show that it’s not a secular attack on Christmas.

Xmas comes from a Greek abbreviation,  and of course, Greek has an alphabet that is different from good ol’ English, especially when hand written.  The Greek for “Christ” was Χριστός and would be pronounced something like “Chi-rho.” The Greek letter “Chi,”which looks like an English letter “X” was the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ”(again, see: Χριστός) which means “the anointed one.”  When scribes were writing documents, they would oftentimes shorten Χριστός to simply “X.” (And who’s going to blame them?!)

This shorthand abbreviation was widely accepted, and by the Middle Ages, the head of the Church in Rome even began using the abbreviation, such as in “Xian” for “Christian,” or “Xianity” for “Christianity,” and yep, “Xmas” for “Christmas” (the “mas” part of Xmas is from the Latin-derived Old English word for “Mass”).  Of course, the pronunciation would have been different as well.  Instead of “CH” being pronounced like a “K” in English “Christmas”, the “CH” would have actually been pronounced like in “chew”.  So, it would have come out something like “Chiromas.”

While the symbol X for “Chirho” may have come from shorthand, it was the Church that sanctioned it as an official abbreviation.

The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has also used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.

So, Xmas isn’t taking Christ out of Christmas; it’s actually just the historical, Church-sanctioned abbreviation of Christmas.  We just have to keep in mind when we’re talking about what’s “real” or not that English wasn’t even a language yet (at least not in the form we use it, and it definitely wasn’t used by officials of the church), so actually nothing in English is the “right” or “real” way to say it, meaning it’s not the original.  

That’s what I’ve read in a couple of places anyway – I’m by no means an expert in Greek-English linguistics, so if anyone has any other information on the topic, I’d love to hear it.

With that being said, I wish you all a Merry Christmas,  a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Years, or just a Happy Holidays in general.  As my Nanny says, don’t take my saying “Happy Holidays” as a some convoluted “war on Christmas.”  It just means that I want you to enjoy all the holidays that happen around the time while we’re changing our calendars: from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Years, from the non-Christian holidays, and hell even Valentine’s Day and maybe even St. Patty’s day, too!

So, to all’o’yall, I wish a Happy Holidays!

Holidays Coexist

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What Would It Look Like?

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the world would be like if we really did something to stop greed and violence, hatred and pollution?   To wonder what would happen if we, as humans, reached our full potential?  I know you have.  Millions day dream about it at some point in their lives.  And then we usually wisk it away, feeling that it’s just that: a daydream.

The folks over at the GlobalOnenessProject have asked that same question in their 25 minute mini-film, “What Would It Look Like?”  Writer and Producer Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee interviews 9 people, and they discuss the need – and even the possibility – of a peaceful, more eco-minded world.  The peace that’s needed comes not from lack on conflict because we have all become one, but a peace born from respect of our differences.  A world in which we realize that we must cooperate with Mother Nature, not master her.

“We can split the atom…we can go to the moon,” one interviewee says.  “This is the imagination.  We can do even more with the power of Love.”

What would it look like?  It would be a world without boundaries, but still with diversity and flavor.  It would be a world in which we would share – share our resources, our knowledge, our patience, and our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of contentment.  “When we don’t want to share the world,” one interviewee warns us, “all that’s left is fundamentalism.”

“Let’s stop a moment and look at our lives from a broader perspective.  Then we will realize that there are more important things in life than spending the whole weekend in the supermarket trying to buy everything we can so that we can experience momentary satisfaction.”

Click on the picture below to watch the 25 minute video.  It’s a beautiful picture that is painted.  Studying history, I sometimes resign myself to the fact that humans will always exploit each other, war with each other, and draw lines between ourselves.  But this movie gives me hope.

It may be just idealistic.  But then again, what’s wrong with being idealistic?   

From the website:

“What if the world embodied our highest potential? What would it look like? As the structures of modern society crumble, is it enough to respond with the same tired solutions?

Or are we being called to question a set of unexamined assumptions that form the very basis of our civilization?

This 25-minute retrospective asks us to reflect on the state of the world and ourselves, and to listen more closely to what is being asked of us at this time of unprecedented global transformation.”

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Sunday Sermon: Working Together

A Ramadan Story of Two Faiths Bound in Friendship 

by NPR staff; original article here

 

It’s Ramadan, the month-long holiday when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk as a way to cleanse the soul and reflect on their relationship with God. The faithful usually flock to their local mosques for prayer during the holiday, but last year, the Muslims of Cordova, Tenn., just outside Memphis, didn’t have a place to go.

That’s when Pastor Steve Stone put an unusual sign outside his church.

“It said, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, Memphis Islamic Center,'” he laughs. “It’s been seen all over the world, now.”

Stone invited the Muslim community to celebrate their holiday inside his church while their own cultural center was under construction nearby. It was the beginning of an unusual alliance that’s still strong a year later.

“Obviously we were taken aback, but in a very positive way,” says Danish Siddiqui, a board member of the Memphis Islamic Center. “Muslims, we tend to think of ourselves as good neighbors,” he tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan, “but Steve beat us to the punch and put up that sign — and all we had to do was knock on the door and introduce ourselves.”

The Muslim community was building a new mosque, but it was a delicate time. Proposed Islamic centers were kicking up controversy from New York to Murfreesboro — another Tennessee town just 200 miles away from Cordova.

“We were looking at some close-by halls and rental spaces and none of them were available,” Siddiqui says. They asked Stone if they could borrow a small space inside his Heartsong Church. “He said, ‘No. You’re going to pray in our main worship space.'”

“We were so honored to be asked, because we knew that if they ever had any thought that we would say no, they would not have asked us,” Stone says.

Not everyone was as thrilled as Stone however. He received criticism from colleagues — and even members of his own church — who felt that he was blending Christianity and Islam. Ultimately, 20 members left his church, out of a congregation of 550.

“We had tried to work with them and think their way through it,” Stone says, “but at the end of the day, if they really believed what they said they believed, we’re kind of glad they left, because we didn’t want them going out into the community and saying, ‘We have these hateful feelings and we go to Heartsong Church.'”

Although the Memphis Islamic Center is now complete, the Muslim community keeps a strong relationship with Stone and Heartsong’s members. Once a month, they get together to help the homeless in their neighborhood, and there are also plans to build a new park that would sit on both congregations’ property.

“We have different faith traditions,” Siddiqui says. “But at the same time, we know that we can get along, we know that we can work together. And we have respect for one another, because we are people of faith.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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