On Being Converted

find-a-business-mentorToday I sat down for a coffee at the midway stop between the office and the hospital.  It’s become my midway stop mostly because I can take a minute to read there without being too disrupted.

I collect coffee shops like some people collect cars: the one they choose depends on their mood.

If I’m open to being interrupted, I’ll go to the ones near the office.  Rarely do I not see someone I know there, and the inevitable conversation becomes an important moment.

And then there’s this one.  It’s very public, and therefore, very private.  There I can get outside to get inside: inside my thoughts, inside my heart, inside the places where I store all the crap from work and unpack it.  Sort it.  Discard some. Cherish some.

Everyone should have such a place, by the way.

But here I was, sitting and having a coffee and reading what needs to be read to keep up on this work, and across from me two men, probably just over middle-age, were chatting about the Torah, with a large study edition of it open in front of them.  They were lay scholars, obviously, and their conversation was winding through the intricacies of orthodox Judaism and evolution.  Not Orthodox Judaism, mind you…not the strand of Judaism that is labeled as “Orthodox”…but rather orthodox in the sense of “what is in the norm.”

I found them being surprisingly frank with each other, willing to wrap their faith around the scholarship and science, embracing evolution.  It was apparently the topic at hand.  I was heartened.

I had my earbuds in, but I wasn’t playing any music, because I was engrossed in their conversation.

And then a third man walks up and stands there with his coffee in one hand and an excuse in the other.

His coffee?  Nondescript.  His excuse? I’m all too familiar with it…

“I couldn’t help but overhear you,” he said, “and I’d like to offer you my thoughts on your conversation.  See, I believe in Jesus Christ.  And the questions you’re discussing are all found in the new revelation called the New Testament.  We are all imperfect, and our understanding is imperfect, but God’s understanding is perfect, and…”

On and on.  I remember it well because it was kind of like witnessing a theological and philosophical car wreck in real time as he interjected himself into their conversation that, until that point, had been open and full of questions and honest responses.  The whole scene is seared into my brain.

I looked over at the seated gentlemen content with their Torah.  They were obliging but expressionless.  I couldn’t tell if they’d heard it all before or not.

The man with an excuse went on with something like:

“I just had to come over here because God invited me into the conversation.  I felt like I had to tell you these things.  You can put your trust in him.”

At this point one of the gentlemen said, “I do put my trust in God.”  Then the man with the coffee and the excuse to interrupt the conversation said, “Jesus is God.”

And then he walked away.

And the men sat there almost as if they had been assaulted.  Saying nothing. Just looking down at their open Torah, sipping their coffee.

And I thought to myself that, in that conversation, the one who needed to be converted was the one doing the converting.  He had interrupted an open and honest journey with his stock answers and intruding presence.

I understand that he had something to say.

But what if…?

What if listening is more important than saying in these days?

What if the real place of conversion is the place where the answers are so rigid they’re brittle?  And rough?  And used to assault more than affirm?

What if the saved need saving just as much as everyone else?

After all, the Jesus the scriptures point to started with converting the believers.  And believe me when I say: we need to take down that “Mission Accomplished” banner on that front…

I’m not sure how the silence at the table broke because I felt the pressure of the clock and had to move on to the next thing in the day.  I don’t know if either of those men’s hearts were moved.  It didn’t look like it.  They looked more annoyed than anything.  And I have no idea if the man with his coffee and excuse to interrupt their day felt anything from the exchange, either.

But one thing I do know: my heart was changed, just a bit.

I resolved not to replay that scene.  Ever.

I mean, not that I was in danger of doing it.  But sometimes I need to be reminded.

Re-converted, even.

Why It May Be Impossible to Be A Christian and A Politician: A Reluctant Perspective

Gods-Politics-0921I offer this as the news of DACA being rescinded is officially hitting the news.  No matter what your views on immigration are, we must be honest about the nature of DACA and its dissolution: it is cruel to ensure a future to people who didn’t ask to be here and then take it away.

But for those who are for it’s dissolution, and for everyone else, I have to be honest with you about how hard (impossible?) it must be to be a Christian and a politician, despite what the voters want you to say about your religious tradition.

I have a hunch we have a bunch of functioning atheists on our hands most days, not just in Washington, but everywhere.  And count me in that mix most days, if I’m brutally honest.

But for those who are calling for “law and order” when it comes to this issue, or any issue, I have to point you back to Jesus.  Not to the Bible, not to tradition, but to Jesus.

Look, on the one hand I get it: we are under the assumption that that law is how we order ourselves in this country.  And in many ways, this is true.  Laws are how we find norms in our country as a society.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst kind of government, except for all the other kinds.”  He’s right.  So laws and democratic rule form our norms.

But for the Christian, laws are actually not the way we order ourselves, at least not ultimately.

I am happy to write out a long, well-reasoned post arguing the many reasons I think that it may be impossible for a politician to actually be a Christian in both profession and action.

Because the orienting factor for the Christian is not law qua law, but rather a law that is centered around the good and well being of people, especially people at the margins (because, you know, that’s where Jesus operated his ministry).

In other words, and to be timely, just because we have a law, does not mean that it is good for people, especially people on the margins of society.

And so the politician who is being honest about their faith does not orient themselves to defending the law, the Constitution, or even (gasp) some historical idea of Jesus that is undoubtedly burdened by the trappings of religiosity.

The politician who is being honest about their faith must orient themselves toward the people Jesus oriented himself toward: the weak, the sick, the vulnerable, the poor, the oppressed, those in need physically, socially, and yes, spiritually.

People tell me that they think it must be hard to be a Christian politician.  Usually they mean by this that they think a Christian politician can’t be honest about their faith because, well, they don’t allow you to pray in school (which they do, by the way, they just don’t let people in power tell others how to pray).

I agree with them: it must be hard to be a Christian and a politician.  But not because I think Christians are somehow oppressed in this country or context, though they certainly are in others…and we must not forget that.

No, I think it’s hard to be a Christian politician in these days because to live out your faith would cost you re-election (or even election in the first place).  Because you’d have to be focusing your votes and your policies not on what’s popular, but on policies that watch out for the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger, the marginalized.

You’d have to focus yourself on graceful living and loving as being the norm for your work.  Not the idea of grace and love, but the actual practice of it.

In short: you’d have to be human-focused rather than law-focused.

And as someone who might one day run for office, I offer this as an honest confession. It may be impossible to be a Christian and a politician.

My parents are in Scotland and Ireland right now, experiencing the land of my foremothers and forefathers.  My people came from the cold coasts of those islands back in the 1800’s.  They came from yonder and non, and down the line sprung me, and yet so much of my life is oriented around the assumption that I somehow earned a right to be here just because my family has been here for a hundred years.

I didn’t earn this; I won this lottery.

And how difficult it must be for people who win the lottery, but have forgotten they have, to interact with others who haven’t in a way that honors that fact.

I guess I might close by saying that, the Christian’s call is to follow Christ, which would mean giving up their lottery in many ways.

Because the lottery of God is one where everyone gets the same prize.  And, man, that must be hard to follow as a politician.

 

 

How To Observe Armistice Day

Jesus wept-John 11:35

For such a short verse, John 11:35 gets a lot of airtime.  And rightly so.ww12

I guess we all need permission to cry.  And if we can get that permission from God, a God who cries with us, then all the better, right?

I’m not sure why we need permission to cry, though.  I think it might have to do with the fact that most of us generally don’t like that emotion, that feeling, that uncontrollable sobbing that happens when we cry.

For me it’s kind of like throwing up.  I hate throwing up because I hate not being in control of my body.

When we cry we lose control.  And, as Kristin Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids noted, some of us are ugly criers.  So there’s that…

On Armistice Day, Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my grandfathers Red and Sodie.

My Grandpa Red, with his Cardinal red hair, never cried.  At least I never saw it…though I don’t suppose I would have.

He served in World War II, the second time we had cut the world in two, invaded little islands to set up bases displacing people who had nothing to do with our own little fights.  And then we sent babies off to fight in suits and ties.

Today I see more military pictures of women and men in fatigues, but the pictures from my grandfather’s era usually had them in dress uniform.  Suits and ties fighting for the men in big offices with suits and ties who had caused the problems in the first place.

No wonder my generation is experiencing a delayed adolescence.  Nothing makes you grow up at the young age of 18 like being told that today could be the “the day.”  The day it all ends.  The day you end it for someone else.  The day you’re drafted.  The day…

It reminds me of the beginning of the Gospel of Luke where the writer says, “In those days there came a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be taxed…”

Those days.  That day.  Perhaps that’s what Jesus came for.

The only time my grandfather mentioned the great war was when he wanted to tell me vividly that war is hell.  He talked about coming home from battle finally after being a gunner on B-25’s over occupied China (and being shot down), going to the house of his best friend in the war who had died in action, and being rejected by his friend’s mother as she opened the door.

No, not rejected, slapped in the face.  “It should have been you,” she said.

My childhood fascination with the war faded there.  The military channel, fighter planes, hero stories…they all paled in comparison to this story, a story about a grief obscured.

My other grandfather, Sodie, fought in the European theater.  He was shot in the stomach.  He received the purple heart.

He died when I was three, before I knew him.

One day when I was 13 I was nosing around some boxes in the basement, and I found a cassette tape.  I popped it in and found a recording of him, my grandfather, on his death bed saying goodbye.  I don’t know that I’ve told anyone this before…

He was saying goodbye and talked about some regrets.  Regrets of failed relationships and things he had wished had gone better.

And there was a little line in there about the war, about fighting.  And not regretting being in the war or going to war for his country, but something about regretting that we fight at all like that.

The sound was garbled…another grief obscured.

Growing up we used to sing Onward Christian Soldiers as a hymn.  We were “going off to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

The irony there, of course, is that the cross was meant to end all war, all record keeping in that way.  It was meant to be the end of such violence and hatred and fear.  It was to show that killing can’t stop God, can’t stop life, so why bother?

But now the cross is a grief obscured.

Obscured by our desires for control and domination.  Obscured by our wanting to seem powerful in a world where we feel quite powerless.

I can’t sing that hymn anymore, though it’s nostalgic for me in some ways.  I think nostalgia can sometimes obscure our grief, too.  The church seems to be particularly good at doing this: obscuring the grief of the world through glossing over hard realities.  “Good Friday” can’t be too sad or else people won’t come to services.  Ash Wednesday can be done on the fly, at the bus stop or corner, because people are too busy to observe their mortality for any length of time other than a quick swipe.  Funerals can’t be too mournful because the person is in heaven now and we should be happy they’re in a better place…

Let’s pretend Jesus is a captain and we are Jesus’ soldiers and we’re fighting the world…when the real story, the actual story, is that Jesus was a servant who died for a world all too in love with violence and fighting.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by singing a hymn about might.  I don’t want to obscure the grief anymore than it already is.

I won’t observe Armistice Day by pretending that I think war is ok.  I don’t.  I just don’t.  I respect our soldiers, I pray for them, but I weep that those making the decisions to go to war are not those signing on the dotted line to fight them.

Integrity seems a bit lost there.

As a Christian, I observe Armistice Day by giving thanks for those who have given their life so that I can write like this.  I give thanks for my grandfathers who, though their grief was obscured, lived full lives after the hells of war.

Today I observe Armistice Day by praying that we’ll learn war no more.  Today I observe Armistice Day praying that we’ll have no more grief obscured, that we’ll take care of those scarred by war and help them sort out their grief.

I don’t begrudge people for waving a flag or putting one out.  I understand sacred symbols; I see why they do that. There is a part of me that loves Americana.  But I don’t do that on Armistice Day.

Today I give up a little control as a Christian.  Perhaps I even weep a bit like Jesus.  Weep with my grandfathers who couldn’t, or didn’t, or didn’t feel like they could, for whatever reason.  Today I let myself observe my grief over the whole idea of war; I don’t obscure it.

In doing so, I hope that I not only honor our veterans, but stand with them a bit.

 

 

 

The Seasons of the Church Year Aren’t Just for Decoration, Folks…

 

So, funny enough, liturgical-calendarone of the things that I think makes the most sense about the way the church does things has to do with the liturgical season.

The liturgical calendar.

I’ve written about this before, but we’re at the tail-end of our Catechumenate class here at my faith community, and it’s come up again as we discuss the church year.

See, when I was an atheist, the only thing that kept me in the pew was practicing this greater current that we call “the liturgical calendar”; this greater movement that connected all of life together.

Which makes me wonder why all corners of the Christian church don’t follow the church calendar.

Because even though I couldn’t believe, I could sense, I knew, that whether or not there was a God, there was definitely life.  And that life had seasons.  Not just the outside world, not just flowers and hibernating bears and all that stuff, but my life had seasons.

Has seasons.

In fact, in the winters of my life, the ability to practice the season of the church was one of the most important things in the world to me.

Even as someone who had broken up with Jesus as his boyfriend.

And there’s some good wisdom to the church year.  Like, for instance, that Lent is 40 days long, but Easter is 50 days long.  If that is not an implicit message that your life will laugh more than it cries, I don’t know what is.

Or how that season that we call “Ordinary Time,” the time in the church year of spiritual growth, takes up almost fifty percent of the calendar.  Take a look at your life.  About half of your life will be spent learning and growing.

Lord, that’s deep wisdom.

And see, the church year helps us to practice these seasons in our lives.  It gives us rhythm.

I like to talk about it as breath.  The seasons of the church year help me to breathe.  If you think yoga is good for your breath, dive deeply into the church calendar as a practice…

Because there are times in my life where I wait, and will have to wait: for diagnosis, for biopsy results, for birth, for a death.  Advent helps me wait.

There are times in my life where I’ll need to do some adjustment, some realignment: after a disgrace, after a significant relationship break, in a season of vocational or personal drought.  Lent helps me to do the introspective work necessary to live well.

There are times in my life of “Ah-ha” and “feeling most alive”: having a breakthrough, gaining insight, feeling zealousness over a cause.  Epiphany and Pentecost teach me to be on the look out for these moments and not pass them by.

And there are times in my life for rejoicing, for birth and re-birth: in reconciliation, after a literal birth, on holidays, after an illness has passed, “sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”  Christmas and Easter help me to celebrate well.

And the three days of that time we call “The Triduum,” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil…well…that’s a whole life-span in one fell swoop.  A life of serving, of dying, and of rising.  And when it’s honored it is the most important gift of the church year.

It is Christ’s body emblazoned on a calendar.  And it helps me see my body and my calendar and how they mix.

There is just such wisdom to the church year.  It’s like a Mr. Miyagi for your soul: you “wax on” and “wax off” and think you’re not doing anything but refurbishing a car…and then, boom, you’re forced to wait or repent or celebrate or learn or grow.

And, as T.S. Elliot says, it’s like you “know the place for the first time”…and yet, you’ve been there before.  It’s that familiar/foreign experience that this journey with God always puts upon us when practiced well.

A lot of churches are getting away from the liturgical calendar.  And they do so at the expense of the Christians they serve.  It has deep roots, even deeper than the church itself.  The roots of marking time and specific periods goes all the way back to when our ancient mothers and fathers figured out that a dead seed will live again if planted, watered, tended, and nurtured.

And that the thing that grew from that would be good for you.

A friend of mine talked about going to a church on Easter Sunday one day.  They had all the attraction details down: welcoming people, if you signed up on a bulletin board as a first time visitor Krispy Kreme donuts would be delivered to your house the next week, the music was loud, the pastor had an engaging sermon.

But they didn’t talk about the resurrection.  They just talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that was abstracted not only from Easter as a celebration day, but from the whole history of Christianity.

He said he left feeling…empty.

He had come for food, for deep roots, for a personal relationship in some ways, but also an historical relationship that lifted up so much more than just he and Jesus one-on-one time.

But he didn’t find it there because, Lord, if all we’re offering is shallow theology and Krispy Kreme donuts…well…skip the church service and just go to the coffee shop.

And many people, now, do.

And I think it’s probably because we haven’t really done a good job rooting them in this practice, this deeper rhythm.

Look, Christianity is nothing without Jesus.  But Jesus, and a personal relationship with Jesus, is not all there is to Christianity, either.  And the deeper undercurrent that speaks truth about the heartbeat of life, all life, that is made plain by the church calendar can and should be lifted up.

And it’s not just about changing church parament colors.  It is about living differently in different seasons of life.  It is about Ecclesiastes 3, and asking “what time is it?” for our lives personally and communally.

But instead we lift up an empty Jesus devoid of rootedness with my life, with the rhythms of life, a Jesus who is no more connected to the current of life than a Krispy Kreme donut.

And, let’s be honest, I love Krispy Kreme donuts.

But they don’t really feed me.

Progressive Christians: We Need to Talk About Jesus…

Glasses on Open Bible

Please note: Not all theological progressives wear glasses.

I’m a theological progressive.

When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity.  I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language.  One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.

And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well.  Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”

For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit.  I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.

And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured.  A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second.  In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.

I came out as a theological progressive.

To me this means a couple things:

I have a heart for justice.  Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions.  My justice is not just for society, though.  It’s for the world in sum.  Shalom is a better Biblical term for it.  I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace.   Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.

-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all.  We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.

I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do.  Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God.  For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box.  But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus.  In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian.  I get that.  But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors.  Why?  Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus.  And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…

I want to be inclusive.  Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies.  In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies.  Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully.  What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives.  “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin.  So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive.  Of everyone.  It’s dangerous; I know.  Try it out, though.  You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…

To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:

I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience.  And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either.  Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform.  Sure, faith is political.  My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics.  In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political.  After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively.  But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.

I don’t take the Bible seriously.  Actually, I take the Bible very seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it.  I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all!  They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity.  But life isn’t simple.  The books of the Bible aren’t simple.  God isn’t simple!  Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.

I’m a Communist.  Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world.  The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.

I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing.  We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians.  And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.

So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more.  Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions.  Because Jesus is getting a bad rap.  And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.

And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him.  This is true.  Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet.  And God sees in secret.

But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”

And she’s right.

“Some Corners of Christianity Have Turned Jesus into a Cult Leader” or “Jesus Was Not a Cult Leader, So Don’t Make Him One”

Jesus_cult_logoI finally got around to seeing Jesus Camp, or as I like to call it, “Children of the Corn.”

It’s well worth the watch.  And it made me sad.  And a bit embarrassed.

I get the criticism that the documentary makers are biased.  Bias will always exist; a purely objective perspective is a unicorn.

But this is scary.

It’s about as scary as the person who came up to me the other day and told me a story of how an individual from a neighboring church here in the city tried to convince him that we (as in, my faith community) were teaching him falsely, and that he should come and find the truth at this other faith community.

A “truth,” by the way, that doesn’t allow for questioning…because it is ultimate.  Apparently they have it over at that church.  Good to know…

In the book Narcissists Among Us, author Joe Navarro lists a number of traits that one should look for in a leader to tell if they’re a cult leader.  Unfortunately, many Christian churches have turned Jesus into a character that fits many of the descriptions.

For instance, at the top of the list is that a cult leader has “a grandiose idea of who s/he is and what they can achieve.”  Now, this gets fishy, of course, because of the Christian tenet that Jesus is both mortal and Divine.  I’m not questioning Christ’s divinity at all.  But when we look at the Gospels, we have a very quiet Christ in most instances, one who doesn’t lift himself up but rather lifts up those around him.

Fast forward two thousand years.  Today you’ll find in many places people who claim that Jesus can cure your broken bones, broken marriage, broken spirit, and broken bank account (all for $19.99) if you just believe.

Or take another example of a cult leader from Navarro, the fact that they are preoccupied with unlimited success, power, or fame.  Can we not turn on the TV most any evening and hear how God desires this for us?  Can we not read most “Christian” self-help books and read about how the right formula of life+belief+prayer=blessing?

How about the fact that many churches are now holding these bizarre “purity balls” where young women (notice that it’s only young women…sexism is alive and well, don’t you worry) pledge their virginity to their fathers?  Sexual exploitation is the sign of a cult leader and, despite the fact that Jesus says not a mumblin’ word about sex (though he does talk about divorce), much of Christianity has turned these purity rituals into a rite of passage as a way to control behavior.

Look, I think that the church has to come up with a good sexual ethic (please, Lord, let’s revisit this, yes?), but such manipulation a) doesn’t work, b) is slightly creepy and c) causes confusion in children with regards to sex, sexuality, and their bodies.

And what about the one I see most frequently: the need for blind obedience?  Cult leaders demand this of their followers.  In Jesus Camp, there’s a really telling scene at the end where Mike Papantonio, radio personality, is interviewing a woman named Becky Fischer, a self-proclaimed “children’s evangelist,” the leader and host of this crazy camp where  children come to be guilted, manipulated, and formed into “soldiers for Christ” (their term, not mine).  And in the interview Papantonio brings up the idea that Fischer is actually indoctrinating the children, to which Fischer responds that she’d like to see more parents and churches indoctrinate children.

When I teach Confirmation and encourage the youth to memorize the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, we follow up every statement with the good (Lutheran) question, “What is this?”

And it’s an honest question to which I encourage honest responses.

The church should not be in the indoctrination business.  But it has been.  For years and years.

Christianity should be a religion, not a cult.  Jesus is central to the religion.  Jesus is not a cult leader.

There is a difference between a religion and a cult; a religious leader and a cultic leader.  I think that many religious leaders, Christian leaders, can become cultic personalities.  But, likewise, I think that many religious leaders have turned Jesus into the cultic personality.

A religion is meant to look after the well being of the family, encouraging health in all ways.  Cults break families apart, doing psychological harm.  Should I say how many people have mentioned to me that they’ve been told by a religious leader that their spouse is going to Hell because they don’t believe/haven’t been baptized/are of a different religion?  Need I note the anguish this causes over a subject that no one living has any firsthand knowledge of?

A religion allows freedom of thought. Cults and cultic leaders do not.  A religion works within society, even as it tries to change society.  A cult shelters people from the greater society, creating a bubble of influence.  A religion encourages leaders to be questioned (this is, I think, what the historical critical method does of Scripture as a leader of Christian religion).  A cult does not allow a leader, or basic tenets, to be questioned.

Sigh.

Jesus was not a cult leader. It’s clear from the Gospel accounts that he was a compelling personality.  It’s clear from the Gospel accounts that those who followed him did so passionately.  But the personality profile given there doesn’t fit a cult leader.

So why, then, have many in the church made him one?

“Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior” or “Talk is Cheap”

I was asked recently why I don’t say “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” more.index

That’s a good question.

I think I don’t use that phrase much because of my experience with that phrase.  In my youth that phrase was used as a litmus test of sorts, a shibboleth for those of you familiar with that term (or familiar with West Wing).

Saying “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” was like the secret password into a club that I wasn’t so sure I wanted into.

Because usually the people that I heard using that phrase were also the people who were talking about “spiritual warfare” and being good “Christian soldiers” and “working blessings” and “praying away the pain.”

All that phraseology was just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals to my ears.

I wanted to know what they thought spiritual warfare was and if they’d be “fighting it” if they had never been introduced to the concept.  I wanted to know what they thought being a “soldier for Christ” meant in every day life.  I wanted to know what they thought they were doing when they were “working a blessing” or what conclusions we’re to draw when we pray and pray and pray and the pain remains.

I didn’t want talk to be cheap; I wanted it to mean something.  I want it to mean something.

Because, and this is the thing, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.  But that sentence needs so much explanation around it for me, that just saying it to you or anyone else will not do, I feel.

Because just saying it to myself doesn’t do it.

And no doubt people say that phrase and say it with utmost sincerity and face value; I truly believe it.  And I can speak that language, too, with much sincerity.

So, is Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior?  Yes.   Am I going to start adopting that language?  Probably not.

But I will say that my trust in God is deeply rooted in the Christ event.

And, believe it or not, I think that’s approximately the same thing.

I could say it another way, but it wouldn’t be authentic to me.

And I prefer not to.  It’s not how my spirituality is formulated.  My spirituality is formulated with deep roots in experiences and connection that don’t lend itself very well to short phrases like this, I find.

I’m much more Richard Rohr than Rick Warren.

That doesn’t mean either of those spiritual realities are “better” than the other one (how could we measure that, anyway?).  But it does mean that they present themselves differently.

And with a Christian history that needed a St. Julian as well as a Thomas Aquinas, that needed a Martin Luther as well as a Meister Eckhart, why should the fact that I don’t express my faith with these phrases, and that you do, cause us dissension?

So many churches are full of just Julians or just Luthers, just Rohrs or just Warrens.

What if we actually practiced radical community where you could lift your hands in praise while I fold mine in reverence and neither got annoyed with the other?  What if we actually practiced radical community where you could claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior and stretched my comfort with that phrase, and I encouraged you to parse that a little more to go a bit deeper than just phrases.

Because, and here’s the biggest thing, I don’t want any of our talk to be cheap…even our talk about community.

Because if we all think the same things, talk the same way, use the same phrases, and embody the same spirituality, we have less a “community” and more of a “club.”

And Lord knows we don’t need more clubs in this world.

And I’m a reluctant Christian many times because our clubs dot the streets, and our communities are few and far between.