“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?

The Bible summary you may have wanted but never took the time to compile…or maybe you didn’t want it. Regardless, here it is.

This past Sunday at my church we started a new adult education series called, “The Bible: What is it?”images

I wanted to name it, “The Bible: What the Hell?” but my editors decided against that.

Overall, the first day of the class went OK.  I say just “OK” because, well, we talked about some boring stuff on Sunday like how the Bible came about. Basically some Bishops of the ancient church started proposing that there should be a particular “plumb-line” for what is acceptable to use as scripture…mostly in reaction to some interesting suggestions (they called them “heresies” but, whatev) from some other Bishops like Marcion.

So in the year 331 they arrived at what we commonly call our Biblical canon (“canon” is a fancy word for “ruler”…as in, what something is measured by).

So the Christian Bible (of the Protestant flavor) contains 66 books with histories, myths, poetry, wisdom writing, prose, letters, and little snippets of other stuff here and there (like apocalyptic writing).  How did they decide on the books they would allow?  Well, for the Older Testament they took books being used in Jewish circles already.  They were a little bit easier to agree on.

The books that ended up in the Newer Testament were not so easy to agree on.  And, here’s something to chew on, the early church didn’t ask if God had “divinely inspired” each book before they put it in the canon.  They wouldn’t have been considered “Bible believing” by modern evangelical standards.

Instead they asked questions like, “Who wrote it?”  Because books that were written by people who may have had access to the Christ…or people who had access to the people who knew the Christ…got first dibs.

But they didn’t stop there, they then asked, “Is it any good?”  In essence, were people reading it widely in communities of faith?  And if so, were they gaining some spiritual food from it?

They also asked, “Is it weird?” *  Or, better put, “is it consistent with other things we’ve heard about Jesus.”  This is why the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas aren’t included in the common canon.  I know, you’ve heard the rumors that they were excluded because they lifted up women too much (although, in the Gospel of Mary she turns into a dude at the end…so…yeah), or because they were suppressing gnostic voices or, what have you.

And, sure, some of those theories might have some credence. After all, when you get a bunch of men used to systems of patriarchy in one place, you’re going to get something that fits well within that system.

But I don’t buy the vast conspiracy theories about the formation of the Bible.

And finally, as a person of faith, I believe that God’s breath (the feminine ruach in the Old Testament) moved through this whole thing, as incomplete and laden with patriarchy as it is.  Because God always works with broken things.  And there are certainly parts of this process, and parts of the scriptures and the way they’re interpreted, that are very broken.

I’m not one who worships the Bible.  I worship the one the Bible points to.  I don’t think that’s true for all of Christianity out there.  And if the ancient church didn’t worship the Bible (heck, it didn’t even have a Bible for 200 years after Jesus died), why would we assume that to be Christian you have to believe the Bible is “inerrant” or “infallible”?

But, for those of you wonder just what is in the Bible, here’s a rundown of it’s books with approximate dates of authorship according to scholars, much of which is taken from the Lutheran Study Bible (Augsburg Fortress Press/Minneapolis, 2009), as well as a brief description of the book/context/author.

This is just an overview…people study this stuff for years, remember.

OLD TESTAMENT

The Pentateuch (first 5 books authored by at least three different traditions, probably 4…and with edits, maybe more)

Genesis: written by a number of authors and compiled over more than five centuries, completed while Israel was taken over by Babylon (587-538 B.C.E.) Talks about the common connections of the people who would be known as Israel. Note: Not written by Moses.

Exodus: Meaning “exit,” this book tells the story of Israel leaving Egyptian slavery (perhaps around 1250 B.C.E.?). We find Israel mentioned in a stele erected by Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramses II. Note: Not written by Moses, either.

Leviticus: About offerings, rituals, and some other rites partly compiled during Israel’s monarchy period (1000-600 B.C.E.), but also containing some concerns of the community post being taken over by Babylon.  Written and redacted over centuries. Note: Moses probably couldn’t write if historical accounts are true.

Numbers: Probably to account for people who could serve in the armies.  Continues with the stories and themes begun in Exodus…with a whole lot of counting and “so and so begat so and so” in there. Note: Moses?  Nope.

Deuteronomy: Written around 700-640 B.C.E., this book is another one about rules and relationships, like Leviticus, but with some significant prose and changes to previous laws/understandings.  It was hoped that, if Israel followed the rites and laws of Deuteronomy, they wouldn’t be overtaken by foreign armies because God would protect them.  Let’s just say, that didn’t happen.  Note: Still not Moses.

Historical Books

Joshua: This tells the story of Israel settling down again in the promised land of Canaan after the Exodus.  It’s written about the history of the 13th Century, BCE, but was actually written and completed sometime in the 7th Century BCE.  Not exactly eye-witness accounts, here. The battle of Jericho is one famous story in Joshua…although in an archeological dig we didn’t really find any walls around Jericho.  Just sayin’.

Judges: Written about the time between 1200 and 1020 BCE, this book records the people who watched over Israel (the “Judges”) before there was a king/queen.  This book was put together when Israel was conquered by Babylon, between 587-539 BCE.  Coolest judge? Deborah.  Want to know why?  Read the book.

Ruth: A book of inspiration taking place between the period of the judges and the kings/queens of Israel.  May have been written by a woman after Israel returned from Babylonian capture!

1 & 2 Samuel: Written by many people collected and edited over time, mostly after 721 BCE.  These two books were only one book originally, and speak of the beginning of the monarchy period for Israel.  King David is the major character here.  And Bathsheba.  And David’s harp.

1 & 2 Kings: The author of this book loved the book of Deuteronomy, and records the Kings of Israel (much like 1 & 2 Samuel) in an effort to say that Israel kept being conquered by people because they didn’t follow the rules of God.

1 & 2 Chronicles: Originally one book, Chronicles was written by an author in Jerusalem sometime after Israel had returned from Babylon (539-532 BCE).  It’s main thrust is to give a people who had been without a home (in exile in Babylon) a connection back to Jerusalem.

Ezra: May have been written by the same author as Chronicles (or maybe not), it was completed somewhere around 400 BCE scholars think, and it tries to assign meaning to the events that had happened the previous 300 years.  Much like Chronicles, as the people return from exile in Babylon, they try to distinguish themselves from the surrounding people (Samaritans), while re-claiming a connection to Jerusalem.

Nehemiah: See above…Ezra-Nehemiah were one book until the 15th Century.

Esther: A book with Persian influence! Esther is a fun book about idiotic leadership, there is no direct mention of God, but it speaks of Persia’s power of the Jewish people after they left Babylon (Persia conquered Babylon and let the Jewish people resettle where they wished…and many went back to Jerusalem).  Grab some stuffed grape-leaves and read this book.

Wisdom Writings and Poetry and Songs

Job: A story whose date of composition is unclear.  Maybe the 6th Century BCE.  A meditation on the problem of suffering, it is a difficult book and not a history, but rather a story that raises good questions about the human condition.

Psalms: The ancient songbook of the church 150 units long.  It was composed by many different authors.  There are Psalms for help, comfort, thanksgiving…you name it, it’s here.

Proverbs: Connected with King Solomon, it was finished somewhere around the 4th C BCE and is largely intended to provide practical advice and wise saying.

Ecclesiastes: One of the youngest books of the Old Testament (maybe just 3oo years before Jesus was born), it is narrated by an aged person called “The Teacher” and is a personal memoir to share thoughts that he has learned about the difference between what is fleeting and what is fulfilling.  It was once said of Ecclesiastes that, if you ever needed a reason to hate yourself, read this book.  I don’t see it that way, but I get the sentiment.

Song of Solomon (Song of Songs): Written in the 4th or 3rd Centuries, we don’t know the author…but it wasn’t Solomon.  It has a strong female voice, and may have been written by a woman.  It’s a series of scandalous love poems…and should be read immediately.  Because we all need some scandal in our lives.

Prophetic Books both Major and Minor (“big deals” and “littler deals”)

Isaiah: Big deal.  You know much of what’s in here if you’ve been around the Bible at all.  It tells of the promise of a “Messiah” (anointed one) and was compiled by several prophets and editors over many many years, from around the 740’s BCE to 538 BCE…basically much of Israel’s monarchy to when they were taken over by Babylon, to when they started to return to Jerusalem.  Lots here (not the person, “Lot,” he’s back in Genesis).

Jeremiah: Another big deal. Jeremiah lived from 626 BCE-586, and many of his sermons are in writing in this book.  His secretary, Baruch, wrote some of the end of Jeremiah, and we don’t know who wrote the last chapter but it certainly wasn’t either of those two…

Lamentations: If you need a reason to be sad, read this book.  It’s 5 poems about Babylon destroying Jerusalem’s much beloved temple in 586 BCE.  We don’t know who wrote it, but they sure were sad.

Ezekiel: Ezekiel was a priest during the time when Israel was taken over by Babylon, and had some prophesies for his fellow exiles.  It started around 593 and extended to 571 BCE.  It’s obviously edited by someone, but we think most of the writing comes from the priest himself.

Daniel: A book of stories and visions, Daniel contains some of the oldest material we have as far as the Old Testament goes (including some cool apocalyptic writing).  Written in Hebrew and Aramaic (in different parts), main characters are Daniel (of lion den fame) as well as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  And a furnace.  This book covers a long period of time, from the Babylonian captivity all the way to Alexander the Great (320’s BCE)!

Hosea: A prophet from 769-697, Hosea prophesied during 5 of Israel’s kings in the northern half of the kingdom.  His words were shared through oral communities, scholars think.

Joel: Written after the Babylonian exile, scholars think Joel was composed sometime before 348 BCE and is focused at an Israel trying to rebuild itself.

Amos: He’s a pissed off prophet who said his share around the first half of the 8th C BCE.  See how these prophets aren’t chronological order?  It’s confusing, right?  Mostly just to us…

Obadiah: Written (most likely) after the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, Obadiah’s vision is of an Israel sad over the loss of their kingdom and longing for good news from God.

Jonah: A short story, probably what we moderns would call a “myth,” it’s set in the time when the Assyrians had taken over Israel (720’s BCE) and is a tale about what you should not do if you’re a prophet. Main characters: Jonah and a big fish.  Oh, and God.

Micah: Micah foretells doom for an Israel (split into a northern and southern kingdom) who is living a little too comfortably in the shadow of Assyria.  It appears to have been written in the mid 8th C BCE.

Nahum: A group of oracles from around 612 BCE, his sayings celebrated the fall of the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh.  It’s supposed to be a story of good news.  The bad news is that, after Assyria fell Babylon took over…and things got bad again.

Habakkuk: A prophet around 600 BCE, this book is a book where a prophet pleads on behalf of God’s people not to be squashed between Egypt and Babylon.

Zephaniah: Probably written in the second half of the 7th C BCE, Zephaniah begins mad but ends peacefully assured that God will prevail over the threatening power of Babylon.

Haggai: Written after people had returned from exile in Babylon (in 520 BCE), the community of Israel begins to feel some difficulties in rebuilding both community and the temple.  Haggai provides encouragement for a community in depression.

Zechariah: A contemporary of Haggai, this author (and book) offers a vision of an Israel beautifully reformed and reconstructed.

Malachi: Not the scary dude from Children of the Corn, this book asks the people returning from exile in Babylon to become re-devoted to God and use the priests to aid them in leadership.  Probably written after the temple had been rebuilt (515 BCE).

NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament does not “pick right up” where the Older Testament left off.  There’s a number of gap years.  Rome is now the major imperial power (after Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia all had taken turns).  And then Jesus shows up in an Israel controlled by Rome.  The New Testament starts off with stories about Jesus.

The Gospels

Matthew: Probably written in the 80’s by someone who had read the gospel of Mark.  We call it “Matthew” because that name became associated with the book somewhere in the early 100’s.  Did “Matthew” the apostle write it?  Very doubtful.  It appears that the author of Matthew also uses a source that scholars call “Q” (short for quelle or “pen”) to provide some Jesus stories.  The magi are in Matthew at Jesus’ birth, but no angels or shepherds.

Mark: Oldest gospel book, written in the 60’s or very early 70’s.  Probably was written by the same “Mark” talked about in the book of Acts, and may have had some eye-witness accounts of Jesus.  Jesus is the most human in this Gospel.  In Mark there is no birth in Bethlehem.  Jesus just walks out of Galilee.

Luke: Probably written between 80-90 CE, this writer also had read Mark (because he, like Matthew, copies parts of Mark word-for-word), and also had access to this other document we’ve called “Q”.  Did someone named Luke write it?  We think it may have been.  It is clear from it’s style that this gospel was recited and performed orally, and is the first half of a longer story (the second half is the book of Acts).  Here we have angels and shepherds in the birth story of Jesus…but no Magi.

John: The gospel of John doesn’t fit well with the first three.  It’s thought to be the one written the latest (90’s), and Jesus dies on a Thursday in John…which doesn’t line up with the other three.  Jesus is also most fully seen as divine in John, as he knows what’s coming next.  That being said, it is included because a large number of people were using this gospel book when the Bible was compiled, and although it contains some unique material, it is not out of character for Jesus drastically.

Books about the Church

Acts: The second part of the Gospel of Luke, Acts picks up where Luke lets off and describes the formulation of the early church.  Probably written in the 80’s CE.  Main characters: Paul, Silas, the early church, the Holy Spirit.  You know, the usual.

Letters of/attributed to Paul

Romans: Written by Paul to the Christian community in Rome (context clues!), sent in the mid-50’s CE.  Paul had already been a missionary for around 20 years. Paul entreats the Romans to live peacefully between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians

1 Corinthians: Written in the early 50’s CE, this letter was written to the church in Corinth by Paul to heal a division in the church.

2 Corinthians: OK, we’re pretty sure this is actually like three or four letters all put together by someone other than Paul from letter fragments of Paul’s.  There is no agreement here, though, on the subject.  It was written sometime after 1 Corinthians and pieced together (if that theory is true) much later.

Galatians: Written by the apostle Paul sometime between 50-55 CE, about 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, to the church at Galatia.  Again…context clues.  The big fight in this letter that Paul tries to resolve is whether or not Christians had to follow Jewish practices.  Verdict: nope.

Ephesians: One of the coolest letters in the New Testament, it’s almost certainly not Paul who wrote this book (though it claims he did) because the style and verbage is not very Paul-like.  It could be a disciple of Paul’s, though, as the central ideas are echoes of Paul’s other letters.  BTW, it was pretty common for a disciple to write under their teacher’s name…so, who cares if Paul didn’t write it?  It talks about the Cosmic Christ and all of creation being redeemed and is just so freakin’ cool.

Philippians: A letter to the first Christian church in Europe from Paul and Timothy, this is a happy letter and it’s clear that Paul loves this little church.

Colossians: We do not know who wrote this letter. It may be Paul; it may be someone else.  It’s got some not-so-very-Paulish theology in it.  It may have been written in the 50’s or as late as the 70’s.  But it is written to the church of Colossae, and we don’t know much about that church because a big earthquake destroyed much of the area.  Regardless, the author had never been there, but is writing to talk to them about Christian teaching and living.

1 Thessalonians: May be the earliest letter, from the early 40’s CE!  It is Pauline, and is one of the oldest writings that we have of the early church.

2 Thessalonians: Probably not written by Paul, this letter writes again to the church at Thessalonica.  It may have been written by Timothy or Silvanus (Paul’s compatriots), but probably not by Paul.  It’s a letter of encouragement for the church.

1 Timothy: It may have been Paul’s letter…or maybe not, and is relatively late for the letters (80 or 90 CE).  Paul was already dead by then.  It’s obvious the author respected Paul…as he went on to write 2 Timothy and Titus…but it was probably not Paul.  Remember, just because it says it’s from Paul doesn’t mean it actually is.  This didn’t cause the ancient church much trouble, and they knew about it…you don’t need to be troubled by it, either.

2 Timothy: Read above.

Titus: Same dude who wrote the letters to Timothy, this letter goes to Titus (a fun name, right?) on the island of Crete and includes general instructions for the early church.

Philemon: I love this little book!  It’s probably from Paul and written while he was in jail about his friend Onesimus who had a falling out with the church of Colossae that met in this man Philemon’s house.  It’s a book about reconciliation and love.

Other Letters

Hebrews: This book is an odd duck in the New Testament.  It’s written in elegant Greek (much more elegant than even Paul’s writing), and probably is from the 70’s CE.  Hebrews is all about interpreting the Older Testament for the current times, and holds up the cross as central to understanding God’s work in the world.

James: Martin Luther hated this book.  It may have been written as late as 130-140 CE, this letter is dedicated to James the leader of the Jerusalem church, and speaks heavily of right action (rather than right belief…which is why Luther disliked it so much).

1 Peter: Not written by the apostle Peter, but probably dedicated to him.  It was also not written to one specific church, but most likely to any/all churches of the time.  It’s focus is on new life and living hope through Jesus the Christ.

2 Peter: See above.  Same sort of deal except the author now seems to feel his death coming soon.  All sorts of talk about “false prophets” and “false teachers” which has often sent literalists smelling false prophets under every rock…

1, 2, 3 John: We don’t know who wrote these books (may be referred to as “the elder” spoken of in 2 John), but we think that all three of these John books are written from the perspective of a faith community that relied heavily on the Gospel of John.  Time period is unclear, though certainly after the composition of the Gospel of John (90’s)

Jude: We don’t know who wrote this or who they were aiming to write this letter to, but we think it was written in the late first century.  Again, “false teaching” is a major theme in this book (like 2 Peter).  You can imagine that would be a central theme because these Christian communities were so scattered that different traditions and ideas popped up in different places.

Revelation: This book almost didn’t make the canonization cut!  It’s not written by the John who wrote the gospel, nor the John who was the apostle.  It is a type of writing known as “apocalyptic,” which means it uses stark imagery to talk about modern themes.  That’s right, it’s not about the future or the “end times.”  It was about the current times of this John writing at the end of the 1st Century (or maybe even later).  It does not, repeat, does not tell the future.  But it sure does say a lot about Roman imperialism and the Christian call to fight against bowing down to nations rather than to God.

So, there you have it.  For all of you in the Bible course, we’re going to be talking about the history of the Bible this Sunday: how it’s been read over the centuries, by who, and for what.  It’s a much sexier topic than canonization, I think…

Lonely footnote:

*Taken from “Animate: Bible” (Augsburg Fortress Press/Minneapolis, 2013)

Please remember: these dates and much of the descriptions were gleaned from a number of sources over the years (from my brain), but chiefly from The Lutheran Study Bible which is a great resource.

10 Things You Must Do As a Follower of Jesus

The God Article, a really interesting website/blog/incubator for thought, recently posted “10 Things You Can’t Do as a Follower of Jesus.”  It’s well worth the reaimagesd.  Interesting stuff.

But, as all scholars familiar with the Decalogue (the 10 Commandments) know, it’s not the “Thou Shalt Not’s” that are difficult.

It’s the “Thou Shalt’s” that cause the problems.

I’ll refrain from murdering most weeks, but remembering the Sabbath…that’s tough.

Because the “thou shalt not’s” are about avoiding things, primarily.  And we love to avoid things because then we can tally how many times we’re successful at not doing bad things when given the option.  And this gives us this sense that we truly are our own saviors.  See, that’s the secret behind a lot of Christian piety: it claims Christ as the savior, but then sets up all these other rules by which you actually get the feeling that you’re saving yourself.

And this is why people love to use the word “temptation” when they talk about sin.  We feel that we can beat temptation with enough will power.  With enough sense, we can avoid the bad and do the good.

With the “thou shalt not’s” of life, all sorts of other things are permissible. You can’t covet your neighbor’s house and wife, but you sure as hell can buy one bigger or marry one prettier!  You shall not murder; maim away.  You shall not bear false witness, but what about slightly false witness?

This is exactly how a rules-based society works: let us know what is over the line so that we can avoid that line.

But with the Christian story, with life, the “thou shalt not’s” are not where the meat lies.  And a Christian life is not rules-based…despite what you might have heard.

For this life the meat lies in the “thou shalt’s.”  Because in them there is no exception.

And a careful reading of the Lord’s Prayer in the Scriptures might be helpful because the best translation is not “temptation” but rather “trial.”

And the time of trial is not one where you are avoiding the bad and choosing the good, but rather are in between a situation to the point where you do not know which way is bad and which way is good and you must step out nonetheless.

And the trial portions are the “thou shalt” portions of life…because choosing for something is harder than being against something.

So, I wonder then, what would be the “10 Things You Must Do As a Follower of Jesus”?

Here’s my attempt:

1) Love the Lord your God

2) Love your neighbor as yourself

3) Repeat #’s 1 and 2

4) No, seriously, 1 and 2 again

5) Why do you think there are other ones?

6) You can stop reading

7) Sigh

8) You really want more rules, don’t you?

9) I can’t give you another thing to do, sorry

10) Why the hell can’t you just do 1 and 2?

And perhaps it isn’t even that easy.

Because the minute you make a list, or a rule, and that becomes a “must,” then obeying them is now the god of your life.

This is the problem with much of organized religion.  It has turned a particular philosophy and worldview (it’s own) into the “way the truth and the life” and it then fails to point beyond itself.

This is what happens when anyone thinks they have a direct revelation.  They, then, become more authoritative than the revelation itself.

We try to turn things into gods all the time, especially ourselves.  This is the true “god delusion”…Dawkins got it wrong.  We delude ourselves into thinking our right thoughts, our correct actions, or even ourselves as the bearer of correctness are gods.

I can avoid murder.  I can avoid bearing false witness.  I do those with some success.

But it’s awfully hard to love God and my neighbor…and even myself, I guess.  And even harder to try and figure out what that means when it comes to buying and selling, ethics and morality, and all sorts of real life issues.

Hell, give me a thou shalt not list any time.  They’re 10 times easier to follow.

But that’s not where the meat lies, and much of the Christian world pretends that the thou shalt not list is super important when it’s really just a way to placate ourselves into thinking we’ve got it all together because we can avoid certain things with success.

Sure.  But can you do #1 and #2 with success?

Call me if you can.  Because I suck at it most days.  And I’m a reluctant Christian because so much of the rest of Christianity pretends they do #1 and #2 well, when really they’re just checking off their “shalt not” lists and patting themselves on their divine backs.

“The Broken Record,” or “The Trouble with Church…”

“The trouble with church is…” or, “If only we would…”

I hear those phrases a lot when people start talking about church.

It’s like a broken record.  Everyone’s agenda is either blamed as the cause or heralded as the cure for whatever is wrong with “church.”

I’d like to hit the needle on that record player for a second.

It’s not that I think organized religion doesn’t have issues.

Man, does it have issues.

Huge issues.

And in many ways it needs to follow the path of Jesus and die a bit so something new can be raised up.

But I think that many times the reasons we give for churches and communities having “trouble” (however you define that word) are pretty lame.  I think we’re pretty good parents, but pretty lousy doctors, when it comes to church dysfunction: we know something is wrong but can’t diagnose it.

Myself included.

But I think I’ve identified some things that might be food for thought.  There are others, of course.  Other responses, other questions, other diagnoses.

The following are my top five; you probably have your own.  Feel free to share them.

So, here are 5 of my responses to 5 of the reasons I hear most often when it comes to “the trouble with church.”

# 5: “The trouble with church is that we don’t have a ‘contemporary’ service.”

Hey, have whatever style of church service you want.  We have a couple different worship styles where I serve.

But if I were to guess, I’d say that the trouble with your church is not that you don’t have a “contemporary service” (whatever that means).  The trouble is that people aren’t connecting with the service that you do have.

The relevance of religion can’t be assumed in this day and age.  I think the common person walking around today downloads apps on their phone for two main reasons.

1: they feel they need it.

2: they think it’s interesting.

That’s why I download the apps I do (and my wife hates the “flashlight” app…mostly because I use it to find the bed late at night if she’s gone to sleep before me).

So why do you do services at all?  Why do you need them?  Why are they interesting/insightful for you?

Do people even know why you’re doing what you’re doing?  Do they see the deep connections that are present?

Do you know?

People talk about “relevance” when it comes to church all the time, but I think they want to do it abstractly and with the wild assumption that everyone thinks “church” is necessary.

But in the concrete, what does it mean to sing communally?  What does it mean to read ancient texts together and hear someone reflect on them?  What does it mean to join your voices in prayer, refocusing yourself on the needs of the world and those who are ill?  What does it mean to eat a communal meal where everyone is invited forward and no one leaves without something?

Are you talking about these things?

I really don’t think that Christians today can fail to have the conversation on why the worshiping community is important, but so many churches aren’t having that conversation at all.

Not even amongst the people that do show up at church.

Change the style all you want.  Unless the deeper conversation is happening, I don’t think it’ll go anywhere.  And then you’ll just have someone come up to you and say, “You know what the trouble with this church is? We don’t have a “traditional” service…”

#4: “The trouble with this church is that we don’t have any young people.”

Yeah, this is a problem in some ways, just like a church with only young people is also a problem.

But energy isn’t generated by age; it’s generated by mission.

If your church doesn’t see a growing group of disciples, my guess is that the group that is there is unclear about what it’s doing there in the first place.  A church that understands itself (much like a person who understands themselves) works best because it knows where it is going.

Where is your church going?  Have you discussed it?

Many times I’ve heard people lament the absence of “young people,” and I think to myself, “So, you’ve already identified what you don’t have…but what do you have?  Where are you going?  Yes, you’ve talked about what you were, but who are you now?”

Know thyself and you will grow thyself.

Or, if not, if you come to understand yourself as a community best served in joining others in service through disbanding and moving your energies that way, then do so.  If people aren’t coming into your community, go out and join theirs!

#3: “The trouble with church is that this pastor doesn’t work enough.”

I know lazy pastors, just like I know lazy accountants, bankers, plumbers and politicians.

But I find that most pastors that are accused of being lazy are actually just burned out.

And they burn out because we’ve stopped hiring pastors to help us be church, and just expect them to do church for us.

Perhaps the trouble is that the pastor doesn’t feel supported.  I have colleagues who don’t even feel liked!  They are simply another reminder to the congregation that they are not who they once were in the roaring 50’s when the beloved pastor reigned over an era of pew-packing popularity, mostly due to the fact that American culture and the church had aligned themselves in an unholy union that we’ve only just recently been able to divorce ourselves from.

It’s unpopular to say out loud, but I feel much of the exodus of this generation from the pews of their parents can be traced back to those boom days when this hemisphere thought that Jesus was waving an American flag…

If you think your pastor is lazy, ask yourself if you’ve taken them out for coffee to chat about what’s going on in their life.  If you do, I’d bet that you’d find a calendar so packed that they’re demoralized before they rise out of bed in the morning because there is absolutely no way they can turn the ship around by themselves with so many issues to attend to…and that they’ve been trying to for far too long.

#2: “The trouble with church is that I could use my time better doing something different on a Sunday morning.”

I hear this one most often from people who aren’t in a faith community.  I can understand their point.

Sunday morning seems, by and large, to still be a time of relative inactivity in this hemisphere.

For right now.

Youth soccer and dance is starting to invade into the Sunday morning schedule, though…and they’re just the first in what, I imagine, will be non-stop programming.

I think this is a cultural problem, by and large, although there are some steps that churches can take to change this.

We, as a culture, or over scheduled.  And we’re teaching our children to be over scheduled, too.

In polling the people of my church community on why they attend, what feeds them, a large percentage mentioned the peace and quiet that Sunday morning hour offers them.

Which means that they’re sleeping through the sermon…

But, I find myself seeking the same thing: an escape from the over scheduled, hectic pace.

That, in and of itself, has a positive psychological impact.

As a person of faith, I happen to believe there are other positives too: a connection with the Divine, connection with intentional community, re-connection with a self that is lost within a sea of calendar appointments.

But if we find that Sunday morning is the only time that we have to ourselves, I don’t think church is the trouble.

To borrow an old cliche: are we living to work or working to live?  Are we taking time to examine our lives, or just gasping for breath between sprints?

I think there is a deep spiritual problem with a life that is so over-crowded that intentional community feels like another thing on the “to-do” list.

When done well, I think, intentional community gathered around the things of the Divine can be the generator that helps us tackle our to-do lists.

#1: “The trouble with church is that it just brainwashes you.  God isn’t real, anyway.”

Again, I usually hear this from people outside of a faith community.

Although, I do have to say that there are plenty of brainwashed people within the church who behave as if God isn’t real…

I think a typical reaction to a statement like this is one of defense.  I’ve heard many people, who truly care about another person who has this opinion, go into a litany of “proofs for God”, eventually collapsing in a fit of tears.

Because proofs for God are dead-ends, and nothing brings a person to tears with such intensity as the realization that your worldview isn’t shared by everyone…and that they may have some pretty good reasons for thinking the way they do, too.

Churches have a history of being, and many still are, places where brainwashing happens.  But so are movie theaters, concert arenas, political conventions, book clubs…the list is extensive.  Group think can happen anywhere if two or three are gathered, I guess.

Because of this, I think that this reason deserves some careful consideration by those Christians whose knee-jerk reaction would be to challenge it out of hand.

We don’t want to be places of brainwashing, do we?

Do we?

I hope and think the point of an intentionally community gathered around God would be to ask better questions: about life, existence, how scripture informs our days and weeks, about justice and the path of the Christ.

And I think that intentional communities like a church can be places that de-program cultural brainwashing when it challenges you not to live for greed, but to give of yourself for the life of others.  Or when it challenges a community to not seek glory, but rather stand with the oppressed.  I think our culture tries to brainwash us all the time with mixed signals that only confuse us: buy this, reject that; eat here, follow this diet plan; give money here, divest there.

In fact, I think that our culture tries to convince us that God is real, and that God is us.

But there is another way to live.  A way around shared experience, intentional Divine connection.  A way of song, prayer, meal.  A way where the reality of God isn’t always assumed, but arrived at through communal interaction where we find God most present.

After all, I can’t force somebody to see the reality of God anymore than I can force somebody to see that I love them.  It takes relationship to come to that realization…and relationships that are coerced, hampered by knee-jerk reactions or blind allegiance don’t often go very well.

The Church has a lot of trouble; that can’t be denied.  But I’m not sure it has to do with service style, age demographics, pastor efficiency, timing, or group think.

Those excuses play like a broken record.  I think that any church who listens to those excuses will never be able to move the needle and get on their way with mission.

I think most of the time the trouble with church starts with the individual who finds the problem.

Myself included.

And I know I need a community with an eye toward the sacred to help me dig that out.

5 Phrases I Think Christians Should Say More Often

My most recent blog post made some waves, and I certainly didn’t expect it.  When I wrote down “5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say,” I never imagined that it would be sent far and wide for consideration and comment.

I’ll no doubt offer some more thoughts on those phrases.  As with all public statements, there are other thoughts to give and more clarification needed.

I’ll also probably add to that list, too.  Christians say a lot of unhelpful things in the attempt to explain everything in the world.  I find that fact interesting, actually.  In my ordination I was entrusted to be a “steward of the mysteries” for the community…and yet so much of the community of faith just seems to want to explain away mysteries with vacuous, pat answers that end up being about as useful as a boat in the desert.

But, I’ve been pondering my previous list, and I’d like to offer up some phrases that I think should be said as well.  So, here are 5 phrases that I think Christians should say more often.  And, of course, there are undoubtedly more…

5) “Let’s read a book together; your choice.”

This might seem like a dumb request, or some awkward way to try to curry favor with someone, but I’m absolutely serious.  So many times I find people of faith utterly petrified by engaging in serious conversation over a text that might challenge their faith because they feel they might not have “the right answer.”

And the problem there, of course, is that someone along the line explained faith to them as some sort of equation, a specific formula where certain values must be plugged in for the desired outcome.  In short: we’ve made faith into a system instead of a conversation.

So, here’s an experiment: go to a person of a different faith: Buddhist, Sikh, Atheist, etc.  Or maybe they’re a different denomination of your own faith…whatever.  Engage with someone different than you and invite them to read a book with you, but let them choose.

And go with whatever they choose.

So, let’s say they pick Christopher Hitchens and “god Is Not Great” is what they’re asking to read. Read it.  Let it come into conversation with your faith. And then talk about it.

Or, let’s say they pick a translation of the Qur’an (or if you can read Arabic, read the actual Qur’an).

Read it. It’s not a sin.

Read it and let it come into conversation with your faith.  We need to be a society where people are reading together.  Right now I’m reading The Kingdom of God is Within You  by Tolstoy with a congregation member who identifies as “questioning.”  His idea; his invitation.  Tolstoy is fascinating.  And not only are we having a great discussion about faith and values, we’re getting to know why we think the way we do while also learning more about how the other person thinks.

But for this to work, you have to let them choose the text.  So often people of faith think they only have something to impart on people with other worldviews and nothing to learn.  God save us from such blind certainty.

4) “That’s interesting!  Tell me more…”

Too often people of faith only utter this phrase if they’re talking about gossip.  That’s a topic for a different post, I think…

But what if we said the above phrase when people came to us with a different perspective on God, being, the meaning of life, or the authority of scripture?  What if our first reaction to hearing something that may not line up with what we’ve been taught/have come to believe isn’t a rebuttal or an argument, but an invitation to hear more?

And what if you seriously meant it?

So many times people have said, “that’s a slippery slope…” when it comes to questioning tenets of faith and critically listening to other perspectives.  But just as often I’ve met people who have said, “(that particular tenet of faith) didn’t prove true…so I abandoned faith altogether.”  To both statements I just have to sigh.

When we have been taught that questioning is bad or that all statements rest on one singular foundation, we invite unthinking automatons whose sole purpose in life is to defend their own thoughts, or people primed for disbelief because some premises (like the inerrancy of scripture, for example) just can’t stand up to experience.

Instead, we should invite people to tell us more about their thoughts and beliefs.  And, yes, share our own.  But too often we’re all to eager to do the latter and not interested in the former because…gasp…we might actually be changed in the process.

3) “I can’t buy that…it doesn’t square with my faith…”

This one might rattle some nerves.  Hear me out.

It’s amazing to me that people of faith can shun pornography but buy 7000 square foot homes for a family of four.  It’s amazing to me that people of faith can censor Showtime on their cable TV’s so that their kids won’t see a sex scene, but they’ll spend thousands of dollars on a birthday party for a two year old.

It’s amazing to me that people of faith can see money as “theirs” because they earned it, but can look at another person’s sexual orientation and see it as a “choice.”

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t have a 7000 square foot home.  I just want you to think and ask if your faith has anything to say about it.  And if so, what?  I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer here; I just want to see that conversation happen!

And the point of me bringing this up isn’t to cause someone to feel guilty, it’s actually to ask the question: Does your faith have anything to say about what/how you consume?

And if so, does your checkbook reflect it?  Money is just as powerful as sex, and yet somehow it seems that Christians only want to talk about sex and not about money (probably, in my view, to distract from their use of money…but that’s also a different post).

2) “You’re right, I struggle with what is written in the Bible there, too…”

I’m a pastor who wrestles with the Bible.  I think every person of faith (and arguably, everyone) should wrestle with the Bible..and any text.  Converse with it. Engage it.

Don’t look at scripture like an encyclopedia that just gives “answers;” view it as a conversation partner!  Professor David Lose at Luther Seminary in Minnesota writes eloquently on this in his book Making Sense of Scripture. (The title is misleading in that he doesn’t actually offer a way to “make sense” of scripture, but a way to view scripture)

His point, though, is that when we look at the Bible as simply a reference book, we don’t engage it.

But if we engage it, then when someone with a different worldview brings up the fact that it’s hard to accept that God really sent “she-bears” to devour children who were mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24), we can admit it!  It’s ludicrous to believe that that actually happened. Plus, I’m balding, and I sometimes get mocked.  Please, Lord, send the she-bears!

And it doesn’t hurt my faith, or my witness, to say that it doesn’t make sense because I don’t believe that the authority of the Bible is dependent upon the absolute inerrency of every little verse.

One of refrains that I heard over and over again from atheist/agnostic readers of the previous blog post was that it was refreshing to see/hear a person of faith who actually thought.  That fact made me sad because it means, by and large, that unthinking morons are the poster-children for faith in the eyes of many skeptics.

And, yes, I know that is not a charitable description…but I’m not sure how to soften that phrase and still make the despair it causes me hit home.  And part of that perception problem, I think, comes from the fact that people of faith refuse to admit that some of the Bible is weird and doesn’t seem to square with experience.

And my mention of 2 Kings, by the way, doesn’t mean that I write off the book or even that I want to exclude from the canon.  It’s there; it’s not my place to exclude it.  But I converse with it.  I make a distinction between story and history.  I make a distinction between fable, myth, and fact.  And I admit that scripture can hold all three…and that that doesn’t have to impede it’s ability to have Truth.

1) “That’s not OK…”

As evidenced by some of the responses I received over the weekend, some Christians are all too ready to say that it is not OK for me to suggest that we dump “Love the sinner; hate the sin” as a phrase.

I’ll just repeat my belief that this phrase, no matter how you want to defend it, is disingenuous.  I’ve filed it under “complete nonsense” in my file cabinet.

But we need to speak out when people who represent the faith say things that are outrageous and downright dangerous.  I know, that’s a statement that involves a lot of subjectivity.

An example?  Where is the public outcry from people of faith against the pastor in Maiden, North Carolina who preached that homosexuals should be corralled and given just enough food to survive in an effort to let them die out?

If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, you can find the video here.

It is graphic.  And despicable.  And disgusting.  And I cannot see how it squares with my faith.  And I will tell anyone and everyone so. (By the way, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973, no matter what the Focus on the Family might want to tell you.  And I think it is high time that the church remove it from the list of spiritual disorders, too.)

Now, it’s true that this pastor is small-time.  The community he serves is small, and his influence is small (although I see his video is now on CNN).  But if we hear this extremely vehement nonsense and keep quiet, can we be surprised that people think this is what all people of faith believe?

We need to decry Robertson and Graham publicly when they make ridiculous comments.  We need to call Olsteen into question when he says that God wants you to be rich. We need people of faith to say that Mark Driscoll doesn’t speak for me or my faith when he starts spouting off about masculinity or marriage in ways that are derogatory to both men and women.

And we need to do the same with some others in the faith, too. Luther, Wesley, Calvin…not to mention modern day heads of the church, are not infallible.  Some of their writings deserve some denouncing.

And until people are willing to call such things ridiculous loudly, publicly, and without exception, we can’t be surprised if people dismiss Christians as unthinking and hateful.  And we can’t be surprised, either, when people defect from faith in an attempt to distance themselves from this sort of thing.

I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that we, too often, only engage the world and those around us with a defensive stance as if we have something to prove.  Engage life in a meaningful way, in a way that calls faith into practice; in a way that invites questions and not just recitation.  Engage this world in a challenging way.

Oh, and while you might have expected the #1 phrase that I wish Christians would say more often to be a cuss or a curse, I just figured that would go without saying…

5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say

Sometimes I curse.  I don’t pepper my language liberally with curse words like people might pepper a house salad, but sometimes I curse.

It surprises people to hear that pastors sometimes curse.  But really, that’s all I can do sometimes.  When you see terrible tragedy where you have absolutely no response other than sadness and despair, cursing happens…because you can do nothing else.

Likewise, sometimes when I see utter beauty a word will slip through my lips, brought from the very depths of my emotional being where words live only to be used in situations where no word seems appropriate.  Usually that’s a curse, too.

Pastors sometimes curse.  Christians sometimes curse.

And, really, I hear things slip from Christian mouths with reckless abandon that I believe are far worse than curse words.  Here are just 5 (there are undoubtedly more):

5) “That’s not Christian…”

I’ve heard this a lot.  I once told a person that I meditated.  They responded, “Well, that’s not Christian you know…”

Sigh.

See, the problem with that line of thinking is that it narrows what can be identified with living a life in Christ.  Rob Bell does a great job in his book Velvet Elvis on dissecting the danger in turning the word “Christian” from a noun (as it’s used in the Bible) into an adjective. In the noun form, a Christian is a follower of Christ.  In the adjective form, it describes an action…presumably an action that a follower of Christ should/shouldn’t do, and therefore sets up categories that have definite barriers. And in doing so, it implies some judgment that is unwarranted at best and untrue at worst.  Consider these phrases that I’ve actually heard:

“It’s not Christian to fire that person.” (Implication: A Christian can’t do some things because they’re seen as “mean”)

“It’s not Christian to think those sexual thoughts.” (Implication: A Christian isn’t sexual, or if they are, they don’t think about it because God hates sex and real Christians can control such things)

“You can’t do yoga!  It’s not a Christian practice…” (Implication: A Christian can’t borrow from other faith traditions…or, apparently, stretch with intentional breathing on rubber mats)

“You can’t get a tattoo; it’s unchristian to defile the temple of God.” (Implication: God has an opinion about the tribal band around your ankle)

People say it all the time, and while a generous interpretation of their words might be to assume they are calling a specific action/thought into question, the reality is that they just end up calling the person doing that thought/action “unchristian”…to hurtful consequences.  For those questioning or skeptical of faith, it erects another barrier, and further narrowly defines who is in or out of a relationship with God.

What if someone were to say, “It’s unchristian to make that amount of money”? Or, “It’s unchristian to have a house that large because you really don’t need that much space”?

We should ban “Christian” in the adjective form.  We can’t use it with any consistency.

4) “I love the sinner but I hate the sin..”

Great.

See, the problem that I have with this phrase is that it assumes that “sin” is a specific action that is done/can be undone.  If that’s the case, name the specific action that you hate.

“I love you, Tommy, but I don’t like it when you break my glasses.”  “I love you, Sarah, but I don’t like it when you kick my shins.”

But really, I haven’t heard this phrase used in those ways.  I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.

“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”

There we go.  There’s an honest statement.

And an unhelpful one.

It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality.  I really don’t think you can.  It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition.  So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you.

You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me.  This phrase is disingenuous.

3) “You need to surround yourself with some good Christian people…

I once had a well-meaning friend tell me this when I was trying to sort out a problem.  I think they were suggesting that I seek faith-based advice.  I understand that sentiment.

But one of the problems with this sort of thinking is that, well, when you live in a bubble all you breathe is soapy air, and you may begin to think that is all there is.

As a pastor, people want me to have office hours at church.  But in all seriousness, I can’t all the time.  If I don’t go to the coffee house a couple times a week, I suffocate in my bubble.  I need diversity because it is only in diversity where my thoughts, beliefs,  and ideas are challenged.

And really, if I only see Christians all the time, I’m a pretty crappy pastor.

It is narrow to believe that somehow surrounding yourself with only one worldview will help you see the world better.

And besides, sometimes Christians surrounded people and then burned them on stakes…

2) “You just have to do God’s will…”

I am utterly suspicious of people who claim to know the specific will of God.

I’m even more suspicious of people who claim that God’s greatest wish is to have us be in a relationship with God.  I think this is where much “praise and worship” music get it’s singular focus.

In the abstract, I get what they’re saying.  I think God does desire for humanity to live in shalom with it’s creator.  But to claim that this will takes precedence over God’s desire to have humanity live in shalom with one another, and with the environment, and with other creation is, I think, short-sighted.  Theology runs into a similar problem when it focuses so much on “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and fails to mention the other persons of the Trinity.

We run into real problems when we begin to think that with regard to specific situations (like, say, my future husband/wife) that God has one will.

I cannot see how that can be true.  I love my wife.  But do I think she’s the only person in the world I could have married?  Do I think that I’m the only person in the world she could have married?  No.  I don’t.  She’s bright, beautiful, and funny.  There are lots of people who would have asked her to marry them (and still might…she’ll just have to say “no”).  Likewise I’m beautiful and funny (jury is out on the “bright”), and could have found another partner.

I just found her and we decided to do this. (It was actually much more complicated than that…and a bit more romantic…)

I hope this gives some freedom to those in the world who believe that there is only one right job, one right spouse, one right school, one right anything that they must find or else they’re missing out on God’s will for their life.

And this leads me to the number one…

1) “It’s all in God’s plan…”

That you lost your baby.  That your sister was murdered.  That you got cancer.  That your life is in shambles.

I really can’t think of a worse thing to say to someone, especially when they’re in pain.

We cannot use God to fill in the gaps between events and the people they effect.  We want to give solace, to promise that there is a purpose behind madness, but if there is one thing that the cross shows us definitively, it’s that God takes the pain in the world and makes resurrection.

But we should not think that this means that God makes the world’s pain, or the specific pain in a person’s life.  It’s an important distinction.

One of the reasons I left faith for a while was because I had heard too many times that God was flipping switches on people: causing children to die, cancer to spread, poverty to happen, etc.

Not only do I think that saying this to someone is adding hurt to hurt, I think it breaks the second commandment.  When we say such things, we use God’s name in vain; we use it “uselessly” as the word is better translated.

So when you’re confronted with the news of your friend’s tragedy or a relative’s pain, stand in solidarity with them and scream, “Dammit!” I’m a reluctant Christian at times because I think that those who call themselves Christian don’t think enough about their words.

Frankly, I wish they’d just curse more.