Category Archives: considering church

Family First: Is that Biblical?

Is there any Biblical precedent for putting “family first?” I would submit that this is a myth and a hindrance to true Biblical stewardship.  In my knowledge of scripture I can’t think of an example of any biblical commands that would say that we are to put our families needs above the needs of others. Yet, I see plenty of biblical mandates to put others needs on par with our own: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” “whatever you do for the least of these, you’ve done unto me.” “if you have two coats, share one.”

Family Photo

I’m aware there are stories in the Bible of families lovingly sacrificing for one another, but there are also plenty of examples and commands of caring for those we are not related to, indeed even our enemies. The reason I think dispelling this myth (if indeed it is) is so important to the topic of stewardship is that I think it is commonly used as a justification for a life of stewardship that is directed primarily at our immediate family.

If we believe in “family first” as a command then we feel justified in spending time, energy and money making sure our kids go to the best schools, live in the “safest” neighborhoods, and have a significant college fund saved up. But what about the other kids? What of our neighbors, whom we are supposed to love as ourselves?

I am not suggesting we neglect the needs of our children to serve others, but rather seeing our neighbor (locally and globally) and their needs with the same heartfelt conviction and commitment that we do our families needs.

Finding My Place in Church

Since March of this year, I’ve had a draft blog post tentatively titled “Yelling from Outside the Church Doors” sitting unpublished. That post was mainly about my inability to find a place where I fit in the church context in the past three years. The same church struggles and disconnectedness are to blame for my writing less then 20 blog posts here since April when I used to write several a week. I’ve been a bit disillusioned the past few years as to where I belong in this “body” we call the church.

I should saw right off the bat that this hasn’t been the source of depression or anything, I’m loving life and all that I’m doing. I just couldn’t find a way to join the church club so I’ve got involved elsewhere. But this post has a bright spot. I think I’m beginning to find a place in the body again. I’m not sure quite what that will look like in the end, but I’ve found it refreshing to be included .

Being part of the conversation is the reason for me coming out of this blogging hiatus. In April, I’d made the shift to focusing Trying To Follow to be just about faith topics and suddenly I felt like I had nothing to say. This blog has always been a place to process my thoughts, but it was mostly an extension of conversations I was having in real life. Lacking those lately on topics of faith and Christianity, I had little thoughts to process in blog form for a while.

All this is just to say two things: 1) I’m getting involved in our church a bit more and I’m enjoying it. 2) I’ve got thoughts to share on this blog again. So stay tuned for more. I’ll probably still keep it to once a week, so look out for next week.

Why I Don’t Want My Daughter Going To Church

When our daughter was born we hadn’t settled on a name, but in those moments after she entered into the world, we knew we wanted her to be a strong women; her name means “Mighty and Strong” in Hebrew. It’s a sobering reality that this is a difficult world for the female half of the population. Women across the globe face terrible oppression, and have for centuries, despite their indispensable role in bringing forth life and continuing the human race.

I want my daughter to know she has infinite value as a female and I want my son to know that females are every bit as capable and worthy of praise as men. It will break my heart if I ever her my son say “you throw like a girl” as an insult or see my daughter avoid trying something because it’s been regulated for “boys”. It’s with this desire to empower my children and instill these values that I start to get uncomfortable with some of the realities of Christianity. There are three specific things that trouble me: The Bible’s lack of valuing women, the churches history and current practices, and the churches silence on modern day injustices.

No matter how you look at it, the Bible, “God’s Inspired Word” seems to stray little from the cultural norms of the history which it is written in. There are maybe a handful of examples of esteeming women, but by and large it is a book written by men and about men with stories and laws that do not value women the way we inherently believe they should be valued.  If we believe the book is inspired by God, I think it should at least give us pause. Considering the majority of sermons week in and week out are preached out of a book that largely ignores the women in the pews, it shouldn’t simply go unmentioned or swept aside.

As some churches move toward a more empowering view of women, others seem as set in their ways as ever. Even the progressive churches are barely keeping up with secular society. It’s not just about ordaining females or blessing them to work outside the home, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that woman were forbidden to wear pants, let alone the right to vote. If I want a place that esteems women as much as it does men, churches seem like the last place to look.

“Loving your neighbor” doesn’t always just mean touchy-feely charity, it also means acknowledging injustices and working hard to right those injustices. The idea that they will “know we are Christians by our love” should include love for the women in the pews as well as those in the community and across the globe. There are real injustices that many women silently face in our own community, from the wage gap to domestic violence. Churches should be on the front-lines in addressing these issues as they impact many of those in the pews.  And on a global scale the church has a role supporting our fellow sisters in Christ, many who face terrible oppression in their communities from slavery and sex trafficking to iron deficiencies and lack of schools to gain an education.

I’ve only barely scratched the surface on each of the above topics, but I hope it paints at least an adequate picture of the concerns I have when thinking about raising my children in church. I think most parents, liberal and conservative, share similar values of desiring their daughters to grow up feeling valued and esteemed, and for their boys to grow up also esteeming women. My hope is that together we can all take a step back and think critically about how we are instilling these values and how the church can do it better.

Feed The Poor or Go To Hell

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” -Matthew 25:45-46

Much of what modern day Christianity in the United States seems to be about is the after life. The big question being “where will you go when you die?” The general belief by most Christians is that the answer to that question has something to do with whether or not you believe you are a sinner and Jesus died for your sins and you accepted him as your Savior. There are plenty of nuanced disagreements on the details of how that works (ones churches have split over and others have been burned at the stake because of), but that is more or less the general agreed upon answer. I won’t disagree with that conclusion. What I would like to do is simply present some words of Jesus that at the least complicate matters a little. The verse above is from the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which in my opinion, seems to be the longest and most clear cut statement Jesus makes regard the after life.

It seems to be a pretty straight forward statement that: how you treat the “least of these” determines where you go at the end of your life. Or, to put it more succinctly, “Feed the poor or go to hell.” Yet, anytime I’ve heard these verses mentioned, in a church sermon or elsewhere, the salvation/afterlife piece disappears. The story and the verses are used as a calling to serve those in need. Maybe as an appeal to spend one night a month in a soup kitchen or to sponsor a child. Never though, do we talk about the call to give to those in need as if our very salvation depends on it.

I know we’ve pieced together a pretty solid collection of verses to create your typical salvation message. You can breeze through Romans Road or the 4 Spiritual laws, but it troubles me a bit that Jesus says our salvation has at least something to do with how we treat the “least of these” and yet I’ve never heard a salvation message that even mentions it. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t anyone else just a little bit concerned about getting to the pearly gates and finding out the prayer asking Jesus into your heart when you were six just doesn’t cut it?

Bipolar Love

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” -Matthew 22:39-40

If there is one verse I think we, Christians, continually get wrong, it’s this one. It helps that Jesus thinks it’s in the top two. If every sermon ever preached dealt only with this command, “love your neighbor as yourself,” I think we might be in a better place then we are now.

Instead we have a sort of Bipolar love. We spend all kinds of time and energy loving ourselves, and barely any loving others. I’ll buy myself a luxury item before I’ll make sure my neighbor is fed and clothed. That’s the truth of the matter. If we take the command at face value and evaluate our lives accordingly, I think all of us will find we aren’t living up to it. But, that’s not even really my point, I don’t expect us to actually live up to it (I can hear some jumping in, “we’ve all sinned, that’s why we need Jesus!”). The truth is, we aren’t even trying. Jesus says it’s the second greatest commandment in all of scripture and rarely is there a church or sermon that is even making an attempt.

Maybe because I’m a parent, or because discussing a bipolar individual will get confusing, but I think using the analogy of love for your children is an easier way to discuss this. Imagine for a moment that you have two children, and you say you love them both, our commanded to love them both. However, this is what your love looks like. For first child you not only feed them, but pay for them to enjoy dinners out, and daily luxury drinks. The other child you feed just once a day, a small meager meal, not enough to meet his basic nutritional needs. You not only send the first child to school, you buy them new clothes, a backpack full of supplies, pay for all their field trips, but them educational toys and books and everything else they need to be successful. The other you might allow to go to school, if there is a free option available, but you send them wearing their only tattered outfit, no supplies, no support. You can say you love them both, but your actions tell a completely different story.

This is what our bipolar love looks like. We are the first child and our neighbors the second. Nobody would say that is loving your neighbor, it’s not even attempting to love your neighbor. It’s true that we are not even close, but worse, we haven’t even started trying.

The Trouble With Christianity (in the USA)

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” -Brennan Manning

This quote has stuck with me since I first heard it on DC Talk’s Jesus Freak CD. Couple that with St. Francis of Assisi’s famous line, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words,” and I think you have a pretty good explanation as to why Christianity is rather unappealing to so many. 72% of non-church goers think the church is “full of hypocrites” according to the Barna groups research. There’s an obvious disconnect.
I’m making this case not as an evangelistic appeal, but simply to say, from both an insider and outsider perspective, I find very little evidence or reason to believe the claims of Christianity. As someone whose more or less followed this religious system for over a decade, that concerns me.

For years, I’ve ignored the large majority of “Christians”, opting instead to focus on the inspiring lives of Mother Teresa, Dr. King, John Perkins, Shane Claiborne, and my close friends who’ve lived out their beliefs and convictions before me. Yet, the elephant in the room was and is the vast majority of Christians whose lives look so strikingly similar to the rest of society (save a few condemning judgments). If these others claim a relationship with a super-natural God, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit, and a belief in the same Bible that I read, why do our lives and convictions look so different?

As a person whose at times struggled with doubts in the existence of the super-natural, I’ve leaned heavily at times on the witness and testimony of others. In the past, I’ve chosen to look to the testimony of those who claim Christianity and live out the same convictions I believe in, but the reality is that they are in the vast majority. If one were to take a scientific approach to assessing these claims. It would seem those who claim a connection with the super-natural and live radical lives of self-sacrifice that look like Jesus are in the vast minority, they are outliers. The majority of ‘evidence’ in an empirical study would should those claiming a super-natural empowered Biblical Christianity, live lives that look nothing like the Christianity I see in the Bible. The evidence would show that I am an outlier, that I’m one of the ones reading the book wrong, coming to inaccurate conclusions, and am obviously not in touch with the “leading of the Spirit”.

I want to spend the next several weeks trying to flesh out some of my beliefs, with Biblical support, and put them out their for discussion. I’d like to ask of those who agree with me, why are these convictions not present in most churches and Christians lives? And of those who disagree with me, where am I wrong? What am I miss reading? My intent will not be to toot my own, or anyone’s own horn, nor preach to the choir. I’m really seeking for some honest answers.

A Birthday Banquet?

banquetMy birthday is coming up in less then a month. I don’t often make much of my birthday. I don’t really like getting gifts and have for years (without much success) asked those who wanted to get me something to donate to a cause instead. If I ask anything, it’s been for others to share with me how I’ve had a positive impact on their lives, that’s about it.

I’m not sure I’ll change that routine, but I’ve had an idea brewing for about a year and figured I’d just share it here. Thanks to Facebook and other social sites, I’ve had close friends and mere acquaintances use their birthday’s as a chance to fundraise for a cause of their choice. It’s been fun to see that and I’d like to encourage it to continue as an alternative to further consumption.

My idea is a bit different, and it’s inspired by this passage:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. (Luke 14:12-14)

Though I’m not positive what to make of Jesus’ statement or following parable, I do think he meant it more literally then figuratively. And so I find it quite sad that 2000 years later, many “christ-followers” (myself included) seem far from following anything close to that statement of Jesus.

What if my birthday was a big banquet with those who couldn’t repay me? What if my birthday wish was for others to consider Christ words and hold their own banquets? Maybe it’s a reservation at a restaurant, maybe a meal at your home, or a party in the park. I’m not quite sure, I’d just think a great birthday wish would be for us to take Jesus’ words and “crazy ideas” a little more seriously. That’s my birthday wish.

[photo credit]

John Piper’s Tornado: Exaggerations and Doubts

heart_tornadoIf you haven’t heard, John Piper’s god sent a tornado through downtown Minneapolis last week to tell Lutheran’s not to let gay people become pastors. Let me clarify two things before I get to what this incident rose in my mind: 1) I do not agree with Piper at all on this, 2) Piper’s sermons and books were instrumental in my early faith growth and I have a great deal of respect for him. But on to what I want to write about: exaggerations and doubts.

Piper’s view of this tornado was, at best, an exaggeration (there’s probably a better term [and a whole lot of much harsher ones], but I’m using this one). There are hundreds of tornados a year and to point out this minor one, which happened to damage the steeple of a church, the hand of God seems like a stretch to me. There are a lot of people who believe in christianity and in God doing miracles and speaking through the natural realm even today. I think you could draw a spectrum from “no miracles” to “everything that happens is a message from god” and most people fall somewhere along that spectrum. I could be wrong, but I bet most folks, even some of the more charismatic types, would see Piper’s tornado as an exaggeration.

Now, anyone whose picked up and read a bible, or heard some of the stories, knows there are a lot of crazy miracle/hand-of-God type things in there: Moses parts the Red Sea, God floods the earth, Jesus heals people’s sicknesses and diseases, the walls of Jericho crumble. Christians tend to take those stories at face value, if you believe in a super-natural God there’s no reason those things couldn’t have actually happened just as they’re written. Other folks see the bible as a mythical story, maybe based on actual history, similar to many others told of gods and goddesses and their interaction with the natural world. They see it as best an exaggeration. One example of this division I can think of Moses parting the Red Sea. You’ve maybe hard something similar: “Some scholars believe that it was actually “Reed Sea” not Red Sea, just knee deep and that’s how the Israelites were able to cross it.” And someone will respond, “But if that’s the case, then isn’t it a miracle that the entire Egyptian army drown in knee deep water!” One group believes God is at work and attributes miraculous acts to God. The other group believes devout followers exaggerate natural events as miracles for their fictitious deity.

For several years, I’ve counted myself in the God does miracles camp. I believe some sort of super-natural being exists and I see no reason to believe that being couldn’t do super-natural miracles. So, I’ve read the Bible and had no problem assuming those stories could have actually happened, just as they’re written. Over the years, I’ve had my doubts about God and faith and a great many things, but I never spent much time debating the validity of the miracles recorded. If God exists, I don’t see any reason they couldn’t be true; if God doesn’t exist, there’s a good chance they aren’t true.

Enter Piper’s Tornado. If John Piper, a devout, respected, faithful, bible-reading-and-believing pastor can equate a tornado damaging a church with the hand of God, how many of the devout followers of God in the Bible exaggerated the stories and miracles they wrote about?

This conclusion didn’t shake up my own faith, I’ve heard enough of these sorts of declarations from others, but I don’t think it’s a good testimony to the evangelism Piper claims to be about.

The Church of Derek Webb

derekwebbOver the last few years, one consistent ‘pastoral’ voice in my life has been the music and lyrics of Derek Webb. Derek used to play with Caedmon’s Call, a band I was introduced to and thoroughly enjoyed during my high school years. Several years back Webb started doing his own solo albums, all of which have been great, but the last three of which have spoken words of encouragement, conviction and compassion into my life.

Most of his lyrics these days would be considered too political, too controversial, or too explicit for most churches, he doesn’t seem to be getting invited to many christian concerts or worship services either. But, if he had a church, I’d go to it.

I’ve struggled a lot with faith over the last nine years, and amidst that struggle I’ve grown a lot in my awareness of the world, my understanding of the Bible and what Jesus said and did while he walked the earth. I find myself in this mysterious place, trying to reconcile my beliefs and values that I have now with the faith I still believe in, but that looks nothing like the faith I embraced in high school and still see so many embracing today. Derek Webb’s music has been a saving grace in my life, speaking in lyrics and melody, the beautiful ways my faith and values align.

You should seriously just listen to all his stuff, like now. Here’s a whole album for free: Mockingbird. And here’s a five set playlist for you to listen to right now of some of my favorites:

  1. Rich Young Ruler
  2. This Too Shall Be Made Right
  3. What Matters More
  4. Savior on Capitol Hill
  5. Wedding Dress

Seriously, if you want more I’ll send you a nice personal mix.

*Webb would not like this post title I don’t think. He said this in an interview about his newest album:

“I don’t go into records thinking, ‘OK what am I going to go after this time, what big controversy am I going to stir.’ These just happen to be the things that occupy my mind. I don’t know how else to say it. And as an artist, the resources that I have to tell my story, to communicate to people what I see when I look at the world, are melody and lyrics and rhythm. And I try to do that. I don’t do it intentionally to be provocative, I don’t do it intentionally to be a leader or communicate a message. I really don’t. I’m literally just a person trying to live my life and do my job. Lord knows, there are easier ways to sell records than this.”

In Print: Feast of Fools, by Ariah Fine

Feast Of FoolsI recently received a copy of the summer CONSP!RE Magazine, in which I have an article. It’s a brief article about working with a group called Food Not Bombs. If you want to get a print copy you can find out where to pick them up here (they’re free!).

Here’s the article:

Feast Of Fools

Several years ago, I started hanging out with a group of folks called Food Not Bombs, an international revolutionary movement “sharing free vegetarian food with hungry people and protesting war and poverty.” We redeemed food from the excess trash of our consumer culture, and made delicious stews, pastas, and sandwiches. Then, each Sunday, we’d host a party in the park, potluck style, for everyone. It was a beautiful snapshot of what the kingdom of God might look like.

I attended church on Sunday mornings, and then help out with Food Not Bombs. I regularly invited people from church to come and help out, seeing this as a perfect opportunity to live out the faith we talked and prayed about. Unfortunately, I’ve had no takers. They invariably would opt to go eat at a restaurant instead.

Strange: I had been looking around for people who were living out the words of Jesus and actually caring for the “least of these,” and I found it in a bunch of people who wanted nothing to do with church. Who are the Christ followers? The ones who wake up on Sunday and gather to talk about Jesus? Or the ones who never mention his name yet enact what he called his disciples to do?