Category Archives: Featured

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?

Story of Nonviolence: Resisting the Nazis

Nazi Postcard (Front) by PUL.Nazi Germany is often mentioned when I have conversations regarding nonviolence, particularly related to it on the international level regarding war. I’m going to again quote The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink, at length. This is a great and brief summary of the nonviolent action that effectively resisted the Nazis:

The brutalities of the Nazis stand for many people as the ultimate refutation of nonviolence. Surely, they reason, only violence could have stopped Hitler. The facts indicate just the opposite. Nonviolence did work whenever it was tried against the Nazis. Bulgaria’s Orthodox Biship Kiril told Nazi authorities that if they attempted to deport Bulgarian Jews to concentration camps, he himself would lead a campaign of civil disobedience, lying down on the railroad tracks in front of the trains. Thousands of Bulgarian Jews and non-Jews resisted all collaboration with Nazi decrees. They marched in mass street demonstrations and sent a flood of letters and telegrams to authorities protesting all anti-Jewish measures. Bulgarian clergy and laity hid Jews. Christian ministers accepted large numbers of Jewish “converts”, making it clear that this was a trick to evade arrest and that they would not consider the vows binding. Ron Sider and Richard K. Talor comment, “Because of these and other nonmilitary measures, all of Bulgaria’s Jewish citizens were saved from the Nazi death camps.”

Finland saved all but six of its Jewish citizens from death camps through nonmilitary means. Of 7,000 Danish Jews, 6,500 escaped to Sweden, aided by virtually the entire population and tips from within the German occupation force itself. Almost all the rest were hidden safely for the balance of the war. Denmark’s resistance was so effective that Adolf Eichmann had to admit that the action against the Jews of Denmark had been a failure.

The Norwegian underground helped spirit 900 Jews to safety in Sweden, but another 756 were killed, all but 20 in Nazi death camps. German wives of Jews demonstrated in Berlin on behalf of their husbands in the midst of war, and secured their release for its duration. In Italy, a large percentage of Jews survived because officials and citizens sabotaged efforts to them over to the Germans.

During the Nazi occupation of Holland, a general strike by all rail workers practically paralyzed traffic from November 1944 until liberation in May 1945–this despite extreme privation to the people, who held out all winter without heat and with dwindling food supplies. Similar resistance in Norway prevented Vidkun Quisling, Hitler’s representative, from imposing a fascist “corporative state” on the country.

The tragedy is that even though nonviolence did work when used against the Nazis, it was used too seldom. The Jews themselves did not use it, but continued to rely in the main on the passive nonresistance that had carried them through so many pogroms in the past. And the churches as a whole were too docile or anti-Semitic, and too ignorant of the nonviolent message of the gospel, to act effectively to resist the Nazis. –The Powers That Be, Walter Wink, p.151-153

[photo credit] [quote typing credit]

Story Of Nonviolence: A Victim Cares For His Mugger

Julio Diaz

I think I’ll probably jump all over with these stories, from small individual acts, to larger more collective ones. This story I came across last year when some friends pointed me to it. It’s a neat story because Julio Diaz seems to be taking a page right out of Jesus’ playbook (“if someone takes your coat…”). Here’s the story:

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, “like what’s going on here?” Diaz says. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Diaz replied: “If you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me … hey, you’re more than welcome.  (read the rest of the story here)

I think we don’t realize that criminals are people too, often hurting people. I want to always keep that in my mind and experience every encounter as a chance to love others, like Julio Diaz chose to do.

Do you know of any other stories like this?

Compassion Ad Get’s It Wrong

Compassion Ad in Leadership Magazine

I got a copy of Leadership Magazine in the mail yesterday. I forget why, but it showed up and so I started a quick skim through it. This ad caught my eye. Before I start, let me just say that I am a big fan of Compassion and the work they do. I’m also not bothered by using advertising and appealing to Christians in the USA to give. What I do have a problem with is the wording and what I see to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus says.

The ad on the left, with a picture of two young boys sleeping on a mat on the floor, reads:

They Are The Needy.

You Are The Blessed.

We Are The Pipeline Between.

Anyone who knows of Compassion can understand the appeal. Consider sponsoring a child through Compassion, since you have money and they need food, shelter and education.

However, this seems to be counter to what I read Jesus saying:

“Blessed are the Poor.”

Apparently, blessing and need are not mutually exclusive, and one can hypothesize, money might not be a blessing at all. This sort of language bothers me because it continues to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality and allows us to do acts of ‘charity’ from a sort of pious and self-righteous position. It’s along the same lines of my critique of mixing up the words “unsaved” and “least of these.”

I believe a more accurate advertisement would draw out of us an emotion of the need for justice, and would compell us to give not out of a place of privilege and superiority, but out of our own need to move ourselves from participating in injustice to justice. Jesus words to the “You” in this ad (the people with the money) wasn’t that they were “blessed”, no they were “woe”ed.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”

So, what would be a more accurate advertisement? I’ll give it one shot…

They are Blessed with the Kingdom, but have physical needs

You have money to meet their needs, and wouldn’t it be cool to support the Kings and Queens of God’s Kingdom?

We are the Pipeline to getting you out of Jesus’ “Woe” category…

Do you have any creative ad ideas? I’ll email the best ones to Compassion.

A Rant: Problems With Prayer

PrayerThis is going to be a thoughtless rant of sorts, so before I launch into it let me preface things first. I used to really enjoy my own personal prayer time (during high school), but in the past several years have had difficulty praying for any sustained amount of time on my own. But, that’s not what this is about. For a while, after that, I found it encouraging to pray in groups. This is not a rant against prayer itself; many from all different faith systems find prayer to be a very important and powerful act in their lives, I in no way want to diminish or belittle that.  But, blame it on my cynicism, or my wrestling with Jesus’ words, but there are some things about the way we choose (“we” because I’ve been guilty of it too) to pray that just annoys me sometimes. I wonder if it’s just my own preference, or if it’s a proper rebuke in line with Jesus’ on the Pharisees*, you’ll have to be the judge of that.

Set-Change Prayers

These are the times where the pastor or music leader asks you to bow your head in prayer while the band gets on or off the stage. If you were at a play or musical they would just fade the lights and make their transition. We like to spiritualize it. The worst is when the pastor is finishing his sermon, we bow to pray, and then toward the end of the prayer, magically, music starts to play. It’s definitely a top notch transition, but I find using prayer for this type of thing seems to diminish it.
A side rant on this is the fact that parents so often insist that their kids be still and silent during prayer times, and yet here we are watching grown adults use prayer time as their cue to get in place.

Performance Prayer

What this looks like is pretty varied, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Think of anytime you’ve been in a group with your eyes closed but then you look up and peek just to take a look at the person praying. This doesn’t have to be breaking out into song or speaking in tongues necessarily (nor am I saying those things are only a performance), but it is usually some for of performance that gives you the strange feeling they are doing this more for your entertainment then for God’s listening ear.

Lecture Prayer

This is similar to Performance Prayer (maybe a sub-category), but in the form of a lecture or lesson. This is probably the most annoying type of prayer to me and yet one that happens frequently.  Pastors do this a lot, using the prayer before or after their sermon to add to the lesson they’re giving. And we seem to do it a lot in large group settings.  I’d liken it to a student in a classroom, raising their hand to speak with the professor, standing up and, rather then dialogging with the professor, launching into their own speech to their fellow students. It’s not that giving examples or illustrations to others is bad, but when we do it as a “prayer” it diminishes the point of prayer completely. If prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God, then conversations or lectures directed toward others should be left out of it.

The “I’ll pray for you” Prayer

This one actually isn’t a prayer at all. It’s an excuse to not action or it’s simply used as a Christian cliche or facade (something we are supposed to say). This isn’t a new thing, James rebuked this in the Early Church. It’s an oft repeated phrase when church groups go to the soup kitchen or on missions trips, when tangible help is not outside of our means, but outside of our willingness to respond. In the church, it’s fallen to the same sort of apathy, a cliche line we tag on the end of a conversation or a concern someone shares. It lacks relevance and, to me, seems to be one of the areas the church claims divine involvement, but I see very little tangible evidence.

I could be wrong about all this, “I’ll pray about it” and let you know. 😉

[photo credit]

HELLO My Name Is….


Here’s a brief Christmas/Hanukkah wish of mine: I’m interested in who reads my blog. So, this will be a very brief post, but my wish is this, stop by and leave a comment on this post and tell me who you are and where you are from. There are quite a few that comment only occasionally and some who have probably been hiding out and never said a word. But even for those who’ve commented many a times, I’d love it if you’d just stop by and get the list going. For an extra bonus point, let me know how you came across my blog.

Thanks! Your the best!

(So, Comment Below: Who Are You and Where Are You From?)

My December Experiment: Female Pronouned God

For 26 years I’ve grown up hearing “God” referred to with male pronouns. Occasionally it’s acknowledge that God is neither male nor female, but following the tradition of our male-centric, paternalistic society (and original bible writers) we refer to God as a male, frequently and often.
For reasons, whether doctrinal or societal, we are hesitant to move away from, in any way, referencing God (specifically the God God part of the trinity [Jesus, Holy Spirit, God]) in any feminine term or pronoun.  Any attempt to do so is often written off as “new agey” or “feminist” as if referring to God as a “he” is one of the central doctrinal issues of our faith. Yet, we do acknowledge that God is spirit, and though extremely rare there is scripture acknowledging female attributes of God.
The truth is that both males and females have been impacted by this “male” God and what that means for us as people, individuals and within our gender. My wife has spoken about the impact she’s felt it’s had on her, not just of seeing God as male, but the near silence or absence of woman’s value and voice in the scriptures she sees as the foundation of her faith.
One month is not nearly enough to reverse any long term psychological impact, but for the month of December (or longer), I’d like to refer to God as a female (with female pronouns). We currently do this to a small degree in our own home, but I haven’t moved beyond.
I’ll refer to God as “she” in my blog posts (I’d encourage others whom I read or read here to do this as well), around and amongst family and friends, and in any other “God” talk. I won’t go out of my way to say it and make a scene, but I won’t shy away from it either.
I’ll write about the impact the experiment has had on me and how I think about God.
I’d love to hear your feedback or thoughts on this topic, and if there are any others who want to experiment with me I’d love to have some fellow adventurers.

Watch Out! Here Come The Holidays! I’ve mused in previous years, this is often a difficult time of year for me. As Thanksgiving comes and goes and the holidays roll upon us, I find my values confronted in all sorts of awkward ways. While most of our country spends the last month or so of the year merrily spending and giving all with good cheer, I grumpily mumble to myself about my inability to live out my convictions amidst this mass of Santas. This year though, I’m gonna start earlier. I had some regrets in past years and I’m hoping to try and begin addressing those by being more active this year regarding my convictions. And it starts with this brief post on some of the ways I intend to do that.

  • Mention Buy Nothing Day and Encourage Others To Participate – The day after Thanksgiving begins this insane buying frenzy. Buy Nothing Day is simply an opportunity to refuse to join the consumerism train and creatively oppose it. Last year my brother and I thought about doing something but we passed, maybe this year will actually try it…
  • Make a List – As much as I try and avoid it, there are people who will buy me things and there are actually things I would like to have. Making a list, a modest one, will give the opportunity to fulfill both their need to give and a few of my wants. Look I just started one (don’t you go and get me everything now).
  • Speak up Politely and Informatively about Consumerism – With a little prep work (remembering statistics, avoiding harsh criticism) I think I could carry on a good casual conversation about the issues of consumerism and Christianity that impact my views about the holiday season. There’s even a cool video about it (cool videos convey so much more then my incessant rambling).
  • Start Thinking about Gifts to Give Others and Make Some – In my Scroogish attitude I tend to overlook even the opportunity to be creative in my giving to others. I’ve done a cool thing or two in the past, but this is really an opportunity to show others you care, so I’ll take some time and be creative.

I think that’s a decent start for now. I’d really like to figure out how to begin to teach my daughter that this season is about giving to others, just like every day and month and year of our lives. For now, it’s all about baby steps.