Knowing or Doing?

“The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek.” -William Barrett

I remember learning this distinction between these two ancient ways of thinking sometime shortly after high school when I was at YWAM. The basic idea that some saw “belief” as merely an intellectual exercise, and others as more a matter of action. Our society, and much of the church, is dominated by a Greek way of thinking. So, “believing” in Jesus is mostly a matter of praying a prayer or agreeing to a particular creed.

I’m not sure if it was some traditional Hebraic thinking in me or my love for the book of James, but I remember then immediately being hooked on this concept and that it only made sense that the Hebraic way of thinking, that belief was a matter of action, was the right way. And I still think that today.

I don’t deny that “thinking” and intellectual understanding of ones faith has relevance and impact, but if it’s not coupled with action it seems to lose credibility (though I am certainly not the judge of your beliefs or actions).

The church in the US, at least as I’ve experienced it, seems dominated by this Greek way of thinking. In most churches I’ve been in, if you do not say you believe the basic tenants, if your not a member of the church (which involves stating belief in those basic tenants of the faith), or if you express any intellectual doubt, you will be treated as one who is either not yet part of the fold or one who has fallen away or is in danger of doing so. Yet, that same measure seems to rarely be used in terms of ones actions (and I don’t just mean avoiding the big taboos or helping out at church). The church just doesn’t seem to care all that much if your life looks more like your consumeristic, secular, patriotic neighbor then your homeless, selfless, outcast Savior.

“I will show you my faith by what I do.” -James 2:18

Putting Politics Aside, Where is the Church?

When it comes to politics and faith I find a lot of Christians fall into one of two categories particularly when it comes to social issues: The church should care for the needs of the people (more republican leaning) or The church should influence the government to care for the needs of the people (more democrat leaning). Generally speaking, in theory, many agree that it’s a Christian thing to care for those in need, Christians just differ on how. But, then here is the crazy thing to me: both sides think something should be done AND both think the church should be a part of it. So, why aren’t we coming together to do these things?

In my experience, more liberal leaning Christians, in talk, are all about the social justice issues: feed the poor, care for the needy; and more conservative leaning Christians in political discussions are all about the church doing those very same things: feed the poor, care for the needy. Yet these two groups of folks, who are supposedly part of a unified spiritual body, seem to constantly be at odds, and mean while the poor starve and needs go unmet. Actions speak louder then words.

My guess is that in actuality neither side really cares about the needs of their neighbors. We all love a good debate and getting fired up and passionate and waxing eloquently about philosophical issues and how to solve world hunger, but we don’t really love our neighbors.

Healthcare Imagination from The Work Of The People

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.

Thoughts on a Public Faith

I’m a firm believer in faith and religious beliefs being an integrated part of ones daily life. And thus, I don’t believe ones religious opinions need to be regulated to private conversations amongst those you are sure you agree with, rather then openly discussing even with those with whom you do not agree.
That being said, I have to attribute my lack of thoughtful blogging lately to my inability to be too open with my faith, both my beliefs, and my struggles and doubts. A while ago, I attached my blog posts to my facebook notes, thus sharing my most recent thoughts not just with those interested parties who’d opted into a email or rss, but with long lost high school friends and college acquaintances. In some ways, it’s been a rewarding experiment. I’m a different person in many ways then I was in high school, and it’s a chance to share my current place with those who’ve been a part of my journey in earlier years.
At the same time, I’ve found the publicness (just made that up) to be a little too intimidating for me. Trying To Follow started as just my personal blog, but I’ve tended to write primarily under a theme of what I understand to be Christian values. The audience, you, have been faithful fellow sojourners, encouraging me along my walk, while hopefully being similarly encouraged and challenged in yours. Now, I was sharing thoughts with people who hadn’t even asked for them, and might not be as interested or as receptive. The intimidation caused me to freeze up and not really write anything at all.
So, why am I sharing all this with you? Mostly to say that I want to continue on this journey, this conversation about trying to follow, and I’d love for you to come along with me.

(Details: Here’s my current plan, I’m going to blog about faith specifically here on trying to follow. Most everything else I’m going to post at I’ll cross post if it’s relevant. Plan subject to change, batteries not included).

Help my Neighborhood win $50,000

Summary: If you like me and want to support the things that I do, sign-up at, to take less then a minute each day in April to vote for my community to win $50,000.

A short video explanation:

Longer Explanation: This is one of those internet voting contest, the kind I usually think are pretty annoying. However, in my research about it, I think we have a good chance of winning if we can get 500 committed people who will vote each day in April. I’m hoping not to spam facebook or twitter constantly with pleas to vote.

If won, I’d have the opportunity to help give $50,000 in small grants to all kinds of cool organizations and individuals with creative ideas and visions for building community in my neighborhood. It seems like an amazing opportunity. Even if we don’t win, encouraging the community to come together in an organized fashion toward a specific action has great benefits and can prepare us for other future actions.

The April contest is also just a trial run. In May, we hope to have 10 organizations from our neighborhood to support in the contest with their separate grant applications. Since each individual visiting the site can vote 10 times each day, we can support all 10 organizations at the same time. But that’s next month, for now we’re trying to see if we can actually come up with 500 supporters in April.

I’ve written a lot more on the actual site I created for rallying our efforts, you can read more about it there.


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