Culture

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

Reflections by Pastor Lee Ann Bryce of First Congregational UCC, Fort Worth, TX. Delivered during a Service of Lament, Healing, and Courage at Amistad Chapel UCC in Cleveland Tuesday. Shared with permission.

 

This is a beautiful church
and we’re grateful to be here,
but I want to talk for a moment about gay bars.
I came out as a lesbian many years ago
and I’ve noticed that at times,
particularly early in our movement for equality
gay bars have been referred to as a sort of necessary evil;
at one time, they were one of the few public places
where LGBTQ people could meet and be in community.
The truth is
long before we were widely welcomed in churches,
we were welcomed in gay bars.

And so to me, gay bars and nightclubs,

many of them at least,
are like churches.
Or at least like churches should be –
places where you are welcomed just as you are.
Continue Reading..

A Few Christian Objections

A Few Christian Objections

Reflections on the Kim Davis situation by Chris Lubbers

How about I, Jane Christian, refuse to issue a license plate for any car (or a license to any car driver) because of a Christian objection to unnecessary pollution? Sorry. Not on my watch. Efficient public transportation only.

I also refuse to grant a building permit to WalMart, or a Citibank, or a payday lender, because of my Christian objection to exploiting the poor. And no permits supporting any gentrification process. “Blessed are the poor.”

Sorry, you can’t build a prison here either. As a Christian, I object to locking people up when what they need is a home, or a community, or medical help. Continue Reading..

Our Best Life Now

Our Best Life Now

“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”

“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment.”

“When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.”

“Don’t simply settle for what your parents had. You can go further than that. You can do more, have more, be more.”

“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.”

        —Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now

Focusing on how we can better ourselves is a popular industry these days. Best selling books often focus on self-improvement, on self-image, on increasing wealth. There is even a niche within Christianity called the “prosperity Gospel” or the “health and wealth movement.”

If you do X, God will bless you with Y.

A simple formula. Enticing, even.

I wonder, then, if Joel Osteen is almost on to something. No really. Hear me out.

A question by a friend came up recently. He asked, “What is the gospel?”

An obvious answer seems to be: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” As in, you will go to heaven and live forever in peace. For many folks, it seems obvious that Jesus came to die so that you could live. I recall one of the first pub theology sessions I ever attended, where someone was adamant that the only purpose of Jesus’ life was to die on the cross.

As I’ve reflected on my own view on these things, I’ve realized that such a cosmic-formula approach to the gospel is not only not very compelling to me, but that it is hard to find in the pages of the Gospels themselves.

In fact, Jesus is asked directly on several occasions: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

His responses range from: “Obey the commandments” to “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” to “Sell all that you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” And in these encounters, Jesus often adds: “Do these things and you will live.”

In other words, Jesus doesn’t seem all that concerned with what happens after we die. He’s concerned with what is happening while we are alive. This was a common focus in Jewish thinking at the time—not to mention today—so it’s not all that surprising.

Yet it is surprising to many of us, because we’ve been so indoctrinated with the view that the gospel is primarily about going to heaven when we die.

Even when Jesus does tell stories or parables about heaven, they nearly always are rooted in how one is living a justice or other-centered life in this present existence. Think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) or the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25).

When Jesus begins his ministry, he began to say, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” Or the “kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, God’s presence is unfolding right now all around you. Time to open yourself up to that reality. Time to live in that presence.

And what does living in that presence mean? It means things like, “loving your neighbor as yourself” and “giving to those who ask” and “loving your enemies” and throwing parties where the very least in society are given a seat at the table. It means good news to the poor.

Joel Osteen is right.

So Joel Osteen is right. Or at least, almost right. I just hadn’t seen it before.

He famously tells folks how to have “your best life now.”

Jesus, it seems, was about our best life now. And by ‘best life’, I mean, a life where we together, as community, live generously and peacefully with one another in light of God’s gracious presence. Where we seek to care for and make space for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Where we creatively re-imagine the world as one where there’s enough for all, where we respond to enemies with love and forgiveness rather than violence, and where seating at the table isn’t determined by wealth, or societal position, or if it is – it’s the poorest first, and the lowest on the ladder who get the best spot.

Jesus wasn’t about an easy life, which is what one might take from the prosperity preachers. He told us to take up our own cross—in other words—to oppose the unjust structures and powers that be and fight the injustices of our own day. It may well cost us something. But if we’re committed to it, it really could turn into our—all of humanity’s—best life. Now.

I’m in. Who’s with me?

 


bryan-2Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, speaker, and author of the book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. He’s also a big fan of his kids, baseball, and a good scotch.

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Ecstatic about SCOTUS, but it took awhile

Guest post by Mike Clawson

20 years ago I would have been among those who believe today’s SCOTUS ruling signals the moral and spiritual decay of American society – a sign of the end times.

15 years ago I still thought homosexuality was a sin, but no worse than any others, and didn’t think Christians should be making such a big deal about it. Also, my political views had shifted and I no longer believed it was right for religious people to impose our morality on society by opposing equal rights for gay people. Continue Reading..

We Must Listen AND Respond

We Must Listen AND Respond

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.”

Ouch. That is the opening line in the position statement on homosexuality of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. I wonder how many gay individuals had a chance to review that before it went to press. I’m guessing not too many. That is a hurtful and embarrassing statement. I am ordained in the CRCNA. This statement does not represent me.
Continue Reading..

Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

Social Media: Living a Virtually Real Life

Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag. ― Jeremy Glass

Is social media “real life”? When we post photos of our kids playing the snow—is that real life? When we follow the Oscars via Twitter—is that real life? When we engage in heated discussions about politics on Facebook—is that real life? This was the topic at a couple of Pub Theology gatherings I attended this past week.
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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Guest post by Mark Sandlin.

Thanksgiving—it’s a day where we celebrate how a bunch of illegal immigrants invaded the native lands of an indigenous people and how those indigenous people ultimately met them with a kindness that they may not have deserved (sometimes known as grace). This Thanksgiving let’s be inspired to share that same kindness and grace with others. Continue Reading..

Why NOT to Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus quote

It is increasingly common to hear people question whether we should celebrate Columbus Day. My take is that it isn’t even a question. We should not celebrate this day. Unless we take a page from Seattle’s book and rename it: “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Shane Claiborne shares the following reasoning on why not to celebrate this day, and I wholeheartedly concur: Continue Reading..

3 Barriers Hijacking Christians’ Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

3 Barriers Hijacking Christians’ Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

Guest post by Jon Huckins 

Empathy-1024x540In recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders.

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch. Continue Reading..

If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

This an excerpt, read the full column on The Huffington Post.

Lately I’ve been getting a little flack for downplaying the importance of evangelism. I wrote a post recently entitled, “We Need Each Other,” celebrating diversity of various kinds: ethnic diversity, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and yes — religious diversity. But how could I celebrate this as a Christian, some have asked.

“Isn’t your central goal as a Christian to convert others to Christianity?”

“Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?”

I disagree with the first question. We’ll get to the second in a moment. I am not interested in making religious converts. Converts to a set of doctrines about somebody. Converts to a confined, cultural way of thinking. Converts to outdated conventions or to a dualistic religion of escapism: “Believe this and go to heaven. Get on board or go to hell. Our religion is the only true religion. Convert or die.” Or just as bad: “Convert and experience God’s wonderful plan for your life.” No, thank you.

Such an approach explains my hesitation when people ask if I’m excited about evangelism. In fact, if that’s your impetus, I’d say, just stop sharing. We don’t need more religiosity, more escapism, more fundamentalism, more prosperity-gospel-inspired materialism. Hence my hesitation about “evangelism.”

The second question — “Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?” — I am more prone to agree with. Following someone indicates a way of life. Following someone is something you do today. Following a set of teachings, a manner, an approach, an ideal — this I can get on board with, and is what I think Jesus was actually about. In the Great Commission, he called for the making of disciples — people who followed a teacher in order to bring about his or her vision of the world.

So I say, if you’re going to bring them to Jesus, then actually bring them to Jesus!

Bring them to the Jesus who was born an illegitimate child to peasant parents in an out-of-the-way place, in the shadow of power and empire. Bring them to the Jesus who told stories denouncing abuse of money, power and privilege. The Jesus who, in parables, helped people see the darker side of themselves while also inspiring with the reminder that the divine presence was hidden in plain view. The Jesus whose parables exposed systems of abusive power. The Jesus who…

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>>Click here to read the rest of the post.

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