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..
“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..
What one piece of advice would you offer to a newborn infant? That was the question that kicked off our conversation at Pub Theology Holland last night. After a few quips like: “Go back!” and “A newborn infant wouldn’t be capable of understanding advice,” we decided to stretch it out to a child somewhere between 5 and 8 years old.
Then some real wisdom began to come out around the table. Here are a few of the gems that were shared: Continue Reading..
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 Converts to outdated conventions or to a dualistic religion of escapism: “Believe this and go to heaven.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…
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov 21) — Had a great week this week joining other instigators at the CANA Initiative gathering, which happened here in Washington, DC.
It was a few days of brainstorming over what might come out of a network of networks bringing a range of people together who are ready to dream about, live into and experience a new kind of faith. A collaboration of collaborators—each seeking to make this world a better place—driven by the dreams of the prophets and Jesus and filled with a longing for the kingdom of God.
As Philip Clayton put it, sometimes you have to kick up the dust to see where the wind is blowing. Much dust was kicked up, including vital challenges from Anthony Smith and others on the need to expand the diversity present in the conversation from the outset (see his initial response here).
What in the world is CANA? Glad you asked. Here’s a synopsis that was created to capture some of the ethos:
CANA is a collective of Christian leaders, organizations and networks across the United States who collaborate to embody and act on a courageous, liberating and compassionate faith.
What do we love and what do we hope?
– To follow the movement of the Spirit by seeking reconciliation with God, our neighbors, and the earth; by making a fierce and constant commitment to God’s justice; and by nourishing generous Christian communities that unapologetically proclaim and seek God’s kingdom in their shared life and in the world.
– To connect around a liberating moral vision for America and do more together than we could ever dream alone.
– To participate in God’s reign of love breaking in everywhere and in everyone.
What will we do?
Broadly, we will engage in constructive, collective action. Specifically, we will …
– CONNECT groups and institutions that share common loves and common hopes, gathering a network of networks that embody a positive, progressive, courageous, and compassionate Christian ethos.
– ADVOCATE for this new ethos by engaging in passionate, constructive and civil conversation with the wider public and within broader religious, civic and educational structures.
– NOURISH those who embody this ethos by creating diverse communities of encouragement and accountability; networked structures that are sustainable and expandable; and a sustainable financial base.
– ACT by identifying shared priorities and issues, collaborating across denominations, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and organizational specializations for the sake of the common good.
A few more thoughts from the CANA website:
The CANA Initiative participants share a sense of exploration, creativity, challenge and opportunity in this pivotal and dynamic moment. Because we are rooted in a generous Christian heritage, we are eager to collaborate with people of other faiths, and those seeking the common good. Our networks of dialogue and action thus extend beyond Christian communities to persons of all faiths, as well as to communities that are not themselves faith-based. We welcome allies and allegiances wherever we find common cause.
The CANA Initiative seeks to translate critical thinking about the past and present into creative collective action for the future, and to do so in a spirit that is positive, irenic, sympathetic, and generous. We welcome people from a wide spectrum of theological, political, and ethnic traditions. We encourage a wide range of ecclesial structures. The CANA Initiative sees this diversity as a sign of health and vitality.
Along the way, we were blessed with much poetry from friend Gary Paterson from the United Church of Canada, including this gem from Boris Novak, Croatian poet:
by Boris Novak (tr. Dintinjana)
Between two words choose the quieter one.
Between word and silence choose listening.
Between two books choose the dustier one.
Between the earth and the sky choose a bird.
Between two animals choose the one who needs you more.
Between two children choose both.
Between the lesser and the bigger evil choose neither.
Between hope and despair choose hope: it will be harder to bear.
The events began Tuesday evening with dinner in the home of the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, Gary Hall. He and his wife were delightful hosts as we began to reconnect with familiar faces and quickly met some new ones. Since it was happening in our town, we invited a few house guests to stay with us, coming from places like LA, Denver, Atlanta, Charlotte and elsewhere. Left over wine and desserts were brought to our house Wednesday night as a vibrant after-party kept the good conversations going. It was a rich few days of thinking, collaborating, networking, discovering, and dreaming. Looking forward to seeing where things lead!
— Were you at CANA this week? Would love you to include a line or two of your experience—hopes, dreams, cautions—below.
UPDATE: Here’s one from my partner in crime, Christy: That moment on your life path when you come to a deep level of knowing —knowing you are not alone, but are walking with many others to a similar rhythm that somehow transcends categories, understanding and language. And you want to pause. And listen. And grow into the pulse of it.
So grateful for a few days of stumbling around and processing with all the inspiring initiators of the CANA Initiative!
You’ve read, perhaps, about churches making use of beer to gain traction in connecting with people. NPR put it more starkly in a story recently: “To Stave Off Decline, Churches Attract New Members With Beer.” But you’re skeptical. And I don’t blame you. It sounds like a gimmick. Trying to be trendy. Throwing a few jokes into a stale sermon to appear witty, humorous, relevant. Young. People increasingly like beer. People increasingly don’t like church. So it makes a certain amount of sense. You can’t blame churches for trying.
I have my own experience connecting beer and faith. I help facilitate pub theology gatherings every week. Pub theology is simply open conversation over a pint. You’re still skeptical. “So, you go the pub to drink beer,” you might say. “Great. Some of us are actually spending time doing things that matter. Helping the poor, working on housing and jobs, advocating for justice, mentoring people and more. Going to the pub to talk about faith seems like it increases what we don’t need any more of: talk. Why do we need more talk? More hot air does not make the world a better place.” You might conclude: “Pub theology is a waste of time.”
I’ve heard some criticism along these lines, and I’ve had some of these thoughts myself. Pub theology — gathering with folks to talk about life over beer — is nice. But isn’t it time to start doing some things that really matter? Isn’t it just dressing up a relic without really changing anything?
I wonder, though, if there isn’t a small flaw or two in this line of questioning: it assumes that pub theology is the only thing one is doing. Or that one is doing it as a gimmick to attract new church members. Neither of those things is true. Pub theology is not the newest trendy outreach effort. It is open, honest conversation, wherever that leads. It may lead someone to your church. It may also lead someone out of it. Now if you’re a regular reader of mine or follow me on social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that pub theology is all I do. If it was, I think I’d be in heaven already. But that’s for another discussion!
So I hear these legitimate questions and critiques and occasionally wonder to myself: maybe pub theology isn’t so worthwhile. Maybe I need to find something else to do on Tuesday nights.
And then we have an evening in which a Buddhist sits across from an atheist, and a liberal Lutheran sits across from a conservative evangelical. A member of a Unity church pulls up a chair. And the discussion is rich, full, and meaningful. We talk about issues of justice, evil, and whether or not an all-powerful God is culpable for the bad things that happen in the world. Some share stories of hope and powerful religious experience, while others talk about why the church is no longer the place for them, and still others say they’ve abandoned God years ago.
Is all that is happening here just “talk”? When we can sit and learn from someone who gave up his Catholic faith in college and has subsequently been practicing Buddhism for over 30 years, something is happening. When an atheist who gave up his religious views because of deep philosophical considerations, yet is interested in issues of meaning and life enough to join us and contribute — something is happening. When a person who hasn’t stepped into a church for years, but still considers herself spiritual pulls up a chair to listen: something is happening. When ten of us from very different perspectives can wrestle together about questions like — “Can violence make the world a better place?” or “Is the weight of history unbearable without the idea of God?” or “Is privacy a God-given right?” — something is happening. When we build relationships with a bartender, a server, a pub owner, something is happening. When a beer distributor attends an interfaith event during DC Beer Week and says, “Man, this is so refreshing compared to other beer events I go to,” something is happening. When someone says, “I just don’t go to church anymore because it doesn’t mean much, but I come here because it is participatory, thoughtful and open” — something is happening.
And so as I reflect on the ongoing place of gatherings like pub theology and similar events, I liken it more and more to a spiritual discipline or practice. In other words, it is something that I intentionally participate in because it shapes me in important ways (again, it is not a gimmick to attract new members — though some might seem to use that approach). And like any other discipline or practice, it isn’t everything. So it isn’t fair to compare it to something that it isn’t, and that it isn’t trying to be. It isn’t those things, and it doesn’t need to be. It is one thing, among many things that a person might be involved in. And like a practice of, say, contemplative prayer — which incorporates deep moments of silence, one might say of it: “Nothing is happening. You should be doing something.”
Yet when I engage in contemplative practice, though it appears nothing is happening, much is happening: deep wells are being opened up within me. Space is created which heightens my awareness, deepens my senses, gives me more patience and love in which to encounter the very real challenges that life contains. My connection to the Spirit of God is renewed. It is far from nothing. In silence, I find that much is happening. And as a discipline, when I participate in it regularly and intentionally, it adds to the other things I am doing, which includes engaging in “action” and more visibly constructive types of things like building relationships in my neighborhood, being an activist for issues like peace instead of war, dismantling mass incarceration and recidivism, tuning in to environmental /climate realities and how I might be a participant in and advocate for the natural world, creating a community of people seeking to engage their world while deepening a connection to Jesus and more.
And so pub theology, like prayer, or fasting, or Scripture reading, is a discipline. One might be tempted to ignore or skip such a practice in favor of ‘doing more’. But when I skip it, I miss out. I miss out on learning from people with experiences and perspectives that are vastly different from my own. I miss out on constructive dialogue on issues we all face together. When I am tempted to abandon the practice, I remember that for some folks, this is a first step toward re-engaging their spiritual side, or their first chance to speak honestly about their doubts, and is perhaps their only opportunity for deep, constructive dialogue and reflective thinking.
It is also, in a way, like preventive medicine. When I know someone as a person, I am less likely to judge them harshly based on preconceived stereotypes. If I know a peace-loving evangelical or Muslim, I am less likely to judge all evangelicals or Muslims as endorsers of violence. If I meet a deeply thoughtful, liberal Christian, I realize that they aren’t just about feelings or dismissing orthodoxy, but are about careful, deep reading of Scripture and tradition. If I meet an atheist, I may well realize through her caring presence that atheists are just as thoughtful and intentional as anyone else. If all I have are stereotypes, I’m likely to help perpetuate them.
So is pub theology just talk? Yes. And no. It is deep relationships. It is barriers coming down. It is stereotypes being proven wrong. It is new friendships occurring. It is lines being crossed. It is deep thinking about the issues we all face as humanity, being discussed from varying perspectives. It is a movement to deeper understanding, where new possibilities are opened up. It is a practice that I value deeply, and — in many different ways, under many different titles — it is happening all over, and needs to be happening, and I’m glad to be a small part of it.
TONIGHT at our regular Pub Theology DC gathering, we’ll be LIVE TWEETING – you can join us in person, at the Bier Baron at 1523 22nd St NW – just a few blocks west of the Dupont Circle Metro stop, or you can jump in on the conversation via Twitter using #pubtheology. Be sure to follow me (@bryberg) and (@pubtheology). Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
If you could name the street you live on what would you call it?
If you received an extra burrito when ordering at your local shop would you say something?
True or false: We should be wary of any efforts to improve human nature.
Did you march on Saturday? Are you marching tomorrow? Does marching lead to justice?
Did Jesus pay for our sins? In what way?
Is hell a just punishment for sinful people?
WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! Come on down and join us for a pint, or grab your smart phone, a craft-brewed pint, and hit the Twitters! Starting at 7pm.
WASHINGTON DC – I live down the road from the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which served more than 150,000 active and retired personnel from all branches of the military before moving to its new location in Bethesda, MD.
In 2006, yoga teacher Robin Carnes began teaching yoga at Walter Reed to returning soldiers suffering from severe cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“It’s cleansing — I really feel refreshed,” Marine Sgt. Senio Martz said after finishing a recent yoga session.
“Once dismissed as mere acrobatics with incense, yoga has been found to help ease the pain, stiffness, anger, night terrors, memory lapses, anxiety and depression that often afflict wounded warriors,” notes Huffington Post blogger David Wood.
Alarmingly high suicide rates among veterans, as well as domestic violence, substance abuse and unemployment, suggested to some military doctors, combat commanders and researchers that conventional treatments, such as mind-numbing drugs, aren’t always enough.
Yoga and meditative practices are now gaining wide acceptance within hard-core military circles.
When she started at Walter Reed, Robin Carnes said, she was working with eight wounded troops with physical and mental health injuries. Some hadn’t slept for more than two hours at a time, for years, she said. “They were immediately like, ‘I can’t do this, it won’t work, you have no idea what’s going on in my brain.’ I’d say, ‘Just try it, it’s helped others.’ And probably because they were desperate — nothing else had worked, including drugs — they did try it. And I saw, sometimes within the first day, they started to relax. Snoring! They’d tell me, ‘I don’t know what happened, but I feel better.'”
One of her patients was struggling with outbursts of violent anger, a common effect of PTSD, and had gotten into raging arguments with his wife. Several weeks into regular yoga classes, Wood reports, he went home one day “and his wife lit into him and he could feel a confrontation coming on,” Carnes said. “He told me that he’d taken a deep breath and told his wife he was going upstairs to meditate. And that was the first time he’d been able to do that.”
“I knew anecdotally that yoga helped — and now we have clinical proof of its impact on the brain, and on the heart,” said retired Rear Adm. Tom Steffens, a decorated Navy SEAL commander and yoga convert. Within the military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said, “I see it growing all the time.”
“the military’s embrace of yoga shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, yoga — a Sanskrit word meaning to “join” or “unite” — dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation. Still, some old-timers are shocked to find combat Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and amputees at James A. Haley VA Medical Center practicing their deep breathing techniques.”
No Time For Silence
Now yoga and meditation are being utilized by the military not just for returning veterans, but on the front end: in training.
And not everyone is happy about it.
At the beginning of a regular radio address in January, the Family Research Council head, Tony Perkins, declared: “In the military, it’s out with God–and in with the goofy!”
What does he think is goofy?
Yoga classes being offered to military members.
Andrew Kirell at Media-ite reported that Perkins noted the “goofy” style of exercise has been used as a “wacky” substitute for a “personal relationship with God,” effectively driving religion out of the military.
“As part some new training, Marines are being asked to join weekly yoga and meditation classes,” he explained. “Sergeant Nathan Hampton said the idea took some getting used to. ‘Why are we sitting around a classroom doing weird meditating stuff?’ he wondered.”
Perkins neglected to mention that in the very same Washington Times article [where he got the quote], Sgt. Hampton continued on to explain that he warmed up to yoga and now enjoys the practice: “Over time, I felt more relaxed. I slept better. Physically, I noticed that I wasn’t tense all the time. It helps you think more clearly and decisively in stressful situations. There was a benefit,” he’s quoted as saying.
Nevertheless, Kirell reports that Perkins continued on:
“Former Army Captain Elizabeth Stanley says it’s to relieve stress. She’s the one behind M-Fit, or Mind Fitness Training. She insists the New Age approach ‘creates a sense of calmness, reduces drug and alcohol use, increases productivity, and improves working relationships.’
“What a coincidence–so does faith! Unfortunately, the military seems intent on driving religion out and replacing it with wacky substitutes,” he continued. “They’ve added atheist chaplains, Wiccan worship centers, and now, meditation classes. But none of them are as effective or as constructive as a personal relationship with God. Unfortunately, though, it’s mind over what matters–and that’s faith.”
Ugh. I scarcely know where to begin.
I’m glad to hear that some veterans are getting some treatment that is at least helping to some degree.
It’s frustrating, but probably unsurprising, that folks like Perkins would be offended and scared about people actually slowing down and pausing for some silence and paying attention to their minds, hearts, and bodies, rather than ignoring them.
I’ve found that meditative and contemplative practices give me space and clarity and patience, something all of us need. Not to mention that these practices can create space in which to connect deeply with God.
Why Perkins pits contemplation and yoga against faith is beyond me. Contemplative practice has been a huge part of faith, including the Christian faith, for centuries. I suppose, as a good evangelical, he keeps thinking that Christianity really only began with Dwight Moody, Billy Graham, and the rise of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. (Never mind that yoga practices are a fair bit older than Christianity.)
A few comments in reaction to this story:
“If the answer to everything is faith, why do they even have guns? I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t run around sporting a camo uniform over body armor and toting an assault rifle and hand grenades.”
“I assume then that [Tony Perkins] doesn’t practice yoga, leaving [him] inflexible in both body and mind.”
“The ancients evolved yoga as the means to getting control of consciousness; calming down in the process, thereby benefiting health– physical, mental, and also more subtly, the spiritual within us. The simple act of sitting and concentrating on one thing (meditation) offers all sorts of rewards, such as the ability to lessen reactions to emotional content that comes up (which directly helps those who’ve seen combat). Not to pretend them away, no, but to acknowledge and honor those difficult emotions, but not yielding any longer to them in a passive way. A spaciousness that is healing comes from the practice. It’s the difference between drifting and steering.”
“We need to grow up and realize that we, the Americans, aren’t the be all and end all of civilization(s) past, present and future. We should look for the best from all cultures, religions, beliefs and try to emulate those in our lives; not worry and complain because something that conflicts with our own religious beliefs is being used to great success. We should listen instead to those who preach inclusion. Our planet is small, we are many; it’s obvious to all forward thinking peoples that we will have to one day learn to live peaceably with each other. Our daily lives are filled with bombs, constant aggressive war, and ever-expansive military budgets to kill, maim and torture, but we hear nothing from Mr. Perkins, the Christian, on those subjects.”
“What’s goofy is having a “Family Research Council”. Especially one that doesn’t do any actual research.”
“Well, God forbid military personnel engage in practices that improve their physical health, mental health, and general well-being. I mean, what do soldiers need strength and flexibility for?! And stress relief for soldiers is just silly! I mean, it’s not like they have a stressful job that can result in PTSD, depression, or mental health issues that could lead to suicide or homicide, right? We just hand them a Bible instead. After all, wasn’t Jesus doing such a good job exercising and meditating with them before?”
“Freedom of religion for our troops? Now that’s just un-American!”
“Hopefully he soon realises that meditation is not a religious activity unless you want it to be, and that there is something called Christian meditation which allows for a deeper understanding and contemplation of God and [can] strengthen the bonds between the believer and the Christian Church.”
My favorite comment, though, comes from Wipf & Stock editor Charlie Collier:
Tony Perkins is confused. Yoga, in the “mind fitness” or “stress relief” form being explored by the military, is probably not incompatible with Christian faith and practice. However, the sacrificial cult at the heart of American civil religion—whereby our freedom is allegedly purchased by the blood of “our” soldiers (never “theirs”!)—constantly threatens to overwhelm the Christian understanding of the finality and universality of the cross of Christ. Adding a personal relationship with Jesus, as Perkins wants, would only add insult to the primary injury—replacing the sacrifice of Christ with the sacrifice of soldiers (not to mention all the others sacrificed in war, including many innocent women and children). If Perkins wants to combat idolatry in the American military, he’s going to need to get more root and branch about matters.
What do you think? Are yoga and meditation a threat or a complement to Christian faith? (Or general well being, for that matter).
“I thought I’d give Mike a listen. I just have one question for when he says that the carnage Newtown experienced this past Friday is due to the systematic removal of Christianity in schools and in the broader society ‘beginning 50 years ago.’ I was struck inwardly by this question: America has always been a violent society; from the near extermination of Native Americans; slavery of blacks; tyranny over woman; and our strong propensity to be exclusionary and violent toward people who do not look like us or live exactly like us.
OK… the question:
“Given your logic Mike is fair to say that given the history of carnage in America and exported by America that America has not really removed Christianity as it has barely tried it?”
Christianity has not been systematically removed, brother Mike. It’s just that we have barely lived it for nearly 300 years, not just the past 50.
And a few later thoughts by Anthony:
“This story is too tragic to become a political handmaiden to a version of Christianity that is nearly almost completely self-deceived [and] amnesiatic about it’s career in the Americas. We need a better story than this. Those small children deserve a better story than this. God have mercy on us.”