Very well written, well thought out…thought provoking

Musings of a "not so good" Christian

“A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”         

I have heard this quote with more frequency in the last few years. I like it, but is it really true.

Here are a few vignettes and then my thoughts.

1980’s-Televangelist Jim Bakker accused of misappropriating money given to his ministry and to his Christian amusement park. He is denounced by those that were formally his friends and colleagues. Jerry Falwell steps into “help” and then assumes control of his ministry and rejects Rev. Bakker.

Around the same time Jimmy Swaggart, another televangelist is caught with his pants down (literally), in a hotel room with a sex worker. Through tearful sobbing on television and backroom strong arm tactics remains in ministry, but rejected by many other evangelicals as an embarrassment.

1990’s (?)- Mel White, a ghost writer for many leaders in the evangelical movement comes…

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Fundamentally Non Fundamentalist

Have seen this a lot, five features of fundamentalism. Can you see at least three of them in your own view?

(1) Dualistic Thinking: Fundamentalists are inclined to divide the world into clear binary categories. You are either good or bad, right or wrong, with us or against us. There is little room for nuance, qualification, and probabilities in the mind of the fundamentalist.
(2) Paranoia: Fundamentalists tend to have deep feelings of suspicion, bordering on rage, directed towards those who fall on the wrong side of the dualistic dividing lines. This paranoia is usually brought to the surface in a group context.
(3) Apocalypticism: An obsession with the ultimate ends for society and humanity. Usually has two components. First, the desire to witness or bring about the demise of the present form of existence; and second, the desire to participate in a new beginning.
(4) Charismatic Leadership: Fundamentalist groups are often founded by charismatic leader(s). Followers tend to be devoted to these leaders. A cult of leadership often arises.
(5) Totalised Conversion Experience: If the fundamentalist enters the group from the outside (either from another ideology or from a state of apathy), then they become totally immersed and committed to the fundamentalist viewpoint.

I LOVE diversity. I think our God is an artist and uses the full palette in the ongoing God-Roll of Creating. One of the things I really like about my life is my facebook list of friends. Rich and poor, gay and straight, old and young, Christian and all forms of “other,” white or not, traditional, contemporary, progressive, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Flaming Liberal, Dogmatic Conservative. It’s all there to see, in all its beauty and too, all its butt-uglyness!

The one diverse category that I don’t value is…Fundamentalism. And lately, it is creeping into unlikely places from unlikely sources.

Hard as I try, I find as I grow older that I tolerate it less, which I guess means it is becoming a fundamental for me to be NON fundamental. All of this is giving my mind and my theology a feedback loop that is screaming as painfully as when that piercing hum creeps into the sound system of a worship service, gnawing itself between me and the beauty of the musical harmony that brings me closer to God’s voice. Can I be fundamentally non fundamental?

Politics and theological discussions seem to bring out the worst in us as a society. I think since I have no candidate this year that I am even remotely “for” has made me step back and see things I have missed before. But maybe I’m just older and crankier.

Recently, I’ve seen some things that quite simply turn my stomach.

When the Chic-Fil-A bruhaha reared its ugly head, I saw good people on all sides draw lines in the sand. With most, I understood the line they drew, but hated to see it. I watched as people shocked me with comments that could not be anything less than a slap in the face against their gay and lesbian friends while proclaiming it was all to support free speech. Then they took it further and decried anyone who didn’t agree with them as anti American or even antichrists. And I watched helplessly a few my gay and lesbian friends proudly and (seemingly happily) unfriend dozens in their pain, declaring anyone who ate a chicken sandwich as un-Christian. All of this without trying to “get” the other side. Drawing a line and declaring if you are on the wrong side of this line, you are not a “real” Christian, not a “real” American, not a “real” friend. But then what about those caught in the middle. My friend who has worked at Chic-Fil-A for years, being treated well, supported and moving up the ranks. He’s a Christian. He’s also openly gay. Lord, it seemed for a while, he was beat up and labeled by all sides.

Again, I actually get it in some cases. I see your pain, recognize and value your convictions, but it pains me to see lines drawn between friends, Americans, and Christians. It hurts the WE in the long run.

The other area is of course politics. I’ve seen some of the most hateful posts on Facebook, blogs, etc lately from both major sides of the political arena. People posting the latest talking points turned into a funny picture–I get it, hell I’ve done it. My issue is with a few posts I’ve seen this last week or so. In one, a more liberal friend said anyone not voting for his guy was an idiot. In another, a more conservative friend said anyone not voting for her guy was stupid. Now, I don’t mean just lol name calling joke or cartoon. I mean, they are idiots or stupid because they disagree with the one true path of whatever ideology is being sold by the seller.

I’ve been called a racist (more than once) this week because I don’t like the idea of our having four more years of President Obama (I really don’t like the idea at all). I’m not. I’ve been called a socialist because I can’t find any comfort at all in the idea of a President Romney (Really, I can’t). I’m not that either. But in the midst of not particularly liking either of those men in the top office, I have yet to yield to name calling or judging for those who do. I still assume those who like either of them are sincere and are decent, upstanding Christians (if they are Christians), Americans (if they are from this country), Humans, friends. Well, I have the tools not to be exposed to those and have chosen to use those tools. I love ya, but don’t need to be considered less American, less Christian, or less human, less intelligent, etc.—I AM NOT LESS THAN just because I don’t agree with you or your particular ideology.

And so, herein lies the conundrum for me. As I peruse the above list (not anything official, but it rings true), I see two things.

1) As I think of MY traditional understanding of fundamentalist, I’ve always thought of theology and conservatives, but oddly enough, I’ve seen more of it from the liberal end of things this week and quite frankly, I find that disheartening. They should know better. Seriously. It does nothing for your cause for you to act the same way about judging others as those you seem to disavow.

2) I remember a conversation at one point with one of you about being tolerant of the intolerant. I may have to revise my thoughts on that. If I am going to be anti fundamentalist, can I be fundamentalist about it? You see, I have a predisposition against exclusion. Fundamentalism is ABOUT exclusion–you either fit in these parameters or you’re not in. I’m beginning to feel, to really believe, that you are not “really” following God if you decide to build walls out of fundamental bricks to keep the children of God at bay (doesn’t matter if your bricks are liberal or conservative, by the way)–to keep them out there, judged, marginalized, separate.

And yet, in my own thoughts of thinking them OUTSIDE the will of God–outside of God’s kingdom here on earth–I’ve crossed the same line.

The line that was crossed can be found in these very lines. I’ve moved somehow from being NON fundamentalist to being ANTI fundamentalist. And that’s the common theme. If you are acting out of a pro freedom of speech, good for you. If you are protesting against gays, bad for you. If you are fighting for gay rights, good for you. If you are anti Chic-Fil-A, bad for you. If you are pro Obama, good for you, anti Romney, bad for you, pro Romney, good, Anti Romney bad, etc, etc, etc.

I seem to have drawn a line in the sand. I have become fundamentally anti fundamental. God forgive me. God forgive us all. We can do better.

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Dwelling In Beulah Land

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Where do you live?

As the time draws near for me to make my goodbyes to yet another church in the Itinerant Life of a United Methodist Preacher to which I have been called and to which I have chosen to live, there are many sad thoughts.  Today I listened as my children expressed mourning for their current home, their current friends, school, and yes, their current church, I could easily sympathize.  This will be the fifth church I’ve said goodbye to in my ministry, and I must confess (with no ill will at all to my previous churches) that this is the hardest yet.  I have loved all my churches and this one I’ve been at for five years, five years that have been formative for the church, for me, and especially for my kids.  It’s hard to say goodbye.

The words from my daughter in particular were hard to hear–I don’t want to go to church today, I’ll just be sad when I’m reminded we only have one more Sunday after today and I don’t want to be sad.  I don’t even want to move–I just don’t!”

I actually believed the words I spoke to her, but still felt every pain she expressed.  I don’t want to leave either!  However, even as I begin to mourn my days at North Kannapolis United Methodist Church, I am also excited about the new opportunities at McKendree UMC–the next appointment to which I’m called and eagerly go.

It seems at times, all of us humans are called to choose between living in the past or the future or the imperfect fit of the present age and we don’t belong in any of them.  My sermon text for the First and Last Sundays at a church are always the same, from Isaiah 43 (The Message): 

Isaiah 43:16-21

The Message (MSG)

 16-21This is what God says, 
   the God who builds a road right through the ocean, 
   who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies— 
   they lie down and then can’t get up; 
   they’re snuffed out like so many candles:
“Forget about what’s happened; 
   don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. 
   It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, 
   rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ 
   —the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert, 
   rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose, 
   the people I made especially for myself, 
   a people custom-made to praise me.

There it is–out there in the future, where God is about to do a NEW thing.  I’ve always preached that the past is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  But if I’m not living in the past and I’m not yet living in the future, and while I technically live in the present, it’s not where my heart always is…where is it I am supposed to live?

In Beulah Land!  The idea of the Kingdom of Heaven from a theological and biblical understanding is that God’s kingdom is not yet fully revealed, but IT IS ALREADY BEGUN.  We live in the kingdom of God NOW, in the present, even though it’s not perfect yet.  We live, through faith, in the now, but not quite yet time of God’s Kingdom.

And in so doing, even though we can only see it as though looking through a dark glass dimly, we can still see it.  “THERE IT IS!  Can’t you see it?” Isaiah asks the question.  It’s something God is ABOUT to do, but Isaiah can see it and he expects God’s people to be able to see it, too.

I can’t live in the past, but I can learn from it.  I can’t live in the future, but I can see it.  I live in the present, but not fully as this is not my home.  So, where do I live?  What is the setting time-wise for my existence as both an itinerant preacher and as a Christian?  I’m dwelling in Beulah Land!

Where or when are you living?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKk78Q8jdKw

 

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Live Love Out Loud!

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For the overwhelming majority of us…

There will be no marker or museum at the house we lived in when we were born

There will be no city or street named after us

There will be no wiki page in our name

There will be no mention of us in the History Books taught to future generations

There will be no historical markers with our name on them

We will not be held up as an example in any political speeches now or in 100 years

In effect, we will leave very little lasting effect on this earth.

We WILL leave an effect on the lives and hearts of those we’ve touched in our own lives (either positively or negatively), but alas, that too, is only temporary as eventually everyone who knows us and will talk about us will, in their own time, pass into eternity.

But we CAN leave a permanent effect (either positively or negatively) on this earth by the morals and values that we teach and pass on through our actions and our words.  THIS can be passed on for generations to come, touching life after life far into the future, long after we have turned to dust.

We live and teach such things as faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Go and make a positive, potentially permanent mark on this world.

Go live LOVE out loud!

It’s the only way we get to participate in the forever promises of God’s love for all creation.

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Drive-By Sermons

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This just in from Aurora, Colorado: 

AURORA – A drive-by shooting investigation that killed one man has closed several lanes near the intersection of E. Alameda Avenue and S. Ironton St. Tuesday morning.

Police found the victim in a car parked on the east sidewalk of S. Ironton Street north of E. Alameda Avenue shortly before midnight.

The doors in the car were locked, and the victim was unresponsive when officers arrived. Officers broke a window, pulled the victim from the vehicle and performed CPR until paramedics arrived. The victim was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

From Wikipedia:

drive-by shooting (or drive-by) is a form of hit-and-run tactic, a personal attack carried out by an individual or individuals from a moving vehicle without use of headlights to avoid being noticed.] It often results in bystanders being shot instead of, or as well as, the intended target. The objective is to overwhelm the target by a sudden, massive amount of firepower without attention to accuracy.

So commonplace in our society, we can just say “driveby” and folks unfortunately know what it means.  There’s a sadness to it that comes from multiple angles.  1) Even though in many cases, society will simply think the intended victim deserved what was coming, there is the sudden, unexpected attack while folks are going about their business talking with friends or family, walking down the street, simply (at least at the time) minding their own business.  2) There are too often, innocents, unknown to the target or the victim, who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time–the saddest of course, being when young children are killed in their own homes by stray bullets from such an attack.  Far too often, statistically the overwhelming majority of these are on the fringe of society–the poor, the homeless, the under educated, the broken families.  3) The attacker simply leaves the scene quickly, while most or all of the victims have no idea who it even was.  Sometimes it is referred to as a “shoot n scoot.”  It is a cowardly, selfish, harsh, and heartless–carried out by someone with no thought of the full and complete consequences of their actions, concerned only with making a very public point, which most of the victims don’t even care about anyway.  Very sad.

According to Wiki, this tactic has been around for decades in military, assassinations, and gang violence.  Not surprisingly, it has been around in the Church culture for even longer.  We may not be aware of it, but the Internet has caused it to be more visible.

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Too many of our Christian brothers and sisters participate in these drive by sermons.  They come along, see an opportunity to deliver a good one liner, generally aimed at trying to prove some point, using Scripture as a weapon, er, sorry–guide for their words.  Then after delivering the shooting they scoot on, patting themselves on the back for a job well done.  Yes, they’ve shared God’s word, acting as spokesperson and publicist for the Almighty–the creator and savior of the universe.  

I suppose (but do not know) that there is some perverse pleasure taken when they lay their heads down on their pillow at night, that they sure “told them.”  They are not around for the aftermath, the fallout, the grieving, those that are knocked down and need help getting picked back up.  They are so confident that they are simply doing God’s will, that they are not aware, or worse, not concerned with the innocents caught up in the random fire of their ambush style assault–folks that were just minding their own business, living life.  The “little children” of God, some grown up, some estranged children, some who have left the nest either as prodigals or as refugees, but nevertheless, those that need God’s love the most.  These are the ones on the fringe of our own Christian society, the outcast, the poor, the marginalized.  Instead of hearing words of welcome and love, they hear the condemnation of those who wear the label–follower of Christ.  And the excuse used when someone does get hurt is: “I’m not sayin’ it.  GOD is.  Take your hurt and your issues with it up with HIM.”

Giving the full benefit of the doubt, these would be evangelists surely have good motives.  Surely they desire a positive outcome, say bringing someone into a right relationship with Christ, showing someone the right way to be saved from Hell.  So, just maybe they mean good, but let’s look at the results.

Has anyone been “saved” or converted from such demonstrations?  I picture now in my mind the anti protesters in Newton, NC–“defending” pastor Worely, who just 2 weeks ago, called for the confinement of Gays and Lesbians in Concentration camps until they die.  They yelled at folks, carried signs, and chanted to them that they were all bound for hell and that they SHOULD burn in hell.  Hmm, wonder how many of those who were yelled at had any change of heart from this type of drive by sermon?

But those are just the more public ones in the media.  What about the words we say to each other in haste?  What about the words we say by our actions? What about the words on our church signs?  And then there’ social media…

What about the post recently on my own page from a person I respect and genuinely call friend.  It seems that every time this person gets a chance on anyone’s wall to speak “the truth” about what the Bible says about homosexuality, he does–to the point of berating (politely) those on my wall who called Rev. Worely (see http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/05/23/3259057/pastors-anti-gay-sermon-spurs.html )a “moron.”  My well meaning friend questioned whether or not the guests on my wall were showing the love of Christ in their comments about a post I had made…but my friend hasn’t been so public as to post on his own wall anything condemning said preacher’s call for new concentration camps, a point which, I must admit bothered me–to see my friends condemned for calling him a moron or his followers uneducated was worthy of a drive by sermon, but pastor Worley’s call for concentration camps was worthy of….silence.

This is not the first of his drive-by sermons on my wall or the walls of friends of mine–all in the same manner.   Drop in, shoot, then scoot.  In this case, when two of us called him back to explain further, his choice was to simply say, “let’s work it out AWAY from facebook,” giving a nod that he does in fact disagree with putting all gays and lesbians in concentration camps, but you know, that wasn’t the point….really?

But unfortunately, many of those insulted by his condemning question don’t know him EXCEPT on that one thread on my wall, hence even if he and I did work it out “away from facebook,” those innocents hurt by the shoot and scoot sermon will never hear any sort of apology, clarification, or affirmation from the drive-by preacher.  No one was helped–not one bit.  If the goal was to lead them away from their stance on homosexuality (not all were gay, some just spoke words of affirmation for their GLTB friends) and no one was led to be closer to Jesus, closer to God.  In other words, there was no benefit for anyone except the shooter (who perhaps could pat himself on the back and rest easy, knowing he had simply spoken “the truth” to those rotten sinners who needed to hear it).  

But several were hurt and they are left in the wake of the having been in the line of fire–left to pick up the pieces.  And they are the marginalized from the church, those who either have or currently are searching for God’s love made real here on earth–a love that loves them and accepts them as they are.  Was there any good, any point, any use for the drive-by?  Or was it the worst kind of drive by–the random shooting?  I MUST reiterate, I love my friend and wish him no harm.  I believe he has a good heart and a passion for Jesus, but I wish he’s stay out of my neighborhood if the drive by’s are going to continue.  It not only hurts individuals–it hurts the body of Christ.  It makes us all look bad.

Let’s put an end to drive by sermons.  If we disagree, let’s discuss, openly, lovingly, non judgmentally, with compassion and two way dialogue and open hearts, open minds, and open doors.  Let’s create a safe space for all sides and if we speak words that harm, let’s at least make sure we stay around to help pick up the pieces.

It’s all about love.

 

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IRONY

I have to say, I don’t want to pick on anyone and mean zero disrespect, I promise.  I have stated publicly my belief that folks need to follow their own conscience in deciding how to vote on Amendment 1 in NC this Tuesday, but I’m also vocal in my attempts to see it defeated.  Amendment 1, for those outside of NC, will (if passed-and it looks likely to pass right now) add to the constitution of the state that the only recognized union will be a legal marriage between a man and a woman.

Now a facebook friend (whom I really don’t know well at all) has posted a couple remarks, not many, that would be steadfastly in the OTHER court–that is, in favor of making said change to the constitution of our state.  She is PRO marriage (whatever that means in this discussion, as she is only PRO marriage for heterosexuals).  I’ve not commented on her posts any response.  She seems to be a sweet but misinformed southern, Christian lady.

But today she posted something from a facebook page called “Positive Outlook.”  This was the picture:

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Now, I laughed a bit–well a lot.  Harvey Fierstein is a writer, director and actor.  For me, I remember him most in the movies Independence Day and Mrs. Doubtfire:

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So, for one who is campaigning against marriage equality in the name of all that is Christian to find his quote, THIS quote in particular, to be inspiring, is well…ironic.  A post from a very openly gay, Jewish by birth but openly athiest man saying to not let others define who you are and not to be bullied into silence, that  in all likelihood (based on his writings and activists history) is speaking directly about Gay Rights.

But I guess she thought it was pretty.  LOL

Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

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a voter’s guide to Amendment one (flow chart form)

dear NC, please vote against amendment one

Vote for protection of all families, no matter how different they may be from your own.

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May 1, 2012 · 8:29 PM