The 1950s happened 65 years ago.

On Sunday morning, the pastor happened to mention one significant reason why he thought that Sunday School classes were empty – they hadn’t changed since the 1950s. Truth be told, I’ve complained more than once of the same thing, I’ve heard enough stories from the history books to know that there was a lot more going on in the 1950s than the Church lets on.

But what exactly were things like prior to the 1950s? Strict rules and regulations, demands of obedience to authority figures, that sort of thing. Why the change in the 1950s? After the Great Depression and the war years, people were finally allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. Circumstance wasn’t only in their favor, but there were thinkers who were giving some serious thought to Christianity. A young Billy Graham was even filling up stadiums full of people to talk about God on public television when the four channels weren’t airing Father Knows best or Leave it to Beaver. There was plenty to go around and plenty of time to thank God for that particular blessing. There was also a social expectation for people to go to church to get their acceptance – blue laws, ones that required that businesses be closed, made it possible for everybody to go there – partially because there was nowhere else to go.

How are things today? We’ve spent the last decade at war, the rationing of the past didn’t happen, but the reality of war didn’t change. We’ve been hit by a major recession, we can’t quite call it the depression yet, but people lost their houses, 401ks were wiped out, and with all of the men and women returning from war, it’s questionable whether or not there will be enough jobs to go around, or anything else for that matter. We do have 24/7 access to Christian teachings via television and the internet, but it’s sort of like the air we breathe – not something you’d notice unless it was polluted. We don’t have any blue laws either because it’s not a social expectation to get our acceptance from going to church. You can’t shame people into showing up anymore, you can’t shame them for not wearing their Sunday Best, and you can’t shame them for being anywhere else and doing anything else on a Sunday.

Sixty five years of doing the same exact thing and not getting the same results should be unequivocal proof that something somewhere needs to change – and unless a time machine can be invented, I don’t think it’s modern people. The problem is convincing the church that it needs to change. The nostalgia of way back when the pews were all full, way back when men wore suits and women wore dresses, way back when they had to add an extra fifteen minutes to the service because people kept on praying and praising God makes them forget about everything about the past that they couldn’t stand. The racism, the sexism, the fear, the hatred, and the worry that it was only a matter of time before the Cold War would turn into an actual war. Let’s face it, the seeds that sprouted into the 1960s civil rights movements fell through the cracks in the 1950s and were planted.

But the church embodies the past in the present. In the process they loose sight of the future. They also lose a great many members of future generations who have no love for this past in which they never existed. And that is why the Sunday School classes, the pews, the prayer sessions, the services are emptying out of younger generations.

Whatever happened to Tactful Christianity?

Twice in the last week, I’ve come across Christians with a similar “I’m telling it like it is” attitude about sin. To their way of thinking, calling everybody out for being sinful sinners will remind them that God hates sins (but loves the sinner), will make them feel sorry, and will ultimately lead to their repentance. It sounds sort of like “an intervention” but they’re missing a key step: having a relationship. Every successful intervention involves friends and family members asking a person with substance abuse problems and addictions to consider how their actions affect everyone else.

What if every single time you walked into a Church, saw a Christian forum online, or happened to have a conversation with a Christians, they berated (admonished, chided, scolded, rebuked, reprimanded, etc. – chose your favorite synonym mentioned in the Bible) you for every sin, every little thing gone wrong in your life. You’d avoid them right? When your neighbor walks up to you and says, “You’re such a horrible person for having that sort of addiction, it’s cheating. God will punish you for that unless you repent.” When your co-worker happens to stop by and says, “You’re still giving into that temptation aren’t you? Why don’t you make it official and just divorce? God knows your spouse deserves someone better.” When you happen to get an e-mail from an old friend whose words sting worse than a thousand bees or wasps ever could – you would get tired of Christians, Christianity, and quite possibly Jesus Christ, too.

Christians – let me tell it like it is, all sins are equal. Gluttony and hatred are on the same tier as homosexuality and murder and adultery and theft and telling lies. You aren’t a better person because you’ve quit sinning, in fact, there rate of obesity in the church indicates that some sins are ongoing. You aren’t a better person for telling it like it is, because nobody in the church tells it like it is. The only thing that sets you apart is because you let Jesus pay the price for your sins, past, present, and future.

Without a relationship, everybody who is lost will look at the inconsistency of your words and actions and will go on not knowing what they are missing – or being glad to miss out. Without a relationship, an intervention is little more than a jury that decided ‘guilty’ five minutes after they met you. Without a relationship, you won’t inspire change for the better. It’s scientifically proven that children just don’t hear criticism from their parents with whom they do have a relationship (http://www.wired.com/2014/11/teen-brain-shuts-hears-moms-criticism/), it would not surprise me if the same was true of complete strangers in general when Christians “tell it like it is”.

Look, I know that by telling it like it is, you think you’re telling the truth, but where in the whole history of Christianity that emphasizes being brutally honest – how many complete strangers have responded positively to that? Billions? Millions? Thousands? Hundreds? Did you? Worse yet, Christians also do everything in the name of God’s love. Some Christians also chose derogatory and insensitive words in the name of God’s love. Some Christians hold up signs declaring how God hates evil in the name of God’s love. For some odd reason, non-Christians see it as hypocritical for loving Christians to be so hatefully judgmental (about the sin) seeing as how Christians used to be sinners, too. It’s as wrong as a fresh-water stream to also be a salt-water stream. It can’t be both.

Non-believers that grew up in my country have been steeped in Christianity their whole lives. If Christmas and Easter haven’t brought them around – what do you think “telling it like it is” will do? Odds are they know where they stand and where God stands and where you stand, they just don’t care to be made to move – they have to choose it. Its just, if I were them, I wouldn’t join a team where everybody was a champion berater. It’s annoying enough to put up with them for a life-time, but forever is asking too much of anyone.

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The other day, I was looking at various blog entries when one of them caught my eye. It was from a user who had been a Christian up until the point that nobody could answer their questions. They were consumed with seeking after the answers no matter where they went and ultimately, the answers that person found led them outside of Christianity altogether. His or her blog entry pointed out that many Christians are afraid to question the assumptions their faith is based upon. They are so afraid that they won’t even examine the work of atheists or agnostics for fear that their logical arguments would also lead them to give up the faith.

It is the nature of faith to believe in something no matter what the evidence says. Sure, evidence lends credibility, but there is scientific proof that people will still believe something strongly even if it’s been proven incorrect (perseverance of beliefs.) There is also confirmation bias – where one usually finds proof of what they expected to find. The Bible is full of statements that could be made to support either or both viewpoints. If you want to find proof of what you believe, you can find it in some chapter, some verse, or some series of chapters and verses together that can be interpreted to support what you believe it says so long as you don’t pay any attention to all to what it actually said, it’s cultural context, or it’s historical context.

Perhaps it’s for that reason why many just accept what they are taught from their pastors without question. Surely, he has studied these things and knows the truth of Scripture. But that doesn’t always give them a strong personal reason for belief. I sincerely doubt anybody will speak for themselves on Judgement Day by reciting the Baptist Faith and Message or other belief statements from their denomination that they had memorized.

Ultimately all of us must ask ourselves: What do I believe and why do I believe it?

Bring Honor To Us All

War was looming on the horizon, armies the world over were beginning to step up training young men to send to the front lines. One young Spanish airman was quite nervous about his first jump. When it came time to actually jump, he balked. When his trainer asked if he was too afraid to jump, the young man found the courage and jumped out of the plane. His parachute, on the other hand, was left behind on the plane. The young man lost his life, but his honor remained intact.

Honor is weird. It’s like good peer pressure. In which case, shame would be like bad peer pressure. Think about it – say a person saved several hundred people from being murdered by a political power but never ever told anybody. Or say a person was a thief who stole from a several hundred people and was never caught. The first would be an honorable individual, but he would never be honored for his actions because nobody knew about them. The second person would likewise be shamed if it were to be discovered, but if not, then there’s no reason to treat him shamefully. Honor and shame, then, are collective in nature to have their full effect. Honor is desirable because it’s the approval of one’s group, one’s family, and one’s community. Shame is unwanted because it’s disapproval of one’s group, one’s family, and one’s community. Therefore the logic is this: anything honorable is right, anything shameful is wrong. Any action that restores honor is right, any action that destroys honor is wrong.

In the Bible, we see a picture of an ancient honor / shame society. One of it’s commandments was to “honor your father and mother” which meant not only to treat them well and with respect, but see to it that your action reflect honorably upon them. (Somewhat unrelated though interesting is the Klingon beliefs regarding honor. In one of their scrolls, the sins of the children can condemn their parent’s souls to Gre’thor / Hell if the children are without honor even if their parents were honorable. Only honorable Klingons go to Sto-vo-kor / Heaven.) We also see that at banquets there are places of honor – nearest the host at the head of the table. There are also places of less honor – furthest from the host at the foot of the table. But ultimately, we don’t always get the depth of meaning when they’re talking about honor and shame. We’re a very individualistic society and we define right and wrong differently, based on guilt and innocence. Guilt is shameful, it’s honorable to be innocent.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2011/04/30/honor-and-shame-and-the-apostolic-life/

Perhaps we somehow evolved into a society that Paul could only dream of, one where the rules of honor and shame were not written by the Roman Empire; but a society that moved into a more natural Christianity as it would have and should have been were it completely free to say what needed to be said without cloaking important information in metaphor so that his jailers would not impede the message.

So next time you come across a passage talking about honor, put yourselves in the shoes of a first century believer who seeks honor like a boy scout collecting badges to increase his status. Next time you come across a passage talking about shame, put yourselves in the shoes of a first century believer who is fearfully and desperately trying to keep the secret that would cast them out of their very homes to get an idea of what that sort of meant to them. Then ask, what does it mean to me now? Since what is shameful in the Bible is not necessarily shameful here and now, should we uphold the Bible’s standards of shame and honor? Or should we continue to write or own story without shame and honor being the driving force behind what’s acceptable?

All The World Wonders

IN each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered. In the last century more amazing things were found out than in any century before. In this new century hundreds of things still more astounding will be brought to light. At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done — then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago. – The Secret Garden

It seems to me odd that with all the changes that have taken place in the last two hundred or so years as compared with the centuries before it that we still are a people that have a difficult time accepting change. Sometimes I think we are fighting the same battles fought time and time again, repeated for each and every country to live out until we learn that all people are equal and deserve respect.

We have thousands and thousands of years of history that boils down to: inequality leads to oppression leads to violence. It’s a broken record that has played itself over and over again with pretty much every kind of inequality imaginable. It leads me to the conclusion that humanity is not capable of maintaining an unequal oppression-free society and yet has not figured out how to have an equal opression-free society.

Why shouldn’t we treat all people equally? Why should this person get more and that person get less? Why should that person be suspicious and the other person guiltless? Why should that person be considered less and this person be considered more? Done one more lost life make any difference in the bucket of people who died because of oppression? Does this kind of life have more value than that kind of life?

Makarios

“The Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios. We use idioms in English to try to approximate this experience. We’ll say, “My life has really come together,” or “I’m in a happy place,” or “Life has been good to me.” We are not really discussing the details of our life; we are trying to describe a feeling we have. Happy sounds trite, so we avoid it. Actually, we are makarios.
In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed. Thus our English translations say, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9). Unfortunately, this introduces another problem. The English language prefers clear subjects for its verbs. So the missing puzzle piece iin the Beatitudes is, How is one blessed? What goes without saying in our culture is that God blesses people. Consequently, we often interpret this verse to mean, “If you are a peacemaker, then God will bless you.” But this isn’t what Jesus meant. Jesus meant, “If you are peacemaker, then you are in a happy place.” It just doesn’t work well in English. Alas, here is the bigger problem: maybe the reason we North Americans struggle to find makarios in our personal lives is because we don’t have a word in our native language to denote it.” – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

Church and Family

The Church says: “God has called the vast majority of believers to have families. Dating isn’t ideal, but you should only date with the goal of marriage in mind. If you know you won’t marry this person or that person, don’t date this person or that person. Courtship or Betrothal are more in line with Scripture’s teaching about having godly relationships. You should pray for God to send The One to you. In the mean-time, faithfully attend church and complete any marriage preparation Bible studies so that you are ready for your future marriage. Marrying young is ideal as it will be easier to raise the children. Having children is part of God’s design for family. You mustn’t have too few nor too many. You must trust God to give you the right size of family just for you. It will never be too much for you to handle because God knows your limitations and he will not exceed them. Continue in the faith, bring your family to church, and obey all instructions of the Bible to the letter to prove that you love God. He will reward you for your faithfulness.”

In some recent months, I’ve heard that certain prayers will yield certain results. Pray this and God will do that. Pray like that and God will do this. It’s as if there is some arrangement by which if we keep our end of the deal, God will have to keep his. There’s just one problem – scripture doesn’t always paint the rosy picture that the Church tends to teach. The real world proves to be inexplicable in that light – when a young adult dies too soon, when a child gets really sick, when natural disasters destroy everything one works so hard to build. When work isn’t steady but the bills are. “God, I’m doing my level best to keep my end of the deal! Why aren’t you?”

What about the believers that God did not call to have families? He called them for some purpose, but what? What could possibly be of more cosmic importance than having a family like everybody else? The church can’t answer that question. All it can do is to tell people to keep on praying that God will send The One. But for how long? Five years? Ten years? Fifteen? Then what? Do we try to help God out? Speed up the process? Does it suggest faithlessness to do so? Or faithfulness that God will make everything work out?

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah right? God told them that they would have a son. As the decades flew by, nothing seemed to be happening. So Sarah did the only thing that was culturally acceptable – she helped God out by sending Hagar to have her husband’s child. Because Hagar is a Sarah’s servant, everything Hagar owns is Sarah’s – including the child. That’s what Sarah thought God wanted, after all, it was perfectly legal. Only after this was done did God clarify his promise and that Sarah would be the one to bear the child – she laughed and well, you know the story from there. I wonder if God spent all that time waiting for Ishmael to be the first born so that he could choose Isaac instead. God does that a lot, choosing Jacob over Esau, David over his eldest brother, and Joseph over Reuben. The latter story does involve Rachel giving her servant Bilhah to Jacob just as Sarah did. Even in the New Testament, there’s not much talk of families for the guys actually about the work of the church. Paul was famous for being married to the ministry, which seems to be true even for the married Peter. Jesus didn’t say that he came to give every believer their very own family, but to make them a part of his family.

Families are made up of all sorts of different people, all ages, all marital statuses, and the like. A family that excludes, ignores, or marginalizes the unmarried, the widows, the divorced, and the married couples without children is not worth being a part of – and any church family that idolizes the nuclear family is going to be surprised when Heaven is not really like any family on earth.