Tag Archives: Bible

The Awe of God – A Guest Post by Brant Skogrand

Dan’s Preamble

Wow, have we been guest-blogger-posting fools lately, or what? One of the great things about running a tiny li’l blog like this one is meeting other bloggers. Brant Skogrand is a fine fellow who attends River Heights Vineyard with me, and he has a little something to say. Brant normally blogs here. If you like his post here, why not check out the rest of his stuff?

End Preamble

 

*          *          *

Six years ago, inspired by the awesome experience of hearing God audibly speak to me, I started a blog. Called The Awe of God, I set out to capture and document instances of God speaking to people.

Here’s what I have learned along the way.

  1. God connects with each of us uniquely. For some of us, God speaks audibly. For others, it’s through scripture. Visions have been reported. In numerous instances, God speaks through the people around us. Other times, it’s a still small voice inside.
  2. God has a plan for our lives. Whether it’s showing a woman that she has breast cancer in order to educate others or saving a man from suicide, God will speak to us in order ensure that His will be fulfilled.
  3. By following God, things could happen that we never would have imagined. Like Alfonso Fernandez, who followed God to become the Spanish radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Or Jennifer Henderson, who left her $100,000-a-year job at a Toyota plant to open a Christian bookstore.
  4. While many people may be reluctant to admit it, they have heard God’s voice. Sometimes people don’t want to disclose that God talked to them for fear of appearing haughty (especially here in Minnesota) or seeming too religious. However, covered by the anonymity of a survey, 20 percent of Americans admitted to USA Today that they had heard the voice of God. Sometimes what God says to us is just extremely personal, and we don’t feel like sharing that with others.
  5. God’s presence is fleeting. I guess that He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Or it could be that He just wants to make a short yet powerful statement, such as the time when a grandmother heard of a chorus of harps as she was comforting her dying grandson.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip “B.C.,” felt that God wanted him to do the comic strip as a way to share God’s humorous inspiration. Author John Eldredge shares God’s sense of humor in his book “Beautiful Outlaw” when, asking God why He doesn’t give John hearts anymore, God responds by having John come upon a dried piece of cow manure – in the perfect shape of a heart.

Thank you, God, for your amazing presence. I am still in awe.


When being Christian is the opposite of lame.

Daniel made a very valid point in a recent quickie that we here at Wtfaith headquarters can sometimes be, shall I say, somewhat hostile people? And that, perhaps, in our zealous attempts to right the wrongs that we see in and among Christians (at least as they’re perceived by other people) we may come across as distinctly confrontational and sometimes, dare I say it, even anti-Christian.

We make a very serious attempt at honesty on these pages, and in these posts, so if we’re struggling with some concept of our toddler-level faith, or if we disagree with some primary Christian concept, tenant or action, we say so. Sometimes we say so in brutally honest ways. Sometimes we can be a little bit. . . harsh.

 

We don't REALLY think that Jesus hates people, we just have very poor impulse control.

We don’t REALLY think that Jesus hates people, we just have poor impulse control and notoriously bad taste.

 

When Daniel said that he wanted to take a moment to talk about the things about being a Christian that were kind of cool, it made me stop and think. I realized that I do tend to focus on the stuff I don’t like with a real “Kill it with fire forever” mentality. I’m a bit more internalized with things that I like. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for me to bitch than to praise. One of those choices feels more natural to me, which is a sign of how unhealthy a place my mental state can degrade to when left to my own devices.

There are two things to me that really stand out when I think of what it is about Christianity that I find to be super awesome. Both of them are from personal experience and I guess, in a way, stem from my own personal testimony. I’d like to share them with you. I know what I’m about to say is going to sound old hat to my Christian peeps, and completely crazy to my non-Christian peeps. I know it, and I’m sorry. Sometimes I genuinely wish I could say anything else here with honesty. But crazy or not, old-hat or not, it’s the truth. Maybe it’s an experiential truth, but even so, that doesn’t invalidate it for me.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of what I like about being a christian is that being Christian has helped me talk to God. It sounds crazy, I know.  The second thing is that being Christian has made me both feel and be better, all around.

Let me back up a bit. Throughout my faith journey I’ve been a lot of places, I’ve done a lot of things, I’ve tried out a lot of different religions, ideologies and philosophies. Generally speaking I only tried out things that seemed to make a certain amount of sense. I’m not the logical thinker that Daniel is so the things I tried didn’t have to hold up under merciless logical scrutiny. I’ll be honest with you, I would have gotten bored with being that mercilessly logical like five minutes in and gone and played Mass Effect or something. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Logical or not, the things I tried out did have to make me feel a certain kind of way, though. I wanted something real. If magic had been real, I’d still be a witch. If philosophy had changed my life in more than just brief epiphanies, which were exciting but ultimately not very deeply rooted, I’d probably be one of those thinker types. I grew up in a really fundamentalist church. It’s not like I was forced into the lifestyle, mind you. I started attending church with my parents at the tender age of 2, and while I didn’t “Give my life to Jesus” (as if you could give something that’s already His) right away, I waited until I was old enough to be accountable for my actions. In other words, I waited until I was about 5.

 

"I'm pretty sure I can be trusted to make this decision."

“I’m pretty sure I can be trusted to make this decision.”

 

Once I’d “prayed the sinner’s prayer” I enthusiastically drank the Kool-Aid with everything I had in me. I’d gone to church twice every Sunday and even once on Wednesday nights as far back as I could remember, but it wasn’t long after my “getting saved” that I threw myself whole-heartedly into Christianity and serving within the church. I did everything right, man. From the age of 5 to the age of about 14, I was a total Jesus-Freak. I lifted my hands super high during song service, I closed my eyes and prayed fervently during the raucous breaks in between songs that I assume were for prayer. They were kind of loud and chaotic, so I’m not sure.

There was a point around age ten through fourteen where I was quite literally attending church – or a church sponsored function -every day of the week. This included, to my shame, street preaching. Apparently everyone thought the skinny pre-teen with a thick Tucson accent was really cute when she was screaming at them unintelligibly about hell through a bullhorn.

 Thinking back it seems to have been a lot of show, but I was a kid, so I joined right in. I enthusiastically evangelized at my schools, single handedly starting bible studies and “prayer at the flag pole”. Why did I do all this? Well, besides a massive case of indoctrination, I saw people who were claiming to have been so moved, so touched, so change by this Jesus guy, as to have completely reconstructed their entire lives.

None of the following is exaggerated:

I’ve known people who claimed to have been seriously long time addicts (pick your poisonous addiction, it doesn’t matter) who prayed and God moved and they dumped out all their beer, flushed all their weed, threw out their crack pipes or stepped on all their cigarettes and 20 years later have never looked back.

I’ve known people who claim to have been severely mentally sick, sometimes undergoing treatments, or on constantly monitored medications to keep the voices quiet, or keep them stabilized, or help them not try to murder themselves. Whatever the case was, their interactions with God had been so miraculously moving they not only no longer needed their medication but were now perfectly stable human beings!

I’ve known people who had some sort of physical malady, ranging from mild to severe, which prayer and faith seem to have healed entirely.

I’ve known people moved to tears for the simplest motion of the “spirit” in the church.

 

"Oh man, did someone say 'Jesus'? Someone said 'Jesus', didn't they? Here comes the works!"

“Oh man, did someone say ‘Jesus’? Someone said ‘Jesus’, didn’t they? Here comes the works!”

 

 

I watched all these people, decent people at their core (aka: not people I would call liars), seemingly really moved and changed by this “spirit”. I wanted that. I fought for it, I did ALL the somatic components to the “Summon Holy Spirit” ritual, and you know what I felt? Nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, I eventually left the church in my teenage years for just that reason. The lack of follow-through after I had intentionally allowed myself to be completely taken in by the game and ritual led me on my journey through all the other religions I played around with just desperately trying to find something real.

In the midst of all this, and this is where it gets cool, there were times when God interacted with me. There were times when I felt that overwhelming presence in my life that moves me, a salty little scrapper, to tears for the simplest of reasons. It didn’t seem to matter what religion I was following or trying out at the time. Religion is a man-made institution designed to give us some understanding and ability to relate to an infinite being who our tiny little finite minds can’t even really grasp. Every ideology in the world is gonna have its places where it seems to conflict with itself, or not make much sense. I was looking for something bigger than the answers. I trusted the answers would come. I wanted something bigger than that. This was always so much bigger than that, and while it generally lasted for a short while, for that small amount of time, I really did feel something special.Something that was very close to real magic was happening in my heart. Of course at the time I didn’t understand what that was, but every glimpse, every touch made me want more and more. So I looked more and more.

Now I’m a Christian, and I guess I should embrace it even though I have a lot of damage from the church of my early years. I’m a Christian because I never stopped looking for that something real, but eventually I put aside the ritual and just started being something real while I was looking. Sure enough, I started to be able to interact more and more with this entity I’ve come to lovingly refer to as God.

It started with the God-Experiment, as Daniel and I call it, which was us reaching out to God from a place full of honesty and devoid of any religious trappings of any sort. That led us to make a huge life change – moving to Duluth – where we were eventually led, through trial and error, to hillside church. Sometimes, our interactions with God would seem to be one sided, but more often there would be these little inexplicable signs, little things that would happen in the people around us that would confirm everything we thought we were being told.

With that comes a sort of comfort, at least for me, that even when I’m not hearing God, he’s clearly there. I’ve never been great at faith, and too many things have happened for me to be able to have the faith that those things are mere coincidence.

Does that mean I never feel alone? Does it mean I never feel like I’m praying for no reason at all? Does it mean all my prayers are answered? No, not at all. But you know what it does mean? It means that occasionally, when I need it the most, God is there in very physical and undeniable ways. That God, the creator of everything, this crazy, infinite being I can’t even wrap my brain around, takes time to interact with me. . . . That is so amazingly cool to me. . .  It’s precisely the something real I’ve been looking for.

In the spirit of perfect candidness, I did say God talked to and interacted with me while I was pagan, Buddhist, agnostic and just confused. That’s true. The difference is, he interacts with me much more now. Maybe that’s a result of me reaching out more from a place of honesty without all the trappings and ritual, and maybe it’s a result of the fact that I’m in a Christian church (though one could hardly say I emulate all the Christian beliefs or even follow all their rules). Either way, coincidence or not, I’ve noticed an increase since becoming “Christian”. I think it’s awesome, so I’ll take it.

The second thing that i think is an awesome byproduct of interacting with God through Jesus, is the general improvement of my mental state and character. Now I didn’t start following Jesus and lose my ability to reason about my fellow man. I’m still pro-choice, and for marriage equality, and the equal rights of gays and women. Its just that being Christian, directly interacting with God, has made me feel better and has gently encouraged me to stop doing things like complaining about my lot in life and being an asshole to my family. Why spendi time doing those things that make me feel like shit when I could  help, love or give to someone because that makes me feel algebraic! The fact is I’ve always been pessimistic at best and tending toward a black hole of depression and self-loathing at worst. I once asked our pastor friend PB how one was supposed to interpret Jesus instruction to “Love your neighbor as yourself” if one hated oneself. Pete’s response was “You know, most people don’t REALLY hate themselves.” And he went on to give me some valid examples to back up that statement, which I may talk about in greater detail in some other future blog post. At the time when he told me this, I was being particularly angsty and emo, and I kind of shrugged and was like, “Whatever you say dude. You don’t know my pain. Life is darkness”. Or something like that, I’m paraphrasing. The point is, I didn’t get it then.

 

"You'll never understand my pain. . .my beautiful, glamorous pain. . ."

“You’ll never understand my pain, Pete. . . my beautiful, glamorous pain. . .”

 

Since then, since my relationship with God has grown, since I’ve found ways to answer, or at least try to be at peace with my questions, I’ve noticed something else. I feel better. I genuinely feel better! For a while my issue was so severe there were times I couldn’t even summon the strength to get out of bed. For a while, right after moving here, I was so unstable in my struggle with depression that I was medicated for it. I took Zoloft every day just to be able to face my day, my life, my family. I hated everything about myself. I don’t feel that way anymore. And while I’m not sure that I love myself yet, I think I have a better idea of what Pete was talking about, when he said that. Having God show you exactly what to scrape away to get to the person worth loving underneath is pretty fucking epic, too.  

There’s tons more to say on the subject of the things about Christianity that I think are cool. Today I focused on the things I personally have experienced, and picked two of my favorite bennies of being a Christian. Even though this post is longer than some stories I’ve written, there’s still more to say. I’d be happy to chat your ear off about it if you ask, but I’m done focusing on me and my experiences for a while.

What about you peeps? I would love some stories about what your favorite benefits to being a Christian are! Do you have any wicked-rad moments as a Christian that you mark down on your spiritual timeline? Are there things you’ve seen God do in someone else’s life? Maybe just a feature, like that peace without understanding that Daniel mentioned? Let’s hear your stories!


Debate this for my amusement! A What the Faith Quickie

Alright, folks, I’m on a break at work and I have five minutes so OHMYGODREADTHISARTICLEVERYFAST!

Hurry!

Hurryhurryhurry!

Okay, now pause. Catch your breath. You did well, padawans.

Is a Christian’s spoken/written opposition to homosexuality, based on their interpretation of the bible, reason enough to accuse them of hate speech?

GO!


What’s up with this Jesus guy, anyway?

I said last week that I wish  the group of Christianity that I seem to exist within could be called something else –  anything else, actually. Whatever it takes to separate ourselves from the Neanderthal nonsense that certain types of Christians spout on a regular basis. I’ve mentioned this to friends of mine, none of whom are Christian. All of them immediately respond with something like, “Ok, so you’re not a hate-filled fundamentalist. That’s good. Ok, you say the Bible has been used for so much harm, and is also too contradictory, to be useful as anything but an interesting text amongst interesting texts. That’s valid. But, the real question is do you believe in Christ?”

And I guess that is the question isn’t it?

I’ve always thought of Christ as, for lack of a better term, an avatar of God. I believe that the breaking of this world caused a schism between our finite world and eternity that only Jesus could breach. I believe Christ was God made flesh, that what he experienced went directly back to the entity that is God. And I believe that happened so that God could experience humanity without the separation that normally exists between the finite and the infinite.

 

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

Like this, but with slightly higher stakes.

 

In addition, I’ve always found the Christian practice of Jesus worship (particularly their fixation on the instrument of his death) to be bordering on maudlin idolatry. Despite believing in him, I’ve noticed through my faith journey that I talk directly to God, and that only twice has Jesus been the focus of my worship specifically.

The first time, I was thinking about the Jews, and how they had the automatic in with God. (Not really, but . . . you know. God’s chosen people and all that. You get it.) And then I thought about how it was only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that I was able to experience the things I was experiencing with God. I was so struck by that for a moment that I, for the first and only time in my life, said the words “Thank you, Jesus” without a hint of irony.

The second time was a particularly bleak period for me; I was having some first world problems and being a big baby about the whole thing. Long story short, I generally felt like shit. I was about at the end of my rope, when I had a dream. In the dream, Jesus and I were hanging out. Just hanging out, like any two friends might. We were talking, and through the process of our talking, Jesus did what I imagine Jesus did to practically everyone he met. He looked at me, and in seconds broke down all of my walls, saw right to the heart of me, and said some gentle thing that unraveled the entire core of my problem.

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

“Well, *I* recommend a hot oil treatment once a month, exfoliate daily, and try to eat lots of foods rich with Omega-3 fatty acids.”

 

The whole dream was striking and vaguely uncomfortable because I HAAAAaaaaAAAAAAATE being on display like that, even to Jesus himself. But, it was also comforting because I felt such love and unconditional acceptance. When he suggested (not commanded) that I change some behaviors or habits, it felt like a suggestion given out of an undeniable and tangible sense of love and a desire for my well-being. I’ve never felt so exposed or so accepted in my entire life. The sensation of that dream stayed with me for days. For weeks.

Aside from those two situations, Jesus doesn’t enter my thoughts as anything other than the way I am able to do the things I am able to do and experience the things I’m able to experience. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the father but through me,” I read that as, “Because I did this thing, you get to talk to God.” Most people seem to interpret that statement to mean something more like this:

“Immediately disregard everything I said about not worshipping me. I never wanted that before, but now. . . I died for all you assholes! So . . . make with the worship or be forever condemned to the fires of hell!”

"Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!"

“Awwwwww, are you SERIOUS? And I paid for supper, too!”

 

Now, I’m not sure I believe in the fires of hell – at least, not in the way that hell is often portrayed. But that’s another blog post entirely. Either way, when left to my own devices, I don’t pray directly to Jesus any more than I would express profuse thanks a computer for allowing me to access the internet. The computer isn’t the internet, it’s just my doorway to it, and no man comes to the WTFaith blog but through it. (Disclaimer – I do not pray to the internet.) So it is with Jesus and God, in my mind – because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I can pray directly to God.  And that’s great – but that doesn’t mean my prayers need to be directed toward Jesus.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Jesus did for me. Really, it’s more to do with the difficulty in determining what I know about him. The problem is, the only place Jesus is ever talked about is in the Bible. I have some issues with the Bible, more-or-less because I have issues with people.  Everything humans touch, we tend to fuck up – and the Bible has been touched so much it has to point at a doll in a closed room meeting. I doubt its infallibility, because I recognize how easy it would have been for power hungry people, with access to the early books,  to change the Bible to suit their desires. People tell me that wouldn’t happen, because it’s the Bible and people worked very hard to preserve it. I find that to be a very sweet idealism, and I hope they never see the cynical, stop-at-nothing face of humanity that I have seen. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t trust us. Even if it started as the inspired (and therefore infallible) word of God himself, it has been used to justify and cause so much pain and harm that it no longer resembles its original self at all. I don’t know about God, but when I’m dealing with my kids, and they start using some toy I bought them to hurt their siblings, I take the damn toy away and revoke their privilege to use it.

And yet, despite all of the reasons I shouldn’t, I believe in Jesus. With my inability to believe the Bible as infallible, why do I believe in Christ? Why is it Christianity that drew me through the door? Why is it, despite all of my issues with being associated with the beliefs and actions of (what the majority of the world considers to be) Christians, here I am writing an off-color blog about practicing the Christian faith? I have an answer to this question, but it is kind of simple and unsatisfying. I believe in Christ because that seems to be the direction all the signs and portents I’ve experienced point to. More importantly, no matter how pissed off I seem to get at Christians, when I think about throwing Baby Jesus out with the bathwater, it feels . . . wrong.

I compare the feeling I get when thinking of no longer believing in Jesus, while still maintaining my faith in God, to looking at a car’s engine and trying to fix a problem. I know it’s an engine, but that’s about where my understanding of its mechanics stops. That engine is very complex,  and since I’m only kind of sure what I’m looking at, I should probably not mess with it. I should probably call in a professional.

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy  comments. . .

Something tells me I can’t fix one of these with pithy comments. . .

 

That’s kind of how I feel about maintaining a belief in Christ. The interpretations we have of who Jesus might have been or what he was trying to teach us differs a lot from person to person. I’ve heard people that depict him like a vegan, hippy sort. I’ve heard people depict him like a biker or hunter, kind of a grizzled sort. I picture him as a dude wearing a hoodie, hanging out and enjoying being with the people around him. We have such a brief glimpse into the life of this person, all of it only ever documented in one place. It stands to reason we would compartmentalize him to be someone we could relate to. Because of that, though, we tend to put our own interpretations on his character, his actions and his words. That makes it hard to really know who he was. Be that as it may, I recognize him as important even if I don’t fully understand all the mechanics and inner workings of that importance. Given my lack of understanding, I should probably leave that alone and get a professional if something breaks with it.

So, why, if I don’t believe the Bible as a literal and infallible word of God, and if I disagree with most modern day Christians, why do I continue to associate with them? The best answer I can give is that the things I’ve felt from God and his interactions in my life are, for me, beyond doubt. When I was lost and looking for a home, God led me to Hillside – he made his stance on Jesus pretty clear. And, most importantly, despite how uncomfortable some of the things surrounding believing in Christ make me, when I think about separating that from the experiences I have, it just feels wrong.

I’ve decided to trust my instincts and my intuitions on this topic, and thus far it hasn’t done me wrong. How about you guys? Has there ever been a core tenant of your faith that you found yourself struggling to believe? Did you find it hard to keep your faith around it, or did you determine you were just getting lost in the metaphoric weeds and got over it?


God loves ugly messes.

I don’t quite know how to say what’s on my mind right now. And yet, I realize that I’d better figure out a way, because. . . well. . . this will be a pretty shitty post if I don’t. Since most of my shitty posts are shitty on accident, I’ll try to fill my boots and do this right.

I know, I know. ‘Why start now?” Wacka wacka.

I’ve mentioned before  the big blogsplosion that resulted from Jared Wilson’s post where he quotes Douglas Wilson complementarian words. Today I read an article written by Chaplain Mike of Internet Monk that details how the two men have responded to the criticism they received. You can read the article here, but that’s not the main thrust of my post today. No, this one is a little more personal than that. See, when I was reading Douglas Wilson’s response on Blog and Mablog (great name, btw) I came across this passage, which is referring to the people who have criticized him:

“They deny the authority of Scripture, they accept as dialogue partners advocates of every abomination that Leviticus contains, they attack those who are seeking to be faithful servants of Christ, they call the holy wars of YHWH genocide, and so on, down the street and around the corner. Other than that, they are good Christians.”

 

It was then that I realized that, without even knowing me, Douglas Wilson is talking about me. He’s not telling the truth about me (well, he’s not telling the whole truth about me – there are some truths in that statement that I am proud to uphold) but he’s stating an opinion about me, and he doesn’t know me from Adam.

Douglas Wilson thinks I’m a heretic.

I’m not proud of this label, because there’s nothing but negative connation to the word “heretic.” Then again, I was a nerd before being a nerd was cool, and I found in my nerd-dom the redemption that comes from the acceptance of a label. Sometimes you can turn that label around – just look at how we view nerds now, compared to how we viewed them in the ‘90’s when I was in high school.

This is our world now. Join us.

It’s not like I’m trying to be heretical. I’ve been doing the whole “Christian” thing for less than a year, but I like to think that I’ve jumped into it feet first. I’m reading the Bible, I’m reading Bible commentary, I’m reading books by respected theologians (and some not-so-respected theologians), I’m talking to God, I’m asking for prayer, I’ve been dunked in the water and felt myself come out reborn, I’ve had meals and beers with pastors where I plied them with questions the entire time, I’ve tried to help people come to Jesus, I’ve tried to help people who need help getting food or shelter, I’ve tried to get my 11-year-old daughter interested in Jesus again, I’ve taught my boys to pray every night, I’m praying for the world, I’m asking God with all sincerity for him to establish His kingdom on earth. I’m doing lots of stuff, and so far as I am capable of judging my own intentions, I would say that I’m doing all of this stuff sincerely and with the holiest intent that I possess.

And yet. . .

I’m one of Douglas Wilson’s “them”. I’m not blaming him – I’m agreeing with him. I’ll even break down that little blurb from his blog to support his opinion of me. I’ll show where I disagree with what he’s saying about me and where I agree with what he’s saying about me, just to be fair.

They deny the authority of Scripture

 

No, that’s crazy. The authority of scripture derives from God. I’m not denying God at all. I’m not sure what authority you’re referring to, aside from God. I didn’t know the Scripture was part of the Trinity, actually.

They accept as dialogue partners advocates of every abomination that Leviticus contains

 

I don’t know that I accept as dialogue partners advocates of every abomination that Leviticus contains. That book has a lot of abominations. But come on – seriously? Leviticus? Here’s the problem with that – educated, intelligent people read the Bible, too. And some of them have noticed that Leviticus also condemns rare steaks, ear piercings, tattoos, cheeseburgers, and poly-cotton blends. Why do people like Wilson keep ignoring this? Leviticus is the world’s worst argument against anything. Please stop expecting us to pay attention to it. Please. Please.

They attack those who are seeking to be faithful servants of Christ

 

That’s silly. We love people trying to be faithful servants of Christ. We attack the attacks.

They call the holy wars of YHWH genocide

 

Well, yes. But then again, I don’t believe those wars were of YHWH’s actual will. I don’t believe that God has ever, ever, ever asked a single person, in all of human history, to go someplace and murder children. I don’t believe that God has ever, ever, ever dictated that an entire culture’s unmarried women were to be divided up amongst the tribes of Israel as the spoils of war (the married women were just killed). The conflicts that you call “holy wars” are genocide, and they’re wrong. I’m sorry, but the early Israelites showed a brutal nature that was characteristic of the time and place in which they lived, and they don’t get to slap “scripture” on the retelling of it and pretend that God told them to do it.

Also, funny note – if someone were to commit genocide today with the understanding that God told them to do it, I don’t know a single living Christian who wouldn’t say, “I’m sorry dude, but the person you heard talking to you in your head was not God.” Why do we hold the ancient Israelites to a different standard? They sinned. Jesus redeemed them. We don’t have to pretend they were doing something good. They weren’t.

Other than that, they are good Christians

 

I don’t know if Doug Wilson is being sarcastic when he throws me this bone, but I’ll take it. Thank you, man. I’m trying to be a good Christian. I’m not trying to stir up a hornet’s nest (for the twelve people reading this blog), but the ways in which I disagree with the scripture seem so damn Godly that I have a hard time ignoring them because someone slapped “Bible” on the cover of the book.

“Oh sweet, it even says ‘Holy’ on the front. Guess I can relax and stop thinking about this stuff.”

Like the disciples going to Jesus after he told the crowd the parable of the sower, I often find that I’m confused by what I read in the Bible. Like them, I go to Jesus. Like them, I trust in my personal relationship with God to help give my heart insight, perspective, and wisdom. That means that maybe someday Jesus will help me to “see the light”, and I’ll no longer be a heretic.

But for now I have serious concerns. If I’m a heretic – and it seems very clear to me that I am – is there a place for me? Are heretics welcome in the Body of Christ? Are they like homosexuals – I have a place as a heretic as long as I resist the urge to commit heresy?

Can I preach, if I’m a heretic?

I wish I had a more graceful way to end this post, but as I said in the beginning, I’m having a hard time putting my feelings to words. That’s alright – like all things that bother me, I’ll take these feelings to God. Please, dear reader, allow me to present this morass of emotion to you the same way I present it to God – as a big bowl of ugly confusion, without a clear answer within easy reach, given with all humility because, let’s face it, we often give God the worst gifts.

Especially us heretics.


This is why my head is spinning.

Lately, I’ve found myself reading the blog of Rachel Held Evans,  a pretty awesome Christian author, speaker, and (obviously) blogger. After reading for a few days, it seems like many of her views are similar to mine. She’s an egalitarian, I’m an egalitarian. She seems to be okay with homosexuals, I’m okay with homosexuals. Her husband’s name is Dan, and if I ever married a dude, I would definitely marry a Dan, just to add a pleasant confusion to all conversations about either of us. She also looks a little bit like a My So Called Life-era version of Claire Danes, and I am biologically incapable of not approving of that.

Oh Angela. . . seventeen-year-old me would have been SO good to you. . .

As I’ve been perusing through her blog, I decided to clickety-click the “Popular Posts” button and get a bird’s eye view of what topics have generated the most traffic. Then I read those posts. Then I read the comments. And since RHE’s blog has some pretty strict rules about trolling – something to the tune of “Be good or you’ll be banned because we say so” – I found that the quality of said comments was much, much higher than that often found on the internet.

The topics that I read included the following:

-         The culture war surrounding the issue of homosexuality

-         Several “Ask A Question” posts, with interviews from atheists, egalitarians, homosexual Christians, and several other types of interesting, thought-provoking, or controversial types of folks

-         Whether or not the concept of an “age of accountability” is appropriate for any denomination that looks only to the Bible for its doctrine.

-         A thorough condemnation of Pastor Mark Driscoll for being Pastor Mark Driscoll, ie, a bully.

-         And other stuff.

Now like I said, I read these articles, and I read the comments on the articles. Again, the comment quality on this blog is very high. The discussion was good – sometimes heated, but never overly disrespectful, and generally very well informed and well thought-out. But I noticed something on these comment conversations (and often on the articles themselves) that I hadn’t really noticed before as a thing, even though it goes on throughout the entire body of Christ, not just one person’s blog – the question that seems to be asked the most frequently is simply, “How do we use the Bible to tell us what is right?”

Person A – “The Bible says that we should do this, so we should do it, because it is right. To do otherwise would be wrong.”

Person B – “I respectfully disagree. The Bible says we should do this, so we should do it, because it is right. To do as you suggest would be wrong. “

Sometimes the debates get more heated than that.

And then there’s me.

Daniel – “But I’ve known right from wrong my entire life, and I picked up my first Bible eight months ago. Can it really be this complicated?”

I always just used the Wheel of Morality. Should I not have done that?

I think that this may be the subject in which my experience growing up as a secularist/skeptic/pagan diverged the most dramatically from the experiences of those who grew up in the Christian culture. While I acknowledge the obvious – that Western culture has been shaped by Judeo-Christian morality for thousands of years, and even secular Westerners hold certain ideals (like the value of all human life) that did not exist in the pre-Christian Western world – I would still say that my moral life was only minimally shaped by the Bible. For example, the idea that sex outside of marriage is bad is, to my experience, only native to those who grew up within a household environment stressing Biblical morality. I, on the other hand, believed that sex should be saved for someone that I loved, and was committed to monogamy with me. . . but marriage needn’t be mandatory.

My morality acknowledged three types of acts – those that are right, those that are wrong, and those that are meh. Right actions helped people and made the world a better place. Wrong actions hurt people, and they made the world a worse place. “Meh” actions didn’t have a moral impact at all, because they neither helped nor hurt anyone.

Here are some examples of my moral compass in action!

Right Actions – Helping those in need; comforting someone who is sad; sharing your sexuality with one person you love; telling the truth; encouraging people; being good to children.

Wrong Actions – Abusing someone verbally, physically, mentally, or emotionally; over-indulging in substances like drugs or alcohol that make you more likely to hurt yourself or others; being sexually promiscuous; being greedy to the point of taking from those in need; acting out of hatred or intolerance.

“Meh” Actions – Ordering pizza; masturbation; watching television (in moderation); drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana (in moderation); shopping for clothes at the mall; engaging in homosexual sex (with one committed partner); sex before marriage (with a committed, loving partner)

Now, I am no longer a secularist/skeptic/pagan – I am a Christian. And part of being a Christian is reading the Bible. But sometimes I think the way I read the Bible is different from the way others in my community read the Bible. I see the Bible as this tremendous story about God, and about the people who love (or don’t love) God, and our attempts as a human race to redeem ourselves and become better people. There’s also this awesome story arc going through the whole thing about a people who started out whole, became broken, and will someday be whole again. It’s moving stuff. I love it.

I just don’t know for sure that I’m supposed to get all of my rules for it. I don’t doubt that God supports the basic thought process behind my moral compass – again, right actions help people and help the world, wrong actions hurt people and hurt the world, and some actions aren’t really right or wrong. In fact, I think most people I know would agree to that basic moral framework. Many Christians I know, and millions I don’t know, also add another qualifier to the process of determining the morality of a given act. They say that a right action helps people, helps the world, and does what the Bible says God wants us to do.

In fact, many believe that sometimes the Bible will tell us that something is right even when our hearts tell us it is wrong – and we should do what the Bible says, because God knows more than we do.

That’s where I get left behind.

Hopefully not literally.

Going back to the idea of virginal marriage, that’s something that I’m going to have to address in my own household very soon. My girls are both pre-teens (or “tweens” as Nickelodeon tells me I have to call them) and eventually I’m going to have to address the pressures they’ll experience from their peers regarding sex and sexuality. And my boys are growing up in a world where porn is, like, almost-literally everywhere. So I need to know what my stance on pre-marital sex is. When I ask my Christian friends for their opinion, the response has been (so far) universally on the side of virginal marriage. When I ask my secular friends, the response has been (again, universally, up to this point) that waiting until marriage to lose your virginity is a horrible idea! How do you know what you want out of your sex life? How do you know anything about your body? How do you know that you and your partner will be compatible in this, a most vital part of any relationship?

“Why,” they ask me, “would you buy a car without test-driving it first?”

On the other hand, some people have made compelling arguments in support of virginal marriage. As noted above in my examples of my moral compass in action, I generally put pre-marital sex in my “meh” category. But what if, as some people argue, you’re more likely to get sexual hang-ups from having sexual relationships before you get married? Yeah, I’ve seen that happen. What if you should put your trust in God, and not in sexual experimentation, to make sure that you and your spouse are compatible in the sack? Well, I trust in God, so yeah, I can see that! What if sex is such a special gift, such a wonderful blessing from God, that you should only share it with one person – the most special person in your life? My wife is phenomenally important to me, and I wish I could have given her that – so yeah, that argument makes sense to me, too. In fact, with all of these arguments, I might just say that virginal marriage is in the “right” category.

Would I do that, though, if the only compelling argument my friends made was, “Well, the Bible says to wait?”

I don’t think I would have, to be honest.

So here’s my question today, for anyone who wants to address it – how do you work out the tension that arises when “Biblical” morality seems incompatible with morality outside of a Biblical stance? Did any other readers besides me come from a very skeptical, secular worldview before coming to Jesus, and have to answer this question for themselves? 


Just hush and take your medicine

I recently discovered what may be the coolest-sounding group of pastors in existence: Outlaw Preachers. Seriously, that name just sounds incredibly cool. Not since the Knights Templar has the body of Christ produced a more awesome image of people loving God no matter fucking what. I want to be one of these guys when I grow up. The Bible teaches that we are all, collectively, the body of Christ – and the Outlaw Preachers show us that the body of Christ apparently has a robotic gun-hand.

“Peace of God be with you, motherfucker.”

Led by living-tattoo-monster Jay Bakker (son of famous talking Christian guy Jim Bakker), the Outlaw Preachers seem to be all about the idea of a radically inclusive gospel. You can spell this lots of ways, but it seems that all everyone can focus on is the idea that Jay Bakker says it’s alright for two dudes (or two chicks) to bump uglies, as long as they get married. Since there aren’t many places where two dudes (or two chicks) can get married, and since a vocal majority of Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin, you can imagine that there is a certain. . . shall we say. . . controversy regarding Jay Bakker, the Outlaw Preachers, and their teachings.

Is it just me, or does he look like David Cross if David Cross moved to Vegas and picked up a meth habit?

Now, this post isn’t about homosexuality, my views on homosexuality, or how I feel about the church’s views on homosexuality (although that post will be coming some day). No, this post is more about a larger theme that I’m mulling over . . . does the church need to be challenged, internally, on a regular basis? This is kind of a trick question, because in my mind, I don’t think that anyone would argue against that idea. I think, in theory, every single theologian alive feels that a church should be challenged on grounds both social and theological. I imagine I’d be hard-pressed to find a preacher of any Protestant church who would argue that Martin Luther should not have written the Ninety-five Theses.

That is, of course, until someone nails a thesis to their church’s door.

"Is that someone knocking on the door? I'll just go check. . . OH, BULLSHIT!"

It seems like, on a basic level, the Outlaw Preachers see themselves fulfilling the role of Badass Outlaw Jesus, the guy who hung out with whores and tax collectors and gave the Pharisees the finger. They see the conservative preachers of the world as the Pharisees – sometimes because they think they are ignorant, sometimes because they think they are corrupt. Either way, it’s not a tremendously flattering image to be on the receiving end of, but it’s why they do what they do. The O.P.’s prefer the image of Rebel Jesus, breaker of rules, revealer of hidden meanings, and damner of the Man.

On the other hand, the conservative preachers who rail against Jay Bakker and his “ilk” (a frequently used word in this case, and one that almost sounds like it should be used to refer to a family of snakes) believe that they are fulfilling the role of Jesus, the authoritative figure who firmly rebuked false teachers and those who do not follow the law. Conservative preachers prefer the image of Bossman Jesus, the guy who told those lazy Pharisees to get off of their golden thrones and really engage God, help the poor, and see to the spiritual and physical well-being of all living people.

I like both ideas of Jesus, personally. I dig Rebel Jesus, because he constantly forces us to re-evaluate ourselves and our society. Rebel Jesus says, “Oh, your way is right? Prove it.” On the other hand, Bossman Jesus gives us structure and safety. Bossman Jesus says, “Listen, buddy – life is hard, and we all have to do our best to make it together. Say something constructive or shut up.”

And there’s Buddy Christ, who just wants to play video games and eat Pizza Rolls.

Now, if I can tentatively speak for the Outlaw Preachers, I think I can safely say that these guys aren’t trying to subvert the law that is put forth in the Bible. Rather, I think they are trying to force us mere mortals to question whether or not we actually understand that law as set forth in the Bible. It might be easier if our understanding of God’s law has always been perfect, but a flip through any Western Civilization 101 textbook will show that this is abundantly untrue. The Bible has always been used to justify agendas of those in power, and that justification has always been based on the idea that it’s God’s law (not ours) that we are adhering to. When preachers in the American South defended the institution of slavery, they used Paul’s words to do so. European Christians have used the Bible to justify literally centuries of anti-Semitism. Imperialist doctrines, oppressive monarchies, and “manifest destiny” have all been supported by the Bible.

Does that mean that the Bible is wrong? Hell, no. Does it mean that we have, at times, interpreted the Bible incorrect? Absolutely. Now, saying that we have, in the past, been wrong about what we thought God wanted us to do is the easiest thing in the world. It’s much, much harder to contemplate that we might be the people who are currently doing so. But if we aren’t challenged on our understanding of God’s law, how will we ever know?

No wonder the Outlaw Preachers are so hated. They’re calling people Pharisees.

Really, nobody wants to think of themselves as a Pharisee confronted by Jesus. Everyone believes that, as the story of God unfolds in their lives, they are the disciples, while others are the Pharisees. And they don’t believe they are the disciples of the Gospels – those well-meaning but goofily ignorant fellows who were constantly running behind the Lord of Hosts, scratching their heads and saying, “Well gosh, Jesus, whadja do that for?” “What did you mean by that, Jesus? That sure was confusin’.” “Don’t worry Jesus, I brought a sword to the party!” “What do you mean, deny you? I’d never deny – oh, that Jesus? Never heard of him! Never heard of him, nope, never heard of him!” No, nobody sees themselves as that lovably dumb person that was a pre-Acts disciple.

"Fishers of men, hyuck hyuck hyuck!"

Instead, everyone wants to be a disciple from the point of Pentecost on. We want to see ourselves as the bad-ass, Word-delivering apostles, who travel the world like the guy from “Kung Fu”, delivering the gospel and miracles to the oppressed. When someone says we’re doing something wrong – when someone challenges our understanding of God’s word – we don’t react like a pre-Pentecost disciple during Jesus’ life, with a smack on the forehead and a request for explanation. We react like we are being attacked – we are fucking apostles, dammit, we have super powers! Anyone who questions how we do things is, by definition, an enemy, or a dupe, or an idiot who doesn’t have the brainpower to see how right we are.

“MY BEARD MAKES ME BEYOND REPROACH!!!!”

I feel kind of bad for us, when that time comes. I know it’s happened to me quite recently – I thought I knew something beyond a doubt, and then was schooled. It happens. It’s easy for me to deal with, because Christian faith is new to me. It’s also a pretty unthreatening (if still unpleasant) experience, because I’m not responsible for anybody. If what I say is wrong, who is harmed? For people who are established preachers/pastors/ministers/collar-wearing guys, being told that you’re wrong must be a bigger deal. Everyone knows that it sucks when people are persecuted wrongfully, or hurt – and who wants to feel that they are responsible for that? Especially when they thought they were doing what was right. That sucks.

Now, I’m not saying that the Outlaw Preachers are always right. I am wayyyyyy too ignorant of their message to know that, and I am wayyyyyyy more ignorant of the message God gives in the Bible – I don’t have the right to assume accuracy on either side of the argument. What I am saying is that Christians have, for centuries, made horrible mistakes in the name of God, and these mistakes have caused pain for innocent people. If we don’t have people like the Outlaw Preachers questioning the validity if our interpretations now, then we’ll just have to suck it up when historians from the future do the same, long after it’s become too late to fix it.

Also. . . Vegas-meth David Cross. Who can’t love this guy? Just sayin'.