Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Religious heretics

Yesterday I posted this thought on Facebook:

Taking the Bible at face value & obeying it will almost always make you a heretic to religious people.

I wanted to unpack a little bit what I was thinking when I wrote it.

First, we're a very religious society. While I totally oppose the concept that we in the United States have every been, are now, or should be in the future a "Christian" nation, there is little debate that we're one of the most religious societies on earth.

Second, religion has its ups and downs. We all have religious practices, to one degree or another, and those practices can have deep meaning and impact on our lives. They can also become places of pride, contention, and downright violence in proving who is right.

Third, religion has tended throughout history to be user and usee when it comes to political clout, power and influence. Religion, once it becomes the accepted practice, does not want to lose its influence, so it seeks to maintain the status quo and hold on to a position of power.

When the early church has no clout, no social capital, it lived on the margins of society and had its most incredible growth and impact EVER. The rise of the church in the first 300 years is nothing short of amazing. But in the 4th century, as the church became the institution of the social norm, it moved away from the margins and into the center. It became sluggish and dull, fat on the feeling of stability and power.

And so has it been for nearly 1700 years since.

Those who rise up and challenge the established religion, often by a humble return and obedience to the core passages of the Scriptures, are labelled as heretics because they challenge the position of power that the religious structures and leaders have long held.

I believe God opposes these positions of power, and challenges us instead to live on the margins, influencing society through acts of service to the quartet of the vulnerable, speaking prophetically to the thrones of power that seek only to maintain their place of favor, even at the cost of those most vulnerable. To love God and neighbor with such reckless abandon that it cannot be dismissed nor bought nor bribed.

That's the kind of heretic I want to be.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Christmas Wars

I tried last holiday season to write a thought or two about the supposed "war on Christmas" going on in the US. Yes, I think it's a supposed war.

But this year, Jim Wallis makes the case much better than me. You can read his entire blog about this here, but I wanted to share a few quotes and thoughts from his post.

Making sure that shopping malls and stores greet their customers with “Merry
Christmas” is entirely irrelevant to the meaning of the Incarnation. In reality
it is the consumer frenzy of Christmas shopping that is the real affront and
threat to the season.

Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on
Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the
planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A
material blasphemy of the Christmas season.

Yes, yes, and yes! We cannot take a symbol, whether that's a tree, a gift, a slogan, a greeting, whatever, and then compare it somehow to being "the meaning of the season." As Wallis goes on to say, is Jesus humbled when he walks into a store and sees how the "merry Christmas" sign in the window points people to him? Who has ever come to Christ from a "merry Christmas" sign? From a public nativity?

Holiday means holy that really that bad?

Why do we spend so much time on the symbols of Christmas, and neglect imitating the incarnational presence of Jesus in our world? I have rarely (I don't remember ever) trying to speak on behalf of Jesus in this blog, but can I say that I don't think he cares one bit about whether my Best Buy has "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" in the window?

The true reality is that Jesus came to earth and lived among a poor and oppressed people, in order to redeem their lives to the fullness God originally intended. As Wallis says, to restore right relationship between God and between each other. Let's focus some energy on that goal this Christmas. Let's really seek to have "peace on earth and goodwill among men."

I hope you'll click the link and read Wallis' post. And you'll go to and make a meaningful gift this Christmas. Or holiday season.

I'm okay with either one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Immigration issues

Here's a link to a PBS article about Alabama's immigration law and the impact it's having on people there. I especially like the interviews with people on the street, in particular the guy who said:

MAN: Oh, I'm all for it. I feel like what's taking place in America right now is a slow-moving invasion. Our country is being taken advantage of and being exploited.

Slow-moving invasion. So unless this guy is a native American, he or his forebears are guilty of perpetuating one of those slow-moving invasions themselves.

This is crazy to me that people are so self-centered. Since my ancestors from Europe won a war, I have a God-given right to say who belongs here or who doesn't.

No you don't, not if you're going to follow that God in the Bible, the one who loves the "quartet of the vulnerable"--orphans, widows, the poor and the aliens.

If your family was part of the "founding" of this country, they were illegal immigrants.

If your family came to this country between 1776 and 1950, they came under laws that favored west Europeans, often to the exclusion of other nations.

There are families of "illegal immigrants" along the border with Mexico whose ancestors lived in that land hundreds of years before anyone of European descent even came looking for a passage to the Indies.

It is time to fix the immigration system here in the US. It's time for real decisions and leadership on this issue, not the broken-down rhetoric of political expediency. Families are suffering, children separated from parents, people are having their basic rights stripped.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."