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Hey everyone. This is Brett, head blogger and founder of WOJ. I have decided to take my work to the next level and actively pursue a career in freelance writing. I will continue to develop weoccupyjesus.org, however my personal reflections and more self-promotional posts require a separate site. I am now officially launching…

iamprobablywrong.com.

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Don’t Should On Me!

Brett Gallaher —  January 20, 2014 — 5 Comments

Port-O-Potty-e1381947235468

So I went to see an R-rated movie the other day. Well, first I sat through the forty-five minutes of commercials about buying the giant discount popcorn bucket, and then I watched an R-rated movie. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again. After the popcorn propaganda came the previews (including the preview for that upcoming Coca Cola bears movie, aka the upcoming 90 minute commercial about Coca Cola). Since I had paid to see an R-rated film, the previews were for many R-rated films as well. One time I read the description of the rating itself, being told that minors must be accompanied by an adult. For some reason, it made me laugh. I mean, the content of the film doesn’t change simply because your parent is sitting next to you. Obviously the message is “We don’t care if your kid should see decapitations and raunchy sex scenes at age nine. We just want to make sure you don’t mind if your kid sees it. And don’t sue us by the way.”

Can't beat the real thing!

Can’t beat the real thing!

~

I had to catch myself, because my inner monologue had begun should’ing all over the place. You see, I think one of the un-evolved elements of humanity is our propensity to tell other human beings what they should and should not do, think, believe, or feel. We do it all day long. It saturates every conversation from religion to politics to education to… who should see an R-rated movie. I mean, I was sitting there in the theater thoroughly enjoying the adult humor and language used in the film. Honestly, a few years ago I would not have felt comfortable with such content, but I have changed. Depending on your own beliefs you may think I made a change for the worse, letting my morals slowly decay and allowing my mind to be infected with unholy influences. Maybe not. Maybe you think R-rated movies are more in-line with the real world, unfiltered and consistent with our modern society.

What really struck me was the fact I couldn’t simply enjoy the show without first dealing with these kind of thoughts; I was somehow compelled to entertain fabricated debates in my head regarding the nature of morality. That’s annoying. I mean, I paid $10 (plus the nearly $15 for the giant discount popcorn bucket) so I could yell internally at my third grade Sunday School teacher (who was a lovely woman by the way). Why was I letting people “should” on me from the past? From decades ago?

"Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!"

“Brett! Stop reading Song of Solomon out loud!”

~

I observed the actions of the characters on screen. The uncensored tone of the dialogue was refreshing, but it reminded me of how any truth or lesson lying behind the film would be totally lost on certain individuals. The unmarried couple laying in bed after sex, having a real human conversation filled with laughter and joy and hope… none of that would come across to those only preoccupied with condemning the “sin” of premarital sex. The woman abused by her husband of fifteen years shares a dance and a kiss with a younger man in a bar… but she’s an adulteress whore and a drunkard to some. You see, characters in films may not be real, but they represent very real ideas, people, situations, etc. Movies are truly art imitating life.

So, who is to say how we should live? What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? It’s easier for us to get those answers from other people. For some that is as easy as picking a religion. Right and wrong are able to be defined, creating a framework for living. In such a scenario, one must simple do all they can to avoid what is wrong and pursue what is right. This creates a tendency to dismiss “gray areas” as confused or twisted logic, created by dark forces conspiring to trip you up at every turn. Reality is only black and white to many people, therefore anything gray is to be met with suspicion at the very least.

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon...

That reminds me of another R-rated movie coming out soon…

~

While I won’t fall into the verbal trap of attempting the phrase “You shouldn’t tell people what they shouldn’t do” …I’ll propose what I see as an obvious downside of should’ing on people. To define life (and particularly your life) as existing within any pre-defined framework is to reject the experience of life. If you tell someone else how they should feel, who they should love, what they should do, etc., you are telling them that their own experience, their own journey, their own path is pointless. Their unique existence? Meaningless. And worse, you are tell them that your unique existence isn’t unique either. You’re kindly (or often unkindly) breaking it to them that life isn’t about doing the work of discovering your own place in the universe; you’re saying life is already decided to be [fill in the blank]. Get use to it.

And much worse, you can rob people of some of the most beautiful moments. You have the power to take something miraculous, or freeing, or life-giving, and write it off as selfish, sinful, or even demonic. Any particular brand of happiness not grounded in your particular worldview can be met with ridicule, dismissal, or scorn. And again, the real tragedy is that you reject the truth behind the packaging. You miss out on life, trading it for a concept you’ve elevated to the place of God.

Obviously we can have our convictions. We can believe strongly in principles that guide our lives. We can fight for what matters to us. But it must be the fruit of our own labor, to work out who we should be as individuals. It will involve trial and error. You will mess up. You will get discouraged. But if you pull through, if you discover what is good and pure, what is dark and empty, what gives you meaning and what poisons your soul… if you experience pain and rebirth, if you conquer yourself and find who you really are…

…No one should ever be able to define life for you ever again.

——–

brettBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

Paul and the Greek Poets

gglenister —  January 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

I have been writing on the subject of how I believe that Christianity is not supposed to be like religion – that is, a system of insiders and outsiders where we are the right side and everyone else is on the wrong side.  This post will be a continuation on this theme – if you have not read my other posts in this series, I recommend you do so:

  • Part 1 explores 5 reasons I believe Christianity is not supposed to be a religion in the sense I described.
  • Part 2 explores the balance between Orthodoxy (right belief) and Orthopraxy (right action)
  • Part 3 explores how one could go about analyzing their belief structure to find out if it was poisonous
  • Part 4 explores how preaching works within the new paradigm of “religionless Christianity”

So I’d like to try to tie things up in this post.  The idea of this whole series has been about moving beyond a system of belief that divides people, and moving into a way of life that brings people together in unity.

The Evolution of “Religion”

In his 1962 book “The Meaning and End of Religion“, Wilfred Cantwell Smith – a professor of comparative religion at Harvard – draws a distinction between the modern word “religion” and its Latin root, religio.  The root of this word is ligare – to connect, tie together, bind, unite.  This is the same root of “ligature”: the stuff that holds a skeleton together.  We see from this history that religion is meant to be a reconnecting – to bring together people who should have never been separated.  It is not intended to be a system that separates people into hostile tribes.

ligamentsBut Professor Smith demonstrates that through the centuries, the meaning of this word slowly changed:

…in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true, something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible, is up for inspection before the speculative mind.

We have found in these modern times that this way of treating religion has poisoned it from within and turned it into a weapon tribes wield against each other.  So it has been my argument in this series of posts that what we need for this time is a new kind of “religionless” Christianity which is based primarily in love for our fellow man, and is more focused on uniting over the common goals of the good of society than on common “beliefs”.  This new kind of religion would be based more on fellowship and experience than on assertions of truth.

This is not to say that truth is not important, but rather that I believe the nature of truth is something that binds people together and heals rather than something that should cause strife and conflict.  In “Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening“, Diana Butler Bass writes:

healing-touchIndeed, the word “doctrine,” a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a “healing teaching,” from the French word for “doctor .” The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life-giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.

I believe that it is important to realize that truth is not an exclusive thing – truth is not some physical thing that one tribe possesses to the exclusion of all others.  Rather, we are all able to perceive truth to varying degrees, and when we work together with different people groups we will have greater understandings of the truth.  In order to understand truth better and more fully, we cannot act as if our tribe has an exclusive grip on truth and all other tribes are lost in darkness, but rather we should realize that there are some truths our tribe may understand better than others, and most likely many others that other tribes understand more clearly than our own.

Paul and the Greek Poets

Paul_Preaching_On_Mars_Hill

A depiction of Paul preaching on Mars Hill in Acts 17

I believe we see this attitude at work in the way the Apostle Paul draws on the wisdom of well-known Greek poets in Acts chapter 17.  In verse 28, we find Paul quoting two distinct figures: the Cretan philosopher Epimenides in the first half of the verse, and the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus.

Now first of all, this provides a stark contrast with what seems to be the common attitude of much of American Christianity these days.  It seems that much of the Christian world in America has adopted an isolationist sort of attitude that encourages those within to avoid the outside world, and to see them as dangerous liars who are devoid of all truth.  And this sort of culture encourages its adherents to avoid “secular” things in favor of “Christian” things – trade “secular” music for “Christian” music, “secular” movies for “Christian” movies, “secular” books for “Christian” books, etc.  But Paul seems to draw a contrast with this attitude in Acts 17:28 by drawing on the wisdom of well-known “secular” figures in order to communicate with his audience.  Why is Paul willing to draw from the wisdom of those who are not part of his religion?

I think a major clue is found in what Paul is quoting, specifically.  In the first quote, Paul says that “in him [speaking of God] we live and move and have our being”, and in the second he says that we are God’s offspring – His children.  Paul makes no exceptions in these quotes – he doesn’t specify that you have to be members of a particular religious “tribe” in order to be God’s children.  Rather, he seems to imply that all people live, move, and have their being grounded in God and are children of God.

Over All, Through All, In All

To understand more fully how Paul understands the nature of God, I’d like to examine another statement found in Ephesians 4:4-6:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [emphasis mine]

The statement at the end of this passages lays out a profound mystery – God is over all things, working through all things, and is in all things.  There is a simple term for this view: panentheism.  Panentheism is the belief that all things rest within the being of God, God is working through all beings and all events, all beings are a part of the life of God, and yet God transcends all things, beings, and events.  In this belief, we cannot isolate God to any one place or time, but we can find God in all places and times.

Cosmos01

This is not a belief that the Apostle Paul invented either – we find traces of panentheism in “Old Testament” passages like this one:

Psalm 139:7-10
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

The prophet Jeremiah writes:

Jeremiah 23:24
“Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

The gospel of John has a brilliant explanation of panentheism in the first chapter.  The author of this gospel has a very artistic way of using words – often playing on double meanings, and layering multiple meanings over-top of each other.  In the first verse of this gospel, John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

This single sentence is packed full of meaning.  The word translated as “Word” was the Greek word “logos”.  This is a very interesting word, because it draws on the Greek belief that the entire cosmos was grounded in a rational system of rules.  We could call this “science” or “physics” in modern times.  But John is also drawing on the fact that to the Jews, “the Word” had a rich meaning as well.  In Genesis, God creates through his “Word”.  When God speaks, things happen.  For human beings as well, a word is an interesting thing to think about: a word that we speak conveys our thoughts to another person and has an affect on them.  They perceive a piece of our nature through this word.  When a word leaves our lips, it is no longer us, and yet it has its source in us.  An instruction from one person to another might result in actions being taken.  For Jews, they believed that creation was a direct result of God’s word, and thus was a way to perceive the nature of God and to perceive God’s thoughts.  Additionally, the Hebrew Bible was considered to be God’s “Word” – a direct revelation of God’s character.

andromeda-orbit

The Logos of the Universe

But John is saying that the Word is more than the matter of creation, or even ancient scriptures.  The Word is a person.  But this person has existed from the beginning, was with God, and was God.  More than this, all things were created through the Logos (see verse 3), all life comes through this Logos (see verse 4), and all knowledge comes from this Logos (see verses 4 and 9).

Making Sense of Panentheism

These are bold claims, and very difficult to understand.  It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense if one had no desire to understand.  But I think there is a fundamental truth to this idea.

InterrelatedThink of it this way: all existence is grounded in relationship.  I would not exist were it not for the relationship my parents had, and I would not have continued to have life after I began to exist if it were not for relationships, nor would I have known anything I claim to know if it were not for relationships.

In the classic Christmas movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, George Bailey learns that he has touched many lives in a profound way.  He sees that if his own life had been removed from the tapestry of history, many other lives would experience loss.

We are all the same way – our lives are dependent on the lives of others for their ground of being.  Without the many lives whose paths we had crossed, we would be very different people, and if you removed enough threads from the tapestry of life, we would cease to exist.  Every being exists within a web of relationships through which that being’s character is shaped.

What panentheism teaches us is that all beings are interrelated.  When you eat a piece of bread, you are not just eating bread.  The grain from which this bread was made was nourished by sunlight, it grew using the nutrients from the earth, the water from the clouds, and the air.  So when you eat this bread, you are eating sunlight, earth, clouds, and air.  And you are benefiting from the work of the people who tilled the fields this grain grew in, and the work of the baker.  So you are experiencing interrelatedness with each bite of bread.

In the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is talked about, the word that is used for “Spirit” is “pneuma“.  Like many Greek words, this word has another meaning as well: breath.  In Genesis, after God created man, he breathed life into him.  We are dependent on air to live – without breath, we die.  But when we breathe, we are experiencing interrelatedness, because the air we breathe has been breathed and expelled by thousands of people before us, as well as animals and plants.  This air has been circulated countless times through the lungs of countless creatures.

deep_breathI believe that it is impossible to understand the doctrine of the Trinity outside of panentheism.  The idea of the trinity is that God exists as “three in one” – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But this idea also holds that God is not more three than He is one, and no more one than He is three.  That one is a head-scratcher.  But if you understand that God is the very ground of being, you can start to understand the trinity.  The Father is the unknowable and unfathomable source of all life, the Son is the knowable manifestation of God, and the Holy Spirit is the interrelatedness of all things.

Imagine it this way – you are standing at the bottom of a waterfall.  The top of the waterfall is unknown to you, and is the source – the Father, for the sake of this analogy.  The water spilling over your face is the manifestation of the waterfall through which you experience and understand the waterfall – the Son.  The water spilling out below you and touching other life-forms is the Holy Spirit.

You experience the waterfall through individual drops of water, but these drops are part of a much greater whole.  If you think deeply about this concept, you realize that the water evaporates in the sunlight, rises to form clouds, and then rains back down to the earth to become part of the waterfall again.

Additionally, creatures drink from the water of this waterfall and this water passes through them back into the ground to become part of streams, to evaporate and become clouds, and to precipitate again down to the earth.  In this way, all creatures have a relationship to this waterfall, and in a way have a relationship with each other through the waterfall.

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17 that we will be One, as he and the Father are one (verse 11), “as you [the Father] are in me and I am in you.”  (verse 21)  This is the force of perfect love – relationship so close that the members of the relationship, in their continual self-sacrifice for one another, cooperate in such a close relationship that they become “One”.  Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:4-5:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We are supposed to belong to each other, as cells in a body belong to each other.  The cells of a body serve the body, and in serving the body they are nourished and upheld by the body.  When a group of cells stops serving the body, and the cells seek to serve themselves, this is competition/separation/non-love and in the human body we call that cancer.

human-body-cells-25962548In “Christ In Evolution“, Ilia Delio writes:

To live in the experience of Christ is to live in the experience of relatedness, to be a member of the cosmic family, because Christ is the Word of God through whom all things are related.

The early Christians understood Jesus as a revelation of God’s character – they saw a man whose entire life was marked by radical love, and whose life caused a ripple effect throughout an entire empire.  Because of the effects of the resurrection, the Apostle Paul believed that it is through the universal relationship of divine love that all things are created and sustained, as he writes in Colossians 1:15-20:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We find through this passage that universal love is not only the goal of creation, but also the means of creation.  When I combine this idea with John 12:32 – where Jesus says that through the act of the cross he will draw all men to himself – I am reminded of the science of a black hole.  Science teaches us that it is because of gravity that all bodies in the cosmos are formed, and at the center of each galaxy is a black hole.  The galaxies themselves owe their very existence to the incredible gravity of these black holes, which are continually drawing all members of the galaxy inward towards them.  I believe that God’s love is a bit like this – drawing all men in to relationship and forming the fabric of being through this love.

Because of the proclamation of universal reconciliation in Col. 1:20, we are freed from the fear of the world, our fellow man, “demons”, and even God, and empowered to reach out with bold acts of love and join in with God’s creative work.  This doctrine helps us to understand that being made “in the image of God” means that at a very deep level – in the core of our being – we are marked by the radical potential to receive the mystery of divine love, and as a result to pour out God’s presence in the world.  And through accepting and extending this love, we enter into partnership with God to become agents of creation through His love.

This idea gives us a whole new understanding of “salvation” – salvation is not being saved from God, but being saved in, to, and through God.  For many Christians, the word “salvation” brings an understanding of being saved from “hell” (for more on this subject, see my series “Checkmate For Hell”), but the word’s Latin roots mean “whole”, “sound”, “healed”, “safe”, “well”, or “unharmed”.  Often people will talk about “finding love”, and will talk about this love making us whole or healing us.  But panentheism teaches us that love was always inside of us – we just needed to give it away.

When we understand that the goal for creation is interrelatedness, we can understand more fully the meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:25:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

When we seek to live our life at the cost of others and independent of them, we will lose our life.  But when we draw in to the fellowship of the unity of all things (see Eph. 1:9-10), we will find a well of Eternal Life that will flow out from us into the world (see John 4:10-14).

water-of-life2

The understanding of the full integration with love helps us to understand many other facets of faith.  For example, we understand through this framework that our relationship with creation should be – it is not a relationship of domination and forced control, but rather a relationship of harmony.  We can also understand that the true nature of sin/evil is a resistance to unity that causes division and chaos, but we also understand that this cannot last forever but will be conquered by love in the end.

But perhaps the greatest lesson panentheism teaches us is the true nature of love: that in order to experience love, we must love others, and in doing so we will find that we have always been loved and lovable ourselves.  Love does not act in a way that causes harm to a single living being, but seeks to integrate all life – Ilia Delio sums up this idea in “Christ In Evolution“:

Christ, the fully integrated person, is not a person but the Person, the integration of all human persons fully united in the one Spirit of love and thus fully integrated in relation to God.  The resurrected Christ is the prolepsis of what is intended for the whole cosmos — union and transformation in God.

In the community of God, we will find true peace.  The loneliness caused by isolation will end, as well as all acts of violence and injustice.  The mutual destruction caused by the selfish struggles of rampant individuality will be replaced by a community of peace built on self-giving mutual servant-hood in which all created beings are there for one another, with one another and in one another, and through the interchange of their energies keep one another in life, for one another and together.  And in this community we will truly experience the presence of God, and the power of death will be overcome.

wafer2

flickr: York Minster

 

Perhaps I should have titled this post “5 Reasons Christianity Shouldn’t Be About Religion,” because there’s a common misconception that Christianity is a religion.  Not only that it’s a religion, but that it’s supposed to be a religion.  This misconception is shared by insiders and outsiders alike, it seems.  And it’s completely wrong!

Now, I should pause here and define what it is that I mean when I say “religion” – I’m talking about religion in the sense of being an identifier, or a way of distinguishing one person or another.  What I’m talking about could also be described as “tribalism“.  It’s the insiders and outsiders paradigm–the view that there are some who are favored by God, and some who are not, and that there are easily distinguishable traits which can tell you which group a person is in.

This is a completely warped idea, because Christianity is supposed to be about following Jesus, and there are so many ways that Jesus contradicted this insiders-vs-outsiders view.  Here are just a few of those ways:

1. John’s Baptism

Baptism seems to be one of those Christian ideas for which the historical context has been almost completely lost to the general populous, and as a result some very superstitious ideas about it have risen up.  Denominations battle over the method and timing of baptism: is a sprinkling ok, or should you be immersed?  Can babies be baptized?  Many seem to even connect salvation itself with baptism – I remember hearing one leader assure someone who was worried about salvation that “if you’re dipped, you’re in!”

But when you get a picture of the historical context that “John the Baptist” was set in, you might get a different picture of what this was all about.  In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, there was a practice known as “mikveh” – a ritual immersion bath.

Mikveh

Mikveh at Jerusalem temple

The mikveh was a purity ritual, and would be performed after a person experienced various “unclean” events and before entering the temple. A priest would practice mikveh before conducting various ceremonies, and scribes would even practice it before writing the name of God!

What mikveh communicated was that a person had been dirtied by the outside world, and must clean him or herself before entering into communion with God.  The practice of immersing before entering the temple did much to communicate the “insider/outsider paradigm” or the “us vs. them paradigm” that the Jews in Jesus’ day lived within.  It said “those who are not part of our religion are unclean, and we must wash off their filth before entering into communion with God.”

But John the Baptist did something new–he started immersing people in the Jordan river, right out there in nature!  This was a bit of religious theater, if you will, and to the people of the time, the message was clear:

“The real filth that must be washed off is not out there–it’s the temple religion!  Their self-righteous arrogance and apathy towards the people trapped within unjust systems that create poverty is the real dirtiness that must be washed off!” 

John’s baptism was a symbol of washing off the attitude that there are insiders and outsiders–of putting aside the attitude that somehow you’re special and others are not.  In Luke’s gospel, the story of John’s practice of baptism is accompanied by his instruction to share your possessions with the poor (Luke 3:11), indicating that this is part of a larger mission to break down the barriers between classes of people.

When Jesus meets up with John, does Jesus rebuke John for this rejection of the religious practice of mikveh?  Does he say “John, you know that mikveh should be practiced in the temple, so people can prepare to worship God properly!”  No!  Jesus affirms John’s practice in Matthew 3:13-15, and says “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

2. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In Luke 10:25-37, there is a story that begins with an “expert in the law” testing Jesus by asking him what must be done to “inherit eternal life”.  What follows has been covered in different ways in other gospels, but in this version of the story, Jesus throws the question back at the “expert” and asks, “what’s in the law, and how do you read it?”  The expert responds by summarizing the entire law with two commands: love God, and love your neighbor “as yourself”.  The version of this story in Matthew has Jesus saying:

Matthew 22:40
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

One thing I find interesting is that the apostle Paul skips over the “love God” part and says that the entire law is fulfilled in the commandment to love your neighbor!  (Gal. 5:14)  This might sound curious, but it is a logical inference based upon the fact that Jesus implies that the way to show love to God is to show love to others in such teachings as the “parable of the sheep and the goats” (which can be found in Matthew 25:31-46).

But to return to the story in Luke 10:25-37, in verse 29, it says:

But he [the "expert"] wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

So Jesus tells a story which we commonly refer to as “The Good Samaritan”.  I think that the cultural impact of this story is largely lost on us today, because we don’t understand the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.

044-044-TheGoodSamaritan-full

To really understand the story, I think we need to retell it in today’s terminology. 

I think the modern equivalent of the story would involve an Evangelical minister being beaten up and robbed on the side of the road, and as he lies there, another Evangelical pastor passes right by, and then a Southern Baptist deacon as well.  And then, as he is beginning to despair, a Muslim Imam walks by.  When this Imam sees him there, he comes to his aid, taking him to the nearest hospital.  At the hospital, they find out that the minister has no insurance, and this Muslim says “I will pay his bills – just make sure he is taken care of.”  After the hospital has patched up the minister, the Imam takes him back to his house to stay with him until he is back on his feet again.

You see, Samaritans were not seen by Jews as being other Jews–they were seen as another religion altogether.  Not only were they seen as another religion, but they were altogether detested as enemies.  The comparison between how Jews saw Samaritans and how Christians see Muslims today is an apt one, in my opinion.  Just as there were similar religious beliefs between Jews and Samaritans, there are similarities between Christianity and Muslims.  But the differences are considered irreconcilable, and so the “other” is considered a dangerous foe.

But when Jesus is asked “who is my neighbor?”, he deliberately chose an icon that would be seen as dangerous and religiously “other” by his audience.  He did this to challenge his audience’s priorities.  He did this in order to raise the question: What’s more important–your customs, or how you treat other people?

3. The Woman at the Well

In John 4:1-42, there is a scene where Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well.  There is so much that could be said about this scene – things like how Jesus challenged the cultural views of his day about women and how evangelism ought to work – but I want to focus on one interesting piece of the conversation between Jesus and this woman.

Christ-Encounters-The-Woman-At-The-Well-a-painting-by-Richard-Serrin

But first, we need a little background.  In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament, the nation is Israel is split due to irreconcilable differences after King Solomon’s death.  The two nations were then called Israel and Judah.  Judah contained the city of Jerusalem, where the temple was built.  The Samaritans were part of the area that had been known as Israel–the area that did not contain Jerusalem and the temple.

The Samaritans had taken up the custom of worshiping at Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  This had caused a bit of animosity between them and what was now the Jews in Jesus’ time.  The Jews considered the Samaritans’ worship to be illegitimate because of their refusal to come to the temple.

The_Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah__1_2_4152

With this background in mind, we find that Jesus makes a curious statement during his conversation with the Samaritan woman – in verse 21, he says:

…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

And then, a little further along in verse 23, he expounds on this idea:

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.

Jesus is indicating that a time is coming when the place of worship will not matter–it is the attitude of the heart that indicates true worship.

Earlier in this gospel, in John 2:19 Jesus had already alluded to the concept that a body can be a temple when he had said: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  This was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, as the reader finds at the end of the book.  The apostle Paul picks up on this concept of the temple when he says in I Cor. 3:16:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The idea Jesus presents is that a place is not holy because of its location–any location can be holy. It is the people in the location that make this place holy!  And it is the attitude of their hearts that make these people holy!  So a person who worships the Father “in spirit and truth” can be in the presence of God anywhere and everywhere they go!

4. The Last Supper

The “Last Supper” gave birth to one of the great Christian sacraments–the Eucharist.  The scene of this last supper is set in a celebration of the Passover.  The history of the Passover is set in the Exodus story of Israel – the story goes that even after 9 plagues, the Pharaoh of Egypt still would not release the Israelites from slavery.  So Moses had instructed the Israelites to smear lamb’s blood on their doorposts, and an angel of death would “pass over” them as it went around the land of Egypt killing first born sons.

Passover-doorpost

Jesus takes this symbol and re-frames it in the scene of the Last Supper.  He breaks a loaf of bread and says “this is my body which is given for you.”  And then he passes around a cup of wine and says that it is “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20)

What he is essentially saying is that the days of scapegoating and killing other life in order to save yourself are over. God Himself has willingly given His life and blood to end this cycle, establishing a new covenant. Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of him–and all around the world Christians eat bread and drink wine (or grape juice) in order to remember that night.

But what if there was supposed to be more?  What if, along with accepting the free gift of the nourishment that God gives through bread and wine (which come from His good creation), we are supposed to go out into the world and give ourselves sacrificially to others just as Jesus did?  What if we are supposed to look for the cycles of violence and the victims of those cycles, and stand in the gap in order to break those cycles?  What if this is the deeper meaning behind “do this in remembrance of me?”

In Brian McLaren’s book “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World“, he writes of a “table of reconciliation and fellowship” understanding of the Eucharist, rather than an alter based understanding where God demands blood before his anger can be satiated:

[I]n a table-centered eucharistic understanding, atoning or appeasing sacrifices are simply unnecessary.  Nothing need be done to appease a hostile God, because through Christ, God has self-revealed as inherently gracious and kind , seeking reconciliation; not hostile and vengeful, needing appeasement. If we need to speak of sacrifice at all, we speak of it in its root meaning: sacred gift. So as we gather around the eucharistic table, we bond to a meaning very different from that of the conventional eucharistic altar; we bond to the sacred self-giving of a gracious God.  As we remember Jesus, from incarnation to crucifixion (and beyond), we see God’s self-giving to the whole world in Christ. Christ himself is God’s sacred love-gift to the world.  At the communion table, then, we manifest God’s self-giving in Christ.

This understanding frames the Christian mission to be one of friendship to the world, where we invite others to dine with us and to talk out our problems – where we sacrificially give of ourselves in order to solve the problems of the world.  This dramatically alters the sacrifice demanding God so many have to the God of Isaiah 1:18, who says “Come now, let us reason together.”  At the table of reconciliation and fellowship, God is not demanding payment – he is inviting us to talk through our issues over supper with a glass of wine.

5. The Cross

I ache when I think of what so much “Christian” theology has done to the beautiful act of the cross.  Theology all too often warps this into something God wanted–as if God had kept a 10,000 year grudge from the first sin, and couldn’t let go of His anger without some serious blood.  But God never demanded blood, and He never demanded that Jesus die the most gruesome and painful death we could imagine. That was us.  God doesn’t demand payment for sin: we do.  So, in Jesus, God said: “You want payment?  Take me.”

Jesus’ whole life and ministry was about standing up for those who were marginalized by society–the rejects, the outcasts, the sick, the deformed, the poor, those of the unfavored gender, the religiously “other”.  He spent his whole life sticking up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves.

And the response was that the authority structure scapegoated him–that was us, not God.  So what do we do?  We turn around and try to pin that on God, repeating the scapegoating cycle.  We can’t stand to face the fact that God isn’t anything like us, and that He is remarkably tolerant, and had no part in this.

So we make up some story about how God had to have some blood before He’d be satisfied that our sins had been “paid for”, as if it were some sort of capitalistic transaction.

But there are some questions this idea raises, if that is the actual scenario that occurred.  If this is what happened, then what if we had actually responded to Jesus with acceptance?  What if, instead of being rejected by the Jews in power, they had said “well, you’re obviously a really cool guy–why don’t you take over around here for a while?”  Would Jesus have said “wait, wait, wait…see, there’s this plan. You have to reject me.  See, uh…the big guy upstairs?  He’s not going to be happy unless you reject me and kill me in a really gruesome death!  So uh, let’s try this again.”

And if this was really how it went down, then how is it that the author of 1st John can declare that God is love? (I John 4:8, 16)  How can a being who personifies love be a worse father than most earthly fathers?  I mean, if you heard a story about a Dad who had one son that did something that made him angry, and so he turned around and killed the other so he wouldn’t be angry any more, would you say, “Wow, what a loving father!”, or, “That guy is abusive and needs anger management classes”?

And if God really wanted sins to be “paid for”, why did Jesus quote Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13 when he said: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?  And why would the author of Hebrews say (in 10:8): “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”?

And the question I had always asked myself before I came to the conclusions I now have about the cross is: what was it about Jesus that made people reject him?  If he was so “meek and mild”, why didn’t they love him?  Why did they see him as a threat?

We’ll come back to that later.

But if we re-frame the cross in its historical background, we may find a different meaning behind it.  In “The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction“, Peter Rollins writes:

For Roman citizens crucifixion was the most potent sign of someone being rejected by the cultural, political, and religious systems of the day, all of which were seen as divinely established. Those who were crucified were treated as complete outsiders. They were to die naked, alone, and in agony. But the execution meant more than torture and death; it was a sign that the one being killed stood outside of the divinely given order.

In contrast the Crucifixion of Christ today is seen as a key justification of a cultural, political, and religious matrix, a matrix that Kierkegaard called “Christendom.” It is difficult for us today to understand the extent to which this mode of execution signaled the exclusion of the victim from all systems of meaning, because it is so much a part of one for us. The Cross is so integrated into our religious, political, and cultural imagination that its reality as a mode of execution that placed the victim outside of these realms is utterly eclipsed. Instead of being a symbol of standing outside all systems of meaning, the Cross is now integrated into a system of meaning.

The cross was where Jesus became the outsider and lost all meaning.

And when he was near the point of death, he cried “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34).  Some may try to turn this into some sort of theater, like Jesus was just quoting a Psalm (Ps. 22:1) in order to fulfill a prophecy,without really thinking God had forsaken him (as if it were said with a wink at the camera).

It's OK, I'm just playing 'forsaken'. Fun stuff. | flickr: lecates

It’s OK, I’m just playing ‘forsaken’. | flickr: lecates

But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus spoke this in Aramaic, which was his native tongue, while the verse was written in Hebrew.  Yes, I’m sure that the author of the gospel narrative meant to give a nod to the Psalm, but he deliberately did it in the wrong language, indicating that Jesus actually felt this way!

Jesus’ whole message up to this point had been that God doesn’t reject anyone–and yet here he is doubting that fact in the very moment of his own torment.  And at the point of Jesus’ complete loss, something remarkable happened–in Matthew 27:51 (paralleled in Mk. 15:38), it says that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

To understand the significance of this, we need to understand what this curtain was.

It was a thick, heavy curtain that separated the “Holy of Holies”–the area of the temple that the Jews believed God physically resided in–from the rest of the temple.  This area was so revered, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and only at certain times of the year.  And this curtain was torn.

Many theologians have tried to turn this into a symbol that God was saying “now everyone can have access to me–now that I’ve gotten the blood that I wanted.”  But what if it were indicating something else?  What if the Jewish audience would have realized that this indicated that God was not there?  There was no man behind the curtain–just an empty space.  Where was God?

Out there on that hill, dying from the wounds that the Priestly class had demanded be inflicted on Him, doubting Himself and His own faith.

And instead of accepting how this challenges the paradigm of insiders and outsiders, we turn it into a new system of elites and rejects.

We turn it into a new religion, and we invent this silly thing called the “sinner’s prayer” that’s some kind of magical incantation that gets you in (see Chess Move #7 in my series, Checkmate For Hell).

But everything Jesus had done up to this point demonstrated the truth that the apostle Paul speaks of when he says that “God does not show favoritism.” (Rom. 2:11)  Jesus’ whole life demonstrates the truth of the author of James’ claim that:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(James 1:27)

And what is “the world” that this author speaks of?  It is the authority structures that create systems of insiders and outsiders!  This is what Jesus stood against throughout his whole ministry!  And what do we do?  We turn Jesus into another system of insiders and outsiders!

I asked, earlier, why someone who was “meek and mild” would be rejected and killed so violently. 

I asked what could have enraged people so much that they would do this.  If you’ve been reading my post and it made you upset, I think you have your answer.

We like our systems of insiders and outsiders–we like to think of ourselves as being favored/elite/inside/special while others are rejected/despised/outside/cursed. 

And when someone threatens those systems, it upsets us.

We don’t want to give up our privilege in order to reach out to our scapegoats. 

We don’t want to face up to the fact that we have hurt others unjustly.

We want to be thought of as righteous and holy while those we have cast out are evil and dirty.

We don’t want to give up our reasons for making other people outcast–we want those reasons vindicated.

And when someone calls on us to reconsider these paradigms, it makes us uncomfortable.

We don’t want to think of ourselves as intolerant, so we crucify the prophetic voices calling us to extend God’s radically tolerant love to the outcasts.

So we bicker over doctrine and ritual.  But the mark of one who follows Jesus is not that they believe the right doctrine or observe the right rituals–it’s that they love (see John 13:35).  I John 4:7-8 says:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The religion of Christ calls us to cast off all our privilege and status–to reject categories and religions that separate one human from another–and to simply love our fellow man. The religion of Christ calls us to see Him in others who love – even if they don’t call themselves Christians.

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Oh yeah, I'm a rockstar! Geoff is a Pub Theologian and a geeky/nerdy programmer with three super cute kids and an awesome wife who puts up with his quirks. He is also a Progressive Metalhead, which means he listens to loud music that’s also snobbish. Geoff reads way too many books – especially the ones he’s told not to read - and is proud to have been called a “dangerous hairy tick”.

 

 

 

 

What did you think of Geoff’s article? We welcome your comments!

blue-heaven

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Heaven. That place beyond this world. Not the overly humid one I’ve written about before. The other one. You know, that place where God, Jesus, their friend Casper (i.e. The Holy Spirit), and all those people who abstained from sex get to party for all eternity. That place. For many I would expect it means everything. It is the only reason they get out of bed, endure a job they hate, volunteer in the church Easter production, or whatever else it is that they’d rather not be doing. It is all going to pay off one day. It has to. Otherwise, wouldn’t life be one big waste?

Let’s forget about the implications of that last sentence for a moment. Let’s just assume there is a Heaven. Let’s assume that you and I are going there, whether it be due to old age… or a very unfortunate and catastrophic roller-coaster failure. Let’s first consider some basic questions. As is customary, questions have a way of challenging your neat and tidy reality built out of rainbows and smores. It sucks, but we have to do it. Why? Because I don’t want you getting to Heaven and then be tragically disappointed by all the Mormons running around.

Anything is possible, folks.

Anything is possible, folks.

~

And I mean, haven’t you ever wondered where exactly Heaven would be? If it was a planet? Maybe you have never considered Heaven to be a real place in our physical universe, and that’s a damn shame. Just think of the implications! We’d be living on an alien world, essentially making us aliens. We’d be immortal, ruling the universe alongside our extremely powerful, loving, sometimes-jealous Lord and Master Overlord of the Galaxy, Hey-Zeus… err… I mean, Jesus Christ. Somehow on this magical planet everything would be perfect and sustainable. Somehow this planet would never even be destroyed, not even in the wake of a localized Supernova event. Jesus would beat back the shockwave with his telepathy, then create a new type of perpetual fusion to warm the planet, powered by his love for you and me. In the evening he’d fight off that trickster Devil who always tries to ruin the fun.

Of course I'm talking about Loki.

Of course I’m talking about Loki.

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As awesome as this sounds, I think it is safe to say that Heaven is not a planet. Perhaps the majority of Heaven-believing readers are thinking, “Of course it’s not a planet. Heaven is beyond time and space.” I’ve even heard folks say “Heaven is outside of existence.” While most people would interpret such a statement as saying “Something outside of existence… doesn’t… exist” …many people think it is very reasonable to imagine Heaven as being completely reserved for a reality separate from our own. And there’s almost universal agreement that Heaven is somewhere “out there” …somewhere we go. Somewhere that’s not… here.

Well, that’s fine and dandy, but there’s a problem.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Not A Kingdom!

yao_ming_true_story_plz_by_mingtruestoryplz-d5qtvjo

When Jesus talks of the Kingdom of Heaven in the book of Matthew, he is really speaking of the Kingdom of God. The author of Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, so he swapped the word “God” (which they believed should never be spoken out loud) and replaced it with “Heaven”. While the difference may not seem all that significant at first, my trusty Seminary education begs to differ. Let’s look at the other word in the phrase. What about the word “Kingdom”?

The Greek word for Kingdom being used in the Gospel of Matthew is Basileia.

Definition:
royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah. [per The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon]

So you can see how things get all wacky when you don’t have the above definition. If you’re imagining a Kingdom named Heaven, or a Kingdom in which God rules, you’re expecting a literal country, realm, or perfect place. But that’s not what the text is suggesting. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is the place where God is present, where he is ruling.

Now, we could spend all sorts of time delving through scripture after scripture to build a case for what Jesus was talking about, to refute the popular view of Heaven, but seriously…
Who wants to do that? Let’s go back to that first question.

If there’s no Heaven, is life meaningless?

Perhaps, in a very Jesus way of answering a question, another question would help.

Why would we need the promise of an eternal reward to find meaning?

This is what drives atheists crazy (along with those Seventh Heaven marathons). So many Christians think that nothing has any meaning without God, or Heaven. It’s not inherently good to rescue an old woman from a burning building; it’s good because it’s the Christ-like thing to do. It’s not good to have personal integrity and be a person of your word; it’s good because the Bible says lying is wrong. And worst of all, God isn’t good because he is actually a noble being who cares for us; he’s Good because he’s God, therefore anything God does is good by default.

That’s like saying Zeus would be a good god because he’s a god. If he killed your son and took your wife back up to Olympus, that’s good, because Zeus is good.

So, why is it that Heaven means so much to us? What if we got there (or it came to us) and it was really filled with egocentric pricks who didn’t give a damn about us. Would it be Heaven then? What if your soulmate didn’t get in because she wasn’t a Christian? Would you really want to spend eternity without her? How could that be Heaven? And what if Heaven was a place filled with all the superficial things God specifically told you not to do on Earth? Isn’t that what you’ve been hoping for all long, that Heaven would be somewhere you get to over-sleep, over-eat, play on your smartphone, and watch football 24/7? Is that really Heaven? An extended edition of your day-to-day gluttony?

Heaven isn’t out there. It is closer than you think. It is within you. It is for believer, atheist, agnostic, muslim, Jew, buddhist, gay, straight, black, white, man, woman, and child. Heaven is harmony, balance, and peace. The Kingdom is a rebuttal to this world that says “Get the hell out of my way.” The Kingdom says “There is a better way.” Heaven is a son reconciled to an estranged father, it is a slave forgiving his master, it is a girl who finally stops cutting. Heaven is a mother who holds a laughing child, it is that first moment of Summer, it is the negative result on a cancer screening. Heaven is…

…a blogger from southeast Tennessee who made a post about Heaven that he gets to share with his friends, and it helping even one reader feel better about something in their life.

If you ask me, Heaven is gray. Let me show you what I mean.

#weoccupyjesus

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bretttttt1Brett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

waiting-by-phone

DISCLAIMER: There are clearly very obvious reasons why Jesus would not call Mark Driscoll after a date (e.g. Jesus isn’t really the “dating” type, Mark Driscoll is married to what can only be described as a “happy” wife, and as far as we know… they are both heterosexuals). However, I have compiled a list of reasons a hypothetical date between these two would not yield the slightest possibility of a second encounter.

Mark Driscoll loves Jesus. There’s no doubt about that. Mark loves Jesus so much that if the Nazarene knocked on Mark’s door with a pair of tickets to see Gravity in 3D, Mark would jump at the opportunity. A dismayed Mrs. Driscoll would nervously wave goodbye from the doorway, clinging to her new book Mark bought her entitled Why My Husband Will Never Love Me. She’d pray she’d have the quiz in the back pages completed before his return.

But most of us know Mark would be back soon with an entirely different opinion of that Jesus fellow. New incompatibilities would come to light. Some might even call them irreconcilable differences. Mark may have friended Jesus on Facebook, Followed him on Twitter, and even created a new contact in his smartphone, but deep down he knows what we all know.

Jesus isn’t calling him back. Why?

1. MARK KEEPS DISSING JESUS’ HOMEGIRLS

slut

…and pointing in their faces in the girls’ bathroom.

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You see, Jesus would have eventually brought up his friends, especially his homegirls. Jesus has lots of them. Most of them are called Mary. A few are called Jaquita. One is called Esther. Esther from… the book of Esther, Esther (not Madonna Esther). Jesus and Esther go way back. Well, Jesus was more or less spying on Esther because his Act wasn’t until the Romans showed up, but he was there. But the moment he would have brought up Esther, Mark would have interjected with some less-than-kosher remarks. It’s just what Mark does whenever that broad gets brought up. Exhibit A: Mark’s own words.

“She grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her cousin. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite.”

[He goes on to say...]

“Feminists have tried to cast Esther’s life as a tragic tale of male domination and female liberation. Many evangelicals have ignored her sexual sin and godless behavior to make her into a Daniel-like figure, which is inaccurate. Some have even tried to tie her story in with modern-day, sex-slave trafficking as she was brought before the powerful king as part of his harem.” -from his article at pastormark.tv.

Jesus would possibly give Mark the benefit of the doubt. Biblical hermeneutics is really hard! He’d politely ignore this one issue and change the subject. Perhaps he’d ask Mark about his own wife, Grace. “Tell me about her, Mark. Tell me about a moment that really sums up your relationship.” If Jesus had read Mark’s book, Real Marriage, so many questions would have been answered. Perhaps he would have taken up Rob Bell’s pottery class offer instead.

Driscoll writes in Real Marriage about his wife
(who deals with depression after sexual abuse):

“My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense…One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film — something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.” [pages 6, 11-12]

So yeah, then there’s the issue of…
2.
MARK’S CREEPY FLOATING TELEPATHIC PORN-O-VISIONx-ray vision

“Hey there, Grandma.”

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Jesus may forgive Mark for revealing this case of spiritual abuse and all-around “bad husbandry”. He is Jesus, after all. Mark may have a real felt-need to discern the presence of sexual sins in the lives of those around him. Such matters are serious and should never be treated like opportunities to convey spiritual superiority over those in such vulnerable emotional states. That would be a misuse of authority and borderline manipulation. Jesus says a quick prayer for Mark. Afterwards he checks YouTube out of sheer curiosity.

Jesus does a facepalm.

Jesus would send out an emergency text to his homegirls to come rescue him. He’d stall in the meantime. Come to think of it, why was Mark taking him to some abandoned construction site? Scared he’d anger Mark by asking, Jesus would quickly come up with another topic. “Mark, I’m really flattered that you’ve devoted your entire ministry to me. That means a lot. Tell me more about what attracted you to Christianity.” Mark would lean over and whisper two words in Jesus’ ear.

“Real. Men.”

3. JESUS DOESN’T WANT TO FIGHT SWEATY MEN IN CAGES

Wait a minute... This wrestling looks fake!

Wait a minute… This wrestling looks fake!

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Mark’s vision for Christianity [from Life on Mars (Hill), Bitch Magazine]

“Church today, it’s just a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. Sixty percent of Christians are chicks, and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks.”

Mark previously encountered difficulty worshiping “a gay hippie in a dress.” But something about those disciples changed his mind. They were anything but hippies. They were real men. Real hardcore, violent men looking for trouble. Trouble for Jesus.

“I’ve gotta think these guys were dudes. Heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.”

Christianity was about men. Real, sweaty men. The sweatier, the Godlier. Sweatiness is next to Godliness, they say. Wait, that’s not what they say at all. Jesus didn’t want Christianity to be “Manly”. That would imply that there’s something inherently wrong with being feminine. Womanly would mean “weak”. Such an idea is fundamentally insulting to women. It’s essentially saying that women’s main flaw is that they’re not men. Mark would look over at Jesus, sensing the date going downhill. “What’s wrong, Jesus?!”

“Nothing!” Jesus would say. “I’m just… err… um… checking out your YouTube videos! So relevant!”

Mark might try his luck by shifting the discussion.
Obviously we know the futility of even trying, especially since we all know…

4. JESUS IS TOO “PRO CHOICE” FOR MARK

choices-760701

Approaching “Can of Worms” Ohio.

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Mark would ask Jesus a very significant question. “Are you pro choice?” Jesus may look over at Mark with a smile. Finally Mark would show interest in what he thought. Jesus is an expert on this topic as well. He is a huge advocate of free will. He practically invented it. Maybe this would be a game-changer for the evening. But we know better. Jesus would open his mouth to say, “Of course! Choice is essential to freedom!”

Mark would lash out at Jesus, rudely interrupting him mid-sentence. This misunderstanding would be preventable, if only Mark could suppress his obsession with the topic of abortion. But he can’t.

“Mark, no. That’s not what I-”

“You do not submit to the authority of Scripture! You don’t value human life!” -Mark would exclaim.

After about an hour, Jesus would become fed up with Mark monopolizing the conversation. “You know what, Mark? I’ve had it with your ego, your insensitivity, and your misogynistic rants. You don’t even listen to me anymore! Don’t you understand? Our relationship is all about communication!”

“I can change!” Mark might say.

But it’d be too late. Jesus would have found a ride, possibly like a stranger on a bus, just trying to make his way home, back up to Heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone (except for Mark). #straighttovoicemail.

In closing: I’m not bashing Mark Driscoll. Mark Driscoll is bashing Jesus. I’m not even talking about any version of the “true” Jesus, or the most “Biblical” interpretation. Some things are mysteries. We can’t know exactly what the historical Jesus would think today. But Jesus represents something life-giving, something powerful and moving and capable of literally saving lives. You may be reading this and have no belief in Jesus whatsoever, or you may be a life-long Christian. That’s not the point. We all have our own views. But at the end of the day, does the Jesus that Mark calls upon resemble a symbol of love, or of resentment? Does Mark call upon a Jesus who saves lives or who shames lives? Does Mark sound more like a spiritual leader or more like a pseudo sex therapist? You have to decide, but one thing is for sure.

Mark Driscoll wants to wrestle with sweaty men in a cage for Jesus.

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brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

signheavenhell

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This may come as a shock, but despite what your ex says about you, you’re probably not going to Hell. Relieved? Good! But I hate to break it to you that your ex isn’t going to Hell either. What was that? Will you both spend eternity in Heaven? Of course not! Then you’d both be in Hell! Are you paying attention at all?

Now I know what some of you may be thinking (and that’s precisely why I won’t be replying to every comment). How can I, blogger-person, know with certainty who is and isn’t going to Hell? How can a mere mortal know such mysteries of divine judgment? Easy. I used the word probably in the title. If I’m wrong, I’m off the hook (and your ex is going to Hell. It’s a win-win). So let’s not get too hung up on “me playing God” and let’s just enjoy the show. You might learn something. Or not.

So, of course when I say the word “Hell”, a lot of images come to mind. Let’s just focus on the basic Hell for now, the one with the fire and the brimstone and the screaming and the pitchforks and the Mormons. You may edit out the fire, or imagine it’s invisible so Hell can be “dark as Hell” too. Maybe it’s just really really humid, or really really smelly. Imagine that place that is just so terrible that the only thing worse is staying in that doomed-from-the-start relationship with your ex, whose very memory is preventing you from enjoying a simple blog post.

MY GOD! LEAVE US ALONE!

Where were we? Oh yeah! The blog post!

So, yeah. I’m just not buying the whole Hell thing. It just doesn’t add up. Not that everything adds up in life, but this one really takes the “not adding up” cake. I can give you four good reasons why you can just rest a little easier tonight. You’re probably not going to Hell because…

 1. INTERSTELLAR SPACE TRAVEL

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If we’re going with the model that involves fire, or at least really really hot stuff like plasma, then stars create an awkward dilemma for eternal Hellfire. I personally grew up hearing that Hell was in the center of the earth. This is by no means a universally accepted location, but it emphasizes the notion that Hell is really really hot, much like the center of our planet. But we all know that there are much hotter places than Earth’s core. While our pale blue dot’s center tops out at about 5430 Degrees Celsius (or 9806 Degrees Fahrenheit for all you folks from ‘Merica) which actually matches the surface temperature of our Sun, it’s snow globes compared to the solar core sporting a whopping 15,000,000 degrees Celsius. (If you’re waiting for the Fahrenheit amount, you’re missing the point).

So, there’s no way God would choose Earth as the host for this party. He’d go big. He’d really show off how bad he wanted us to burn by putting us inside of a star. But if you think the Sun is the logical locale, think again.

Meet VY Canis Majoris…

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

If you look closely, you can actually see the Sun crapping its pants.

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Stars get larger and larger. Therefore, if Hell exists anywhere in this universe, it must be in the largest star. Well, we don’t know which star that would be, or where it is exactly, but we know that any of these stars are going to be hella-far away. When your ex dies, they’d have to travel there. There’s only two viable methods of interstellar space travel. Light speed wouldn’t work, because the next closest stars (Alpha Centauri A, B, and Proxima) are still over 4 light years away. Ain’t nobody got time for that! God would have to use wormholes to transport us to his abode of infinite justice. He’d be bending space, just for us. Isn’t that sweet?

That sounds like an awful lot of trouble for God. Why didn’t he just put us closer to Hell? He’s basically deferring to his magic teleportation powers to bypass the scientific limitations (the very limitations that he… set up… himself). In Scripture, God rarely allows such wormhole teleportation. Obviously we remember when Jesus floated up in the air and waved goodbye to the audience, saying really profound stuff before he disappeared. You think he’s letting you cruise the cosmos like his own kid? Fuggetaboutit. And just think, even if God somehow did transport us to his flame of choice, he’d have to teleport us every time that star burned out. That’s a lot of effort to punish us for keeping Playboy magazines under the mattress.

Okay, so we’re only on #1 and we’ve already concluded we’re probably not headed to any Hell located in this universe. You’d think that’d pretty much cover our bases right? But I bet there’s at least a few of you out there who believe there’s a spiritual world, all misty/spooky and shit. Well, I didn’t forget about you folks. Don’t worry, because you’re probably not going to that Hell either, because of…

2. CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEMS

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“Thank you for physical pain, Jesus!”

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Have you ever undergone a surgical procedure where anesthesia was required? In other words, were you ever unconscious while someone cut you open and tinkered around inside of you? Luckily for you, you didn’t feel a thing. Well, if you did feel anything then you’re probably the proud recipient of a large medical malpractice settlement and you’re too busy drinking champagne from golden chalices to remember the unpleasantness. When you die, you don’t feel anything anymore. Nothing. There’s no central nervous system to send those “ouch” signals to the brain. Heck, there’s no brain activity when you die either. There’s not a whole lot of anything going on in the “you” department after it’s all over.

Now obviously many of you may be worried about “spiritual fire”. Your body may be gone but your soul remains, right? God is pissed and wants your soul to suffer for all that crap you did with that filthy body of yours. Well, think about what “spiritual fire” would mean. If you are a soul and you can still feel pain, still have thoughts, still experience suffering and all the stuff that comes along with a spiritual Hell, then…

C’mon, people… you know this one…

If your soul provides all the comforts and discomforts of a body… then you never needed a body in the first place. God made the Earth for a bunch of meat-sack soul-containers to bump into each other and start wars and buy over-priced health insurance, for no reason. If God wanted you to suffer after you die, then why make a physical you at all? Why make a physical universe at all? If the universe matters at all, it matters more than our own physical presence within it. That’s right. If there’s a spiritual Hell, if there’s a Hell somewhere on “the other side”, then that’s like God giving this side a big middle finger.

Now I know this is only #2 and we’ve put together a decent case against Hell existing in either this universe or some spiritual realm, but if I know Christians (and boy do I ever), I suspect that a few are reaching for their trusty dusty Bibles right now. I’ll get mine out too. But guess what? You’re still probably not going to Hell because…

3. FOREVER AND EVER ISN’T ALWAYS “FORVER AND EVER”

FOR-E-VER

FOR-E-VER

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“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14:9b-11 NIV.

Pretty heavy stuff, right? The smoke goes up forever. Eternal torment, right there in black and white. At the end of time, God kicks some serious human ass. But that verse… it sounds familiar. It reminds me of another verse, an earlier verse.

Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night or day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. – Isaiah 34:9-10 NIV.

Edom is still burning? Really? I mean, it is the Bible. And the Bible is the source of authority on all the Hell-talk anyway, right? But we don’t have to simply trust Scripture this time. I’m sure we can just confirm this ourselves by finding a recent image of Edom. Get your popcorn, grab a couple loved-ones, lower the lights, and let’s enjoy the never-ending carnage together!

Maybe it's "spiritual smoke".

Maybe it’s “spiritual smoke”

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Hmm. This is awkward. Maybe the Bible just likes to talk a big game. Maybe the Bible uses terms like “forever and ever” to emphasize the extent of the destruction, not the duration of the destruction. Maybe Hitler doesn’t need to boil in lava for eternity; maybe God just wants to look down ominously from the ledge inside Mount Doom as Hitler grasps the Ring of Power in a moment of evil defiance before he melts. There’s actually a whole neat theology about this called Annihilationism. If you’re interested, check out this article.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just more smitten with this God fellow than ever!

Still worried you might find yourself in a leaky rowboat in a lake of fire? Don’t be! Because…

4. MOSES WOULD NEVER LET GOD LIVE IT DOWN

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I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ll never cease mentioning it. Moses totally schooled God in Exodus 32. Here’s the Biblical proof, if proof is the right word.

The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” Exodus 32:9-10 NRSV.

Okay, so God was like “Leave me alone. I’m pissed. I don’t even want you to talk sense into me, Moses.” But then Moses does the righteous thing by disobeying God and giving God three reasons why he’s wrong to be so bitchy.

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 11-14

Oh, Burn! (pun intended).

If this verse tells us one thing, it’s that God, even Old Testament pre-Jesus God, had mercy. He never stays mad. He goes for a drive, gets a drink, watches the game, and then comes home ready for love. Plus, he knows that if he really goes over the edge one day, he loses. If there is a God, he’s not interested in losing. Have you ever wondered what it would look like if he really tortured conscious souls for eternity? He’d literally become more cruel than any notion of Satan we’ve ever heard of. If you happen to believe in Satan, and if you even attribute every crappy thing that ever happened to his doing, none of it could ever compare to God creating a Hell. If Satan had a good 5 million years of chaotic fun with humanity, that would never come close to God’s eternal reign of terror, confining countless souls to a fate much worse than death, with no chance of learning their lesson, with no chance of redemption, for crimes they may or may not have been aware of.

Honestly, if Hell is real then God should give every newborn baby a birthmark across their forehead that spells out “Hell is real. That’s why I’m giving you this very clear birthmark because I’d be a big jerk if I didn’t tell you directly. Sincerely, God, Your loving cosmic overlord.”

IN CLOSING: Obviously these four reasons I have given are really four cans of worms I have opened up for you all to enjoy. I do not pretend to know what actually happens when we die, but my studies and sarcasm lead me to write on such topics for educational and entertainment purposes. If you’re an Atheist, God bless you for reading this far. I find myself between agnosticism and pantheism, terms you should know if you want to know anything about me. Having grown up in a fundamentalist home (in the South), this discussion never stops. Hell is a topic that influences everything from who we vote for to how we talk to our parents at Thanksgiving. Hopefully this article has helped you smile a little more and fear the flaming abyss just a little less.

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brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

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If you know anything about Christianity, you know that beliefs vary. We use terms like left-wing and right-wing, conservative evangelical and liberal protestant, Calvinist and Arminian, Orthodox and progressive, and the list goes on. Oh, I guess there’s a few “Catholics” out there too.

If you felt the urge to correct me by saying “Catholics aren’t Christian!” then you’re one of those special folks who will hopefully benefit greatly from this post. There exists a vocal faction within many religions, especially Christianity, known as “Fundamentalists.” These people tend to gravitate to extreme positions on religious issues, usually without the college courses to make them sound all smart-like. But deciphering exactly who is a fundamentalist (or fundie) is tricky. I have known progressive folks who just love them some homophobia and some racism. I have also known some elderly “give me that old time religion” types who are vocal about how Pro-Choice they are. Obviously the 700 Club sprinkles some magic hallelujah powder in all of our cereal once in a while. Some of us are just more bullshit intolerant than others.

Oh by the way, some fundies are easy to spot.

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The purpose of this post is not to lump you or anything else into a neat little (crazy) box by describing what a fundamentalist always believes or does not believe. I simply have the blessing (and fiscal curse) of 3/4ths of a Masters Degree in Theology. I have witnessed fundies shaken to their core, not knowing if God’s lack of male genitalia was a game-changer for their lives or not. I’ve often wondered what would happen if average people (and by average I mean mere mortals who aren’t as educated as us superior grad school drop outs who now work in warranty sales) knew all this cool stuff about Church history and theology that we had learned. For your benefit (if you’re a fundie) and/or your entertainment, I thought a list of some of the more awesome-er contemplative issues I’ve come across would make for a smashing good time.

5. GOD IS NOT A MALE.

Jesus spelled backwards sounds like sausage.

Jesus spelled backwards sounds like sausage.

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Despite how much we may want to see God as a dude, he just isn’t. (And for all you lovely atheists reading along, of course I mean “the God of Christian Tradition” is not nor should have ever been thought to be a dude, in theory). God is described throughout the scriptures and church history to be a spirit, to be wholly (holy) other than us (i.e., God doesn’t have a body). Both Thomas Aquinas (part 1, question 3, article 1) and Saint Augustine (Confessions, book 7) will back me up on that one. The use of masculine verbiage is often allegorical. Feminine, or motherly traits are also attributed to God in Scripture. Psalms 123 uses the term mistress, Luke 15 describes God like a housewife, Hosea like a mother, and so on.

If your knee-jerk reaction is to say “Well, the feminine references are just symbolic, but the masculine ones are literal” then you might want to re-examine your relationship with your father… or mother… or whoever made you think invisible giant shapeshifting penises are somehow essential to your faith.

4. THE BIBLE IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.

Some people just "literally" don't read it.

Some people just “literally” don’t read it.

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Now here is a tricky one. So many Christians, and fundies especially, have a real difficulty understanding the difference between the words “literal” and “true”. (I’d suspect a few atheists share this tendency as well). If anyone reading this has such a difficulty and you come away from this post with even a slither more reflection on the topic than before, I will be ecstatic.

When we say the word “literal” we are speaking from a Western philosophical perspective. When we think of things literally, we are talking about “what actually happened”. When people ask us if a tree makes a noise when it falls in the forest, a Western view is, “Of course.” But then some Eastern wise-guy would say, “But sound can’t exist unless you’re there to hear it!” Both views can be considered “true” yet only one view is considered “literal”.

There’s nothing wrong with a Western view, but when applied to the Bible there is a HUGE problem. I think it would help fundies if they knew how Rabbis (you know… people like Jesus) interpret scripture. Judaism was an Eastern religion that focuses on the theological point of the story, not so much the scientific conditions surrounding the events. For them, verses should be interpreted on four different levels, not merely face value.

First is p’shat which means simple. (All you “average” people pay attention). This method is easiest for Westerners because it’s the plain saying of a verse. Sometimes when God says don’t eat rancid camel meat, that’s just him looking out for you.

Second is remez, which means hint. Jesus or other authors would use the remez technique to hint at an Old Testament reference to give a statement a deeper meaning. The deeper meaning may not be literal, like when Jesus was like “Hey, Peter! You. are. the. DEVIL!” That’d just be confusing for everyone, especially that new Pope we all like so much.

Third is midrash, which mean to search. This is the highly allegorical or homiletical application where we read our own thoughts into the text. Remember Pslams? Proverbs? Yeah, all of those. If you hate on midrash, rip out the middle of your Bible. Jesus used this method in Matthew when he said “you shall not kill” but expanded the commandment, saying to not be angry with anyone because this is still a form of spiritual violence.

Last is sod, which means secret. This is the idea that hidden in scripture are meanings placed by God only attainable by revelation, and this revelation is obviously on a personal level.

If you think to yourself, “Either believe all of the Bible or none of it at all,” then you are “literally” insane if you mean “believe all of the Bible literally.” But honestly, most fundies don’t actually think the Bible is to be taken in such a way; they only see the parts they want to see as literal. For example, they may be fine thinking God created the Earth in six literal days, but they interpret “Gog and Magog” in the Book of Revelations metaphorically as “China and Russia.” They may say homosexuals should literally be put to death (or at least be banned from their Applebees after church), but Song of Solomon is just a metaphor for Christ’s love for his church (and not about how awesome premarital oral sex can be).

The propaganda of Biblical inerrancy (fancy way of saying camels go through needle eyes whenever rich people go to heaven) is much more a political/social ideological phenomenon than anything else. If you fight for the bible to be literal only when you want it to be literal, you most likely are looking for an excuse to do, not do, like, or not like something or someone (e.g. science, women, other races, evolution, pre-marital oral sex).

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3. THE BIBLE ISN’T ANTI-GAY.

That reminds me. I need to catch up on Project Runway.

That reminds me. I need to catch up on Project Runway.

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For number 3, I’d love to expound on my own thoughts, but Matthew Vines from reformationproject.org has a video that verbalized this position perfectly. PERFECTLY. “Literally”. Watch it if you want to become a better human being. If you watch it and you have any doubts remaining, only God (or violent re-education camps) could change your mind.

2. GOD MIGHT NOT KNOW THE FUTURE.

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“I don’t know, Peter! Leave me alone!”

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If this makes you uncomfortable, GOOD! I HOPE YOU’RE IN A CRAPPY CHAIR TOO! Just kidding. Where was I? Oh yeah! The blog post!

If you cannot fathom that your newly de-penis’d God also has no idea who you are going to marry, when you’re going to get a promotion, or exactly when then next tsunami is going to kill half a million people, then number 2 is for you!

DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying God doesn’t know the future. I’d never take that away from God. God hates it when my own beliefs mess with his abilities.

If you think God’s omniscience (all knowing-ness) is obviously a power God has, I’d venture to say you didn’t get that belief from your Bible. You most likely heard that from general church chatter over the years. Maybe it just makes sense to you. Why wouldn’t God know everything? He wouldn’t be very God-like if he only knew everything up to this second. He needs to know more than everything! Right?

Well, there’s this awkward thing we Seminary students learned about called “over-Hellenization”. Basically, Christianity got really Greek, really fast. Like, “omni-greek” (all Greek). So naturally, God got greek as well. We upgraded him to super knowledge (omniscience), super teleportation (omnipresence), and super… um… ability to do anything he wants (omnipotence).

We upgraded God.

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And now we’ve upgraded him so much that we’re scared to piss him off by… under-Hellenizing him. Christians have grown accustomed to kissing God’s ass. (You just got a little nervous I pissed off his omnipotence, didn’t you?) Those super powers we gave God actually contradict each other, rather blatantly actually. To question them is not heresy. In fact, it’s polite to actually think for ourselves. Let’s try it!

If God knows everything, he can’t change his mind. He “literally” can’t! But don’t worry! Moses changes God’s mind in Exodus 32. (Look it up. Moses schools that guy).

If God knows everything, he’s responsible for not using his omnipotence to stop disasters from occurring (like those tsunamis we were talking about). If you think God has to let tsunamis kill us, I wonder if Heaven has to have tornados made out of snakes for some equally logical reason of yours.

Basically, if you have a perfect God, you have no “relationship”. There is zero room for a personality, for a back and forth, for a give and take, for a… God who says “That didn’t work, I guess I’ll become a human now.”

Yeah… the Jesus thing doesn’t work well under that model.

It’s a good thing we have other theologies like Open Theism. (Sounds all liberal and hippie, doesn’t it?) I know you’re going to do a Wikipedia search, so I’ll save you the trouble.

In a word, open theism is the view that since the fact of human freedom means the future is partly a realm of possibilities, and God’s sovereignty means the future is partly a realm of determined facts, God knows the possibilities as possibilities and the determined facts as determined facts. While several versions of traditional classical theism could model the future as a singular linear necessity, open theism would do so as a plurality of branching possibilities. Thus, the future is pictured as open. -Wikipedia.org.

Now, if this idea makes you think any less of God, just ponder the benefits of a God who is just as bummed out about evil in the world as you are, a God who doesn’t have your future determined without your own free will, a God who is much more approachable than Omni-douche.

1. BEING “SAVED” ISN’T JUST FOR CHRISTIANS.

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If you’ve ever heard the following verse, raise your hand.

     “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men           by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12.

(Now put your hand down. You look silly).

Sounds pretty straight-forward huh? Want some more?

     Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” –                 John 14:6.

Okay, without even delving into any academic mumbo jumbo, you should notice a couple problems if you take these verses to mean you must know of Jesus to be saved. If this is what you believe then you must consider the following.

Babies? Damned.

Everyone who has never heard of Jesus? Damned.

All followers of Judaism? You know, Jesus’ own religion? Damned.

The Good Samaritan? Screw that guy!

You get the idea.

When backed into a corner on this issue, fundies seem to pull out a bunch of exceptions. Babies get a free pass because they are innocent, even though in the next breath they resort to language of original sin and how we are all enemies of God until we accept Jesus.

Those people who never heard of Jesus? They might (keyword: might) get into Heaven because they are ignorant of the truth, therefore they are only judged by what they know. This creates the awkward issue where it’s actually beneficial to shut up and not tell them anything at all about Jesus. It might send them to Hell if they reject him. Even more awkward is that If you take away this exception then you admit Jesus’ very existence is an excuse for God to fry most of the world. Either that or God made the greatest logistical error of all time.

I don't wanna...

I don’t wanna…

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People of other religions? Forget about it. Under this logic, God sure expects a lot out of people. Imagine if you were born in Iran. Guess what religion you’d be? You’d be a Muslim. I’m sorry. It’s true. But what if a pamphlet about Christianity falls from a plane and winds up in your front yard one day? You’d better convert to Christianity or you’re done for, pal! You just encountered the truth!

But besides all those… logical reasons to dismiss such a belief, there are several different ways to interpret those verses. And this isn’t cherry-picking. It’s just straight up theological precision, bro. I’m about to throw out some big words, so hold on.

The Eastern Orthodox Church holds to a theology of theosis, which basically means salvation has nothing to do with that whole “asking Jesus into your heart” business. Salvation is about God becoming human, healing our nature through the birth and life of Jesus, and offering the same healing and union with God that Jesus has attained. Salvation is a healing of the whole cosmos, not just us. We just happen to be apart of the cosmos, so we’re along for the ride. Some would say this theology hints at universalism (the belief that all be will saved).

I mean… at the end of time, do you really think God wouldn’t win?

Other views include Jesus saving us through his example of love which wakes us from our sinful sleep and shows us how to love each other. Just ask that medieval French scholar, philosopher, theologian, and preeminent logician, Peter Abelard.

“Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear – love for him that has shown us such grace that no greater can be found.”

Sounds like some religious asshole, right?

If you wanna get back to what the bible has to say about the matter, Romans lends some insight.

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” -Romans 2:14.

Basically, any potential complications about “knowing” the right thing, or the truth of Jesus, are ironed out nicely here. So, if God can save you without you knowing about Jesus… maybe Jesus isn’t such an egocentric power-hungry control freak after all!

IN CLOSING: Whether or not you believe in God, Jesus, or any religiosity whatsoever, I hope this post has given you motivation to look beyond the face value of the world around you. There is much beauty to be found. Be aware that your beliefs about religion or non-religion say a lot more about you than anything else. We’re all on this journey together. Just try to lay off of the fundie-juice when you can.

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brettttttBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

A love that saves…

Brett Gallaher —  August 30, 2013 — 3 Comments

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I remember how it felt, the boldness rising up in me as I would begin to consider getting up from the church pew. The pastor would ask if anyone needed to make sure they were right with God. That was the hook, the doubting of my own security. The pastor seemingly had good logic. It was entirely possible I could die at any moment and my sinful adolescent soul could be sucked into the eternal fiery abyss. After all, I was pretty immature. I had a lot of things I needed to bring before God. I was a wretch, worse than a criminal.

And I was seven.

You see, when you grow up in certain traditions like mine (Holiness) there is a culture of doubt, of fear, of uncertainty. No one really knew for sure if they were “saved” or not. I mean, we had a pretty good idea about other people (like Jews, atheists, gays, Baptists, etc.) but we were “right”. Being “right” meant being held to an even higher standard. Any sin was direct rebellion against what we knew to be right. God was keeping a tally of our sins, and we’d better wipe the slate clean every night before we risked waking up in the devil’s funhouse.

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I always imagined the devil’s playhouse would kinda look like this.

On my trek through the land of Christendom, I became ensued with the question…

“Am I saved?”

As the years went by I was blessed with an ever-widening view of God, one that incorporated theological and philosophical diversity. I soon became more “secure”, believing more or less that God was a good God, and that “good God” didn’t mean “He’s so good he has to burn the evil out of me with a pitchfork.” College and Seminary (aka advanced Sunday School) even left me unable to imagine a God who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to reconcile all things to himself.

Case closed. Right?

Well, awkwardly enough, I’m no longer a Christian, at least not in any traditional sense of the word. My search for truth brought me to the personal realization that faith in Jesus’ power to save me was something I could never verify, never know for certain. Obviously faith isn’t about knowing with certainty, so I don’t pretend to ignore that fact. But I realized that most Christians I know don’t see faith as… faith. They have always treated faith like facts. That is why any competing logic can cause many Christians to basically freak out.

Imagine someone told you gravity wasn’t true, and they could provide evidence that your primitive gravitational fixation was most likely false?

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“Sir, I believe you do not understand the gravity of the situation.”

As odd as it sounds, I feel God has led me past faith in the Jesus of Christianity and towards faith in the love of Jesus, which would in turn be the love of God, which in turn would be the same love that I sought to save me all those years ago.

At the end of the day, faith in Jesus was really faith in God all along, faith in God’s ability to save you. Or maybe it was faith that in God, we are already saved. We are already good enough. But like a gift, we have to open the damn thing or else it’s just a box.

But even more so, I believe that God has led me past…

Wait for it…

God.

I’m not a atheist, at least not by my own definition. I simply don’t believe in the God many others believe in. To imagine God is to imagine the unimaginable. Whenever someone describes God, they’re not describing God at all. They’re describing an idea about God.

Here’s where it gets down-right heretical.

If someone’s idea of God drives them to love others, is that not the same thing as God telling them to love others?

If someone’s idea of God drives them to feed the poor, how is this any different?

If an atheist’s idea of love drives them to do the same things, is not the atheist’s idea the same force driving the Christian?

Anywhere in this exercise did you say to yourself, “But the atheist’s good deeds won’t get him into heaven” or “If God is just an idea in someone’s head then what’s the point since there’s no heaven?” If so, congratulations…

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You’ve missed the point!

Salvation has been packaged all wrong for so long. It has been the prize just out of reach, the mystery you must solve but can’t, the end of a journey where you feel lost the entire trip. But salvation can be known.

We can be saved from our guilt, our hatred, our bitterness, our unhealthy lifestyles, our abusive relationships, our pettiness, our ideologies, our sadness and depression, our addictions…

When we can’t save ourselves, it can come in the form of friends. I have found salvation in my children, in my girlfriend, in my community.

But what about Jesus?

I have faith that my introduction to the life of Jesus of Nazareth was for a purpose much larger than myself, a purpose wrapped up in a mystery that still draws us in. My salvation moment was the moment that Jesus started being that…

…and stopped being this.

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ImageBrett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.

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“We are the 99 percent.”  How many of us identify with this slogan and with the Occupiers?   Perhaps when we hear it we burn with righteous indignation and raise our fists at the lack of justice in our society.  The richest one percent owns 40 percent of the country’s financial wealth.  Meanwhile for the rest of us things can get really scary, really fast.   If we are lucky enough to have a job, many of us are just one pay check away from financial ruin.  Therefore, we can identify with our sisters and brothers here at the bottom, and perhaps we even revel in that (at least a little).  There is a dignity in being in the 99, but as for the other one percent we know where they stand.   But before we start beltin’ out the Internationale, the Billy Bragg version of course, let us take a swig of reality.

Let’s widen the lens a bit. As Americans, how much wealth, opportunity, and resources do we claim in comparison to the rest of humanity? Instead I want to expand our lens even further. Let’s consider life forms on earth, and let’s just consider animals. A cursory examination of the web reveals that around 80 percent of the total number of animals on the earth are insects. If one also calculates the number of rats, bunnies, fish, snakes, elephants, and all the other non-human animals on the planet, it would be easy to say that we must make up, at the very most, one percent of the animal population on the planet. The question then is how are the one percent of animals, us humans, treating the 99 percent, the rest of animal life on earth?

Think this is a ridiculous question? Remember back when you were still in the 99 percent? Were your concerns trivial or ridiculous? Back then didn’t you think that 100 percent of people deserved equal consideration? Surely justice did not merely apply to a small fraction of the population. And yet we the 99 percent, even as crappy as things are down here, rarely want to consider in what ways we are the 1 percent in the grand scheme of things. But I still want to ask you, how are we treating the 99 percent?

Again, I will pass on the opportunity to speak of the mountains, the rivers, the polar ice caps, and stick with animals. How have we treated our fellow creatures? First, we often refuse to identify with them. No matter what science tells us, many in our society STILL refuse to call ourselves members of the animal kingdom. (The Scopes Monkey Trial, anyone?) Secondly, we lay waste to their resources as we pillage Mother Earth. Sadly we have not really learned the lesson that their fate is ours as well. Thirdly, we divide animals into categories and we call them “pets,” “wildlife,” “endangered,” “livestock,” and even “pests.”  We protect some and harm others.

There are four animals in my household, and I consider them family. Judging from the photos on all the social media sites, I am not alone in my affections. And yet, as a society we allow one cat or dog to be euthanized in US animal shelters every 11 seconds.  We consider this a “necessary” evil. But we still must wonder why these particular animals are so expendable. Additionally, we draw up animal welfare legislation to protect animals, but only certain species.  As of this writing there are virtually no such laws that protect “livestock” even though they feel the same pains as our beloved cats and dogs we call “pets.”  Therefore, the agriculture industry subjects millions of animals to frequent torture, mutilation, and stifling confinement before they end up on our dinner plates. Look it up. The information is out there, if you dare!

And so it seems that when the tables are turned, we are not as fair-minded as we would like to believe. Therefore, as we call out for justice for ourselves, it behooves us to widen our lens and consider the meaning of the word. It means that we need to ask how we’re treating the 99 percent.  So, how do you think we’re faring?

“The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be.” – Dalai Lama

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ImageBryan Gillette lives with his husband, three rescue dogs, one crafty kitty, and his mom in the mountains just outside of Asheville, NC. When he’s not situated in the midst of frequent awkward social scenarios, he takes great pleasure reading Merton, spending time with family (both two and four legged), British comedy, and in the contemplation of nature. Although he has always felt like a religious “outsider”, he will soon be trying his hand at Chicago Theological Seminary. (“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”)