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Posts from the ‘(un)belief’ Category

Credo

womb

I believe that God created the world and the universe and all within and beyond it — God is Mother, Father, Waymaker, Guardian, Friend. God designed us in their own image and made us of the soil of the earth, which every other living thing is made of too. God is not mere possibility or symbol, but is presence, depth, agent and source of liberation.

I was formed in the womb of many churches, nursed by many saints and stories. Daily I bear the fruits of their teaching. We cannot be Christians without the Church, which calls us to discipleship and greater faithfulness. Beyond this, the church is itself a mark of God’s covenant faithfulness with the world. We are called to be as pluralistic as Christ’s own mixed and multifaceted body, while genuinely rooted in our traditions.

A friend struggling with addiction once told me: “man, I’m just crawling from sacrament to sacrament.” Malcolm X was fond of the idea that if we take one step towards Allah, Allah will take two steps towards us. In the sacraments, we open our mouths, pores, and hands to God and the divine sprints, runs, stumbles, gushes, and crawls towards us.

I believe that there are many sacraments, “first” among them Baptism and the Eucharist. In the waters of baptism, we are plunged into the embalming chaos of the world, and we emerge victoriously raised with Christ, buoyed in living waters that hold us in solidarity with all those experiencing havoc, death, or thirst – our own destinies churning now alongside all suffering and drowned people. In baptism, we “go for broke.”[1] New demands are made of the baptized, as we now constitute Christ’s own Body – a body as dark, female, queer, beautiful, and disabled as we are.

The Eucharist is a steady means of receiving God’s grace, an active way for us to be replenished and re-membered along the journey. Communion connects the faithful with all laborers who have produced the wheat and wine we are consuming; with the sacred land which is our source and sibling; with that entire communion of saints, living and dead, who faithfully rehearse the heavenly banquet alongside us. The Lord’s Supper is the promise that there is enough – that we will eat and drink ourselves into God’s joyous risen life, breaking silence and healing from trauma.

I confess the many words of God – the Word of Christ, enfleshed among us; the Word in the Proclaimed Word before creation; the Word in the delivered preaching moment; the Word made fleshy and sweet in the sacraments; the Words of Sacred Story and Scripture, bristling with the stories of our ancestors. The Bible teaches us everything we need to receive and realize salvation – testaments that teem with violence, indigeneity, resistance, dereliction, empire, hope (each person, too, is a holy word of God, a unique diction that comes syllabically from the mouth of God). Relationship is the heart of God, and a beautiful chorus of voices is at the center of not only the holy scriptures but the Trinity as well.

I see Jesus as the divine disclosure of the creative love behind the universe. Born poor to young parents under foreign occupation and colonization, the cosmic Christ was sent on a stealth mission to overturn death. Jesus was lynched because of us, not God; we are the bloodthirsty ones, not God. Still, by his unjust murder, the Lamb triumphed.

This moment can be explained in many ways: tricking the devil, descending into hell, swallowing up Satan’s kingdom, robbing death of its power, revealing human sacrifice and scapegoating as bankrupt, and far more. God’s raising of Jesus affirms his conquest over death. He is risen today, still reversing our world’s twisted logic, breathing new life into dry bones, and stands in solidarity with the brutalized. I believe in the universal taking on particularity: in my context, sin and death may be understood best as the wages of white supremacy.

I recognize Jesus is still being crucified today among the poor and disenfranchised. I affirm the spiritual headship of all who lament and suffer; in light of God’s preferential option for the poor, we must understand the oppressed as the first among equals. God is specially present among suffering people, who are able to see most clearly. Our departed faithful and all ancestors sustain us – in them we live and move and have our being. We can pray to the saints and ancestors to sustain us. The holy mother of God, too, specially hears our prayers.

I trust in the power and peace of the Holy Spirit, who speaks into our lives and names the sin that we would prefer to keep covered, in our own hearts and in the structures of society. The Holy Ghost animates the church, communities of the faithful everywhere, and helps us resist colonialism and sin (which stems from our inability to understand every body as holy). God’s spirit has been poured out upon all flesh – when handing out spiritual gifts and extending the call of discipleship, God does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexuality, or color. And yet God does have a preference for the weak, and the afflicted.

I support using many tools: science, faith, story and indigenous wisdom, to shape and understand our world. I reject end-times heresies or any theology that encourages us to discard this beautiful planet. I long to see our hearts, souls, strength, and minds resynchronize with scripture, divest from whiteness and binary thinking, and move towards Lord Christ’s kingdom and God’s committed purposes in the world. The divine call as I hear it now is to love the last and the least – at least as much as we love ourselves.


[1] Hawaiian pidgin for: “going all in,” putting it all on the line. “Go for broke” was a gambling term popularized by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the segregated Japanese American combat unit which served in the European theater during World War II to become the most decorated army unit in military history. My family served, volunteering from Tule Lake concentration camp in California.

The above is an assignment from my Introduction to Christian Theology course, where I was tasked with writing a Statement of Faith.

death by love wins (a tale of two pastors)

death by love wins

“Death by love,” I repeated.  “The author’s name is Mark Driscoll.  D-R-I-S-C-O-L-L.”

The thin, wiry librarian sitting in front of me leaned slowly forward.  She nodded and began delicately clacking at the keyboard in front of her, using only her two index fingers.  As I waited, I considered pulling out my phone, just to pretend I had something else to do.

“No, I’m sorry.  There’s no book here by that name,” she breathed.  “We do have the other books you asked for, though.  John Piper and Tim Keller, correct?”

“Yes, thank you,” I replied, glancing up from my cell phone’s screen, annoyed.  How could they not carry this Death by Love book here?  It had been recommended to me by many friends.  This Driscoll guy is supposed to be famous, and the book is supposed to be really powerful.

“Those other books are in the religious studies/Christianity aisle,” she said.  “Section AB 120-132.  Would you like me to write that down for you?”

“No thank you,” I smiled with thin lips.  I had no intention of waiting so patiently for another four minutes.

* * * * *

“Ooh,” Mary Ann* said, shaking her head, “you don’t want to read that book.”

We were walking around the second floor of the library, wandering through my favorite aisle, when she stopped, almost as if ordered, and pointed towards a book on the shelf.

“Why not?” I asked, gripping its pleasant red spine and lifting it to my face.

“Be careful with that,” Mary Ann intoned, unconsciously taking a step back.  “That book was written by this pastor who used to be a Real Christian…but then he started questioning everything and now he’s written this book that says hell doesn’t even exist and that no one goes there,” she explained.  “He used to be not bad at all but now, he’s a liberal.”  Her voice deepened to a whisper: “He’s a heretic.”

The book immediately took on an otherworldly weight in my hand.  I was at once filled with an inexplicable dread and the burning urge to stop touching the thing.  I laid it back on the shelf as gingerly as I could, as if it were a sleeping infant who would transform into a tyrant upon being aroused from sleep.  We continued walking down the aisle and talking about the ways our faith had been challenged by Christians who stopped believing in the clear words of the Bible.

A week later, I came back to the library alone.  I picked up the book and carefully read the inside flap.  I considered opening to an actual page, but found myself lacking the courage to do so without an invisibility cloak.  I placed the book back on the shelf and quickly scurried out the door.  None of my ministry friends from Joyous Jihad for Jesus* could ever know about this.

* * * * *

Weeks later, I finally got around to ordering “Death by God” on Amazon.  I plopped down on my bed night after night and tried reading it, but I was so bothered by the author’s aggression, by the way this pastor was speaking about his manliness and wanting to hurt people…about how God also wanted to hurt people…that I couldn’t read more than a few chapters.  I replaced the book on my shelf above my computer and wrote in my journal that night: “I’m not spiritually ready enough for this book.  Pray and read the Bible more then come back when I have more maturity.”

I eventually stole a copy of Love Wins and breezed through it in days.  Rob Bell said that maybe there’s another way to think about heaven and hell, and it didn’t infuriate me as much as I was told it should.  After all, these were the same things I’d been reading my hero C.S. Lewis say for a while now.  I discreetly passed the copy on to several of my close friends.  I felt doubly guilty afterwards, for now I was both a thief and a heretic.

Surely they would crucify me if they ever found out.

3 ways the Church is failing young people

take me to church

As brilliant and beautiful as our grace-filled church can be when our congregations are at their very best – whenever the body is healing, building, and actively serving those most in need  – there are also several places where Western Christianity has fallen phenomenally short.  In many ways, rather than impress upon nonadherents the good things that our religion has to offer, our churches have especially impacted and scarred my generation’s spiritual landscape.  Here I’ve compiled a list of three of the ways in which United States church culture often fails its young people:

1.  Deifying the Nuclear Family Unit

The idea of the nuclear family as the core, most essential unit of all stable societies was the facile invention of a rapidly booming postwar America, a thoroughly modern idea that our country’s churches latched onto and branded “scriptural” all too quickly.  As a result, Christian culture is saturated with “dating devotionals,” Singles fellowships designed for matchmaking, and the steady assurance that “God’s plan for your life” probably means a fast-tracked marriage, mediocre sex, and middle-class suburban comfort.

In a society where so many come from nontraditional families, the Church’s insistence on the centrality of a Father/Mother, 2.5 child, White Picket Fence model strikes out at many with chords of particular pain.  So few of us can fit into that mold.  Sitting in the pews of far too many churches, I hear only praise of “intact” families, see only their faces lifted up.  I’m left staring at faces and families that don’t look like mine, wondering where in the world that leaves me: the multiracial (half-siblinged?) child of a gay parent, the product of a divorced and splintered home.  Where have you set a place for us?

I rarely hear sufficient pastoral emphasis on the kind of family that Jesus spoke of when he rejected worldly notions of kinship, insisting instead that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  If the Church wants to be able to speak comfort and truth into the lives of modern families, it must break its addiction to extra-biblical conceptions of what family means in the first place.  We need to re-center our perspective on the all-inclusive family of God.  We then can begin to reimagine practiced community, not isolated familial fiefdoms, as society’s most crucial building block for forming healthy individuals and relationships.  Hey, it takes a village.

2.  Asking us to Choose Between our Intellect and the Bible

When I first arrived at the University of Illinois, I took several classes to fulfill my college’s history/culture gen-ed requirements.  One of my favorite courses was called Greek and Roman Mythology, taught by this great old beardy-looking European who, looking back, might have been Zeus.  I was challenged but intrigued when he asked us to read Ancient Near Eastern creation stories alongside the poem that opens the Bible (in Genesis 1 + 2).  Later, I took a religious studies class where under the tutelage of an experienced Bible and Early Church scholar, my classmates and I critically studied the epistolary and gospel texts that informed the lives of the early Christians – writings that eventually came to be known as the New Testament.

When my campus ministry-assigned “spiritual discipler” heard that I was taking these courses, he staged an intervention, ordering me not to take more such classes, lest my high view of the Bible be diminished.  When I approached another Bible study leader, an engineer, with questions about evolution and the origins of the earth, he told me that while our planet looked billions upon billions of years in the making, it was really only 6,000 years old – God had made it like this intentionally, to trick unbelievers, to test our faith!

In many circles of North American Christianity, biblical literalism and creationism are so bread and butter to popular articulations of faith that even considering an alternative to these fallacies is inherently heretical.  (This is how a guy like me can end up getting called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”)  Yet any body that truly believes our Creator intentionally deceives, lies, or declares that humanity’s God-given mental faculties must be rejected is much more Satan-ic than Christ-ian.  If the Church wants to recapture the intellectual imagination of its young people – to revitalize a real sense of love and respect for the Bible – our leaders must begin by ending this cognitive dissonance, rejoining our minds and hearts through authentic attempts to synchronize science and scripture.

3.  Refusing to Name Abuse

Any case of emotional, spiritual, or sexual abuse that takes place in a faith environment makes an already despicable crime particularly heinous.  Scripture itself teaches that not many of us should become leaders, because those who do will be judged much more strictly.  Combine this directive with Jesus’ harrowing threat in Mark’s Gospel – “if anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” – and right here you’ve got yourself a damn good reason to make sure your church is a safe place.

While the Roman Catholic church has been visibly rocked by a plethora sexual abuse, in the past year we have also seen stunning revelations of similar evils in Protestant congregations.  Two recent examples of this are emerging survivors’ stories of the rampant sexual violence at Bob Jones University and Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM).  Findings like these are what led renowned sexual abuse investigator (Billy Graham’s grandson) Boz Tchividijian to remark that the current plague of sexual abuse faced by evangelical churches is likely far worse than ongoing  abuse in Catholic parishes.

There is no excuse for our collective failure to confront the abusive, patriarchal culture that infects our churches.  Yet in a world of celebrity pastors – where individualism, staunch hierarchy, and strict submission are prize virtues – it’s not hard to imagine how sadistic behavior might remain unchecked.  We venerate these leaders to a status all but beyond criticism, then gape when pastor after pastor is indicted for spiritually, sexually, emotionally abusive practices.

Among the family of God is perhaps where one should feel most safe; yet for many in our body, the company of Christian spiritual leaders brings not comfort but abject horror.  Whenever we as a Church try to wash our hands of responsibility for currents of abuse that persist in our ranks, we are playing the role of Pontius Pilate, working to sever ourselves from whoever the powerful deem crucifiable.  But we remain, as one of the great prophets put it, bound up “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  Advocating for victims of individual and systemic abuse has to be core to Christian praxis.  One would think that a faith tradition begun by sex workers, stone-ers, slaves, and scapegoats would understand that.

* * * * *

My hope is that this post won’t be received as unwarranted attack against the Church, but as constructive criticism, coming from one of our faith’s fiercest advocates.  This tradition continues to be an uplifting and growing and wonderfully inclusive spiritual practice, in so many ways.  If the next generation of believers wishes to continue these positive trends, they must speak up and name sin wherever it is crouching – even if it’s right at our doorstep.

What was missing from this list?  Anything you would add?