Tag Archives: religion

Follow the Herd…

People are like sheep.    Over a century ago this idea was expressed by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche—Adolph Hitler was an admirer of his philosophy.    Unfortunately Nietzsche was on to something that I fear was a very insightful view of human beings.  He wrote about the “Herden (the herd) which would always follow a “ubermensch” (superman) wherever they were led.    Nietzsche’s philosophy was that “might makes right” and “whoever has the power and leadership  determines what is right and wrong, good and bad.

I think that this low view of the human condition is still true today.     Let me give a few examples to illustrate why I think so.

  • The Affordable Care Act—an act, that while not perfect, extends health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people not able to afford medical care because they are too sick to be eligible, too poor to pay for it, not mentally capable to work and get it from employers, is rejected still by the majority of the American people based on the lies they are told by their leaders in the Republican Party.    It seems if you tell a lie often enough, loud enough, and broadcast it widely enough the “Herd” will believe it is true.  I have no other explanation for our behavior.  Christians have fallen into this trap along with the rest of the herd too often.   Otherwise, why has the compassion that Jesus showed and taught not caused them to speak up against these lies?     The Herd.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Kansas Politics.   We live in an agricultural state.   Farming is the basic industry of the state.   Why do we consistently vote for those legislators who are not supportive of our industry?    Those of us who read what our politicians are saying and watch what they are doing, stand in awe of the reality that the very people that are getting the shaft are the ones that are electing these politicians.   For example—-the cuts to education, the refusal to extend federally paid medicare to a large number of our citizens ,  are all caused by the abolition of the income tax for small business.  This abolition of income taxes for small businesses  was based on the Laffer theory—a theory that has been discarded by almost all economists as flawed. The theory says this will create jobs.   Will it?   It has not proven to do so and you can read the statistics.      No—-this tax cut for business  will create wealth for the few and lower the standard of living even more for the majority.   Yet if Kansans are told often enough, loud enough, and widely enough in the media that  abolishing income taxes for business means jobs and a better life for all we will, and have voted, for those who tell us that again and again.    Why?   We are following the herd.   Baa!   Baaa!
  • The Belief in the Conventional Wisdom.   The “Conventional Wisdom” isn’t usually very “wise.”     Just because a lot of people think something is true does not make it true.   Just because our leaders tell us its true doesn’t make it true.   Just because we hear it on CBS or Fox News or read it in the papers doesn’t make it true.   Just because I say it is true doesn’t make it true.   Truth is something that people must seek out for themselves based on their experiences and values.   Truth  comes  after discernment which is hard work and too many of us are just too lazy to take the time and so we let others lead us by the nose and tell us what to think and what is true.    Baa!  Baaa!
  • Let’s look at ourselves as Christians in this present day.  What is the role that we play as Christians in relationship to these problems?  We have joined the herd.   We like to pride ourselves and say we are not “sheepish” or members of a herd.  I’m not so sure.   How many of us think that our purpose in life involves producing and consuming and competing?    That is what our society demands of us—-to be productive, to consume, and always want more and better, and to compete for everything.     Are we following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth  in rejecting this?  We too are following the “Herd”.    “Baa!   Baaa!

But Christians should be different.    We are followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth who was killed by “the Herd”  at the instigation of the leaders of his day in politics, economics and especially religion who turned the “Herd” against him.    He was killed because he was a threat to the domination system of his day in the areas of religion, economics and politics.   Jesus  was a radical and his radical approach to life went against the leadership in the religious, economic and political areas and so the leadership killed him.   If Jesus appeared among us today and advocated the same radical way of life and religion that he taught—-Christians today would no doubt be in the midst of the “herd” that would shout “Crucify him!   Crucify him!

Where’s the Tether???!

Sometimes I think the morality of  our western culture, especially in the United States, resembles zero-gravity—everything not tied down is coming loose.   Some have called this a “zero-morality” culture, with no tethers to hold us back from the abyss of despair and meaninglessness.   We are adrift in this world like an astronaut without a tether in space.  A large share of our culture has lost the tether of the church  and God’s word  that in previous times has  guided us and we  now rely on ourselves to make decisions.     Those decisions, made on the basis of our self-interest,  leave us  in a stormy world without a mooring—a tether.   We seem to be spinning out of control with nothing to guide us.   

As we are left to our own devices, the Seven Deadly Sins appear to guide our decisions and actions.   Remember them?   Gluttony, Greed, Envy, Idleness, Lust, Anger and Pride These seem to be hallmarks of our culture in the U.S.

  1. GLUTTONY.  Gluttony means a lot more than just sneaking off too often to sample the 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC.   Gluttony, at base, is doing anything to excess.    It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—that appetiite might be food—it might be power—it might be sex—it might be money—it even might be golf.    We see this in a culture of wanting more and more and more—-more clothes, more “totys”, more cars, larger houses, etc. etc.   More than we will ever need!
  2. GREED.    Closely related to gluttony, greed is what we used to call “avarice.”   It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.   As we exist in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what is most important  and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong with our culture.   We live in a culture that values money over people.   Money over right and wrong.   Always wanting more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own, not who we are.   Money is power-–money and power are “tighter than ticks together.”   In business, we see money as causing immorality, cheating, and lying to get ahead in business and in our lives.
  3. ENVY.  Envy is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves with others.    It is the basis of backbiting (tearing down someone else to build ourselves up), gossiping, bigotry, and vanity.   When envy rules our lives we are always feeling insecure and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less so that we feel superior to them.
  4. IDLENESS.  Idleness is sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which to die” as Dorothy Sayers once wrote.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of  him or her and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves.   The old version is SLOTH.
  5. LUST.  Lust is the perversion of what is good into something that is evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust and driving it is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronymn for EGO is “Edging God Out”.   Lust is extreme selfishness in action.
  6. ANGER.   W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates through our bodies into our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder and rape but is also present in attacks on minority groups, the poor, the homeless.   Our culture is filled with anger and that is behind all the violence that occurs in it.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.
  7. PRIDE.    The last, but definitely not the least!   Someone has defined pride as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego.”  I recently read an example of this in a person saying to another person “but enough about me!  let’s talk about you.  what do you think of me?”   Pride is when our own ego is in control of all that we say and do—-IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.”     There are all kinds of ways that pride emerges:   it may be a “need to-control” pride.   It may be a “self-centeredness that comes through low self-esteem.  Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.  I read somewhere the saying “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?”   Religious pride turns away the very people that God calls to.

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?    WHERE CAN WE TURN?   WHERE IS A TETHER THAT WE CAN GRAB ONTO AND HELP OUR CULTURE AND OUR OWN LIVES AVOID SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL?   I suggest the TETHER is  found in these words of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.   This is the tether that we need to firmly grasp and that  needs to be thrown to a culture that is spinning out of control.   Love of God and of neighbor  is what we need to base our decisions on.   Try it!   Proclaim it!    

Sell the Building, Keep the Church

There are many churches struggling today “to keep their doors open”.    Perhaps they are struggling for the wrong reason.   Perhaps in this post-modern, emergent church environment that we are in today the best thing that could happen  to those churches is to close the doors of their church building so that the Church of Jesus Christ  can survive.

Recently, in Wichita, the Fairview Christian Church (Dsciples of Christ) sold its building.   They are now meeting in a “house church” environment and no longer have the expense  of an old building that needed extensive repairs  that took  their time and money to maintain.   The building is gone, but the Church—-the body of Christ—survives!   They made a painful but Christ-like decision to solve their problem.   Sell the building, keep the Church.  They chose what was important—their relationship to God and to each other over property.

As we read about the “early church” in Acts there is no mention of a “church building“.   Paul doesn’t mention a “church building” either, and  we know that at least one of the churches Paul founded (the church at Philippi)    met in the house of Lydia.   Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament,  described the churches he founded as” the body of Christ”, with Christ as its head and all the rest of the members being the eyes, toes, legs, arms, feet, etc.—not a building, but a living organism!!

The Gospel of  Luke tells the story of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus  and asked “what can I do to inherit eternal life?”    Jesus replied that he should follow all the commandments.   The young man said he had done that from his youth.  “then Jesus looked at him and said “There is still one thing lacking.  Sell all you have and give the money to the poor….and come, follow me.”   (Luke 18:18-25)  Luke tells us that the man went away sorrowful because he had great possessions.   He was unable to do what Jesus asked.

In Wichita I live around the corner from  a huge, beautiful church building.    This megachurch offers  everything from a coffee shop to a book store, to a full sized gymnasium.  The building  features  the most expensive and best sound and projection equipment in order to  entertain those who attend.  It hires professional musicians to provide the music on that sound and projection system.  Expensive electronic signs advertise what is being offered—-all kinds of workshops, support groups, youth clubs, etc.    I wonder what Jesus would think if he saw his name connected to this megachurch? Let me give my answer to that question by re-telling the story of the rich young man in modern terms.

The story might go like this:     The Senior Pastor and the staff of eight from First Megachurch came to Jesus one day and asked him how best they might be His Church.    Jesus looked at them  and said to them: “One thing you lack.  Go, sell your beautiful church building and all its furnishings and give all the money to the poor and come and follow me and help me care for the “least of these, your brothers and sisters –-the homeless, the outcasts, the poor, the sick, the mentally challenged.  Use some of the money to work for fair wages for the poor, and for economic and political and social justice for all.”       And the Senior Pastor and staff went away sorrowfully because they couldn’t give up their beautiful building and its furnishings.  And Jesus shook his head and shed a tear as he watched them leave him!

Sell the building—-Keep the Church!   Is this the way of discipleship?   what do YOU think??

Disciple “Lone Rangers”?

It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   Can you be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, and not be a church member?   On the other hand, can you be a church member and not be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian?  Good questions begging for answers in our current times!   Can you be a “Lone Ranger” Disciple of Jesus?

I begin to seek answers in pointing out that, according to the Gospels, Jesus never founded a church called “The First Church of Jesus the Christ”.   The Gospels do seem to assume the existence of the church and we know the church existed from the earliest writings in the New Testament, those of the Apostle Paul, who wrote many years before the Gospels were written and his letters were to “the church” at different locations.    But what Jesus  did was to call people to discipleship many different times and in many different ways in order to carry out the ministry that he felt called by God to do.     It has become popular today in increasingly large numbers for people to say “I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus,  but I’m not a member of any church.   A personal relationships with God through Jesus is good—but is that what Jesus calls his disciples to do—just be God’s individual friend through Jesus?   Perhaps we need to examine what that “discipleship” is that Jesus calls us to.   Jesus view of what he was called by God to do in his ministry is found in his first sermon after his temptations in the wilderness,  given at the synagogue in Nazareth.     Luke records it this wayHe stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring goood news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  The eyes of the synagogue were fixed on him.  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke4:16b-21)    This scripture is Jesus’ statement of his ministry and  mission.  If we are his disciples it is our ministry and  mission also.

To carry out this mission and ministry Jesus called a special group of 12 disciples to follow him and help him.   He realized, even with his relationship with God, that he could not accomplish his ministry and mission alone.  Neither can we as  inidividuals alone do so today!

Throughout the New Testament—there is an underlying assumption that if you are a follower of Jesus you are a member of a group, whether it is called a “church” or not.   The earliest writings of the New Testament, the Pauline Epistles (written long before the Gospels were written) are to the church.  And Paul describes that church unequivocably  as the “Body of Christ” with  all believers and followers of Christ being members of that body, working together to bring about the Kingdom of God and carry out the mission Jesus was given as captured by Luke in the synagogue at Nazareth.   Paul writes:  For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.  ….If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 

There is not a great deal of support in the Bible for the popular saying now—I want a personal relationship with God through Jesus, but I’m not a church member.

Perhaps the problem is how we define “church“.    The Greek word eklesia has the  literal meaning of “those called out”.   Note that there is no mention in the New Testament  of denominations that we ordinarily refer to as “church” today.    There are no Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ (Christian Churrch), Presybyterian, etc.  named.   The church, in the writings of Paul, is “The Body of Christ” —one body with many members   When we confess Jesus as Lord we become a member of that body according to Paul—-certainly not just a member of a denomination or megachurch—-we become part of, (a member of)  the earthly body of Christ.   We individually answer the call to follow Jesus as Lord, but that following what we are called by Jesus to do  is carried out as a member of the body of Christ.    In doing so we inidivdually answer to call to follow Jesus as his disciple, but we carry out that call as one of many members of the body of Christ.   As Paul writes to the churches in Ephesus:  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s grow in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:15-16).

It appears to me that the followers of Jesus have failed to grasp the full meaning of this concept of the church.  When they do so, they will follow Jesus’ calling to his disciples more fully and will seek not just a personal relationship but a call to do ministry and carry out his mission as the Body of Christ.   It’s the mission he outlined in the synagogue in Nazareth many years ago—to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”   In  Matthew 24:34-40 Jesus puts his mission in these words and says to his disciples who carry it out these words:  “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?   And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?   And the king will answer them,  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

It appears to me that when the followers of Jesus finally grasp the full meaning of this concept then  “the church” will follow its calling as Jesus disciples more fully.   Right now we have much to do that we are doing in carrying out his mission and ministry.

I don’t think there are any “Lone Rangers” in the ranks of Jesus’ effective disciples. 

What do you think?

“Fake It Til You Make It!”

“The deepest and most important spiritual lessons I ever learned came from a circle of drunks, fighting desperately not to drink today, whom I initially viewed as “low-life losers”, and who ultimately came to be for me the “oracles of God”.

This is a statement from a graduate of an evangelical college and seminary, who feels he never really understood the Christian faith until he went through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.   He writes:

“I experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ in dramatic ways.   I learned that God is wildly at work in healing, redemptive, saving ways that were way outside the confines of the evangelical church.”

He continued:   “The 12 Steps in no way diminished my appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ—quite the contrary—I am more convinced than ever of the reality of the gospel story.

The AA practices of self-awareness, honesty, forgiveness, and reconciliation led this person to find a new life in Christ.   In other words, practices transformed him.

Diana Butler Bass, who recounts the above story of a college classmate of hers in her book A People’s History of Christianity, remarks:   “Alcoholics Anonymous  teaches addicts to “fake it until you make it.”   “Translating this insight,” Bass says, “into Christian spirituality,  if you act like a Christian you might just become one.”    (p. 297, A People’s History of Christianity)

Long ago, in the 16th century, a man by the name of Menno-Simons, the founder of the Mennonite and Amish forms of Christianity, wrote:

True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.

It clothes the naked.

It feeds the hungry.

It comforts the sorrowful.

It shelters the destitute.

It serves those that harm it.

It binds up that which is wounded.

It has become all things to all people.

“Doing church or Being church?”

All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times:   “He/She always went to Sunday School and church.  I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.”   Or:   “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them.   Why?”

I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”

It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”

Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”,  how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners,  how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.

All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly?   In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy,  with committee meetings, church attendance,  decorating for fellowship dinners, planning  programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper,  and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly  running as a business might run.   I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important  part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   The above are all involved in “doing church“.

The important part, on  the other hand,  is “being church”    It is being a  functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life.  It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and  that Jesus and this disciples walked.  “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present.   It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it.   it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial.  It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity  in our communities, both spiritual and secular. 

Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all  about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ.  .   And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood  is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”

Do you agree or disagree?   And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?

Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!

Being on God’s Side

Abraham Lincoln once said:  “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Human beings have always tried to bring God in on their side whenever they face conflict with each other.   As Wallis says in On God’s SideWhat Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good:  ” We have seen many tragic examples of people claiming that God is on their side.  Some have flown airplanes into buildings full of innocent people.  others claim God for their wars on terrorism, which also take many innocent lives.  We have seen people co-opting God for their party’s political agenda, their nation’s supremacy, their economic stratum’s global dominance, or their tribe’s identity politics.   Others try to impose their religious codes on society by legislation or by attacking people who disagree with those codes.  Claiming God’s special blessing for our own race, class, group, country, or even our religious community is a most dangerous example of trying to put God on our side.”         (On God’s Side, p. 8-9)

When we, in humility, admit that our ways are not God’s ways, that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts; and then seek to discover what it means to be on God’s side, it will lead to healing the brokenness of ourselves, our nations and our world.

Compassion will replace confrontation.

Love will replace hostility, hate and fear.

Humility will replace pride.

Forgiveness will replace blame.

Reconciliation will replace retaliation

Comfort will replace hurting.

Fullness will replace hunger.

Peace will replace war.

Acceptance will replace rejection.

Christ taught that all the law and prophets have told us how to be on God’s side and summed up their message in these words:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:25ff.)

If our churches can lead our society in the light of these words, then healing of our broken religious,  political, economic and social systems can begin.

As Jim Wallis says:  “Is love of neighbor the primary thing that people think about when they watch the behavior of our faith communities and institutions?   Or are they more likely to see self-interest and judgment of others?   Religion makes a big mistake when its primary public posture is to protect itself and its own interests.  It’s even worse when religion tries to use politics to enforce its own codes and beliefs or to use the force of law to control the behavior of others.   Religion does much better when it leads—when it actually cares about the needs of everybody and not just its own community….(On God’s Side, p.6)