Lettuce Christians

Earlier, when I was washing dishes, I was thinking about music and my mind wandered across a band that I haven’t listened to for a while but really enjoy: a funk band that came out of Berklee College of Music called Lettuce.

Their name comes from the early days before they were established as a group. They would travel around to clubs asking owners to give them gigs or just haul their instruments with them when another group would play. Over the course of the different musicians would approach the band asking “let us play, let us play”. By the end of the night none of the original band was on stage, it was only this nameless group that asked to play along. Soon they became know as the “Let Us” band, which they chose to modify to “Lettuce”, and so it stands today.

A quick disclaimer before I dive in too far: I love listening to Lettuce. They are an amazing band of very talented musicians and I have nothing against the way that they formed and became recognized.

That being said, I think the church, especially in America, has become similar to Lettuce in their early days. However, this is not a compliment.

Think of it this way: God is like the funk band jamming away on stage, and has invited us to join in the glorious, creative work being done as the Kingdom is brought to earth. We as the church have joyfully accepted the invitation. But somehow over the course of the night we have co-opted God’s work, and by the end of the night it is only us doing what we think is God’s work, though God no longer has any part in it. We follow trends that we believe are God’s work without truly following the spirit of God and allowing ourselves to be led in our decisions. We never stop to question the long term effects of our actions or if what we are doing is truly of God, or if it is only of our own ambition and desire. We assume that because we are doing things “In the name of Jesus” that God has endorsed our actions and we can do no wrong.

I see this often in the emphasis that is placed on short-term missions trips in the evangelical church. Each year we go to a different town that needs our help so they can be better off and they can partake in their share of the American Dream, without bothering to even ask if what we are doing is helping or if it may be hurting those communities over the long-term.

There may be seasons when God invited us to join in some in some form of discipleship or giving to help a specific person or community. We assume because God said it once it must be true for all people, communities, places, and times. We sit in that fun, exciting, or comfortable groove where God said we should focus for a while and don’t realize that God is no longer on stage jamming with us. There may be a new rhythm God wants to focus on but we’re too busy focusing on what was said back then that we don’t realize the new thing being said now. God may not even be in the building anymore, instead there’s a new gig happening down the street at the next club.

But we’re too busy wrapped up in the old to notice.

Jesus says in John 3:8 “The wind (or spirit, they are the same word) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” We have this idea that what we are doing or where we are going is always the will of God.

How arrogant can we get?

It is not our job to set the agenda or steer the ship. We follow, God leads. We join God in what God is doing, not vice versa. That is not to say there is no place for planning or for a leadership team to set the course of a church for the next days, weeks, months, years. But in that planning we must always be aware of the direction God is moving and the leading of the Spirit; we should be trying to join God not do our own thing and hope that God joins us.

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The Smothering of the Church

On the heels of the tornadoes last week that ravaged a large area of the midwest leaving 38 dead Dr. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist has made another statement on the will of God within these events. He calls the disaster God’s punishment for America’s sin, saying “If a tornado twists at 175 miles an hour and stays on the ground like a massive lawnmower for 50 miles, God gave the command.”

Now, there have been many responses to this theology including perhaps my favorite from Bo Sanders, but here I’d like to add my own thoughts to this discourse. I will attempt explain why I think this train of thought is both wrong but more importantly harmful to Christianity and its growth in America.

To understand my thoughts and conclusions first we must explore a little background and a couple definitions (sorry).

First: Piper’s view of God is often called a determinist God. Basically this means every event in history is the direct result of God’s will, and nothing happens outside his or her will. Thus God determines everything.

Second: this leads to a common argument against the existence of God known as the “Problem of Evil”. The argument goes as follows:

1. If God is all powerful he has the ability to prevent evil.

2. If God is all good he wants to prevent evil.

3. Evil exists.

4. Therefore an all powerful, all loving God does not exist.

Under the idea of a determinist God, such as Piper believes in, this argument is completely plausible. In fact I think this is a strong argument against such a God.

Instead I believe God’s greatest desire is love. Love between all humans as well as between humanity and God. However, I believe true love is always self sacrificial and thus cannot be forced, otherwise it is not love.

If love cannot be forced, then there must be multiple independent actors in the world (a.k.a. people have free will, and God does not determine everything). Take this back up to the problem of evil and we see this result: rather than saying God won’t prevent evil, we say God can’t act to prevent free will if he of she wants to give everyone the opportunity to love.

Now we can finally come to the idea I would like to put forward:

The theology of a determinist God is smothering the church.

To show this I would like to put forward an analogy, one that is used often in the Bible: the analogy of God as a parent.

Most people understand the concept and harmfulness of an over-controlling parent. If begin to project this example onto God we come with this: God is the all-controlling parent. In other words, a God who determines everything is like an over-controlling parent taken to the nth degree.

When children grow up under the influence of over-controlling they usually respond in one of two ways: either they rebel against the influence of the parent rejecting anything the parent may have to offer and many times the children do not even want to associate with the parent any more, OR they taking internalize the controlling influence leveled against them and lose their identity, slowly replacing their own thoughts, emotions, and desires with that of the parent.  If this second reaction is allowed to continue for long enough, eventually a child will become unable to survive on his own; having grown accustomed to having an outside source make all his important decisions he becomes paralyzed when faced with the necessity of having to make a decision for himself.*

Now when we take these conclusions about a controlling parent and adapt them to the analogy of God as parent we come end up with these two scenarios:

  1. People read about God sending his judgement through a deadly tornado and decide to rebel against this God. They hate the idea that a supposedly all-loving God would punish people in this way. The result is well meaning people, who also happen to logical and critically minded, end up rejecting Piper’s “God” who sent the disaster as a warning to repent from sin.
    OR
  2. People develop their Christianity with the understanding that God determines everything that will happen or has happened in the world and they become dependent upon this fact. Outside of the wall of the church (or maybe Bible study) they are paralyzed in their faith because they never learned how to engage the world outside of the direct direction of their spiritual elders. They don’t learn how to read and understand and interpret the Bible for themselves, leaving this task to their spiritual leaders who in turn learned everything from their spiritual leaders. They live out a dead and ritualistic faith because they don’t understand how to bring their faith into a world full of pain and suffering in a way that brings hope and healing to a mourning world.

The ultimate effect of both of these reactions is a smothering of the church. It is smothered on the outside every time a person is turned off by a God who wants to punish a fallen world rather than heal and liberate it. And it is smothered on the inside every time a person resigns him or herself to this controlling God who wants to micro manage their life instead of seeking out a vibrant faith working alongside the God of love to restore and heal a broken creation reconciling all things to God in the end.

*I apologize to all my feminist friends for the male dominated language. The sentence didn’t make as much sense in the gender neutral plural voice (they) and became too wordy and confusing with the more proper he or she.

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It seems Limbaugh’s apology is no better than his initial remarks.

Three days after causing a huge uproar by calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” a “prostitute,” and a “feminazi,” Rush Limbaugh has apologized. But his statement makes clear that he has absolutely no clue what Fluke said in her testimony to Democratic members of Congress, or what her arguments on the subject of contraceptive coverage actually were. Either that, or he’s intentionally smearing her again by misrepresenting her position.

Here. Take a look. Judge for yourself:

Limbaugh: “I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress.”

Fluke made no reference to her own sexual history in her congressional testimony. She spoke not on the basis of her own personal experience of birth control use, but in her position as past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice.

Limbaugh: “I personally do not…

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To all my brothers and sisters, this is why talking about race matters.

I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt.The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of White supremacy and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around, unwilling to go to the same destination as the White supremacists.But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt—unless they are actively antiracist—they will find themselves carried along with the others

–Beverly Tatum

Can I let…

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Mr. Santorum,If…

Mr. Santorum,

If you’re serious about becoming the leader of the United States (and quite possibly the world), please learn to take some responsibility for something sometime.

In January you made a comment about welfare being a handout to black people. Later when facing criticism over those remarks you try to cover it up by claiming you misspoke and the tape wasn’t clear… Yeah, no one is buying your bluff; it was quite clear. And if you really misspoke and wanted to be clear you would have corrected yourself in the moment.

Now recently your biggest monetary supporter makes a very sexist remark; one that even the reporter who is interviewing him finds quite offensive (though seriously she should have called him out for his sexism on the spot). Rick, whether you like it or not you are automatically associated with these comments. Friess is all but financing your presidential bid, so his stance is thought to be synonymous  with yours. If you don’t want to be associated with his comment you have to take responsibility for your own stance and speak up against his remark. You can’t just laugh it off and expect it to disappear; the only way to undo the damage is to directly rebuke what was said.

 

To anyone who seeks to lead in places of influence and power: please learn to take responsibility. Admit when you or those who you are in collaboration with are in the wrong and work to correct the harm and insult that has been committed.

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I wish more Christians would think like this and at least think critically in hard and complex issues such as gay marriage.

Jared Byas

Yesterday, the 9th US Circuit of Appeals declared it unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriage. There is no doubt this will make its way to the Supreme Court.

And while hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians will use it as an opportunity to “stand up for their faith,” I will use it as an opportunity to stand up for people without rights. We will both have our arguments and our proof-texts. We will both believe this is a watershed moment for Christianity in America. “If we allow for gay marriage God will punish America” or “If we allow for gay marriage our civilization will collapse,” they might say. But I will reply, “If we do not stand up for the equal rights of all human beings perhaps we are not fully understanding the Good News of Christ” and “If we lose the culture on this matter, we are unnecessarily…

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The Politics of Politics or Why schools are not the place for campaigns

Yesterday my alma mater held a political rally. A big name political candidate came and spoke. The whole event was promoted to the community before it happened. It was very well attended and received significant coverage from many news sources including CNN, and it was widely publicized afterwards.

Right off the bat I have problems with this. Not the least of these, and maybe the part my wife is most angry about, is that we are supposed to be an educational institution. An institute that is open to new ideas and promotes the respectful discussion of hard topics where all sides should at least be carefully considered, if not represented in some capacity. However, in hosting a political candidate from one party without reaching out and trying to draw in candidates that may represent any other parties or points of view, the school as an institution appears to endorse this one candidate over other candidates or parties. Even if they claim that hosting the event is not an endorsement it at least comes off as strongly biased toward one side over another. This is especially true when the school is run as part of an Evangelical Christian denomination and is therefore already seen as conservative school. It is even true when the school is more liberal than it’s evangelical counterparts in the area, and when as many as forty percent of its students may vote Democrat.

The consequence of all of this is that it makes many of those who are not in the majority (read Republican) position feel that they are not accepted or welcomed at the school. When my wife, who doesn’t vote but would probably settle in between the Democrats and the Green Party, heard that this rally was scheduled and immediately considered switching schools because she feels unwelcome. An this at a school where there are a significant number of democrats.

What frustrates me even more about this whole situation, however, is that the candidate who spoke is none other than Ron Paul. Now, I see nothing wrong with Libertarianism; I disagree with it, especially because the freedom it promotes through unregulated policies it allows big businesses who hold a lot of money and power to oppress the poor and weak with very few consequences. However, if you choose to give big business that kind of freedom the only thing I ask is that you don’t bail them out because they’re “too big to fail” they got themselves into the mess so they should have to deal with the consequences of their poor business decisions and risky practices.

What bothers me about hosting Ron Paul are two things: First, how his stance on Libertarian freedom affects race and segregation, and Second, how his policies affect student financial aid.

I’ll start with the second of these because it’s more obvious and easier to explain. As a Libertarian Ron Paul believes in small government and smaller budgets. Part of what he wants to cut is a significant portion of funding for education, including the entire Department of Education. Now the school he visited is a private university that charges upwards of $40,000 a year in tuition and fees and most students graduate with over $100,000 in debt. The policies of Ron Paul would hurt them even more, yet no one seems to notice.

Now to his ideas on race and segregation: Ron Paul holds personal liberty over human rights such a degree that he opposes the Civil Rights Law of 1964 which gave African-Americans and other minorities the same rights as Whites and overturned almost a century of Jim Crow laws oppressing Black Americans. Recently he has supported the rights of a white landlady to post a sign at a public pool in her apartment complex banning blacks from using the pool. Now the school he spoke at prides itself in in core values, one of which is being reconcilers. And part of doing so is working to root out racism from its community. Is it clear yet how these two things are at odds with one another? Yet there is a strong base of support for Ron Paul at this school, and no one questions whether he should be compared when we choose to host him at our school.

I’ve loved my time in college but the longer I’ve stayed around the more frustrated I’ve become with the bureaucracy and institutionalization of it and this is just one more vice to add to an ever growing list. I look forward to leaving soon.

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