I am pretty horrible at this whole blogging thing. I knew it was the case, but recently it was brought to my attention again. I will make no promises, but I am really going to try to write more often in this thing and maybe even include more personal information, not only the opinion things that have made up the majority of my blogging.

For those of you who don’t know, I work overnights. Out of an eight hour shift, I probably have about 4 hours of work to do (that might even be on the high side). I do some cleaning, cooking, hourly bed checks, documenting on residents, and finally I do a lot of wake-up prompting of residents.

So, what do I do with the other four hours? I try to find a lot of other random work to fill the other four hours, I might do some writing, and I do a lot of thinking. Throughout the entire shift I listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The thinking thing though is what I want to talk about. I have been having a great deal of thoughts about Biblical interpretation and also theology. Who would have guessed that the person who dedicated 6 years of education to religion would find their “resting” mind playing games with theology?

One thing that I keep coming back to are alternative readings and understandings of Biblical texts. When I am reading and contemplating the text, I try to ignore everything I have been told about the text. I try to forget the sermons and classes that I have had on the topic and just read the words, in English or Greek.

One thing that I am starting to realize is that regardless of the flavor of Christian you are, most of what you believe the Bible is telling you, isn’t really there, or isn’t the most reasonable way of thinking about the text. If we focused more on what the Bible is actually saying and less on what other people have said about the Bible, Christianity would have a very different shape.

That leads me to a question that I have been struggling with. Which is more important: the Bible’s message, or the Church’s message about the Bible? What is odd is that the groups that are more likely to say that the BIBLE is the most important are most likely to find their understanding of the Bible most tainted by the traditions surrounding the text and not the message of the Bible itself.

Last night while I was driving to work, I happened across a conservative Christian radio show. How do I know that it is a conservative Christian radio show? Well, the presenter, said “Now is the time for the People of God to rise up and take the government back from the powers of Satan.” Of course, when he later equated the powers of Satan with the ideology of the Democratic Party.

Anyhow, none of this is really the point. He ended his program by discussing a letter he recently received from some “friends.” These friends are disappointed and disillusioned. The presenter blamed this disillusionment on 24 hour new programming, somehow, news is the enemy because it allows people to have greater access to the wider world. Too much information is depressing because it inundates the viewer with too many events, mainly negative.

His response to these friends was that he has “some certainty that God might still be on [God’s] throne, and when God is in power, some good can still happen. While God is on his throne the People of God are sometimes kind, sometimes compassionate, and can sometimes still do good.”

What does it mean to be the “People of God?” My understanding of being Christian involves action, doing, being God, Christ to the world. We have a particular vocation to manifest the love of Christ for a world that sorely needs to be reminded of God’s love. Yet, if I take this radio host’s statement at face value, the best that the People of God can do is be a part-time People of God.

I admit that as humans, we often fail to do the will of God, but the fact that we fails doesn’t mean that we should settle for second best. We shouldn’t just “sometimes” try to do the will of God, we shouldn’t strive to only “sometimes” be the People of God. Being a People of God, being Christian is our primary task, it is our full-time vocation.

Grace and Peace to you from the One Who is, Who was, and Who is to come,
Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

I continue to pray for you and for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ spread across the globe. In this I say that I pray for all humanity, because truly all people are the sons and daughters of God and thus the siblings of our dear older brother, Jesus. But, I pray particularly now for you, in the trials and tribulations that you are now facing.

I have heard of and have experienced the squabbling, fighting, and bitter division that is now facing you and other congregations like yours. What are we fighting over? Is it acceptable that a man or woman be called to be a pastor at a congregation who would have them, if that man or woman is in love with a member of the same gender. This is our fight, at least on the surface. In all reality we are arguing over many more difficult and deeper things, like the nature of scripture, the meaning of and ways we are a “church,” what is salvation, grace, and the nature of sin. So, this one letter can not answer all of your concerns. I hope though to make a start.

The first thing is that all involved in the disagreement need to do is stop, step back, and calm down. Yes, there have been many heated arguments. There have been insults and misunderstandings and many more things that we should regret and be ashamed of. Is this really the way that Christ would have us treat our neighbor, or more so, our brother and sister, if we have a disagreement? Matthew 5:23-24 tells us that if we come to the altar with a gift and remember that our brother or sister have a disagreement with us we should leave the gift and be reconciled to our brother or sister. Should we, in our current state of disagreement, presume to receive the gifts from the altar, the body and the blood, when we, according to the scripture, are not even capable of offering our gifts at the altar?

I am not one to normally consider withholding the sacraments from any individual. As a Lutheran, my ancestors left the Roman Catholic Church because they felt the sacraments were being held captive. And, yet, at this moment, when our anger and our resentment of other Christians are at their highest, I contemplate just such an action. Not as a punishment or as a means of lauding power over others, I have no power to deny anyone the sacraments, but because Communion as a sacrament reminds us of our unity with Christ and our neighbors, all humanity, all Christians. However at this moment, our bitterness and our disagreements have led to a breaking of the unity, a breaking of the communion, with each other. How can I take communion with Christ if I can not love my neighbor due to his or her belief regarding homosexuality? Until I can forgive those who disagree with me, and receive forgiveness from those who oppose me; until I can be reconciled to them and remember that they too are my brothers and sisters, the dearly loved children of God our Father, how can I claim communion with Christ?

Let us begin again. Let us forgive each other our wrongs, and swear to one another that we will approach our disagreements with more tact, restraint, and respect. Let us remember and reflect on how we have acted and who we have harmed every time we step up to the altar to receive the body and blood of our Lord. If we are able and if we find our hearts troubled with our actions or the actions of our neighbor, may God give us the strength to turn away and be reconciled to our brothers and sisters before we receive the gifts.

Grace and Peace to you.
Your Brother in Christ,
EWHP

I am typing this with one hand. At 2:20am Sunday, I burned my left hand. As you can imagine it is rather unpleasant. It is healing right along and only occasionally is there any pain.

I have had some interesting experiences the past couple days that I find horribly telling and amusing at the same time. you see, just by how I walk the burnt and bandaged hand is normally hidden from viewor people just flat out pay attention. They see me and ask the very scripted “How are you doing?” Then it happens they see my hand and this sudden look of horror washes over their face. I wonder why the look of horror, is it some form of sympathetic reaction or, as i think more likely, is it terror at the thought that they might have opened Pandora’s box and they are prepared for some minutes of self-piety? My respond is always “fine” and a look of confused relief washes over them.

Why do we ask “How are you?” when we really don’t care for an answer? why has our social script developed a greeting of concern and care when at its very core our society lacks both concern  and care?

Recently a childhood friend of mine said something that has really bothered me. I have been thinking about it for the past two weeks. She said, when talking to me about one of her friends, “You two wouldn’t get along. He’s not into theology, he’s into Jesus.” Like somehow because I have studied theology and would identify myself as a theologian, I do not like or believe in Jesus. It is a common problem I have found with conservative Christians, they think that because an individual does not speak of Christ in everything or do not espouse Republican ideology that somehow our faith is deficient. I’ve been told that liberals have a “shallow” faith.

When I first arrived at college, I had a fairly weak faith, in many ways it was identical to the conservative, evangelical imperial religion we see in the United States. I had many of the conservative characteristics both politically and religiously that they measure “faith” by, I hated the right people. In college though, everything changed.

I started reading the Bible, not just in the selfish, self-centered, and narrow-minded way that is essential for the continuation of the conservative evangelical. I had been taught that my devotions should only ask “what’s in it for me?” I started reading the Bible and asking more difficult questions like, for whom was this written? Why? Where? How did the first readers understand the text? What was their world like? How has the understanding of the text changed? What’s the importance of the changes? Then and only then could I really start to grasp at scripture. Looking at the history of the Bible forced me to start reading the Bible from other peoples’ perspectives. Before I had only seen the message and verses that I wanted to see. Now the Bible has begun asking me serious questions. I stopped assuming that the Bible speaks directly to me and stopped assuming that I knew what the Bible had to say. I started to hear its own answers, questions, and concerns. Themes began to arise.

I quickly discovered that the faith of my childhood had been severely insufficient. I slowly developed a more mystic personal faith and a liberal public faith. My personal faith is much more difficult to describe to others, but I can assure you that few of you would recognize it. Suffice it to say that I feel communion not just with the Divine or even with other Christians, but with all of God’s creation. I also question most if not all of our doctrinal statements (this includes the “nondenominational” statements of faith that are rife with doctrine). My public faith has taken on many aspects of liberal theology and liberal Christianity, because my reading of scripture points me to the fact that it is amongst the liberal theologians that we find the most authentic reading and understanding of scripture. My reading of scripture has led me to the conviction that people come before paper. Often times we allow our understanding of the Bible to get between ourselves and our compassion towards other people. Our reading of the Bible also gets between ourselves and Jesus. It is easy to spend time alone reading the Bible, but it is hard work to love people. It is easy to read the Bible’s condemnation of various people when they are not us. It is hard to step back and step into those same peoples’ lives and witness God’s love and work through their lives. We like pointing fingers so long as we aren’t on the receiving end.

As I studied the Bible I found several key themes that now shape my life and faith.

  1. Don’t Judge.

      I know it is hard, we have a book filled with condemnations and accusations. But we also have very frequent messages to suspend judgment because judgment is God’s job. We seek to correct our neighbor’s sins while refusing to see let alone correct our own sins. I am trying to withhold my judgment of others and instead to look at and correct my own sins and the sins of others that I contribute to, yet I am constantly struggling against the desire to correct others. We must remember that when we judge others we are judging ourselves.

  2. Love and compassion

      These two words are probably the biggest themes of the New Testament aside from the Kingdom of God (which arguably is a message of love and compassion). Love is the most powerful and dangerous of God’s gifts. Everything that we do should be out of our love for God, Jesus, and humanity. We discover that we are only capable of love and compassion because God has loved us.

  3. Believing is encouraged, actions are necessary.

      I am not saying that somehow our good deeds will save us, but it seems that without our works, our belief is incomplete. How do we know the tree is healthy? Jesus asks and the answer is simply by it’s fruit. Likewise God can only judge our faith and faithfulness by the fruit it produces in us and in the world.

      What is odd to me is that Jesus taught so very little about what a Christian ought to believe, but this is always the first thing we ask. “I heard such and such was an Anglo-Baptist with Lutheran leanings, What do they believe?” Yet, the think that Christ taught, what a Christian ought to do, we completely ignore. How often have you asked “So, what does your church do,” or “how do you live out your faith?”

What would happen if we brought the meaning of “Christian” back to Christ’s teachings? When someone asked, “What’s a Christian?” The answer would no longer be “a person who believes that Jesus was the Son of God who came to save believers from the effects of sin.” to “a person who loves their neighbor and enemy like them self and who cares for and serves the outcasts and marginalized of the world with compassion in following with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who they believe to be the Son of God, Savior of the World.”

More often than not I am finding that my faith in Jesus and my devotion to his teaching place me at odds with the institutionalized forms of the Church, comfortable Christians, and the Bible itself. I have come to accept this and also am comforted by the Bible’s message that the prophets and disciples were accused of similar things.

Do I go around door to door selling Jesus? Do I travel the highways and by-ways looking for overpasses to spray paint with “Jesus Saves?” Do I preface every “good” deed with a statement about how I do this or that for Christ? If these questions are what determine if I am into Jesus (just that phrase repulses me like somehow Jesus is a fad to be had today and dropped as the seasons change), then the answer must be a resounding “NO!”

But, if the question is “Do I hold Christ to be the exemplar and source of my life, the foundation and guide?” Then, yes, I am “into Jesus.”

My study of theology was to better understand Jesus and the teachings about him. Now, my love of theology come from recognizing the transformative power of good teachings of and about Jesus Christ can have. There really is an “orthodoxy” (a right teaching) and central to this orthodoxy is a call and command to an orthopraxis (a right practice). No teaching about Christ is complete unless it asks us to recenter our lives and actions around Christ and the Cross.

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