When Life is Hard, Stop and Think

Recently I have started following Mark Driscoll on Facebook and Twitter. Although he is good for a daily dose of SCP fodder, I have no interest in zeroing in on him. However, I would like to make an observation and respond to a recent group of posts surrounding one of his sermons.

Driscoll wrote a series of posts in his social media feeds that went like this (edited here for coherence):

When life is hard…

  • God is not punishing you.
  • God is not failing you.
  • God has not abandoned you.
  • God is not acting evil toward you.
  • God will be with you, but he will not answer every question you may have.

In the transcript of this sermon, Driscoll has this to say about trials:

When those seasons come, our emotions tend to be very elevated and escalated. We feel sometimes more clearly than we think.

In the midst of tough times, Driscoll is asking us to think and not feel. I’d say this is good advice. Because if we really think about the five statements above in conjunction with the final three points of the sermon, we have to make tons of logical leaps to accept the fact of what Driscoll calls “a good God”.

Here’s what Driscoll says God says about trials.

  • You are going to get trials.
  • Trials are a test and an opportunity.
  • You will get trials of various kinds.

Think about it. A good loving God allows trials in your life, for a test and an opportunity and he allows all kinds of trials from small to large.

Recall the worst thing that ever happened to you in your life and God allowed that to happen. Why? To test you and give you an opportunity for you “to prove who you are in Christ”. Why? If I am in Christ, and that’s true, what do I have to prove? That I am really in Christ? According to Driscoll God is consistently and constantly sending you all types of trials. It’s all good though because God isn’t doing you any harm, and he’s there for you and he will get you through.

I want you to take Driscoll’s advice and stop feeling for a second. Stop feeling how good it is believing that God is out there and that he loves and cares for you. It makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside knowing that no matter what happens, large or small, God is there to help you through it. This feeling has gotten you through some pretty hard stuff in life – the loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of a marriage. Feeling God’s love and not thinking about God’s love has been pretty valuable.

But stop feeling and think about it. Does it make rational sense that good God would allow trials in your life? Is it right that someone who says they love you can permit difficulties in your life and not have to be accountable for their complicity? It’s a win-win for God all the time. He never has to answer your questions, he gets no blame and gets all the credit no matter what happens in your life. Does that makes sense to you?

If God’s ways are higher than our ways I would argue God has a few things to learn from us. As a parent, I would never treat my children the way he treats his children. Only people trapped in dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships allow such abuse to go on. The reasons they do so is because they love the abuser so much and can’t imagine life without them. Think about it.

King on the Church

1501556_10151953625232998_1730627087_o-217x300Though King’s legacy is often inextricably linked to his faith in God, he was hardly a cheerleader for the church…King believed the church had failed to fight for peace and social and economic justice. He also chided churches across the United States for having done little to fight segregation and racism. “It is to their everlasting shame,” he said, “that white Christians developed a system of racial segregation within the church and inflicted so many indignities upon its Negro worshippers that they had to organize their own churches.”

King also blamed organized religion for its willing support of violent resolutions:“In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war.”

Did you hear the one about the pastor who tried atheism?

Ryan Bell, a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, has decided to try atheism for a year.  His transition from faithful pastor to church critic to exploring non-belief have a familiar ring to them. It’s easy to identify with Bell’s description of life after leaving full-time ministry:

Since that time I have been a religious nomad. I have struggled to relate to the church and, if I’m honest, God. I haven’t attended church consistently; I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers. I haven’t prayed much and, without sermons to write on a regular basis, I haven’t studied, or even really read, the Bible.

What Bell seems to be suffering is not only a faith crisis, but a career crisis. For professional pastors the two are one in the same. Having been there I can tell you, it can be quite scary.

So Bell is going to “try on” atheism for a year and write about it. I sense what he is trying to do, but I’m not sure of his methods. It’s his journey however I can’t quite gauge his sincerity. The whole thing seems very public after all (with a book deal no less).

During my transition from belief to non-belief, I was writing regularly online and touching on the subject but it was also deeply, deeply personal. It wasn’t something I was trying, it was something I was experiencing. It was also something I was becoming.

I’m not sure one can “try on” atheism any more than one can “try on” Christianity. Telling an atheist to “just believe” is like telling a pig to fly. I know that in my past as a Christian I could not have fathomed “not believing”. It’s just not something you try.

As I’ve said before, you can’t fake a belief that doesn’t exist. You can’t fake non-belief either.

SCP ARCHIVES: A Pastor on Pastors

“A Pastor on Pastors” post was written back in July, 2007 when I still cared about pastors and for some reason thought they were special. I was still invested in the church to a certain extent and in some sense, I fancied myself to be a pastor to pastors. The SCP blog had become a stopping place for many like-minded individuals and several pastors, who were in various phases of having been burned by the church. I’m bringing this back up today because of a link on the Stuff Christian Likes Facebook page talking about pastors extraordinary spending habits.

Mega-church pastors especially see themselves as “franchise-players” as Ed Young calls himself here. Today’s version of the younger and dumber mega-church pastor (aka Steven Furtick types) are, often like their predecessors, pure and simple douche-bags. Why do people still attend churches like this? Because as Jesus called them, church people are sheep and will follow, support and idolize anyone that gives them a reason not to think for themselves. Stupid Church People get what they deserve.

The question I asked then was: “Can we save them (pastors) from themselves?” My answer today is “I hope not.”

Freedom Fighters

I seem to be caring less about “stuff christian culture likes”. Now this isn’t a knock on the actual site with the same name, but just an observation of where I currently am versus where I used to be. SCCL is a site dedicated to lampooning the wacky world surrounding Christianity. I enjoy the SCCL site and Facebook page (and other sites like it) and follow many, but find myself less and less interested.

Looking around at the “very involved” church people surrounding me used to upset me. The judgement I had been raised to hold onto as a Southern Baptist Professional Christian turned on the group I used to be with, and I judged all Christians (particularly the evangelical type) with the same amount of fervor previously reserved for heathens. All in the name of love of course.

Seriously, I have no problem shooting sacred cows. It’s important. Actually, I’m pretty good at it. I probably could have turned pro in that realm had I set my mind to it. Thankfully, life moved me in a different direction.

I don’t care much anymore what so and so said about such and such. I do think it’s important to have someone pointing out the bullshit when it’s there and holding people accountable for what they say. But for me, the bullshit is deeper than SCCL and others (including our own SCP site in the past) have been willing to discuss. We like to talk ad nauseum about how evolved we are now that we think gay people should be married, or that women should be pastors, or that churches aren’t truly as relevant as they think they are.

Let’s be real here. Are we shocked anymore when Mark Driscoll makes douchebag comments? Does it still annoy us that John Piper is a just who he says he is – a Calvinist? Are we still upset that Rick Warren will say or do anything to appear relevant with whomever he is speaking to at the moment?

Do we care that there are more and more new church movements replacing the old church movements? And that the new ones are just as corrupt as the old ones? Have we forgotten the saying “new wine into old wineskins”?

There is no doubt that the “stuff christian culture likes” is really messed up. Christian culture exists because people who believe the same way and want the same things create a culture to reinforce and substantiate that world-view. They can’t help it. Read an “Introduction to Sociology” book sometime. It’s ingrained in people groups to perpetuate their own myths and to do so in a manor that reflects themselves in the best possible light.

One day I got to a point where I had to ask myself as a contributor of all things Stupid Church People: “Do I constantly need to monitor guys like Tony Jones anymore?” The answer is a resounding NO. Tony will be Tony. So will Mark, John, Rick, Pat, Tom, Dick and Harry. When they continue to say or do stupid, uncaring or illogical things, should I point it out? Maybe.

It could be just a point in my process of recovery that I no longer care.

Here’s what I think: Freeing yourself from a culture that is so full of judgment, guilt and shame can be painful. Freedom is not easily found (if it is found at all). Many within the “church recovery movement” turn to blogs and Facebook to find kindred spirits who are on the same journey. We criticize together, laugh together and defend each other. In this group we find that we are not alone. That’s a very, very good thing.

But at some point you move beyond this. You realize that you are just as full of bullshit as the ones you are criticizing. If not sites such as, “Stuff Stupid Church People Likes” could pop up and then you’d realize that you have created your own culture that’s just as inbred and irrelevant as the one you are trying to break away from.

Here’s what I am finding: Freedom from someone isn’t leaving and then turning around as you are walking away and screaming at them. It’s not telling them to change or how ignorant they are. Certainly, if you have suffered abuse (as many have) it is certainly part of the process. But if you get stuck there you aren’t really free. They still control you.

935803_10151717698745874_1809712021_nFreedom from someone is caring less and less about them and what they say or do. It’s caring less and less about what they say about you. Freedom is really, really hard and gutsy stuff.

Freedom is not easy. I’m still working on it. From time to time, I’ll continue to let you know how it’s going.

We Need God (or so we think)

I am reading more and more people on my FB feed that continue to use this logic: If something bad is happening to you or you are going through hard times, it’s ok because God is in control, or he is just testing you, or hard times make us love God more… or some other sort of nonsense.

Listen, believe what you want, but can’t you just take a tough time in your life for what it is: A tough time? Trust me, I’m all for looking for the deeper meaning of things, but that deeper meaning is nothing but my own mental gymnastics. I’m pretty certain that unless I’m living in complete la-la-land most of my hard times, problems or struggles can be traced back to some earthly cause or consequence – most of which would be of my own doing.

Even if you believe in God, the above logic just astounds me. God allows bad things to happen to you as a test? To make you stronger? To show he’s in control? Why would people subject themselves to this?

I guess it makes things easier to think that something outside of us can give us the answers to situations we can’t comprehend. I get it. But it’s silly. To me it’s not comforting at all to imagine a God who lets bad things happen to me to boost his own ego.

Let Freedom Kill

TOWN1-articleLarge-300x174I posted this originally on Facebook, but wanted to share it here. This article from the New York Times talks about one small town’s struggle with the legal but frightening increase in the use of semi-automatic rifles (SARs). The troubling and reoccurring theme I am seeing on Facebook and other sites is the use of freedom as a defense to continue to allow people to own SARs. These guns weren’t allowed until a few years ago, but now people see any restriction on them as an attempt to take away gun ownership from all Americans and an attack on the 2nd Amendment. I think that’s a crock. Anyway, here’s what I wrote.

“He said he was distraught at the school massacre but said guns should not be made the ‘scapegoat.’ Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” he said. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.” ~(Excerpt from this article which I encourage you to read)

No… a disturbed man with a semi-automatic rifle and bullet-proof vest killed all those children.

Listen this isn’t really a debate. I know friends who have these guns (semi-auto rifles) – and they don’t need them – they want them. Big difference!! Our country is full of examples of the limitations of our freedoms being established to protect us from ourselves. Guns don’t make us “free” – especially these types of guns… that’s a ridiculous backwoods ignorant argument.

“But the bad guys have them and we need to defend ourselves”, they argue. This kid was not a bad guy, he was a very troubled person who had easy access to these weapons. This isn’t a situation where it’s a drug war, or gangs or the mafia. This was one person who, because of his easy access to these types of weapons, was able to inflict incredible amounts of carnage in a very short period of time.

Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? : BOOK REVIEW

Recently I was contacted by Mike Morrell from Speakeasy to read and review books in exchange for absolutely nothing. Well, I do get a free copy of the books I choose to review and in return I’ve been told I can give my honest opinion of what I think. This could get interesting.

The first book up for review is Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? by Daniel Meeter, pastor of the Old First Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Here’s the description provided from the book jacket:

Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? is a warm and friendly tour through the peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith, without judgment of other religions. The book is a practical and down-to-earth introduction for the curious, the inquirer, and anyone who wants to discover Christianity in a new light. It confidently clears away the ever-present and negative motivation for being a Christian: the fear of going to hell. The book argues that the conventional view of people suffering in hell is not part of the original Biblical faith, and that belief in hell is not required of a Christian today. Accessible, readable, and smart, this is the book to consult if you are shopping for a religion, want to develop your spirituality, or just want to know more about Christianity.

This description is spot on when it describes the book as a “warm and friendly” book and looks at the “peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith”. I can certainly see how I might have been open and welcoming of this book as I was moving away from the faith of my childhood, but now to be honest, I just find this book annoying.

The first three chapters of this book discuss the subject of hell and why the conventional view of it is wrong. The last fifteen chapters explain why you should be a Christian once there is no consequence of not being one. The author has failed to convince me of either.

As for hell, Meeter tells us that Bible doesn’t teach that anyone spends eternity in hell. That’s it in a nutshell. If you grew up with a belief that Christians go to heaven and everyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell, well, according to Meeter you only got it half right. He says:

People do not “go to hell.’ When people die, they die. That’s all. That’s the punishment–God does not punish them any further.

I agree with the first part of that statement. When people die, they die. That’s all. I would add that there is no punishment since there is no evidence of God… and that’s really good news.

But beyond what I believe, I just don’t think Meeter has a strong case on this. Yes, he’s a theologian with a doctoral degree and I’m not, but how can he say unequivocally that his perspective on what the Bible says is any more the case than those that hold to the view that there is a literal hell. I don’t think he would say that in fact. I find the book wishy-washy and not wanting to offend anyone so whether I choose to believe what Meeter says or not, I’m ok. I find that annoying.

The largest portion of the book is bent on describing all the wonderful reasons  for being a Christian once I’ve decided I no longer need eternal fire insurance. Some of the reasons to be a Christian according to Meeter are:

  • To Be Spiritual
  • To Pray
  • To Save Your Soul
  • To Be a Human Being
  • To Deal with Guilt
  • To Love Your Neighbor
  • To Go to Heaven

As I read the book I found none of these reasons convincing. Mainly because Meeter writes with the conviction of a wet dish rag.

In the chapter entitled “To Be a Human Being” Meeter writes:

Why be a Christian? The answer: To be the kind of human being you want to be, the kind of human being that you’re supposed to be, the kind of human being God designed you to be.

Well I don’t need to be a Christian if I want to be the human being I want to be. I can figure that out on my own. And what does it mean to be the kind of human being I’m supposed to be? Who decides that? God? Which God?

Ultimately, Meeter shows his lack of commitment to the cause by writing the following:

…I am not saying that non-Christians are not human beings or that Jews and Muslims and Buddhists are not human beings. I am not saying this even about atheists and Red Sox fans. I am not saying that Christians are the only human beings, or even that we are better human beings. But what I am saying is that this is why we are Christians, to be human beings, or maybe I should say a certain kind of human being, the kind that reflects a particular image of God.

Let that soak in a minute. Read it again if you must. Now, ask yourself a question. Why should I be a Christian as opposed to a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Red Sox fan? Based on Meeter’s own words, I can’t find a reason.

So if you are a Christian who doesn’t like the idea that the God you believe in and worship is going to send your grandma who doesn’t believe in Jesus to hell, then get this book so you can feel better when you attend her funeral. If you are a Christian and don’t like the idea of having to recruit your friends and “evangelize” them since it makes you unlikeable at parties, then get this book. But if you find it really annoying to read a book that takes a position and then at the same time seems open to all other positions, then skip this one.

To my chagrin, the one thing I did learn in this book is that Red Sox fans don’t go to hell. I was holding out hope on that one.

UPDATE: I believe this was my first and last book review although I was asked to do so many times. The reason:  I really didn’t enjoy reading any books I’ve received to review. They are poorly written for one thing. Secondly, people seem to be jumping through hoops harder than ever to explain why their version of Christianity is better than the rest.

Everything I read these days by Christians involves them trying to make their version of Jesus cool enough so that everyone else will believe in him. Don’t people realize that all they are doing is creating a God in their own image?

One Nation Under (insert favorite cult here)

I have many Facebook friends and friends of Facebook friends who are conservatives, Republicans and Christians.They are concerned about the course that this country is on and one of those concerns is what they believe is a moving away from the founding fathers belief in the Bible and God. For them, the United States was founded on Christian principles and we have lost our way.

So, in this election, they are choosing to vote for Mitt Romney.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the logical leap. On the Facebook page of Josh’s wife, Ashley, I posted this response to one such faithful Christian and I thought I’d share it here:

I’ve never understood how ultra-conservatives use the founding father’s belief in God and the bible as an argument to vote for someone who is diametrically opposed to all they hold dear. I guess I’ve never understood how bible believing Christians are justifying their vote for not only a cult member, but a former cult leader. A bishop in the Mormon church is NOT just a casual Mormon believer. Romney is heavily ingrained! He gives tens of millions of dollars to advance the cause of Mormonism around the world. If you are a bible believing Christian trust me, Romney does not believe in the same Bible or God that you believe this country was founded on. Not even in the slightest. As a bible believing Christian, the person you should have no problem judging is one who also believes Jesus is the brother of the devil (and if I’m not being plain enough – that’s what Mormons believe – among many other very non-Christian beliefs).

Please chime in here and help me understand.

Jesus Endorses Joseph Smith

1013-romney-religion-Republicans_Conservatives_full_600-300x200I am trying to wrap my brain around something. How do conservative voters who are also evangelical Christians allow themselves to support the Mormon Mitt Romney? I get it in the sense that his politics align closely with theirs perhaps, or maybe it’s just the commonality they share in hating Obama, but I know how Christians feel about Mormons… and it’s not so nice.

To a large portion of Christians in this country, Mormonism is considered a cult. Specifically Southern Baptists (the largest Christian denomination on the planet) teach that Mormonism is no different than Hare Krishna, Scientology or The Unification Church.

I would think Christians would consider it dangerous to have a Mormon in the White House. To most Christians, it would seem, giving the highest office of the land over into the hands of a cult member would be unthinkable. But many are prepared to do it.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. I think Rick Santorum is as much a member of a cult (Catholicism) as is Mitt Romney, and frankly I don’t see the difference. In fact, Santorum spouted much more incendiary religious dogma as he ran for the nomination. Romney seems to keep things fairly separate and that’s a good thing.

As the saying goes, “politics makes strange bedfellows”.