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______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed July 7, 2013

faith_doubt

FAITH, DOUBT, AND OTHER LINES I’VE CROSSED:
        WALKING WITH THE UNKNOWN GOD
– Jay Bakker with Andy Meisenheimer

———

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book.  Very readable.  Both thoughtful, and thought-provoking.

This is my second read from Jay Bakker, my first being “Fall to Grace.”  (You can read that review by clicking Here.

This new book, written with Andy Meisenheimer, is such a huge encouragement.  It’s what I’d call a very “real” writing.  And for me, it’s easily relatable on so many counts.
There’s a lot discussed here; doubt, God, the Bible, heaven and hell, atonement, love, grace, relationships, society, church, theology.
We look at faith vs. certainty, reading the Bible differently, getting a new take on dying and rising with Christ, recasting eternity, rediscovering grace, standing for the oppressed, a self-centered view of God, and so much more. This is one of those books that, if taken seriously, has life-changing potential.

One of my favorite parts is in chapter one where we read about Paul in the book of Acts.  This is when he’s in Athens, and finds an alter with the inscription, “To an unknown god.”  Paul goes on to tell them that this unknown god is the God that Jesus came to tell us about.  Many Christians are familiar with this story, and the kinds of expositions usually given.  Here, our minds are expanded to a new possible understanding of this incident.  In part 12 (each chapter has numbered parts) we’re hit with what I found to be a beautiful revelation.  I won’t spoil it here.
Also in this chapter, I’m reminded of the times when what we read in our scriptures are quotes from other sources, as is the case with “in God we live and move and have out being.”  Here, Paul was quoting a Cretan philosopher named Epimenides.

In chapter two, we look at “Doubting Faith.”  Paul Tillich “believes that fanaticism and pharisaism are the symptoms of repressed doubt,” and that “doubt is overcome not by repression, but by the courage to embrace it.”  Jay says, as have I many times, “The more you find out, the less you know.”  “They don’t prepare you for this when you’re a Christian kid.”

The 3rd chapter is about reading the Bible.  It brings me memories of “Velvet Elvis,” and “A New Kind of Christianity.”  We read that “when we turn the Bible into an answer book, we miss out on the real story, the depth of all that the Bible has to offer.”  There’s a good bit on the writings of Paul, some material by Peter Rollins, and some quotes from Rob Bell.  We see that, for many, an “illiterate reading of scripture becomes God’s truth.”

Part of what we discover in chapter four is “Jesus’ version of fulfilling the law, in practice.”  Often, he “fulfilled the law by breaking it.”  There’s more insights into the “torn curtain” of the temple, during the crucifixion.  This is really good!
We also look at atonement theories, somewhat in the vein of Wm. P. Young, and some quotes from Sharon Baker’s book “Razing Hell.”  When we look at some of the teachings we grew up with, we have to ask “Does God practice what Jesus teaches?”  If so, we’ve gotten a lot of things wrong.

Chapter 5 is about eternity, and it opens with a Pete Rollins quote.  We also hear from Martin Luther King Jr., as well as James, Paul and Jesus.  In this chapter, concerning his alcoholism, Mr. Bakker says, “That’s when I finally got sober.  After I found out that I was accepted.”
I can so relate to that statement.  It was in the middle of a drug-induced stupor, when I was dangerously sexually promiscuous, possibly at the most irresponsible point I’ve ever been in my life, when I somehow realized that right there, right then, with or without any change in my life, I was totally accepted by God.  That doesn’t mean my actions were approved, but I, as I was, was both loved AND accepted by God.  No fear of rejection by God. Not even fear of death! THAT’S when things in my life started to turn around.
Yes, Jay Bakker, I really do get it.
Admittedly, there certainly was fear of the mortal consequences of my actions, here in this life. But I realized that would not be God “punishing” me. It would just be “sowing and reaping.” I thank the Lord that karma isn’t always the bitch she’s made out to be. 🙂
It’s truly a miracle (or multiple miracles) that I’m not dead or back in prison.
[And now, back to our review.]
There’s also some interesting material about when Jesus was reading Isaiah’s “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” scripture.  What Jesus doesn’t say speaks volumes.

In chapter six we look at grace:  Wild, outrageous, vulgar grace.  We see how “we cheapen grace when we make it temporary, a ticket to an afterlife.”   “When we really understand it, we will always find grace offensive.”

The seventh chapter has us “Speaking Up for the Marginalized.”  We see, as many are painfully aware, how the “church” has so often been on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of civil liberties, and the wrong side of… well, just the wrong side all around.  We’re told that it wasn’t until 1967 that a non-white person could marry a white person in every state.  Much of “christianity” believed, as Bob Jones preached, that “segregation was preserving God’s plan for the different races according to the Bible.”  We look to the Bible to see how the church in Antioch was treating the “minority,” and how one believer (Paul) had to confront another believer (Peter) over his two-faced hypocrisy.
Here’s a good quote from this chapter:
“Separate but equal.  Remaining a pure people.  Not mixing seeds.  We look back now and think, That’s crazy.  Who could support that?  Who could possible think the Bible could be used to justify a ban on interracial dating?
The answer is – we did.
Christians.
Are we doing the same thing now?”
So, yes, we discuss LGBTQ equality in this chapter.

We re-discover some of the Bible’s parables in chapter 8.  The lost coin.  The lost sheep.  The lost son. Here again, of course, we step back and see things from a new perspective.  This is good stuff, people!

In the ninth chapter we look at what we call “the church service.”  Jay purposes that this is “an unnatural experience of God, just like the art gallery is an unnatural experience of art.”  “It’s amazing how quickly you lose touch if you’re always in a Bible study and everybody’s always talking about Jesus and Christianity.  When we hear mega-church preachers say something that seems out of touch with reality, we have to understand that they don’t live in the real world.  Christians live in a false world, one without the people that Jesus cared about.”

M. Night Shyamalan offers up some great food for thought in chapter 10.  We also learn from the example of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as the 18th chapter of Matthew.

Chapter 11 addresses, among other things, death, suffering, grief, hope and hopelessness.  I think of all the cliches and platitudes that are frequently offered to those experiencing grief.  I know people may be trying to be helpful, but  “Death is a tragedy.  It’s important to walk through that grief without being bombarded with assurances that everything is okay.”  It’s important to say “This is horrible and awful.  It wasn’t God’s plan or God’s opportunity to make something good.  It was simply a tragedy.”

“Losing Belief, Finding Faith” is the title of chapter 12.  Here we compare and contrast faith and belief.  We discuss the “appeal of certainty.”  It’s easy to see why so many fall for fundamentalism.  But “certainty helps us cover up our brokenness and fears.”  It “allows God to become our alibi for hate and judgement.”  It causes “theologians and pastors [to] become lawyers, arguing nuances and loopholes that the original writers would never have imagined.”
“The freedom to have faith instead of beliefs is, to me, one of the most beautiful things about following Christ.”
We also look at the dangerous idea of “all or nothing.”  This is an idea that I’ve found destructive in most areas of life. (Check out “Do One Green Thing,” by Mindy Pennybacker.)

In the conclusion, we read the familiar story of Mary and Martha, again gaining a fresh perspective.  We take another look at bibliolatry, and the anti-Christ damage it continues to cause.
Then Jay wraps up this outing by looking at that which is of “infinite, ultimate concern,” and how our lives can truly be transformed.

In these pages, we walk with Jay as he discovers “something deeper and more lasting than the evangelical framework [he] inherited from [his] family and church.”  The story is both universal, and quite personal.  We touch on his relationship with his famous parents, including the deep pain of losing his mother at the end of her 11-year battle with cancer.

This really is an amazing read.  Interesting stories, and life-giving perceptions.
Don’t pass on this one.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

—————–

Seriously, you should read this book, wherever you are on the spectrum of belief or unbelief. Give it to friends and family. Start conversations around it. Then, tell Jay how much you love it. As a real shepherd of real people, Jay needs our encouragement.
– Rob Davis: an atheist’s review of Jay Bakker’s new book

—————–

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

* Doubt keeps me from thinking I’ve got a handle on God.

* I’ve found peace in the mystery.

* That any of us act like moral giants is pretty insane. We all add to suffering, and we ignore it. We know that our chocolate is picked by child laborers, diamonds are mined for slave wages, iPhones are assembled in inhumane working conditions. We can ignore all that, but we freak out when someone sleeps with their secretary.

* You would think that relationships would be more important than theology.

* The only difference between you and me and the “scandalous outsider” is nothing more than the labels we use to separate us from them.

* The type of inclusion Jesus practiced gets you in trouble.  This type of inclusion gets you killed.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

* “I-think-my-God-is-the-God” idolatry.  This is true idolatry.

* Somewhere along the way, we got focused on who does what with their genitals and forgot about love.

* I didn’t want theology to ever become more important than people.

* Our rejection of those who don’t fit without our clear-cut worldview is destroying people. Jesus said we would be known by our love, but when it comes to the LGBTQ community, we are known by our uncomfortable silence, our fight against their civil right to marry, our moral outrage, our discrimination, and our stereotyping.

* When you don’t know what to say [to a grieving person], cliches are the first things that come to your mind.  It’s our way of saying, “Holy shit, I don’t know what just happened.”

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

* Rather than being humbled and baffled by grace, we draw lines around who is in and who is out. [If we’re going to get angry], let’s get angry at how undiscriminating grace is.

* Jesus talked with all sorts of people without confronting them about their sin and demanding repentance.

* I can see the appeal of certainty. It promises that you’ll never have to rethink things or be confronted with a reality that you can’t understand. With God, you don’t get certainty.

* I’m going to work to free people from hell on earth.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

* The idea of heaven didn’t work for me when my mom died.  I felt certain she was in heaven… but all I could think about was never being able to see her, call her, talk to her, for the rest of my life.

* “Hope that is seen is not hope,” Paul says.  Hope comes from a place of doubt.

* We need to give people permission to embrace death, tragedy, the meaninglessness of life.

* I am no longer concerned with an afterlife, though I am concerned with eternity.

* I’m not trying to save anyone from hell or win people to Jesus.  I’m just trying to follow Jesus myself, and help people find grace and peace and acceptance in their lives.


Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Also check out www.JAYBAKKER.com, and www.REVOLUTIONnyc.com

 

SIN July 4, 2013

sin       [From “Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed,” by Jay Bakker with Andy Meisenheimer]


When people lose their jobs, aren’t promoted, are discriminated against, are treated differently, are described as “gay” as an insult, get kicked out of their churches, and are disowned by their families THAT is Sin!

The non-affirming of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the church is destroying families – at times with surprising violence – all in the name of God and holiness.
That is Sin!

Jesus said we would be known by our love, but when it comes to the LGBTQ community, we are known by our uncomfortable silence, our fight against their civil right to marry, our moral outrage, our discrimination, and our stereotyping.  A “welcoming-but-not-affirming policy is both self-contradictory and cruel.

________________________________________

The very notion of a “right” is that it places limits on the arbitrary power of the majority.  Equal rights shouldn’t be based on a vote. (via William Stacy Johnson)

The church historically has lagged behind government when it comes to issues of civil liberties.

The church should be on the front lines of the fight for the civil liberties of the oppressed.
The lyrics of the U2 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” ask, “How long must we sing this song?” How long are we going to cling to outdated notions of homosexuality and refuse to accept LGBTQ people into our midst?

_____________________________

Jay Bakker

Jay’s new book is, so far, fantastic! I’m just in 7 of 12 chapters (14, if you count the introduction and conclusion).
The above post is mostly about marriage equality, but that’s just this chapter. A lot of other issues are covered in these pages. This is my latest “Must Read” that I will be highly recommending to any and every reader, especially those who acknowledge faith in Christ.
[Of course, the “church” has often been the entity which has perpetrated the most vile and unholy sin, all in the name of God, and all while deceiving itself into believing it was the force attempting to eliminate sin.
To be fair, it has also been those of the Church (albeit the non-“fundamentalist” portion) who have fought for, and died for, the dignity, rights, and humanity of the oppressed. Who have, in fact, fought the sin of religious control and intolerance. – df]

For a different topic from the book, see: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vvcr11lancq3see/Paul.docx

Buy the book. Click HERE.

 

The Idolatry of God February 14, 2013



“There is a fire inside the building.
Please remain calm and step inside.”
idolatry


The Idolatry Of God
– Peter Rollins




– The Apocalypse isn’t Coming, It has Already Arrived. –
          Thus the adventure begins.


They say that (especially for those of us who are “youth-challenged”) one of the best ways to help prevent the decline of mental capacities is to actively use the brain by learning new things.
Simply put: THINK.  And think new thoughts.
In that context, a Rollins book is just what the doctor ordered.   Reading  “The Idolatry of God” is spiritual LASIK.  Here, however, the surgery is never finished.  Even if we don’t see everything the way Peter does, the adjustment continues to change the very nature of our spiritual vision.

The sub-title to this book is “Breaking Our Addiction To Certainty and Satisfaction.” I think it could also have been sub-titled, “Insurrection: Part Deux.” A number of the ideas expounded upon here were initially raised in “Insurrection.” While each book stands on it’s own merit, thy make a lovely couple.
🙂

It may be hard for some to conceive as to how one can “idolize” God.  Nevertheless, this book declares that’s predominantly just what “Christianity” has done.
“We have turned God into just another product to provide for our personal satisfaction.  A cosmic vending machine that promises answers and an escape from eternal suffering.”
The truth is, no matter what our vision of God is, that vision is never God.

There are three sections to “The Idolatry Of God:”
The Old Creation, The New Creation, and The New Collective.

Section One.

Early on, we read about how infants undergo two births.  The second of these is where “the infant begins to identify as existing in separation from her surroundings and slowly begins to experience herself as an individual.”
This information becomes important in the discussion of our sense of separation, and in turn, our feelings of being incomplete.

I love how Peter finds truth wherever truth can be found. He references works like “Austin Powers,” “Mission Impossible III,” and “The Walking Dead.”  In chapter one Mr. Rollins discusses a phrase made popular by Alfred Hitchcock: The “MacGuffin“.   A MacGuffin can be anything, and the point is not what it is, but that it has some assigned value, and it is wanted and desired, even if what it is is not known. OK, that may not make much sense on it’s own, but within the pages of this book, it initiates some amazing thought processes.

This leads to a discussion of “Original Sin.”
Finally, after 58 years, I’ve read an approach to Original sin that makes sense.  The church often says “sin simply means separation from God,” but then turns to endless discussions of “sins” instead of “sin.”  The focus is on what is and isn’t a “sin.”  This, of course, would vary from person to person, church to church, decade to decade. It all became an issue of what one could or couldn’t do, and still “remain” a Christian. I now find all of that laughably ridiculous, and simultaneously quite sad.  The end result is a “sin management” system, and any meaningful concept of Original sin is lost.

Chapter two has a visual recreation of the standard line drawing used in many evangelical tracts.  It’s the one with the stick figure on one side of a chasm, and GOD on the other.  You’ll know it when you see it.  We see why this entire approach to understanding our reality misses the point entirely.  “Instead of seeing Christ as the apocalyptic destruction of this whole approach…these diagrams obscure the truth by calling the Idol ‘God.'”

Chapter three reaps wisdom from the 23rd chapter of Matthew, and from “Miami Vice.”  We expand on a concept introduced in “Insurrection:”   I wear a mask that looks like me.  We look at the masks we “are,” and the mythologies (political, cultural, religious) that create and feed our life stories.  The church, in large part, does not confront these mythologies, but rather blesses them.

Chapter four brings us the “Zombie Apocalypse,” the “radical message of the cross,” and great insight into the Temple curtain being torn during the Crucifixion.  I loved the revelation of “what’s behind the curtain.” This is good stuff!

Section Two.

One of my favorite parts was chapter 5, “Trash of the World.”

We explore how a Christian “identity” is actually the setting aside of all identities.
We look at divisions that were thought to be a “natural” part of the world during Paul’s life:
Religious identity (Jew/Gentile),
Political identity (slave/free), and
Biological identity (male/female).
We then look at how the “sword” Christ says he brings divides those who may, in fact, believe the same things, while bringing unity to those who’s beliefs may be markedly different. A person’s enemies are now those of their own tribe.  The graphics in the book help clarify the new division of non-division.

Chapter Six covers material like “renewing of your mind,” “freedom from the obsessive drive for that which we (falsely) believe will make us complete,” “Christ as Fully God,” and more insights into the Crucifixion.

Section Three.

Chapters Seven through Nine.

We’re shown some new ways of being church.   Ways of facing our addiction to certainty.  Ways of interacting with the “other.”  And, of great importance, seeing ourselves the way others see us.
There are some really good ideas here. These ideas are not just theory, but ones that have been put into practice by the author and/or people he knows.
I would participate in these practices, but I don’t know that I would initiate them.  Whether or not you use these ideas, they can spur you on to come up with your own ideas. These certainly are some unique methods of encounter.

We also look at how, sadly, the existing “church” does not confront or challenge the Idolatry spoken of in these pages. Rather, the church reinforces the Idolatry.  Actually, it thrives on it.  The modern church would, to a great degree, not exist without it.  Not in it’s current form.
(I like the title of Chapter Eight:  “Destroying Christianity and other Christian Acts.”)

Oh.  Also in chapter 7, Peter critiques the “Confessional” scene in “Blue Like Jazz.”  I understand him, and for the most part agree with his criticism.  However, I still believe the realizations made through that type of process are powerful, and for many (most?) Christians, a necessary point at which to arrive before being able to move on.  It’s like not being able to get from A to H without going through E.  (And personally, I still love the movie.  Not everyone will.)

I tell ya, one sure-fire way to know that a book, author, singer, poet, etc. has something the church probably needs to hear is if those who claim to speak for the church call it heresy. [Challenge power, and power pushes back.]
This book is no exception. Peter (like Rob, Brian, Anne, Spencer, Phyllis, and others) is, in my estimation, a modern day prophet. Not in some weird, supernatural concept of the word, but in a real-life, get-back-to-basics, kind of way.
A way that calls us out of the Babylon of Christianity, and back to the way of Christ.

– df

—————



Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

Also read: “Insurrection,” and
The Orthodox Heretic.”

Quotes:

– What if Christ does not fill the empty cup we bring to him but rather smashes it to pieces, bringing freedom, not from our darkness and dissatisfaction, but freedom from our felt need to escape them?

– All our religious narratives are but ash before the all-consuming fire of divine mystery.

– [Holing on to the] Idolatrous form of faith, [you] will be tempted to embrace that huge industry dedicated to conferences, worship concerts, and traveling apologists.

– The Good News of Christianity: You can’t be fulfilled; you can’t be made whole; you can’t find satisfaction.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

–  Instead of God being that which fills the gap at the core of our being, the God testified to in Christianity exposes the gap for what it is, obliterates it, and invites us to participate in an utterly different form of life, one that brings us beyond slavery to the Idol.

– [Paul] understood that the prohibition of the law does not cause one to renounce an object, but rather fuels a self-destructive drive for it.

– People tend to think that the Law and sin existed on opposite ends of a spectrum… they actually are intertwined and exist on the same side.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

– All the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves have a fictional quality.

– Religious leaders are actually lying, first and foremost, to themselves.

– We are all tempted to fall into the same trap as these religious teachers whom Jesus chastised.

– Love fulfills the law…by raising us into a different register where we live beyond the prohibition.
… while not everything is beneficial, everything is permissible.
[This revelation to me, long before reading this book, was a wonderful breakthrough.  I am no longer obsessed with what things are “sins,” and what are not.  I now ask myself, “Is this the smart thing to do?  Is this the best path to travel?  Is this beneficial?”  So the writing here, as so often seems to happen, confirmed a work already being accomplished within me.]

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

– Original Sin and the Law are obliterated and the Idol they create dissolves into thin air.

– [This is very good.]  More often than not, the reasons we reject another arise after the actual rejection.

– Christianity is not a singular, monolithic, unchanging belief system but a fluid tradition that is always interrogating itself.

– Love is the crazy, mad, and perhaps ridiculous gesture of saying yes to life.

Buy The Book.  Click HERE.

 

Calling Evil Good February 21, 2012

I’m still amazed, amazingly, at how ones approach to scripture can flavor, alter, or completely reverse the meaning of a given passage.  I’ve heard countless sermons in institutional churches quoting scripture to defend the very religious system those verses were intended to condemn.  An instance that recently came to mind is Isaiah 5:20.

“Doom to you who call evil good and good evil, Who put darkness in place of light and light in place of darkness, Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Usually, I’ve heard this applied in a general “church vs. the world” context.  Reading the entire passage from a Christ-centered perspective we can begin to see how once again, the love of God has been perverted by religion.  True, this section does address “carousing.”

But its stronger focus is on spiritual insensitivity and social injustice.  Many often scoff at issues of social injustice, implying them to be of worldly concern.  In fact, as I’ve previously stated, these concerns are the gospel.  At least they are a large part of Jesus’ focus.


Back to calling “evil” good.
Could it be that once again our Western-world fundamentalist mind-set has clouded our vision?  Could it be that the ones condemning the world for calling evil good are those in fact guilty of this crime?

Consider these options:
– When we know that we are God’s house, could referencing any brick-and-mortar building as “God’s house” (something not done in the New Testament) be calling evil good?
– Isn’t emphasizing the avoidance of things like smoking and cussing, instead of focusing on how we treat others a form of calling evil good, and good evil?
– Is it possible that the very concept of a “just war” is calling evil good?
– And when we kill our enemies in the name of God and country, might that be calling  evil good?  Hey, I’m just asking you to consider the possibility.
– Are all the intensely “grace-a-phobic” religious people calling evil good when they relish in the idea that those who don’t see things their way are “going to hell”? (Don’t tell me you don’t know these people.  They’re very fond of believing that “They’ll get theirs someday!”)

– If the hate-filled, sign-carrying protesters constantly ignore the fact that, according to Ezekiel 16:49, the true sin of Sodom was the social injustice of ignoring the poor and the needy, are not they the ones actually calling evil good, and good evil, as they oppress our gay brothers and sisters in the Lord?
– Could insisting that old covenant tithing be observed by those under grace be calling evil good?


What other cherished teachings of religious institutions may share this unholy distortion?

I remember when I thought the term “fallen from grace” meant someone was involved in some kind of “gross sin.”  It was quite the revelation when I finally understood that, according to Galatians 5:4,  “falling from grace” meant living by the law!
Truly, that perversion of the good-news is calling “good” evil.

Like I indicated at the beginning, our preconceived notions bear heavy weight on what “we say ‘God says.'”
Once we begin the journey out of that religiously induced fog of legalism, we are free to start re-thinking our beliefs from a “Christ-centric” approach.

I can guarantee, that as we do this God’s grace will give new birth to our spirits, and new understanding as to what it means to “call evil good.”

–df

 

Frank Schaeffer On Michele Bachmann August 18, 2011

Ex-Evangelical Frank Schaeffer Denounces Michele Bachmann & Calls
Her Movement Anti-American.
This is a really good and informative verbal essay.
A man who’s “been there” exposes what “there” is all about.
He also wrote the book “Crazy For God,” which I’ve just started reading.





 

Love Wins March 31, 2011

Love Wins
A Book About Heaven, Hell, and
the Fate of Every Person Who ever Lived
— Rob Bell

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

Love Wins

The first thing that really needs to be pointed out:
Despite all the focus on the “hell” issue, this book, as it declares of itself, explores “a fairly vast expanse of topics.” Everything from “heaven and hell to God, Jesus, joy, violence,and the good news.”  Even the “age of accountability” is discussed.  It’s one of those issues where there are a lot of differing views. People like to agree that there is one, but no one knows what it is.  Mostly because it’s not in the Bible. We’ve created it so God has a good “out.” Now He doesn’t have to send babies to hell.

As with Bell’s previous books, there is plenty of historical and cultural context of the biblical narrative. I love that kind of material. It adds so much to proper understanding. It also tears down a lot of false beliefs.

We look at, not only the original language and meaning of words, but just as importantly, how the letters and stories of scripture were received and understood by the original audience. There is, to me, simply no true understanding of scripture without getting out of (as much as possible) the American Western mind-set.

I’ve said before that with over forty-thousand “Christian” denominations(1), most of whom disagree with each other, and still claiming to “just believe the Bible,” it should be obvious we’ve missed something major in our understanding and approach to our faith.

In “Love Wins” Rob asks which “God,” which “Jesus” we believe in. Some believe in a god who has them fly planes into towers. Some believe in a god who stands behind government sanctioned torture, if that’s what it takes to ensure our “freedom.”  Some believe in a Jesus that says, “Love your enemies.”  Some believe in a Jesus that says, “Blow them away in the Name of the Lord.”
I hear lots of Christians spouting things of which the God I know would NEVER be a part.

There’s much discussion of our responsibility to each other and to the Earth we were given to care for.  We see how much of the view “end-times” theology leads to disrespect and ill-will for others and our planet.

Then there’s this:  If I’m sent to “preach the gospel.”  What happens if I have a flat tire?  Will you go to hell because I didn’t get to you in time?
Is your salvation my responsibility?  If I’m to blame, how can you be held accountable.
(Reminder:  This is a book review.  Please do not send me responses to these questions without reading the book.  Thank you.)

Much of the religious furor and un-godly hatred toward Mr. Bell revolves around his writings about hell.
His discussion and views of heaven and hell are not new to me, so this book didn’t seem at all controversial. It probably would have at one time.
Early in this part of my journey, I felt disgust for ever being a person who could have believed many of the “monster-God” things I used to believe. This book addresses that, and helps us know that all of our journey is to be seen as necessary. It’s all a part of where we are now.
I’m not Samantha or Jeannie. I can’t instantly get to Indy from Fort Wayne. The only way to make that trip is to travel the space and time between here and there. Rob helps us see that all of that journey is sacred.

One of the things “Love Wins” does is help us examine the revelation of God in Christ in comparison to our various understandings of God. Will we believe “our version” of the divine story, or that of the Father?
In this context, we take a fresh look at the biblical story of the father and his two sons (often misleadingly called the story of the prodigal son). There are some truly great insights here.

This book is written in Rob’s usual style. Some have found fault with the very way he writes. I find it one of the things I greatly enjoy. His humor is also still intact.

Since so much has already been written about “Love Wins,” I’ve tried to keep this short; at least compared with my various “chapter by chapter” reviews.
This book is about so many things. But they all boil down to what kind of God we believe in. And, as Rob points out, whatever God we believe in, that’s the God we WILL be conformed to. That can be wonderful. That can be horrific.

PLEASE, don’t miss out on this book because of all the naysayers. I hope you NEVER avoid reading something because someone “warns” you about it. That may be one of the best indications you need to read it. Even if you don’t agree with it. Maybe, “especially” if you don’t agree with it.

Bottom line. I loved this book.
And I thank God that love wins.

-df

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

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What Others Say:

Millions of Christians have struggled with how to reconcile God’s love and God’s judgment: Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this “good news”?

Troubling questions—so troubling that many have lost their faith because of them. Others only whisper the questions to themselves, fearing or being taught that they might lose their faith and their church if they ask them out loud.

But what if these questions trouble us for good reason? What if the story of heaven and hell we have been taught is not, in fact, what the Bible teaches? What if what Jesus meant by heaven, hell, and salvation are very different from how we have come to understand them?

What if it is God who wants us to face these questions?

Author, pastor, and innovative teacher Rob Bell presents a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the “good news” is much, much better than we ever imagined.  (Amazon Product Description)
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“One of the nation’s rock-star-popular young pastors, Rob Bell, has stuck a pitchfork in how Christians talk about damnation.” (USA Today )

Buy the book. Click HERE.

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Some Quotes:

There is no question that Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous.

The discussion itself is divine.  Jesus responds to almost every question he’s asked with…
a question.

When we hear that a certain person has “rejected Christ,” we should first ask, “Which Christ?”
Some Jesuses should be rejected.

Honest business, redemptive art, honorable law, sustainable living, medicine, education, making a home, tending a garden – they’re all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will all go on in the age to come. In heaven, on earth. A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it.

The big words, the important words — “eternal life,” “treasure,” “heaven” — were all there in the conversation, but they weren’t used in the ways that many Christians use them.

“Here it is, a big beautiful fascinating world,” God says, “Do something with it!”

Jesus doesn’t tell people how to “go to heaven.”  It wasn’t what Jesus came to do.

In Jesus’s first-century Jewish world, they did not talk about a future life somewhere else.

Jesus makes no promise that in the blink of an eye we will suddenly become totally different people who have vastly different tastes, attitudes, and perspectives.

There’s a point to what the prophet interprets and understands to be God’s anger and wrath.”  It’s to teach the people, to correct them, to produce something new in them.

The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found.

We aren’t fixed, static beings — we change and morph as life unfolds.

A discussion about how to “just get into heaven” has no place in the life of a disciple of Jesus, because it’s missing the point of it all. It’s a cheap view of the world, because it’s a cheap view of God. It’s the gospel of goats, and it is lethal.

People choose to live in their own hells all the time.

Death, then resurrection.  This is true for ecosystems, food chains, the seasons — it’s true all across the environment.  Death gives way to life.

There is exclusivity [you’re in or you’re out].  There is inclusivity [Jesus doesn’t matter anymore].
Then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.  This kind insists that Jesus is the way, [but that not all] those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.

We believe all sorts of things about ourselves.  What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue…that Jesus rescues us from God.  We do not need to be rescued from God.  God is the rescuer.

We shape our God, and then our God shapes us.

Our beliefs matter.

Buy the book. Click HERE.

————–
(1) According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. This statistic takes into consideration cultural distinctions of denominations in different countries, so there is overlapping of many denominations.
Center for the Study of Global Christianity (2011)

 

Jesus Wants To Save Christians January 15, 2011


By the end of the introduction I was hooked. Rob Bell remains one of the most insightful, intelligent, interesting, thought-provoking writers I’ve ever read. For this outing, he teams up with Don Golden.

“Jesus Wants To Save Christians” is rich, and I mean rich in historical and cultural context of the Biblical narrative.  I know that personally, once I put down the Bible as a rule book, and picked it back up as the narrative of God and man, it all started making more sense than ever.  This book continues my education in that vein.

This book starts off with the realization that we are “east of Eden.” Rob shows how the Bible repeatedly uses “east” for special emphasis. He speaks of how “something about how we relate to each other has been lost. Something is not right with the world.”

The Introduction talks about where we are as a people, as a nation, and as a world. He compares our current state of affairs with that of Jesus’ day:
“The Roman Empire, which put Jesus on an execution stake, insisted that it was bringing peace to the world through its massive military might. Emperor Caesar, who ruled the Roman Empire, was considered the “Son of God,” the “Prince of Peace,” and one of his propaganda slogans was “peace through victory.”
“A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage.”

Chapter One is about Moses. It’s about Egypt, and the exodus. It’s about the “new Egypt” that God’s people, via religion, eventually created. “Egypt shows us how easily human nature bends toward using power to preserve privilege at the expense of the weak.”
We see Rob’s take on what it means that we are all called to be priests. We are called to be a holy nation “shaped not by greed, violence, and abusive power but by compassion, justice, and care for one’s neighbor.
We then look at the Ten Commandments, not as “strict rules given by a fire-breathing God to keep people in line,” but in their original context. In this light “the commandments take on all sorts of new meanings.” This is the most relevant, meaningful look at the often misused and misunderstood commandments given to Moses. It’s really amazing.
There’s a history lesson on Solomon like none I’ve ever thought of.  After the exodus, after God sets free the slaves, “Solomon is building a temple for the God who sets slaves free…
using slaves.
This is a major moment in the Bible. In just a few generations, the oppressed have become the oppressors.” “Solomon is using his massive resources and wealth to build military bases to protect his…
massive resources and wealth.”
So much for “looking out for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner.”
Chapter one also talks about the prophets God sent, the reaction to them, and exile in Babylon.

Chapter Two continues to discuss the Egypt/deliverance/Babylon themes. Still, “God always hears the cry of the oppressed.” We begin to see why the first exodus, and the first “marriage covenant” with God didn’t work out. “There’s an Egypt that we’re all born into, and that’s what we really need an exodus from.” This chapter takes us to the end of the Hebrew scriptures, also called the Old Testament. We see we need a new Moses, a new covenant, and a new exodus. We have all these unfulfilled prophesies, all these “suspended promises.” This new “way” will be much different. And instead of being for a select ethnic group, it will be for all mankind.

As Chapter Three opens, we are in early first century Israel.  Solomon was the son of David.  Now we have a new Son of David.  We begin to see the connections between Solomon and Jesus.  We see the weight and meaning of “Son of David” to this first century audience.  “A new son of David, leading the people into remarriage with God.”  “Jesus speaks of a new kingdom as he shows what it’s like to be human in this new reality.”
We look at the expectation of Jesus’ followers,  and the shock when it all “fell apart.”  There a discussion of the “myth of redemptive violence,” and the propensity we humans have for bloodshed.  Of course, we also see that the death of Jesus was the beginning of new hope.

Chapter Four looks at, among other things, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Again, we get historical context that brings a new and deeper appreciation for what’s happening here.  We also see this encounter in light of Jesus’ stating that the good news should be shared “to the ends of the earth.”  There are more parallels between Moses and Jesus.  We look at Luke’s account of the day of Pentecost, when three-thousand are saved.  That’s the same number that Moses had slaughtered for the “golden calf” incident.
We also see, again, the inclusiveness of the gospel, and of Paul himself.

Chapter Five has an interesting title:
Swollen-Bellied Black Babies, Soccer Moms On Prozac, and the Mark of the Beast.”
This is an extremely important chapter that should be read by every one who identifies as a lover of Christ.
It should be required reading for “American Christians.”

First, there’s some frightening information about “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”  Man.  What a false bill of goods we were sold on that one!  We dropped bombs to kill Saddam Hussein.  We missed.  Lots of civilians killed and injured.  No “bad buys.”
I’ve had other readings where I learned that Bush wanted a war long before the “war on terror.”  The whole thing was really about control.  And oil.  Finally, he was handed an excuse.  (See “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.”)
Anyway…
This chapter is about empire.  Egyptian empire.  Babylonian empire.  Roman empire.  American empire.  We’re reminded that blessings are not to be horded.  Blessings are to be used to bless others.  The consequences of forgetting the poor, the needy and the oppressed are both devastating and obvious.

This chapter also has great information on the book of Revelation, and the “mark of the beast.”
Again, we get relevant historical and cultural context, instead of all the twisted misuse and misapplications I’ve heard most of my life.
“Revelation is a bold, courageous, politically subversive attack on corrosive empire and its power to oppress people.”

Chapter Six is about lamb’s blood.  “In the first exodus, the lamb’s blood was place on the doorposts of the house” for those who lived there.  In the second exodus, the Lamb’s blood was placed “on the doorposts of the universe.”  This time “Jesus is saving everyone and everything.  Jesus is leading all of creation out of the Egypt of violence, sin, and death.
We also look at how Paul took offerings “for the poor.”  Not to grease the wheels of institutional religion.  The dividing walls of our differences have been broken down to usher in the “new humanity.”  One where access to God isn’t restricted to a religion, but is opened up, through Christ, to all people.  We get some good ideas about Paul’s “all things to all men” statements; especially, what’s noticeably absent in that passage.

Epilogue
The epilogue brings it all together and shows how our narrow definition of “being saved” has shortchanged Christians, and the rest of the world as well.   “God is looking for a body, a people to incarnate the divine.  That always involves hearing the cry of the poor and the oppressed and then acting on their behalf.”


Again, this is an amazing book.  Far too long we’ve seen salvation as an “afterlife” issue.  Salvation is here.  Salvation is now.  There is so very much from which Jesus wants to save Christians.  Religion.  Indifference.  Elitism.  Privilege.  Neglect of the poor and needy.  Oppressing others, especially in the name of God.
Do yourself, and the world a favor.  Read this book.

– df

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

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QUOTES:
The “whole world,” “all nations,” “all people,” “all things” are the biggest, widest, deepest, most inclusive terms the human mind can fathom.  And they are on the lips of Jesus, who is describing himself.

He’s bringing liberation for everybody everywhere and ultimately for everything everywhere for all time.

A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Exile is when you fail to convert your blessings into blessings for others.

The first exodus was just a hint of the redemption God has in mind for all humanity.

[Jesus started] A movement bigger than any one nation, bigger than any one ethnic group, bigger than any one religion.

The central promise to the father of their faith, Abraham, was that God would bless his people so that they would bless the world.  It’s always about wealth, health, possessions, and influence being used to bless others.

Jesus’ death [was] an end to a whole system of “commands and regulations.”

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

If anything, the biblical story teaches us that no nation is entitled to global dominance, no matter how powerful their national myths may be.

Jesus speaks of a new kingdom as he shows what it’s like to be human in this new reality.

What do you do when your religion isn’t big enough for God?

[Religious legalism] makes Paul furious.  In one letter, his rant reaches such a pitch that he says he wishes “they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

It’s a beautiful thing to learn from the journey of others.

If a sermon can be resolved in the time it took to deliver it, then it missed something central to what a sermon even is.

A church is not a center for religious good and services.

A church exists for the benefit of nonmembers.  This blessing extends even to our enemies.

Buy the book. Click HERE.


 

2010 in review January 2, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,400 times in 2010. That’s about 15 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 68 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 150 posts. There were 67 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 19th with 270 views. The most popular post that day was The Misunderstood God.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, en.wordpress.com, reunionsingers.com, mail.yahoo.com, and lifewalk.info.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for lifewalk, rich mullins quotes, andrew farley heresy, short pro life quotes, and chris colcord.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The Misunderstood God September 2010
6 comments

2

Tribbles Aren’t The Trouble. Labels Are. August 2010
26 comments

3

Scriptures and the Word of God October 2010
4 comments

4

Eve Of Destruction 2012 July 2010

5

About Me May 2009
1 comment

 

Velvet Elvis November 18, 2010

Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith”
by Rob Bell

“Some people’s faith is like a trampoline ~ it bends & flexes & moves (springs = doctrines)… for others, their faith is like a wall of bricks ~ pull one out to examine it, and the whole thing becomes unstable & threatens to crumble (bricks = doctrines).”
— a Book Cafe paraphrase of page 26 of “Velvet Elvis.”
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I’ve just finished my re-read of “Velvet Elvis.”  It was even better than I remembered!
I wish everyone would read this book.

This is one of the most important books I have ever read. On a scale of 1 to 10, “This one goes to 11“.

I found this to be an engaging, enlightening, and thought provoking book. There were many historical aspects that I had never heard before. “Real world” explanations of phrases like “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There’s a great discourse on Jesus’ talk about hell (gehenna) referring to an existing valley in their area where “fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.”

Knowing the actual cultural references totally changes how we understand Scripture. This book uses LOTS of historical context in approaching the Bible.

The historical aspects, though fascinating, were not the main attraction. This book is about making following Christ alive and real in this world, and in this time. It’s about engaging our culture, our neighbors, and even our planet in a living and vital way…the way Jesus did. Christ’s teachings about salvation were about how to live…NOT about waiting to die and “the sweet by and by.”

Velvet Elvis will challenge your preconceived notions. It will expand your understanding.

It is not the final word on Christianity, as the author makes clear. Beware of anyone else who thinks they have that final word, even if (or especially if) they “just believe the Bible.”

I’ve read a number of other reviews of this book. It seems to have very extreme reactions. People really like it, or they label Mr. Bell as a heretic. Of course, the institutionalized church has pretty much always killed the prophets.

Anyway, like it or hate it, it’s a very interesting read. One which I highly recommend.
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Here are 3 reviews from other people:


Not sure why it took me so long to read this, but I am so glad I finally picked it up and made it happen. This book is a bit difficult to describe since Bell writes in a non-traditional format. It’s fitting though because for much of Velvet Elvis, Bell is asking the reader to step back from our tainted perspective of Christianity and reshape what it means to be a follower of Christ. He does this with personal insights, Biblical study as well as historical research.
Although this is a short book, it’s filled with powerful insights that every person will have to grapple with – whether you believe in Christ or not. By the end of my reading, having underlined and circled so many things, I was forced to go back and review all the statements and questions that had affected me both personally and theologically. Highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to dig deeper into their faith, truth and themselves.
— Jay Newland
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This book will challenge the boundaries of your faith. You will doubt some of the things Rob says. I doubted some of his statements while reading the book, and in fact I still doubt some of them. I think that is the beauty of it.
We don’t have to agree on every point. Some of the things he wrote are extraordinary, and I wish I wrote them. I could not agree more.
We have a dynamic faith and will never have everything figured out and, yes, we will never agree on everything. But we are all part of God’s family. Can we not see that, stop fighting and start changing the world? Please.
Velvet Elvis is an excellent painting, beautiful to look at. It is a marvelous conversation. But it will challenge you to think. Long and hard!
Enjoy it!
— Dries Cronje
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I love this book. Rob nailed point after point that I really feel are valid praises and criticisms of the church and the mindsets in which we tend to put ourselves. Ultimately, I think Rob wants us to be informed people. People thirsting for Truth. People who won’t just zombie around at the instruction of every “bible-preaching” pastor or church that claims good things. He makes his point clear: There is no such thing as a church who “just follows the bible,” as if God had intended the bible to be a reader’s manual like the one that comes with your toaster. Everyone is submitting themselves to biblical interpretation and biblical teaching. This is exactly why we should be vigilant, mindful, and truth-seeking. Thanks, Rob, for thoughtful Church culture exegesis and honest reflection. It is clear that the truths of God have sunk deep into the author and he’s writing from a place of deep reflection.
— Nathan Paul Verschaetse
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And Some Quotes:


“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”

“What is accepted today as tradition was, at one point in time, a break from tradition.”

“Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.”

“God has spoken, and everything else is commentary.”

“Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker.”

“[The Bible] has to be interpreted. And if it isn’t interpreted, then it can’t be put into action. So if we are serious about following God, then we have to interpret the Bible. It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says. We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people.”


“If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.” So we don’t either.”


“In the accounts of Jesus’ life…we never find him chasing after someone. If anybody didn’t have a messiah complex, it was Jesus.”

“…to be able to quote these [pagan] prophets & poets, Paul obviously had to read them. And study them. And analyze them. And, I’m sure he came across all sorts of things in their writings that he didn’t agree with. So he sifts & sorts & separates the light from the dark, and then claims & quotes the parts that are true.”

“God blesses everybody. People who don’t believe in God. People who are opposed to God. People who do violent, evil things.”

“I live with the understanding that truth is bigger than any religion & the world is God’s & everything in it.”

Paul sees their insistence on a reversion to the customs of Moses as a form of violence. When people are manipulated with guilt and fear, when they are told that if they don’t do certain things they’ll be illegitimate, judged, condemned, sent to hell forever – that’s violence.

Imagine how dangerous it would be if there were Christians who skipped over the first-century meaning of John’s letter and focused only on whatever it might be saying about future events, years and years away. There is always the chance that in missing the point, they may in the process be participation the and supporting and funding the various kinds of systems that the letter warns against participating in, supporting, and funding. [People then weren’t thinking] “this is going to be really helpful for people two thousand years from now who don’t want to get left behind..” It’s a letter written to a real group of people, in a real place, at a real time. Christians were being killed by the empire because they would not participate.

What [Jesus] is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, “Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means. – R. Bell


Read more reviews, and buy the book at:
Life Walk Store

 

Divine Nobodies October 25, 2010




This book starts off with two, that’s right 2 introductions. So right away you know you’re dealing with someone who’s a bit strange. This, for me, is a good thing. I like strange. With the first page I’m chuckling to myself.
Jim Palmer uses this section to share some personal information about himself. He’s “too self-conscious,” “a sucker for feel-good, tearjerker movies,” “obsessive-compulsive,” and his wife is his best friend. I’m telling ya, I could have written much of his first introduction.

In the second introduction (dubbed the “Real Introduction) he starts getting into the HUGE difference between religion, and loving Jesus. I completely identified with his statement, “Thankfully, on this journey God has provided the necessary epiphanies to save me from complete self-destruction and has opened my eyes to deeper realities.” Of course, this “eye-opening” did not come “through theological and philosophical flashes of brilliance,” but through real life, and real “everyday run-of-the-mill people.”


The first of these everyday people we are introduced to is Kit, the drummer. This first chapter is about knowing God. “Kit had this silly notion that God just talks to people.” “Didn’t Kit know the Bible made all that unnecessary? God has already spoken…there is nothing left to say.”
This chapter asks, “How would you answer the question, ‘Who is God?’ if you could not use any information you’ve learned from the Bible? Describe for me who you have experienced God to be through your personal interaction with him.”

Chapter two exposes how our judgments of others can keep us from looking at their hearts, as God does. Those same judgments keep us from seeing the truth of ourselves, and often, from hearing what God would say to us. “I just never thought Eminem would be the one helping me grow closer to God.”

Next, in the third chapter we get to meet John, Judy, Michael, Candi and Wanda. Wanda is a waitress. She tells our author “about how over the years Christians were often her worst customers.” After one particularly tough group, she was left with only an evangelical tract as her tip.
Side rant:
My daughter-in-law used to wait tables. She confirms the above statements. I’ve heard it over and over in the service industry, that Christians are usually the most demanding, most rude, most unappreciative customers, as well as being the worst tippers.  They march in after “church” with their prayers and piety, and leave devastation in their wake. When my wife and I were part of the IC, we would often avoid the after-church group dinners out, specifically so we could avoid being associated with the rudeness we knew would be a part of the gathering.
Alright, back to the book.


“Chasing the phantom Christian” is the basis for the fourth chapter. It’s about this false ideal of having to be or do something for God. “I worked hard to stay on my game (daily quiet times, attending church, leading groups, and teaching classes) as I envisioned God in heaven perpetually asking, ‘What have you done for me lately?'”

At this point, I had been glancing through the index, and noticed a chapter about Mr. Palmer’s gay friend Richard. Being a subject of personal interest, I jumped ahead to read that chapter (8) before going back to chapter 5. I must say, reading this chapter was a bit disappointing. When I reviewed Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken, I gave it very high marks. It’s a great book. Nevertheless, there were a couple of chapters, one in particular, I found I should warn readers about. I said, IMHO, that those chapters would be better off skipped.
That is a little how I felt about chapter eight of this book. I’m sure it accurately reflects the experience of the author and his friend, but it leaves, I fear, an impression that gay men are all self-loathing, which can only be overcome by trying to not be gay. He doesn’t actually say that,  but the way he speaks of freedom seems to me to mean “free from being homosexual.”  I submit that many, if not most, LGBT people are not self-loathing. Many have reconciled their faith with their sexuality (For some great testimonies of this, watch: “Through My Eyes“).
Yes, some LGBT persons have had some self-hatred, but most of that is, I believe, not due to their sexuality but rather to the societal and theological brainwashing that tells such people they are not acceptable.  Those we feel this the most are usually from fundamentalist backgrounds. Maybe I’ve misunderstood Jim in this portion.  Maybe he realizes that wholeness for his friend can come from being “OK” with his sexuality.  I hope that’s the case.  It appears this particular individual has tried every approach with no success.
Certainly, as this chapter does point out, we ALL need healing.  Besides, I have to take heed to my own teaching about agreeing to disagree.


Now back to chapter Five.

If the writing in the first few paragraphs would have been “choppier,” and had only one to five words per line, I could have easily been convinced I was reading something written by Rob Bell.  (From me, that’s a huge compliment.)  There’s talk of other dimensions, quintessential metaphysical beings, The Matrix, and cookie-eating mice.  Palmer asks, “What percentage of knowledge about all reality…do you figure you possess?”  “Have you ever wondered what exists in that other percentage we don’t know?”  As Jim says, religion removes the mystery from life.  This chapter talks about what W.P. Young calls “The Beauty of Ambiguity (Mystery).”   About celebrating mystery, rather than trying to eradicate it.

Chapter Six is pretty short, but so very important.  It’s about depression.  Of course, “true Christians” don’t suffer from depression.  Yeah, right.
It needs to be read by all those people who feel they always have to have an answer for everybody’s problems, rather than simply learning to weep with those who weep.  When someone’s hurting, the LAST thing they need is to hear trite phrases or Christianeese slogans.

In the following chapter, “Don’t Mess with the EAMC,” we meet a couple who run a small auto mechanics shop:  Mr. and Mrs. Adams.  This story is one of the best at pointing out the vast difference between institutionalized religion, and the every-day real life that following Christ should be like.  For many, if not most, committed church involvement is simply “an adventure in missing the point.”  “It was like doing church was my relationship with God.”  The way the Adams live and run their auto shop is Christianity and it is church.  “I’m not convinced there’s any value added by a large group of believers gathering in one place at one time compared to the benefit of maintaining a few close relationships.”


Chapter eight was covered earlier.  On to chapter nine.
It’s titled, “Daughters,” and is about parenthood. Jim learned a lot about himself and God through his interaction with his little girl. It’s about the faith of a child. It’s about being child-like, which we sometimes confuse with childish. His statement “There are parts of me that somehow were stunted by the hurts of life back there as a little boy” certainly had the deepest ring of truth. I fully believe the vast majority of immaturity in adults is due to being emotionally stunted in their youth.

Chapter 10 is about reconciling our view of God with the hurt and loss we suffer. For me, this chapter was reminiscent of “The Shack.” The question posed here is “How can suffering and healing, brokenness and wholeness, despair and hope coexist?” When something bad happens to us, we often ask “How could a loving God allow this to happen to me?” If we’re going to ask this kind of question, then we need to ask it every hour of every day. Bad things are always happening to someone, but we don’t usually question it until it affects us. In this chapter we’re reminded of a hard, hard truth. It’s one that is often avoided or denied in many religious circles: “I am vulnerable to loss and suffering, and knowing God doesn’t change that.”

Next up: A chapter on politics. It shows how labeling people is not the best way to go. “I found my stereotypes didn’t accurately describe the ordinary people I knew.” And a quote I really like, “Talk radio is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Also read, The Myth Of A Christian Nation.”


Chapter twelve was a very sad, hard chapter to read. I’m sure it was hard to write. Our author goes undercover in South Asia with the International Justice Mission to investigate and “rescue victims of horrific human rights crimes, usually involving children.” At one point, he has to keep it together while a group of ten- to fifteen-year-old girls are paraded before him for his selection. “The littlest girls didn’t come out. You had to specifically ask for them and show you had that kind of cash.”
“Where was God today? Where did he go?”

Religion is the topic of chapter 13. Our author, a raised-Catholic-turned-career-protestant-turned-institutional-absentee, ends up giving a teaching in a Catholic church and becoming friends with a priest. He learns that “Since no church has a final and unambiguous grasp of divine truth, the true church of Jesus Christ can never be fully represented by any single one.” “Maybe we are all a little right and a little wrong and can get closer to the truth only by coming together.”

In “Left Behind,” Jim not only deals with his own scars, but comes to see that we are all scared individuals. “For the first time in my life, I was seeing these people who wounded me as wounded people themselves.” “No longer afraid of them, I feel sadness for them.”


The last actual chapter, 15, starts out with “Despite all the denominational distinctions I’ve come across along the way, for the life of me, I cannot find any other litmus test Jesus insisted upon to authenticate his followers except love.” Here we meet Rick, the tire salesman. “Rick has no Bible degree…does not attend any local ‘church,’…likes a good cigar, has a beer every now and then,” and his “greatest passion in life is knowing God.” We cut to the chase and see in this chapter the importance of just living life. Living life in love. In love of God, and in love of others.

We started out with two introductions.  Fittingly, we end with two epilogues. Well, [OK, then there’s the acknowledgments and “About The Author.]
“Divine Nobodies” has shades of Donald Miller, shades of Rob Bell, but is nonetheless clearly distinctive. It is another sign post on the road I’ve been traveling, pointing me to greater freedom, truth, and love.


Buy the book. Click HERE.


Some Quotes:

“My suspicion was born that a fair number of people in professional ministry are psychotic and unstable.”

“I tend to distrust people who claim to speak for God unless I know they have waited tables when shorthanded or operated a cash register during an early-bird special.

“These past few years I’ve been stumbling into questions that seem to be leading somewhere important.”

“God opened my eyes, not through theological and philosophical flashes of brilliance, but through the unlikeliest people–people I, well, just kind of ran into along the way.”

Buy the book. Click HERE.

“Every good evangelical knows that for all practical purposes, the Bible is God, and you don’t rely on something as subjective as personal experience.”

“One day I realized my Christianity was essentially a glorified behavior-modification program safely rationalized beneath a waving WWJD banner.”

“Turns out in the end, the main thing God asks of us on the road to wholeness is truth.”

“After a long week on my feet at the cafeteria, I realized how overrated sex is compared to the ecstasy of a foot massage.”

Buy the book. Click HERE.

“One of my spiritual gifts is teaching, but I don’t need to stand on a stage before a crowd to use it.”
[I believe that applies to all  gifts of the Spirit.  I’ve been questioned about how gifts function if you don’t attend an institution.  I believe the error was to associate them with that context to begin with.]

“The whole drill seemed to be to strive hard to fulfill God’s expectations and play your 1 John 1:9 card when you failed, earning you the right to start over and try harder.”

“Our church boycotted Disney, signed petitions against gay teachers in public schools, and judged those heretical denominations that sealed their fate with God by accepting gays.  In my world there was no such thing as a “gay Christian.”

“My religion provided way too small a wineskin to contain all that Jesus want to give.”

Buy the book. Click HERE.

“Many of the premises of institutional Christianity…are suspect, given this one cold, hard fact:  Christ indiscriminately, fully, and equally establishes his very presence and life within every believer.”

“God’s parting of the Red Sea seems like a big deal until you experience the miracle of your child sleeping through the night alone in his or her room.”

“Maybe ‘us’ and ‘them’ is an illusionary tactic of the real enemy, and there is really no ‘them’ but just one ‘us.'”

“Rather than a relationship, my Christianity morphed into some sort of divine self-help philosophy, problem-solving plan, and life-improvement strategy.”


Buy the book. Click HERE.

 

 
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