Podcasting #walklovedo Interesting Coincidences

When I first put a podcast player on my phone, I spent some time searching out local church podcasts. Its sort of nifty to meet folks and say, oh hey, I listen to your church’s podcast. The sermon last month on ABC was super cool and this can bring about some really nifty discussions. I’m guessing that it could also be a form of pastoral encouragement if said convo’s ever make it back to the pastor at hand.

Anyhow, there was this cool podcast about church as a practice room some weeks back. As a bass player, this was an interesting thing to ponder. It hit home again as I was listening to pastor Craig’s podcast on the drive home on Sunday where he was talking about church and growing in Christ. (Both subjects of which I will dig into another post) I wanted to go back and find that church as a practice room podcast. And while it was one of the main things I remembered, it wasn’t the title of the podcast episode… so I figured I’d likely not come across it again.

SoundLokSIR6 1920x1100

For last nights commute, I thought it might be interesting to listen to some podcasts from folks I met at #walklovedo so I pulled up Pastor Karyn’s church… She got all the ducks in a row for us musicians and even played flute some of the time on Saturday.

Well… it turns out church as a practice room was hers!!! Talk about an interesting coincidence.

Dwelling in the Word, My listening skills suck #walklovedo

I’ve never been a fan of the spiritual exercise “dwelling in the word” for a couple reasons. The primary reason for me, is that I generally need time to ponder and reflect and a few minutes doesn’t provide time for this. The second issue which spins out of the high speed nature of such a practice, is that outcomes tends to lean towards the superficial side of things which made me doubt whether it was worth doing at all. After running the exercise through 3 times over the weekend on a single bit of scripture during #lovewalkdo, I’m rethinking this.

In a nutshell, “dwelling in the word” consists of

  • Hearing a short bit of scripture in a group, followed by a couple minutes for reflection
  • Pairing up with a reasonably friendly looking stranger to discuss said scripture for 4-5 minutes
  • Pairing up with a second set of folks, where each person presents what their partner originally shared for a couple minutes
  • Then as the set of 2 pairs, trying to discern what God might be saying for another couple minutes.

I believed one pitfall of this is that most of us have trouble with elevator speeches, and even more so are greatly challenged when it comes to creating an elevator speech on the fly based upon some scripture which one hasn’t had much time to ponder with. After this weekend, I’m don’t believe this is the mountain I was making it out to be. Rather it seems something that would become less and less of an issue the more one practices doing it.

Another pitfall is that one person will predominate… which is something I struggle with, but the practice in and of itself limits it due to time compression. One has to be concise and cut oneself off to ensure we are hearing what others are saying. Along this line of thinking, is that over-analyzers such as myself need to be careful not to get hung up on their own thoughts, such that the words of others get crowded out.

Over the 3 days, I heard the views of 9 other people during the process as well as presented 3 thoughts of my own. That is 12 different views. Out of those 12, I remember mine clear as a bell, as well as the thoughts of 6 others somewhat… but try as I might, I can’t remember the other 5 at all. Granted, their is an element of cominging going on with this which muddies the waters.

The scripture at the heart of #walklovedo was Micah 6:6-8

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Thus out of the 12 views shared:

  1. In Ethiopia people walked everywhere, including in the middle of highways.
  2. In the Ethiopian church, Christian education focused on rote memorization to an extreme. This was a requirement (It was freaky how my original partner and I had an Ethiopian slant to this)***
  3. Don’t remember
  4. Walking humbly can be considered walk prudently and confidence in our beliefs is part of this.
  5. The scriptures point out the failures of works based salvation, and how futile our sacrifices are.
  6. The first born sacrifice of parents due to bad theology when their kid comes out as gay and they disown him/her, their church disowns him/her, and the kid attempts suicide. ***
  7. Don’t remember
  8. Don’t remember
  9. That only the super wealthy could possibly be able to make such sacrifices. Ie, who could own thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
  10. That burned up offerings turn to ash, and our bodies return to dust, but what we do matters, even though justice may take generations for change. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” MLK***
  11. Don’t remember
  12. Don’t remember exactly, but talked about errant Christian radio, and how despite heartburn, it is useful to listen so we are ready to respond.

Thus the listening failures for me tend to occur when the second set of views is added. In part, this could be do to that fact I’m not presenting their views to the group, and as such memory circuits are not engaged in a similar fashion. There is also an issue that comingling of ideas tends to occur more so at that stage than earlier. Over time and with practice, I would expect listening failure to become less of a factor.

In his book “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World” Alan Roxburg describes dwelling in the word.

Dwelling in the Word is different from the practice of Bible study. In Bible study we analyze a passage in order to get at its basic meaning. Usually such analysis depends on study guides, commentaries, and teaching summaries. The goal is to get a clear understanding of what the text was intended to say and, sometimes, how to apply it to our lives … Dwelling in the Word is a different practice with different goals and therefore a different method. “Dwelling” suggests sitting before and living with. We bring ourselves and wait (or dwell) before the text in a spirit of receptivity. Dwelling is not driven by the need to get the text right, but by the desire to listen for how God might be addressing us. We might say Bible study is how we read the text; dwelling is letting the text read us.”

I think its a fascinating approach, but its also one where in a critical mass of willing parties is needed… and to get buy in by such a group, it truly needs to be experienced in a positive light. I never liked it in the past, nor did I see much value in it as it was a random thing we’d do on some Sundays and about all I could remember was how rushed and superficial it was. Light bulbs came this past weekend, as it was a daily practice with the same set of scriptures over a 3 day period with hundreds of folks from 74 different churches.

Could one get buy-in from folks attending the average 65 person church? Is it sustainable in a smaller church since one will eventually run out of “reasonably friendly looking strangers” Can it work successfully when its mostly lay persons as contrasted with sessions where in there was a 1:4 chance of having a pastor in said group?

Tough Stuff in the Bible and VBS curricula

So, yes, there is a lot of tough stuff in the scriptures… and in a sense, its a disservice to ignore that sort of thing and bury it as its too uncomfortable.

Then again, would it be appropriate to include in a VBS curricula?

  • David having Uriah killed to cover up his sleeping around with Bathsheba
  • The genocide of the Amalekites
  • The blessing of infanticide
  • Lot and his daughters
  • Judah and Tamar
  • The Daughter of Jephthah vs Abraham and Isaac

This sort of stuff would freak a lot of folks pretty fast… and the folks in charge of VBS would be run out on a rail.

And yet it seems perfectly fine by some to have young kids role play slaves, in combination with hijacking a language spoken in Africa.

I get that one can do the above, and spin it in such a way as to make it seem acceptable…. but deep down, is that really ok?

Is it an acceptable witness to ones community when the outcome is… our kid went to vacation Bible school and role played a slave, while the teacher kept telling them to work faster as they withheld supplies, and then tried to teach them some stuff about Africa and called Xhosa a click language.

Really… are us US Christian’s truly that tone deaf?

I think there are a few with an agenda, and I think there are a lot of well meaning Christian’s who find it hard to believe that someone wrote a curricula with a such an agenda. I think lots of eyebrows get raised a bit… but they see vast numbers of folks promoting it, lots of church folks working on it, and just by the masses of people involved, and seemingly widespread approval, it just has to be ok. Otoh, consider the following….

racist

 

liguistic racism

And the official spin

groupvbs

It smells really bad…

I think its perfectly fine to discuss the above in Sunday school, but as far as making it an integral theme of a VBS, role playing slavery and hijacking a language in a disrespectful way, its not cool at all.

The challenge this late in the game is a tough one… churches ordered the curricula in good faith, assuming it to be well vetted, age appropriate, and that it would make a positive difference in kids lives. Sadly, these seems to have been a major fail on all of the above. Fortunately there is some good news… but not from official channels.

fixes

Fixing it is a ton of extra work by a lot of volunteers…

And even if it can be fixed, part of the theme goes…. “When life is unfair, God is great” Ok, so how is that going to roll for the young kid who has been raped? Or what about the kid who lost both parents in a car crash? Or the kid whose parents died in Afghanistan, or returned home after multiple deployments with major PTSD? Will the teachings presented in this curricula help or hinder a child who has, or will experience severe trauma? Is theodicy really an appropriate topic for young kids, and is VBS an appropriate time to approach it?

Maybe the daugher of Jephthah would be more appropriate. Afterall, Sunday school keeps telling the story of Abraham and Isaac…

Sorry Single Folks, No Holiness for You

I came across the following in my twitter feed

no holiness

And I chuckled, thinking of the Seinfield show and “No Soup for You”

But in all seriousness, there are real issues that come about from the above tweets.

Marriage is designed to make us Holy, not happy? If we roll back to Genesis, I think its pretty clear that wasn’t the game plan. Granted, we have the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:25-28 and again in 1 Cor 7:9,14… but to take those verses out of the entirety of 1 Cor 7 which advocates remaining single seems quite a dis-service to scriptures.

Beyond this, the dangers of rushing to marriage in #marryorburn theology, or dishonoring marriage by encouraging an errant witness to the world really misses the mark. Granted, in some cases, marriage can be a holy witness, and it can also work to bring sanctification, but this is not a guaranteed thing. I think all of us have seen far too many Christian marriages turn into a toxic mess which does anything but the above… toss in the holiness bit above, and folks stay in toxic marriages in some cases up until abuse gets so bad, they end up hospitalized or dead.

There is the issue of idolizing marriage… I think of the many articles written by married young women that try to promote the “advantages” of being single. Ie, I’m married now, but when I was single, I was able to do abcdefg and focus on the Lord’s work. I don’t know, but those sort of writings come across weird. Ie, being totally dedicated to doing God’s work, advocating singleness as this great thing you seem to highly value, followed by how great being married is sort of rings sideways. it almost makes singleness as a path to marriage, rather than the unique destination in and of itself that it truly is.

That being said, I do want to dig into the marriage and sanctification bit, but first I want to ponder about my experiences in the boy scouts. I’d done a lot of fishing and hiking on my own over the years. I could navigate through the woods without any fear of getting lost, I could tie a few knots, I knew how to use a compass, how to cut firewood, build a fire etc… but these were all situations where in I chose the environment. Ie, I’d go around a swamp on its periphery, rather than going straight across it, knowing that even if the distance was shorter, the amount of energy and time to go straight across would be much greater. As my experiences in the woods grew, I exercised more and more discretion as to the level of environmental conditions I was comfortable with.

On boy scout excursions, those choices are made for you, and they can and do change… like the time a buddy broke a tree crossing a creek, which meant the rest of us had to figure out another way to get over it. Thus what scouting did for me, was brought me into situations that on my own I would have avoided. It taught me how valuable being able to tie 20 different knots were, how to navigate through woods, when your compass was useless due to hematite deposits, how to pitch a tent with missing parts that your buddy forgot to pack etc.

Marriage has parallels to this. Its all too easy to think you have your ducks in a row, when said ducks have never been under significant fire… and in marriage, you will find out very quickly how lacking one truly is when it comes to the fruits of the spirit. Life is easy when it can be compartmentalized, ie in the workplace, at church, hanging out with buddies, as its situational and time limited. Marriage otoh is like a search light that runs 24/7/365, and when you add in the massively increased workload of marriage as contrasted with the single life, ones fruits are tested / exercised by fire. Granted, some marriages do bring about a lower workload than one might have being single… but this cannot be predicted, and irrespective of workload, the search light is still there.

Related to this, is marriage will bring you to places and times which as a single, one would simply avoid. We have a saying in aviation, which says use a superior pilot uses superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of superior skill. The saying has kept many a pilot and aircraft safe over the years. Being single is a lot like that, but the temptation is to take this too far and never get out of ones comfort zone also occurs. Marriage otoh, often dispenses with this and while it is a much riskier situation, it also brings about much more growth than would have ever been possible going it alone.

And while one can develop a willingness to go beyond ones comfort zone as a single, and thus reap the potential of growth… there doesn’t seem to be any practical way to engage in the fruits of the spirit exercise / testing thing. This there are aspects of marriage which can lead to holiness which a single person doesn’t have access to. But then again, the ability to be totally focused on the work of God is something married folks no longer have access too.

There are just too many variables to make a blanket call one way or another on much of this… and its far from universal. That being said, there is much wisdom in the entirely of 1 Cor 7. Marriage is best honored when the entirely of the scriptures are considered, not just a few.

The Bizarre Nature of Marriage in Ephesians 5:25-33

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to honor marriage with respect to the Hebrews text @MrBryanLCarter brought up last week. As such, I’ve been poking at some scriptures here and there all week. Then, a day or two ago I saw in my twitter feed something from John Piper.

johnpiper

Really, is that what marriage is for?

I’ve known folks who ascribe to such a teaching, and for some it does work out ok, albeit with incredible pressures along the way. For others, the covenental focus turns their marriage from something that should have reflected well on Christianity, into a relationship so toxic, that who in their right mind would ever want to get married?

Its a good thing to want to honor the covenental aspects of marriage, but when ones witness of honoring the covenant also destroys the couple involved… it really doesn’t pass the smell test. Rather it sets up stumbling blocks, and does anything but honor marriage.

So, I go back to the scriptures from early in the week, and I come across Ephesians 5:25-33.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

I think there are 3 main ways to look at this text.

1. Live out your marriage in such a way as to demonstrate Christ’s love for the church which is the approach of @DesiringGod teachings. It fails some of the time for the reasons discussed above. It also puts a lot of pressure on a marriage to witness to something which truly doesn’t need witnessing. I mean really, is there any doubt that Jesus doesn’t love the body of Christ? Is that something that needs reinforcement somehow? I just don’t see the need for this.

2. Look to Christ’s love of the church for a model as to how your marriage should be. The power dynamics of that make it impossible, to say nothing of the problems of the church. Its way beyond a white knight with a heart of gold marrying the crazy party girl who keeps going off the path. If anything, this seems like a disaster in the making.

3. Only look to the aspects of marriage that are explicitly directed to husband and wife or only applicable to Christ and the church. Do not try to co-mingle them as a whole, as they are like apples and oranges, Rather,in making parallels, only look to things they explicitly could share, like love, respect, and oneness and anything beyond those, leave as a mystery.

As far as the other elephant in the room, the submission problem, there are a ton of issues, with the biggest thing being caving to the fallen nature of humanity. Genesis 2:18 sets up Eve to be a helper to the man, one of explicit equality. Paul in a similar vein says there is no male or female in Christ. Its only man’s fallen nature that the one sided submission thing comes into being…

Folks much smarter than I have dug deep on this, a few resources.

The first is Fr John Ricardo talking on Ephesians 5… and some might wonder, why I’d reference a Catholic priest on this. The reason, they hear confessions, the deepest, darkest depths of a person’s struggles. And in a lot of ways, a Catholic priest likely knows a whole lot more about a given marriage than the folks actually in the marriage. Beyond that, there is a great deal of depth in his podcast, things like pagan cultural aspects, language / translation issues, and equality. https://avemariaradio.net/audio-archive/christ-is-the-answer-may-21-2019/

To go even deeper than the podcast, here is a link to his dissertation. Warning, its 133 pages! https://www.olgcparish.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/themutualsubordinationofhusbandandwife.pdf

Rachel Held Evans also takes a look at this. She states. “I, (and many biblical scholars and fellow Christians), would argue the point of these passages is not that patriarchy is the best foundation for marriage, but rather that the humility and service of Jesus Christ is the best example for marriage…and any relationship.”

https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/absurd-legalism-gender-roles-submission-piper

Bottom line, if one sided submission works for your marriage, good for you, but keep watch for issues over time. Beyond that, one sided submission is unlikely to be fruitful for a lot of couples, and its by far not the only way to ascribe to the scriptures as well as to honor marriage.

Pondering Cohabitation

Pastor Bryan Carter preaches on cohabitation yesterday, and then has his church step up to the plate in a huge way. To say my mind was blown would have been a severe understatement.

Yesterday I preached on cohabitation and we invited cohabiting couples to accept the challenge of stepping into marriage. We paid one month’s rent for those who want to move out and will marry those who desire to get married with a free wedding - dress, tuxedo, rings. #church

It’s a really intense Gospel message both in word and in deed and its non-judgmental too.

its out of my scope of experience, being my late wife and I didn’t cohabitate before marriage, and we didn’t get around to living with each other until we’d been married for over a year… which isn’t such a good thing either, but it was what it was.

And I totally get that economic issues throw a wrench into the works, the same with the best laid plans. Back in the day, not living with your newly married spouse was pretty uncommon, in today’s world it seems most folks know at least a few couples who do. Back then, cohabitation before marriage was pretty common, I’d say maybe 50% of couples, vs in today’s world, its seems more like 95%. I remember some friends freaking out having to “hide” so as to not loose their church jobs… those sort of policies make me wonder if the cart is being put before the horse a bit.

Granted, I see a lot of young folks who are dating one month, and 2-3 months later are moving in together. And maybe it works for some, but for others, it seems a huge gamble to put a new relationship to such a test, where in if something goes sideways, it easily becomes a toxic trap without an exit strategy for one or both partners.  I think its super awesome that his church is stepping up to the plate and providing for an exit strategy in those situations.

Another issue which seems more and more common today, is that young and old have written off marriage, as a tradition of old, that no longer makes much sense. When I look out at the huge numbers of Christian’s getting divorced, or staying in toxic marriages / suffering abuses, to the point of poisoning their kids… it makes me wonder about this as well.

And yet, the scripture used in yesterday’s message was Hebrews 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

That’s a pretty high bar, and yet in my 21 years of marriage, I think of sanctification that came about as errant bits of our lives were worn away over time as the two of us became more and more one. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that as a widowed guy, but that’s far outside the scope of this post! Lol

I do wonder how marriage can be honored by all?

Sure,the obvious stuff like marriage partners not doing adultery, or cheating, or engage with prostitutes makes sense, but I think its equally as important to consider the non-obvious, not only for the marriage partners themselves, but for everyone of all life stages.

There are some church practices that dishonor marriage, such as shot gun weddings, as horrors, we can’t have scandal, so this couple has to get married now, even if they really aren’t in a position to fully consent to a life long commitment. Another dishonoring practice that some churches endorse is early marriage for young folks to avoid sexual sin… which then turns right back around years later with divorce and upended family dynamics which not only injures the partners, but also their kids. Lastly, I tend to think the body of Christ does a pretty poor job of teaching about the permanence of marriage vows, short of the obvious exclusions. Granted, when folks are in the midst of romantic love, they are exactly hearing things clearly…. but still there seems to be a sense of the temporary rather than permanence. I’ve sent a few young folks over to my caregiving is tougher than tough post… and they come back with, well that will never happen to us. Any my response is, you can’t predict it, hopefully it won’t, but your vows need to be strong enough to honor it should it happen.

A young friend of mine will celebrate his first year of ordination as a Catholic priest in a couple months. Prior to being ordained, he spent nearly a decade of intense study and discernment, as it is such a huge and life long commitment to enter the priesthood. And yet, when it comes to marriage, young folks spend 10x or more hours on wedding planning, than they do on premarital counseling… and unlike the priesthood where their are processes to step aside, the marriage vows, short of a few exclusions are for life.

And this is where things get strange. I’ve known a lot of cohabiting couples over the years, and many of them do get married. I think of my old friend Tom, who we’d bug on this periodically… he’d been living with his girlfriend for 10 years, they were together 5 years prior and had a couple kids. So every once in a while, Hey Tom, when you going to get married, and he about dropped us on the floor when he said, a “couple weekends ago”. The thing is, he and his wife totally got the lifetime aspects of the marriage vows, and they went in eyes fully opened. In a lot of ways, I think his marriage was a lot more holy than those who did everything right on the surface, but rushed through it without thinking a whole lot. Granted, it is hard to know the heart… which brings me back to the above church.

In the message notes, a number of myths and truths are presented. As some seem very foreign to my own experiences over the years, my guess is they are unique to the culture in that church and perhaps surrounding area. Ultimately though, we have the same scriptures to guide us.

Lastly, it seems the church sees premarital counseling as an integral part of the marriage process and as such require 12 weeks of it. My best guess is that couples are free to step out at anytime should they run into any insurmountable barriers and the church will be there to walk with them through it, or to provide an escape path away from it.

What an incredible witness to the Gospel!

Worship Preference, 24/7 Christianity, and Hospitality

I came across an interesting post entitled Extrovert bias or biblical imperative? and it got me thinking quite a bit. I tend to think of worship as a holy and sacred space… but at the same time balanced with the messiness of humanity. Ie, when I hear babies crying up a storm to the point where its hard to hear at times, I think cool, this is a sign of a healthy church… even if it means the scriptures or sermon get obscured at times. Otoh, I am very much against worship practices that seemingly exclude the sacred to embrace humanity, ie hugfests, love bombing, group therapy church growth models, etc.

What makes the article fascinating is its focus on the family… not in a Dobsonian way, but in a church family as a whole, as well as a nuclear family and how all could work together for the benefit of both. Since I view the body of Christ, as composing all Christians, past, present, and future, as well as geographically unlimited, this was an issue I had not thought very much about.

I think back to my younger days as a 20 something single guy, and how some families invited me into their homes. I think of how many times a group of us would cross denominational lines to help move a new pastor, or provide music, or just to celebrate Jesus despite our doctrinal differences. I think the author is spot on with her comments about biological families extending their reach reach and the richer fellowship that spins out of such.

The brings up some objections to her prior post, and I would be one to object to it. I don’t see worship as a social function, albeit part of it can be that, but rather that social functions are what the church, a local body of believers does as a result of worship, not what they do during worship. I don’t think its a black and white line to be crossed… but when worship gets decoupled from the sacred and holy to embrace humanity, warning bells go off. Admittedly I could be wrong in this, as the scriptures are less than clear, and we only have snap shots of the writings of the early church fathers.

Personal preference wise, I’d prefer to walk into church in silence, sit in the pew as prelude music starts, worship corporately via singing, the scriptures, the lord’s prayer, communion, followed by praying silently, and leave in silence during postlude music. The focus is totally on Jesus. The togetherness of a thousand folks singing Amazing Grace rocks, as does hearing the words of God in community, as does praying the lord’s prayer with a thousand others. Whether its hymns, chants, praise chorus, organ, or distorted guitar doesn’t matter much to me, albeit I do tend to prefer worship in a language I understand.

 
Scripture wise, we’ve got the 2 or 3 together thing, so that should be enough… but during my late wife’s illness, where we were Easter Christmas attenders and TV church the rest of the time… it falls short. Even the church of my youth with a hundred members fell short of the oneness and intimacy present within large assemblies.
 
But the above are worship preferences short of the 2 or 3 together thing.
 
And then there is how the church lives out its mission beyond the hour or two of worship on Sunday and/or Christian education programs. Does Jane allow church folks to use her guest bedroom, or Tom, his truck and tools on his days off work? Do they do this, knowing that Tom’s truck could be damaged, or that Jane’s husband could end up in the ER due to a drunken house guest? Do they continue to follow the sharing prescribed in Acts, even though bad things happen? This is where hospitality gets very real…. and its an amazing witness to the Gospel to see it lived out 24/7.
 
This 24/7 bit is where the one-body, one-family, one-people identity gets real. Its the service projects where folks come out of the woodwork where you get to know one another, much more deeply than 5-10 minutes of small talk pre or post worship. Its the small groups, where you start to understand where diverse folks are coming from, as contrasted as to what you might think on first meeting. Its the hanging out during the week, or being invited to someones home where you get to know someone, where the building up in the body of Christ occurs.
 
I needed corporate worship big time after my wife passed away. I did not need the hurtful words of well meaning but inept church folks. For a long time, I’d come late, and leave early just to avoid the headaches. I’d often attend daily mass at a Catholic church, even though I’m protestant.
 
And where does or should hospitality enter into the worship arena?
If I look to my personal preference when it comes to worship, there isn’t much room for hospitality, short of maybe running into a few stragglers after I finished praying in the pew. In many ways, my personal preferences would not be welcoming to newcomers at all. And if a single worship experience like that is all that a newcomer sees, its pretty likely they won’t be back. But, just as the dude who ran into the injured fellow alongside the road, worship preferences have to take a back seat at times.

But the pendulum can swing too far. Getting so wrapped up in hospitality / fire fighting with the problems of others pre-worship can and does lead to one being physically present in worship, but with their mind somewhere else.  In a few cases, worship may need to be sacrificed… consider a fellow parishoner who just got a cancer diagnoses and needs to talk. Walking on the other side of the road to protect ones own worship can leave them hung out to dry. Listening them to be a bit might well help them to hear the preaching of the word, even if it compromises ones own.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Obsession with Puritanical Morality Makes for a Mess

With age, I get more and more aggravated with some folks hyper-focus on sexuality in Christianity, as there is a ton of important stuff that gets glossed over because of it. There is no need to bend the Greek to English translation of porneia into cultural morality, especially puritanical morality. It is better to let the scriptures stand with the power granted by the word of God, than it is to bend them to align with some imagined historical sexual ethic.

Apart from that, sexual moral failures among the married are explicitly covered by the words of Jesus, for the unmarried, by the greatest commandments. Consider that the greatest commandments also hit on consent, sexual harassment and assault irrespective of marriage status… thus sexual moral failure is a whole lot more encompassing than a mere violation of puritanical moral standards or modesty codes. One can argue that some errant forms of complementarian marriage practices, patriarchalism, and the idolatry of purity all fall far short of the greatest commandments.

I think of the tweet stream I came across today… its like ????

sexoutsideofmarriage

 

https://twitter.com/MattSmethurst/status/1026866187538522119

No wonder some sectors of Christianity have high levels of marital sexual dysfunction. When humanity is removed from sex and is replaced with objectification and monetary exchange and 1600 folks like it… something is seriously hosed up. Consider that the only difference between prositution and the above is monogamy within the confines of near perfect marriage behaviors (radical self giving and life long commitment), the model is in error. Even worse, when a person who ascribes to such experiences real marriage, rather than a projected idealized form, what happens then? My guess is there is a ton more sexual immorality in marriage than outside of it due to teachings like this.

In fairness to @TimKellerNYC, he presents a pretty decent model for “real life” marriage in the following article. https://relevantmagazine.com/life5/you-never-marry-the-right-person/ which includes a quote from Denis de Rougemont “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love … ?” That is why a good marriage is more painfully hard to achieve than athletic or artistic prowess.”

I think back to my younger days working with youth, and remembered I had a youngster ask ” am I going to hell for sleeping with my girlfriend?” Apart from being a bit flabbergasted at the kids age, it was if the prior years teaching on Ephesians 6:8-9 went clear out the window. Apparently some idiot youth pastor was having a field day cherrypicking 1 Cor 6:10…

And while it takes a great deal of effort to get messages past teenage or pragmatically, most any age hormones… we shouldn’t be throwing the scriptures under the bus to do so. We shouldn’t be creating errant sexual ethics which set the stage for future failed relationships and dysfunctional marriages. On the other side of the coin, its important to consider that many will try to bend the scriptures the other direction, in order to give them wiggle room or perhaps even an out to wildly follow their hormones wherever they may lead.

Addressing such is not a simple thing… and it really freaks folks out too. Consider the following from Sarah Moon in response to the Revelant magazine study where it was found that 80% of evangelicals engage in premarital sex..

So I started asking questions in the comments section …. In asking the questions, I learned that no one seemed to have the answers. Instead of answers, I either got harsh judgement or other people who admitted to being just as confused as I was.

But in every comment that told me I was “abusing grace,” that I “must not be very familiar with the Bible,” telling me to “get married earlier, genius!,” to just find a fraternity house where they can set me up with a goat if all I want to do is get laid (FOR REAL), or comments that just listed every verse in the Bible that mentions sexual immorality (while failing to define sexual immorality), all I heard was “I don’t know the answers, and your questions expose that. I don’t know, and that makes me afraid of you.”

As I was unable to find said comment stream to see how this played out… I searched out and found a parallel one. https://urbanfaith.com/2012/07/why-unmarried-christians-are-having-sex.html/

And thus honest conversations about Christians and sexuality hardly ever occur. I remember reading over an evangelical friends premarital counseling guidebook… and thinking, well, 80% of evangelicals have premarital sex… so why on earth are they devoting 3 chapters to abstinence teachings? I guess it might be why 1600 likes showed up on the above tweet. Perhaps Its a comfortable place and such makes it easy to compartmentalize abstinence to the 3 weeks of class, followed by ignoring it… but how does such truly help young couples get on the path to a healthy marriage? How does it help singles of any age develop good relationships irrespective of whether they lead to marriage or not? What about those who are perpetually single? What about married couples experiencing sexual dysfunction due to an errant ‘Christian’ sexual ethic?

These are the sort of things where candid discussions needs to occur… near exclusive focus on a puritanical sexual ethic is missing the point, no matter how comfortable it may be.

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Some reference sites:

https://relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/why-you-should-stop-searching–one-new

https://relevantmagazine.com/life/millennials-dont-want-your-sex-now-heres-why

https://religionnews.com/2016/07/21/sex-outside-of-marriage-can-be-holy-according-to-this-minister/

https://boards.weddingbee.com/topic/good-christian-pre-marital-sex-impossible/page/2

https://urbanfaith.com/2012/07/why-unmarried-christians-are-having-sex.html/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/evangelicals-sex-frank-talk_n_1443062.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/christianity-and-sex_us_56cb6dc1e4b0ec6725e371d5

http://thesaltcollective.org/4-reasons-to-have-premarital-sex-with-your-evangelical-college/

https://religionnews.com/2016/07/21/sex-outside-of-marriage-can-be-holy-according-to-this-minister/

http://www.thechristianleftblog.org/blog-home/premarital-sex-is-it-a-sin-or-not

Ponderings on Sharing the Peace

Its interesting to ponder the sharing of the peace, especially so as to how it is practiced, or not practiced across a multitude of churches. Near as I can tell, its origin of the practice spun out of the need to make oneself right with others prior to eating the bread and drinking the cup. Ie one was to seek out those who they had wronged and make amends during this time slot in reference to 1 Cor 11. Alas, over the centuries the practice and meaning of the practice has changed…

I remember my doc years ago telling me how much he disliked sharing the peace, as in his opinion, hand to hand contact followed shortly thereafter by communion was just asking for trouble from an infectious disease perspective. I think of a friend of mine who was in the last stage of cancer, who couldn’t shake hands as he was undergoing chemo. I’m not so sure how loving ones neighbor plays out in this, especially across a diverse congregation where its likely not prudent for everyone to engage the same way. Tradition / peer pressure conformity is a powerful thing to go up against, no matter how wise individual approaches might be.

That being said, I have come across some fascinating approaches to sharing the peace. In some churches, it is done with a wave of the hand, or a nod of the head, thus precluding any human contact. In one church, vials of hand sanitizer were present in every pew next to the Bibles and were diligently used by everyone. While hand sanitizer is not 100%, its a whole lot better than doing nothing.

And yet in some churches, sharing the peace ends up being a massive hugfest, which in todays climate due to things like #metoo and #churchtoo is thankfully becoming less and less prevalent… to say nothing of being off putting to visitors, or perhaps offputting to visitors not of the same mindset.

And yet for some, the human connectedness of a handshake or hug is a huge deal and helps them connect with the congregation at large. I think of my late wife, and how she’d have me roll her ambulance gurney from one side of the aisle to the other for her to shake hands with folks in the pews. The little kids thought it was pretty awesome, as well as some of the seniors. For her, despite being immuno compromised, the connectedness was of much greater importance than was the risk of contracting another’s illness. And yet for others, like my friend who passed away a while back, the mutual hand wave was more than enough.

When theological constructs run afoul

I heard an interesting one today, namely that the Gentiles who do not have the law in Romans 2:14 actually were Christians. Apparently said individual held to a very strong form of exclusivism, such that even a plain text read of Romans 2:12-16 had to be tweaked in order for the theological construct of exclusivism to not be infringed.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

I’ve seen the similar things spin out amongst those who hold to forms of OSAS (once saved always saved) when they encounter a previously on fire hard core Christian who now no longer is. I think of atheist Bruce Gerencser, whose fruits of the spirit as a pastor were probably brighter than most every Christian I’ve met over the years… and because some hold to OSAS, their only recourse is to say Bruce was never a Christian in the first place. Granted, its impossible to truly judge anothers heart… but how an individual lives can serve as a pretty good indicator. Bottom line, I’m certain he was a Christian, and he will tell you with great certainty, he no longer is today… and I think some of the OSAS camp find that to be a really scary deal.

This is not to say that theological constructs are necessarily a bad thing. I think they can be helpful tools along the path of faith… but like many tools, they are not universal, and realistically, at some point in time they likely should be examined in depth. Perhaps to the point of deconstruction and reconstruction for some, perhaps especially so for those who wish to teach.

I think of the year I spent dissecting the Nicene Creed, to say nothing of digging deep into the filioque controversy. At the end, my beliefs did not change, but I had a greater appreciation for the Orthodox faith, and I also had an element of understanding as to why things were the way they were… and also why some would take issue with this or that.

Bottom line, faith and mystery are quite conjoined… when mystery is removed, and faith is bent to fill a need for certainty, sooner or later trouble is likely to be found.