“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.

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What does Pope Francis mean by telling atheists to “abide by their own consciences”?

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013Well Pope Francis probably made some more Christians angry this week with a 2500 word letter to the editor he wrote to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that was reported in a Guardian article I read. He told atheists that the best thing for them to do is to “abide by their own consciences” because “God’s mercy has no limits.” For a certain type of Christian, this kind of talk is pure blasphemy, but I suspect that Francis is talking the way he does because of a major difference in the way that Catholics understand human nature from at least reformed Protestants. Continue reading

Cakes and Quacks: Do Evangelicals Worship Democracy More Than Christ?

Wedding-cake-two-brides[Guest-post from fellow Virginia UMC pastor Jason Micheli: please check out his blog Tamed Cynic!]

Trolling the news, two separate but related stories have stuck in my theological craw of late.

Two stories that strike me as adventures in missing the plot. The Gospel plot. Continue reading

Why the dream has been deferred

King-Jr-Martin-LutherYou can’t say the N word anymore. You get sued if you racially discriminate in your hiring process. White kids grow up listening to rap music and (if they’re not too “Christian”) going to public school with the black kids. We have a black president. How dare you say that racism still exists in America? Right? White people are very defensive and paranoid about racism, which has come to mean little more than saying “politically incorrect” things when you’re drunk or otherwise off-guard and getting Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to bring their beloved TV cameras to your front door. This trivialization of racism as having to do with little more than “speaking correctly” is one of the reasons that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream has been deferred. But the main underlying problem is that the backlash against the civil rights movement that began in the early seventies has created a radically individualist moral vision in which Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself is basically meaningless.

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How the despised ones bring everything to nothing (1 Cor 1:28)

“He has chosen the lowly things of this world: the despised ones and those who are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). It isn’t just my heart’s tattoo; I really believe it’s one of the most important prophecies of the Bible. Jesus was the ultimate despised one, a king whose reign is defined precisely by his utter social rejection. When we are truly saved, we become despised ones with Jesus, being “crucified together with Christ” so that “it is no longer [we] who live but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:19-20). What are we saved from? Legitimacy, which is “friendship with the world [and] enmity with God” (James 4:4), since it is a declaration of independence from God. How do the despised ones that Paul describes “bring to nothing the things that are”? By destroying the categories of legitimacy constructed by the normal majority (a.k.a. “the world”) as a substitute for reliance on God’s mercy.

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Seven obnoxious Jesus jukes

jesus jukeThe phrase “Jesus juke” was originally coined by Jon Acuff in a 2010 post on his blog “Stuff Christians Like.” Jesus jukes are moves that you make in online conversation to showcase your superior Jesus-ness at the expense of other people who have said something, often in banter or jest, that is inadequately theologically correct (or TC for short, the Christian version of PC). Jesus jukes are the 21st century online conversational version of the exhibitionist piety that Jesus calls out in his Sermon on the Mount, like praying on the street corner, disfiguring your face when you’re fasting, and announcing your alms-giving with trumpets (Matthew 6:1-18). I’ve come to realize that many Jesus jukers actually aren’t doing it on purpose, so I figured some examples might be helpful to my accidental Jesus juking friends. Continue reading

Everyday we’re posturing (Christian sin-talk with @RachelHeldEvans, @KevinWatson, and @RenovatusPastor)

everyday im shufflingTo paraphrase that annoying hit dance song “Party Rock,” everyday we’re posturing. What I mean by “posturing” is that our conversations are constant performances of self-definition, at least those that happen in cyberspace where words are all that we are. Because conversation itself has turned into a primary object of our analysis, we do a lot of meta-conversation, talking about talking about things. The Christian blogosphere talks a lot about talking about sin, which is different than talking directly about sin. It is in these meta-conversations that a tired debate cycles endlessly: “Why do we need to talk about talking about sin all the time? Jesus ate and drink with sinners.” “Ah… but he would always tell them to go and sin no more.” Understanding the distinction between talking about sin and talking about talking about sin is critical if we are to avoid talking past each other as seems to have occurred in a recent sin meta-conversation between Rachel Held Evans and Kevin Watson. Continue reading

#WildGoose13: Unlearning the need to be the hero of the story

I’m having a better day today. I went to the art and spirit cafe to write some poetry and make some prayer beads. I ate lunch with a really awesome community from Harrisonburg that rode bicycles from there to Wild Goose about 20-40 miles each day, camping and crashing with friends on the way over the course of 2 weeks. Then I got to chill and breathe kingdom with my friend Bec Cranford who is actually living the life that I theorize about on my blog with homeless people and the Church of the Misfits in Atlanta. After that, I heard a talk by Mark Von Steenwyck about his Mennonite Worker intentional community in Minneapolis. One thing that he said was really convicting; he talked about the importance of overcoming our need to be heroic prophets and instead see all of our work as an act of repentance. I think I’ve written about that before but man do I struggle with it and it occurred to me that today I had a better day because I didn’t need to be a hero.

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Five verses God has tattooed on my heart: #2 Matthew 9:13

I’ve often told the story of how I discovered the verse that became the basis for the title of this website. It was the summer of 2008 and I had been working at a summer camp in east Durham. The lectionary gospel readings I had heard over the previous months included Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, both of which involve Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” I had been tossing this phrase around in my mind, trying to understand what it meant. Then one morning at the camp, I was given the task of waking up a homeless man in our parking lot and sending him on his way. He was very belligerent, and I was worried for my safety, so I turned to walk away. But then the homeless man said, “Where’s your fucking mercy, man?” It was the only time in my life I ever heard God drop the f-bomb, and it definitely got my attention. Continue reading

A new metaphor for thinking about heaven and hell

Heaven_and_Hell1

I’ve been reading a very stimulating and provocative book by Pauline Biblical scholar Michael Gorman called Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Gorman argues that the central point Paul has to make is that Jesus’ cross reveals the nature of God and that the way we are justified and reconciled to God is by joining Him in His cruciform existence. Gorman claims that to Paul, God is not the triumphalist emperor/military hero that popular American evangelicalism wants Him to be, but rather someone whose nature is to continually empty Himself for the sake of others, the most perfect illustration being the cross itself. This got me thinking about heaven and hell in a very different way that is partly inspired by C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce but in one way, the opposite of Lewis’s metaphor. Continue reading