Thursday, August 18, 2016

A review of the new book The Atonement of God

A review of the new book The Atonement of God - Building your Theology on a crucifixion of God, by JD Myers.

I have always struggled with the Savior attributes assigned to Jesus. Not rejecting the mainline theology being taught or espoused in most major denominations as a child, or even as an adult now, but always questioning. Overall I have never felt that emotional response to Jesus many in the Southern Baptist traditions have had, or that "time and date" being saved thing.  I grew up knowing the story, grew up in the church, I did not have to "accept Jesus into my heart" as they say because I was always aware of Him/God. Like air, no reason to acknowledge the obvious or make a big deal out of it.

I have found on my journey that others also feel this way, and its moreso now than it was some years ago.  Many taboo topics in religion are now super popular to discuss and right books about. Its hard in the religious south to talk about such things before because, pick your response "God is Soveriegn", "Omnipotent", etc. Which means of course they don't have the answers to its the default response and do not question it.

 So when I saw this book being offered that talks about the theology being built around the crucifixion, I bit on it.

I'm not going to give away the arguments of the book for you. I think you have to discover these things for yourself.  But J.D. Myers covers Three Common Views of the Atonement, which tend to overlap some, Penal Substitution Theory, Ransom view, and Moral Influence. He touches on these briefly and kind of goes into the questions behind the logic, or lack thereof , of each one.

Myers uses the terminology The Non-Violent View of the Atonement (I know, a little lack luster there) to describe, discuss and put forth his view of what the crucifixion means/meant to both the early church and to us today.  I'm not going into it but he uses a majority of the book to discuss it. I'm not certain I agree with it all so much, but its a different take.  If you get the book and read it he goes into a bit, for me, a far fetched interpretation of the whole Cain & Able thing ... and how it relates. I think its a stretch, but its not my book!

Its conversational in tone. He isn't heady (which I was thinking it might be a bit more of), but he uses quite a bit of quotes up front from CS Lewis who is a mainstay in Christianity to Walter Wink who stands on the very edge of the left side of the field theologically speaking.

I would say its an interesting read for a discussion starter. ~npp 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

I AM BACK! .... I think

I cannot believe HOW LONG ITS BEEN since I have posted anything.

I'm not sure anyone is still around to read these things.

the world of social media has rapidly changed in the past few years... Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc and I frankly don't have time to keep up with it.

Also new things like ISIS and Transgender dominate conversations.  It appears that the United States, and the world, has increasingly divided itself into more and groups.

I searched my old BlogSpot and couldn't remember password or username so it was some effort to get this done....

But I'm here... I think.

Some of you know of my severe and long lasting reaction to the antibiotic Cipro and its devastating effects.  My mind is still, four years later, not as clear as it once was.  Words do not flow freely from my brain to my hands to this page.  It takes more effort to make it through the day.  It could have been much worse.  Google Cipro Toxicity and you would see.

I'm going to try and post my thoughts on things here. You may or not care or agree with them. 

The bad thing about being a prophet is that you say things that people may or may not want to hear.  Historically in my blog I have called attention to things that we as general mainline Christians do or don't do that is harmful or stupid or personal or corporate.  And sometimes that falls in the lap of traditional religious structures.  But sometimes my words are for the left.  No side has the claim to getting it correct.

I find myself struggling.  First to not hurt people but also to remain honest to what I know to be true.

Political Correctness is the enemy of Truth.  For without Truth we cannot have honest discussions about Life.  And without honesty, we have no growth in understanding.  It is sad and not helpful.  It leads others astray, gives them false security and creates enemies. It distorts what is good for evil and what is evil for good. 

The prophet Isaiah already covered this a long time ago...  5:20 (NIV)
Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter
My beloved denomination is facing this.  It will be harmful. Hurtful. And a division/split is coming. There is much politics behind the scene....  but Political Correctness is going to deal a death blow.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saving Jesus redux.... a review and insights

I grew up in a traditional mainline denominational church and was  taught Sunday after Sunday the main message of the bible, the fall, the redemption/salvation story, and pretty much took it at face value as a child and young adult.  Although at times I had questions or some concerns about things that quite didn't add up, I didn't even realize you could ask the questions because I thought that would equate to disbelief and I would go directly to Hell....not collect $200.

In my early 30s I really began a spiritual quest and started asking the questions of others who would listen and be willing to dialogue.  In this heavily Baptist dominated region of the world, I have been met with resistance and challenges, and even a few names hurled my direction to dare even to question the "inerrancy of the bible" aka God's definitive word on everything.  But on this quest I have found others who share the same questions.  And its not folks trying to disprove the bible or God, but legitimate people who are trying to dig deeper into something that calls us to a deeper understanding .... and I like to think Jesus would approve.

So, enter Living The Questions.  Its a dialogue about the questions many of us have regarding faith, spirituality, the bible, nature of God, historical Jesus versus church made Jesus the Christ, and on and on.  This current DVD "SAVING JESUS" is VERY GOOD in that it starts from a standpoint presenting Jesus in the light of history, culture, stories about Jesus, assumptions, the church Jesus, etc.  It is Living The Questions.  Doesn't mean it has all the answers but the dialogue is good. It is 2 DVDs in one box, each containing six 20 minute something sections from various theologians and people of faith.  Decidedly, they are on the liberal side of theology or postmodern as many refer to themselves (John Shelby Sponge, Robin Meyers, Diana Butler Bass, Brian , Marcus Borg who I swear looks is actually Obie Wan Kanobi Jedi Knight from Star Wars, etc). 

I enjoyed the first DVD 6 sections more so than the 2nd DVD as it was more intellectual dialogue about Jesus historically, culturally, teaching styles, and overall presentation.  The 2nd DVD was still good but some of the politics of the left starting seeping in.  That has always bothered me when, as in the days of the Moral Majority the religious right assumed they had the corner market on the Bible/proper theology/God and threw darts at the left, I often see similar efforts from certain areas of the postmodern left toward traditional/fundamental folks, which I don't find particularly helpful in the journey.  We are all somewhere in the journey and we should be respectful of that.

So I would highly recommend this series if you are genuinely wanting to ask, seek, and learn.  You don't have to agree with everything (I certainly had some "let me think about that statement" moments), but the conversation is worth having.  ~npp

Thursday, December 12, 2013

To Live or Die? A Faith Families Struggle

My little church I attend is going through a process of change.  Over the decade they have lost membership as so many churches have experienced for whatever reasons and they have decided to try and do something about it.  The older folks have noticed that they are getting older and that there are fewer and fewer younger folks to carry on what they have invested so much of their time and money and heart into.  So this past year they joined a movement called Healthy Church Initiative to explore ways to revitalize the church in an effort to slow the decline and hopefully turn the numbers around.

I, for one, have never been impressed with "programs" or church consultants that are designed to "save" a church from whatever.  I've seen them come and go and nothing changed. Just a lot of "doing something" without getting something done.  So I set this one out, partially due to my health issues this past year and partly because I really did not believe in it and didn't want to be a negative if folks wanted to give it a try.

So they've been working on it. Having meetings. Reading books. Going to this and that.  The consultants gave their prescription on how to turn this thing around.... and that's where the fun started.  It seems the things I have been saying for, oh about a decade and better, are almost exactly what the consultants told them. Its always better hearing it from someone who gets paid good money than someone from Nazareth anyway.  It seems we are a bit inwardly focused.  It seems we have some turf issues within the church.  It appears we need to get out of our comfort zones and do things differently.  It appears its NOT ALL ABOUT US.

Now, I really don't care about all of the above.  That's a universal thing for most organizations. Loosing focus of who and what they are to be and how to go about it.  The machine takes over and we end up feeding the thing itself just to keep it alive - when in all reality maybe its time for it to die.  Its done its thing and is no longer useful. Businesses, churches, governments, organizations, the list is long.  But its nice to see that these folks are recognizing that yeah, maybe we do have some issues and need to address them.  And they are in the early painful stages of doing this.  At least its a step - hopefully in the right direction to discern what we are about and what we want to do. They aren't giving up. It appears they are at least willing to listen. 

I am staying in the background. Observing. Offering whatever when necessary or asked.  I am watching these folks struggle with who they were, are, and may become. Its uncomfortable for them. It will be nasty at times. People will have to get over themselves. People will have to reach, extend, get all twisted and bruised.  But anything worth it, is going to take some dirt.

So they aren't on hospice quite yet. They are facing their mortality and realizing that they want to pass something on. Something worth having. A legacy if you will.  I am not convinced that they know what that thing is yet. Is it just driving up the membership for sheer numbers so it looks better? Is it, as they call it, reaching people for Jesus Christ (whatever all that means).  Is it because they got something they love and they want to share it with others? I do not know what their answers and neither do they. They haven't gotten there yet.

But I'm glad to be a part of a faith community where at least they are aware, are asking questions, and are open to the possibilities. It may or may not work standing still is definitely a death sentence.  To Live or Die is what they are facing.  In the words of Ten Bears from Outlaw Josey Wales, "It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life."

We shall see. ~npp

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith review

Its been a while since I have gotten to post much of anything due to my severe drug reaction to Cipro antibiotic (google Cipro Toxicity for more info).  However I have not quit thinking of things in the realm of religion or theology or human nature or life in general, just not able to mentally and physically put them into words much.

But I am vowing to start that process again and do so here by my review of a new dvd series from Living The Questions (LTQ) - Painting The Stars dvd series.  It is produced by llc.  I was sent a copy of this to review and give an honest assessment of it so I will attempt to do so concisely and clearly.

First of all if you are fundamental in your religious beliefs and not receptive to different thoughts about religion, God, spirituality, mysticism and other like things then this is probably not the dvd series for you.  If you are a bit traditional but like to consider other views of things then you might like it. If you are moderate to liberal in your theology (and certain world views) then you would probably like most of it.

I will break this into categories for easy processing:

Production. This dvd series is well made, blending nice imagery with beautiful language, appropriate mood setting background music/sounds, interesting dialogue form various commentators who express views in a general sense.  There are 7 sessions on the dvd and each lasts approximately 20 something minutes in length, several ending with poetry.  The audio and video quality is top notch.

Substance:  What the series has in beautiful imagery and language and production it lacks in substance.  Substance meaning evidence or supporting documentation to back up much of what any of the authors are saying. Not that this is a bad thing or that the intent of the dvd series was to make a case for anything requiring evidence. After all it is called "living the questions" and the particular theme is how science, religion and an evolving faith could work.  It is more exploratory in nature, bringing up ideas that are nontraditional and expanding our view/experience/understandings of God and our world and the unseen world. An interconnectedness if you will. The format is a good one if you or your group would like to listen to these folks talk about ideas and have an open and frank discussion.  Many more traditional Christians will not be receptive however.

Politics: Admittedly most of the authors are academic and liberal. John Shelby Sponge for instance. I do love his little comments about how we seem to "have a fetish with the blood of Jesus. We protestants bath in it and Catholics drink it" etc. And though I agree with much of the premises that are espoused, I do not necessarily agree with the politics of biological evolution, race, economic disparity, environmental crises, etc.  One commentator suggested that the religious right was in kahoots with corporations to rape the planet of resources because Jesus was coming back soon so they were getting what they could before that happens. As it doesn't matter because we won't be around long enough to care what happens to the planet. I have never heard that philosophy espoused by anyone on the religious right that the 2nd coming was a reason for supporting corporate raping of the planet, nor do I believe the vast majority of conservative christians support any exploitation of the planet. Much of the dvd series, and I noted in Ch. 4 Evolutionaries, seemed to be pretty much against a conservative church or mindset.

Relevance:  I think the dvd series is relevant to our times. It addresses such issues as safe places in the church where people can be honest about things (Ch. 6), Evolutionary Christianity in Ch. 5 where it is suggested that the term Christian be redefined due to so much baggage associated with it. Thought provoking statements like John Shelby Sponge "There wasn't a fall you needed to be rescued from. We need to get out of the rescue-redeemer-savior mentality."  I know, every Baptist just cringed when reading that.  Jan Phillips in Ch. 7 went into Evolutionary Spirituality - that ii is "self-sourced, need not ever require a belief in an external god", which to me was a little more disconnect from God and more mysticism. Statements such as "A commitment of Unity" and "An evolved sense of Spirituality".  Suggesting we are god and the trees are god and the honey bee is god connectedness. Although I think we are connected in some ways, I do believe there is an external God and that I am not it, and neither is my desk or the contents of my lunch.

So overall I believe this dvd series is very good, although you may not agree with much of it. But if you are not afraid to explore, to ask questions, to see different points of view and contemplate things, then you will probably enjoy it immensely. If you already know everything about God and the big plan of salvation and gateway theology then you will hate it.  ~npp

*disclosure of material: I received this dvd free from the author and or publisher through the speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions CFR Part 255.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Fallacy of Fairness

How many times in my life, and yours as well I imagine, have I either uttered or heard uttered the words "Its Not Fair!" regarding everything from household chores, homework assignments, failed relationships or just life in general?  Well lets just say if I had a dollar for ....

Most of us grew up as children being taught things like "if you try hard enough you could be...." fill in the blank:  President, Astronaut, Famous Actor, Lawyer... the list can go on and on depending on what it was you aspired to be.  And we also grew up in that childhood innocence with a certain model of how things were supposed to go in life, either from our parents if you were lucky, or from the TV shows of the day showing happy American Family Life.  We were blissfully hopefull and unaware of what lies ahead.

The model goes something like this:  Go to school. Be a good citizen. Attend church regularly. Graduate High School. (Depending on your age group/generation) Join Military or Go to College. Meet Girl/Boy of dreams. Get married. Get job. Raise Kids. Take them to church with you.  Retire. Grandchildren. Cycle repeats itself with your kids. You die.  (If you are Baptist then hopefully someone went over the Romans Road to Salvation thing so you can go to heaven and not burn in hell - but thats really a different blog topic).

But something along the way breaks with this model.  Your parents divorce or worse one dies from cancer. That wasn't on the television?  Or your folks were just normal middle class and struggled just to make ends meet so there was no free ride to college and your dreams of becoming an attorney were just that: dreams. A difficult reality to achieve. Not impossible, but not an easy road like some folks.  Or you have a health issue that limits your abilities.  Maybe you are plagued by other issues.

Maybe your experience was different. Maybe you were born into privilege and most of this stuff was expected and delivered. The American Dream was literally laid at your feet. Maybe your plugged into social expectations and fulfilled them, only to be left, well, unfulfilled yourself.  You climbed the ladder that was in front of you only to discover it was leaning against the wrong wall. (Stephen Covey thing there).

I did a privilege exercise once and it was very interesting.  Folks in the group lined up next to one another, then took a step forward "if this" was part of your upbringing, or a "step back" if this was... etc.  At the end of the exercise many were way up in front and many were not.  And it wasn't because of their own effort or lack of it that anyone was where they were. Just things in life. Money, position, motivation, encouragement, family structure, and other variables.  Not one thing about your own effort. And that left an impression on me and may others in the group.

Life really isn't fair. We really all can't be President. Too many of us and too less of them anyway.  We can't all be born to billionaires.  Some of us will get sick, divorced, file bankruptcy, change belief systems, watch good people die while others (whom are a bit less good/deserving) live long lives. Forces at random in the universe playing with us like the Gods of old in Greek mythology..

But just because it isn't fair (never was intended to be) doesn't mean its bad either. Its a luck of the draw for the most part. Its what you make of it given the cards you were dealt. Its how you play your hand. Its the reason we engage in relationships, faith systems. How we treat others. How we use our limited or unlimited resources.

Jesus knew life wasn't fair. Well not fair in the way WE like to think of it. Like an even playing field.  Its simply not. The poor will always be with you, Jesus said.  I guess transversely the rich will also.  Jesus didn't say work harder so you can be rich too. No, he was pretty consistent about helping each other out when things were tough. Loving the unlovable of the day. Doing to others as you would like folks to do to you.

I know. Its tough. Would be easier to be level.  My sense of social justice would be meet. (See book of Habukkuk -4 pages in Old Testament).  But its not reality. Its a Fallacy. Life is what it is. Nothing more or less. The only variable in this ever changing equation is YOU. What are you doing with it. Resenting or Living? Sucking the life out of others or adding to their lives?

"Life isn't Fair"   Really?  ~npp

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Red Bricks of Righteousness

I grew up in a small town in East Texas that was typical of so many small towns in 1970s America. Segregated by unofficial boundary lines, the black folks lived in their section of town and the white folks lived in the other sections of town. Common ground was the small main street where the local businesses were established where people could go and buy there food at the local affiliated food store, fabric for sewing at the department store and whatever tools you needed at the hardware store.

The other common thing was that the two main churches in town, the United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church, were deadset in the middle of the town. On the same block. Side by side. This, as they say, is the other segregation in small towns. Denominationalism. Though the black folks had their churches and the white folks had theirs, these two churches represented the mainstream of the town. Folks that Monday through Saturday were friends and neighbors and coworkers, found themselves filing into two different buildings on the same block of land each Sunday morning for worship, then filing back out at noon...eyeballing each other as if to say "what in the world are ya'll doing over there?".

And I was struck by the mere construction of these two building standing side by side. The Methodist Church had orange colored bricks and the Baptist Church had Red Bricks. Over the years as I drive through small towns I notice this pattern is duplicated. Red Bricks for Baptist Churches and Orange colored bricks for Methodist Churches.

Most of the town went to the Baptist Church. We did not. We attended the United Methodist Church. As a child I really didn't know what the difference was nor why some went next door while some went where I did. Or make that where my parents made me go. All I can really recall is that the long awaited vacation bible school week each summer seemed to divide us even further. While we sang songs about peace and love and made nifty little crafts out of penny's, peacock feathers and broken glass, the Baptists next door would have a snow cone machine and a clown and promises of salvation. Later in life I found out that my mother would try to work it out with that church to schedule our VBS on different weeks so that folks could attend both. But after she would tell them what week ours was planned, they would plan theirs the same week. Competition. They had the truth so they would put their money where their mouths were and it worked. Children would rather go where there is a snow cone machine and a clown instead of where there were peace songs about a loving God and craft projects. My youngest sister attended some function there as a child with her friend, and later we received a call that she had "gotten saved" and they wanted to know if she could start coming to sunday school. My parents were pissed.

Later, in my high school days, I dated a girl that attended the church next door. My first major crush. I was the president of our youth group (sometimes that group consisted of me, sometimes it had a few more) and I had a job at the local grocery store where I worked after school and weekends to pay for my car, which of course was a cool car with loud pipes and big tires in back with raised white letter tires and after market wheels. My hair was a little long and I always wore glasses that were tinted, so, uh, I would look cool. yes thats it. And I recall picking her up one day after church and going to lunch and there was a young man/adult standing beside her who gave me a disapproving look, said something to her, then walked away. She informed me that was her youth pastor who had asked her why she wanted to date a scumbag. I was floored. I had never up until that day been judged by someone who knew nothing about me except for what he perceived from a distance. And it left a bad taste in my mouth that lasts even today. And I started noticing the differences in those who attended the two churches. Words like judgemental, hypocritical and holier-than-thou now reside side by side with the term Baptist in my mind, forever etched. For you see I began paying attention to what they were doing Monday through Saturday then observing them on Sundays, and it didn't match up.

Many years has passed now since that occurred, but my opinion of those type folks has not. And its not all
Baptists (but they are in the lead according to my tally sheet). I know that people make mistakes in their own faith journey (lord knows I have - pun intended), and we can really do some stupid things as christians. We try to give advice that we think is Godly but in reality is actually hurtful. We say things like "well he is in a better place now", "God needed a little angel" or "I guess it was God's Will" after someone dies. We say things like "If you just had more faith", "Prayed harder" or "was a better person this wouldn't have happened to you". We try to save the cute little blonde girls in our youth group by telling them their date is a scumbag, though we do not know them. We caste stones from glass houses and point out specks in other's eyes.

Here's a bit of advice. Shut the hell up. yes. Seriously. If thats the best you have to offer then just keep it to yourself. But if you really want to help, just be there. You don't have to do anything. Say anything. Just love on folks. They are hurting enough as it is. St Francis said "preach the gospel at all times using words only if necessary". Bro. Lawrence wrote a book called "practicing the presence". Maybe model Jesus. Try those approaches. We have enough pharisees already.

The world looks a lot different outside the walls of those Red Bricks of Righteousness.