God Is Not An Equation

Like 1.5 billion other people, I am on Facebook. I currently have, uhm … { checking } … 791 friends there. And many of them are Christian.

I love my Christian friends, just like all my friends, but sometimes they post things that drive me crazy. (As does everyone on Facebook, of course, including me.) One of my biggest gripes is when they post Christian memes: you know, the sayings inside a picture. People used to put them up as posters around the church, but now we put them up on Facebook. Here are some actual examples:

  • If you feel distant from God, guess who moved.
  • Let God’s promises shine on your problems.
  • Everyday God drops showers of blessing and graces and only those with pure hearts catch them.
  • Keep Calm Because God Answers Prayer

The problem with these sayings, and others, is not that they are false. The problem is that they are not always true. Why? Because God is not an equation.

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New Poem Posted (Finally!)

I often like to use layout and space in my poems, to indicate flow and emphasis. For some time, though, I’ve been struggling with WordPress “eating” any non-breaking spaces I used to achieve that space. So, rather than having indents like I wanted, all lines would be left-justified.

Last night, I finally found a workable solution, and got a new poem formatted the way I want. (For the geeks reading the site, it involved using a “<span>” tag with some characters marked “hidden.”)

So, the poem is finally posted! It’s nothing earth-shattering — an observation poem I wrote after watching exactly the event described in the poem — but I’m glad to finally be able to share it. It’s called The Tornado in the Coffee Shop, and I hope you enjoy it!

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Mean for Jesus

(A Lection Reflection on Mark 7)

Some years ago, the denomination I was serving in was in the midst of a wrenching fight. One group was trying to take control of the denomination, and they were framing their tactics as “returning to the truth” — which meant, of course, that anyone who disagreed with them was automatically on the side of falsehood.

One day, the pastor I served with returned from yet another denominational meeting with yet more fighting. When I saw him come into the office, I could tell he was upset, so I asked what was wrong. Usually calm and easy-going, he replied with a strong amount of emotion, “I am so tired of people who feel called to be mean for Jesus!”

I’ve never forgotten that moment, or that phrase. Why? Because it perfectly captures a certain type of person of faith, one that many of us have had to deal with — and one that some of us may be.

Let’s talk about that person, and look in the mirror while we do. Continue reading

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You Can’t Have It All

(A Lection Reflection on Joshua 24 and John 6)

Choices. We all face them. This sandwich or that one? This house or that apartment? This job or the other? Get married or stay single?

And even though we know that almost every choice opens one door and closes another, we continue to persist in trying to have our cake and eat it too. We “keep our options open,” we figure the angles, we walk down the middle of the road, we don’t choose sides. We try to have it all.

And the church? Sometimes the church is the worst offender of all.

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How to Fight for Change Without Being Mean

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, as I do more and more writing on this page, as I try to do more and more advocacy, AND as we prepare to launch a progressive community site for the city. There are some truths that I operate from, that seem to be at odds with each other:

  • Silence is not an option.
  • Bad ideas, policies, and actions must be challenged.
  • Change only happens when either the leaders decree it (top-down) or when enough people want it (bottom-up).
  • Evil must be challenged. (And yes, there are “evil” acts and other things in the world.*)
  • People themselves are not evil.
  • Satire and snark are sometimes the best way to call out bad ideas, bad policies, and bad actions.
  • We are all part of the human race, and brothers and sisters because of that.
  • You don’t mistreat your brothers and sisters.
  • Hate is not an option.

So, on the one hand, we have to be active in the fight against the bad, willing to call out others and take unpopular stands, hoping to win enough people over to our side to effect change from the bottom-up. On the other hand, we must do it in such a way that we do not hate, we must not turn those we oppose into the Other, and we must remember that ultimately we are one family.

This is hard. To do this well and consistently is really, really hard.

But we must find a way.

So, here are some guidelines I’m adopting for myself, and possibly for this new site I’m helping launch: Continue reading

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Leader, Manager, Predator, Shepherd

(A Lection Reflection on Mark 6 and Psalm 23) (also part of the Leadership series)

Fire up the Google machine and put in “sheep without a shepherd,” “Jesus as shepherd,” “the Good Shepherd,” or “the Lord is my shepherd.” You’ll find a gazillion sermons, blog posts, and web pages talking about church members as sheep, Jesus as shepherd, why us poor humans need shepherding, and so on.

This post isn’t one of those.

Instead, let’s take a different approach. Let’s answer two questions:

  1. What are the differences between leader, manager, predator, and shepherd?
  2. What does being a “good shepherd” mean? And should we try to emulate that?

I’ve got two different blog threads going here, and I’m going to take this opportunity to weave them together. Let’s see if it works — join me below the jump. Continue reading

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Worship As B-Roll

We had an interesting moment in worship this morning. I was in my usual place, sitting with the choir in the loft, when I looked up and noticed a TV camera crew in the back of the sanctuary. The camera man was shooting some B-roll, while the reporter was just standing there, watching the service happen. They recorded for about ten minutes or so, and when I glanced back there again, they were gone.

B-roll,” for those of you who haven’t done video production, is video shot of backgrounds, buildings, and other scenes. It is used as intro and outro shots, or to have something on the screen during a voiceover. Since our church is been indirectly in the news this week due to the marriage equality ruling, I wasn’t too surprised to see the TV crew. As I was watching them, though, the thought occurred to me:

How often do we approach worship as B-roll? Continue reading

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What If Gandalf Doesn’t Show?

(a Lection Reflection on Psalm 130 and Mark 5:21-43)

There is a scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Gandalf is leaving Aragorn to go get help. As he mounts up and prepares to leave, he says

“Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East.”

And with that bit of foreshadowing, Gandalf gallops away.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the rest. The orc army attacks Helm’s Deep, breaks through the defenses, and is poised to massacre all the forces of good — when, at the darkest moment, the sun rises on the fifth day, Gandalf appears in shining white, and with him is an entire army on horseback, ready to turn the tide and win the battle for the good guys.

What brought this sequence to mind is a verse in this week’s Psalm (Psalm 130): Continue reading

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This Use of Religious Freedom Is Wrong … and Dangerous

We’re all aware of the recent attempts by many across the country to use “religious freedom” as an argument for various actions. Whether it is denying service to certain people at retail establishments, or refusing to fill prescriptions for contraceptives at a pharmacy, or turning away couples wishing to get marriage licenses, the argument has been the same:

My religious beliefs do not support these actions by others, and by being forced to do so, my religious freedom is violated.

At first inspection, this argument seems to have merit. It sounds like government-imposed coercion, which has been at the heart of many religious freedom fights through the centuries. And as someone whose predecessors in the faith were punished and killed in the name of religious coercion, I can tell you that religious freedom is one of the Constitutional rights that I hold most dear.

But, even as I hold that right close, I feel that I must be completely clear when I say —

This use of the “religious freedom” argument is a flim-flam straw man that is deliberately disingenous and deceitful. It is a selfish power play, used to deny others their own rights. But it is also a DANGEROUS argument, that will ultimately come back to haunt those who use it.

More below the fold.


The point of religious freedom is the right to practice your religion without interference from the government, or to choose to practice no religion at all with no coercion from the government. The wording of the amendment is a marvel of balance and succinctness:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Over the years, like much of the Constitution, we have had to work out the parameters of that statement within the context of the times. School prayer, city-sponsored creches, the wearing or not wearing of certain clothing — all have had to be weighed and discussed to find that balance of neither endorsing nor preventing.

In this case, though, the argument is not about one person’s practice of their faith. It is about that person’s understanding of right and wrong causing harm to another person.

An extreme example: suppose my church believed in the sacrifice of virgins? Would freedom of religion mean that my church could choose someone for the sacrifice, then proceed to kill them? Even more, would freedom of religion mean that my church could choose some random person outside the church and kill them?

Is this a silly example? Yes … and no. The example is outré; the principle is not. “MY religion allows me to prevent YOU from living a normal life or carrying out a normal activity that you are legally allowed to do.”

It’s all about Teh Gay — but as Rachel Maddow and others have repeatedly pointed out, this use of religious freedom can be used for a multitude of situations. The obvious example is inter-racial marriage, which was blocked on religious grounds for many decades. How about inter-religion marriage? How about serving food to Muslims? How about refusing to fill a prescription for depression medication, because my religion says that there is no such thing? You may say that these are silly examples, but a year ago I would have told you that there was no way anyone would allow county clerks to refuse service to ANYONE on the basis of the clerk’s religion … but North Carolina just passed such a law.

And now we come to why this is not only wrong, but dangerous. This use of the “religious freedom” argument is so blatantly illogical and prejudiced that it makes reasonable people just throw up their hands. As it spreads and is not called out by the so-called religious leaders across the country (and indeed is cheered on by some of them), it causes non-religious people to assume that religious people are not only incapable of serious thought, but are actually dangerous to society.

At some point, there will be a REAL threat to religious freedom … and no one will pay any attention, because we will have become the fools who cried “wolf” in order to perpetuate our own prejudices. And a key civil right, one of the key contributions of our country to democratic ideals, will be lost.

I am not a “religious leader.” I am just a person of faith, a writer, who sees this for the sham that it is, and who is willing to stand up and say so. May those with greater pulpits and readerships than I, also sound the alarm, and let everyone know that “freedom of religion” does not mean “freedom to hate.”

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Is Jesus Calling Us To Be Superheroes?

(a Lection Reflection on Mark 4:35-41)

I have a guilty habit to share: I enjoy reading adventure novels. Jason Bourne, Dirk Pitt, Jack Ryan — I buy them in paperback, and usually read them in a couple of days. They’re brain candy, empty calories, but I still get a kick out of them.

The heroes in these books share at least one thing in common: they’ve learned to manage their fears. Over and over again, when faced with situations that would paralyze most of us, they are able to think through their options, make a plan, and execute that plan. And, of course, they ultimately come out on top. (Hard to have a series if you kill off the hero.)

So here’s my question for this week’s Gospel lection:

Is Jesus calling us to be superheroes?

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