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The Outcast Christian

I am a Christian I’m forever an outcast. To be a Christian is to leave the thinking of the country and culture you were born into and adopt another countries thinking, culture, and way of life. This simple truth is lost on so many today, they think that the way of Christ is something that can accommodate both. But to be a part of the nation of Jesus means a person’s behavior looks nothing like the behavior of the people in the country around them. For so many people they want a religion that simply reenforces their own culture, yet when a person becomes a follower of the way of Christ, they seek to build a different world with different priorities.

The people of the nations of this world seem bent on building a society based upon who is in and who is out.  The hatred of the other is rampant, you don’t have the same skin color as me, your other and you’re out. You come from a different country then this one, your other and you’re out. You are a different sexual orientation then what we consider normal, your other and you’re out.  This goes on and on building walls and thinking that these walls in some way protect society. But what we as followers of Jesus see in his actions is someone who broke down the walls of other and invited us into relationship with the divine that was, up until that time, exclusive. We ceased to be the other, so we refuse to think and act like the nation that surround us. 

We as Christians go about our day with the mindset that each person, we encounter is not an outsider to be feared and shunned, but a living and breathing person with thoughts and desires, a soul to be shown love and compassion. This is not, and will never be, superficial.  The immigrant and stranger among us is not here to take our jobs, but someone to be welcomed and given a job. The non-binary or trans person is not here to force their pronouns on us, but a person who simply wants their pronouns to be respected, and be shown the same, love, dignity, and compassion as everyone else. We cease to see the homeless and the poor as people to be avoided, looked down upon, and derided. Rather we see them as people who need help who are deserving to be seen and given a helping hand. The criminal is not seen as some one to be punished and put away to be out of sight and out of mind, rather they are to be redeemed and brought back into relationship with society, shown the same redemption that Christ showed on the Cross to all humanity.  

Even history looks different for the Christian. Every kingdom and nation of this world reads history in a way that makes it look like a good guy to its people, As Christians we are not bound to the preferred reading of history, we are bound to truth no matter how it makes a country or us look. Right now, in the United States there is a concerted effort to whitewash and cover up much of our history as it regards to the chattel slave trade and the racism that ensued. Of course, as Christians we have no desire to see the degradation of the image of God in anyone, but when it happens, we are willing, if not eager, to proclaim that what is, or did, happen is wrong. This willingness to cleave to truth will, wherever we go, upsets the dominant culture. And this truth telling is found throughout Christians in the world. Christians in Canada rightly point out how their country has treated the native people horrible, letting them die with subpar healthcare and in residential schools. In England they point out the evils of colonialism and the treatment of the Irish people. Japanese Christians will tell the truth of how their country treated the nation of Korea through out it’s history, to the shame of the nation of Japan. And Christians in China will tell the truth of how the Government is treating the Uyghurs minority and how they are persecuted.

Christians not only point out the sin within the Nation in which they find themselves, but they also are willing to admit how they, or their people, failed to live up to the example that Jesus set for his followers. As Christianity became the dominant religion within the continent of Europe the rulers looked to the bible to undergird their rule. And many used the bible and their interpretations of the teachings found within to subjugate, in the most anti-Christian ways, the people within their nation. During the age of European exploration this same framework was used, and it was the theologians, pastors and learned men who provided justification for the treatment of the indigenes people they encounter around the world. But as we look back on our history, we are not bound to the idea that what our forefathers did was good. When we see behavior and attitudes that are not modeled on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, we are under no obligation to defend them, and we will harshly criticize anyone within our history who says they are Christian but acted in ways that do not reflect Jesus. And we will work to bring restoration and healing to those who have been hurt.

The simple realty, and truth, is that we gravitate towards the people that Jesus gravitated towards. The poor, the voiceless, the oppressed, the people on the margins, this does not endure us with the culture and the governmental systems of the world in which we live. No one truly wants to deal with us, and we are ok with this. Our way of living this life is so drastically different than what is expected that the world around us almost has no choice to ostracize and demonize us. Yet we will live out the way of Jesus as an outcast with all love, humility, and kindness that we can muster. Not imposing that way of life on others who don’t wish to follow it, but simply saying in the words of Jesus “come follow me.”

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Why is Christianity failing in the USA?

Why is Christianity failing in the USA? Now this is not a simple question to answer, and there a more than likely a rather diverse “right” answers to this question, but we need to start somewhere.

When one looks around at the state of Christianity in the States, we see a rather lager number of people leaving the church. And this exodus is not confined to just one denomination. Across the spectrum of Christian religion people are leaving to abandon faith all together or to embrace a new kind of faith like Norse Paganism or a native spirituality.  

This abandonment of has been ongoing for some time, but it has not led to those within the vast halls in Christian culture in the US to humble themselves with introspection and fundamentally address the reasons why people are leaving. What is seen is a demonization of those who dare to speak out and purposeful misunderstanding of the reasoning why people leave. Much in the same way that the Roman Catholic Church opposed Martin Luther and his criticism of it, is the same mentality that many mainstream pastors have of those who leave. They are simply protecting a corrupt and vile religion that looks nothing like the teaching of Jesus found within the Bible. On different levels people see and feel this and they know that nothing they can do, even though they have tried, to fix the problem. So, the only option they feel they have is to find a religion that better suits them.

Now if those who leave the mainstream Christian construct of its religion in America and yet wish to remain Christian a rebuilding of sorts is needed. This is where I must admit I am. After growing up in and watching Evangelical fundamentalism all my life I have come to realize that it does not live up to, or live out, the teachings of Jesus. This is where I feel a majority of those who have been alienated by evangelical fundamentalism are. They Love the Jesus they find in the Holy scriptures, but they abhor the Jesus they see lived out in the churches they grew up in. But to do the work of rebuilding a Christianity that is based on the life and teachings of Jesus and his apostles is not something that they have the ability to do, and frankly nor should they. The average Christian who desires to follow Jesus needs to know and be taught what right behavior looks like in the world in which they find themselves. They know that at this moment in the History of the Church this is not happening, as a result they leave.

What can be done to fix the problem? This is not an easy question to answer with a multitude of people comes the same number of answers. But we must start somewhere, and that is admit there is a problem with the Christianity we find in America, and that it’s a vile system that has been used to oppress and subjugate people throughout its history. We then move on to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles found within the Holy Scriptures. It is there the question is then asked what does right behavior look like for those who want to call themselves Christian? What we find is Jesus and those who choose to follow him building a society based not only on a compassion for the poor, the needy, and the outcast, but also a willingness to question those in power and authority.  It is in the willingness to emulate Jesus that we will see the people who say they follow Jesus become the Church.

The Christian pronoun conundrum

It’s an interesting phenomenon culture you never know how it’s going to turn out. In the last five to ten years something has happened within the American culture that has fundamentally changed human interactions on a person level and that is the use of pronouns. Now the more historically inclined people among us tell us that pronouns and the odd way in which people use them today is really nothing new, or odd, and that we have just been ignorant to its multifaceted uses for people due to the silly idea that pronouns are fixed to a person’s biological sex. Now the problem in my mind comes about as a result of the simple truth that for the longest time pronouns were fixed to a biological sex and people conflate the idea that because we have used pronouns in such a way, and we are a “Christian nation” that to be a Christian we must stick to the received cultural binary of pronouns. But here is the thing, the United States of American is not, and has never been, a Christian nation. So how many people act is in simply reinforcing American cultural ideas, and not living out a life that is modeled on the teaching and example of Jesus. The question then that I have had to think through is how as a follower of Jesus Christ deal with this change in culture in regard to a personal pronoun?  

To start with it needs to be clearly stated that nowhere in the teachings of Jesus did he ever encounter people with different pronouns. The stories of Jesus were written around two thousand years ago in backwater province of the Roman Empire, and while I’m sure there are smart historians who could tell me otherwise, I’m pretty sure that a person’s pronouns were not an issue that came up with people during that time period. But while Jesus did not deal with pronouns what he did do was establish an overall ethic on how to treat people that I think is very handy.

Let’s start with the story of the Centurion in Luke 7. A centurion of course was an important leader in the Roman Army however the Roman Army, by and large, was considered a foreign occupying force, and were not looked upon favorably. This particular centurion seems to have been somewhat of an exception for he sent some Jewish elders to entreat Jesus to come and heal the sick servant of this centurion. They point out to Jesus that this centurion is not like the other occupiers “because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Now Jesus could have reacted to this request like he did initially to the Canaanite woman “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” But he did not, and like the Canaanite woman the request for healing was granted. Jesus showed kindness to this foreign outsider who more than likely would have been seen by many as subhuman and not worthy of kindness let alone the blessing of healing.

The next story that illustrates an overall kind ethic of Jesus that we can learn from is found in Mark 1 verses 40 through 45, and that is Jesus healing a leper. You must first know that if a person was found to have a skin condition or a disease such as leprosy in the society that Jesus lived in had a very clear procedure on what was to happen to the person. According to their laws and traditions found in the book of Leviticus “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” If you had this disease, you were not a part of civilized society even to approach a person who was “clean” while you were “unclean” might get rocks thrown at you. And this is where the bravery of this man to approach Jesus and ask for healing is noteworthy, it is also telling of the kindness that Jesus showed to this man that we should emulate. This man came to Jesus knowing full well he was breaking all the rules put in place to keep people safe from the disease that he carried and asked Jesus “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” Jesus not only ignored the rules about proximity towards those who were “unclean”, but he showed a deeper concern for this man by reaching out and touching and healing him.

Not only did Jesus heal those who were on the outside of society he also made those who the religious authorities shunned feel as if they welcome in his kingdom. In Mark 2 starting at verse 13 Jesus was walking by and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax collecting booth and told Levi to “follow me” and he did. As a result of this Levi has a party with Jesus and all his tax collecting buddies, and when the religious leaders see that Jesus is at this party, they become incensed that Jesus is hanging out “with tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus points out to them that he “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” It always feels to me that whenever the religious authorities talk about “sinners” it’s people that don’t measure up to their standard, whatever that happens to be. Jesus on the other hand does not care that the people he is hanging out with are not a part of the establishment. In fact, it seems as if Jesus is going out of his way to show everyone that it does not matter who you are or what society thinks about you, he is willing to show up at the party and have a good time.  

While the parties that Jesus went too that involved “sinners” seemed to be fun affairs, the party at a religious leader’s house did not go so well for the religious leader.  In Luke 7 starting in verse 36 Jesus is invited to dinner and during the dinner a woman showed up, “who was a sinner,” with an alabaster flask of ointment, wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, and then anointed them with the ointment from the flask. The religious leader, whose name was Simon, belittles her and Jesus by saying “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Jesus responds with a parable exposing Simon’s disdain for the cultural expectations he was supposed to show a guest, and how the woman, even though she was a “sinner,” accomplished what Simon, someone who as a religious leader and should have known better, did not.  After rebuking Simon Jesus shows a level of kindness and compassion to the woman that seems to be absent in many of the religious leaders of the day by telling her that her sins had been forgiven and it was her faith that saved her.  

Now here is the rub of all these examples, if Jesus wanted to treat these people poorly no one would have thought twice about it, because they were all people who should, by the standards of the day, be treated like garbage. But Jesus did not treat these people like garbage. And while we do not disassociate with people who the people of Jesus day would call a “sinner” we have people who have different pronouns that are treated in a similar way as first century “sinners.” Many people in American culture today when they see a person with their pronouns on a pin their shirt or in their social media profile openly ridicule and mock them spewing forth the most disgusting and dehumanizing rhetoric known to man. So, with Jesus, and not the world and the devil, as our example on treating people with kindness and love who are considered outsiders or outcasts of good society, we need to model and follow that same example. If someone comes to us and says their pronouns, are They/them then we need to show them the same kindness of Jesus and call them by their preferred pronouns even when those people are not physically present.

Forgotten Jesus

There are times when something so obviously true comes around and just smack you in the face that you are just left reeling with the sudden realization that you just have to have a sit and ponder the implications of that truth. This of course happen to me, otherwise I would not have felt compelled to write about it. I was readding through a book called “The Nonviolent Atonement” and the author pointed out the unsettling fact that before Constantin, by and large, Christians looked to the teachings of Jesus for their ethics, morals, and values. But, after the recognition of Christianity by Constantin Christians looked to the secular rulers as their example for right behavior. This struck me like a slap across the face, because in all honesty I don’t want it to be true, but deep down I know it is. The question then for me became why, why do we look to fallen man to be our examples, and what will it take for us to see Jesus as the model for how we conduct our life?

One of the hard truths that most people who show up to church on Sunday don’t wrestle with is the undeniable fact that the last book of the bible was written over 2000 years ago and the earliest books written thousands of years before that. While the bible scholar and, we hope, the preacher keeps this in mind when making the word of God come alive for the average person today, the average person is so disconnected from the teachings, and way of life talked about in the bible that it is no wonder why they look to fallen men and the world for examples on how to live.  And while some may think that we just need to water down the scriptures and this will help people live out the teachings of Jesus, this ignores one of the oft overlooked teachings of Jesus, that those who follow him are a distinct group of people with a distinct set of values. Watering down that reality undermines Jesus. It is easy for people today to overlook the distinct way of life that Jesus calls his followers into because it demands that they join a different kingdom with a different set of rules. That kingdom with its distinct way of life is not something that is not easily comprehended within a modern person’s imaginative framework. So, it’s no wonder that most people look to someone other than Jesus for their model on how to conduct themselves.

From a simple cultural point of view, it is easier to submit to whatever society at large thinks of as right and wrong. A person does not have to think about what Jesus taught and how they should act in light of his life and teachings when asked to acquiesce to the morals of the cultural moment. To go with the cultural flow makes it easier for us socially, for we do not stand out and do not swim against the river.  What has happened is that we have twisted the scripture for moral justification for ongoing persecution and oppressions of people who happen to be not part of the majority of society so that we can fit into the culture. The greatest example of this that I can think of was the use of scripture to not only justify the transatlantic slave trade, but also to subjugate and to keep in bondage the people who survived by telling them that it was Gods will that they were enslaved. An excellent book that talks about some of this is Jamar Tisbys book The color of compromise. I also see the same Scriptural technique used against those who see themselves as LGBTQ+. They are told that based on a small handful of scripture, some taken way out of context, that they must live in bondage to a lifestyle that is foreign to them. The sad reality is that most of what is considered “Christian” in no way is a mirror of what Jesus taught and lived.    

And that is where we’re at. We have subsumed the morality of the cultural around us, thinking that it can be redeemed for Jesus, but, in reality, we just imitate the leaders and society of the dominate cultural with, of course, a religious veneer.  

Though with around two thousand years of Christian history trying it’s best to capitulate to whatever dominate culture we found ourselves in, it is hard for us today to separate that integration, and the damage that it caused others, with a good method of living like Christ. No matter what direction you try and walk you will find someone telling you that the path you think is a good representation of what Jesus taught is in fact nothing more than a well-worn path of European colonial misogyny that is responsible for the subjection of most of the world to the detriment of a good witness to Jesus. And while most theology found within the West is guilty of this Eurocentric problem, we need to reorient ourselves around Jesus and his life and teachings.     

For the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian today they have a theology of Jesus thinking that it will lead them to salvation, but don’t in practice follow, or imitate, Jesus. They have in essence forgotten Jesus.

And it is here that things become difficult, for in forgetting Jesus, we have forgotten Jesus, we now must rediscover and find the meaning in Jesus, and his teachings. And it is in finding meaning in His teachings that I have the most trouble. Because all I have are questions, and while it is a start, I find that, for one I sound like a small child asking why all the time, and for two I have trouble finding answers in all the questions. For example, let’s take the Beatitudes of Jesus found in Matthew 5. What does “poor in spirit” look like? Is it possible for a person who is rich in material goods to become “poor in spirit?” Do I have to be “poor in spirit” to be blessed? What is the right kind of mourning do I need to do in order to be comforted? What does meekness look like? How on earth do the meek “inherit the earth?” Is just hungering and thirsting for righteousness enough to be filled? Did I do something wrong if I have been “merciful” but instead of obtaining mercy people are cruel to me? How does a person become “pure in heart”? Is there some way a person can become a “peacemaker?” What does “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” look like in today’s world? I have a degree in bible and theology and have gone to church all my life and I should be able to have an answer readily available when these types of questions come up. But I don’t have the answers, and as I reflect on this, I see it as a good thing.

For me and those like me these questions are the opining by which we can learn about and live out a life based around Jesus, and not capitulate to the culture around us. Because we are not bound to a denominational or a set theological way of thinking. We are free to follow after and emulate Jesus in a way that can defy the American cultural idea of what a Christian is. We reject the idea that we must swear allegiance to political or national ideology, we reject the idea that we need to keep our mouths shut when we see sin in the Church, we reject the idea that the kingdom of Heaven is something that is far off and only available upon death. We strive to live like Jesus Christ so that those around us know, without asking or us telling them, that we are followers of Jesus. By doing these things Jesus is no longer a forgotten god whose power is only limited to saving people from death, but he is a living and breathing God who finds his being in us today as we live out his example to the world around us.  

Losing My Religion

So what happens when one loses faith in the religion they were brought up in? this problematic question has been at the core of what I have been going through for some time now, and is in part why I write this blog. But it has come to a head as of late now that the pandemic restrictions have been lifted for in person church gatherings. I go to what I call an evangelical lite church, and even though they do not partake in the rabid Christian nationalisms, or the over the top Covid-19 denialism, but even with them not being rabid crazy nutjobs the truth is that they do not reflect my spiritual reality so they fail to speak to me, I can’t deny the problems I have with evangelical theology, and the utter lack of sermons that resonate with the world in which I live are all there each Sunday reminding me repeatedly over and over again that this is not my Christianity.  Yet for all the problems it’s not something that is easy to walk away from.

Let’s be honest religion makes it hard to leave because it does not want to let us go. If you have been in a religious tradition for any length of time you have formed relationships with the people, the teachings, the songs, and the theology and some of these, if not all of them, are in some way trying to prevent you from leaving. The people have been there for you in so many different ways, praying for you when times are bad, or giving you help when you need it, they are also there when it is time to celebrate, marriages, birthdays, books being written, business being open, the people are there for you. The teachings and stories that you grew up with, if you’re like me, from a young age are stories that you can tell others by heart, the six days of creation, Noah and the flood, David and Goliath, the birth of Jesus his ministry and his death, these stories are not someone else’s stories they are your stories and my stories. The songs we have been taught are like a warm bowl of soup on a cold day. No matter if you prefer old school hymns or contemporary worship music all the songs give us a communal sense of being joined to a group of people. And the theology, for all the problems that we have with it now, and we have a long list, the theology that has given a framework by which most of our lives where shaped, giving us the tools to tell right and wrong, building the boat which we, in many cases, still use to sail through this present world with all its trials and tribulations. But we need to be truly honest with ourselves that boat with all the people, teachings, songs, and theology is sailing in a direction that the author of the universe does not intend for it go and we need to get into the little rowboat and row away.  

Yet being in a wide-open ocean in a little rowboat trying to find a ship sailing in the right direction that we can get on bord with is difficult. We just want to find a place in which we can transition from the religion that we were brought up in into a faith that reflects the love and warmth that we find in Jesus Christ. For most of us growing up in evangelicalism we did not fully grasp the truth, and frankly the simple realty, that the church is 2000 years old with 2000 years of different traditions and different ways of interpreting the holy scriptures. This dissuades many from trying to bord a different ship of Christian faith because it feels so different then what we grew up with. If they take that leap and climb abord a different ship of faith, that ship now must integrate us into their methodology and explain the why and how of the workings of their ship. Many of these ships have been sailing for so long that when asked by a newcomer why they do things in the manner that they do all they can answer “that’s just the way we have always done it”. This makes it seem from the perspective of the newcomer that something might be fundamentally wrong with this ship especially when contrast with what they are used too. And this feeling makes it difficult for newcomers from other parts of the Christian faith, they must be taught with the love, compassion, and patience of Jesus.

And that is where the rub is, we are looking for some place that looks like Jesus with his love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience, but what we find are places that do not hunger and thirst after these things. What we find are people who follow a theology of Jesus, and very narrow interpretations of the bible, no matter how much it departs from the life and teachings of Jesus, or just the wider Christian church, theirs is the only valid interpretation, and all other people and interpretations are treated with hate, contempt, and the vilest of language.   

So, what we have had to do is rediscover a Jesus and a faith that does not conform to the false image of Jesus that many have today. Throwing off the rigid handcuffs that bind us to theological and doctrinal ideas that were built in an ethno, Eurocentric, loci. This takes a lot of mental and spiritual work for us to do, and it is not easy. We struggle not only against the mental constructs and systems that we grew up in, but also those in places of power within the church who do not wish us to look for Jesus and his ways outside their manmade theology. Broadly speaking we are deconstructing the faith that we grew up with and either leaving it altogether or trying to build something different that looks more like Jesus.

What we have found in Jesus is something not found in those who say they follow him. We see someone who will love us unconditionally no matter who we are, who we love, what happen to us growing up, or what our job is. We see in Jesus someone who not only wants to free us, but has the power to free us, not only from the earthly troubles, but also from those in the afterlife. We also see in Jesus someone who not only challenges the statis quo of the world and the nations frond within it, but someone who established a different nation and kingdom one that anyone can be a part of, and one that does not reject people based on what piece of land they happened to be born on or reside in. This is a wild and dangerous Jesus one that is not bound to a theology about him, but says to all people “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The missing fruit of the Christian Church

  “And you will know them by their fruits” if we as Christians meditated on this quote by Jesus found in Matthew, would we have a different world view, would we see pastors and church elders differently, would we judge our local political leaders differently, would we see ourselves differently?  But here is the thing, knowing and being able to judge a person based on their fruits is one of those teachings of Jesus that has been ignored, and has not been given room to breathe and be developed. It is on the surface a simple truism, and in context Jesus is talking about false teachers. But the more someone is willing to meditate on this saying this the more power it has. Growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist cultural there is a feeling that that “he who is without sin cast the first stone” so there is the idea that we can’t, or maybe just shouldn’t, talk about the fact that someone is not bringing forth good fruit. Yet when the average person looks out across the visible manifestation of the church, I’m not convinced that they see a difference in the behavior and mannerisms then of people outside of the church, because they do make judgment calls based upon the fruit they see. And I know that there are going to be many people who are going to church who say, “that is not our church” or “that is not a real church”. but that is the thing that so many Christians don’t realize and fail to understand, and that is most people outside of the church judge the church by its fruits, and they don’t like what they see. 

My feeling is that the church in America in no ways wants to be judge or criticized on its lack of fruit. In fact, if criticism is leveled against it, Christians have a complex ecosystem which they use to minimize and deflect the fact that they are in no way baring the good fruits of Jesus. Time and time again the Mark Driscoll’s and Hillsong’s are put forth as examples that we as followers of Jesus should look to, but time and time again when they are tested it is revealed they in no way embody the actions of Jesus, they do not produce good fruit, even though some will make the excuse that they do. But to be true to the teachings of Jesus, and to rightly call ourselves Christian, it is imperative that we give and receive criticism when our actions do not bring forth or reflect the good fruits that Jesus Christ desires of those who follow him. This should not, in any way shape or form, be considered a controversial opinion.

The reality is that criticism is downplayed or deflected because it’s clear that the Christian church in America is not producing good fruit, and the world can see this. The deeper, and in fact sadder, truth is that it does not have a framework by which it can say a person is demonstrating actions that is in keeping with producing the good fruits of salvation. Unfortunately, the church has been corrupted by the thinking of the world and uses the frameworks of the world to measures itself. How big is your church, how many regular attenders do you have, how much money do you bring in each week, how many missionaries does your church support, how famous is your pastor, has your pastor written and published books, how many people in your church have written and published books. These standards of the world can go on and on, and to most people they are seen as, not necessarily bad, or evil, more neutral.  Yet it is a simple fact none of these standards are in keeping with baring the good fruit found in the Holy Scripture.  

The questions then must be asked, and answered, what does good fruit look like in a person who is a follower of Jesus, and how do they get to producing good fruit? This of course this is not an easy answer, but it will start us down the path of looking at the teaching of Jesus and how they apply to the context and world that we live in today.

It is a given that for the vast majority of us we can simply go to our local supermarket and buy whatever fruit we want. But in truth fruit just doesn’t appear in our supermarket it needs time to grow and become fruit. Plant the seed, water the seed, maybe fertilize the growing sprot, and then only when it reaches maturity will the tree, it is hopped, produce fruit. Though for American Christianity this idea of taking time to either develop a person or to just take the time to judge if the person produces good fruit is not something that done. Most churches in America have more of a country club mentality in which a person who joins is given the bylaws and constitution and simply expected to read and abide by them, if cannot, or don’t want to, they can leave.  Churches need to start taking the time to develop people taking the teachings of Jesus as the foundation for what right Christianity looks like. Is a person showing compassion, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, to the stranger, the poor, and the outcast? If not, do we have a something in place so a person can start developing these fruits? If someone wants to become a leader have they consistently, over time, shown the fruits of Christ consistent with salvation? We live in a world that is rushed and sees time as nothing more than a commodity it is therefore important to be slowly taking time to not only develop fruit in a person but also to see if a person has fruit that is consistent with the teaching of Jesus.

 It is also true that in order to develop these fruits a person needs a community of people, yet what is seen as community in the modern world is nothing more than a gathering of like-minded people around a dogmatic political or religious identity. Unfortunately, this kind of “community” is not a community that brings forth good fruits in a person, it is only an echo chamber that brings forth the absolute worst in humanity. The development of a community that brings forth the good fruit of Jesus Christ is a very messy community that does not conform to a certain theological or dogmatic construct that are in vogue or happen to be “just what we do”. What it is, is a group of people on a journey of faith trying to emulate the life and teachings of Jesus. We see a lot of this messiness reflected in the pages of the New Testament the conflicts with who can be considered as a Christian do, they must conform to the traditions of the past or are we making a new path, who gets feed and in what order, Paul verses Peter, Paul and Silas, or basically Paul in general. But for the American church this messiness gets papered over with statement of faith, and doctrinal statement that prevents us from entering in too true community. We assume that because a congregation has a faith statement that everyone in that congregation believes everything within that statement. Now while we know this is not true of everybody who shows up on a Sunday it is shared assumption that most people have that has led to a homogony that does not allow for the truly messy nature of Christian community.

The sad reality is that the fruit that Jesus Christ wants to be present in those who follow him are not fruit that a modern Christian particular enjoys. It is fruit of a bygone era. Fruit for those who want to live out of step with the world, live in the past and not the present. If Christians today truly wanted to emulate Jesus, they would not only pursue the fruits of Christ but also provide a way for others to walk that path as well. Yet it is all too clear that the fruits of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are not present in the church today, and a simple blog post pointing out these problems, and providing a couple of ways forward is not enough. It’s going to take a collective effort by those who truly want to follow Jesus to build the Church based on Christ’s teachings.    

Paths of Deconstructed Christianity 

It has become quite fashionable within the last couple of years for pastor to rail against a certain cultural phenomenon that is happening within many Christians these day. Now unlike the past when preachers would condemn groups of people it was mostly the outsiders of what was considered “society” native Americans, foreigners, immigrants, gays lesbians, and anyone who was a descendant of an African slave.  But what is now being condemned by these pastors and churches is something that is completely home grown so to speak. Within Christianity, writ large, there are people who consider themselves to be deconstructing from the construct and narrative that they were taught was Christianity. What this has provoked within many churches is a negative reaction against this phenomenon. And much like the Roman Catholic Church opposition to Martin Luther and the Reformation that he brought about, they don’t really understand what deconstruction is and why people are doing it.

However, the phenomenon of deconstruction is as varied and diverse as there are grains of sand on the beach. And a person’s reasoning is not as simple as a 95 thesis nailed to the door of a church. But overall, there are a couple of general themes by which people deconstruct.   

Each reason for deconstruction normally starts with a realization that what a person has been taught about the religion of Jesus Christ does not line up with reality. It is in this problem with reality that there are two, sort of, direction of deconstruction. The first is towards a more humanistic atheistic perspective. The second is more of a deconstructional reinterpretation of a person’s understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the Bible as a whole.

In order to understand the first reason for deconstruction you must understand that within modern Christianity there has been a desire for biblical homogeny. All the conflicts and places where the bible disagrees with itself have been, I think the best way to put it, is reinterpreted to fit the idea that there are no conflicts within the bible. This idea seems to have come about as a result of the enlightenments desire to see or impose order on all aspects of knowledge. Over time what this seems to have done is brought about theological ideas, and imposed a construct, that defies common sense. The conflicts and disagreements within the bible are plain to see for anyone who studies the bible, and yet there has been a desire to explain them away. When this cultic homogeny of biblical interpretation refuses to address the fact that standardization does not fit well upon the bible, and simply demand that people submit to it, the effect is that people start harshly critiquing that system, and as a result, leaving the religion. This is the background upon which the humanistic atheistic are coming from. They are not necessarily critiquing an individual’s desires to follow the religion of Christianity, but since it is so ubiquitous, they have questioned the construct presented to them and found the answers lacking and have pursued answers that make more sense based on the evidence and solid reasoning. And the sad, and quite frankly, frustrating part is that they are demonized for this.

The second path of deconstruction, while sharing some similarities with the first path, embraces the holy scriptures and the teachings found within, yet its emphasis is on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ found within the Gospels, and the rest of the Bible is seen as subservient to, and yet supporting, this. It is within this framework that I have found myself for the vast majority of my life. Placing the loci of the Faith on Jesus Christ, and not a doctrinal framework, is considered an act of deconstruction when you realize that for the vast majority of “churches” Jesus is only a figure head to be talked about but never taken seriously, and it is an adherence to a set of propositional truth statements that has become the central tenants of American Christianity. What is done, for those deconstructing, is that every doctrine and theological framework that is presented is juxtaposed with how Jesus lived his life and what he taught, and if the end results do not conform to Jesus, his teaching and way of life, they are simply rejected as not being Christ like. It’s using Jesus and his teaching to deconstruct from the concepts and ideas of the past and using his teaching and life to build a better less toxic, and problematic, faith.

What is happening is that a different version of faith in Jesus Christ is being built, and those who have a vested interest in the religious institutions, and past thinking, much in the same way the Roman Catholic Church tried to silence Martin Luther and his ideas, are trying to suppress and demonize those who are deconstruction from past thinking and who are trying to build and live out a more substantive Christian Faith.   

It saddens me in no small way to see pastors and churches taking a stand against people who are simply trying to understand and live out truth. So, if you are a person who is trying to understand truth and are deconstructing from the belief system that you grew up with don’t stop. Keep walking the path of deconstruction. On my path I have found a deeper love, appreciation, and faith in, and for, Jesus Christ. I cannot fully explain, at least in a way that makes sense to a reader, how my questions and doubt led to a deeper faith in Jesus. I am also well aware that for others that because of the toxicity, and unwillingness to see truth, within the Christian community, and in their deconstruction journey they will walk away from, and not call themselves Christian. And this path is just as valid and legitimate.

The American flag does not belong in church

Have you ever noticed, if you are the type of person who goes to church, that you will more than likely find the flag of the country in with that church finds itself quite prominently displayed? At the church I go to there is an American flag on the dais behind the pastor, and if memory serves me there is also a 9-11 remembrance American flag in the main entry way. And while the flags in my church are not prominently displayed, I have seen churches prominently display the American flag in sanctuaries, entry ways, or outside on flagpoles. And it has always seemed to me that the churches who display the flag, whether they are conspicuous or not, seem to forget what that flag represents, and if they remembered, and took the teachings of Jesus seriously, they would remove the flag from their church.

Simply put a flag is a representation, in cloth form, of a country and its way of doing thing. You will not find the American flag flying over the British parliament or the Canadian Maple leaf over the White House. You do find flags outside and inside the buildings that belong to the nations they represent. It is a quick and easy symbol to know what values the people who wave the flag hold.

Now if a church calls itself Christian it should be assumed that they follow the teaching of Jesus, and it is within these teachings that there is a distinct difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world. In Mark chapter 10 there are two stories that illustrate this difference. The first is found in verses 13-16 Jesus tells his followers that if someone does not receive the kingdom like a child, they shall not enter it. Right after this story the story he tells is one of a rich young man who wants eternal life. Jesus tells him he must do good things; the man says that he has done all the good things required by the law. Jesus then tells him to give up all his wealth and follow him for his salvation. Giving up his wealth is something the man cannot do which leads Jesus to say something shocking to those who follow him, and that it is difficult for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God, and that it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Both of these stories illustrate a difference in Jesus’ idea of his kingdom, the first is that it is a perspective change that must be in place to be a part of his kingdom, like a child has. The second is that the methodology by which was once thought of as sufficient for entrance into salvation is no longer adequate. What is required, in this man case, is simply giving up all his wealth and following the way of Jesus. This complete reorienting how a person should view the kingdom of God under Jesus can be lost on most American Christians today. We have become preoccupied with the world in which we live we simply have forgotten that the way of Jesus is fundamentally different. For most of history cultures saw wealth and achievement as the byproduct of being born into the right class of people or being blessed by the gods and having their favor meant that you where worthy of blessing and salvation. But for those wanting to be a part of the kingdom of Christ they will have a distinct perspective and different methodology for salvation.

There is also something else in the teaching of Jesus that let us know that his kingdom is different and that it has a distinct set of expectations for who gets in. In Matt 8:11 a roman centurion comes to him and asked that Jesus heal his servant. At this request Jesus is amazed and tells those following him that many who would not be considered worthy of a place within the kingdom will be honored with a seat in that kingdom, and those who thought that they, by the right of being born to the right people, will not be part of the kingdom. What Jesus is doing is opening the kingdom of heaven to those who were considered unworthy it would be like opening an exclusive country club to the homeless and giving them all the same privileges as those who founded the club.

One last illustration of this difference is found in Matt 20:25-28 Jesus tells those who are following him that there is a difference between the rulers of the world and those who follow him. He says about that distinction “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” This in my mind is one of the biggest distinguishing differences between those who are part of the kingdoms of the world and those who are part of the kingdom of Jesus.

What we see in these teachings of Jesus is that there is a different system by which Christians are meant to conduct themselves. When a person sees a flag of a nation within a church what do they see? Do they see the leaders of the church, the pastors and elders acting like servants? Do they see the doors being opened to the stranger and outsiders? Do they see people living out a unique way of life and holding a unique perspective, like that of a child? Or do they see the values of the country whose flag is waving in the narthex, on the podium, or the flagpole outside. The majority of Churches in America need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they truly look like Jesus. For many people outside the church, they do not see a difference between the values of the flag and the church, if a church genuinely wants to be a part of the kingdom of God the first steep will be removing the American flag.

No Rights for Christians

 It has been an interesting time for American Christianity as of late within it there is an undercurrent of fear. A fear that all the changes and upheaval that they see around them will eventually lead to the loss of their peculiar rights and freedoms that they see as integral to their identity. Now as someone who as dedicated their life to trying to understand and learn what being a follower of Jesus looks like this idea of “rights” as spelled out in Western culture and as applied to American Christianity  has led me to the question, does the teachings of Jesus and his apostles support the idea of “rights” as we see them today the answer is a resounding no.

To be a Christian and follower of Jesus, for those of you who might be unaware, is to become a part of a different kingdom/nation with different expectations not only of personal behavior but also how a person expected to be treated by those outside the Christian faith. Jesus continually makes a clear distinction between his kingdom and those who follow him and those who do not.

This distinctiveness runs counter to the popular cultural idea of universal basic human rights. Now I’m not saying that universal basic human rights are anything less than benefit to humanity, but those rights, have been given to the people by the kingdoms of this world, and not has been endowed by God through Christ on his followers.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus points out that those who follow him will be victimized by others and the state, and that they are not going to be free to truly practice their faith without any form of  harassment,  and in the economy of the kingdom of God this is considered a good thing. It is the state that routinely jails, harasses, intimidates, and kills followers of Jesus when they are found practicing their faith. Even though this is the reality for the Christian the response is not to demand their “rights”.

We see this exemplified first in the death of Jesus. He willingly accepted his death/fate even though the charges against him, as put forth by the state, were outright lies, in order to curry favor with the Roman Empire. And it is this example that Peter uses when he says “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten”

Stephan, following the example of Christ, when after being arrested and tried, in what today could be called a kangaroo court, did not in any way demand that he had a right to practice his faith in Christ as he saw fit. He simply makes his case for Jesus being the Messiah and is martyred as result.

We also see in the Acts of the apostles, Peter and John getting arrested, put in jail and threatened, because of their faith, but they did not demand that they should be free of threats, jail or arrest they present to the authorities the fact that a crippled man had been healed by the power of Jesus, and they make no claim that the arrest itself was unjust. It is as if what happened to them is just the natural outcome to following the example of Jesus. As Jesus himself says in the Gospel of John “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you”

The apostle Paul in second Corinthians, and the writers of Hebrews build upon this reality of following Christ. Paul in a personal way, to beatings, 40 lashes minis 1, shipwrecked, and in just general fear for his life, and in Hebrews in a broader way, hard suffering, exposed to public reproach, and the plundering of property. Throughout all the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and his apostles there is no hint that Christians are intitled to any kind of rights as we understand them today.

Satan and the kingdoms of this world have convinced the majority of American christians that their rights are in some way God given. What has happened as result is that people have focused so much on defending and upholding these worldly rights that the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit have all but disappeared, and in defending these “rights” American christians have become a stumbling block to those who might be interested in follower of Jesus. Because they do not see the fruits of the spirit that we are told to have even though they can read in the Holy Scriptures that they are supposed to embody.

If a person wants to call themselves a Christian or follower of Jesus, they must abandon the idea that they have any sort of human rights. This is not an idea that will sit well with most people who think of themselves as Christian they have grown accustomed to the lie that says they can assert their religious ideas in almost any situation. When christians demand their “rights,” they are utilizing the systems of the kingdoms of this world not the economy and systems of the kingdom of Christ. The results of this should be that followers of Jesus realign their thinking to bring it more in line with Jesus and his Apostle, and reject the idea that the state must or should protect and defend their faith.