Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Sin Hangs Out with Creepy Fish

Yes, this fish exists...
Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin ... You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins. - Micah 7: 19-20

In college I went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I am not much of a history buff so I thought I would be bored, but I ended up being drawn in by the deep sea exhibit. As I wandered through the exhibit gaping at the ugly, otherworldly creatures that inhabit the deepest areas of our oceans, I thought, "If God exists, He definitely is creative and has a sense of humor." Just gazing at these absurd creatures made me laugh. (I think someone needs to write a proof for God based on the humor in nature, but I digress...)

So where do these creatures hang out? Well, the deepest part of the ocean is the Mariana Trench near Japan. If Mount Everest were put in this trench there would still be over 7,000 feet of water above it! That is just astounding to me. There is another world in our oceans, with creepy looking creatures floating around, and we think we know it all!

In the book of the prophet Micah, we are told that God does not persist in anger when we sin. Rather, He casts our sins into "the depths of the sea."

When we read Scripture, do we ever pause and sit with the literal sense of things? Of course, Scripture is meant to be read in the literal and the spiritual sense, but often we just skip right to the spiritual when God has treasures for us in the literal.

The other day I sat with the image of God throwing my sins into the depths of the ocean. I gave Him the deepest, darkest memories of my sin and He threw them with all his might into the ocean. I imagined my sins sinking at the speed of a bullet, far from me, far from my memory and His. (Then I imagined my sins floating by those creepy fish and my meditation got a little weirder but again I digress....)

Do we believe in God's mercy?

I thought I did but the more aware I become of my own sinfulness, the more aware I am of God's unending mercy. I know it sounds negative to talk about sin all the time but (most) Christians do not speak of sin in an attempt to make people feel terrible and guilty. Of course, there will be times we should feel deep remorse for what we have done wrong, but that is not what the whole of Christianity is about.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus exhorts us, "Repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mk 1:15)

Jesus makes it clear that repentance is a necessary first step. Why? So, we can fully experience God's mercy and goodness. If we don't think we are sinners then Christianity loses its meaning (hence much of modern atheistic culture). When we buy into the lie that we are not sinners it does not make us better, it just makes us conflicted, miserable liars.

But Christians are not yelling "Sin!" because we want to stop there. Christianity is about the next step.

Yes, we need to recognize that we sin in order to experience the truth of who we are but after we recognize our sinfulness it is so important to move to God's goodness - that is what the Gospel is all about!

This is the Good News of Jesus:

God forgives our sins.

He died to forgive our sins.

(And He throws them into the deep sea to chill with creepy fish)

Amen.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus: A Beer with Jeff Bethke


This video has been making the rounds and causing a lot of hubbub. There are a lot of bloggers out there calling Jeff Bethke, the poet, an idiot and tearing apart his argument. But I am not going to join in the fray. Jeff is touching on a sentiment that has been prowling around our culture for some time and resounds with many people and it needs to be taken seriously.

There are valid reasons why this video and his point of view resounds with people.

Jeff is not really speaking out against religion. It's pretty plain to see that he is no theologian. He says he "loves the Church and the Bible" indicating that he does adhere to a certain set of beliefs but he does not consider this religion. I don't agree with this assessment but I am not going to call him an idiot for believing this. In fact, he is joined by many, many people in today's culture who describe themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious."

In a recent study 72% of the millenial generation describe themselves as "more spiritual than religious." What this means is not exactly clear (to them or to us most likely). Describing oneself as "spiritual" used to be synonymous with "religious." Spirituality used to refer to the inner experience of faith while religion was the outer expression of this faith - liturgy, common prayer, etc.

So, what does it mean that younger generations are rejecting "religion" but are still asserting that they are spiritual?

I think it means several things for Christians:

1. Mainstream Christianity has failed to engage youth on a level that speaks to them. We do not take kids seriously - the condescending reaction to Jeff's video illustrates this.

2. Young kids are sick of hypocrisy. When they see scandal and sin in their own church leadership they want  real answers and they are looking for humility. (For Catholics, Pope Benedict's response to the sex scandal is an example of this)

3. Social Justice is important to young people. They are sick of people insisting that we must uphold one set of issues, rather than another, or we are not Christian. Christians need to be more insistent that neither platform (Democrat/Republican) reflects the totality of the Gospel message. We need to show young people that real religion transcends the world of politics.

4. Even though they are rejecting "religion" young people are still thirsting for God, hence the "Christian but not religious" line. Young people recognize the power of the person of Jesus.

As Christians are we listening to these kids? Are we responding to their concerns? This spirituality without religion view is represented not only among young people but among many adults. We cannot just continue to roll our eyes and call people who hold these views idiots.

I will close with just a few questions or concepts I would talk about with Jeff over a beer if given the chance:

1. Gnosticism - I think this old heresy is seeping back into Christianity through popular culture. We are body and spirit. We need rituals, liturgy and structure. It is part of being human. We need to stop pretending we can transcend our humanity and the limits of our creaturehood and still maintain a grip on to reality. We are not gods, we are embodied souls. Our souls need our bodies and our religion needs to be lived out bodily.

2. Authority - If a person rejects the authority of a man-made institution then whose authority does he or she replace it with? Scripture does not speak to us about many modern issues facing our world so whose authority should a person follow in those cases? Individual conscience? What is forming our conscience in this world of media and noise? I don't trust my conscience to figure things out all by itself. When we refuse to submit to any kind of authority it starts to smell a lot like that rotten apple in the Garden of Eden.

3. Sin & Community - In the video, Jeff says he believes in sin. I do too. But that is why I do not trust my own judgement. Because I really really believe that I am a sinner. I cannot do this alone. I need Tradition and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lived out in the Church and in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Individualism and Relativism - These are the diseases of our culture and they are killing us spiritually. If we give up "religion" and replace it with the dictatorship of individual conscience, often malformed conscience, we are not getting rid of religion, we are replacing one religion with as many religions as there are people. As much as part of me would love to establish the Church of Theresa, I'm not sure that would be the best thing for my soul. God is not whatever we want God to be. He is much bigger than that.

I would love to hear what all of you thought of this video also.

Peace to all of you! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

God Smokes a Corncob Pipe


Miner, Kentucky 1946

There is dirt
beneath 
God's fingernails.

He is
a hard worker,
knows
when to work,
when to rest.

He mines
the dark corners
of my soul.

At the end
of a day
He emerges,
hands full 
of blackness.

I avert my eyes-
though some
of it is my creation.

God never
approaches
all at once,
with everything.

He knows
I would die,
of sorrow.

What is more,
I am the foreman
of my soul,
(if I am cowardly).

At times I insist
that God return
what He has found.

It can be too much.

When I lose
courage
He waits,
feet up,
smoking 
a corncob pipe
and whistling.

God is a miner 
I would buy
stock in,
he is gentle
and does not
mine junk.

He doesn't blow
the tops off
majestic mountains.

Darkness is darkness.

But this is the God
who turned
a bloody death
into salvation.

When He mines 
darkness,
it turns to gold.