Jason Micheli on Discipleship vs. Propositional Belief

My friend Jason Micheli blogged yesterday on the anxiety of parents whose kids have fallen away from Christianity. It’s a topic I often have in the back of my mind in confirmation season. One of the most painful statistic to look at for our church is the number of kids whose last Sunday in church was the day they were confirmed. We retain about a quarter to a third of the kids we confirm. We’ve tried a lot of different strategies for addressing the problem. I wanted to share a quote from Jason that really seems to nail it, though I’m not sure exactly how to address what he’s naming. Continue Reading

Cut government spending, except when I have to wait in line

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A number of people in my church have been impacted by the game of chicken known as sequestration that Obama and the Republicans are playing with one another. Almost everyone either works for the civilian sector of the government, a government contractor, or the military. Several people have lost their jobs; many have been furloughed. And that’s why I’m more than a little bit hot about the way that Congress has suddenly bolted in action to exempt the FAA from sequestration rules so that people won’t have to wait in line at airports. It’s an illustration of the uniquely American religious belief in ideology without consequences. Continue Reading

Why I clash with the gatekeepers

I often clash with the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. I’m sure that I get under their skin too. To me, they look like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you [who]… shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people‚Äôs faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.” I wonder what Bible verse they would apply to the caricature of me that they see on their laptop screen. In any case, I thought I would try to express where I’m coming from, to the degree that I’m coming from somewhere and not just being a sinfully impulsive loose cannon. Everything that I’m trying to do (as opposed to the things I do impulsively) is shaped by my understanding of Christian evangelism as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Continue Reading

Interruption, Ideology, and Truth

Amos Yong at the Missio Alliance talked today about “the phenemonology of interruption” in Pentecost. Interruption is how God expresses His sovereignty. Humanity muddles along in our reality that we can’t imagine being any other way, and events happen that do not fit “the way things are.” Our paradigms are shattered, and we are forced to grapple with the terror that Somebody greater than the projected Geist of our civilization has tinkered with us. Pentecost is the eternal event of the Spirit’s interruption. The opposite of Pentecost is ideology, the stasis of homogenized idolatrous “truth” that tries to substitute itself for God, what Slavoj Zizek calls “the big Other” and what Christians with a perspicuous (idolatrous) account of Biblical truth would call the “owner’s manual.”

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Do you read the Bible for ideology or discipleship?

When I was in seminary, one of the things that impressed me about Augustine was the way that his language was haunted by the words of the psalms, in particular my favorite one, Psalm 42. Books 11-13 of his Confessions break into one of the most beautiful hermeneutical dances I have ever encountered. I wrote a term paper on his stream-of-conscious, allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1 in which the “dry land” which is eternal life has at its center the spring of living water which that deer in Psalm 42 was longing for. Throughout Augustine’s letters and other books, he keeps on returning to Psalm 42′s articulation of the infinite mystery in human nature: “Deep calls unto deep.” When you live inside the Biblical text like Augustine did, your relationship to its language is poetic and intuitive; it becomes how you narrate your journey of discipleship. This is very different than an ideological appropriation of the Bible in which it becomes an encyclopedia of potential proof-texts to be word-searched and scrutinized with a scalpel in order to develop a defensible argument. Continue Reading

A conversation with my favorite Republican uncle

There are two topics you’re not supposed to bring up at family reunions: politics and religion. Thus it was unsurprising when my uncle Joel said, “Morgan, I’ve got a challenge for you. Come up with a sermon comparing the Exodus story to the 2012 presidential election. You have thirty seconds. Go!” In my late grandparents’ house in Jackson, MS, there was a picture of Joel grinning widely, arm in arm with long-time Republican Senator Trent Lott. I’m not sure whether Joel pegged me as the kind of guy who would have a “Barack the vote 2008″ shirt at the bottom of his t-shirt drawer. But I have a feeling that’s why he gave me the challenge. Continue Reading

Trust not opinion

In the information age, people define themselves primarily by their opinions rather than their actual behavior. This is not only the case for hard-core partisan ideologues, but also moderates who define themselves as more “reasonable” by balancing “conservative” opinions with “liberal” ones. While it used to be said that treating others with respect and integrity was the measure of one’s character, many today evaluate their moral courage according to how willing they are to stand up for their opinions (ESPECIALLY IF THEY DO SO IN ALL CAPS). I don’t know to what degree bad Christian theology contributes to our society’s ideological wasteland and to what degree it is the product of it. But I do think there is a basic problem in how we understand the faith that saves us. Many Christians today think that “faith” amounts to believing the right things (holding the right opinions) about Jesus’ death and resurrection so that He will respond by “saving” us and accepting us into His kingdom. But I think it’s more in line with Biblical teachings to say that our faith is the result of God winning our trust through what Jesus did so that we could be saved from the impossible hell of trying to prove our worth to God, whether through deeds or rituals or opinions. Continue Reading

Don’t hate our purple UMC

In 2 Samuel 12, when Bathsheba’s first son was dying, David fasted and clamored with the Lord. After he died, David washed himself, ate a meal, and tried his best to move forward. That’s the position that many of us in the United Methodist Church face after several decisions made by this year’s General Conference. I feel like I made the best case I could on several issues (and I probably lost my credibility with some people I care about as a result). My church has made a decision, and I will move forward. I realize there are young adults who are wondering whether or not to leave the UMC at this point. I’d like to make a case for staying, because I think our vocation as a church right now is to occupy what Bishop Scott Jones calls “the extreme center,” as frustrating as that might sound. We are the only purple major Protestant denomination in the country right now. Every other one has split along theological or ideological lines into “left” and “right” or even further into “moderately conservative” and “fanatically conservative.” The reformed branch of Christianity probably has more sects than I have toes and fingers. What the body of Christ and our nation as a whole needs right now is a whole lot more purple and a whole lot less schism. Continue Reading

Stop bearing false witness!

For our church’s men’s retreat this weekend, we read sections from 1 Peter. One of my favorite verses is 1 Peter 2:17: “It is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish.” People have been hating on Christianity since the begin. And Peter is saying that it is our responsibility to silence the haters with the witness of our integrity instead of whining about our “persecution” or media bias. Sadly, far too many Christians ruin our witness and rightly earn the scorn of non-believers by the complete lack of integrity they display in public discourse in social media and other venues. Continue Reading

Bullying and humanity at General Conference

First off, I’m aware that I didn’t witness what happened tonight in person. Mark Miller, one of the UMC General Conference worship leaders who is gay, stood up and gave an emotional speech about a climate of bullying that he saw taking place in the legislative sub-committee conversations about homosexuality. He was ruled out of order when he asked other delegates to stand with him by a bishop who then prayed for the situation. Not being privy to what did or didn’t take place, I can only say that I hope humanity wins over ideology at General Conference. I’m not even talking about the decisions are ultimately made, but the dignity with which the delegates treat one another as fellow members of the body of Christ, rather than ideological adversaries in the only politically and theologically diverse denomination left in our country. Continue Reading