Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

>Love Wins

March 18, 2011

>I don’t generally follow super pastors that lead mega-churches in part because I don’t think one person influencing that many people who often blindly follow is a good model.

I think a better model is one person leading a few. Sort of like Jesus did.

Anyway, Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, a church that attracts 10,000 worshipers a week.

So when I hear that Southern Baptist pastors and others are calling Bell a heretic I think he must be saying something right.

Bell has a new book, Love Wins, that explores heaven and hell and God.

He explains the book here.

That’s the promo video, the cleaned up version.

Here he is explaining the book to his own flock.

It’s uplifting that Christians are finally beginning to understand that God and Christianity are about love. That might be hard to see when one considers that Crusades and slavery and James Dobson and such, but it becomes a very simple story.

And if God is really about love, then how can he send so many of the people that he created to everlasting hell and damnation?

So I don’t really believe in hell, and here is a writer and pastor that might have released a book that backs up my beliefs. I haven’t really made up my mind about heaven, but I can tell you that from my (sketchy) theological training that my understanding of biblical hell and heaven has more to do with suffering and poverty versus fulfillment in the current life than some mysterious afterlife. I think Bell explores this a bit in the book, as well.

I am going to purchase the Kindle version (I have Kindle on my laptop, not the hand held version). I’ll let you know what I think.

>An interesting church

February 25, 2011

>While in Charleston, South Carolina I became interested in St. Michael’s Church, which is the oldest church edifice in the City of Charleston. It stands on the site of the first Anglican Church built south of Virginia.

My interest in the church was generated by a cookbook at an aunt’s house. The book is called Faithfully Charleston and has some interesting recipes but also some bits of information about the church, including this description of an epitaph from the graveyard:

Another tells of the mother of nine children, who died, “age 17 years and 27 days.”

Do the math.

Anyway, we went to the church the next day so I could purchase a cookbook.

Later during the day we returned and walked through the sanctuary.

Look at this pulpit in the middle of the room.

From the church information flyer:

The pulpit is the original one, remarkable for its height and the massive sounding board supported by two Corinthian columns. Its prominence bears out the fact that at the time the church was built, the center of interest in the service was the sermon, conflicting with the central place planned for the altar…Although the present reading desk was given in 1892 as a memorial, it is in the location of the original desk, and together with the pulpit above it makes up what is called a “double-decker.”

Here is the Tiffany chancel decoration. The window was installed in 1893, and shows St. Michael casting out the dragon.

Here is the organ, originally installed in 1768, but altered several times and restored in 1994.

Something didn’t feel right as I walked through the church.

I later learned that the Diocese of South Carolina is in a “battle” (their word, not mine) with the leadership of the Episcopal Church, over the acceptance by the church of homosexuals, and in particular the ordination and consecration of a partnered lesbian as bishop suffragan of the diocese of Los Angeles.

Bishop Mark Lawrence has said that he and Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori “stand looking at one another across a wide, deep and seemingly unbridgeable theological and canonical chasm.”

He has declared the diocese sovereign within the church.

Shades of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. And (as a distraction), now a South Carolina lawmaker wants the state to issue its own currency. What is going on with the people of that state?

The Diocese has not split from the Episcopal Church as of yet. I hope they realize that the conservatives in this situation are the ones causing the divide…they are the ones breaking away.

Anyway, for those Episcopalians who don’t believe that God makes mistakes and want an inclusive and welcoming church in South Carolina, there are several on this list of welcoming churches, including St. Marks in Charleston.

From their web site:

We welcome all Christians to full participation in the St. Mark’s Parish family without regard to gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, race, or cultural heritage.

Back to the cookbook

Onion Pie, John’s Island Tomato Pie, and St. Michael’s Staff Party Chicken are a few of the recipes that caught my eye, and will be among the first to try. And when I feel like baking, I’ll try my hand at The Lady Irene Charleston Cake.

>Got religion?

October 26, 2010

>Remember Antoine Dodson, the Huntsville guy whose interview became an internet sensation?

Well now the hit doggie costume at New York’s Halloween Dog Parade is Antoine Dogson.

Photo credit Jim Kiernan

Here is an “It Gets Better” video from three United Methodist pastors. It’s good to see the church, any church, getting involved.

Alex Day is a smart young guy. He frequently posts videos that are interesting. Here Alex talks about religion and skepticism and atheism and the history of the universe (what happened at 11:45 PM on December 31?). I like young smart people. They are going to be in charge one day.

So he “doesn’t need religion to make the world seem more impressive than it is.”

A lot of young people feel that way, it seems. Drew Dyck wrote a book that examined why young people stop going to church. The book is titled Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith…and How to Bring them Back. (And I thought my book had a long subtitle). The author was interviewed by Greg Richter of the Birmingham News.

Dyck says that there are several categories of church leavers.

1. Post-modern leavers reject Christianity because of its exclusive truth claims and moral absolutes.

2. Recoilers leave because they were hurt by the church.

3. Modernists reject supernatural claims.

4. Neo-pagans leave for earth based religions.

5. Spiritual rebels leave to indulge in behavior that conflicts with their faith.

6. Drifters just drift away as God becomes less important to them.

Wow. There are a lot of reasons for a someone who does not just follow like a sheep to leave a church, it seems.

Did you leave the church? For one of these reasons? Or another? Post a comment on this blog.

Dyck also addresses the question we often hear about American culture causing young people to leave the church. Nope, he says. It’s what happens inside the church that pushes young people out, rather than peers and pop culture pulling them.

The fact is that most churches today do not fit into the modern world, for whatever reason. Some will claim that they are supposed to be separate from the world, and don’t want to fit in. But they run the risk of becoming a sort of anachronism in the way that many view the Amish today.

The churches should look at that list of reasons and, without changing their doctrines, address them in ways that answers young people’s questions. That is, and will continue to be, a challenge.

>Headed toward marriage equality

July 9, 2010

>Yesterday was a banner day for equality, and two stories in The Birmingham News reflect this.

On the front page is the story about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voting to allow non-celibate gays to serve as clergy.

Actually what they voted for was to evaluate candidates on the basis of “calling, gifts, preparation and suitability.”

There is no mention of sexual orientation or sexual ethics in the proposed language.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the nations 10th largest Christian church in the United States, with 2.8 million members.

A majority of the church’s 173 U. S. presbyteries still must approve the policy change. Two years ago, 94 presbyteries voted against the change.

Here is the news as reported on the church web site.

The church did, however, vote to retain their discriminatory definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

But progress is slow, especially in churches, so let’s celebrate this small (huge) victory.

In an unrelated action (but related to yesterday’s post), the Presbyterian assembly voted to “refrain from holding national meetings in states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color might subject them to harassment due to legislation.”

Good for them!

In other marriage related news, and probably the biggest story, is that a federal court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The ruling only applies to Massachusetts, which challenged DOMA on the basis that it forced discrimination on the state’s same sex married couples. But it gives encouragement to other states that permit same-sex marriage, and gives heart to the LGBT community at large.

It is unclear as to whether the ruling will be appealed. The U. S. Justice Department would file the appeal, but President Obama has stated that the law is discriminatory and wants it overturned. So let’s just see how that plays out.

Here is the DOMA decision. You can click on “full screen” to read the entire thing.

DOMA Decision

Here are reactions from pro-equality organizations.

Equality opponents are blaming SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan (who filed a brief in the case for upholding DOMA when she was solicitor general) for deliberately sabotaging the case.

>Why Rick and Bubba matter

June 17, 2010

>Emails are flying and phone calls are being made to sponsors about Rick and Bubba’s anti-LGBT Pride rant. Some are questioning what the big deal is, after all, its a free country and we have freedom of speech here.

No one denies that. Let the phobic minority spin the scriptures and rally their armies all they want. That’s not the real issue.

On the other side of the country the closing arguments in the Prop 8 trial took place yesterday. By all counts, Ted Olson hit a home run, and the Prop 8 defender Charles Cooper struck out.

I kept up throughout the day by following the closing arguments on Prop 8 Trial Tracker where live blogging by several fast typists kept me informed.

Kate Kendall from the National Center for Lesbian Rights was in the courtroom, and in her remarks afterwards, she made a very good point.

She said,

“…Yes, people feel uncomfortable about gay people. Yes, people may be nervous about, gosh, if their kids think its ok for gay people to marry maybe they’ll think about being gay. But you know what, we just have to deal with all those issues. We have to have those conversations. We have to show them real data. And people have to understand, it’s OK to be gay. And that was really the central thrust of what Ted Olson was saying….The entire push behind Prop 8 was to say that being gay is not OK. Its bad, its something to be afraid of, its something we don’t want our kids to be exposed to. and it was that motive, those emotions, that voters brought with them to the ballot box when they passed Prop 8.”

Hear her comments following the closing arguments, including the part I quoted.

That pretty much explains why combating Rick and Bubba is important.

Attitudes in this state need to change. People here in Alabama agree with the 2008 voters in California.

It is not OK to be gay.

And Rick and Bubba perpetuate this message. Rick Burgess may claim that the message was to his like minded Biblical World View Christians.

But the airwaves reach mom’s of gay children driving in their cars. Quite possible a questioning kid is in the back seat hearing it. “It’s not OK to be gay”, the mom and her son hear. The son decides to hide his feelings from his mom. He has no one to turn to.

Whether one is a progressive Christian or is not, we should not accept the hurtful (notice I said “hurtfull”, not “hateful”) message of religious right wingers to spread their message unchallenged.

Changing the conversation from, “It’s not OK to be gay”, to “It’s OK to be gay,” is the name of the game. And Rick and Bubba win the game, if we don’t fight.

And if we lose the fight, the young man who feels that he can’t talk to his mom, may end up like Bobby did in Prayers for Bobby. (A true story)

>The Bible and Homosexuality, Part 2

March 25, 2010

>Part 2 of this series would have been a column in the Western Tribune had it not folded. The series is four parts long.

Here is Part 1 (Leviticus) in case you missed it. After all of the parts are published here, I will edit them into a single article with a link under “Popular Posts.”

The Letters of St. Paul (Romans)

Part 2, The Bible and Homosexuality : Romans

This is my second in the series on homosexuality and the Bible.

Another group of verses often used against homosexuals, these from the New Testament, are found in the first chapter of Romans.

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Rom 1:26-27

When these words were written, it was not understood that homosexuality was the natural orientation of some members of the human species as well as almost every other animal species known. Science has shown us that homosexuality occurs in most mammals, and some birds and fish as well. It occurs in nature, naturally.

So it could be said that the men referred to in this verse were heterosexual men, who were having sex with other men, unnaturally. It says nothing about “naturally” homosexual men. The same can be said for the women; some are naturally heterosexual and some are naturally homosexual. The natural sexual activity for a homosexual man would be with another homosexual man, and for a homosexual woman, with another homosexual woman.

But why would a naturally heterosexual man be having sex with another man?

The Apostle Paul by Rublev

Paul is attempting to show the Gentiles how they have turned from God to idols. Later he shows how Jews have turned to self-righteousness and hypocrisy and harsh judgments on others. What he is trying to show is that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God rather than trying to set apart a particular category of people as the worst possible type of sinners.

During the time of Paul homosexual activity was usually associated with adultery when a married man might have a young male lover on the side. Male prostitution was common. An adult male could choose a legitimate sex partner of either sex. The sexual activity between them accentuated their differences in social class and certainly could be viewed as a misuse of sex and power.

This is quite different than the love between two men or two women of equal social status, and this is not addressed in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Next: The love between Jonathan and David

>The Bible and Homosexuality, Part 1

March 17, 2010

>This Western Tribune column (March 17, 2010) is the first of a four part series on the Bible and homosexuality. One way to look at this, the Washington Post featured a five part series on homosexuality in 1965 (from which I got the idea for my book,which should be available in April) and the Western Tribune is featuring a four part series in 2010. Sure to raise some eyebrows, but you know what happens when eyebrows are raised? Eyes open!

The Torah inside the former Glockengasse synagogue in Cologne.

How the Bible looks at homosexuality

I have been asked to show the verses in the Bible that mention same sex activity that are not critical of homosexuality. This column is the first of four that will address this issue.

The trouble with taking the words of the Bible without careful study of the language and customs of the time is that often this leads to the wrong conclusion. We only have to look at how the Bible was used in the past against blacks or against women to realize this. Currently, the same approach to biblical interpretation is used to point judgmental fingers at the gay community.

If we incorporate science and history into biblical interpretation we don’t find such condemnation.

Verses in Leviticus that are part of Israel’s Holiness Code include certain specific instructions on sexual matters, but also contain instruction not to eat shellfish, not to wear blended fabrics, not to plant fields with two kinds of seeds and more.

Along with certain male homosexual acts, adultery and sexual intercourse with a woman during her menstrual period are forbidden.

These proscriptions were given for several reasons: to separate Israel from other nations and their practices; to avoid idolatry and the practices associated with it; and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness.

Ritual purity was one of the ways the people of Israel set themselves apart from others for God. The avoidance of things unclean was part of the purification process.

Semen was looked on as critical to the ongoing of human life and thus was an important part of ceremonial law. The emission of semen during intercourse with a menstruating woman or even during an involuntary nocturnal emission was forbidden.

There were pagan rituals in which semen was offered up to the gods, so in order to set Israel apart a code was developed for this people at this time in their history and any use of semen that violated this code was forbidden. If this code is to be enforced against the homosexual community today, should we not also be enforcing the code against eating shellfish, wearing wool blends or having intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period?

These verses do not speak out against loving and committed relationships between modern gay or lesbian persons. They are about violations of a code that was set for a particular group of people and that, by the way, was replaced by the life and teachings of Jesus.

Next: Romans

>Western Tribune column January 13, 2010: Avatar

January 13, 2010

>This is my Western Tribune column for January 13, 2010. I have seen Avatar twice, and probably will see it one more time. There are so many lessons to be learned from this film, it’s hard to explain in 400 words. Here goes:

Picture credit: James Cameron’s Avatar Wiki page

I will assume that most readers have seen the movie Avatar, but just in case someone reading this has missed the record breaking sensory feast, there will be no spoiler here. The details that I reveal have already been mentioned in news stories.

On Pandora, the planet like moon where the story takes place, a world is seen where the creatures and plant life – nature – are in tune and exist in a sort of harmony that still allows an acceptance of death and sorrow.

But in the year 2154 our planet has become “brown” and humans have found a new source for resources that are much needed on earth.

With that set up in mind, some conservative and religious leaders are claiming that there is a hidden message promoting a liberal tree-hugging, anti-Christian agenda.

Hardly. I mean, the message is not hidden; it’s the theme of the movie, with a love story entwined.

Nature is a powerful force, and we witness this every year with hurricanes and tsunamis and mudslides and such. Nature affects us in other ways as well, from the microbes that help us digest our food to the diseases that we seek to conquer.

On Pandora, rather than battling nature, the Na’Vi (the indigenous blue-skinned stars of the film) enjoy a spiritual connection to the other species with a simple understanding of the circle of energy and life.

We have tried to separate ourselves from the rest of nature, in part due to religious beliefs that promote us to a status above the animals over which we have dominion and just below the God we worship, but also because of what we have accomplished with the larger brains and opposable thumbs we developed.

In doing so, we link God and nature together in much the same way the Na’Vi link their natural life with their spiritual force, Eywa. We, or most of us, just don’t admit it.

Oddly enough, we have chosen to abuse our planet and ignore the signs of peril and the results are becoming evident, through climate change, and epidemics and such.

Nature versus God, or nature equals god, are arguments as old as humanity itself.

But as in the movie, nature “does not take sides.” Yet we will continue our attempts to shift the balance of life in our favor.

We may have to wait on the promised Avatar sequels to learn how that works out.

>Religion and Spirituality

October 5, 2009

>Parade magazine released a survey of our spiritual and religious values and the results are quite interesting.

Here are the complete results of the poll.

Here is Parade’s article.

Below are the highlights.

Only 45% consider themselves religious. 24% consider themselves spiritual but not religious.

38% are less religious than their parents.

59% believe that all religions have validity. Only 12% believe their religion is the only true religion.

Only 53% think the world would be worse off without religion.

Only 30% attend religious services once a week or more. 50% rarely or never.

76% say their faith has not been affected during the current economic situation.

58% say religion and politics should not mix.

43% believe we go to heaven or hell after we die depending on our actions on earth.

62% expect to contact loved ones after they die.

I’ve posted Brett Dennen video’s before, but this seems like a good place to replay “Heaven.” Recently Brett re-recorded the song with Natalie Merchant.

“Whatever faith you practice, whatever you believe…” Brett’s lyrics mirror the American public’s beliefs.

>Torture and Prayer

May 4, 2009


A poll by the Pew Forum has shown that frequent churchgoers are most likely to support torture.White Evangelical protestants are the religious group most likely to agree.

Here are the poll results.

What gets me is that 15% of Americans (18% of Evangelical Protestants) think torture can be justified often. Let’s not elect these people to office…please! But just as important, let’s not select them to stand in the pulpit.

I guess what this indicates is that attending a weekly church service messes up one’s moral compass, at least as far as human ethics and such are concerned.

That is not to say that there are not churches out there that respect humanity enough to teach that torture is wrong (notice that 25% of weekly churchgoers believe torture is never justified).


With the National Day of Prayer coming up (May 7)here’s some poll results on prayer, also from Pew.

Notice, the older one is, the more likely one is to pray daily, females are much more likely than males, and the more income one makes, the less likely. God v. mammon, I guess.