LE Blog General

Boom! We’re back…and please don’t say it.

No, I’m not the most technically savvy person in the world, and no I can’t explain to you what exactly happened to our site these last few months. Something happened with servers and data and lots of ones and zeros. They didn't teach us much about those things in Divinity School, but people smarter than me with pocket calculators and cutaway diagrams of the Enterprise on their wall assure me that our data is completely irretrievable. And so we begin the long slow process of reassembling and reposting our lost data and lost articles.

I’ll be doing this slowly over the coming months. This reminds me a bit of childhood Christmases when my parents used to take the avalanche of toys we received from aunts and cousins and hide half of them away in the attic. Come summer, they’d emerge with all of these “new” toys for us. That’s what Le Blog will resemble for the next several weeks. I’ll be bringing old articles down from the attic and giving you a chance to “rediscover” them.

But I do have one new thought for you here and now. It has to do with that word at the beginning of the title. Boom! 

Thank God for that/for we are "not all like that,"

A hardy October hello from up here in the soon to be frozen north. In Canada—just to inform my American readers—Thanksgiving is celebrated about six weeks earlier than it is in the USA. For us, this means that we have a nice little break each year to tear down the garden and rake up the leaves in preparation for the first big snow that often comes in late October or early November. My family and I are heading to the good old USA for a long weekend, but I wanted to make a quick post before leaving so as to alert everyone to a growing movement that many if not all LEs can get behind.

It seems that many liberal and evangelical Christians have encountered a similar challenge when talking with their gay and lesbian friends or faced the even tougher challenge of being gay or lesbian and an evangelical Christian. The challenge grows out of the fact that the mere possibility of uniting those categories into a single life seems like a contradiction to many. A “gay or lesbian evangelical” rings in some ears like the phrases “square circle” or “progressive tea-partyer.” But that apparent contradiction is being challenged more frequently these days by more and more evangelical Christians who are not content to cede the evangelical label to preachers of hatred and bigotry.

Case in point: notalllikethat.org.

Evangelism isn’t what it used to be, in fact it never was what it used to be!

Part II of the Proselytism Series

Religions aren’t products that are exported, and converts aren’t customers or consumers.

I think/hope that even the most jaded television evangelists and Billy Sunday style preachers would agree with me on this. I also assume that the self-selecting group of LE.org readers share my discomfort with the idea that a religious faith, any faith, is something that might be traded on the open market and exchanged like pork-belly futures or GM stock. Yes, there are times when some evangelicals and other members of missionary religions might talk in capitalist metaphors about “packaging” and “marketing,” but can’t we all agree that deep down these must remain metaphors and only metaphors?

Let me throw another term at you…”fungible.” Religion is not fungible. Dollars (though not dollar bills) are fungible, Euros are fungible, and yes, even pork-bellies are fungible! A fungible commodity is one in which any given unit of that commodity is for all practical purposes identical to any other. A dollar bill is worth the same dollar as a silver dollar, which is worth the same dollar as an electronic dollar that you directly deposit and use to pay your online cable bill. You never need to see the tangible object, and in most cases (coins excluded) the tangible object is merely a symbol of the fungible commodity. Hilariously, the movie Trading Places, staring Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy (1983) is based on the fact that pork belly traders have likely never been near a living hog! (Parenthetically, I have no idea why the early 1980s have become such a fertile source of illustrations for this blog in the last few weeks. Anyone with theories is welcome to proffer them.)

Why you should consistently pay attention to The Pew Forum Religion News

Part I of Proselytism Series

The link is on our main menu. I consistently point my World Religion students in this direction when they question the importance of pouring their time and effort into studying a phenomenon—human religiosity—that seems to them a mere vestige of the past. Religion, they seem to think, should be studied in history class as a phenomenon of a bygone age and way of thinking. But one glance at the Pew Forum News feed and they begin to see why I make them study religion as a living, breathing fact of the modern world.

Old Fights Die Hard

If you’re a fan of George Will you probably don’t come to LiberalEvangelical.org expecting to find fellow sympathetic readers of your favorite Washington Times columnist. Will is one of the more respected conservative voices in Washington, a regular on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, as well as a famously curmudgeonly proponent of baseball purism. He has also long been one of my favorite columnists, not so much because of what he argues, but because of how he argues. His columns are some of the most historically nuanced pieces you will find because he strives to put contemporary issues in larger historical perspective, often going back centuries to build up a case.

With this in mind, I want to recommend a recent column of his. Actually, I’d really like to just call a single paragraph to your attention. This is the link. Take a moment and read the first paragraph…I’ll wait here for you to finish…

Stop "The War on Boxing Day"

 

Honestly, the most enjoyable part of writing this occasional blog is coming up with the headlines. I get a chance to make bad puns and employ some acerbic word play. There is of course no war on Boxing Day, any more than there is a war on Christmas or Easter or Lag B’Omer (ask a Rabbi about that last one). These alleged wars all stem from a growing concern among many practicing Christians, especially in the United States and Canada, that the sacred holiday of Christmas, and to a lesser extent Easter, are losing their religious character and being watered-down. Retailers who say “Happy Holidays” and light displays without nativity scenes are all tagged as sure signs that we are “losing the war” for Christmas.

I’ve touched on this topic before and obviously, we are at the moment nowhere near the Christmas or Easter seasons, so this may seem like an odd time to address the issue, but it’s actually the perfect moment for reflection for two reason. First, the fact that we are now entering the muggy months of summer means that we are far enough away from the big Christian holidays to get some emotional perspective i.e. there is no danger that Bing will start crooning “Away in a Manger” over the radio as you read this and except for our neighbor two doors down (You know who you are!) there are no Christmas lights in sight. The second reason pertains to two holidays that Americans are unlikely to know much about, but retain considerable emotional weight here in the frozen wastes of Canada: St. Jean Baptiste Day and Canada Day. 

Father's Day Mountains and Church Molehills

OK, this isn’t easy to admit and it is of course not something I’m particularly proud of, but I suspect that it is not uncommon among my fellow fathers. I consistently lie about Father’s Day. I lie brazenly, because not only is the truth ugly, but it would hurt my family. When my wife comes to me a few weeks or days before Father’s Day and asks, “So what would you like to do for Father’s Day?” I never give an honest answer!

“I don’t know, let’s do something as a family.”

“Let’s all go somewhere outside and have lunch and throw the baseball around.”ag and oppie

“Hey, maybe we could all bring our bikes down to the bike trail along the river!”

These are the kinds of answers that I give, but they are flat out lies because I do not want to do these things, I merely offer them up as enjoyable—and most importantly socially acceptable—options for Father’s Day activities.

Honest answer: “I want to stop by the specialty beer store on the way home from church, get a great Cigar and a few exotic ales I haven’t tried and then enjoy them while watching the final round of the US Open by myself. I will then fall asleep on the couch, waking up just in time to see the 17th and 18th holes and to enjoy the diner that you, my loving wife and adoring son, have prepared for me as I dozed. How’s that?”

Now you see why it’s better to lie on this occasion. The honest answer makes me sound like a horrible dad and a rotten person.

The expectation is that Father’s Day will be spent doing father type stuff; a good father will actively father his children on this day. The social expectations are different on Mothers Day, when again the expectation is that a good father and husband will take on all the child care burdens for the day, freeing mother up from the usual motherly activities.

Sympathy and Understanding for Conservatives

I joke with my wife that during my youth and college days I kept moving so far to the right that I woke up one day on the left. I'm not the first person to undergo this strange metamorphosis and there may be very good reasons for it. However, before diving into the bubbling cauldron of political ideals, I should pause to defend this post as relevant to the Liberal Evangelical project.

Anyone who has read Lost in the Middle? and/or Found in the Middle! knows that one of the primary concerns of LiberalEvangelical.org is to create loving Christian communities centered around the life and witness of Jesus Christ. We believe that such communities have many important rolls to play in the world, among these, Liberal Evangelical communities are dedicated to living in love with difference. Our focus is on finding ways to sustain heterogeneous communities in which peoples of different races, creeds, ethnicities and political persuasions can all worship together. Too many Evangelical churches create tightly knit homogeneous communities by focusing on ideological and doctrinal purity. We aim to be Liberal insofar as we shun purity in favor or inclusion. To this end, today's post is dedicated to an odd topic: a spirited defense of Conservatism.

I am convinced that many Christian conservatives may have more in common with Liberal Evangelicals than one might expect, if we can look past tired culture war hot button issues and focus on deeper ideals and values.

A Sad Lack of Responsibility in the Florida Panhandle

logoBut Lord, I was only exercising my constitutional rights.

I'm surprised by how little attention a recent event has gotten in the American press. It seems that the Florida "pastor" who had been threatening to burn the Koran, did so. It also appears that the mainline press did the responsible thing and didn't give this demagogue the media attention he craved. Would that the story ended there.

But Lord, I am not responsible for the murderous actions of religious zealots on the other side of the globe.

"Pastor" Terry Jones' decision to send some kind of message by burning the Muslim scriptures ended up costing at least 12 UN peacekeepers (PEACEKEEPERS!) their lives.

His actions were commented on by the Afghani President, and a mob of extremists in Afghanistan reacted by attacking UN peacekeepers and beheading at least two of them.

But Lord, I was standing up for the Bible.

"Pastor" Jones's reaction was straightforward, though it's worth reading the entire NY Times article for the necessary context.

Jones replied, “Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.”

Of course the Afghani President and the murderous mob is responsible, but responsibility is not a zero sum game.

FREEDOM!!! Braveheart Comes to the Middle East

logoAs I drove to work this morning I listened to an NPR retrespective on the history of US relations with Gaddafi over the years. I was most struck by some of the comments made by Presidents Reagan and Carter—Carter called him a skunk! In the eyes of America Gaddafi went from being a freedom fighter to a ruthless dictator. He then became a kind of ally in the fight against terrorism and, it seems, he is now back to being thought of as a dictator. I realize that his actions over the decades were erratic, so some waffling in U.S. foreign policy is to be expected, but it also seems likely that skunkour opinion of him and his regime has shifted to and fro as our perception of our own interests has evolved. So then I ask, what are our interests…and more importantly…what should our interests be?

Let’s notice a few things about our reactions to the events surrounding the protests and revolutions happening in North Africa and the Middle East. I’m not particularly interested in the media coverage of the events. I want to look instead at North Americans, the lookers-at-a-distance. Because that is all that most of us do, myself included. We look.

Well, if we’re honest, we worry as we look. Most of us look on and worry about what this all means for us. We see young Muslim women and men facing down armed riders on camel and horseback and, standing up against anti-tank weapons being fired at civilians. But just as a young man’s thoughts inevitably turn to love in the Spring, our thoughts turn to the mundane things of our lives and the possible effects that the revolutions on the other side of the globe might have on us.

I must admit that I’ve put off considering the issue in this blog in part because I always try to let events stew a bit so that I might write more considerately, but also because I legitimately do not know whether or not these revolutions are the kind of events on which Liberal Evangelicals can stand united. Rest assured dear reader, this will not be a call to repentance. I will not chide you or myself for thinking primarily of spiking gas prices and potential terrorist safe havens. It is inevitable that all of us consider most and first those ramifications that will directly impact our families, our jobs, and our nations. It is inevitable, but we oughtn’t be blind to the fact that our immediate interests as Western consumers and citizens may not align with our long term interests as Christians and world citizens. So I ask, can we identify at least a few core principles on which we are willing to stand united? Allow me to offer up a few candidates.

An Untimely Response

Several months ago a visitor to LiberalEvangelical.org posted the following comment. I intended to respond, but the holidays got in the way and then world events interfered, and before I knew it, almost one third of a year had passed. Well, I think it’s time.

On October 7, 2010 a visitor wrote:
“So what makes you evangelical? Do you believe in hell? If so then you're a horrible, heartless person. Do you believe the Bible is the literal word of God? Including the homophobic parts? If so, then you must be either very conflicted or very disingenuous. And if you don't believe these things, then what makes you evangelical? Is it just a word that you enjoy saying?”

The questions themselves are not difficult to answer. In order I’d say the following.

I’m an evangelical because I believe in the good news of Jesus Christ.

No.

No.

No.

I’m an evangelical because I believe in the good new of Jesus Christ and do not think that the Gospel is the same thing as the literal text of scripture.

Yes, I enjoy saying the word for two reasons. First, it is true. Second, it shatters expectations. Liberal and Evangelical have contradicting connotations in the culture wars, but we put them together to emphasize that the ideas themselves are not contradictory when we get past stereotypes and get down to the roots.

Now that I’ve given honest answers, let’s get to the more important issue. There is some obvious pain behind these questions, pain that we all need to think about addressing. Let’s meet that pain head on.