Categories
Blog

Mainlining the Christmas Spirit

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the “mainline church” is irrelevant, and doesn’t know how to speak to today’s culture — even worse, the Spirit has abandoned it.

Humbug.

My family started regularly attending an Episcopal church in November. At the past two services, I’ve witnessed the most kind, loving, and Spirit-filled act I’ve seen in a long time.

Last week, during an Advent service, a little girl (probably between 6–8 years old) was enamored by our pastor as she led the Eucharist. So this little girl simply stood alongside her, and when our pastor lifted the elements to bless them, the girl pantomimed right besides, lifting an invisible wafer and chalice in the air. The girl was our pastor’s shadow up until the moment the pews emptied and the congregants worked their way toward the Lord’s Supper; only then did she rejoin her family.

Our daughter Sophia was completely enamored. It was a touching moment to see. She whispered to my wife and asked if she could stand beside the pastor next time. She even worked up the courage — which didn’t take much, our daughter’s not as shy as we are — to ask the pastor if she could do stand up with her next time.

Our pastor, the wonderful woman of God she is, said of course.

And our pastor, the wonderful woman of God she is, remembered her promise this morning during the Christmas service.

When we entered the church and took our seats today, the pastor came over and told our daughter she could come up and stand beside her. So today, when the time for communion came, she signaled directly to Sophia, and we gave the soft, it’s-ok-go-ahead nudge parents give, and our little one walked quickly up to the altar.

Even more, our pastor took time in the midst of Communion on one of the highest holy days to ask for a stool for my daughter so she could see the Communion Table better.

And there, on Christmas Day, my daughter looked up at and stood next to a woman of God as she led us all in remembering the whole story of salvation that culminates in a supper, a cross, a death, and an empty tomb. All manner of mysteries that go well beyond reason, but none so lofty they cannot be grasped by a child’s imagination.

My heart swelled with gratitude. Sophia beamed with pride and joy. She walk-ran back to our pew looking so happy. A few moments later, when she was given the elements, our pastor knelt down to give her the bread, and the other Eucharistic ministers knelt to serve her the wine as well.

It was a simple act of kindness, but it spoke volumes. Others may have been less willing to let a child draw so near to such a holy, set-apart ritual — and with valid reason. Communion is a holy thing. But by letting these children draw near, and by letting them participate in their own simple way, our pastor embodied the Spirit and made the ritual even holier.

Jesus has many names and titles, but the one with the most resonance at Christmas is “God with us.” Christmas is when we talk about God “breaking through” and choosing to dwell amongst us. Well, God broke through today in the small, significant, kind actions of our pastor. She proved that God still dwells among and within us, in (the) Spirit.

Advertisements
Categories
Blog

The First Time I Voted for a Democrat I Felt Like a Heretic — No One Should Feel that Way.

How many times have you heard a story begin with the phrase “I grew up Christian?” This is one of those stories, but sped up to the college phase of life.

I went to a Christian college. Picture a Christian college in your head, and then change nothing. All the trappings were there: mandated chapel three times a week, no rated-R movies, strict dorm visitation rules, and a strong overtone of Republicanism.

That last bit, the strong identification with the Republican party, slowly drove me crazy during my time in college.

I was in college from 2001 to 2005, which means that 9/11 happened during the first full week of classes my freshman year of college. Our country started two wars and two subsequent occupations during that time. This is relevant to the story.

I chose a Christian college because I believed I wanted to be a pastor. My mother gave me some very judicious advice: you can go to a Christian college, but don’t get a degree in “ministry,” because you limit your job prospects too much. So I chose history and biblical literature. My study of both would make me question everything — which is what college should make you do. But they don’t mention how painful that can be.

The social sciences department was run by a conservative ideologue. The Republican party was not only right, it was the party that represented God’s will on Earth, and carried the City on a Hill vision of the Puritans into the present. I wrestled with that representation a great deal. I was relatively conservative coming into college, not merely because I was a “product of my environment” but also because that was where my political thought began.

I knew that many other Christians such as myself identified as Republican. I learned early on what the values of these Christians were, even if I couldn’t articulate them as I can now: right to life issues, nuclear family structure, strict sexual ethics, and religious liberty.

At the time, I didn’t necessarily disagree with conservative ideas about economics or social issues. What got to me was the religious argument for war — and what was front and center during the W Era? War. It undermined my belief, it not in God, then at least in God’s people and their ability to understand what God wants.

My understanding of God was Christocentric, and Jesus represented peace and forgiveness. Aside from a few “naughty verses” — the term my New Testament professor would use to describe verses that didn’t coincide with a particular argument — the overall depiction of Jesus throughout the gospels jives with a God who loves and forgives. So to hear arguments and to simply feel in the air a rousing endorsement of war from my fellow Christian students and professors, and for it to be the default stance was alarming. It shook my faith.

Things weren’t so rosy on the biblical literature side of things, either. Nothing will undermine your belief in the Bible quite like studying the Bible with intense scrutiny. During my Bible courses, and especially my Greek courses, the doubt crept in. I was not prepared for my understanding of the Bible — the supposed foundation of my Christian faith — to be so thoroughly dismantled and remade. But that is what happened.

I learned the historical background of the manuscripts that were used to form the basis of today’s English translations — the earliest known texts, the manuscript process, how changes and comments found in scribal marginalia can be traced through time, and even the great degree of information we know about Paul and his writing process. I learned about the wide array of scholarly interpretations of the Koine Greek, and how an interpretation can lead to vastly different teachings, some of which are used to oppress women and other marginalized groups. (For instance, the interpretation of Paul in his letters to Timothy & Titus to justify complementarianism, a patriarchal view of gender and family roles.)

The faith I had come to use as a comfort had become no comfort at all.

All of this was a pressure cooker. I would ultimately be outspoken against the war efforts in Iraq in particular, which put me in the minority on campus. I had begun to call myself a moderate, and found myself leaning more toward Democratic politicians and candidates.

As the 2004 election got into swing, I moved beyond my dislike for George W. Bush’s policies and toward actually liking John Kerry. He had spent much of his life serving in the government. He was reasoned. He was a credible candidate by any measure, and the scandal surrounding his short tour in Vietnam feels so innocent compared to today’s politics.

On a weekend trip home, I made a point to stop by my polling center and vote early. It was the first time I was old enough to vote. As I stood in the voting booth, I took my time looking at the long, cumbersome sheet of paper, and cast a vote for John Kerry.

As I walked to put my ballot in some oversized receptacle and walked out, I felt a pang of uncertain and ambiguous guilt. Why did I feel that way? I had merely voted my conscience and my convictions.Who did I feel guilty toward? My family? My church? Fellow Christians? God? I didn’t know.

Over time, that feeling would fade. But in that first moment, that uncertainty loomed so large and it colored the rest of my day. I drove back to school in silence, not even putting any music on.

In hindsight I believe that my political thought had outrun my theological thought and my personal ethics had not found a way to synthesize them yet, in addition to the fact that I didn’t want to feel alone in my peer group (I was in college, remember.)

But I wasn’t alone. I just didn’t know it.

The truth is, no matter what you think of God or what you think politically, there will be other people who feel similarly to you out there, including having the same ideas of how one should “vote their faith.” But you should never be made to feel like a heretic for how you vote.

Now from here on, I’m going to be talking of people that moved from “conservative” to “liberal” because that’s my experience, but it’s applicable to the reverse as well.

If you see the world in shades of grey, where before there was black and white, that’s ok. That’s just you recognizing the world as more complicated than you previously thought.

There is such a thing as the Religious Left. There are wonderful treatises on political ethics. There are ways to engage your faith without feeling as if you have to discard it. For me, it was through the writing of Wendell Berry, followed by many others.

I mention all this because it is a particularly American trait for us to mix up our political and religious beliefs so much that it’s hard to tell them apart — hence the religious guilt I felt from a political action. And our thoughts on these subjects do not always develop in tandem. We make do with what we have. In 2001, I was learning about a loving God while learning about the reality of states going to war. Now, in 2016, people of faith are faced with a new crisis: whether to cast a vote for a narcisstic fascist who has shown contempt for women, people of color, the disabled, veterans, and his own party — solely because he is the representative of the Republican party.

If you are young and watching this unfold and feeling a similar internal conflict inside yourself, take comfort in the fact that others have felt the same way. But more so, take comfort in the fact that God is bigger than this election (no matter how big this election feels), and that the Kingdom of God which is within you and all people is bigger than the representatives of two political parties. And your allegiance is not owed to a party, but to coming to a greater understanding of yourself, God, and your fellow human being while extending love and grace to all.

Vote your conscience. But don’t be afraid of what your conscience tells you. If your conscience is telling you to not vote for a man whose whole life runs contrary to the life of Christ, it may have a point.

Wherever you go once you step out of that ballot box and into the unknown, God will already be there waiting for you.

You aren’t a heretic.

 

Categories
Blog

The Most Christlike Thing for a Cis/Hetero/White Christian Man to do Do with His Power is to Abdicate it.

By birth, I am a cis, hetero, white man. By choice, I am a Christian. I see a lot of people that look like me angry about their lot in life right now. I know that these feelings rise up once every four years in everyone because of the presidential election, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see.

I don’t often think about the cis, hetero, white male part of my identity. Part of my privilege is that I don’t have to. Those parts of my identity are not under attack by anyone; my body is not in danger due to prejudices against my skin, or my sexuality, or my gender.

I do think a lot about that last identifier — the Christian one — a lot, though. And it’s that identifier that helps me understand what I’m supposed to do with all that privilege I take for granted.

What am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to give it up.

Why? Because it is quite literally what Jesus would do.

I went to a Christian college. I can’t say I recommend it, and I can’t say I can’t recommend it, either. To say I’m conflicted about it is an understatement. Hell, I started a podcast [and this site, natch] to try and work out my feelings about it in public. But here’s one thing I will always be thankful for, and it won’t make sense until a bit later:

I spent a long time learning to read the Philippian Hymn in Greek.

The Philippian Hymn refers to a passage in the second chapter (of four, it’s a short book) of the Book of Philippians, one of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote that is included in the New Testament. Some scholars believe it is an early testament of faith that was declared by the first Christians.

Here it is, in full:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Keep in mind this is the Christ that all Christians claim to serve. But this is not the Christ that is presented to the overall culture, and often not by white men.

This Christ didn’t seek power. Or seek to keep power. Rather, this Christ was power, and gave it up. Godhood and authority wasn’t the goal; “it was not something to be used to his own advantage.”

It goes on.

Christ made himself nothing, and took the nature of a servant, became human, and died.

This person at the center of the Christian faith, who was not white (we cannot claim that with a straight face), had the ultimate privilege — godhood! — and gave it up.

How could I be expected to do anything less?

I know that this is easy to say. And come on, let’s be practical: what does ‘giving up privilege’ really look like? Here are a few ideas I’ve had:

  1. Don’t expect the world to owe you anything for being male,
  2. Or white,
  3. Or Christian.
  4. Don’t expect your opinion to matter “more” than anyone else’s.
  5. Respect other people.
  6. Stand up for other people’s right to voice their opinions and perspectives.
  7. Lend them support, but don’t try and talk for them.
  8. Shut up and listen.
  9. Pay attention.
  10. Be like Christ and find a way to serve people.

If you’re looking for a text to proof-text from, let it be this one.

So. White, cisgender, hetero, Christian men like me still have a lot of power and privilege in the world. And we can feel it waning, as the power becomes more evenly distributed.

Good.

The Christlike thing is to give the rest of that power up of our own volition.

Categories
Blog

Eee-vangelical vs. Eh-vangelical — The Case for Eh.

A lot of people say “eee-vangelical.” In fact, most of the guests on my show, Exvangelical, say “eee-vangelical.”

I don’t. I stubbornly prounounce it “eh-vangelical.”

Why am I so stubborn? Let me count the (4) ways:

  1. It doesn’t sound right to me. “We were eee-vangelizing” just doesn’t sound right to me, whereas “we were eh-vangelizing” does.
  2. The name Evan (the Welsh form of John), is pronounced “Eh-van.”
  3. A cursory search for the term “evangelist” on Google shows that “eh-vangelist” is the proper pronunciation. But most importantly…
  4. “Eh-vangelical” yields far more opportunities for puns. For example“Bleh-vangelical, meh-vangelical, enh-vangelical” and of course, “ex-vangelical.”

Pronounce it however you want. There’s no wrong way. But I was feeling a tad insecure (as I mentioned in the intro to my last show), so these are my reasons for “eh.”

Eee-vangelical defendants, come at me.

Categories
Blog

Introducing Exvangelical.

They call it “the bubble.”

If you’ve ever spent time attending a Christian college, you know what this term means. “The bubble” is the campus and the whole cultural milieu of evangelicalism that cushions young women and men from the real world, the world that needs no air-quotes.

The bubble is well-intended, I think. It was put in place by people that wanted to create something close to what they thought God might approve of. But in doing so, they created an artifice and sold it as the real thing.

A bubble is the perfect analogy: a thin layer of soap, a self-contained sphere, that never lasts long.

Eventually the bubble pops, and you’re back in the open air. Falling. Toward the ground.

For many people, religion is (or was) a part of their life story, and at turns ugly and beautiful. Sometimes, the ugliness is enough to drive a person away from religion, or at the very least, make them reconsider their trust in it.

The ugliness of evangelicalism has pushed me to the edge of faith more than once.

I went to a conservative Christian college, and much of the Christianity I experienced there was not consistent with the sort of understanding I had of the person of Jesus Christ. Free thinking was not always valued. The world was pushed to the side for something that was supposed to be an ideal approximation of it. A Stepford Wives version of Christianity that assumed the human impulses we all have toward sex, selfishness, and all the rest were simply not there.

The bubble popped in college, and I was falling toward the ground.

But it turns out, the ground can be a great place to be, even if it’s painful getting there.

Religion can be a really beautiful thing. It can give life beauty and meaning, and it can bring people together through the intoxicating mix of human and divine compassion and love.

Religion can be a really terrible and ugly thing as well. It can be used to divide, to justify all manner of evil, to exclude others from community, and to control.

The most tragic thing is, religion can be both these things at once. A person’s faith may start out beautiful and innocent (there’s a reason Jesus says to have faith like a child), but then become ugly through negative experience.

American evangelicalism is tragic.

Evangelicalism seeks to shape people into Christians, but only a very specific type of Christian. An ahistorical Christian with loose ties to the 2,000 year cloud of witnesses.

There are an awful lot of people who by circumstance were brought up in an evangelical environment, or found their way into evangelicalism through some other path, and have since rejected it wholesale or in part. With that, they may have very well walked away from their faith. And that is unfortunate, because much of the evangelical caricature of faith is not representative of Christianity at all.

The popular caricature of the American evangelical is surprisingly accurate. The cartoonish idea of what an evangelical believes in the mind of non-evangelicals is pretty much dead-on and looks something like this:

  • Rural or suburban
  • Republican
  • Against gay marriage (now moot)
  • Anti-abortion (moot since Roe v. Wade)
  • Pro-capital punishment
  • Pro-2nd Amendment rights
  • Pro-military
  • Doesn’t believe in evolution
  • Doesn’t believe in global warming
  • Believes in 6,000 year old Earth
  • Believes the Bible is inerrant
  • Believes in “traditional” gender roles, including: “male headship,” submission of wife to husband, preference toward the wife staying home for child-rearing, preference for the husband to be “the bread winner,” and the submission of women to men and girls to boys.

Evangelicalism prescribes a very specific way of life — a specific viewpoint on gender roles, sexuality, marriage, and politics — and that doesn’t agree with everyone. And I don’t think it should.

Furthermore, evangelicalism has a problem with how it deals with dissenting opinions in its ranks, and that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking to hear from people that have those dissenting opinions and that by exploring them have left evangelicalism for a more “progressive” expression of the Christian faith, or have left Christianity altogether, or have decided to stay despite their differences, either because of the community they’re in or for another reason.

There is much more to life than Christianity. And there is much more to Christianity than the evangelical life that was modeled for many of us.

It’s time to come to terms with a messed up subculture. One conversation at a time.

Subscribe to Exvangelical on iTunesSoundCloudGoogle Play, and anywhere else you may listen to podcasts.