Grace Emerges

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Faith. Hope. Love.

by Brad Duncan

According to the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13, in the spiritual life of following Christ, three qualities rise above all others.  There are three things we should grab onto, aspire to, and prioritize above the others.  And one of these three is the greatest of the trio, the ultimate spiritual goal.

Faith.   Hope.

These three qualities replace religion, alleviate legalism, end elitism, and overcome barriers between people. These qualities put disciplines and practices into a lower category. They rise above even worship and righteousness.  They represent a higher calling.  They represent a quality life.  Living this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love acts to reduce evil, the sin and corruption in our own hearts, the selfish self-absorption we are so prone to, and the downward spiral of using self-gratification to reduce our own pain and emptiness.  So, this life gives us the best qualities to aspire to, while reducing our worst qualities.

So what is this quality life of Faith, Hope and Love?  Like all great concepts, they are hard to define.  I can't prescribe them for anyone else, but I can relate my experience.  If you've ever tried to define Love you probably ran into the same philosophical challenges, but you have no problem recognizing it.  It's the same with Faith and Hope.  You know it when you see it.  In fact, Jesus used vastly vague examples and explanations to help expand our ideas of what it means to have faith, how to place our hope in him, and how to live a life of love that rises above sin.  I think he was trying to help us see how to live a quality life.  Need some examples?  Think of "love your enemies", the parable of the good Samaritan, and the Greatest Commandment.  Think of how he criticized the religious elite.  Think of the Beatitudes.  Vague, right?

Paul at some point got the concept, maybe during those years stuck in prison.  And when writing his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote it down.  "I get it.  The other concepts and instructions I've written all boil down to this... Live a life of Faith, Hope and Love.  Especially Love".

So back to me.  Here's what I see these qualities to mean in my life ...

Faith -- this is about trust.  It is a facet of spirituality closely tied to prayer and to our concept of God.  It is about being confident in the God we believe in, enough to trust God in a tangible way.  This faith stands in opposition to much of the reality we see with our eyes.  In spite of pain and problems, in spite of our undeniable human condition, we trust in the God who created us.  We trust in God's character.  We trust that God loves us, and out of love will act in our lives.  Trust is the cornerstone of relationships, and in a relationship with God, we must trust.  We must also have faith in God's working for good in the hearts of others.  With that faith we can trust others and partner with them to be a community of God's children.  We can trust in God through building deeper relationships, investing in the lives of others, and exposing our own vulnerability to others.

Hope -- this is about change.  Hope is meaningless without the context of our current intense needs and pains.  Life changes, things change.  Hope sees the good in others.  Hope offers forgiveness to those that have wronged us.  Hope loves enemies. Why?  Because hope is intensely aware that with God's help everyone and anything can change, and that the future can become brighter.  Hope also compels us to do work - work that will bring about positive change in the lives of others.  We can see the future being brighter simply as a result of people caring and working together to make a difference.  Hope sees the reason why we are called to care for orphans and widows, to invest in children, to fight injustice, to stand up for equality, to believe in a future without so much poverty.  In contrast, if there were no such injustice, no needs, and no pain, hope would become obsolete.  It lives only as a vision of change, where corrupt things will eventually become good things.

Love -- this is our higher calling.  A pure life is a life of love.  It nurtures compassion.  It honors others before ourselves.  It unlocks unselfishness.  It thrives on the joy of others, bringing more joy to us than if we sought after our own satisfaction.  Love is a huge revolution against society, where society is defined by norms and laws that give each of us rights and space to pursue our own happiness at the expense of others.  Love is an inverted kingdom where those that serve and offer kindness are the greatest.  With love, sin in our own hearts is defeated.  Corruption is replaced by a passion for God's way of seeing others.  As intensely as God loves us, God loves ALL.  So if we can catch a glimpse of that love, it becomes contagious to our soul as well.  We love because God does.  Because love brings joy.  Because love is the very definition of God's character, and we long to be like God in that regard.  We are called to a higher standard of life, which is defined by our love.

These things may make me sound like a hopeless optimist or like I'm recklessly ignorant of life, like my faith and hope could come crumbling down the first time I face any real adversity.  But those of you that know me know that my life right now is a huge battle with a disease that is keeping my wife in bed many days, and causing her a lot of pain, not to mention the stress and uncertainty of the daily grind of taking care of medical needs.  Not to mention above that trying to keep focusing on our children and helping them have a happy and healthy childhood.  No, I'm not new to adversity.  That's why I have a right to speak about hope and faith.  They are tangible to me.  They are how I live in contrast to the hard things I see with my eyes.  The adversity my family has felt leads us to a higher calling, a life where love rules rather than pain.  If anything this perspective helps me see more clearly past the petty things in the world that cry for our attention.  It helps me see where the real quality in life lies.  Like Paul I am ready to declare that above all spiritual qualities, three things rise above the rest: Faith.  Hope.  And Love, the greatest of all.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Freedom !

Re-posting this from Facebook, something posted and authored by Jim Palmer.  Love this!  It describes so well how I see the world...

"God is not a belief-system.
Jesus is not a religion.
The good news is not a ticket to Heaven.
Church is not an address.
The Bible is not a book of doctrines.
Transformation is not behavior modification.
Community is not a meeting.
Grace has no exceptions.
Ministry is not a program.
Art is not carnal.
Women are not inferior.
Our humanity is not the enemy.
Sinner is not our identity.
Love is not a theory.
Peace is not a circumstance.
Science is not secular.
Sex is not filthy.
The herelife is not a warm-up for the afterlife.
The world is not without hope.
There is no "us" and "them."
Tattoos are not evil.
Loving the earth is not satanic.
Seeing the divine in all things is not heretical.
Self-actualization is not self-worship.
Feelings are not dangerous and unreliable.
The mind is not infallible."

You can find this post on my Facebook page

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading

I thought I would re-post this article from Christian Piatt, showing the best Christian blogs.  Thanks Christian!  And congratulations The God Article for making #1 !

25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading (Readers’ Choice, 2013)

After more than 33,000 hits, 400 nominations and thousands of votes, we have the Reader’s Choice list of 25 Christian Blogs You Should Be reading. I was particularly pleased to see so many women represented in the list this year. Could be much more culturally diverse, but with respect to gender and theological views, it does cover quite a bit of ground.
Though folks continued to vote and nominate well after voting was closed, this was the official list of the 25 most favored by the voting public as of Sunday evening, August 25th, 2013 at 9PM Pacific time.
Yes, there are many worthy blogs that did not make this list, and yes, there are a good number of surprises and newcomers. My hope is that this will serve as a resource for those seeking to expand their experience of faith-related thought and conversation, and that all who stumble across it will concede that this is only a sampling of the fantastic working being done in the blogosphere every day in the name of the Christian faith.
Stay tuned for my “Editor’s Picks” of blogs you should be reading, later this week.
  1. The God Article - Progressive Christian Blog, hosted by the Rev. Mark Sandlin. Mark writes on matters of theology, current events, social justice and politics, all from a conversational, progressive Christian perspective.

  2. Rachel Held Evans – Rachel is a widely known author and blogger who speaks to issues of gender identity and roles in the church and who acts as a bridge between mainline/progressive and evangelical Christians.

  3. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary – A plainspoken blogger, Jamie Wright is brutally honest about her imperfections, and equally passionate about spreading the gospel.

  4. Nadia Bolz Weber - Known as the Sarcastic Lutheran, Nadia is a fresh voice that blends traditional Lutheran sensibilities with a funny, irreverent take on how to put our faith into action in a rapidly changing world.

  5. John Shore - John claims to have been “trying God’s patience since 1958.” He’s passionate about matters of social justice, and helping point out what he believes needs to change about present-day Christianity.

  6. Mercy Not Sacrifice – A less-than-perfect methodist pastor who wrestles with theology, Bible study and current events, trying to discern the call of Christ in present experience.

  7. Sarah Bessey - Sarah writes about her own faith and spirituality, about what love, mothering, ecclesiology, theology, women’s issues, social justice and “pretty much everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company.”

  8. Sparks from the Soul – Maggie Johnson is passionate about bringing hope and freedom to the many forms of oppression: women who have been told that theology is masculine and therefore not for them, those who have been or are being abused, the one who is bitter because the church hurt them deeply.

  9. Red Letter Christians – An ensemble effort of bloggers, along with Tony Campolo, taking Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

  10. Redemption Pictures – Micah Murray shares his evolving journey from a God of judgment to one of abundant grace and love. He believes life is a movie, and God is the director.

  11. Sojourners – An ensemble of bloggers writing alongside founder Jim Wallis about matters of social justice, faith in the public square and effective engagement with politics.

  12. The American Jesus – Zack Hunt’s satirical take on how we in America tend to remake Jesus in our own image. This blog is dedicated to all the silly, absurd, serious, crazy, depressing, hopeful, tragic, and strange things that make up the peculiar phenomenon of American Christianity.

  13. Jayson Bradley – Jayson is both drawn to the Gospel and repelled by the way it’s been co-opted and misrepresented to cultures that desperately need it. It’s because of this dissonance that he writes the things that I do, while also readily admitting he’s guilty of many of the very things he critiques.

  14. Peter Enns – Peter is interested in helping people rethink biblical Christianity. He is a biblical scholar, interested in helping people more meaningfully engage the Bible and how ancient Scripture intersects with modern thought.

  15. Krista Dalton – Krista is a self-identified Christian heretic, immersed in the study of Jewish history. She reviews books, shares personal reflections, and writes on her experience of both Judaism and Christianity.

  16. Homebrewed Christianity - Since 2008, Homebrewed Christianity has been bringing you the best nerdy audiological ingredients so you can brew your own faith.  You will find conversations between friends, theologians, philosophers, and scholars of all stripes.

  17. Unfundamentalist Christians – an ensemble blog effort, founded by John Shore, committed to challenging Christendom in America while promoting a progressive – yet explicitly Christ-centered – expression of faith in today’s world.

  18. Formerly Fundie - Former Christian right advocate Benjamin Corey shares insights, hopes and laments about American Christianity and culture. He writes of his break with fundamentalist religion and his awakening into a different kind of Christianity.

  19. A Deeper Story- an ensemble of Christian writers who believe that it’s easy to tell someone your opinion, but hard work telling them your story. This place, where stories about issues close to the heart of God are shared, asks the question: what if we could toss aside the brutal blunt force of our cemented opinion and engage the senses instead by painting pictures with words and igniting imagination?

  20. Theoblogy - Tony Jones poses challenging questions about theology and Biblical interpretation, while also challenging socially-held norms about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Jones is a theologian and practitioner who is not afraid to venture where many other bloggers don’t dare tread.

  21. Experimental Theology – author and blogger Richard Beck writes primarily on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice.

  22. Jonathan Martin –  Martin leads the liars, dreamers, and misfits of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation, in Charlotte, NC. He’s a product of the “Christ-haunted landscape” of the American South, sweaty revivals, and hip-hop. He writes about about the beauty of God, being one of God’s beloved, and about finding new ways to be human.

  23. Jesus Creed – Author and blogger Scot McKnight writes mainly on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus. He shares sermons, lectures and blog posts about the intersection of science and faith and the integration of spiritual practices into daily life.

  24. Christena Cleveland – Christena’s passion is to help the body of Christ find the power of unity. Using social psychological insights, biblical principles and practical applications, she equips people – from head to heart to hands – to do the work of unity and reconciliation.

  25. ReKnew – Author and blogger Greg Boyd invites believers and skeptics alike to ask tough questions and consider a renewed picture of God. ReKnew believes it’s time to thoroughly re-think the Christian faith—especially our picture of God and our understanding of his kingdom.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's All About Grace (at the middle school)

by Brad Duncan

Hello all you fans, patiently waiting for me to post again - just kidding! - but it has been a while and I'm back at it again.

I had an interesting experience at my son's graduation & awards event this week at the middle school.  The event was about 1 hour of appreciating the kids in the eighth grade class, as they leave and move on to high school.  A slide show reminisced on the good times and on the class field trip to Washington DC, this year.  Then came the awards given in each subject, for the best student in the whole school at such-and-such, and the best score in such-and-such test.  I've come to think that the academic awards are great - for that kid - but sure do leave out all the other average achievers.  Anyway that wasn't the interesting experience, that was just business as usual.

The interesting experience was the students who won various awards for character and leadership, etc.  The teachers praised these students for being such great kids all around, and such good examples.  But what were their notable qualities, that stood above the rest?  What traits was the school the most proud of in the rising generation?  In a word - Grace. The school didn't use this word, but in fact it's what they were praising this kids for.

The kids were praised when they showed equality to people of all types, and went out of their way to include others.  One of the awards specifically was related to helping to break down barriers of inequality and foster inclusion of people with differences.  The school valued this type of behavior as being a model for others to follow.  The school's "we stand together" group or something like that, was an extra-curricular club that tried to tackle issues around inequality in the school and community.  Though not specifically mentioned, no-doubt the word "inclusion" indicated that they grappled with prejudice against gays, as well as social class prejudices.

The kids were also praised for kindness, social activism and social justice.  If they volunteered to help the under-privileged, they were recognized for it.  They were models for others to follow.  Kids were also praised for offering encouragement and support to their classmates who struggled in certain subjects.  Being a good student was GOOD, but being a good student that had compassion and kindness toward the less-proficient students, was GREAT!  Caring gets some credit at school these days.

Maybe there is hope for the next generation -- instead of just teaching them to compete and win, school seems to value, with their awards and praises anyway, the student that cares.  Isn't that refreshing?

So, back to Grace - what's so refreshing about this experience?  I have to go to a secular school ceremony for kindness, justice and inclusiveness to be praised as being the hallmark of leadership in the next generation.  I have to the secular world, rather than to the church and Christians, to hear about kindness and Grace.  My town community cares about Grace more than my Christian community, in some ways.  When's the last time that you heard Christians were praised for showing these qualities?  Aren't Christians praised instead for their discipline and spirituality, and how they seek after God's heart?  Yet, the discipline and spirituality should lead them to Grace - to leading others in kindness, justice and equality.  Seeking God more sincerely should lead us toward unconditional love for others - and not just to personal spirituality.  Now THAT would be refreshing!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chap. 8, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 8

The Role of Theology

The role of the theology is to answer our man questions about God, in a way that we can live in knowledge of God as humans, properly relating to God, living the best life possible, and growing to spiritual maturity.

As I described in the previous chapter, theology answers the main questions about God.  These can be rephrased as:
  1. How does God view mankind?
  2. How should people view and relate to God?
  3. What is evil?  And how should people react to evil without and corruption within?  How does God redeem us from evil?
  4. What is good?  And how can people do good to live in a right way in God's eyes?
  5. What is true?  What is God's wisdom?  What should we believe?  Where does truth come from?
  6. How should God's children treat one another?
  7. What is heaven?  What is the eternal impact of our relationship with God?  
As God's creation, we are like God in being multi-faceted.  We have a spiritual component of self, that we know very little about, but which leads us to connect to God and to answer these questions.  These questions are life for us.  Everything else is just the daily work of living, but connections to God and other people are what we really consider as "life".  And theology is about people as well as God.  Good and evil, truth and love, evangelism and mission refer to how people act with regard to one another, not just in regard to God.  As they say, "no man is an island".  Spirituality is about connection.

So, theology give us truth, and we build our spiritual life upon it.

From Theology to Bricks

In the Parable of the Golden Bricks (Chapter 1), I proposed the concept that God has revealed truth  throughout the ages in the form of Golden Bricks, key principles that we could build our lives upon.  I also proposed the concept that man's bricks were also created based on human ideas.  The bricks co-existed.  Together they were used to build religions and define the relationship between God and man.  

So what are these bricks?  Let's look at concepts that make up the subjects of Christian theology, and that we use to build our religious structure.  Here is a random sampling of them:

Bricks in the Theology Wall:

grace judgment reward punishment salvation redemption faith humility trust acceptance dependence righteousness worship repentance justification atonement freedom renewal responsibility transformation obedience authority discipline submission surrender truth honesty wisdom knowledge ideals values kindness mission peace compassion vision evangelism defending convincing winning life contentment joy investment commitment relationship treasure reward eternity

These bricks that I have listed represent many of the higher concepts in the Bible and in our belief system.  Many others could be added to this wall.  They seem to be good, important and structurally sound.  The wall should hold together well, built with these bricks.  Almost all of them are generally good things, like grace and faith.  A few of them catch your eye as being not so good, but probably necessary, like judgment and punishment.  And a few others are in-between, like evangelism, winning and defending, they can be positive or negative depending on how they are used and how far they are taken.  In the moderate mindset, these types of values, represented in these bricks, live in careful balance.  They are heavily defended, but also carefully defined.  They create a thin delicate line in the sand that cannot be crossed.

Looking at this wall of bricks, does it look familiar?  Is it comfortable territory for you?  Do you readily know what to do with most of these concepts, how to define them and place them in such as way that they form a structure around your faith?  Do they define your interaction with God?  Do they help define who is "in" and who is "out"?  Do they help you decide how to treat others?

Picking Some Bricks

In order to dissect the moderate wall, I will pick some representative bricks that address the main questions about God.  Not only are these bricks representative, they also form opposing pairs, creating a kind of paradox in our theology.  Here are the bricks I want to discuss:

How does God view mankind?

Paradox 1: grace vs. judgment

How should people view and relate to God?

Paradox 2: trust vs. righteousness

What is evil? 

Paradox 3: repentance vs. justification

What is good? 

Paradox 4: transformation vs. obedience

What is true?  

Paradox 5: wisdom vs. knowledge

How should God's children treat one another?

Paradox 6: kindness vs. evangelism

What are heaven and eternity?   

Paradox 7: freedom vs. reward

Intrigued yet?  I'll explore each question and paradox in the following chapters. These bricks will help us understand and possible deconstruct the Moderate Wall.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chap. 7, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 7

Our World View

What is the role of theology in determining our view of ourselves and the world? How are we using our basic views of God and the world we live in to construct doctrines, interpret the Bible, and define our identity? Theology is extremely important because it sets the stage with basic assumptions and beliefs that we then build our world upon. Our churches are built on theology in such an integral way, that if our theology were to change, our churches would change. In practical terms, we often treat others the way that we think God treats us. So emulate the character of God. So our theology determines our attitudes and behavior.

Consider how these subjects that are addressed by theology:
  • our view of God, and of how God views us
  • how that leads us to view one another
  • our view of the Bible and its role in revealing God
  • our view of Jesus and his role in revealing God
  • our view of redemption
  • our view of spiritual reality, our concepts of Earth, universe, Heaven and Hell

These are the subjects form our view of our existence. Our human world view, and our spiritual world view. Once we have established this world view, we can only see God through it, and not ever around or above it. If we have some unjustified ideas in this world view, but defend them as being necessary and solid, then we can easily construct a world that is nicely put-together but just too simple, too methodical, too modern, too rigid. It explains everything nicely, but it has no room for research, for expansion, for listening. Do we really know everything there is to know? Can we really pin God down and say “that settles it”? Do we really know what we know? I’m not claiming that all truth is unknowable and out of reach, but what I am claiming is that if truth depends on a living, passionate being far more creative and intelligent than us, then we do not know everything. Truth comes from God. Truth is within God. God’s will is just that - the choices of a dynamic personality. We cannot properly construct a map of God’s identity, God’s plans and God’s view of us and sin, unless we leave giant flexible gaps that allow God to, well, be God, and make his or her own decisions! We just can’t nail God down. The single biggest mistake we make when constructing our world view is settling out inflexible truths and building walls with them. We don’t leave any room for the possibility that these truths may be wrong. Then we don’t see that what we've built is a flawed assembly of God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. It stands for both good things, like God’s love, and corrupt things like man’s power and control over his enemies.

The Main Questions

Of course just by stating these things so strongly, I am declaring my own view of truth, and I am aware of the potential irony. While I do believe in deconstruction, the removal of assumptions behind widely held truths, I also believe in reconstruction, building a way of understanding that can stand up honestly with its assumptions exposed. In my view, we can construct a useful and honest theology about God, based on what God has revealed. Like the people of Kog, we can build a Bridge of Peace over the rubble left from our assumptions. This type of honest theology can successfully face these tough questions about the nature of God and man:
  • God’s view of man: How does God view mankind, and what does that imply about our relationship with God?
  • Man’s view of God: How should man view God and relate to God? What is man’s response to knowledge of God?
  • Man’s view of evil, sin, and redemption from corruption: How should man view the evil that so evidently is present in the world? How does man view God’s role in the struggle of good vs. evil? And how does man change, being redeemed from corruption within himself?
  • Man’s view of good: How should man do good? What good things should he do? What is good? What are right spiritual practices? In theology this is often called orthopraxy - and means the practical things that we do because of our beliefs in and about God.
  • Man’s view of truth and wisdom: What is right and true? What is God’s wisdom and how is it understood? What do we believe? What is the role of wisdom vs. knowledge, and faith vs. belief, having truth vs. being right? In theology this is often called orthodoxy - and means the set of beliefs that we hold true in and about God.
  • Man’s view of man: In light of our view of God, how should we act toward our fellow man? What are the principles of right treatment and right behavior? What is our vision, mission, and purpose in the world around us, given what we believe about God?
  • Man’s view of eternity and spirituality: What do we believe about our place in the universe? What is Earth, Heaven and Hell in God’s view of all things? What is our eternal relationship with God, and how do we participate in the spiritual reality while living as humans?

The Role of Love

It is interesting to note that the word “love” was not mentioned above in these tough questions of perspective of man and God. And yet the concepts of love are everywhere in these questions, as shown below:

  • God’s view of man: God loves humans
  • Man’s view of God: Humans love God
  • Man’s view of evil, sin, and redemption from corruption: Humans stop doing bad things out of love for God
  • Man’s view of good: Humans change and do good things out of love for God
  • Man’s view of truth and wisdom: Humans understand truth only by seeing through God’s eyes of love
  • Man’s view of man: Humans loves others, “Love one another” is the singular command
  • Man’s view of eternity and spirituality: God and mankind in an eternal loving relationship

One way to attempt to shed old assumptions and reconstruct our beliefs on firm ground is to base our understanding of God more prominently on the life of Christ, and view the role of Jesus as a guide to God’s character, God’s will, and God’s relationship with mankind. Since Jesus is God, when we follow Jesus we are emulating the character of God! We are doing good, we are doing right. We are building what God is building. We are fighting what God is fighting. We can simplify the role of theology as being the guidance on how we should believe and act, to be like God ourselves, by following Christ in the way of love. Certainly building on love will create a solid foundation that will stand the test of time. And whatever we build on love will lead only to peace with others.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chap. 6, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 6

The Berlin Wall

What could the future hold for a global Christian church after the dividing wall crumbles like the Berlin wall?  What new structure could emerge, that is still fully Christian in its identity and yet not poised in opposition to the world outside, not trying to either defend against it or to rise up to dominate it?  For this thought exercise, can you think of other structures in our society that prosper by embracing diversity rather than isolation?  Could the church appear more like a diversity-welcoming contributor to the world around it, a productive member of its global community?  Like a flourishing city, could the church be at its best when it engages with surrounding communities for mutual benefit? Could the church actively campaign to attract people with vastly different backgrounds who are willing to join for a common cause?  Could it garner support for making the world a better place and weeding out injustice wherever it may be found, all in the name of Christ?  Could it partner with the world around it to alleviate suffering and to extend the hand of love and compassion, to glorify God by following Christ in word and deed?

This dream is a possible future of the church, if it will give up wall-building, and instead seek peace with the outside world, replacing hostility with hospitality, replacing protection with active welcome.  However, this dream requires cost and is not without risk.  We must give up certain comforts to live with greater diversity.  We must give up being right all the time, for one thing, and approach the search for truth with a greater degree of humility, allowing disparate views of the same scriptures, principles and human values.  Unity will not come from a common creed.  It will come from common circumstances.  We are all together in this struggle of life as God's children, and we must make the most of it.  Religion, traditions, and identity are all just tools to help us find God and to find our true potential as humans.  We must rise above differences, and embrace commonality.  For those of us that are already members of the religious elite, it means that we must give up our preferred status.  In analogy to the times of Christ, we must be equals with prostitutes and tax-collectors.  In our times, maybe that means being equals with people of other religions, people of various sexual identifications, people of other countries, classes, and cultures.  Who in our world could truly claim superiority over others?  Those that have tried it have been proven woefully wrong (I don't need to name examples here).  Who in today's world is the most worthy of God's love and love from their fellow humans?  Who can honestly believe themselves to be the elite at the expense of all others?  Surely our world view and human intelligence no longer supports such outrageous fantasy, such beliefs that all people are not created equal with all others.

A Bridge of Peace

It is time for the church to pave the way, to lead by following the example of Christ, and to point others toward the way of PEACE with all others.  Like the kingdom of Kog, we must use our gifts from God to build bridges and roads, rather than walls.  We should never use truth to dominate others.  We should use truth to guide us in building God's true kingdom in this world by following Christ in the way of peace.  To do so, we must give up our elitism and embrace the common man.

Organized as an institution of peace, the local church could achieve much more in the kingdom of God.  Consider how this type of church could function in areas of community, compassion, acceptance, and seeking God:

Ironically, when we spend all of our energy protecting our community from outside intrusion and maintaining the status quo, we actually spend too little of our energy investing in one another.  Imagine how the church could function if its primary focus was on people.  Following Christ and worshiping God, by caring for one another.  What do people need?  They need authentic friends, who will listen, who will share their lives together, and who will step up to help them when challenges in life arise.  People do not need so much to be shepherded and policed by a hierarchical leadership structure or a rigid institution.  The institution does not love people.  People love people.  We cannot just appoint some staff positions and pay those people to do the loving for us.  Community is about living out the kingdom of God on Earth. 

Furthermore, people do not need to be told what and how to believe, they need to be encouraged to believe, and to think for themselves.  Faith is grown in the fertile soil of questions and needs.  Give people freedom to seek God and to share their journeys with one another, and they will find God in a more authentic way than if they are given doctrines and prohibitions.  The way of peace is a way of freedom.  In my opinion, to function as a community, a church does not even need a creed, a statement of faith.  It does not need lists of doctrines and prohibitions.  It needs to unite people behind a common cause, not enforce standards of membership.  Uniformity is not a goal to be sought after, but is a sign of failed community.

In the way of peace, the focus on people loving people extends equally to those outside the church.  We should invest in people.  The church should stand up against injustice, where ever it is found, and bring compassion to those that need it.  By stopping the investment in building walls, the church will have more resources available to establish community programs, care for children, help the hungry, advocate for those lacking basic health care and education, work to liberate those in bondage, and be a safe haven for the hurting and oppressed.  This type of mission is not a pipe dream.  There are many organizations in our world who are already successfully doing these missions.  Some of them affiliated with religious organizations, and many of them not.  The global Christian church is a massive and powerful force.  If it united around the cause of compassion, it would change the face of the world for good.  

Why doesn't it do that now?  What is worth investing in so much more than Community and Compassion?  Maybe our preoccupation with building walls takes too much of our energy, leaving only a small fraction available for caring for others.

Without the wall to divide people, the way of peace is able to accept people with differences.  Churches should have an active welcome policy.  People that may not think they fit in should be readily reassured that they are always welcome, with no strings attached, and loved unconditionally.  What better way is there to show people God's love?  When we ditch the prohibitions and statements of faith, and instead declare active welcome to all, then we also benefit.  We learn from those differences.  We grow and prosper.  We tackle the real challenges that come with diversity, like disparate classes and cultures and ways of seeing things.  We teach our children to be tolerant, understanding, even open-minded.  Like when we go off to college, we benefit from meeting all kinds of people that we don't agree with or don't readily understand!  The church can be a mixed up collage of people, rather than a place of homogeneity.  The church should teach that judgment is a sin that leads only to treating people poorly.  Instead it should teach that acceptance benefits everyone, and is the way of God.  God accepts us the way we are, not waiting for perfection or conformity.  God's love does not have strings attached.  It is unconditional  Otherwise, how could God ever love us, much less like us!  If God can love humans, so can we.

Seeking God
Finally, the way of peace leads others to relationship with God.  By removing our obligation to protect God from sinners and outside intrusion, we can focus on our need for God.  We can seek God in the lives and eyes of hurting people, in our compassion for them. We can seek God in listening to others that struggle spiritually and who seek truth and answers.  We can worship God by building a kingdom of goodness and kindness.  We can seek God authentically and without reservation, when we abandon the religious red tape, the fights over doctrines, and the need for institutionalized worship.  When it comes to spirituality, we should focus on one thing, just one thing: God and humans, loving each other.  

The way of peace allows this kind of focus on people and seeking God by abandoning the walls that divide people, by tearing them down and building bridges to connect people to one another.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chap. 5, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 5

The Kingdom vs. The World

To further understand the metaphor of the wall, we need to look at the division that it creates and perpetuates. What is outside this wall? What is the surrounding environment that the church exists within? What is the outside world, and who populates it? Our definition of the “outsider” must be as strong as our definition of “insider”. Our beliefs about separateness are what keep the wall in place. So, separate from whom, separate from what? What is the benefit and distinction of being inside the wall vs. outside of it? Clearly this is a matter of doctrines and prohibitions. Those outside the wall are addressed by our doctrine as those lacking God’s acceptance, and as those that do not uphold our prohibitions. So outside the wall, the world is teeming with God-rejected evil-doers, in contrast to those inside the wall, who are God-accepted good-doers. Since nobody is perfect, and there is some good in everyone, these lines are somewhat gray, but are firmly held nevertheless to create a dichotomy of “Us” vs. “Them” in our universe. Those inside the wall and those without. The Kingdom vs. the World.

Is this really our intention, though? Is our mission and purpose as followers of Christ to be the lone bastion of goodness in the dark world? To shine our light brightly within our own walls, so the world outside will see God’s glory and come to us to be transformed? This does not seem to be the way of Christ. The Greatest Commandment of Jesus was to “Love God. Love Others,”, and certainly his life showed how to live this out. Jesus showed by example that we must embrace the “Other” and love the “Other”. He taught lengthy lessons on how to do this, like the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the good Samaritan. He showed it by dining with the socially-rejected evil-doers of his day, and by trying his best to save people like the woman caught in adultery from the self-righteous wrath of the religious elite. Isn’t there a way to follow Christ by accepting outsiders, and yet still keep our primary identity as Christians? I believe there is -- by simply following Christ. If we act like he did, we must abandon our walls that separate people into categories. We must let people into our hearts. We must learn to see people the way that God does. He does not have “good children” and “bad children.” He only has “children,” with their good and bad traits on full display. Can you even imagine an earthly parent being content to allow only their “good children” inside the house to be loved and protected, while the “bad children” sleep outside? Maybe the bad children would see how good their siblings are inside the house, and repent and shape up? Certainly not! I don’t see it working that way. In fact, I’m sure we as a society would punish parents that acted like that and take away all their children to be raised in foster care! A parent loves his/her children. And God commands us to love each other, because we are all God’s children.

They are Us

Once again, who are these people of the world? What does our doctrine say about them? How does God see them? I will delve into the doctrines that hold up the Moderate Wall and split the world into “Us” and “Them” categories in further chapters. But for now, consider who these people are. In many cases, they are our (literal) brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, children and other relatives. They are our co-workers and friends. They are the people of our towns, cities, countries. In other words, they are “Us”! Any distinction that you can make in people is blurry and filled with exceptions and doubts. Spiritually speaking, the only distinctions between people are the ones that people choose for themselves. People can identify as Christians and can attend a church, so they self-identify as part of the inside group. Or people can identify as atheists and self-identify as part of the outside group. Then there is the ambiguously-identified group of people in the middle that do not make it easy for us to decide where they stand. But can an outsider follow Christ? Can an insider refuse to follow Christ? Can an honest man who doesn’t like church be good, kind, and seek God with all his heart? Can those that question the existence of God (both inside and outside the church) at the same time be pleasing to God? Does God enjoy the presence of people, whether they question or accept? The point is this: when we can no longer create clear definitions of “Us” and “Them”, then the wall separating us crumbles. 

When the people on the outside are indistinguishable from those on the inside, then the wall is simply a mechanism for self-identification. It is a construct. It is a club membership card, and nothing more! If we are not different, then we are separate only by choice. We choose this life of isolation, to protect ourselves and our own comfort from the inconveniences of embracing people that are different than us. In other words, we are benefiting from disobeying the law of Christ! We refuse to follow him into the world outside, and we sanction it with our worship of Christ. This is contradictory behavior, founded in wrong beliefs about how we are so special that we are better than someone else. If we are to follow Christ we must abandon the wall that divides us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chap. 4, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 4

Why a Moderate Wall? 

In the last chapter I tried to answer the question “Why a wall?”. Why does an isolating but protecting wall describe the position of modern Christianity? In this chapter I want to delve into the modifier -- “Why a moderate wall?”. I don’t if most modern Christians even consider themselves as moderates, or if Christianity would be happy to proclaim itself as upholding the moderate position, but let me explain. To explain I’ll show that many in modern Christianity are indeed upholding a moderate, mainstream, centrist, rational position that is a delicate balance between the liberal left and the fundamentalist right. It is not a criticism. It is a realistic assessment of where many of us stand, those of us anyway that are not taking more radical positions on the left or the right. In any case, where ever you may stand in particular, you will probably agree that the moderate position is a very popular one. It is a position I would like to explore in much more depth.


Fundamentalism is a very real problem in Christianity. As usually tends to occur, progress is usually met with reactionary resistance. The modern trend for Christianity to allow more flexibility and to get along nicely with culture and society has of course been challenged by a strengthening of the far right who seeks to maintain the stricter, more dogmatic, version of Christianity from previous ages. Fundamentalism is often accompanied by dominionism, in which the far right seeks to forcibly spread its dogmatic ideals. Fundamentalism in Christianity takes the wisdom of God provided in the Bible and turns it into a Tower of Control, an ax to chop away the unwanted limbs, and a spear to dominate its surrounding environment. Fundamentalism is the same evil today that Jesus fought tooth and nail during his ministry. If there was anything that Jesus was the most clearly against, it was the religion-based domination and exploitation that he saw in the Jewish teachers of his day. To Jesus, this kind of religion was the worst kind of sin.

I was taught not to act or believe this way. When many of us Christians read the teachings of Jesus, we learn that he wanted transformation of the heart that made living by merciless laws unnecessary, and that enforcing laws on others is not kindness, but rather a kind of injustice. I was taught to enforce only the basics (doctrines, sins, etc.), because without these my relationship with God was in jeopardy, but to as great an extent as possible I was to tolerate other people’s opinions and actions, and not to ever force my (absolutely correct) beliefs on them.  Mainstream Christianity is not fundamentalist   On the other hand, there are far right factions that are clearly bent on domination, and as far as I am concerned they should just pack it up and go home.  Their way is based on trying to relive the past successes of domination of their fellow man.  They should get with the times and embrace their place in the world, which is along-side others instead of crushing others under their boots.  And this is all saying it nicely.  Fundamentalism is injustice when enforced on others.  Period.  

As I said many Christians, like 99% of the ones I know, would agree.  So, modern Christianity has largely abandoned the tower of control as a failed structure.  Like the people of Kog, this tower was toppled and lay in rubble until the new, more moderate structure of modern Christianity was built.  Meanwhile some smaller pockets of resistance keep their towers of control in tact.


So, the modern Christianity I am talking about is not on the fundamentalist right.  But is it on the liberal left?  Clearly not.  I speak from personal experience -- that same 99% of Christians that I know who are anti-fundamentalist, are also anti-liberal.  They uphold certain doctrines, beliefs, values, and views whether spiritual, political, or social, that are conservative and non-negotiable.  So, in regard to the those in the world that are more flexible on these ideals, modern Christians tend to uphold the more conservative position.  Obviously I am required to overgeneralize in order the make this statement, and there are some of us Christians who, like myself, are not conservative or moderate at all, and want to have our own category called "progressive" but are also fine being called liberals.

More specifically and more practically, why is modern Christianity anti-liberal?  Christians take a strongly conservative position when it comes to the Bible.  The essential tenets of belief are distilled from the Bible in such a way that doctrines and prohibitions can be listed along with their social implications in order to form the guiding documents (usually a constitution) of the local church or church governing body.  There is enough consensus across various churches that Christians can go easily from one church to another and feel at home.  In my case, I could find a non-denominational church (many of them) in any city that I visited or lived in that held to the same basic beliefs.  Of course, having firm beliefs does not necessarily make someone anti-liberal, unless they could be considered anti-liberal for their inflexibility for discussion and lack of tolerance of other views.  But beyond their inflexibility, the beliefs themselves of modern Christians tend to separate those Christians into a special category of favor with God where they are separate from the outside world, and protected from intrusion by those that commit sinful practices.  Christians believe themselves to be "Separate but equal" in society and in the eyes of God, and they believe that they should enforce norms of behavior in their churches in order to maintain this separateness from the outside world.  Without the dividing wall of separateness, they believe they will no longer be distinct from their fellow man, and will in a way cease to be Christian.  Without being "special" they cannot even be saved to spend eternity with God in heaven.  To get back to the question of anti-liberalism, most Christians believe that liberal views are blurry and flexible, if not fully opposed, to the views that hold up the separateness of Christians.  In other words, liberalism is opposed to the wall, and embraces the world outside, and an anti-liberal stance is needed to maintain the structure and institution of the modern church.

I will explore the specific doctrines that hold it up, but as you can see, this separateness is aptly described as a Moderate Wall.  A wall that stands for the doctrines and prohibitions of the modern Christian, that allow the modern Christian to be separate and different from the world outside, and at the same time making him or her in a special class in the eyes of God.  To give up this wall is to give up identity as well as salvation itself.  Thus the wall is firmly defended.  

But what if many of these doctrines are wrong?  What if in the face of scrutiny they are found to be opposed to the very message of Christ, and that following Christ would be better accomplished by believing something else?  What if, some of the tenets do not stand the test of time in the ages to come?  What will happen to this moderate wall?  Maybe, just maybe, the moderate wall of modern Christianity will give way, and something else will be built in its place.

Previous Chapters

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chap. 3, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 3

Three Metaphors

In the last chapter the three metaphors of community were described: The Tower of Control, The Isolating Wall, and the Bridge of Peace. The moderate position is the isolating wall. Compared to the tower of control, it does not seek control and domination of the outside world to as great a degree. But compared to the bridge of peace, the isolating wall protects the community inside and their ideals from outside intrusion. It does not embrace peace or hospitality to the people outside. Instead, it only welcomes people to come in and join them - if and only if they can conform to the standards and norms of the community that keep the wall in place. The hope of the community is that they will “stand for something” in the dark world around them, by representing all that is true and right. By standing for what they believe, others will see, come to their senses, and come and join them. In this way the community will keep vitality, growing and prospering. New ideas will enter the community slowly and after careful screening. The moderate position is a careful one.

Why a Wall?

If the Moderate Wall accurately describes the modern Christian community and culture, what sustains this moderate position? And why does the metaphor of an isolating wall fit so well to describe the moderate position? In my opinion, modern Christian culture builds walls by elevating certain concepts to the level that they can and must be enforced, while relaxing constraints on other concepts. The moderate wall is made of ideas. Ideas about human values and rights. Ideas about God and the redemption of mankind. Ideas about the specific role of the Bible in guiding modern Christians and Christian communities.

Like the people of Kog, modern Christianity firmly embraces the golden concepts revealed by God throughout history, and exemplified in the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, golden teachings that should lead only to love, kindness and hospitality. But modern Christianity also allows ideas to flourish that lead to power, control, domination, seclusion, anger, and even hatred of enemies. If you disagree with this assessment, watch CNN or read a book of history of the 20th century. Did the church and Christianity of the modern era exemplify the teachings and life of Christ? Will it be known primarily for its kindness? Or rather will it be known for its attempts at domination?

Many Christians try to have it both ways. We embrace both kindness and a kind of domination. We allow these two notions to remain juxtaposed, carefully positioned and balanced, to maintain order and control. In other words, to keep the church and Christians from going out of control. Flexibility about certain issues can be allowed, issues that don’t disrupt or threaten the community to as great a degree. In terms of Bible beliefs, this translates into “Articles of Faith” and “Creeds”, which are statements of faith about things that are non-negotiable. Additional items are usually enforced as well, as a list of prohibitions coming from the Old or New Testament. Topics not covered by these statements of faith and lists of prohibitions are generally flexible. Of course these lists are dependent on which church you enter, and which decade you enter it in. As a classic example, most modern Christians of my generation (I was born in 1970) were not allowed to swear or drink alcohol. Now, the current generation allows swearing and drinking to be more a matter of opinion. Certainly, opinions are offered, but if you swear or drink a beer, the deacons of the church will not appear at your house carrying stones. On the other hand, I have heard from many questioning Christians about the pain and rejection they have felt if they question the assumptions of faith and salvation, heaven and hell, literal and rigid doctrines, etc. These beliefs figure prominently in the constitutions (governing documents) of churches, and if you question them, you may literally get a visit from the deacons or elders, carrying stones in their every word.

As the post-modern era sweeps over us, the modern rigidity of ideas has started to fail. But to uphold the boundaries of truth and enforce the statements of faith, churches are still fighting back. Instead of chastising those that question, it is more likely in some communities that you will have to put up more subtle enforcement of cultural norms. Outside views are simply ignored. Inside views are regularly reinforced. Controversy is almost entirely avoided on any topic of importance. The church becomes a place of common ideas - “If you agree, come here. If you don’t agree, then leave or be quiet”. On the other hand, debates in the church tend to focus on topics not covered in the statement of faith or list of prohibitions, topics like how to worship, how to spend money, and what type of building to build. Personalities, clashes, power struggles, and shallow bickering are the focus of many conversations, whereas real topics of confusion and conflict about faith and God, are rare and rigid. If you are a modern Christian, where can you go to discuss your doubts and spiritual problems? Do you have a safe haven for that kind of constructive conversation? Hopefully you can find that with friends or smaller settings, like community groups, Bible study groups, or youth groups, but it is not likely to be found through the main functions of the institution, because the institution does not value that kind of interchange, except for the purpose of convincing people of what to believe, thereby enforcing the wall that holds it together.

Faith and Paradox

To take it a step further, I believe that the modern wall is a construct of our faith and theology. This construct is built through acceptance of paradox. In the modern era after the industrial revolution, the world is defined by laws and concepts, that together form the machine and fabric of the universe. Some things are not well understood, so they are simply accepted, but assumed that under further research, or “someday in heaven” everything will make sense and add up nicely. Modern faith is built on systematic analysis and faith that there is complete order in the universe. Faith is acceptance of paradoxes that we see today, in the hope that someday the contradictions will be mitigated through greater understanding or wisdom. In my view, this acceptance of paradox is what allows notions like love, grace, kindness and following Christ, to stand as equal peers alongside notions of judgement, protection, control and conquest. Both are deemed necessary to preserve our religious identity, and to complete our vision of God’s mission to us. Going back to the parable of the Kingdom of Kog, this paradox accepts both the nuggets of God’s wisdom, the golden bricks, and the human notions that are added to it to promote safe society, the earthen bricks. Continue with me on this journey as I uncover more about these bricks and what we’ve succeeded in building with them, so we can explore what could be built as an alternative to the Moderate Wall.

Previous Chapters

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Welcome to the Hunger Games!

by Brad Duncan

"...and may the odds be ever in your favor..." (positive inflection, sophisticated British accent required)

I just finished reading all 3 Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. 

Wow, good read with exciting plot twists, but also Wow that author really has a low view of humanity! The depths that humanity will descend to, just keep getting deeper book by book. (spoiler alert!) The Rebels who go back to take over the evil Capitol are just as evil ! On both sides are innocent good people, and on both sides are people hungry for power at any cost.  The innocent civilians are slaughtered left and right in the thirst for domination on both sides. The emotional trauma that everyone suffers is really the main point of the story of all the surviving characters, and everyone else is blown away :< ! I'm not exaggerating here.  If you care about any of the characters then you are upset at the end of the book.  I was sortof traumatized just reading it and I'm an action junky. Of course I know it's only a story...  And a good one at that.

But it made me think about the author's message.  The point is that what we humans tend to do and build can be SOOO shallow and SOOOO messed up.  It is a natural result of the human propensity to mess things up that structures built by society throughout history are so flawed.  It's a correct indictment on humanity that it is filled with both beauty and horrors built by our own hands. The answer is not to just write off humanity, but to PLAN on it messing everything up, and trying to build something wonderful anyway. A good marriage, a happy family, a community of believers, neighborhoods, towns, governments, non-profits, businesses, even entire religions! -- you get my point. 

Just laugh (or cry) at our propensity for destruction and forge ahead anyway. Don't take it seriously or believe it when people say that we've got it right and need to stand up for the institution or the way we've always done things! The way we've always done things is messed up! 

Instead of following the crowd, it is better to stand up for true humanity, to promote peace at almost any cost, the find good in people regardless of which structure of society they come from even if different from you, and please, please stop defending your own place in society so adamantly   That thing you built is just as flawed as anything else!

I hope my Hunger-Games-induced epiphany is not too ridiculous for all of you!  

And Welcome to the 2013th Hunger Games !  May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Matters of the Heart

by Brad Duncan

Sometimes someone will ask me why we should question matters of faith and tradition.  Why, if so many people adhere to it, should we openly challenge notions of God and the Gospel that our parents, teachers and traditions have taught us?  I'll tell you now it's not about a rebellion or change for change sake.  It's a matter of the heart and spirit.  I'll briefly explain.

In short, our moderate evangelical Christian culture needs a make-over.  A new reformation, to be challenged with deconstruction and reconstruction, a complete re-think.  Why?  Due to fundamental matters of the heart.  At huge risk of over-generalizing, a few reasons I can think of are:

1) We are missing out on community: 

Ironically, with all our focus on building a community, we are failing to be a community.  When it comes to the local church, as an attempt at Christian community, the focus and energy is on building something, protecting it, running it, defining it, leading it, and paying for it.  It's close to the mark, in that the community is supposed to be an environment where people can connect to each other and to God, but the actual effort and resources are spent running church services, and operating an organization.  These activities indirectly help people be a community, but do not directly, actively bring people into a mode of helping each other, relating, sharing, and caring, very much of time time.  If we are attending church to share our lives with one another, most weeks we are walking away as lonely as we came.  Or if we are gregarious, maybe we accumulate several dozen "hello, how are you's" and have 5 minutes of intelligent conversation.  But, isn't that ironic?  Are we really relating?  Are we sharing our pains, expressing our views, learning from one another?  Or are we depending on the structure and organized activities (like sermons) to do the relating for us?

You might say or think that I'm just stung by a lack of popularity or friends in my church.  Actually that's far from the truth.  The problem is that we people, especially me, are anti-social at times!  If we are given a mission and purpose, other than caring for people, then we will spend our efforts efficiently carrying out that purpose.  Further, if you attach that purpose to some spiritual, religious requirements, then we are easily distracted away from those we care about, in order to work hard to be "right" and do "right".  But this distraction is wrong.  In fact, true worship, according to James, is to care for orphans and widows, especially when they are your friends in the church!

2) We are too busy to care for the hurting

If we are not doing an adequate job of caring for our friends and communities, you can imagine that we are also failing to make a difference in the world outside, in our greater communities of the towns and states where we live, and in remote communities where we can make a difference in lives of the needy.

Certainly some churches spend a large amount of money and effort on outreach, and I'm not claiming that they don't.  As one test, if the local church is a non-profit organization designated to help people, then a majority (90%?) of the effort and resources should be spent on helping people, split appropriately between in-reach and outreach (maybe 50/50?).  The rest is overhead.  How much overhead does it take to spread a little bit of love?

Evidence of this syndrome of being too busy to care, are power struggles, arguing over who's the boss, egos, squabbles, rumors and gossip.  Are our battles in the church about how to care for each other and those outside the church better?  Or are they about insubstantial things?  Are we more concerned with who's in charge, than who's falling between the cracks or who is hurting?

So, why is this commentary about caring an issue of theology and reformation?  That's simple. Our justification for running things the way we are comes from exactly our view of God, our teaching about the Bible, and our statement of faith.  We have to go back and take a serious look at "why". Why don't we care?  What are we investing in, instead of people?  We'll find that we are focused on other things, because we think God likes it that way!  I won't go into it here -- but my point is that our views of God have a problem, if they don't lead directly to LOVE.  It's a matter of the heart!

3) We are too concerned about our own interests

Often, in order to protect the system we have built, we spend our energy opposing people we think are a threat to our community. People of other religions, atheists, liberals, gays, peace activists and tree-huggers, whoever.  That is not just a waste of precious community resources, it is deliberately doing harm to others in order to protect our own interests.  There's little of "Love Others" in the way we treat people we don't agree with.  "Don't get me started! ...".  Suffice to say that our theology leads us to fight enemies of "truth" rather than to love them.  We judge people because of how we think God judges them.  We are imitating the God we believe in.  So, it's a matter of theology that leads us to be judgmental and even hateful toward others.

So what can we do instead?  Let's invest the majority of our church-organized time, human effort, and budgets toward Matters of the Heart, instead of running the machine and defending it against outsiders.  That's a good start. Let's allow discussions of our beliefs in God and how they tend to lead us away from loving others, counter to our very mission to love others.  Maybe something needs to change.

4) We are too busy to relate to God

This busy-ness and preoccupation with running the system can carry over to discipleship, worship, prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit.  What is the most ironic, is that we can be so busy trying to build a system that pleases God, that we are mostly ignoring God.  I know these are harsh words.  I also know these are familiar words.  I have heard so many times in sermons that we need to stop being busy and get back to our fundamentals in relationship with God.  We need to obey and surrender. We need to pray, serve and please God with our lives.  And yet our structure of Christian community comes from our fundamental belief that God is pleased with our system of worship.  If we adhere to it, then God will be satisfied, duly worshiped by his people during weekly services and regular traditions, and by participation in good works, discipleship rituals, Christian T-shirts and radio stations, etc.  

The problem is obvious (to me anyway): God is a passionate intelligent being, more passionate and more intelligent than we can imagine!  That God is not going to take pleasure in rituals.  The scriptures are filled with examples of that principle.  As I mentioned earlier, if true worship is caring for orphans and widows, than why are we spinning our wheels on rituals at all?  If you dig deeper into the meaning of worship and discipleship, you will see that these concepts are for us, not for God.  They help us to engage in examining our own hearts, listening to the passionate voice of God through the Holy Spirit, and absorbing truth from seeing things through God's perspective.  But if we are too busy with ritual and running the machine, we are not getting the benefits of relating to God.  The rituals and traditions might be okay, but only if they are used for the purpose intended, which is to spend more of our attention on our Maker in genuine relationship.

Again, "why"?  Why and how could we spend effort and resources on relating to God and yet not achieve it. Maybe once again there's overhead and distraction. Maybe 10% of our attention goes to God while the rest goes to doing things that we think will please God but which we don't even bother to ask if God likes.  Again, a deeper look into "why" we do these things is our theology and understanding of the Bible.  We hold onto ritual and structure because we think that Jesus came to build a religion that will lead us and the rest of the world to God.  But doesn't that contradict just about every word that Jesus said?  Didn't Jesus finally lose it and knock over the tables of the money changers, declaring that they were turning God's house into a den of thieves?  How many times did Jesus go to the synagogue and patiently walk past the "machine" of money-changers before he finally showed his outrage?  Doesn't it resonate with how we run our own communities?  Would Jesus object to the money-changers if he visited our churches?

Jesus taught us the deeper meaning of all scripture.  "Love God, Love Others."  He also repeatedly taught "Follow Me" as he demonstrated how to live out this deeper meaning.  I am not in any way rebelling against following Jesus, or wanting to pick a different path of change for change sake.  Instead I want to reform our entire approach, in the practice and spirit of following Christ.  Like John the Baptist, we need to levels the mountains, fill in the valleys, and make the path of following Christ straight for everyone to follow.

In summary, don't just assume that defending the status quo and fighting for our system and style of worship will honor God. Isn't it better to face head-on our failings, ask the hard questions, and commit to any reform necessary?  Or are we too tied to this machine that we have built, to tear it down and start over.  These are not just vain words.  These are important matters of the heart!