Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Kingdom of God: Are We Following Christ? Or Christianity?

... Can we hear it?
Martin Bashir, in a recent interview with Mars Hill Church's "superpastor," Rob Bell, helped to ignite a seemingly literal firestorm within the Christian community. In his new book, Love Wins, Bell attempts to shed some light on the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Naturally, this is a very sensitive topic, and one that, even though most Christians will call me a heretic for saying it, is rather unknowable by us who still reside among the living. What of those who never hear the Gospel? Or those who are abused by the Church? Who are we to claim we know their fates?

It's sad, is it not? Christ's followers now seem to believe theology is of utmost importance. For many adherents, doctrinal creeds are never to be erred from. The words of pastors become the very words of God for many, and the Bible is largely underrepresented by the contextualizations presented by these pastors.

I see no place in the Bible where we Christians are called to have correct theology. I see no command from God to develop a 100% correct doctrine. What I do see, however, are directives on how to be God's hands and feet to the masses. We are called to love God, and we are called to love other people. We are called to trust in Christ's sacrifice as the end-all to our sinful nature. By embracing the forgiveness of Christ, we are given new hearts where the Spirit dwells. These new hearts, new selves, even, allow for the love of Christ to be manifest in our daily walk. To show the love of Christ, the ultimate letting-go of the selfish habits that so taint our relationships and our thought processes, is what Jesus begs from His people in the Gospels. Jesus tells of a new kingdom, one that contradicts the popular concept of "Empire"," a "Kingdom of God," that has come upon this planet. And we, His self-proclaimed people, have become as the Pharisees, safe and comfortable within our own theologies.

After His "Parable of the Father with Two Sons," Jesus rebukes the chief priests and the "holy elite," saying to them "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matt. 21:31b)" He says the "sinners" are getting it. They are doing as God told them to, just as the first son did as his father asked of him. The second son is, as ashamed as I am to admit it, me. It is me, many of my friends, most of my acquaintances, and an astounding representation of the Church. The second son says he will go, but does not... Just as we claim to "believe the right beliefs" but we never practice what Jesus actually said to do!

I have to ask the question of all of you today: If there were no Heaven or Hell (there are, hypothetical question), would you still choose to follow Christ? Is the life that He calls us to worth it? Or has "Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven" become a stale repetition that we "believe" yet do nothing about?

Jesus once said that He had "Not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Matt. 5:17)" In Galatians, Paul claims "the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 5:14)” Why don't we do our best to, instead of unabashedly decrying others as heretics, instead enter in to thoughtful debate? Instead of killing, ridiculing, and ostracizing others in the name of "Correct Doctrine," why don't we instead love others COMPLETELY and UNCONDITIONALLY, just as Christ did for us... Folks... Bring the Kingdom... If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ... "Do not judge, that ye be not judged. (Matt. 5:1 KJV)"


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saying, Doing, Caring (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Everyone)

"Women!?! In the clergy!?! HA!!"
Shock and awe in rural Wyoming
Many social justice topics are taboo in rural Wyoming. Nearly every person is conservative to the point of hilarious stereotype. This seems to create an atmosphere of purely political rhetoric, and most areas of social justice don't happen to fit into these favored political institutions. If one happens to reside in Wyoming, one might hear these three talking points quite regularly...

1. Kill the wolves.
2. The "Obama-care" bill does nothing but pillage our women and rape our churches.
3. Kill the Democrats (Notice the similarities between items #1 and #3).

I am a Christ-follower (if the reader does not know this, please consider actually READING my posts and putting less concentration into viewing the pictures of rainbow unicorns, anthropomorphic organs, and hellish canines). Not only that, but I am a Christ-follower in a heavily Protestant ranching community. And after 18 years of that, voila! I'm a... radical, socially liberal, antiracist, Christ-loving, LGBTQ supportive neo-hippie (Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Huh?"). Somehow, when one leaves the oppressive conservatism of rural Wyoming, one actually learns about the world he/she is a part of.

Sadly, it is easier to speak than to do. Look back up to the aforementioned list of beliefs in the prior paragraph... How many of those do you think I actually act on nearly as often as I should? My own courage fails me quite often because my sense of being "aware" of an issue often satisfies my ego, and therefore I think I am doing my part to better humankind.

It is one thing to complain and be aware of these issues. But I envy those who possess the courage to act according to their beliefs. In the New Testament, the epistle of James tells us that "faith without action is dead. (James 2:26b)" If I claim to adhere to a standard such as that, consider me a lying deadbeat and a hypocrite of the highest caliber.

Those who act, however, should not be considered influential just because they act. It is those that have been endowed with humble and beautiful souls that move via genuine care and empathy that we should venture to echo. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that "If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did more than act. He acted on behalf of others beyond himself, even to the very point of death. Mohandas Gandhi gave his life so that others could be free from oppression and Empire. And, most importantly, Jesus Christ suffered the most intense torture ever known to show all of humanity how to live a most fulfilling life by loving God and in caring for others above one's self.

One's possession of insight or wit are not the qualifiers as to what we should strive to emulate. It is their actions, their love, their willingness to serve that speaks of a higher character. Live beyond the example that I set, and do everything for others. Follow Christ's example, and, as Paul says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but, in humility, consider others better than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)"

You don't have to be conservative, and you don't have to be liberal. You don't have to "have it all figured out" and you don't have to live in an impoverished nation. You don't have to be Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah's Witness, a Latter-Day Saint, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or of any other faith. I urge each of you to stop talking and start doing. And don't just do for the sake of doing, but develop a heart for others. It is when we lose this sense of selfish importance that we truly live lives of meaning.

Still saying... Otherwise you wouldn't be reading,