Friday, September 17, 2021

Inferno Canto 3: Why Hell has Gates, but not Heaven


I'm doing the online "100 days of Dante" reading group, <> and in Dr. Fred Sanders' lecture for Canto 3, he points out that the Gates of Hell is a way that the underworld is contained in its place.

"Dante gives the gates of hell as the very first manifestation of cosmic order," he notes. "Things are ordered and in their places in the Christian cosmos, and these gates establish that boundary. By the way, it is worth noting that there's no need to have a corresponding set of gates for Paradise. There are some doors and boundaries throughout Purgatory, but Dante will not be showing us a similarly imposing speaking set of the gates of heaven. They're not necessary. In a true cosmos, order anywhere means order everywhere. And gates are not as fitting a symbol of heaven as they are of hell."

No boundaries are necessary for that which is true and good, but it is loving to draw them for that which is false and evil.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Luck and/or Blessings

This excellent essay by Lois Johnson, appeared on her Facebook page today:

When we were kids, we weren't allowed to say we were "lucky" because, as Christians, we weren't supposed to believe in luck.

But saying I was "blessed" was troubling to me because it implied other people were not blessed. From car wrecks or try-outs for some silly extracurricular activity, the implication seemed to be that those who were hurt (or worse) and those who didn't make the cut were somehow the opposite of blessed - cursed? Or perhaps worse, they were neglected, unthought of, unimportant to God.

So I muddled along for a decade or so, trying to work out, you know, the problem of evil (oh, that little thing!), the flourishing of life, and how to speak about both. Things like 9/11 and now Covid give us lots examples of how people talk about evil and life, and those who survive often say things like "God had a plan for me" and "I'm blessed" and so on.

Was God's blessing withheld from those still in the Towers when they fell? Is God actively focusing the bright light of blessing on one hospital bed right now while another is shrouded in shadow?
When I first came to Grand Rapids, my ears perked up when I heard people say they were "fortunate." Now, I won't put you to sleep chasing all the rabbits my own mind chased, but I'll tell you - this is the word I use now, and here's what I mean:

I say I'm fortunate because I believe God's blessing is for all of us AND because I am surrounded by people both actively channeling God's blessings to me as well as people who stay out of the way of God's blessings for me. "Fortunate" equals God's blessing PLUS a community or society that allows those blessings to come to me.

My blessings aren't stolen from me by thieves, they aren't actively blocked from coming to me by thoughtless, careless people who get in the way, and I (hopefully) don't leave my blessings laying on the table because I've been taught to recognize them by countless Sunday School teachers, pastors, authors, and friends.

So that means this person in a car wreck was fortunate because (1) God doesn't want that person to be hurt AND ALSO (2) our society used up a bunch of crash test dummies trying to figure out how to keep people safe in car accidents. God's blessings PLUS our good work.
This other person was hurt in a car accident because EVEN THOUGH God doesn't want that person to be hurt, we haven't figured out how to protect all people in car wrecks - not to mention all the other things like careless drivers, roads in bad weather, etc., etc. God's blessing of health and life was, let's say, stolen by the careless driver, blocked by our ignorance about how to build safer cars, or perhaps - if the injured person wasn't wearing a seatbelt - God's blessing of health and life was left on the table.
We had airline safety protocols to protect against hijackers who wanted ransom money on September 11, 2001, but we didn't have airline safety protocols to protect against hijackers who wanted to use a plane as a bomb. We build the Towers strong enough to withstand force and fire for a certain amount of time, but not enough time for everyone evacuate.

We've had brilliant scientists working on mRNA coronavirus vaccines for ten (or more?) years who converted that technology into Covid-19 vaccines in less than a year, but we didn't educate our public enough to keep them off of the conspiracy theory baby bottle - nor, dare I say, did we regulate pharmaceutical companies so that they, like all businesses ought to do, served the public first and therefore we could be certain that their bottom line wasn't their damn bottom line, but our health.
God did not want the car accident. God did not want 9/11. God did not want Covid-19.
God, then, you might say, must be very weak to be overturned by human beings, but this is entirely wrong, and you can learn this even if you only get through the first three chapters of the Bible. God creates a good world, puts humans in charge, humans screw it up. [Side Bar: Christians who don't think humans can destroy the planet via climate change, nuclear war, etc. because God won't let it happen - see the first three chapters of your Bible, please.] After we screw it up and introduce evil and death, God gives us a promise that evil and death will eventually be defeated - through us.

In other words, it's *serious* and *very real* that we are in charge here, AND it's *serious* and *very real* that God's will is to bless us alongside and through those who accept into their hearts - and thus exhibit in their lives - the promise and fulfillment of those good ends, this restoration, that blessing.
Today, Christians say that the Genesis promise comes to pass in the person of Jesus. Christians also say that all of Creation lives and moves and has its being in Jesus. If this planet, these events occurring around us, our lives exist within Jesus, then is it no wonder that in our mind's eye, his body appears bloody and wounded? Every blessing we steal, block, or withhold from others - whether on a personal level or society-wide - opens another wound, not only in those around us, but on the body of Jesus.
But there is another image that appears before our mind's eye, and that is the resurrected Jesus. His resurrected body still shows his wounds because this life is not a holodeck. The pain and disaster we bring on each other is real. But his resurrected body is also healed because God's promises are not playthings of a weak imagination. The healing and health we bring to each other is also real.

God's blessings are for all of us - for all of us together and for each of us particularly. If you look about and see someone who is not blessed, your first questions should probably be something like, "Why is this person not receiving God's blessing and what can I do about it?" Are their blessings being stolen? Are they being blocked? Have they not learned enough about how *not* to leave a blessing on the table?

We can't fix the whole world on our own, but it won't be fixed without us. We are not "the Lord," but we are called to "make straight the way of the Lord." We build bridges over valleys of despair and tunnels through mountains of burden for each other so that the way of the Lord is unobstructed.
I say I'm fortunate now. I have God's blessings plus a community that neither steals them nor blocks them.

Someday, I'd like to be able to say I'm blessed because it's just assumed that no community and nobody would ever steal or block God's blessings.

Here are my thoughts, in response:

Buried beneath your thoughts here Lois are three contrasting conceptions of providence:

1) OCCASIONALISM: God is meticulously involved in everything that happens. He is the only agent in the universe; everything else (including human beings) are events. THus, there is no such thing as "luck."

2) DEISM: God created the universe but then gives up all agency to that which he has created. Thus there is no such things as "blessings."

3) CONCURRENCE: God is the primary agent in the universe, but has given human beings secondary agency. Thus, there are such things as "fortune" and "blessings."
You are rejecting the idea of God's meticulous providence (Occasionalism) and endorsing his concurrence with human actions. IMO that is the only way to make sense of scripture, and the Christian God. ­čÖé
My husband once preached three sermons on God's providence:

CREATION: “It’s no Accident”

COSNERVATION: ”On the Brink   

           CONCURRENCE: “God At Work, 24/7”
        < So [we] find ourselves beholding the best act of God’s grace and now see that it is also a kind of  concurrence, a cooperation. God’s graciously cooperated with His creatures to the extent of letting them kill His Son. Then He was raised from the dead, so that we could see how God really was at work in Him, so that we might believe in Jesus and learn in Him to let our own lives cooperate with God.>

Lois writes, "Someday, I'd like to be able to say I'm blessed because it's just assumed that no community and nobody would ever steal or block God's blessings."

Eight years ago I had an interesting intercultural experience in children's church. We were discussing how Joseph's brothers were jealous of him, and threw him in the pit and sold him as a slave. JuEun, a young Korean girl, was puzzled by the story. "Why did they do that?" she wondered. "You can always get yourself a new coat...but you can't get another brother."

Thy kingdom is coming. 

Monday, September 06, 2021

Hosea on those who lie about God


“What sorrow awaits those who have deserted me!
Let them die, for they have rebelled against me.
I wanted to redeem them,
but they have told lies about me.
--Hosea 7:13

Isaiah on Conspiracy Theories

 Isaiah 8:11-12

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.

Prayer by Sarah Bessey


Poster based in Canada
God, would You guide us towards the practice of goodness? Keep us connected and engaged, wise as serpents and innocent as doves even as we co-create justice and peace in this tired beloved tragedy of a world. Would you help us to make room to practice and notice the things that bring us joy, keep us open, heal us, and give us rest. I pray for my friends who are in this space with me: may we each practice rest and joy like the resistance depends on our well-being in body and soul.

We will not despise the days of small things, God. We know You are hiding in plain sight in our right-now lives. Give us a sense of purpose when we phone bank, when we protest, when we vote, when we show up to city council meetings, when we clean washrooms and feed people and prayer-walk our neighbourhoods. Give us bravery for the work of hard conversations with people who have disappointed us. Give us strength to speak truth in love to power.

May we be the ones who do not settle for calling out but be the ones who dare to call others ‘in’ - in to mercy, in to goodness, in to justice, in to repentance, in to hope. Keep room in our hearts for us to be surprised.

Give us courage, Holy One. Courage to engage, courage to stay angry, courage to not turn away to numbness or distraction, courage to love, and the courage to show up for our own lives and for our own moment in history.

We pray for our enemies, Jesus. This is the hardest of hard things you have asked for us to do. But we do: we pray for them. Open their eyes, their hearts. Call the wicked into repentance. Make the story of Zaccheus real to us in some small way: so that we can see the wicked ones turn towards you and then make retribution and reparations for their sin. And when we lack faith for this - I lack faith for this right now, Jesus - help our unbelief.

Good morning, God. When we rise, we rise in your love. When we rest, we rest in your love.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Surviving Shipwreck


Is Covid causing you to despair? Has some personal setback made you want to "jump ship?" Or has your deconstruction process led you to feel like giving up on Christians altogether? Here are my husband's thoughts on Acts 27:27-44, "Surviving Shipwreck.” (From his 2018 sermon, < >  )

<I’d like to propose three lessons here for surviving shipwreck in your life. As I suggested three weeks ago, storms blow over us in many forms: natural disaster, sickness, financial loss and troubled relationships. These threaten to sink our boats, drown us in pain and sorrow. In all of it, the first lesson here from Paul is “Don’t jump ship.” Don’t give up and leave the community of God’s people.*
...The second lesson, then, is that Jesus Christ is with you in the storm. His Table spread before us constantly reminds us of that. Don’t jump the ship of church. Come to the Table because Christ is here. When the vessel of your life seems to be breaking up, remember that He is present. As the fifth century preacher John Chrysostom prayed, “Christ sails with those who sail.” He sails with every believer whether the seas are calm or rough.

... Now this third lesson for surviving shipwreck. Help save someone else.

....That’s the way to survive a shipwreck, then. Stay on board. Come to the Table and remember Jesus is with you. And when you have opportunity, rescue someone else. Those are the lessons we learn here from Paul. And the great good news of it all is right there in verse 44, “all were brought safely to land.” In a few moments we will confess our faith saying we believe in Jesus and saying we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” No one who trusts in Christ needs to fear a shipwreck. No one needs to be lost. Everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. Everyone. Forever.> *This is not to say that anyone should stay in a particular church that is abusive, or which fails to follow scripture, or which puts anything equal to or above Christ.

Surviving Shipwreck


September 2, 2018 “Surviving Shipwreck” – Acts 27:27-44 
by Stephen Bilynskyj

Is Covid causing you to despair? Has some personal setback made you want to "jump ship?" Or has your deconstruction process led you to feel like giving up on Christians altogether? Here are my husband's thoughts on Acts 27:27-44, "Surviving Shipwreck.” (From a 2018 sermon,

<I’d like to propose three lessons here for surviving shipwreck in your life. As I suggested three weeks ago, storms blow over us in many forms: natural disaster, sickness, financial loss and troubled relationships. These threaten to sink our boats, drown us in pain and sorrow. In all of it, the first lesson here from Paul is “Don’t jump ship.” Don’t give up and leave the community of God’s people.*
...The second lesson, then, is that Jesus Christ is with you in the storm. His Table spread before us constantly reminds us of that. Don’t jump the ship of church. Come to the Table because Christ is here. When the vessel of your life seems to be breaking up, remember that He is present. As the fifth century preacher John Chrysostom prayed, “Christ sails with those who sail.” He sails with every believer whether the seas are calm or rough.

... Now this third lesson for surviving shipwreck. Help save someone else.

....That’s the way to survive a shipwreck, then. Stay on board. Come to the Table and remember Jesus is with you. And when you have opportunity, rescue someone else. Those are the lessons we learn here from Paul. And the great good news of it all is right there in verse 44, “all were brought safely to land.” In a few moments we will confess our faith saying we believe in Jesus and saying we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” No one who trusts in Christ needs to fear a shipwreck. No one needs to be lost. Everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. Everyone. Forever.>
*This is not to say that anyone should stay in a particular church that is abusive, or which fails to follow scripture, or which puts anything equal to or above Christ.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"I just want to be a Goat!"


'God is separating the sheep from the goats': Trump supporter on why she remains unvaccinated


The Logic of Science Meme: Debating with Antivax and Antimask supporters

Monday, August 30, 2021

Shane Claiborne on Greg Locke's "delta variant of 'Christian Nationalism"


Tonight Sean Feucht is preparing to join Pastor Greg Locke in Tennessee for an “American revival” service. Here are my reflections on the service I attended earlier this month…
on why this is like a delta variant of “Christian” nationalism that is even more dangerous than the original.
The New American Revival: Christian Nationalism’s Delta Variant
By Shane Claiborne

This past weekend, I visited the “mask-free” worship service of Global Vision Bible Church, led by charismatic Trump-apologist, Greg Locke. And I managed to wear a mask, without getting kicked out. In fact, I was invited to stay late to help fold up chairs after the service, which I gladly did. The people were nicer than I anticipated that they would be. But the theology was worse than I could have ever imagined. It is clear that “Christian nationalism” now has its own delta variant.
I had plenty of pushback. Some folks thought it was picking a fight, and reminded me that many of the folks who attend these services come armed and ready for a fight, why encourage them? Others questioned if attending the services would simply legitimize the fringe-group or give them more of a platform or airtime than they deserve. I get the concerns. My mom probably made one of the best challenges to my decision to attend the service, reminding me that Tennessee has snake-handling churches which also have bad, even deadly theology, but I’ve never felt the need to attend one of them. She makes a good point… except that the only person whose life is at stake in the snake-handling churches is the one handling the snakes. Not so at Global Vision Bible Church – there are many lives at stake as the church insists on hosting “mask-free” services.
I thought it might be a couple hundred people, bigger than most of our snake-handling churches but not nearly as big as our megachurches… and I was right about that. The service was held in a big top, old school red and white candycane-striped circus tent . I was guided to a parking place by a very friendly man with a security vest on. And I was boxed in, so I wouldn’t be able to leave even if I wanted to.
After much prayer and reflection, I had resolved not to disrupt the service, no matter how bad it got, despite Jesus’s own decision to flip tables in the temple. After all I’m not Jesus, and while I’m willing to take up my cross, I’m not looking to be a martyr. I did, however, decide to not be subtle with my message, being an evangelical at heart – and I wore a mask with the words “Love Thy Neighbor” on it. I also wore a shirt that said, “Black Lives Matter To God” since one of the many troubling things I’ve heard from Mr. Locke is a total discrediting of Christians concerned about systemic injustice or the residue of slavery and racism. And I wore a large metal cross, made from the barrel of a gun. One of the things I am convinced of us that the cross and the gun offer us two very different versions of power… one says that there is something worth dying for, and the other says there is something worth killing for.
I chose an entrance where I saw a smiling face, a kind greeter welcoming visitors. She welcomed me with the same smile, even with my mask on. But it wasn’t long before two security men, with earpieces in their ears, came to talk to me. They asked me if I had a medical reason for wearing a mask. I said yes, which was honest… I believe we all have a medical reason to wear a mask… which goes back to the great command of Jesus enscribed on my mask itself, “Love Thy Neighbor.” Even after the conversation with the security guards, I got a fist pound and a warm welcome. 
As people settled in I couldn’t help but notice the wide array of messages on shirts, and hats, tattoos and bumper stickers. It’s something evangelicals are passionate about, “spreading the word,” and we are well equipped for with a multi-million dollar Christian industrial complex to assist us in bearing witness. And hey – I guess I’m still an evangelical at heart – I had my message unashamedly displayed on my body too.
But these were different. 
Seated in front of me was a man in a shirt with two guns crossed over each other with the words: “Born to Protect the Second Amendment.” Another hat said “All Aboard the Trump Train.” There were MAGA hats and shirts, and even a MAGA spinoff- “Make America Godly Again.” There were Jesus shirts with Bible verses, and patriotic shirts with the stars and stripes… and lots of shirts that blended the two. Despite Greg Locke insisting that he is not tied to either party, I sure didn’t see a Biden shirt in the crowd, only Jesus and Trump. And, I appeared to be the only one with a mask… feeling a little like the kid who was told it was a costume party when it really wasn’t.
As sweat began to drip a little in the summer heat of the circus tent, ushers handed out fans with the words “Fan the flame of revival” on them. Slides scrolled on the screens announcing an “Ironman” event for men and other retreats and upcoming events. One of them is a visit from Christian worship leader Sean Feucht who has embraced the title given him by Rolling Stone magazine: “Jesus Christ Super-spreader,” priding himself off of maskless revival services, even stooping to sell “Superspreader” t-shirts on his website. Sean would be joining Greg for a big tent “Amercian Revival” on August 28. More on that later…
Worship kicked off with songs very familiar to me, what we used to call “contemporary worship” back in the 1990s, with a few classic hymns thrown in like “How Great Thou Art.” The worship leaders were young and hip, one of them had a hat on that said “Edge” which I assumed was a wink at U2 guitarist “The Edge” but am always cautious when it comes to pop-culture references, as my wife says I am not as hip as I sometimes think I am (she also informed me that “Edge” is also a professional wrestler).
Nothing I’d seen so far was that surprising to me… even the guys who had guns strapped to their hips as they worshipped the “Prince of Peace.” I expected all that.
Here’s what was surprising, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say it… even though it may ruffle a few left-leaning feathers. I understand why people are drawn to Mr. Locke. 
He entered the room, giving away hugs and high-fives and with an authenticity that shocked me. From the moment he entered the room, he had a down-to-earthness about him that lasted until the last person left the service. I watched as people showed him photos of their children, as he prayed with grown men in tears, and as he waited in the heat until the last person in line had a chance to talk with him, including me. He genuinely seemed to care for his people… as he said, perhaps unknowingly quoting Pope Francis, he was a shepherd that “smelled like his sheep.”
As Mr. Locke took the stage to the song “Our war cry is praise.” His opening words stirred the crowd: “Protestors ain’t going to stop us. Vandalism’s not gonna stop us. Death threats are not going to stop us.” He started with some in-house stuff before the sermon. Their property had been vandalized on Saturday night… again. Apparently that happened before, when they had Roger Stone visit as a guest “preacher.”
Among the graffiti messages and property damage, someone wrote “Your lies cost lives” on the wall and “FU” on the pulpit. And Mr. Locke was livid. For me it was the latest reminder of how unhelpful tactics like that are, even if I can understand the anger behind them. Hate only fuels the fire of hatred, or in this case – it adds conviction to the idea that there is a persecution of Christians coming “like the world has never seen.” Locke cleverly took the “FU” and spun it on its head saying now it stands for “Fired Up” and even his biblical mandate to “Forgive You” which he tossed to the cameras as if the culprit were watching. He took back the FU from the one who sprayed it. This was one of the first times I smiled, despite my most determined attempts not to. Good thing I had a mask on.
Still in his pre-sermon remarks, Mr. Locke built up anticipation as he announced a major decision they were making as a church. They were about to upgrade to an enormous 3000-person tent. [Massive burst of applause]… But parking was an issue, so they were also purchasing all the land in the immediate area – 9 acres which would be used for parking (giving them a total of 16 acres). They were ready to sign the deal for 1 million dollars, and had 2 weeks to raise it. This is when I began to realize that this is very different from the snake-handling churches which are a dying denomination (no pun intended). They are dwindling out like an old campfire, but this thing seemed to be taking off like the wildfires out west…. And it has potential to do its own unimaginable damage.
Mr. Locke made it clear that they are not about money or extravagant spending, and I believe him on that one. After all they don’t even have a building, only a tent. He told the endearing story of an event that he just spoke at that took up a “love offering” of $10,000 for him – which he committed to donate to the church as the first offering gift of the morning. I found myself smiling again as he gave a little jab to the televangelists and the millionaire pastors with their Lear jets – as he mentioned his rented house and joked about his “1992 Bubba Truck.” As he described his philosophy on honorariums for speaking, I found it uncomfortably similar to my own -- he doesn’t have a price, and seems to believe that there is something wrong with charging a bunch of money preaching about a man who tells us to give it all away. As if that were not enough, he celebrated a Bishop from India who was visiting, and happened to be sitting in front of me. He had the Bishop, who had founded 10 churches in India, stand, and Greg announced that he felt God compelling him to tithe from the 1 million they were raising for the parking lot. They would be giving $100,000 to the Bishop. He said it with what seemed to be genuine tears in his eyes. 
But then came the sermon. 
It began in Exodus, with the story of God rescuing the Hebrew slaves from their bondage to Pharaoh – Exodus 14. I’m very familiar with this iconic story, which has inspired so many enslaved and oppressed people over the centuries. But it was uncomfortable to hear it in the context of an audience that is 99% white, and who seem convinced that they are victims of an oppressive empire, persecuted by the federal government under the leadership of a Pharaoh named Biden. 
Several times he mentioned running Joe Biden and the “Demon-crats” out of the revival tent if they showed up. And I believed him, thought not convinced they’d make it out alive. Just as God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, Locke continued, so God continues to harden hearts. Of course, he named names… Biden. Pelosi. “Cuomo is out! Newsome is next!” he shouted with a kick of the leg.
Multiple times, Mr. Locke claimed that the election was stolen and that Trump won. In his words, “That doesn’t make me a terrorist, that makes me a Truther.”
Immediately after saying, “The Left hates the Church,” he unconvincingly assured everyone that he is not partisan: “Republicans and Democrats are two heads of the same snake… My loyalty is to Jesus.” He went even further to placate those who might be concerned that his presence at Trump rallies or the Jan. 6 insurrection crossed a line and politicized Christianity. “I ain’t never got up at a political rally and preached about Donald Trump. I preach about Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. He’s the sweetest name I know.” The place exploded. And my head was spinning.
This is where I begin to identify a few distinctive ways this “delta variant” of “Christian” nationalism diverged from its predecessors. Let’s call it “the new American revival” since that’s the language many of them use. The incongruities they are attempting to hold together, like opposing magnets, are impossible to reconcile. I’ll name three of them. 
First, the new American revival insists that it is not partisan but that it is “all about Jesus”… even as they simultaneously say that Democrats are demonic and Trump is God’s messenger.
That’s the first thing that hit me as very different from most previous iterations of the “religious right.” They were unashamedly in bed with the GOP. And most of them didn’t even deny their partisanship, despite the glaring contradictions between the values of Jesus and those of Trump. I think back to Jerry Falwell, Jr. in 2018 where a reporter pressed Falwell to reconcile his fidelity to Jesus and to Trump. This was his response: “I don’t look to the teachings of Jesus for what my political beliefs should be.”
The new American Revival genuinely seems to be delusional or in denial about its partisan bias. After all, there were no Biden shirts there on Sunday, and if someone wore one I’m pretty sure they’d be escorted out, maybe even by gunpoint.
I went to Greg’s service fully prepared for a Trump rally, which it was. But I was not prepared for it to simultaneously be a Jesus rally. I remember watching Trump speak a few years ago at Falwell’s university, one of the largest evangelical schools in the country, hardly even mentioning the name of Jesus as he made his infamous reference to “two Corinthians.” In the recent past, it is not unusual to hear Trump-evangelicals speak at churches without even mentioning the name of Jesus a single time. I noted one 12-minute sermon by Trump-evangelist Mark Burns where he mentions Trump’s name 20 times without once uttering the name of Jesus. 
Not so with this new American revival. They seem to be convinced that their love for Jesus can easily be merged with right-wing politics and conspiracy theories… though it is noteworthy that the text of the Sermon did not come from the Gospels. At one point Mr. Locke even mentioned “the red letters” of the Gospel, referring to the words of Jesus often highlighted in red, for which the movement I am part of is named, “Red Letter Christians.” This is what makes this delta variant even more confusing, and dangerous than its predecessors.
For years, my friends and I have insisted that mixing Christian faith with a political party is like mixing ice cream with cow manure – it doesn’t do much damage to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream. In fact, I co-authored an entire book entitled Jesus for President on this very theme. More recently, it seems clear to most people that Jesus and Trump are like opposing magnets – you can’t hold them together, no matter how hard you try. I’m still convinced of that. But this new delta variant of “Christian” nationalism, led by folks like Greg Locke and Sean Feucht is sure hinges on the hope that opposites attract. 
The problem is every mention of Jesus seems to be by name only, turning Jesus into a mascot rather than a model for life. Or to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “Just as God created us in his image, we decided to return the favor.” That’s how you end up with a version of Jesus that prefers an AR-15 over a cross.
It becomes nearly impossible to actually reconcile the teaching of Jesus with the policies and rhetoric of Trump-defenders. It’s hard to obey Christ’s command to love our enemies, and simultaneously prepare to kill them, despite having crosses and guns in the same big tent revival. And it’s hard to imagine any version of faith that centers the great commandment of “love thy neighbor as thyself” that does not translate into wearing a mask in a pandemic to protect the most vulnerable among us. This is also what makes this new delta variant much more dangerous than its original form of “Christian” nationalism.
Greg jumped from Scripture to politics without missing a beat. “It’s amazing how accurate the Bible is for where we are living in at this very second.”
He shouted it out: “Let my people go. Let my people go.” That seemed to be a familiar war cry for Greg – “they” are coming for us… but God will deliver us just like God delivered the Hebrew people. God will deliver us from communism. And from the liberal agenda. “There is a book called Exodus because they found the exit sign and they got out,” he said. And so can we.
Bridging the centuries from Exodus to 2021 required some theological gymnastics, but the parallels he made were not the least bit subtle. Mr. Locke pointed out that God led the Israelites to a specific place where they were to camp… -- (through a “stuttering prophet with nothing more than a hickory stick”), and then he boldly claimed the tent and hill God had called them to in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. This would be their refuge. 
The obvious stretch was seeing things like mask mandates as a religious persecution, but America’s idolatry of individual rights over the common good has made fertile ground to see any inconvenience as persecution. I’ve often thought… Wouldn’t it be great if churches were the last places to reopen because of how obsessed we are with loving our neighbors and protecting the most vulnerable? While masks were not an issue in the Bible, loving your neighbor and protecting the vulnerable is one of the Bibles most consistent themes. 
Pastor Greg sees it pretty differently. Referring to the Israelites in Exodus who considered going back to Egypt, Greg made it clear, “They would rather die slaves than live as free people. I can promise you one thing – I’m gonna die free before I ever die a slave to the government.” 
Here’s where I saw the second distinguishing mark of this new delta variant of “Christian” nationalism – faith over fear. They say they are all about celebrating “FAITH over FEAR” – as the words on the banner in front of Global Vision proclaimed in all caps -- and yet it is fueled by apocalyptic end-times theology and is convinced there’s an imminent persecution coming “like the world has never seen”… and mask mandates are just the beginning. Multiple times Mr. Locke mentioned that what has begun as a lock down of public worship services during the pandemic is just a foretaste of what is yet to come… we are getting ready to see is not a lock down but a “shut down.” The government is going to try to shut down the church. On Twitter Greg put it plainly: “We have a 1st Amendment right to worship. If that’s impeded upon, we will invoke our 2nd Amendment right and meet you at the door. We will not be bullied. To be clear, that’s a fact not a threat.” Hence the guns. 
Greg certainly set himself up to walk in the lineage of Moses leading them out of the empire with “nothing more than a hickory stick.” He put it like this: “I have a choice as a shepherd. I can protect the sheep. Or I can open the gate to the wolves and let them all go to the slaughter. I can warn you, and protect you, and love you, and sometimes have to shear you… or I can put my stick down and let the wolves devour you and take your kids.” 
The irony is hard to miss though. Choosing faith over fear means refusing to wear a mask because God will protect you… but you still need a gun. And I don’t need to speculate about whether people had guns in the service last Sunday, I saw them (they were hard to miss).
Just as Trump and Jesus feel like clear opposing forces, like magnets that push against each other… so are the forces of love and fear. 
As a committed Christian, I am convinced that “Perfect love casteth out fear,” as Scripture promises. We have a choice, as individuals and as a country, between love and fear. When fear motivates us, as is happening on so many policy issues like guns and immigration, we do really terrible things. And any theology that is fueled by fear rather than love is bound to be toxic.
The compelling force at work in this new American revival seem to be that “they are coming for us.” It is not a coincidence that this new delta variant of nationalistic theology comes on the back of the first black President, a racial justice awakening in the black lives matter movement, and the changing demographics of Congress and of our country in general. Some folks like Tucker Carlson are less subtle about their fears of immigrants replacing “us.” Or as the Unite the Right marchers in Charlottesville said, “Jews will not replace us.” There is a white fear, white fragility, and white nostalgia that is the underlying force behind much of the current theology, and policies… but that fear gets covered up by a militant, masculine battle call. 
Many will say it’s all about freedom but it’s really about power. And on the back of one of the greatest racial awakenings since the 1960s, equality can feel like persecution to those who have been privileged to hold the power. Many of those who say, “Make American Great Again” are really saying “Make America White Again.” White evangelicals are losing power, and that is what Donald Trump promised to change, and in many ways delivered on. It is also what the devil tempted Jesus with… “all the power of the world.” As much as many folks will insist that they are choosing faith over fear… perhaps the real choice is between fear and love. Perfect love casteth out fear. As I listen to American revivalists, I hear a lot about fear but not as much about love… at least not the love I see embodied in Jesus and displayed on the cross, a love so powerful that it would rather die than kill. 
Finally, the last distinctive contradiction I recognized as I attended Global Vision, and as I look at the new American revival, is this: they love America, but hate the government. With the not-so-subtle parallel of Pharaoh’s pursuit of the Israelites, Greg made it clear that the government forces, the helicopters and the tanks, are coming for the Church. “Huge soldiers, trained military assassins” were sent to destroy the people of God by the “wicked governmental leader,” Pharaoh (or Biden). And now they are coming for us.
Just as Pharaoh had chariots and horses pursuing the escaping slaves, the federal government has tanks and helicopters… and they are coming for the church. In the words of Greg Locke, “They are going to attack the church this year like never before – not lock down but complete shut down… Wake the crap up. They are gonna shut down churches in this country… It’s not going to be lock downs, it’s going to be lock ups… They will roll helicopters and tanks up into this parking lot.” He went on to talk about a new initiative of Homeland Security to track domestic terrorists like the people responsible for the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. 
Mr. Locke not only denied the insurrection, as many extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists do, he also defended it. According to Mr. Locke, January 6 was “not an insurrection.” He goes on, “I was there. I am not ashamed that I was there. I’m not apologizing that I was there.” And he is surprised that Homeland Security is monitoring domestic terrorism and white supremacist religious extremism.
This too is a divergence from much conservative evangelicalism which often quotes Romans 13 to say that all authority is established by God and needs to be respected. In many ways it has been used to give a blank check to the government. Jeff Sessions used it to justify putting kids in cages on the border, and Trump-apologist Robert Jeffress used it to say that Trump had God-ordained authority to use any amount of violence he wants to, including nuclear weapons. But this new delta variant is more suspicious of government, perhaps that’s just because of who’s in the White House right now. There is little talk about submitting to the authorities and a whole lot of talk about going to jail and refusing to comply with federal mask orders. 
Let me pause just to say that I am a firm believer in the rich tradition of civil disobedience. As St. Augustine said, “An unjust law is no law at all.” It is as much our duty to disobey the bad laws as it is to obey the good ones.
Our country has been shaped by civil disobedience, from the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad. “If a law is unjust,” Thomas Jefferson said, “a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
And people of faith in particular have a rich history of going to jail for Jesus. The Bible is a subversive book after all, filled with folks who confronted the powers that be. Yes… Moses told Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for defying royal orders. Daniel ignored the orders of King Darius and was tossed into a den of lions.
The early Christians were called “enemies of the state” by the Romans, and many followers of Jesus, accused of “defying Caesar’s decrees,” were jailed and martyred. Jesus himself was executed by the state.
So Christians at their best have always had a precarious relationship with power. I stand in the great tradition of holy troublemakers like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Rosa Parks, Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, all of whom broke bad laws.
I’m no stranger to handcuffs myself. I’m proud to say that I lost track of my arrests somewhere after 20. Along with dozens of my Christian friends, I have gone to jail for defying anti-homeless laws, calling our legislators to take action on gun violence, challenging current immigration policies, standing against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting our bodies in the way of executions. Every time we go to jail, as the legend John Lewis used to say, “We smile in our mugshots because we know that we are on the right side of history.”
One of our most effective arguments in court has been that we are simply exercising our religious freedom. We’ve argued that feeding the homeless, providing sanctuary for refugees, and putting water in the desert for immigrants are all essential acts of our faith. And we have won in court, over and over.
I believe in religious freedom, and I’m committed to continuing to defy the government policies that violate my faith. But the quarantine restrictions are not among them.
The role of the governing authorities is to protect people, and in the case of quarantine restrictions, that is exactly what our government is trying to do. When the policies of our government are destructive of life, we should defy them. When the policies of our government are protecting life, we should respect them.
As for the First Amendment, James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” once said: “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty.” One person’s freedom can encroach on another person’s right to live. Mask mandates are not about religious freedom. They are about neighborly love. More important than the First Amendment, as important as it it, is the Great Commandment, which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
I’m all about the good trouble and revolutionary love. One of the things I cling to from my evangelical upbringing is a willingness to protest the things that are wrong… after all half the word Protestant is “protest” and our history is filled with it. So at face value, I love Greg’s fire: “We don’t escape this without some jail time… without some fines… without some bruises and scars. We are not going back to Egypt. We are going forward. When they put us in jail, we’ll go forward. When they sue us, we go forward…” But then, as all good things can be distorted by the devil who is always a liar… it starts to sound like the Bundy militia in Oregon, especially as he begins to point back to the text in Exodus: “When all hell breaks lose, and it will, there will be a place of refuge right here… under this tent. Right here.” Just as God protected the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army, so God will protect the faithful remnant of the Church from the American government. 
He ended the sermon, with an awkward pivot to praise America… a reminder that this is certainly a version of American nationalism, but it’s not your grandparent’s version. The new revivalists love a romantic, mythical idea of “America” but are fully prepared to confront police or the national guard like we saw on January 6. That’s what makes this version of “patriotism” so peculiar, as we remember the Capitol police beaten bloody with the American flag in hand.
“The whole world is counting on America right now. Because when America falls, we are the last bastion of freedom and capitalism… Our friends all around the world are counting on America to stand and fight for what God gave us because the government gave me none of it. God gave me all of it.”
I know many folks will discount this new American revival as something we should not pay much attention to, like a snake-handling church in West Virginia. But I’m convinced that this militarized delta variant of Christian nationalism is one of the most dangerous threats both to democracy and to orthodox Christianity. It is not just a fringe movement, it is a new American revival and there are thousands of people who are fanning the flames of this revival.
Some will say that Mr. Locke is just a performer in a circus tent. To that I offer Greg’s own response to NPR when he was asked if he sometimes gets caught up and carried away in the moment, saying things he didn’t mean to say. His response: “I don’t get caught up in the moment. What I say creates the moment.” He knows what he is doing.
I am convinced that this new American revival has the potential to create many more “moments” like January 6. Let us never forget that people lost their lives that day. And they were not just Trump flags at the Capitol as blood was shed – they were also Jesus flags, and Confederate flags. And when the insurrectionists took over the Capitol, and stood in the Senate chamber this is the prayer they prayed, led by the QAnon shaman with the viking horns: 
“Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity… [removes horns]… to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights. Thank you Heavenly Father for being the inspiration needed to the police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists that this is our nation not theirs, that we will not allow America, the American way, the United States of America – to go down. Than you divine, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you… for allowing the United States of America to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government. We love you and we thank you, in Christ’s holy name we pray.” Amen.
Sitting there last Sunday morning, I thought to myself with a heavy heart, the QAnon Shaman’s prayer on January 6 could serve as the liturgy of the new American Revival. But it is a dangerous liturgy, a deadly theology, a blasphemous distortion of Christian faith. And it is a danger to our democracy.
When I met Greg after the service, he was very kind, even as he told me that he recognized me. I confessed to him that I am very disturbed by many of the things he says. In the Spirit of Matthew 18, where Jesus says that if our brother or sister is missing the mark, we are to talk directly with them – that is why I came to the service. I made sure he knew that I have no allegiance to either party – I did not endorse Trump or Biden… I’ve thrown all my chips in with Jesus. It is my love for Jesus that causes me to be so concerned about what is happening under the big red and white tent there. He grabbed me and gave me a hug. I gave him my cell phone number and told him I’d like to talk, and to pray.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The U.S. is now considered to be a "flawed democracy."


Well isn't this interesting. The Economist now considers the U.S. a "flawed democracy."
The Economist's Democracy Index for the U.S. has been consistently falling from a high of 8.22 in 2006 and 2008 ("full democracy") to a low of 7.92 in 2020 ("flawed democracy.")
In comparison, Canada has grown from 9.07-9.24 ("full democracy") and the UK from 8.08 to 8.54 ("full democracy.")

The index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories, measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. <>

Definitions of freedom

The post modern definition of freedom:
"I can do whatever I want."

The modern definition of freedom:
"I have the right to do what I want, as long as I do not infringe on other people's rights to do what they want."

The biblical definition of freedom:
"I am able to be and do what is good."

American evangelicals are hooked on the modernist definition.