When Atheists and Baptists Agree

I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. This position routinely puts me at odds with two groups of people—atheists and Baptists...

[Read the rest on my article on the Washington Post’s religion blog!]

Do you ever find yourself drawing fire from both sides of an argument after staking some middle ground?

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Update: The Mission, doubt, and lawn chairs

(Note: Views expressed by me do not necessarily reflect those of everyone at The Mission. We’re a diverse group, and that’s a good thing!) 

So as it turns out, starting a new church is hard

There are relationships to maintain, money problems to solve, rumors to diffuse, and a surprising amount of paperwork to fill out. And just when we were starting to pick up some momentum after Easter, summer happened and our numbers (and funding) plateued. 

But though it all, our bonds as a community have strengthened. Already we’ve celebrated a baptism, two weddings, and a baby on the way! We’ve been volunteering at a local health clinic in an attempt to be a blessing to the community and we’ve been observing the church calendar in order to stay grounded in the great tradition of the universal Church. 

The Mission recently took a big step forward when we found a little space of our own to rent in downtown Dayton. At 14-feet-by-100-feet, the place looks more like a one-lane bowling alley than a church! The air-conditioning doesn’t work. Water randomly spews out of the toilets and sinks. And until recently, the walls were covered with ugly pegboard. (Now we’ve got some nice exposed brick to show off.) 

On Sunday nights it’s bring-your-own-lawn-chair.

The pastor: 

Transient

The pulpit: 

Transient

The sound system: 

Transient

The church: 

Transient

(For more photos, find us on Facebook. For info about meeting times, check out our Web site. To help us live to see another day, donate online.) 

It’s a strange and beautiful thing to be this involved in the life of a church as a consummate doubter and cynic.  

I’ve never been good at asking God for help or trusting him for resources. I balk at our Western notions of “need.” It both exhilarates and frightens me to see fellow skeptics walk through the door, willing to give the church one last try. I wonder sometimes if we’re wasting their time…wasting our time… wasting the world’s time.

I get defensive when people criticize us for starting yet another church in the Bible Belt. I feel guilty when I hear that some are skeptical because “that girl who believes in evolution” is a part of it. I worry when my pastor and his family struggle to make ends meet.  Most of allI fear the disillusionment that awaits if this thing doesn’t work out after all

And yet something about the risk of The Mission makes my faith seem much more real.

Theoretical notions of “church” and “community,” “commitment” and “sacrifice” are tested every day, providing constant opportunities for me to deliberately choose faith (or something quite like it) over doubt. The rhythm of the church calendar and the poetry of the liturgy push me along where I might otherwise stall. Knowing that I am actually needed makes me show up even when I don’t want to. 

I still doubt, but The Mission has forced me into a habit of obeying in spite of it

And sometimes obedience precedes belief. 

***

Do you have something in your life that pushes you through doubt? A spiritual discipline? A project? A community? A routine? 

Got any questions about The Mission? (I’ll be on hand to answer today, and maybe my pastor will weigh in.) 

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Why Glenn Beck Isn't A Big Deal

“Go and be evangelists for America.” – Glenn Beck

“I preach Christ crucified.” – Saint Paul

There were hymns. There were shouts of “amen”.  There was a preacher. There was a congregation. 

But the object of worship on August 28 was not the God of the universe who is actively involved in restoring all things to Himself…and it certainly wasn’t Jesus Christ. 

The object of worship at the Restore America rally was the false god of religious nationalism—a god with borders, a god with enemies, and a god with a terrible memory. 

Much has been said about the suddenness with which evangelical Christians have embraced TV personality Glenn Beck as a religious leader, (some are calling him a prophet), particularly in light of the fact that he is a Mormon. This of course reveals the fact that the fundamentals of this religious movement have nothing to do with theological considerations and everything to do with political considerations. 

The fundamentalists I knew as a child would have dismissed Beck as a cult leader, but this is a new kind of fundamentalism. It matters not to the conservative evangelical members of Becks’  “Black Robe Regiment” that their leader (according to their convictions) is estranged from God and will spend eternity in hell. To them, his relationship to God matters little in comparison to his relationship to America. 

America—with its history of slavery, misogyny, genocide, and corruption—is worshipped as a sort of infallible source of “Christian” values, the Founding Fathers elevated to the level of deities. (I find it ironic that women in this religious movement are calling for an ideological “return” to colonial America when colonial women were forbidden to vote!) Rather than depicting Jesus Christ as the example of faith, hope, and charity, Beckians depict Samuel Adams, George Washington and Ben Franklin as a sort of holy trinity, the embodiment of Christian values. 

Of course, the contrast is striking. 

Jesus taught us to love our enemies. The founding fathers killed their enemies. 

Jesus insisted that his Kingdom had no borders. Religious nationalists say America is a “chosen nation.”  

Jesus said “turn the other cheek.” Beck’s followers say, “Don’t tread on me.” 

Jesus grew his Kingdom through sacrifice. Political leaders grow their kingdoms through politics, power, and war. 

As Greg Boyd says in his excellent book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, “The Kingdom of God is not a Christian version of the kingdom of the world. It is, rather, a holy alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, and everything hangs on kingdom people appreciating this uniqueness and preserving this holiness.” 

So how do followers of Jesus in America preserve the uniqueness of the Kingdom when religious nationalism is on the rise? 

I waited a while to write this post because I had hoped that time would provide an answer to that question that didn’t involve shouting or tears. Frankly, my frustration with Beckianity has made it hard for me to think clearly about this issue, and I am confronted daily with my own tendency to judge, belittle, and even hate those who use the name of Jesus in this way. 

In fact, on the day of the rally I actually yelled at my poor mother for not being more outraged.

We were on the phone making plans for the evening when  she casually mentioned watching the whole thing on TV.

"How can you watch that without getting angry?" I demanded. 

"Because if I've seen this once, I've seen it a million times," Mom said. "It's no big deal. It will pass....You guys wanna come over for steak?"

"No big deal!" I shouted. "Are you kidding?! They're basically taking the Lord's name in vain! Preaching a false gospel! Worshiping an idol!" 

"Oh I know. Your dad's firing up the grill, so you better get on over here." 

I hate to admit that Mom was right, but as I've considered the proper response to Beckianity, the best I can come up with is this: We have to go on living out the alternative, knowing that Beckianity is just a fad.

Political movements come and go, but the Kingdom of God goes on forever. Nations rise and fall, but Jesus Christ remains LordAs Christians, we have a history that is older than America, older than the Enlightenment, older than Constantine. The names of our most esteemed leaders will be long forgotten when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that the crucified Lamb is King. 

As tempting as it is to cast Beckianity as a formidable foe worthy of a fight, it’s just not.  Compared to the Kingdom, it’s small, it’s forgettable, it’s like the grass that browns and withers in the hot October sun. 

May this perspective turn my anger into pity, my pity into compassion, and my compassion into love.

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