When (and why does) bad theology happen to good people

I recently bore witness to a guy talking about his daughter’s son recently passed away from Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC). He talked about how devastated his daughter was, but he also stated how his church addressed the issue by stating that “everything happens for a reason” and he took that answer in stride…I, despite not involved in anyway, was devastated- for the woman who lost her son unexpectedly, but also this pronouncement the church fed him.
It works me up, it pisses me off when I get a whiff of bad theology. Whether Christianese cliche phrases to explain away pain, hurt, suffering, et al. and while sometimes the reason is no reason, that leaves me wondering; do you honesty hear what you’re saying? Would you like to be on the receiving end of that?

A while ago I found a list of the 10 cliches Christians shouldn’t never use, and the one I heard this guy say tops the list. I think it tops the list because of the common denominator that all humans can relate to is pain; not all pain looks the same, but it certainly ties us together. So when pain get paired with bad theology I wonder where is God in all of it. God’s there in the pain and the suffering, but I am certain to the core of me that God is not present in the bad theology, and perhaps the head of God shakes in dismay for such pithy remarks.
I know that if I lost a child, I would want people to be present, and preferably people present in silence. Yes silence can be awkward, silence can be troubling to some, but silence paired with presence can be healing. I don’t need theology in doing, but rather being, and if I knew the woman who lost her son I would be with her because I believe that is what Jesus would do/be as well.

So please, stop bad theology where you can, stop hurting with words and be with those who suffer because wouldn’t you want someone to be there with you when you suffer?

~Nathanael~

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Neither mission trips nor guilt trips

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The life of a follower of Christ can at times be easily lost in the busyness of every day life. It also, unfortunately,  can be summed up in two trips: missions trips and guilt trips.

Mission trips

You take group A and send them to location B (preferably outside one’s town, and better yet if it’s outside one’s country) and have them help built houses, feed the homeless, do 5 day clubs or VBS, etc. Interact long enough so that you’ve done your good deed and taken enough photos to raise support for next year’s mission trip and to give you that elated “missions trip high” …but short enough that one’s value there is a blip, that thought of committing to it for life isn’t achieved, that you’re there and you’re gone and you nor the ones you went to will truly wonder why you went- for them? For God? For yourself?
As much as my statements appear to be cynical and critical of the ever-popular short term mission trip, I will let you in to a bit of my entwining of missions trips and my life. When I was 5 or 6 I supported through the AWANA program a missionary my church supported who was in Nagoya Japan. I did extra errands, saved what I could, and donated it to him when he came into town to report back to our congregation as to what he had been doing. I thoroughly enjoyed giving to him what I could at an early age, I was also over the moon when he spent nearly a day with my family and myself.

When I was in high school my sister’s youth group went to Juárez Mexico…and I, with 3-4 days to spare, went along as well. We made a house for a family of 5 through a mission group called Casas Por Cristo out of El Paso Texas, and what do I remember about the trip?
1) We made a house
2) 3 kids; Olga, Luis, and Soche
3) I was accused of being gay because I was myself, a nice guy, not some hardass patriarchal authority figure type.
4) I bought the 3 kids a soccer ball
5) I went to a bizarre and it was quite bizarre
6) I ate an awesome steak and I think it cost me $6
7) I experienced the short term mission trip high…

With this last bit I remember coming back and thinking how much I wanted that feeling to “stick” to me, and if I stuck to a system of reading the Bible more, praying more, doing devotions more, God would show up that much MORE as a result and I would have that elated feeling all the time. Because that’s what God wants, right?

But that’s not what following Christ is about.

***

Guilt trips

The church is very very guilty at wagging the finger and the tongue at its own and others in making them feel, well, guilty. Some of it comes from presenting the gospel message from a place of God’s judgment and wrath instead of God’s love and grace, some of it comes from a warped Calvinist view that says we are (by default) living in sin and live lives of “total depravity”, some of it comes from personal views and unhealthy assumptions as to how God looks us as individuals as well as the world… The list goes on to why guilt is such an effective albeit destructive tool in the church and outside, but there are oppressors and there are a lot more oppressed.
I bore witness to this in my youth when my father would present his staunch Calvinist views via a presentation on TULIP, I fed into some of this when I was presented with black and white theology; either you believe in God or you don’t, either you’ll wind up in Heaven or in Hell, either you’re living for God or you’re not, etc. It was a difficult burden to live under the weight of black and white theology, because even though I was “saved” I still didn’t know because I was “totally depraved”. It was a weight that was not put upon my shoulders by Christ, but rather by other Christians, and maybe (I’ll have to think about it) I pushed that weight on others as well.

Guilt tripping is not what following Christ is about either.

***

When I think about the gospel message presented I am reminded of the country-esque quote of “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” and I can attest to that in my walk with Christ; it was grace and unconditional love that won me over, and still wins me over time and time again. It wasn’t the guilt trips (permanent low) or mission trips (temporary high) that pointed to what living unto Christ is about, but rather the day-in and day-out living in community, with others, unto God and also unto others. The parts of the Bible attributed to Jesus in what he said and what he did fuels me and encourages me to “go and do likewise“. There is an interconnectedness between everyone and it is my desire to seek out the good and the Imago Dei-ness everyone possesses. I no longer live out of guilt nor a sense of I-gotta-do-A*-to-get-right-with-God either, and you know what? It isn’t about the highs nor is it about the lows, but it is about the everyday living unto God unto others, and that is all I need and it is all I want as well.
Yes there are good days, but there are also bad days, and I take it all in stride. Some days I wish I did more and some days I wish I did less, but in all things to God be the glory and the strength to continue on, to go…and do likewise.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

I wonder (had I been born in a kibbutz in Israel)

Prior to my birth my parents considered moving to a kibbutz in Israel. I don’t know the ins and outs of it except to say that I believe it had to do with an odd and somewhat twisted eschatological (end times) view on how things were going to go down in the Middle East and then on to the world. So with that in mind I wonder how I would’ve been shaped by the events that are currently unfolding there, the issues that have been for the longest time been erupting over there, the tit-for-tat bombing and killing, essentially “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”…

I wonder…

I wonder if I was indeed born and raised in Israel how would I find my identity. Perhaps I would side up with Zionists claiming that the land was ALL theirs. Maybe I would be on the side of Palestinians whose land shrinks more and more, being pushed back further and further. Maybe I would take the stance some Evangelical American Christians have in thinking that if I take Israel’s side God will bless me…but it’s a lot of speculation as to how I would truly take a stand, but all I can is as that as a follower of Christ the side I do take in this issue is one of being Pro-Peace.

***

This idea of being pro-peace didn’t come to me on my own. I admit I am somewhat biased and not level when it comes to the issues of what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. Yet it is the prayer of my heart to be pro-peace, and it also stems from a statement St. Mother Teresa made;

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

I too want to live out this perspective, on a global-local level, to make peace with people who agree with me but also with those who disagree with me. I think it is more Christ-like to take this stance than to be swayed by ideologies and perspectives and twisting of Bible verses to suit my personal gain. Since this is an issue that concerns people it can be emotionally challenging to see anything BUT peace, to formulate and perpetuate the “us versus them” paradigm as a means to bolster a means to exclaim why “I’m Pro-Israel / Pro-Palestine” and yet when we have take that kind of side we choose to have no love in our hearts for “the other” whomever they might be.

Peace might not appear to be obtainable, but I believe in my heart that someday it will prevail across all lands…all people…and through all hearts. It takes time, a whole lot of time, but there’s no time like the present for it to start.

Pray for Palestine,
Pray for Israel,
Pray for Peace.

~Nathanael~

Jesus is the filter of the Bible for me to go and do likewise

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I grew up in a household where the Bible was read regularly and at length; my sisters, mother, and I collectively read through the Bible from Genesis through Revelation at least a half dozen times, and I know personally I read it on my own a few more times than that. Still we read it at face value, didn’t ask too many questions apart from what does it say? What does it mean? How can I apply it to my life? And certainly didn’t question the contents. But even then I wasn’t too keen on the Bible, I liked Proverbs and Biblical characters such as David, Samson, Esther, etc. but as we read it from cover-to-cover I couldn’t wait for us to start the New Testament portion and to read and learn about what Jesus said and did.

As an adult (a 30 year old adult since Saturday) I honestly don’t read the Bible as often as I used to. As I type I observe my row of books that I want to read through for understanding this summer. At one book end is my Orthodox Study Bible (and if you must know, running ultra-marathons for dummies is on the other end) and I am sort of weighed down by it. Not because it is necessarily because it is the Bible, but because I know when I pick it up I will not judge it at face value, I will write down my thoughts, I might highlight passages, but ultimately I will read the Bible and use Jesus as the filter from which I will read it.

***

I was talking to an awesome individual yesterday over coffee and I asked him his take on reading the Bible, as I disclosed to him I haven’t picked it up in a while. He had good insight and while I won’t disclose much of it here, I do realize he’s in a similar place as I when it comes to the contents of the Bible. It certainly needs to be read in context (i.e. the entiretyof the Bible) but Jesus, as Colossians states, “the visible representation of the invisible God” is the means in which we should read the Bible.
Because if I am honest with myself and the contents of the Bible, it is a messy complicated book that sometimes it doesn’t wrap up nicely nor does it truly leave me with “the warm fuzzies”. Genocide, murder, incest, war, etc. further complicates things, and sometimes the questions I read into the Bible doesn’t answer the Bible’s more troubling aspects such as Psalm 137:9 when it says “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” I’m not about to explore the meaning let alone apply it to my life.

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So that’s why Jesus is and will be the filter in which I read the Bible. I am, and this isn’t to get a rise out of anyone, willing to scrap portions of the Bible I don’t agree with if it conflicts with what Jesus said and did. Trust me, Jesus did this as well (as pointed out by the awesome individual I invested time with); those passages that say “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you that…” points to a Jesus who knew his scriptures, but didn’t necessarily agree with sections of what he read. I am not Jesus, I only intend to glean from his existence, his life, his work, and what he said and apply that to my life so as to “go and do likewise”. So if Jesus is willing to scrap portions of the Bible, why can’t I?

So that is the journey and how I plan on going about reading the Bible this summer. It flies in the face of how I was taught to read the Bible, but I (and yes, I’d hope this is true) am evolving and becoming more of a follower of Christ in my words and actions, and so for me that is the only way I perceive reading the Bible. It won’t be easy, but I have faith God will meet me where I’m at through and through. I will ask questions, I will doubt and certainly question the validity of the Bible’s contents at times, but ultimately I take in what I read and aim to take what I use and use Jesus as the filter.

~Nathanael~

Entrusting God with my 30’s (and beyond)

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On Sunday I will be turning the big 3-0 and my knee-jerk, gut reaction towards my birthday is oh hell I am a year older.

I am not a fan of my birthday most of the time because I over-analyze and overthink it and I find myself doubting my self-worth and what I have done with my XX years of living. But, and maybe it’s senility taking over (I kid), I am coming to terms with surrender and entrusting God with the journey set before me in its rawest form; the journey of simply living and BEing.

I am going to be as optimist about it as I can be, but not the blind optimism that bares a fake smile that seems like the byproduct of a Botox injection gone awry, but the optimism that says God this is my life, this is my journey, help me to trust in you with my life now and forever. It’s not a revised “sinner’s prayer” but a prayer in the breath-as-a-prayer form, a breathing in…a breathing out, an entrusting for what I see in front of me and even for what I don’t see, as my vision is limited (interpret that as you will).

So with that in mind, I embrace my life as being 1 year older, first year of my 30s, wonderful years I have yet to experience but God is here and God is near in the midst of my good times and even in times where I utter a fuck this shit under my breath or out loud. God sustains me and provides, and so I trust and turn towards open-handed faith instead of clenched-fist belief, opening of myself in a posture of surrender and human feebleness.
I know I will be met on this journey, and even if I don’t see much in front of me, I am okay with that I really am. So here’s to the journey called life, here’s the journey called my 30s.

Pax perfecta est in terram,
Nathanael

***

P.S. In lieu of a birthday present, would you mind consider donating to The Marin Foundation. I believe in their ministry and their continual effort in building bridges. Thank you very much for considering doing this, I appreciate it and I know they will as well.