Category Archives: religion

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.

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What’s Your Relationship Status With Jesus and Religion?

First let me say that I thought some people were too harsh in their criticism of Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.  At the same time, I don’t have a problem with people stating and discussing what they don’t like or disagree with in the video/poem. (I think artists should expect the public to analyze and critique their work)

To be honest I didn’t like the video from the beginning.  In fact, the first time I saw it I only watched for about a minute before I shut it down.  My first impression was that it had been done before and better (I still think that to be the case although I can’t point to an example) but as more and more people began to criticize it I listened to it again (all the way through this time) and realized that I also had a problem with some of the theological statements Bethke was making.  My biggest complaint was that he was promoting the penal substitution atonement theory.  I believe that theory to be wrong and very damaging.  However, that doesn’t mean that I want to spend a lot of time or energy dumping on Bethke – that would be a waste of time and not something that would line up with my idea of what it means to be a Christ follower. But, I am interested in some of the conversations that are coming out of this. For instance this post, Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated, from my friend Michael William Morrell has some excellent “stuff” for us to ponder and discuss. What about you? What’s your relationship status with Jesus and religion?

Inerrancy Of Scripture: A Reaction To Modernism

 

I do not beleive in the inerrancy of scripture.   I fully acknowledge that my opinion and understanding may be wrong. At the same time, I would add that I have also spent many years seriously studying scripture, living as a committed follower of Christ and have not formed my opinion in a vacuum or in a hurry.

Many would say that there are serious scholars who have been able to carefully harmonize the contradictions in scripture in a way that is acceptable and thoughtful. My experience over the years has been that there are many Christians (many of who are professional clergy) who flippantly explain away contradictions and  I have not personally found even the most careful harmonization of contradictions in scripture sufficient enough for me to continue to claim that scripture is inerrant.

Before I continue I do want to clarify that I am not saying that the many contradictions are a serious threat to the authority or value or credibility of scripture but that our resistance to acknowledge the contradictions is a threat to these things. I may have a different view about the authority of scripture than some who are reading this but that is a different discussion and I don’t believe it hinges on whether or not scripture is inerrant.

Many who believe in the inerrancy of scripture also believe that has been the position of Christians since the formation of the canon.  That is simply not true.   Discussions of inerrancy did not even take place until the modern age. Before then you would find the position being along the lines that there is no false teaching in scripture but that is a long way from claiming scripture is inerrant. In addition,  some might be surprised to find that there are many great and respected theologians through out history who have believed there were (and are) inaccuracies and errors in scripture – people such as Martin Luther, John Chrsyostom, Calvin, Matthew Henry, Charles Hodge to name a few. The fact is that no ancient church council ever debated the issue of inerrancy, let alone announced favor of it and no traditional creed or reformed confession addresses the issue of inerrancy. In other words, the current insistence on inerrancy has its origins in late 19th and early 20th century reactions to modernism. IMO this is a false dichotomy that many thoughtful Christians refuse to accept.

In recent times, I have also begun to believe that the insistence of inerrancy in regards to scripture is a stumbling block and obstacle to what we can learn from scripture.  In addition I have also observed that the insistence of inerrancy tends to make an idol out of scripture among our communities of faith resulting in the displacement of Christ as the center.

Three Things Tuesday – Anne Rice

Best selling novelist, Anne Rice, announced on her Facebook page last week that she was quitting Christianity.

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

and in a follow up post:

“I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

The response has been overwhelming…newspaper articles, television interviews, blog posts, podcasts – and has spawned many conversations.

Here are THREE THINGS that I think are worth checking out:

#1 SOME OF US DON’T WANT TO BE THROWN DOWN THE STAIRS BY THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST.

Mike Morrell’s interview with Anne Rice is available on Homebrewed Christianity Podcast for free.  This is an excellent interview with Anne as she goes into more detail regarding her announcement.

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#2 THE VERY LAST STRAW, WAS THE BISHOP OF PHOENIX, ARIZ. COMING OUT AND PUBLICLY CONDEMNING A NUN FOR AUTHORIZING A LIFE SAVING ABORTION

Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times has an excellent written interview with Rice. Anne shares some of the things that gave her the final push.  Although she says that her decision resulted from a sum total of many things, she does state that some papal announcements were last straws.

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#3 Dan Harris’ interview with Anne Rice today on “World News” at 6:30 p.m. and the full story on “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. ET

Dan Harris’ interview and the Nightline coverage will both be aired this evening (Wed. 8/11/10).  Anne mentioned it on her Facebook page and stated that it was her last scheduled tv  interview pertaining to her break with organized religion and invited comments and discussion.

Three Things Tuesday – Race, Inception and Following Jesus

#1  There’s a new blog “Ethnic, Space and Faith” that is worth the time.  Randy Woodley, the author of Living In Color, is the author and his new blog is a continued attempt to promote ethnic space in faith.   The tag line is “we have no color lines”.  IMO this is important work that is very much needed.

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#2 I saw Inception on opening weekend.  I thought it was the best movie I’ve seen all year and it didn’t stop giving when the final credits rolled … because it is one of those movies that keeps everyone talking.  There are theories being posted all over the net.  Here is one that is getting a lot of attention.

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#3 Josh Harris has a very funny cartoon about how the phrase “following Jesus” might be confusing to some.

Where is up now?

One of the major shake-ups in the last reformation of the church was the new knowledge about the earth and sun.   Scripture indicated that the sun moved and the earth stood still and could not be moved. When it was discovered that the earth literally revolved around the sun questions arose about the believability of scripture.   It was also discovered at this time that the world is round. This knowledge led people to ask the question: “If the world is round, where is heaven?”. Heaven had always been UP, but if there is no UP, then where is heaven?  These are the questions that shook up people 500 years ago.

Today we have different questions that are causing major shake-ups.   With scientific, intellectual and technological advances we are led to ask new questions.  One of the questions that tends to keep coming up in conversations these days is the question of authority as discontentment continues to grow over the inadequacy and failure of church authority and sola scriptura.

Some will say that this discontentment comes from those who are resisting authority  and who don’t like what they hear from the church and/or from scripture.  I am sure those people exist, but, at the same time, I know that there are those who are serious in their search for the answer to the question: “Where should our authority come from?”

I’m leaning towards the idea that Christian authority should come from community that is shaped by scripture and tradition.

What do you think?