Tag Archives: Christianity

The Best Religion

This month’s synchroblog asks the question: if you were to change to another religion, what religion would you choose and why?

 

There is a story that has been circulated online about a conversation that took place at an interfaith conference between the Dalai Lama and the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.*

When recalling the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses he thought the Dalai Lama would defend oriental religions as being the best, but instead, His Holiness answered, “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.” 

Expanding on that, he went on to say, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more responsible.  The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.” 

Clearly inspired by where his thoughts were leading, His Holiness added, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.” 

I am a Christian and have been all of my life.  I was born into a Christian family, as a young girl I chose to be a Christian and many times throughout my life I have chosen to remain a Christian.  However, my idea of what it means to be a Christian has changed so dramatically over the last decade that it sometimes feels like I have completely changed religions.

I have changed enough that some Christians have even questioned if I still have the right to call myself a Christian.

To them I would say, “the best Christianity is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.”

I might even add, “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more loving, more responsible … that’s the kind of Christianity one should pursue.  You should not be so concerned with what I believe as how I behave … with my peers, my family and friends, at work, in my community and in front of the world.”

Just as some have reasons to choose a new religion I have reasons to remain a Christian and yet, that doesn’t mean that I am not changing my religion.

I hope I continue to change my religion as I grow and learn more about what it means to be the best kind of Christian – the kind that moves me closer to God and makes me a better person.

*I could not verify that the story is true, however, the ideas presented seem to be harmonious to the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the teachings of Buddhism.

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Here are links to all the contributions for this month’s synchroblog:

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.

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.

Deconstructing The Great Commission – Part Two

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‘To be a witness means to offer your own faith experience and to make your doubts and hopes, failures and successes, loneliness and woundedness, available to others as a context in which they can struggle with their own humanness and quest for meaning.’   –-Henry Nouwen (Spiritual Direction)

I didn’t get a lot of response to my previous post Deconstructing The Great Commission  but here’s some rambling in response to one of the comments:

Ken Bussell pointed out that the verses associated with The Great Commission don’t say anything about “sharing the gospel” – instead the verses speak of making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments.  Thinking about that and taking into account what Jesus said and taught I start to get the sense that The Great Commission is not so much about converting people to a particular belief system but much more about teaching a way of life.  Of course it is easier to tell people what to believe than to show them how to live.  Living life is a lot messier – it often seems to pull the legs out from under absolute statements that belief systems are typically built on.  I notice that people were always trying to pin Jesus down about what they should believe about all sorts of things, but Jesus didn’t seem that concerned with absolute statements that could be spouted off.  In fact, it seemed that he went out of his way to show that life would more often than not turn those statements on their head.  Just when someone thought they were being obedient Jesus would demonstrate that their form of obedience violated the very essence of what he was all about.

I guess at this point I would say that I am getting a picture that living out The Great Commission is much more alive and fluid than traditional teaching conveys. 

Deconstructing The Great Commission

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As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training.  Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you.  At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me.  I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”.  So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”

I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”

When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today.  Today I want to ask some different questions.  I want to ask:

“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?”  “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?”  “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”

You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost).  When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise.  It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire.  I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some  immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.

Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned?  Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?

I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages.  I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point. 

I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.

I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on.  I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous.  (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions.  Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.)