Category Archives: Guest Posts

That’s fishy. . .

Faith life can be weird, right? I often feel like as a follower of Jesus I am living between extremes that look totally off-putting, yet when I’m doing a good job of it there are these incredible rewards.

One example of where I try to live in the tension is around God intervening in my life. On one extreme there are those who have some kind of faith but believe God doesn’t ever touch reality now that He has set it in motion. That’s not me; I believe God acts in the world. That said, I generally like people who adopt this view, and I don’t find it difficult to relate to… if I hadn’t had my personal experiences with God, I’d be in this camp.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

On the other extreme are the folks who experience God intervening in every decision of their lives, thanking God for getting out of speeding tickets, for good parking places, for Vikings victories, for the McDonald’s employee giving them an extra large helping of french fries, etc. I appreciate thankfulness, and I’ll thank God for anything good, but I’ve watched people thank God for coincidences as if God designed those coincidences specifically to bless that person… like “Thanks God, you know I needed Adrian Peterson to rush for 180 yards to win my fantasy football game this week, I appreciate your effort on my behalf.” That kind of prayer is harder for me to identify with.

So here I sit, trying to live between the poles (or, you could argue, setting up a false dichotomy…). I believe firmly that once upon a time, as I set off to kill myself, God intervened, saved my life, and changed me forever. I also believe that I’m likely to find the best parking space out of 100 about… 1% of the time. When I do, I’m grateful, but I don’t experience it as an intervention from On High designed to make my day better. A little skepticism not only never hurt anybody, sometimes it keeps you from being an idiot.

I have a saying that I pull out when something happens that seems extremely coincidental, to the point where I might reasonably attribute it to God. I say “Hm… that’s fishy.” A good number of people in my life know that’s one way I say that God might have intervened at this point.

"Dude. I'm calling shenanigans, right here and now."

“Dude. I’m calling shenanigans, right here and now.”

This last week I was at the Vineyard national conference in Anaheim. The Vineyard is the church movement I’m a part of, and I was apprehensive about the conference this year. I was concerned about some meetings I had set up, concerned with my place in my church movement, and generally just feeling anxious.

The night I got there two very nice middle aged ladies I’d never met asked to pray for me. Out of the blue they began to pray words that spoke directly and completely toward my apprehension and anxieties. They spoke powerful words of encouragement and of God’s presence in my conflict (which, mind you, I hadn’t told them I was having… they knew nothing about me other than the fact that my hand had been in the air).

When they were done I felt gladness, a lifting of anxiety/apprehension, and great peace. I thought… “That’s fishy.” It seemed like an act of God.

Over the next three days, people randomly prayed for me three times. All three times they walked up to me cold, prayed words that perfectly fit my situation, and wandered off oblivious to what was, for me, becoming simultaneously a surreal experience and a growing confidence that God is with me and genuinely loves me. No one prayed a single word for me that didn’t fit. No one had any details or knowledge of my life. Everything they prayed gave me greater peace and joy.

It was, in short, one of the fishiest experiences I’ve ever had. I ended up having a number of amazing meetings, and a couple challenging ones. I’m so grateful that before the latter took place, I had received tremendous encouragement and security through either the most absurd coincidences I can imagine… or God had intervened in my life for no purpose other than to bless me.

It was pretty fishy, and I’m pretty grateful. I’ve been thanking God a lot this week, and I’ll be doing so for awhile.

I’m also more grateful than ever to be part of a faith community. The challenges of life (anxieties and apprehensions about people, for example) are a given. Crazy fishy intervention by God seems to happen a lot more often when people are praying around me. It’s almost like God speaks to us through one another, or even loves us through one another 😉

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

On to the questions!

1. Do you ever see God in the coincidences of your life? How often, and how would you know?

2. Have you ever had a supernatural experience (or extreme fishiness, if you prefer!) while someone else was praying for you?

3. What do you think of my story… do you have any stories (positive or negative) that are brought to mind as you read?

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Agreeing to Disagree – A guest post by Rev. Peter Benedict

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life convinced that being right and knowing the truth are important. I’ve also often thought I was right about just about everything. Those two sentences would have seemed unrelated to me for a good 20 years, but reading them now I’m stunned at their silliness.

My passion for finding the truth has led to some good stuff in my life. I was the guy in college who’d stay up all night talking with people about anything I cared about, and even if I tried to convince you I was right and even if I knew I you were wrong, I enjoyed hearing other perspectives. I’m glad I’ve always been after the truth, even if I was sure I already had it.

My passion for truth has led to some less good stuff too, especially when it’s been paired with surety in my own perspective. As a teen, for example, I got put in private Christian schools because I was suicidally unhappy in my public school (a story for another day!). While there I was exposed to all kinds of “theology,” and when I became convinced, I felt justified in being a jerk about it… because after all, I was right! I did some terrible stuff, like telling my future sister-in-law that God didn’t want her speaking in church (which I didn’t believe was good, or right, but it was in the Bible and I wanted to be argumentative).

"Oh, for the love of me. . ."

“Oh, for the love of me. . .”

Now I’m 42 years old, or as my teen self would have thought: Nearly dead. And I find myself much less sure, much less concerned with being right, but still passionate about truth. But the truth is different now. Jesus has rolled stuff out in my life, rather than giving me some giant ball of truth-wax in one big glob. I discover over time that I’ve been wrong and that God’s calling me to a new way, and this has happened so many times that I’m now pretty sure of some different truths than I used to believe.

I’m pretty sure that right now I’ve got wrong beliefs about something. I’m pretty sure I have no idea what it is, so I might as well be humble about what I believe.

I’m pretty sure that when I disagree with someone, how we treat each other is more important than who’s right.

"Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!"

“Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!”

I’m pretty sure that how I treat people is important even if the other person is doing something terrible, like spitting at me or nailing me to a cross or, even worse… JUDGING ME! I used to put being judgmental on its own special plane in Dante’s Inferno, but now I figure I’ve been sure and judgmental often enough that I should probably just be graceful in the face of it. I’ll probably be judgmental again someday, and when that happens I’d love to be able to say “I’m sorry… could you give me some grace on this one, like you’ve seen me give to others?”

Once upon a time, if I’d started a blog it would have been my goal to tell you, dear reader, what’s right and true. Now I’m writing for a blog because I want to learn from you. When we disagree, I’ll still believe what I believe in the moment… but disagreement is OK, and I hope we do a lot of it here. I hope we do it well.

"I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!"

“I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!”

On that front… on to the questions!

1. How sure are you of the truth (or The Truth, if you prefer)?

2. How have you treated people when you disagree? How have people treated you?

3. Is there any truth that you’re passionate about? Is there any truth you’ve been so passionate about that you’ve been less kind than you’d hope?

4. Is judgment some kind of special wrong? Is it OK to treat judgmental people badly?

5. Do you have any questions for me, or anything to say that I would benefit from hearing?

Thanks in advance to all who respond. You’re the reason I’m writing, and I hope I learn good things from you.


The Awe of God – A Guest Post by Brant Skogrand

Dan’s Preamble

Wow, have we been guest-blogger-posting fools lately, or what? One of the great things about running a tiny li’l blog like this one is meeting other bloggers. Brant Skogrand is a fine fellow who attends River Heights Vineyard with me, and he has a little something to say. Brant normally blogs here. If you like his post here, why not check out the rest of his stuff?

End Preamble

 

*          *          *

Six years ago, inspired by the awesome experience of hearing God audibly speak to me, I started a blog. Called The Awe of God, I set out to capture and document instances of God speaking to people.

Here’s what I have learned along the way.

  1. God connects with each of us uniquely. For some of us, God speaks audibly. For others, it’s through scripture. Visions have been reported. In numerous instances, God speaks through the people around us. Other times, it’s a still small voice inside.
  2. God has a plan for our lives. Whether it’s showing a woman that she has breast cancer in order to educate others or saving a man from suicide, God will speak to us in order ensure that His will be fulfilled.
  3. By following God, things could happen that we never would have imagined. Like Alfonso Fernandez, who followed God to become the Spanish radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Or Jennifer Henderson, who left her $100,000-a-year job at a Toyota plant to open a Christian bookstore.
  4. While many people may be reluctant to admit it, they have heard God’s voice. Sometimes people don’t want to disclose that God talked to them for fear of appearing haughty (especially here in Minnesota) or seeming too religious. However, covered by the anonymity of a survey, 20 percent of Americans admitted to USA Today that they had heard the voice of God. Sometimes what God says to us is just extremely personal, and we don’t feel like sharing that with others.
  5. God’s presence is fleeting. I guess that He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Or it could be that He just wants to make a short yet powerful statement, such as the time when a grandmother heard of a chorus of harps as she was comforting her dying grandson.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip “B.C.,” felt that God wanted him to do the comic strip as a way to share God’s humorous inspiration. Author John Eldredge shares God’s sense of humor in his book “Beautiful Outlaw” when, asking God why He doesn’t give John hearts anymore, God responds by having John come upon a dried piece of cow manure – in the perfect shape of a heart.

Thank you, God, for your amazing presence. I am still in awe.


Looking for help from YOU! – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

Pete Benedict is a friend of the blog. He’s commented numerous times, I’ve used silly pictures of him on more than one occasion, and he home brews incredibly good beer. He’s also my pastor, although I’d like to point out that he became my pastor because he was my friend, and not the other way around. Pete’s got an exciting new project in the works, and he’d like your feedback on it. Let’s give him our attention, children, and there will be ice cream after the test.

The world has too many books. When I consider all the amazing writing I don’t have time to read, my heart is saddened… I hope that the afterlife gives us an eternity to catch up, because if not I’m never going to get a chance to take it all in.

 And yet I’m planning to write a book with a friend. On the face of it (and deeper!) this seems dumb. Self-published books are now being given away by the boatload, and I’m under no illusions about how many books I can sell. If I work hard, efficiently, and get lucky, I might come up with minimum wage, yay! As a pastor who works too many hours, as a father with three kids, as a guy who loves his free time spent home-brewing and disc golf and running and reading and video games… why would I want another job?

I guess the answer is: I don’t. But I want to do what’s right, and when I’m not sure what’s right, I want to do what seems good and fun and exciting. I’m a Christian hedonist… I love my life, I have a fairly ridiculous amount of joy in my life (I describe myself as “stupid happy” regularly), and it’s been my experience that joy comes when I follow God.

For the last four or five years I’ve been leading a group of random folks who get together monthly to discuss a theologically related book over beer. Theology Pub has been one of the sources of joy in my life. We get to interact with diverse authors, disagree with each other (or agree with each other) about Big Ideas, enjoy great beer, and return again the next month. When I’m there I can speak freely and have a blast, and I also learn a ton. We ask the same questions of every book (What was most compelling? What did you like best, and least? What does this book have to do with how we live as individuals and as a community today?).

When one of my friends from Theology Pub recently wrote a book (on public relations, his field) I was impressed. When he suggested we write one together, I thought the idea sounded like a good one for the alternate universe where I have time for that kind of thing. When he brought it up again and my heart kind of leapt in my chest, I realized… this could actually happen.

So, having learned the value of doing things well vs. doing things now, I suggested we each pray for 30 days about whether this is a good idea. During that 30 days I had an experience that felt like it was from God. I asked a friend, older and wiser and very focused in his work, what he thought of this crazy book-writing idea. I knew he’d shoot it down, because he’s always challenging me to focus my work and family life. Instead, he thought, looked me in the eye, and said: “You should do it.” As he did so, I felt like God put his hand down and spoke with him.

So now we’re figuring things out. Questions like: How do we want to do this together? What will the book be about (I could write more on that one… and will, some day soon)? How do we get started?

That last question is the reason you’re reading this post. We decided to get started by launching a blog, one where I’ll write weekly and invite anyone willing to write as well. We decided to start writing blog posts weekly, and while eventually they’ll be on our own site, for now they’ll be wherever anyone will publish them.

Our plan for the book is to call it something like “Reflections on Blue Ocean Faith,” and to center the book on how pointing our lives toward Jesus affects everything about how we interact with our culture and with one another. I’d like to have guest writers (like Dave Schmelzer, or Ryan Bauers, or Lauren Catlin, or Charles Park, or any other sucker willing to dive in!) contribute chapters, because there are a million people with great things to say.

Our plan for the blog is to call it “Blue Ocean Reflections,” pending confirmation that the Blue Ocean Faith movement isn’t changing their name any time soon. We’d like it to be a faith blog that fosters discussion and not only allows disagreement, but looks for it. I’d like to see posts from atheists, agnostics, young dudes, old ladies, pastors, and anyone else interested in having a discussion in a context that’s centered in a community that’s asking the question: How can we head toward Jesus?

Toward that end, I have a few questions for you, and I’ll follow up with anyone who wants to reply to any of them.

 1. Does the world need another book?

2. Is there anything worth saying any more?

3. What do you think of the idea that God speaks directly to us, as I’m assuming happened during my 30 days of prayer?

4. What’s important to you about how people of faith relate to our culture?+
5. Is there ANYTHING AT ALL UNDER THE SUN you’d like to say, or hear more about?

 Peace, WTFers. God is with you.


Why I Haven’t Been Arrested (Yet) – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

The other day someone shared a link to an article that I find kind of awesome and somewhat irritating. For those with TL;DR syndrome, the gist of the article is that an elderly African-American divinity school professor was studying the Bible and decided that to follow Christ meant he needed to stand up for “the common man” and get himself arrested.

This article is awesome in that 89 year old divinity professors don’t fit my prototype for “guys who get arrested.” It’s also awesome in that he redefines holiness in terms I admire. He writes:

“Speaking holy words has serious consequences. These are not words that simply speak of God. There is nothing inherently serious or holy in God talk. The holy words that bring

consequences are words tied to the concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. Such holy words bring the speakers into direct confrontation with those in power.”

As a nascent blogger I need these words. They free me to be non-serious and non-holy in blogging about faith and Christ, and they also challenge me to action. They specifically challenge me to confront power where it’s used for oppression. While there are people who do so through writing (dissident bloggers under oppressive regimes), I’m pretty sure it’s a stretch to define blogging in America as taking any concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. I do some work that might fit that bill, particularly my leadership in a recovery group, but if I’m going to talk (blog) more, it’s worth some time to reflect on whether my life matches what I admire and value in others.

Ask myself some tough questions, like, "Why don't I own a black beret?"

Ask myself some tough questions, like, “Why don’t I own a black beret?”

Thus my irritation in reading this article. I’ve lived an arrest-free life, and my regard for those who practice civil disobedience (whether Thoreau, MLK jr., or ancient professorly dudes) is high enough that I both admire them and also feel a stirring to action. There are causes that, when I consider them in my mind, seem worth getting arrested for. My list is probably different from yours, dear reader, but for me the list includes the oppression of illegal immigrants, human trafficking, whatever war we’re busy carrying out, and the plight of single parents in our society.

When I realize that I “believe” (with my mind) that a number of causes are important enough to get arrested over them, I invariably start to wonder whether I should go out & get arrested. I’ve had this conversation with my wife, and she’s OK with being married to a guy who’d do this, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get fired over it. I’ve even made plans. But you know… life is busy. Stuff comes along, “later” sounds good, and then later becomes never.

I can't do time today - my stories are on!

I can’t do time today – my stories are on!

One of the causes I’ve spent some time (not enough!) on is restorative justice for felons. I spent years doing and dealing drugs, carrying and using in restaurants, universities, homes, bars, airplanes, and airports. I think some part of my subconscious wanted me to get caught: I used in the alley next to a police station, and getting high on an airplane is probably non-justifiably stupid, right?

So the fact that I’m walking around free as a bird with no record is, as far as I’m concerned, a fluke. Yet my friends who got caught, many of whom used less often and never dealt, have lives vastly different from mine. They’re unable to rent, unable to find jobs, stuck telemarketing or incinerating deceased animals. Their entire lives have been twisted for the exact behavior I engaged in.

So I attend the Second Chance Coalition’s annual gathering at the state capitol, and I’ve visited our local state congressman, and I wear SCC’s propaganda T-shirts. But am I willing to give up my arrest-free record in solidarity with those who are struggling to be restored to society?

Maybe I am. I’m pretty sure my record won’t be clean forever. Busy-ness and my kids and job and to-do list are facts of life, and perhaps there’s some wisdom in waiting until you’re 89 to go get arrested, but perhaps the future will come sooner because of the example of some people following Jesus in North Carolina. I’m grateful for their words and action.

1. Is there anything you believe in strongly enough that you’d get arrested in America for it?

2. What do you think of the guy in this article, or of the guy writing this blog post? Is civil disobedience laudable, laughable, or somewhere in between?

3. What do you think of restorative justice for felons? Veronica, you’re welcome to answer this one with a treatise or two… and so is anyone else who cares.

Thanks for reading, and ESPECIALLY for commenting. I’d love to learn from you.

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?


God says, “Laugh, dammit!” – A guest post by Lauren Martinez Catlin

If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you might have seen that I’m not a very prolific reviewer of books. In fact, I’ve reviewed one book in the blog’s history – The Other Side of Silence, by Lauren Martinez Catlin. Lauren is a friend whom I met through a Vineyard event, although that’s not why I reviewed her book. I reviewed it because it’s fucking awesome. It didn’t take much cajoling to convince Lauren to write a guest post for What the Faith – but it did take a little cajoling. So let’s show her some love, okay?

 

She's the one on the right.

She’s the one on the right.

 

Oh, and by the way – her book is, as I said, fucking awesome. And I think you’d love it. And if you don’t believe me, I dare you to buy it here.

*          *          *          *          *

This is the story of how God told me to watch a really silly tv show.

Due to a small case of cancer, I had a medical procedure that involved some radioactivity, so I had to be isolated from all people for three days, and from my one-year-old daughter for a week.  I knew I needed this procedure for about a year before it actually happened, so I had plenty of time to dread and plan for it.

I comforted myself with the thought that I would eat whatever I wanted, get lots of writing done, do some new drawings, play the piano, finish reading Anna Karenina, and if all else failed, I could watch movies and crochet.

Because I go to a Vineyard church, I had plenty of opportunities to ask people to pray for me, and I took advantage of them all.  People prayed for my cancer and this specific treatment at the regional conference in Duluth, at the worship conference in Inver Grove Heights, in my small group, at the staff meeting at my church, at the leadership meeting after Celebrate Recovery.  I had a thick, wooly covering of prayer.  Lots of people prayed that isolation would be like a spiritual retreat for me, that it would be a peaceful and enjoyable time.  I’d personally felt like God had said, “I can make this good.”  I was still not excited, but I was mildly hopeful.

The radioactivity didn’t have many side effects, but the drug treatment leading up to the radioactivity made me really sick, and I couldn’t stop the treatment until halfway through the isolation period.  I  couldn’t eat whatever I wanted because I had to stay on a ridiculously restrictive diet through most of the isolation.  I was too tired to sit up at the piano, there was no way I’d have the concentration for sketching or writing, much less reading a freakin’ Russian novel.  I mostly slept, showered, ate a piece of salt-free banana bread, slept some more, and then showered again.  When I was conscious and not washing off radioactive sweat, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

 

My first night alone in that big apartment, I video chatted with my tiny gorgeous daughter as she was going to bed, and I teared up.  I felt a sharp burning in my eyes, but ignored it so I could focus on that chubby little face.  The sharp pain didn’t go away, though, and after my daughter was peacefully sleeping, I saw that the inner corners of my eyes were blood-red and shrunken.  The radiation in my tears had burned my tear ducts.  For the rest of the week, I couldn’t even cry.

I was laying in bed, mired in depression and trying not to exacerbate my scabby tear ducts.  Way too tired to do anything crazy like shake my fist at God, I just asked in a tired voice, “Hey.  You know how you said you’d make this good?  Is that still coming?”  My exhausted brain made a lazy connection between that question and the one John the Baptist sent to Jesus from prison.  “Are you the Messiah, or should we wait for someone else?”

In the Bible, Jesus replied by saying, “Tell John what you’ve seen.  The blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

In that empty apartment, Jesus replied by saying, “Stop watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Watch something that’s just funny.”

I was annoyed at the unspiritual nature of this response, but I followed the advice anyway.  Buffy was getting me down with her near-constant state of apocalypse anyway.  The funny parts of Buffy are really funny, but they’re a light seasoning at best.  So instead I watched “Coupling.”

 

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

 

“Coupling” is an quirky little British sitcom that is similar to “Friends” here in the states.  Except “Friends” takes itself way more seriously.  In the first episode that I turned on, a male character drifts  into a recurring nightmare that if he ever tries to kiss a woman, his mother will emasculate him with a miniature guillotine.  This is not spiritual fodder for anything.  But it is funny.  Even with my salt-free banana bread and scabby tear ducts, I found myself smiling.  A few more minutes into the show, and I actually laughed.  I felt better because I was laughing.

I felt a surge of gratitude, not toward God, but toward people who do comedy.  I wondered if they knew how transcendent their work is, if they know that their talent and hard work brought a laugh to me through a wall of cancer, radiation, and depression.  I wanted to write a letter to someone and tell them to just keep being funny and not worry about anything else.  Comedy is so good for the world.  Comedy felt like a golden elixir come to save me from my darkest hour.  Not because comedy was going to take away my cancer or help me pass a geiger test so I could hold my daughter, only because it actually made me laugh.

I’ve had other moments like this in my life.  The day my childhood dog passed away, I went over to my boyfriend’s house and he happened to be watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on the Cartoon Network.  The sheer silly disconnected-ness of that cartoon had me laughing hysterically.  The hysterical laughter helped me feel better about saying good-bye to the constant companion who helped me through a lonely childhood.

When I was twelve one of my cousins was murdered, and my immediate family had to pile into a small car and drive for seven hours to the funeral.  To rescue us from that drive, I brought a little used book full of funny stories by Art Linkletter and read the whole thing aloud.  Our family laughed together.  We laughed for hundreds of miles.  My cousin’s death is still one of the saddest events in my memory, but I always remember that road trip filled with laughter and light.

God knows that I respond to comedy, that it would help me on a day just like that day.  I didn’t have it in me to remember that something funny would help me get through cancer – I couldn’t remember where I left the coffee I’d just poured.  So God helped me, he showed me something that was easy and doable that would make me feel better.  This was not a shattering revelation and won’t go down in my history as one of those moments that changed my life.  God was just being God, just being good to me, just speaking in the language I understand, saying things that make sense.

I sometimes expect God to sound more like one of those freaky oracles who say things that don’t make any sense until it’s way too late to be helpful.  In response to the question, “are you going to help me feel better?” I imagine God will say something like, “Eagles soar far from their nests,” or something equally unhelpful.

Partly I think this because Jesus in the gospels can sound an awful lot like that.  A guy says, “I’ll follow you anywhere!” and Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  M’kay.  So, we’ll be sleeping outdoors?  Do you not sleep at all?  Are you the Son of Man?  Am I?  Does that mean it’d be a better idea to stay home?

 

"So then he says, 'Let the dead bury the dead,' and . . . I have no idea . . . I think I was tripping BALLS, you guys!"

“So then he says, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ and I was like, “Okay.” But I’m not sure I wasn’t tripping balls the whole time.”

 

Another reason I expect God to sound more mysterious is because it feels more spiritual that way.  Like if I can’t quite understand it, it must be super deep.  I want to be one of the cool kids who likes stuff that’s weird and ethereal and really damn impractical.

In my actual life experience, God doesn’t usually use those weird fortune cookie phrases.  That might  be because I’m a very pragmatic person, and hearing weird metaphysical metaphors frustrates the hell out of me.  I love artwork that has nuance and room for interpretation, but if we’re talking and I just asked you a question, I want a response.  Preferably one that I can take action on.  God knows this about me.  The times I feel certain that God has sent a message through my synapses are the times when I hear something practical, short, and unbelievably powerful.  When I end up saying, “Of course that’s what I should do.”

I once prayed to God to help me deal with my insane anxiety about my grades in college.  I got good grades, I worked hard, I did the reading, I went to classes, I did well on tests.  But if I got less than an A, I was consumed with utterly irrational fear and shame.  As soon as I saw that letter on a piece of paper with my name on it, I freaked out.  Lots of friends explained that my worth is not tied to my grades, that grades are an imperfect representation of my grasp of the material and have nothing to do with my intelligence.  I agreed with all of this, but I couldn’t get over it.

When I prayed to God for help, he said, “If grades upset you, don’t look at them.”

Duh.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  The reaction I had was visceral.  Intellectual reasoning couldn’t change it.  I couldn’t have a visceral reaction to a letter I didn’t see, so I just didn’t look.  I proceeded to have one of the most peaceful semesters in my entire collegiate career.

God does this kind of thing in the Bible too.  When Isaiah runs for his life into the desert, curls up in the fetal position and prays to die, God doesn’t tell him, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Nope, God sends a messenger with a care package and says, “Why don’t you eat something and get some sleep?”  Anyone who has experienced any kind of depression can see the consummate wisdom in that.  You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re alone.  So find a friend, eat some food, and get some sleep.  One hundred per cent guarantee that you will feel better.  It is crushing in its simplicity and power.

So that’s how I know that God suggested I watch a truly silly television show.  There was nothing to say at that moment that would make me feel better.  There was no way to reason out of having cancer, missing my daughter, or the stabbing pain in my eyes.  There was no spiritual insight that was going to make me smile at that moment, so God didn’t offer me a spiritual insight.  Instead, God inspired a team of people to make hilarious theater AND provided a way for that theater to come right into my sick room.

God talked to me like a good friend, a friend who’s been around long enough to say something real and concrete.  A friend who doesn’t just advise, but actually walks through the difficult moment with me.  Or in my case, a friend who comes over with a case of really silly dvd’s and a box of salt-free popcorn, plops down on the couch and says, “You’ve gotta see this.”

 

"Trust me - laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit 'Play'."

“Trust me – laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit ‘Play’.”


Christians can vote “No”, too. – Guest Post by Rev. Ryan Bauers

Introduction by Dan

Full disclosure – pastor Ryan Bauers is a good friend of mine, my brother-from-another-mother. I’ve mentioned him numerous times on What the Faith, and if any human being can be credited for my transition from skeptic to believer, it’s him. Ryan’s been a full-time pastor for over thirteen years, and his intelligence, insight, patience, and humor have been a crazy blessing for the folks who attend Hillside Church in Duluth Minnesota, where he and his beautiful wife Krista have served as the lead pastors for the last eleven years. I’m honored to present him as the first guest blogger on What the Faith, and I hope you guys enjoy reading his article as much as I enjoyed publishing it.

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“Why I, as a committed Christian and ordained pastor will Vote “NO”, against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment and encourage others to as well.”

By Rev. Ryan J Bauers, Lead Pastor, Hillside Church, Duluth MN

October 2012

 

An Amendment will appear on the ballot this Tuesday, November 6, as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.  The measure would define marriage in the Minnesota Constitution as between one man and one woman in the State.  The proposed measure was supported by several legislators, was approved in the House, stalled in the Senate and is now up for public vote.  According to supporters, although same-sex marriage is already not recognized in the state, they hope to reinforce this with the proposed Amendment that, if passed, would write in a “traditional definition of marriage” and be very difficult to overturn in the future.  For those of us who are Minnesota residents, we will have the opportunity to vote on this Amendment on Tuesday, November 6.  A “YES” vote will confirm support for this proposed Amendment to define marriage in this specific way, and a “NO” vote is a vote against this proposed Amendment, leaving the Constitution as it is.

 

There seems to be a pretty resolute voice of support from many of my friends who are Conservative or Fundamentalist Christians and pastors to Vote “YES” for this Amendment to pass.   And, while I completely support their right to express their view and vote their conscience, one might begin to feel that all people of faith take the same stance that they do about the proposed Amendment.   Therefore, as a committed Christian and an ordained evangelical pastor who takes the Bible and following Jesus seriously, I want to share a few of the reasons why I will Vote “NO” on Tuesday, November 6, against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.  My hope is to offer an alternate Christian perspective on this issue so that voters who consider their faith a central part of their lives can be informed about this complex issue and vote their conscience with a sense of confidence.

 

From a more legal perspective:

 

The proposed Marriage Amendment contradicts the Minnesota Constitution itself and would force everyone to follow a religious definition of marriage at a State level.

As a Christian, I am thankful for the rights given by our State that grant me the freedom to worship as I would like.  As passionate as I may be about my faith and about what I believe it offers, I am very much in favor of each person’s individual freedom to choose if and how they worship.  One of the great things about our Nation and our State is our ability to choose freely on matters of conscience, and the guarantee to not have other people’s religion or faith forced upon us.  The Minnesota Marriage Amendment’s goal is to write a “Biblical” or “Traditional” definition of marriage into the Minnesota Constitution as “only between one man and one woman”.  Because this is overtly influenced by a one religious perspective, this directly violates the healthy separation of church and state and would force everyone in the State to follow this very specific, religious definition, whether they are Christian fundamentalists or not.

 

Article 1, Section 16 of the Minnesota State Constitution itself guarantees that the State cannot or will not impose any single religion’s definition of any one matter on another person or persons.  And, I quote, “The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted or any preference given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”  (Highlights my own to emphasize)

 

Even as (or especially as) both a committed Christian and an ordained evangelical pastor, I feel that we desperately need this separation from the State imposing any single religion’s viewpoint on all people, so that our own personal freedoms are not restricted in any way.  I would not want someone else’s personal beliefs or religious stance on an issue to be approved by the State as law and forced on my life.  I would be very upset if the State imposed a religious agenda demanding that I not be able to visit my sick loved one on his or her death bed nor marry the person of my choosing (or other such things like how many kids I can have or what kind of clothing is appropriate in public).  I appreciate these freedoms for my own life and I want them for others as well.  I will vote NO because I do not believe that we should adopt a law that would impose a specific, Fundamentalist Christian definition of marriage on a State level.

 

The proposed Marriage Amendment will restrict the fundamental civil liberties of fellow human beings.

Even though same-sex marriage is already not recognized in the State of Minnesota, supporters of the proposed legislation want to insure against it for a long time.  For me as a Christian, a pastor and human being, the question for how I will vote fundamentally comes down to the fact that this will directly further restrict the civil liberties of my friends and fellow human beings. To be clear, voting NO to the Marriage Amendment is in NO WAY a vote for same-sex marriage.  However, as stated above, I believe that the State should not restrict the basic freedoms of human beings, especially from a conservative religious vantage point, including a restriction on marriage.  Even if a person does not “agree” with same-sex marriage, the State should not be able to tell two consenting adults who are in a life-long committed partnership that they cannot enjoy the same freedoms that I do.

 

As our Declaration of Independence eloquently describes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  We do not live in a Theocracy, nor in a Religious Dictatorship (thank God), nor in a Christian Nation, we live in a Republic whose function is to ensure the basic civil liberties of its people regardless of and separate from religious ideology.   These basic civil liberties should include those that allow each of us “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, including the freedom to marry.  The State’s responsibility is to protect and even to expand these wonderful, “God-given” and “self-evident” basic rights to its citizens, not to restrict them.  I will vote NO on Tuesday in an effort to voice my opinion that civil liberties in this case should be expanded rather than restricted to include only a certain, very conservative religious understanding of marriage.

 

Much of the information used by the proponents for the Marriage Amendment is rooted in fear and unfounded claims.

The disappointing thing that I have experienced as I have done my own extensive research on this matter is the massive amount of mis-information being presented by proponents of the Marriage Amendment.  Their commercials, web sites and ad campaigns rely heavily on creating fear by presenting unrealistic hypothetical scenarios of “what will happen if this Amendment is not passed.”  There have been numerous analyses of the claims made by neutral, third-party groups and many of their claims have been found to be inaccurate and misleading because that they relate to a scenario that has nothing to do with the outcome of this Amendment.

 

One such fear proposed in these ads is that Christians will be “forced” to put up with expanded versions of marriage and that will threaten our personal religious freedoms and impose them on our churches.  They claim that if same-sex marriage is eventually legalized then pastors will be forced to marry gay couples in the church.  As a pastor of a congregation and someone who has many friends in the GLBT community, I do not see how this is even plausible.  First of all, I already have the right to “discriminate” who I am going to perform a marriage ceremony for and who I am not, based on my relationship with them, their connection to our congregation and my personal conviction.  People are very understanding if it does not work out for me to perform their wedding ceremony.  Second, I can’t see how anyone, especially my friends in the GLBT community, would want to force any pastor to perform a wedding for them.  Can you imagine how grouchy a forced pastor would be in this context?  Not a very fun ceremony.  All of the folks that I know would want someone who supports them as a couple and believes in the sacredness of their relationship to perform their wedding, not someone who is forced.  Additionally, I know pastors who, in their conscience before God after serious prayer and study would be glad to perform a same-sex ceremony.   So there is no need to force anyone to do anything they would not want to.

 

 

From a more Biblical perspective:

The above arguments could well be enough to convince any American who believes in basic civil liberties to Vote NO on the proposed Marriage Amendment.   However, I am going to diverge from the immediate subject of how one might consider voting on the Amendment for a moment, because I would like to address several related topics to bring additional perspective for those who are interested.  I do this recognizing one fundamental reality: Voting NO to the Marriage Amendment on Tuesday is in NO WAY a vote for same-sex marriage.  And yet, many people of faith are wrestling with questions related to same-sex relationships as they consider how they will vote for this Amendment.  My hope is to share some of my thoughts about these particular related issues from a Biblical perspective as a trained theologian and pastor.

 

Throughout the centuries, embarrassingly, the Bible has been used to support other issues that are now considered outdated; including the ownership of slaves, prohibition against alcohol and a Woman’s right to vote. 

Many times, my friends from Conservative and Fundamentalist Christian perspectives will speak of their support of the Marriage Amendment or other related topics as “Biblically obvious” and criticize anyone as unfaithful to Scripture if they happen to see it differently.  However, this same attitude has, sadly, been used throughout the centuries to support other, now known-to-be-outdated views of current issues such as: divorce and remarriage, the ownership of slaves, prohibition against alcohol and a woman’s right to vote.

 

People like myself who are committed to the Bible because we believe it offers a unique and “inspired” interaction between God and humans throughout many centuries need not choose between Biblical faithfulness and a relevant and reasoned understanding of current issues.  My Conservative or Fundamentalist friends may call me and people like me who ask questions and reassess issues “not committed to Scripture”, but I would argue that my open-minded position is actually more faithful to Scripture, not less.  It is approaching what is supposed to be a sacred text with a deep sense of reverence and humility in an effort to understand the ancient texts from a fresh perspective in a modern setting.  It is relating to the Bible like it is really “living and active”, best interpreted with the presence of God’s Spirit and wisdom in a real world setting.  It is being willing to give up past-held, even misguided ideas about certain topics and looking at them with fresh eyes in the middle of Biblical context with proper analysis.  It is recognizing that we, as fallible human beings, can misinterpret the Bible and misuse it to support things that are not right and further, being willing to apologize and make adjustments when we realize that we have erred (in some cases, gravely so).

 

There are many thoughtful, serious Christians who believe that the Bible does not prohibit what we know today as monogamous, consensual, same-sex relationships. 

In Romans chapters 14 & 15, Paul urges his readers in the early church to give space for disagreement over what he calls “disputable matters”.  At the time, these were first order moral issues that these early communities of faith were facing and serious, devout followers of Jesus were staunchly divided over them.  In this context, they were fighting over whether a serious Christian could legitimately eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols or not.  Some felt in their conscience that it was absolutely fine and no big deal while others felt in their conscience that there was no way that they would ever be caught doing so.  These “debatable issues” did not include central issues of orthodoxy, creed or dogma that everyone agreed upon since the beginning of Christianity (like the resurrection of Jesus) and subsequently those thing affirmed in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds.   They did, however, and do to this day, include lesser matters related to conscience and each individual’s response to their personal conviction as they interact with Scripture and hear from the Holy Spirit.  These “disputable matters” are issues like:  Is killing in war murder?  Is it ever appropriate to divorce and remarry?  How much consumption by a person constitutes gluttony?

 

After very careful study of the passages in the Bible that are said to relate to “homosexuality”, it is debatable whether those texts can accurately apply to what we know today as monogamous, loving, consensual, same-sex relationships.  Scholars disagree on what these texts actually say about “homosexuality” and how, if at all, they apply in our modern era, causing the topic of homosexuality in general to be a “disputable matter” among Christians (as it is a minor subject in the whole of Scripture and each passage is well debated).  Some feel that it is “obvious” that homosexuality is condemned in these passages.  However, many scholars are convinced that the Bible is not prohibiting what we know today as monogamous, consensual, same-sex relationships.

 

So, committed Christians can take the Bible seriously and still be accepting of same-sex couples without violating their conscience, their commitment to the Bible or their Christian faith in any way.  After much study and prayer, I am convinced that it is not an “obvious” or black and white issue, but one that is significantly complicated, nuanced and open to disagreement between serious Christians.  Wouldn’t it be nice, in this day and age of such polarization in politics and worldviews, if we could learn from Saint Paul and realize that certainty was not always the aim of the Bible, but rather it was unity, love and humility?  How much better would our world and our faith communities be, if we did not allow peripheral, “disputable” matters to divide us, but like the early church we kept the main thing the main thing and united over learning to love God and love others?!

 

The possibility of same-sex marriage does not threaten the “sanctity of marriage”.

One of the arguments by proponents for the Marriage Amendment as to why they are convinced that everyone should vote “YES” to pass it, is that they argue that doing away with the “traditional” or “Biblical” definition of marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage (it will taint it) and subsequently disrupt the family system as we know it.

 

As an ordained evangelical pastor who has led premarital counseling and performed countless wedding ceremonies, I recognize how sacred the word “marriage” is to some people.   However, in my personal experience, it is not the State that gives marriage that sacred power, nor is it the Bible itself, but it is the love and commitment shared between two people in the presence of God.  My own marriage is not reduced in “sacred-ness”, because some random couple is getting married at the courthouse right now, who may not be ready for marriage and who may divorce in a few days.  The sacred aspect of my marriage does not have anything to do with what other people do or think.  It has to do with my partner and me, our relationship with God, the commitment that we made on June 12, 1999 and our dedication to live that commitment out faithfully every day.  The sacredness of marriage rests on my commitment to making my own marriage sacred and powerful and not in restricting it for others.

 

Additionally, what those proponents define as the “traditional” or “Biblical” definition of marriage when analyzed through a historical perspective is a minute percentage of the actual relationships and family structures that have existed throughout the centuries.  From tribes where more than one parent is involved in the life of each child, to structures where men care for children while the women work, to households where one parent is working outside the home a significant amount of the time, to single family homes, to mixed culture homes, “traditional marriage” does not seem to exist as the norm historically.

 

A final word

While there is much more that I could say (and may very well in the future) and other articles that you may be advised to read on this subject in addition to this one, the aim of this paper is to share my perspective as a committed Christian and ordained evangelical pastor after a significant amount of research, thought and prayer.  I did not come to these opinions easily, nor do I share them lightly.  I do hope that by sharing honestly you will find that there are alternative viewpoints that serious, devout Christians take on these complicated issues.  I believe that what is desperately needed in this generation are more people committed to the relentless pursuit of truth, however uncomfortable that may be.

 

May you and I be these people!

 

References used & suggested reading

 

One such article outlining some of the misleading information presented on Pro-Marriage Amendment marketing and media:

http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Minnesota_Same-Sex_Marriage_Amendment,_Amendment_1_(2012)

 

A thoughtful article from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press by someone who explored and wrestled the issue for a long time and who looks at it from both sides.

http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_21882332/george-latimer-good-people-both-sides-minnesota-marriage?source=most_emailed

 

The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith

This book reveals the weakness in the modern, North American evangelical perspective on the Bible.  It is helpful for those with an evangelical background in seeing that particular, narrow culture from the outside, especially regarding Scripture.  It helps to give people a fresh perspective for reading Scripture in a more balanced and, dare I say healthy, context.

 

Paul Among The People by Sarah Ruden.

The entire book is excellent at making sense of all of Paul’s letters in the context of ancient Greek & Roman culture.  The chapter on Homosexuality is especially helpful in flushing out what that Bible refers to when it prohibits homosexuality in the ancient Biblical context.  It is historically plausible that Paul’s prohibition against homosexuality was pederasty (married, heterosexual men having intercourse with pre-pubescent boys in the sex temples).  It is hard to draw a correlation between this prohibition then and modern day, monogamous, same-sex relationships today.

 

Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality; Explode the Myths, Heal the Church by Jack Rodgers.

As a Presbyterian minister, a seminary professor emeritus and author, he once opposed homosexuality.  Yet, after taking years to study the issue in depth, he shifted from a literalistic method of biblical interpretation (common among evangelical churches, especially those from a Reformed Theological background) and moved to one that sees Scripture through the lens of the redemptive life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  This completely changed his outlook on all Biblical texts, especially those referring to homosexuality.

 

Born Gay by Glenn Wilson & Qazi Rhaman

This book is one of the most comprehensive works that aptly summarizes the modern scientific discoveries regarding sexual orientation.  Written by some of the primary researchers in the field and filled with all of the latest available research, this book will help explore the hard science related to the issue.

 

Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White:  Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics by Adam Hamilton.

In the modern era where people are often polarized on two, very hard-line sides of any issue, this book is a refreshing invitation to the middle ground to take a look at both perspectives.  As a pastor of one of the largest churches in North America and a Biblical scholar, Adam Hamilton helps his readers journey into some of the most complicated issues that face thoughtful people today and welcomes us to see these issues in a more balanced, nuanced and “gray” way.

 

The Mosaic of Christian Belief:  Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity by Roger Olsen

This is excellent exploration of the different stances on specific doctrines within the worldwide, historic church.  The introduction proves very helpful in that the author established the category distinction between dogma, doctrine and opinion, which is essential in helping to frame something as a “debatable issue”.  He demonstrates that serious Christians can have unity over the central Creeds while respectfully agreeing to disagree over a host of other issues.

 

A Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays

This is an excellent introduction to Moral Theology which many Christians and church leaders are weak in.  Hays pitches that the New Testament has a strong bent toward a unified ethical vision.  He demonstrates how the New Testament provides moral guidance on the most troubling ethical issues of our time, including violence, divorce, homosexuality and abortion.  Even though he takes a traditional approach to homosexuality, he argues that it is an example of a “debatable issue”.