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We've moved to HackingChristianity.net

Like, we moved there in September 2010.

So if you are visiting here, go to the new place.



Holy Wars, Holy Texts, Holy Living

Per Tall Skinny Kiwi's call for bloggers, I'm blogging a reading from the Qur'an today. Even though the planned publicity stunt burning didn't take place, there's no reason not to fill the void of hate with education.

When Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replies with the Shema (Deut 6:4-9) and a commandment about loving your neighbor. Here it is in Christianity and in Islam side by side:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31, NRSV
"Worship Allah and join none with him (in worship); and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger, the companion by your side"
Qur'an, chapter 4, verse 36
The verse in the Qur'an actually has many translations due to the difficulty of translating Arabic to English. Here's a list of the varied translations. But the key point of difficulty is the first section: Worship Allah and join none with him. This first verse is a direct challenge to the claims of Christianity that Jesus was God's son.  On the Dome of the Rock at Mecca, it is inscribed in various places that Jesus was just a messenger and that it is unthinkable that God would have a son or embodied divinity. This was inscribed after the Crusades (Christians v. Muslims) and is thus a political as well as theological statement.

We would think this would be a stumbling block to relations with Islam and Christianity, but if you think about it, the Jewish faith has denied Jesus' Messiahship since the Incarnation. They deny the basic tenet of our faith: that God has a son who is the Messiah and is Jesus Christ. Both of these world religions deny the basic building block of Christianity: the Incarnation. I cannot tell you how much of my theology is built on the Incarnation, and thus it is an important affirmation.

And yet in the verse above, theology is in an uneasy marriage to praxis (action). It's OK to make a theological affirmation, but join hands and serve one another even those who are infidels, heretics, or violent towards you.

Thus in the Qur'an verse above, we have the model for interfaith living. Make your theological affirmations, hold tight to them, and serve your neighbor with the highest of ideals. Interfaith centers, places of worship, theological seminaries (ie. Claremont), global responses to tragedy: they all hold tight to their faith but put their hands and feet in service to their neighbor.

It's true that we disagree on the basic precepts of our theology and will likely never come to agreement. But it is also true that each religion is called by their holy books to holy living.  Our history has a bloody past of errant Holy Wars, from the Crusades to today. When we place our theological certainty atop of action and care for our neighbor, we fall short. We try to burn what we have built. Maybe we can continue the tradition of Holy Living, of holding fast to our beliefs but unclenching our fists and serving the world around us.

May our future hope shine brighter than the flames of intolerance and hatred.


Progressive NOT Permissive Church

Sigh. I know it is satire and humor, but I get pretty annoyed by the tired "Progressive" is a code word for "morally lax and permissive church" meme.

For instance, this episode is up for an Emmy (What? They have regional Emmys? Really?) from the Steve and Kathy Gray show (background here)

Here's the basic sentiments about what "Progressive" means from the video:

  • We don't worry about God, we worry about you!
  • We'll make the religion to meet your needs.
  • It's never your fault.
  • We'll change things just for you.
  • It's all about you.
  • It's about feeling good about you.
  • Marijuana, violent video games are cool

See, I don't get this meme.  Practically every one of those things could be leveled at megachurches like Osteen's Lakewood Church or Warren's Saddleback church who craft worship to be less language-offensive, less liturgical, less depth of theology so that they meet the felt needs of the congregation in a surface way.

In response to the above:

  • Progressive churches deal with questions about whether God really worries about the things we think God worries about.
  • Progressive churches critique church tradition and expressions to see how it can better meet the needs of people long kept on the sidelines of the church.
  • Progressive churches emphasize societal responsibility alongside personal responsibility for fault.
  • Progressive churches realize care for individuals may challenge sacrosanct issues via inclusive language.
  • Progressive churches don't do Halo tournaments or "end justifies the means" ministries.

I just don't get it.

The only thing I can think of is that "Progressive" is code for "sexual permissiveness" regarding gay issues and abortion.  That's all I've got.

Funny video? Yeah, sure. Ridiculous caricature of Progressivism? Absolutely. But caricatures should over-emphasize a true feature of a topic and I just don't see this outside of sexual permissiveness.  So is that all it is about?

Someone please tell me how all these accusations come from anything other than moral permisiveness on sexual issues and I would love to have the conversation.



Economy of Love video curriculum [review]

This is a book review as part of being an Ooze select blogger. As always, while reviews can be bought, the content is my own honest opinion!

Usually I put together a long review for subjects that I'm passionate about: peace and justice are often those topics. However, the Economy of Love video curriculum is so short that I barely know what to write about.  You can click the link for the outline but the 5-part video series looks at these topics:

  • Week 1: Tension – Being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world
  • Week 2: Enough – Christ’s demand to love our neighbor through redistribution
  • Week 3: Vulnerable – Living lives that collide with those of the marginalized
  • Week 4: Filled – Is the gospel we preach good news for the rich and poor alike?
  • Week 5: Practice – Following Jesus with our hands, our feet, and our resources

Basically, the discussion revolves around going against consumer culture which feeds on people and starting a relational tithe [website] that not only gives money but gives of ourselves. That subject is explored in the different aspects above.  The videos, in contrast to Nooma or other video teachings, are less than 4 minutes long and consist of a voice-over by Shane Claborne with depictions of the lesson. Very short, sufficient for an introduction or re-focusing moment in a teaching, not a closer to a lesson.

The best part? The book has an annotated script of the voice-over, complete with scripture references, more questions, and brings depth to the topic.  That makes it easy for personal study to go deeper if you want. There's also accompanying questions and quotes  in the back.

I guess that from the Economy of Love I was looking for more content rather than questions, more guiding information than guiding questions. I think we get that we are consumeristic and can ask ourselves the questions but at the end if we don't have examples of stories or life testimonies that can inspire us through a vision of a transformed life, then we are left feeling a bit lost at the end. I missed the testimonies or examples of changed lives that could inspire our own.

So if you are armed with information already about consumerism and our culture and are looking for guiding questions, or if you already have an idea of what response your church wants to give to a community and are looking for inspiring others, Economy of Love is a decent shot at it.

Anyone else seen the series and would like to comment?


The Third Conversation

I had a follow-up thought on the Mario Bros Discipleship post on meeting people where they are in biblical difficulty.

The evidence for the bible having adaptive multi-faceted learning is evidenced by when an entire church is lectionary-based in its curriculum or studies the same scripture on Sundays.  When the children, the youth, the adults, and the worship service all reflect on the same scripture, you get tons of conversations about it.

But then it leads to what I call "the third conversation" when a family drives home. They've talked about the scripture in the Sunday School, they've heard it reflected in church, and then when they drive home they get the third conversation of "how did your class handle it" and all ages are able to participate and consider new things. I wonder what new information and education comes from that third conversation...

Thoughts? Have you done total-church Christian education based on the same scripture?


Mario Bros Discipleship

One of the advances sought after in video gaming is games that respond to a players skill and either increase or decrease the difficulty on the fly. We are used to clicking "Easy, Normal, Hard, Eeeevil" and knowing that we'll get a slightly different experience in the video game. Take Mario Bros as an example. We can always make really sadistic versions of video games like this one (for a really really NSFW obscenities-laden version, watch here...I warned you!) but they do not gradually introduce challenges to us.

What is now being sought after is video games that adapt on the fly, so that if you complete a level with plenty of time to spare, the next level is a bit harder.  The newest custom adaptation of Mario Bros (discussed here on Slashdot) not only gives you more enemies (like this video) but also puts holes in the ground and makes your technical skill increase on the fly. 

In other words, instead of choosing a difficult path, the game adapts to your skill and increases or decreases difficulty based on your progress.

It strikes me that our own discipleship is the same way. It is a sad few of us want a hard bible study or Sunday School curriculum early in our discipleship or even late in it. I've seen Sunday School classes empty when a challenging series is began, reinforcing the UM Country Club status even more.

Perhaps what we want is a study or topic that meets us where we are and then presents us with growing questions. And we are sold study after study that purports to do just that.

While I've read and seen more curriculums and studies than I can count, there's only one that does this well: I've found that the Bible itself is the perfect incarnation of Mario Bros on-the-fly difficulty. Reading my marked-up bible and seeing my thoughts and comments from days of yore (especially as a youth) are really interesting and cause me to reconsider my own discipleship and thoughts. Skimming gets me one lesson, deep reading gets me another, reading a commentary gets me another, and then reading it alone lectio-divina style gets me another. No matter where I am in my discipleship, I get something out of it.

Perhaps if you are a Sunday School teacher and frustrated with challenging curriculum, take a cue from a parishioner of mine who is a Sunday School teacher 40 year veteran: just start reading the bible with the class. There's always something there, and when interest is piqued, then you know where to start deeper study.

You don't have to click "Easy Medium Hard." No one else has to know which difficulty you are at.  All you have to do is start the game, and the challenges will come your way. Show up, play the game, and let the lessons come to you.



Can we stop calling Qur'an burners a Church?

Some facts about the church and the pastor:

  1. Dove World Outreach lost its tax-exemption for a time due to the fact that the pastor ran a furniture business out of its location.
    • "Its property has served as a sometime storage site for Jones' furniture business, a violation of Dove's tax-exempt status that was punished with a county fine and partial loss of nonprofit standing, The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun reported. Jones previously founded a small church in Germany, the Christian Community of Cologne, and was accused by his daughter and a former church elder of using donations to enrich himself, the Sun reported."
  2. The pastor's certification came from the Internet. If I knew it was that easy, I woulda ditched the UMC a long time ago with all it's "education" and "accountability" requirements. Sheesh.
    • "[Jones] says he was given the diploma by the California Graduate School of Theology, an obscure school that boasts on its Web site that it's so independent, it has never been accredited. In 2002, Jones was convicted by a Cologne administrative court of falsely using the title and was fined $3,800, German media reported."
  3. The rule book for members entering the Dove World Outreach tells youth to not contact family members or go home even in case of a funeral.
    • "During Academy you are not allowed to visit family members or friends or receive visitors...family occasions like weddings, funerals, and Birthdays are no exception to this rule."
In other words, a church that has (a) lost its tax-exempt status for selling furniture (b) has a pastor ordained over the internet and (c) does not practice grace or forgiveness with rigid isolationism...this location represents Christianity and America to the international Muslim world? Ugh.

The Qur'an burners no more represent Christianity than the 9/11 terrorists represent Islam.


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