Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Do not label" - How to see, not what to see - with Richard Rohr

God-Given Freedom - Greg Albrecht

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
  Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
—Galatians 5:1-6

The history of humanity is a struggle for freedom. The word freedom, and the idea behind it begs for further explanation. Freedom of what? Freedom from what? What kind of freedom? There are many kinds of freedom. 

July 1 is Canada Day, when Canadians celebrate their national freedom as a sovereign nation, and on July 4 the United States does the same. We celebrate that we are free from any foreign power telling us how to live our lives. We celebrate a unique (and it is unique in human history) degree of freedom—guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. These are truths that we hold to be self-evident. 

But of all the freedoms we can have, freedom in Christ should be the most cherished and most prized because it trumps all other freedoms. One can have political and economic freedom but remain enslaved to false religion. One can live in a free country but still be bound in a spiritual prison. 

I don't consider myself to be a religious person. I used to be, but I am now free in Christ, and I am free from religion. I am a Christian, but I am essentially irreligious. I realize that neither of my grandmothers, if they were alive, would be happy to hear me say this, but at least one of my grandfathers would.

My maternal grandfather escaped from what he called the "old country."

Almost 100 years ago he ran away from the old country of Europe—Germany and the Ukraine—and he didn't want anything to do with what he left behind. He and his family suffered a great deal at the hands of religion, and he wanted none of it when he settled down in a small town in Kansas. He, and many others, sacrificed everything so that they could live in a country that offered freedom FROM religion. 

I learned a similar lesson, but it took me several decades, during which I felt I had discovered the one and only true religion. I was absolutely enslaved to religious legalism and I did my best to convince others that they too needed my unique brand of elitist, narrow, judgmental, hypercritical system of rules and regulations. 

After almost 35 years of bondage my eyes were opened through many life experiences, to see the bankruptcy of any religious system that pretends to impart righteousness through strict observance of rules and regulations. I learned that no priest, no religious prescription nor any religious potion could ever make me good enough to convince God, on the basis of my performance, to love me. I left religion behind over 15 years ago, and I have been, by God's grace, religion-free since that time. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Return of the Scapegoat (Luke 8:26-39) - Russ Hewett

The story, recorded in Luke 8, of Jesus casting out a Legion of demons from a man is surely one of the most remarkable exorcism stories in history. The man had been living in the tombs, howling and bruising himself, chained and under guard for a long time.  Jesus sent the demons into a herd of some 2000 pigs, which then ran headlong over a cliff to their death in the Sea of Galilee. This is the literal reading of the story.

Humans speak and write in various ways.  We sometimes speak literally, but we often speak or write in a literary way that invites the hearer to seek meaning behind the words of the text.  For instance, if I were building a house and I asked my helper to cut me a 2X4, 48-3/4” long, I wouldn’t expect my helper to ask, “what do you mean by that?”  The request is a literal request and there is no need to seek some deeper meaning in it.  This is how many people approach the Bible.  They expect the Bible to only be speaking literally.  I think however, that the story of the Man of the Gadarenes literally begs to be interpreted in a literary way – like how you might read literature.

This is not to say that the story should not also be understood literally; just that the story might have more to tell us if we approach it as a piece of literature, like how you might approach something written by Shakespeare.

We might begin by looking for symbols – words that held a particular meaning at the time the story was written.  In this story, four words in particular are freighted with meaning – sea, cliff, pigs and stones.

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No Wrath in God - from T. J. Rynne's "Jesus Christ, Peacemaker"

Editor's Note: The following excerpts come from Terrence J. Rynne, Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace (Mayknoll, NY: Orbis, 2014), 29–31. They reflect an Orthodox theology similar to the 'theology of consent and participation found in Brad Jersak's A More Christlike God.

No wrath in God

Another way of saying there is no violence in God is "there is no wrath of God." The threatening, great God, Jehovah, coming on the cloud of judgment of the wicked is not found in Jesus' reading of the scriptures. The lust for punishment of the bad guys is not God's; it is a human reaction projected onto God. There is judgement, but the judgement of evil is in the evil itself playing itself out to its own demise. Humans who refuse the offer of goodness judge themselves by the measure with which they judge others. That leads to complete self-aborption and can descend into what can only be called hell. ...

Forgiveness doubled

"God is always in himself the kind father who meets sinners with anticipatory love; only if sinners, despite the experience of grace, cling to their own criteria of judgement do te imprison themselves," Schwager writes. Even the murder of his own son did not provoke the reaction of vengeful retribution. The risen Jesus appeared with the message of peace and forgiveness--even to those who had reject the offer the first time. Forgiveness doubled. In the events after the resurrection we clearly see the nonviolent face of God....

God's response to human obduracy is to deliver humankind to ourselves. We do make our own beds and lie in them. We do indeed make our own hells. God does not break in to punish us; we do it to ourselves. God's so-called wrath consists in granting full respect for our freedom. The possibility exists that humans could resist even redemptive and unfathomably forgiving love.

Only unfathomable love

Jesus' concern was focused on the here and now, the events of history and where those events lead. He used language that is "apocalyptic," that is, taking historical and political events metaphorically to demonstrate the built-in trajectory of those events into the future. As James D. G. Dunn describes it: "Apocalyptic language has to be understood metaphorically in reference to historical and political events rather than literally in reference to the end of the world. ... Neither Jesus nor his contemporaries were expecting the end of the space-time universe."

No wrath in God. No violence. Only unfathomable love. With that understanding of the God of his forefathers, Jesus could not countenance a political order built on exclusion, separation, and hatred of the enemy--in the name of religion, in the name of their God. If there is no violence in God, that undercuts the age-old tendency of humans to label those who are outside the privilege circle as threats, as enemies, as evil--to dehumanize them and then make them objects of righteous, sacralized violence.

Monday, June 20, 2016

CWR Video: Richard Rohr Interview pt 2 - What do we mean by "dualistic thinking"?

02 Richard Rohr - What do we mean by "dualistic thinking"? from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

The Gathering Storm of Fundamentalism - Greg Albrecht

It is one of the most explosive issues facing our world in the early years of this 21st century. Political and religious agendas around the world are bullied and coerced, reacting to a virus-like spiritual plague of religious fundamentalism. The Islamic fundamentalist reaction to Western imperialism and decadence is said to be a counter-attack on the "great Satans" of our culture (materialism, immorality, secularism, humanism, science and technology), all of which are blamed for taking our world to hell in a hand-basket.
Though the eyes of the world are currently focused on Islamic fundamentalism, the seeds of radical religious fundamentalism are found in virtually all of the world's major religions. 

Fundamentalism, whatever its outward attire might be, is convinced that society wants to wipe out its faith and practice. Fundamentalists tend to see the world as "them" and "us"—they feel trapped, with their backs against the wall, and obligated to fight for their faith under their fundamentalist flag. 

Extreme Islamic beliefs and practices are, without a question, a dangerous, turbulent storm of fundamentalism that overshadows our entire western world. But while it lurks in the shadows, extreme fundamentalism in the name of Jesus also portends a clear and present spiritual danger. Fundamentalism is fostering dramatic changes, forcing us to rethink our moral priorities, whether we like it or not.

When Calls for Peace Are Dismissed
Hate-filled rhetoric and passionate appeals for bloodshed in the name of God are the manipulative interpretations of teachers who are war-mongers thirsting for blood, yearning for revenge and violence. Terrorists who torture and maim, fueled by anger and lust (James 4:1-3) hide like cowards behind the skirts of God (or Allah), desperately trying to remake divinity into their own violent image.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

On Fearing God - Rob Grayson

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about God and fear. Specifically, about how the two are often deeply intertwined in our thinking.

It seems to me that fear is closely associated with our default understanding of God. Indeed, we might even say that for many people, fear is the instinctive emotional response to thoughts of God. Long-established expressions like “to put the fear of God into someone” illustrate just how intimately the emotion of fear is connected with the idea of God.

And, of course, those wishing to draw on the Bible to support the notion that fear is an appropriate response to God can do so with ease. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, we are told in Proverbs 9:10. And there’s no shortage of accounts throughout the text of scripture where God or his angels appear to strike fear into people’s hearts.

So, fear is typically quite ingrained in our psyche as a response to God, and many assume that the Bible validates its appropriateness.

And yet…

The writer of the first epistle of John, shortly after telling us that God is love, has this to say:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)

And so we have a seeming paradox: on the one hand, fear of God is something appropriate and even valuable and necessary; but on the other hand, God is love, and as such, there is no place or reason for fear in him.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Experiencing Brokenness - Rob Grayson

We often think of brokenness as a place we come to either when we’re faced with the consequences of our own actions or when the actions of others, or events beyond our control, leave us wounded and in pain. This is, I think, an entirely valid and appropriate use of the word “brokenness”: sometimes we are broken by the disastrous consequences of our own poor choices, by the actions of other people, or by a host of other seemingly random causes collectively known as “life”.

However, there is also another sense of the word “brokenness”, and it is simply this: that we are all wounded, and so we are all broken in various ways.

Some of the wounds we carry we are well aware of, maybe because we sustained them in some terrible experience that we will never forget, or perhaps simply because the pain of them is so great that it continues to dominate our world. Other wounds are buried under many layers of self-protective armour. Either way, and however well we might appear to mask it, there is brokenness in all of us, deep down.

All of us are or have been broken in some way. The only difference is that some of us know it and others don’t.

Often, it takes an experience of the first kind of brokenness to bring us to a place where we can acknowledge the second kind. In other words, it often takes an intensely painful crisis to bring us to a place where we become aware of – or are prepared to recognise – the underlying low-level brokenness we’ve been carrying around like heavy baggage for years. For me, it took the painful and humiliating admission that I had developed a drink problem to drag me to a place where I was open enough, and my defences were lowered far enough, for me to begin to be able to see and name the wounds I’d been nursing, some of them since childhood.

This brings us to two more things I think we can say about brokenness.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The New Math of God's Grace - Greg Albrecht

Art and Justice - Cindy Brandt

A few years ago, at the height of my faith deconstruction, I was being swallowed whole by cynicism. My soul was so raw, the naivete of my childhood faith ruthlessly stripped away as I was learning hard lessons in the world. I don’t even remember how I behaved outwardly at the time, friends tell me I was not as abrasive as I recall, but only because I knew what was happening internally—that I seemed to be losing any capacity to trust, to give, and to love. I was almost always angry, confused at my own intense emotions, and withdrawing tumultuously from the comforts of my previous certainties.
This was when I decided to begin blogging. Unlike many others, I wasn’t trying to build a platform, nor was I hoping to publish books, I was writing to save myself and any semblance of faith I may have left. I wrote about what I knew best: faith, social justice, culture, anything that was meaningful to me. But my blog wasn’t an online journal where I vented my faith deconstructing angst, (I did that with my husband—sorry honey!) it was where I practiced the craft of creating words, weaving metaphors with anecdotes, lyrical phrases with colloquial internet language. It was as if I had all this pent-up negative energy brewing beneath the surface of my consciousness, and if I didn’t channel it into beautiful eruption, it would destroy me from the inside out. 
It worked. 
Writing is one of the most beautiful things I have ever done. With my words, I have helped others articulate their suffering, comforted the sick, advocated for the marginalized, and in the process brought much healing to myself. In many ways I am still an amateur, but I am starting to learn the truth of what many writers have spoken of, that creativity is its own entity, a flitting muse who sometimes hides even when we seek earnestly, with our heads banging against the keyboard. It was Michelangelo who said that there was a statue in every block of stone and the job of the sculptor is to find it. The art of writing is similarly chipping away at unnecessary words and stories to allow the elusive truths to emerge. 
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Light Alone Defeats this Darkness - Kenneth Tanner (w. John the Beloved and Brad Jersak)

Final conversation from True Detective (full video link - language warning).
Marty: “Didn’t you tell me one time, dinner once, maybe, about how you used to ... you used to make up stories about the stars?”
Rust: “Yeah, that was in Alaska, under the night skies.”
Marty: “Yeah, you used to lay there and look up, at the stars?”
Rust: “Yeah, I think you remember how I never watched the TV until I was 17, so there wasn’t much to do up there but walk around, explore, and...”
Marty: “And look up at the stars and make up stories. Like what?”
Rust: “I tell you Marty I been up in that room looking out those windows every night here just thinking, it’s just one story. The oldest.”
Marty: “What’s that?”
Rust: “Light versus dark.”
Marty: “Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”
Rust: “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
Rust insists that Marty help him leave the hospital, Marty agrees. As they head to the car, Rust makes one final point to his former partner.
Rust: “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.”
Marty: “How’s that?”
Rust: “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
Rust stares at all of the stars in the midst of the darkness.
Kenneth Tanner (FB post 15 June 2016):

It was always there in Psalm 23:

God does not visit evil on humanity, and God does not prevent the evil that men and the dark angels do.

Rather, God is *with us* as we endure the evils our departures from his light and life bring us.

And by his co-suffering with us, he alone is able as God and as man to defeat the darkness that sets itself in opposition to his love.

And this is not a great cosmic battle for God, though it may seem like one from the human vantage, for we humans do wrestle with principalities and powers, as Christ struggled with these powers in his humanity.

But all God has to do to defeat evil is to die in Jesus Christ—to touch death—and death vanishes like darkness when you switch on a lamp. There is no contest between God and darkness.

"Even though I walk through of the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Jesus is King! (but what kind of king?) - Brad Jersak

The Real Love Story - Greg Albrecht

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.—John 3:16-17
It's been said that love is the most powerful force in the universe because it alone can conquer the human heart. But God's love does not coerce. God's love works in our lives by our consent.

Many people suffer with a warped and twisted view of God's love. They have a perverted idea of God's love because of religious deception, because of a distorted idea of God they have been given by someone who taught them, often in the name of God. They completely misunderstand The Real Love Story.

They believe that God loves them in an authoritarian way. They believe that God loves them by demanding and intimidating them to obey him. They believe that God insists that we do what he wants, and beyond that, that he predestines everyone to behave in a particular way, without freedom of choice on our part.

Sadly, they see God as an abused person may see their spouse, their parent, their teacher or their pastor. They perceive God as yelling at and threatening them, "for their own good." They think that he must yell at them and threaten them because he loves them. People come to believe that God is angry and upset with them, and that he wants them to accept his love by enduring horrible suffering. People actually come to believe, as a result of religious propaganda, that they need to be in pain. They have been convinced that they need to hurt, and because he loves them, God makes sure that they suffer.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Faith and Intellect - Cindy Brandt

“I can’t reconcile a God who provides a fax machine but doesn’t rescue 800 refugees from drowning,” my friend says to me, referring to Christians expressing gratefulness for simple provisions juxtaposed with the realities of global suffering.

This is not the first time I grappled with friends in conversations about the nature of God and the problem of evil. It’s a refrain throughout my journey of faith, enough that a pattern has emerged in which these conversations end with this conclusion: “Well, it’s impossible to reconcile, so we just have to trust that God is still good – no matter what.”
Each time faith comes head to head with reason, faith held the trump card. It would seem the only way to sustain a life of faith — defined as trust in the midst of unknowing — is to ultimately make a blind leap.
This satisfied me in my youth, while my spirit was still too tender to wrestle with cognitive dissonance, and my posture as a dependent demanded me to “depend” on someone, or Someone. But as I gained more and more knowledge and autonomy in young adulthood and beyond, it became feeble to offer up an elementary answer: don’t question, just trust. No, it became clear to me that it was intellectual laziness to not at least attempt to learn the logical and logistical explanations for my faith.

The Faceless White Giant - Brian Zahnd

The seeds of an Angry God theology were sown early in my life and they came in the form of cartoons — the infamous gospel tracts by J.T. Chick. With titles like This Was Your LifeSomebody GoofedThe Awful Truth, and Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Chick tracts usually end with everyone but fundamentalist Christians being hurled into what looks like the fires of Mount Doom by a merciless God depicted as a faceless white giant.
A well-meaning but unhelpful Sunday School teacher gave me a Chick tract when I was twelve and those garish images with their ludicrous theology burned their way into my adolescent imagination. I had met the Angry God! And I was afraid of this God. Who wouldn’t be? Think about it. In the Gospel According to J.T. Chick, if you don’t believe just right, an omnipotent giant will consign you to eternal torture!
Fortunately, I could believe in Jesus and be saved from his Father — the Angry God. But then I heard a revival preacher ask a disturbing question: “Do you believe in Jesus in your heart or just in your head?” He went on to say that if we believed in Jesus in our head but not our heart we would miss heaven by eighteen inches and wind up in hell forever! More anxiety-inducing theology! Now I had to decide if I had faith in my heart or if I was on my way to hell because I only believed in Jesus with my head. That’s a lot of pressure for a twelve-year-old…or anyone.

The Forgotten Gospel Conference - Aug. 5-7

With Paul Young, Robin Parry, Ilaria Ramelli, Brad Jersak, Baxter Kruger and Peter Hiett.

WANTED: Dead or Alive - Greg Albrecht

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin —because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
—Romans 6:1-11
During World War I, one of the most famous "wanted posters" declared "I Want You!" It depicted a man with a top hat, with a star in the middle of the headband, white hair billowing from underneath the hat, pointing his finger at those who gazed at the poster. The caricature of "Uncle Sam" was an attempt to persuade and recruit young men to serve their country in the armed forces.

The idea for the poster was borrowed from an earlier version used in the United Kingdom. After all, if you as an American have ever had a discussion about World War I with a Brit, you know they will invariably remind us that they entered World War I, and for that matter World War II, long before we Johnny-come-lately Yanks did.

"I Want You!" It was one version of a wanted poster. You can see other versions of wanted posters in the Post Office, or on television shows inviting the public to be alert for and report wanted criminals. One hundred and fifty years ago those criminal posters, especially during the pioneer days of the Wild West, would often include a photo of the outlaw, and then the phrase, "Wanted—Dead or Alive."

The title of our message today is a take off of "Wanted—Dead or Alive" posters. However, the message that God posts in Romans 6:1-11 is not that he wants you dead OR alive—He Wants YOU Dead AND Alive.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What's So Bad About Religion? Greg Albrecht

Some of our readers and listeners can't bring themselves to believe that religion is as bad as we say it is. They say things like, "you spend too much time talking about the negative things and too little about the good things." One person said, "What's so bad about religion? If you had more grace you wouldn't harp on religion so much."

If you have ever visited a prison, you walk away realizing it's a horrible thing to be incarcerated. When you are locked up, you are a slave, you have no freedom. If you know anything about institutionalized incarceration you will also know that inmates learn to depend on and work the system. The system gives them security, it gives them a rhythm to their lives. They know exactly what they can do and not do. Their meals are given to them, the time for exercise is set and their work routines are assigned. 

When and if they are released, many ex-convicts have trouble with freedom—they don't know what to do with it. Remember the nation of Israel, held as slaves in Egypt? God gave them their freedom, but many of them wanted to go back. They liked the security of someone giving them three square meals a day, even if it meant being in slavery.

Jesus came to set spiritual prisoners free. He came to make us free in Christ. He sets us free from religious bondage. Perhaps you have been spared from the experience of doing time in a dark spiritual dungeon. Perhaps the only face you have seen of corporate, institutionalized religion is bake sales, soup kitchens and church picnics on lazy, idyllic, long summer days. Maybe you have never been exposed to mind-numbing tirades about the burning coals of hell fire. Maybe you have not experienced religious authorities who prod and push you to give and give and give and do and do and do.