Lots of people have Jesus tattoos.
But few have one this bad.
As I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. Today I’m finishing up my last paper for the semester. So here’s a post from the vault about learning to live in the tension of the unanswered.
The more I read the Bible the less convinced I am that it was created to be an answer book.
That’s not to say we can’t find answers to life’s questions in the Bible, but I’m increasingly less convinced that the purpose of the Bible is to be an answer book, or perhaps more precisely, a reference book we can turn to to prove our point or prove others wrong.
Obviously, there are any number of passages that we can use as proof texts to make whatever case we’re trying to make. To be fair, sometimes that is a completely valid thing to do. But I think the Bible is more interested in asking questions than it is providing definitive answers.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a collection of questions, questions, and more questions.
Am I my brother’s keeper? – Cain
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? – Moses
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? – David
What strength do I have that I should still hope? – Job
How long oh Lord, must I call for your help? – Habakkuk
Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? – The Disciples
Who do you say that I am? – Jesus
What does this mean? – Disciples at Pentecost
These are questions that the people of God continue to ask today, which I think is wonderful, not because it means we haven’t found “sufficient answers”, but because it makes the Bible more “real” and in turn it becomes that much more relatable and applicable.
If the Bible were nothing more than a collection of perfect people who always had quick, easy answers to all of their problems it would be completely unapproachable because we would have no way to connect to those sorts of stories. Instead, what we encounter are people not that unlike ourselves who live lives just as difficult and flawed as our own. Like our own lives, these Biblical characters struggle to find the answers they are looking for.
While some of us find beauty in this openendedness, fundamentalism cowers before it in fear. In their never-ending pursuit of control, fundamentalists, like Job’s friends, demand and then provide final, absolute, and exhaustive answers to any and every question they encounter even when God doesn’t seem to do so.
They do this because they fear unanswered questions. They fear unanswered questions because they refuse to relinquish even the slightest bit of control over their faith, their life, or even God. It is this refusal to live with the unanswered that leads to so much unnecessary conflict, division, and condemnation in the church.
The irony, of course, is that the control which fundamentalism demands is both impossible to possess and antithetical to a faith who’s oldest hymn describes a Savior who’s Lordship is defined by relinquishing control.
But I am convinced that the Bible’s openended questions are something to embrace, rather than fear.
They remind us that the Bible was not written directly by the hand of God. After all, why would God ask so many question God already knows the answer to? Instead, what we witness is a God who has invited God’s people to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
In turn, this combination of human participation and unanswered questions allows us to continue participating today in the answering of these important questions while also continuing to ask more questions of our own.
Over time we discover some of the answers to these questions, but this isn’t an invitation to answer every question or solve every case. It’s an invitation to live in the tension of the unanswered, the only place where true growth and discovery can occur.
Having prepackaged answers to everything stunts our growth, while also arrogantly and naively assuming to comprehend the incredible complexity and diversity of the human experience.
Allowing life’s most difficult questions to be unresolved allows us to honor the complexity and diversity of our lives and in so doing begin to address those questions in a more honest and effective way. It allows us to grow into the people God created to be, rather than artificially forcing us into a form God very well may never have intended us to fit into.
To borrow an old movie cliche, rather than using the Bible as a quick reference answer book, I think we should use it “ask the right questions”. Even in doing so, we may not always find the answers or if we do they may not be answers we like, but by learning learning to ask questions, rather than forcing out answers from every page of the Bible we join in the tradition of God’s people who’s relationship with God is, in so many ways, defined by their/our questions. In other words, we become who we have always been.
Once again, I do not say all of this to imply that the Bible doesn’t contain “answers” to the questions we have in life. However, we must be extremely careful in how we glean those answers, for more often than not I am afraid those “answers” tend to be our own creation, rather than the voice of God.
Answer are good, but often times questions are even better. Answers leave us as stagnant, preformed people. Questions allow our relationship with God to be dynamic, open, and honest.
God doesn’t fear our questions. No one in the Bible is ever condemned for asking God questions. Even Jesus asked questions! If anything, the Bible’s immense collection of questions should tell us that God welcomes questions with open arms.
So, don’t be afraid to ask questions. And when you find the courage to ask questions, never stop asking them. It’s ok to ask difficult questions about the Bible. God doesn’t fear your tough questions. And it’s even ok to critique the Bible.
Because as soon as we question or critique God and the Bible, they will turn around and do the same to us. And that is a very good thing. For like Moses or the 12 apostles, it is out of that exchange that we grow into the people God created us to be.
Grace and peace,
You may recall that I started writing a monthly faith and politics column called Church & State for the good folks at A Deeper Story.
If you forgot, don’t worry. So did I. Which is why I didn’t write a Church & State post last month.
Well, I got my act together this month and remembered to write my column.
This month’s post is called “The Problem Of Evil Is Hanging In Your Closet.”
Check out a preview below, then click through to read the rest of the post and find out why your closet may be scarier than you realized.
In the midst of all the scandalous news surrounding the IRS, Benghazi, and AP phone records, chances are you’ve already forgotten about the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh. Between a 24-hour news cycles and our natural penchant for news that directly affects our lives, it’s really no surprise this story has all but disappeared from the news cycle.
But therein lies the problem.
That clothing factory collapse on the other side of the world is actually more directly connected to your life and my life than any of those other high profile American-centric stories.
Because the clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed because of what is hanging in our closets.
After 2,000 years of refusing to take a political side, Jesus has finally given his endorsement to a mayoral candidate in North Miami.
And you can trust this is true because politicians would never use faith to win votes.
Also, there’s a picture of Jesus on the flyer so you know it’s legit.
UPDATE: If, like me, you were wondering what “Suk Sou Bonbon” was all about, here’s your answer. It’s a song she wrote and the video is pretty amazing.(Thanks to my friend Adam for the heads up!)
If you feel the urge to do a little evangelism on your local college campus, there are plenty of YouTube videos available to show you how not to do it.
To save you the time of watching them, I’ll go ahead and tell you, they’re all the same – someone screaming at college students, telling them they’re all going to hell.
While, that’s one approach, here’s another.
And I kinda like it.
Not because I have plans to grab my own “Jesus Talk” t-shirt and set up shop on Yale’s campus, but because I appreciate this guy demonstrating that not all Christians who want to share their faith are completely bonkers.
BY DANIELLE KELLEY
LSU student writer
“Jesus Talk” is emblazoned across his T-shirt.
Thousands of LSU students pass him daily in Free Speech Plaza, where the rules are simple: Say whatever you want, however you want to say it.
Political groups stand by colorful tri-fold boards. Volunteer groups lure students with free coozies, pens and T-shirts. Planned Parenthood offers free condoms. Students for Life hands out flyers. The occasional traveling preacher and his uniformed family shout threats of hellfire.
But Jesus Talk — as one man’s commonly known by students — is different.
He sits stoically at the end of the alley on a cushioned, fold-up, metal chair and speaks only when spoken to.
His chair faces a matching seat with a laminated paper bearing the words, “Prayer requests questions?? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Sometimes, his bespectacled eyes dart across newspapers and books. His wrinkled hands swim through puzzles. Relaxed in his open-air office, he prays and observes the young adults chatting, texting and darting in and out of the shade of the stately oaks.
But most of the time, Ivan Imes talks about Jesus.
“The key is, I never approach anybody,” Imes said. “They have to approach me.”
Not being homeless there are a lot of basic things I take for granted in life; like a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a clean change of clothes, or a mailing address to use when I’m applying for a new job.
Another thing I can add to that list which, to be honest, never really crossed my mind before yesterday is a haircut.
A haircut is a pretty simple thing that I think a lot of us take for granted or perhaps even see as something of a luxury. But think about why you get a haircut in the first place. Is there some element of vanity is all of it? Sure, but try going several months or even years without getting your hair cut, let it get good and shaggy like it hasn’t seen a comb that entire time, then try applying for a new job and you’ll quickly see just how important that haircut really is.
But “proper” appearance for job interviews aside, a new haircut makes us feel good about ourselves, it gives us a sense of a fresh start, and for someone who may not have experienced either of those emotions in a long time, a hair can nothing short of a godsend.
Which is I was so happy when I stumbled across the story of Anthony Cymerys, or as he’s better known as “Joe the Barber.”
Cymerys is an 82 year old retired barber who got inspired by a sermon preached at his church many years ago.. For the past quarter of a century he has gathered together his barber supplies, grabbed a car battery to power his clippers, and setup his barber chair (a lawn chair) in the open air of Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut.
Every Wednesday for the past quarter of a century he has cut hair. For free. For anyone who might need it.
All Cymerys asks in return is a hug so he show his “customers” that he loves them.
Now, I know it’s easy to be cynical about an old man handing out hugs in a public park, but frankly if that’s your response to this story you can take it somewhere else because I’m not interested.
What I am interested in is the sort of genuine love for neighbor it takes for someone to return week after week, year after year, decade after decade to serve their community, to offer a simple helping hand to those the rest of drive by and go out of our way to ignore.
Sure, this isn’t the traditional feeding of the hungry, giving the clothes off your back, or visiting someone in prison. What this is is a man looking at the gifts he has been given and finding a way to use them to serve others in need.
It’s a simple, but genuine act of selfless love.
It’s a holy haircut.
Over the next several months, probably longer, I’ll be going out of my way to highlight moments like these because they perfectly capture the sort of holy living I’m trying to describe in my upcoming book, The Scandal of Holiness (due this September). It is this sort of simple, but creative, boundary crossing love that I think perfectly captures the sort of holiness embodied by Jesus. It’s a more authentic version of holiness than the sort of legalism many of us have experienced. More importantly, it’s a form of holiness that not only can each of us actually live out, it’s one which we must live out if are really going to be followers of Jesus.
So, for the near future I want to highlight holy moments like these and I ask that if any of these moments cross your path, please share them with me.
Because as a church, we need examples like Joe the Barber to remind us what it looks like to be the holy people of God in an unholy world.
We need these reminders because the simple, but tragic reality is that there is something holier going on in Bushnell Park on Wednesday afternoons, than there is in many of our churches on Sunday mornings.
This must change.
Grace and peace,
Hilarious or horrible?
Yesterday, Tim Challies posted this article rehashing the old, and frankly tiring, warning about the “dangers” of Christian mysticism.
I am by no means a mystic and, to be honest, Christian mysticism does not hold a lot of personal appeal. I don’t think it is by any stretch of the imagination the dark evil Challies or others portray it as. It’s just not for me.
So, this post isn’t a defense of Christian mysticism, nor is it simply a response to Challies’ article. This post is about the broader problem between evangelicalism and orthodoxy.
Conveniently, Challies frames this entire issue for us wonderfully in one simple sentence.
“Mysticism was once regarded as an alternative to Evangelical Christianity.”
Frankly, my jaw hit the floor when I read that sentence. This historical ignorance, or perhaps revisionism, behind this statement is astounding and emblematic of the broader historical ignorance and revisionism that plagues so much of American evangelicalism.
In other words, we like to remake Christian history in our own evangelical image, facts be damned.
The truth is Christian mysticism “was once regarded as an alternative to Evangelical Christianity” the way Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Anglicanism is/was regarded as an alternative to evangelical Christianity.
The idea implied here, of course, is that evangelical Christianity is the true orthodoxy and all other “alternatives” are, essentially, heresy. But what makes the latent judgmental bigotry behind such a statement so astounding is the profound historical ignorance that undergirds it.
Evangelicalism itself was once considered an alternative to Christianity.
You remember the Reformation, right? When Luther and his buddies (Actually, they weren’t all his buddies. Many fellow Reformers hated Luther), decided the church needed a bit of change and that they were the ones to do it?
I say “the church” intentionally because before the Reformation there was just one church if you lived in Western Europe (Two if you had a heart and were more ecumenically inclined to love your Orthodox brothers and sisters in the East.). There was only Rome. Anything outside of Rome (or Constantinople for that matter) was considered heretical or, to borrow from Challies, “an alternative to Christianity.”
There seems to be this implied notion among evangelicals when we speak of evangelical Christianity that is has always existed. Sure, we sort of recognized that it really got going during the Reformation, but it’s as if we see the Reformation as simply releasing the true faith, evangelicalism, from its Roman Catholic prison so that we could get back to an earlier, purer form of Christianity. So we could be like those great “evangelicals” of the early church.
Now, I’m keenly aware of the anachronism in that last sentence. I’m just not convinced that most of us in the evangelical world really comprehend the newness of our tradition. Which is why it’s critical to understand what really happened during the Reformation if we are going to have the sorts of conversations Challies and others want to have without looking completely foolish.
When most of us think of the Reformation, we tend to do so in terms of a problem, or set of problems, that needed to be fixed; problems which the Reformers supposedly took care of.
But this is to miss what really happened in the Reformation and is still happening today.
The Reformation was much more than a theological quarrel over doctrine and ritual that could simply be “solved” or “fixed.” It may have started that way, but it quickly became a fundamental revolution in thought. It was a seismic shift of authority, power, and control away from the magisterium and into the hands of everyday people. It blew the door wide open to allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions and to be their own authority in the face of actual authority/tradition/credentials/etc.
In other words, the Reformation went from “we need to fix this” to “we have the authority for ourselves” and when it did it shifted from a problem solving endeavor to the creation of a new mentality and that mentality was and is a Pandora’s box which, for good or ill, can never be closed or which will never “end” because it has no end point, no objective other than freedom and control. (Which I’m not convinced are always particularly good things or even attainable things or even Christian things, but that’s another discussion altogether.)
In short, the Reformation isn’t over. It can’t be over because the Reformation was and is about a way of thinking, looking at, and interacting with the world that allows anyone and everyone to claim authority, to claim to be the possessor of the “true faith.”
This is why the church went from either Catholic or Orthodox in 1517, to tens of thousands of Christian denominations just a few short centuries later – all claiming to be orthodox.
Which is where the problem of orthodoxy and evangelicalism comes in.
There is no such thing as a unified body of believers called “evangelicalism.”
Go to an evangelical Christian event and look around. You’ll see people from dozens, if not hundreds of different denominations, some with radically different claims about the faith, all claiming the title “evangelical.”
Orthodoxy can only be orthodoxy within a closed group of like minded people with a central power base that agrees upon and defines what that orthodoxy will be. This does not mean there won’t be some disagreement within that group. Of course there will be. But as soon as those people leave to form their own church, they create a new orthodoxy – their own.
This is what we see in both the Great Schism of 1054 as well as the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and everything that followed in its wake. Certainly there are still statements of faith that bind us all together, things like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed which were affirmed when there still was one, holy, catholic and apostolic church (though plenty of people who claim Christianity today try to reject these creeds), but there is no longer a universal “orthodoxy” that can be appealled to which can apply to all Christians and which can subsequently be used to beat up others when they don’t agree with you.
What we have instead are “orthodoxies”. We have Roman Catholic orthodoxy and Southern Baptist orthodoxy and Methodist orthodoxy and Presbyterian orthodoxy and Nazarene orthodoxy (had to give my people some love), and while there are many things those groups can agree on, each has their own particular brand of Christianity.
If you don’t think this constitutes distinct orthodoxies, then I would direct you back to the issue that started this post – Christian mysticism. If you’re a Roman Catholic, then there’s no question that mysticism fits within the bounds of orthodoxy. However, talk to a Southern Baptist and you’ll most likely get the opposite answer. While, if you talk to Methodists, Presbyterians, or Nazarenes you’ll get responses that are all over the map.
My point is this – with as fragmented as the Church has become in the past 500 years we must be extremely careful when we start invoking the idea of orthodoxy, because more often than not the battles we fight this weapon with are only “orthodox” or “unorthodox” within our particular denomination or tradition, traditions which themselves were considered unorthodox or even heretical by the churches and traditions which were already established long before our particular denomination or church was born.
What has happened as a result of this constant infighting, is that evangelicalism in particular has increasingly become defined by its ignorance and arrogance, but it’s lack of knowledge about its own history and the audacity with which it portrays itself as the keepers of the one, true faith.
This must change.
When we use the word “evangelicalism” as interchangeable with “Christianity” in the ways we so often do, what we are essentially claiming is evangelicalism is Christianity. While evangelicalism may be Christian, Christianity is not exhausted by the evangelical tradition. To act otherwise is, as I’ve already said many times, the height of ignorance and arrogance.
Worse yet, it’s profoundly un-Christian.
For we are one Body with many parts, and even if one part is as big and powerful as evangelicalism, that part cannot say to the rest of the Body, “I don’t need you.” For if that part cuts itself off, it will be the one outside the Body. It will be the one outside the bounds of orthodoxy. It will be the heretic.
So while orthodoxy is a very important thing, we newcomers to the faith, we evangelicals need to be extremely careful about how we talk about it.
Otherwise, we will end up sounding like a bunch of ignorant fools.
Grace and peace,
I was sitting on the couch eating a late lunch with my wife when we turned on the TV and saw the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombings.
Like everyone else in the country I was shocked.
Like everyone else I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever do something like that and I wanted justice and I wanted it to be quick and severe.
Justice did finally catch up with the two men accused of carrying out these horrendous acts and, as we all know, one of them is now dead.
The question of where to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev has, understandably, created quite the controversy in Massachusetts, and I suspect across the country. Understandably, few people in Massachusetts want Tsarnaev buried anywhere near the people he murdered.
Which is what makes the offer of Paul Keane so remarkable.
And so incredibly convicting.
In the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus is delivering his famous Sermon on the Mount. He’s just finished talking about the problems with retributive justice or as he called it – eye for an eye. Speaking to a crowd whose homeland was ruled by foreign invaders, whose livelihood was constantly being stripped from them in order to support the opulent lifestyle of a emperor who cared nothing about them, and who never knew when they or their family might be arrested, raped, or murdered for the slightest offense by a Roman soldiers who often acted more like terrorists than peace keepers, Jesus said the last thing I’m sure they or we would want to hear.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
This, Jesus would go on to say, is what real perfection is all about.
In many ways it seems this path to perfection is a much more difficult path to tread than simply not doing certain things. After all, I don’t know about you, but my first, second, and third reactions to the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and every other event like that was not – “I know you destroyed lives out of hate, but I choose to love you anyway.”
I kind of doubt that was Paul Keane’s first reaction either. But unlike me, Paul decided to actually take Jesus at his word and live out this most difficult of callings in one of the most difficult of situations.
For an enemy.
In his own words,
I am willing to donate a burial plot next to my mother in Mt. Carmel Burying Ground to the Tsarnaev family if they cannot obtain a plot. The only condition is that I do it in memory of my mother who taught Sunday School at the Mt. Carmel Congregational Church for twenty years and taught me to”love thine enemy.”
I have no doubt that Paul’s decision will anger a lot of people – including many Christians.
But whether we like it or not, whether it makes us uncomfortable or flat out angry, his actions are the very incarnation of Jesus’ words.
Of Jesus’s love.
Which is why today I am proud to be a Yale Divinity School student, proud to share a connection with someone who has reminded me that loving your enemies means much more than tolerating a coworker who gets on your nerves or not flipping someone the bird who cut you off in traffic.
I just hope Paul Keane’s story does not fade too quickly into obscurity.
I hope it lingers as a tangible reminder of what Christ-like love really looks like.
Grace and peace,
The summer after I graduated college I did a youth ministry internship in Venice, FL.
One day while me and the guys I was working with were wondering through a Christian bookstore we came across a book called Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse. It was (and is) exactly what it sounds like. A guide to everything end times. It was as hilarious as it was insightful. Ever since that day I’ve been a fan of Jason Boyett and his writing.
As I’ve had the chance to get to know Jason over the past year it’s been no surprise to discover that he is just as funny and insightful as his books.
I’ve also learned since that summer day so long ago that Jason has an entire series of Pocket Guides, including one on the Bible.
That’s what this post is about.
The other day Jason posted a pic on his Facebook wall of a huge stack of books he’s having to store in his garage. That’s the picture he posted in the background of the image above.
To make a long story short, in order to rerelease his Pocket Guide to the Bible with a new publisher, Jason had to buy back all the old copies from his old publisher. That’s a lot of books. Seriously.
As it stands today Jason has a little over 1,400 copies of his fantastic book Pocket Guide to the Bible just sitting in his garage looking for a new home.
Over the next 2 weeks (starting today and going through Monday May 20th) we want to sell all 1,400+ copies of Jason’s books for him so he can finally get his garage cleaned out and start using it as a garage instead of a giant book closet.
Just to be clear, we have no stake in this whatsoever other than trying to help a friend. In other words, we’re not getting any cut of the profits. We just don’t want our friend to keep having to be a literary hoarder.
The best part of this is it means a sweet deal for you.
(Yes, we volunteered him without asking.)
The book is fantastic for group study too. So if you’re a pastor, small group leader, or Sunday School teacher we’ve got a sweet deal if you want to buy in bulk. You can get an entire box of 48 books for only $48. That’s only $1 a box!!
We’ve got you covered.
Buy a box of 75 and it’s only $70. That’s less than $1 a book!!
You seriously can’t beat this deal.
But there’s one catch – YOU CAN’T BUY THEM ON AMAZON.
Yes, the book is available on Amazon, but it’s the rerelease, not the copies piled up in Jason’s garage. Plus, those copies aren’t signed. But, don’t worry, both versions are exactly the same.
So, help us help our friend.
Go to the Big Cartel page we’ve set up and buy a copy of Pocket Guide to the Bible today. Better yet, buy a box!!
Just remember – this awesome sale only lasts for a couple of weeks or until all the copies have been sold.
So, don’t wait, buy your copy today!!
UPDATE: We’re almost sold out of books!! We’ve only got about 300 left (thank you SO MUCH to everyone who’s purchased a book or several), so don’t wait! Buy you copy before they’re all gone!!
UPDATE #2: We’re SOLD OUT!!! A HUGE WORD OF THANKS to everyone who bought a copy or an entire case. We really appreciate it. We seriously couldn not have done this without YOUR help!!