How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

Advertisements

Chapter 1. New Maps-Old Roads

51nopdewa5l-_sx326_bo1204203200_      My last few months as a senior in college I worked as the Athletic Director for the local YMCA. Since it was a somewhat smaller Y, I was responsible for just about everything. But it did have one perk I had not quite counted upon—the summer tour! So, the summer between college days and my first year of grad school found me working as a swimming coach for the YMCA on tour throughout North America. Our team hit national and local parks and swimming clubs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  We competed with local outcroppings of the Y and anybody else who wanted to swim against us. One of the places we toured was Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, growing up as an inner-city kid in Baltimore, MD, I could never have imagined a place so majestic, so alive, so grand. Jackson Hole got to me. I fell in love with the town, the people, and, of course, Grand Teton National Park. I vowed that I would return yearly!

      For the most part I was able to do so, until the onslaught of kids eight years into our marriage. But in our early marriage Starr (my dangerous wife) and I made the 2,400 mile trek from the East Coast to the Tetons an annual pilgrimage. For a couple of years we tried to see if we could find our way to Wyoming without ever opening a road map. I was guided by my heart, by my passion for the West, by my memory, and by a small piece of paper with route numbers. Yup, you got it, never missed a turn; well, okay, maybe a few where we had to back track.

      Until, one day, the Wyoming Department of Roads put in a NEW road, then redirected and renamed the old ones. I was forced into unfamiliar territory. You guessed it; we got totally lost. Old roads now had new route numbers; and there were now new roads where before there had been only buffalo and antelope. Now I‘m not one of these guys who is afraid to ask directions. By humorist Dave Barry‘s standards I may not be a real guy, but at least I don‘t stay lost long, either. I ask for help.  Saves time and frustration.

     You need to do the same.  When you‘re lost…, ask directions.

     The point of this chapter is this— unless you are consciously living your life continually immersed within contemporary culture, you need help finding your way. It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go ―HUH? You‘re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

      Let‘s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians get culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

Getting lost to find our way again,

  Gary

Majesty…~of miracles, majesty,and magic 

ceiling_painting_of_the_marble_hall_-_melk_abbey_-_austria     The last observance of Majesty in our world took place a about two months ago with the wedding ceremony of Prince Harry of England and Megan Markle of the US. And even it was not that majestic; more of a people’s wedding, with gospel choirs and a pastor [Bishop Michael Curry] from Chicago. Still, it was majestic enough.

     Coronations seem a thing of a somewhat distant past. In America the closest thing we have to Majesty might be a Débutante Ball or Society Wedding. Even our Presidential Inaugurations’ feel commonplace; certainly not “majestic.”

     So how do we talk about the Majesty of the God of the Universe with little framework for it on earth? Let’s sandwich the discussion within the context of the ideas we’ve just covered in our last two EMPulses— miracles and magic. Both miracles and magic engage our attention— the first, because of their unexplainable origin, the second because of the entertainment and mystery of its execution. God is often associated with both of these phenomena. Still, His majesty far surpasses these earthbound wonders.

     Let’s play a bit with the idea of God. When you hear the word “god” what do you think of? Some old silver bearded guy wearing white? Maybe you don’t think of anything—  it’s been so long since you’ve considered this God thing. Aldous Huxley used to say that “God created man is his image and man has been trying to return the favor ever since.” We still do. We all want a god with whom we can be comfortable; a god who is safe, who doesn’t want anything from us. Who only wants to do what we need him to do, when we want it. Otherwise…, stay out of my life.

     Unfortunately, it does not work that way. The God that IS, who I know, owes me nothing. He created me & not the other way around. He sustains all life, the movements of the galaxies and multiple universes, quarks and quasars, the Black Holes and the Laniakea Great Attraction Point. Being Designer, Creator, and Sustainer, does carry some measure of Majesty along with the position.

     Nonetheless, we still want God at our beckon call, at our convenience, and at our whim. We want to define Him the way we want with little acknowledgment of Who He might be in and of Himself. This is very dangerous. You don’t want to mess with the Deep Magic of this world; and you certainly don’t want to interfere with any of his Miracles.

     1Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

     He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Leave well enough alone…, [~from a fellow blue marble resident]  & watch our God work his wonders!

Deep Magic

bibbia_luce-600x300

C S Lewis (1898-1963), the renown British writer (Welsh, born & raised in Belfast), Oxford scholar, and apologist is probably best known for his children’s books— The Chronicles of Narnia. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the true King of Narnia, the lion Aslan, must be sacrificed to pay for the treachery of Edmund, the human child. The Evil Witch thinks she has won the day as Aslan is slain on the Great Table, the Great Alter.

But she was unaware of the deep magic

Of course, the first thing we must admit is that most of us think very little about magic in our lives; except maybe in the case of love, especially the romantic variety, or when we pray to win our state lottery, or when we cheer for our favorite football team. Magic, not to mention deep magic, really rarely enters our thinking.

So is there such a thing as deep magic?

To be sure.

First— a disclaimer. This is not the Harry Potter kind of magic; that’s just trivial skirmishing. True deep magic is woven into the fabric of creation by our Creator who knew that scientific explanations of all reality would never be able to definitively explain it all—not now, not eventually, not ever. Why? Because there is more to our lives than just the observation, analysis, and recording of our findings (a.k.a.-data). There is also deep magic.

Want proof? Have you ever had a déjà vu moment, or an odd premonition, an insight that was not typical for you, or a challenge before you that you met and conquered even beyond your own sense or ability to achieve?  It came from deep magic; that intrinsic sense that there is more to the universe than meets the eye.

In my own life I have found that God often works behind the scenes and only lets me in on his deep magic when he knows I am ready to comprehend it. Smart God.

What is deep magic’s effect on me?

In the same way that we get to see deep magic only fleetingly, we, at times, also find ourselves a part of it on a grander scale than we ever imagined. We pass through it. But sometimes…, we also are its quarters. Yet, although we may be the vessels of deep magic, we are not the possessors of it. Deep magic is, well, deep; much deeper than we can imagine: we only know a part of it. God has revealed only a small part of what he is doing in the universe to us. The closest we can come to capturing an inkling of insight into it might be in looking at Jesus, the closest representative of the Creator on earth, ever. Remember, that the Bible is only (okay, the only) the guidebook to give us just enough information to know how God wants us to live and relate to him on an eternal basis…, here, now, and forever. And the central thrust of the Bible is, I’m God; you’re not. Trust me.”

On a daily basis deep magic truly surrounds us and flows through our veins. The only question is, what am I going to do with it? We can either fight it and struggle with Godand ourselves for the rest of our lives; or, we can give in to its power, and flow with the current of life, in tune with the Lord God Creator of all. He is the source of all true peace, and all true power. Anything else, outside of him, is merely human contract.

Deep magic.

So, what’s your sense of the deep magic of the universe? Had any lately? Been inside it? Has it grabbed a hold of you? Maybe you should be more open to its compelling call. Allow the Holy Spirit of God to indwell you; let him show you the deeper secrets of living the Christian live. You will find it’s not so magical as you once thought. It is simply walking humbly with God and knowing your place in the universe.

God is full of surprises…

Gary

Closing Doors #5 A Sliver of Light

prayer_for_usaAs we follow Christianity across the ocean to the Americas you must, by now, see that I have been covering large swaths of history in a single ¾ page offering. This has been unfair. Excellent books have covered far less time periods in far more pages. So this will be the final entry in my cosmic fly-over of the church and its interface with the world around it.

     From 1850 to the present, colossal revolutions swept the Church. The rise of American denominationalism, the struggle over the slavery issue, the Civil War, two World Wars, terrible conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and a seemingly endless cold war with Russia have overshadowed the Church’s stance in the public forum.

     Add to that the divisive nature of “Christian” personality cults, our flip-flops during the civil-rights movements, and Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, have all placed the Church at odds with the secular society around us. More recently, the conundrum over LGBTQ issues and the “cocooning” of many evangelical churches and ministries, the faith we love is pretty much a joke for the majority of the nation.

     On the plus side, the field meetings of Charles Finney, the urban popularity of Billy Sunday, and the incredible ministry of Billy Graham have done much to keep a positive spin on the true nature of the Christian faith. The ‘70s Jesus People ushered in a new face for a more youthful Christian expression. And where would we be without contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Rend Collective); even the mainstream music industry has to take notice.

     So how do we keep these doors open so the waiting world can at least see a sliver of light of who we are?

     Well, at the least we need to unlock the doors from our side. Replacing Kingdom language (King, Lord) with less medieval constructs might be a good place to start. And fewer thee’s and thou’s mighteth help. Charles & John Wesley utilized popular well known tunes and put Christian lyrics to them. We’ve got a good jump on that; let’s keep going.

     90% – 95% of Church activities revolve around itself. Think we could change that?!? And what about revising that judgmental attitude toward others?!? Maybe a little more forgiving this time around?

     We could, believe it or not, get involved in local government, or run for public office! Maybe even start a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or a CEO’s Confidentiality Consortium. When I lived in the northeast, I was asked to join the Pioneer Valley Gentlemen’s Whiskey Association because I was a Christian. Go figure. Opening doors.

     God does not want any of us to spend the rest of our days cloistered inside our churches: well, unless you‘re the Pope; and even ee gets out!

     Our place is one of intermingling with the people of our society; both with those of influence and those who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. What has the Lord called you to? Get there. And bring the peace, forgiveness, and joy of our Lord with you.

 … a glimmer in the dust,

  Gary

Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

Closing Door #3 The year 1000

dr gary Davis, clueless, crusades, church history, closed doors

The year 1000 was a pivotal year in both society and Church. Our world was in juxtaposition to itself: Europe was just entering the Middle Ages, when agricultural technology took a great step forward; by contrast, sub-Saharan Africa was still in the darkness of the pre-historical era.

     The entire world population hovered between 250 & 300 million people.

     Within the Church, the authority of the Papacy was in decline. It was the period of saeculum obscurum, the Dark Ages. The church in Europe retreated from “the world” for safety and seclusion. This left an open door for Islam to invade southern Europe and occupy the Iberian Peninsula.

     The dominance of Islam in the Holy Land initiated Pope Urban’s call to all Christians to lead a Holy Crusade against the Muslims who had overrun Jerusalem as well as the Holy City of Constantinople. The Millennium had gotten off to a cataclysmic start. True believers were, once again, confronted with the choice to enter the fray in the Holy Land to defend the faith, or to retreat to walled cities and monasteries for safety, food, and seclusion from the world outside.

     Another notable event was the Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1095. The Eastern Church did not believe that Christianity needed one central authority, in one man, as the final arbiter of all matters of faith. The Orthodox Church operated more as a fraternity of churches, rather than a hierarchy of churches that traced papal authority in direct lineage to the Apostle Peter. The Church closed its doors on itself, splitting East and West.

     During the European Plagues, one ending in 750, and another, emerging in Central Asia, to hit Europe in 1346. The second plague became known as The Black Death; nearly 25 million people perished during this pandemic.

     Once again, the Church opened its doors to the poor, weak, and dying; she then swallowed them within; holding tight rein over their actions, land, and purse-strings.

     Too often it takes a devastating event to motivate Christians to reach into the lives of the lost to care for them, feed them, and journey alongside them. We dare not allow the models of our faith in the past determine our present interface with the world around us.

     I know I’ve quoted G.K. Chesterton [1874-1936] before; but it seems apropos to do so again.

What our world needs now is a new kind of Prophet.
Not one like the Prophets of old who told men they were going to die;
But one who would tell them they are not dead yet.

 Not dead yet,

  Gary