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 Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?”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

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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

Deep Magic

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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

From the Archives

Small_USPS_TruckFrom March 1998

Personal encounters with an obvious Work of God.
An obvious work of God-something that seems kind of rare; you don’t experience it everyday. So it’s nice to relate one such encounter for your reflection.
She was a postal worker; someone who had taken our packages and letters (like NEEDnews) and mailed them out for us over the past 10+ years. In many people’s eyes, someone just to glass over and get on with your life. But God had arranged a divine encounter, as it were.
My executive  assistant, was mailing out some correspondence for me last week when Anne noticed the NEED letterhead on the envelopes, “oh, you must work for Gary. Could you have him call me; there’s something I need to talk over with him.”
So Anne and I met at The Pub for some munchies. “I’ll be direct. I need to find a spiritual path for my life and I have no idea how to find one. You are one of the few spiritual people I know who will shoot straight with me. Where do I look?”
Anne went on to tell me of the personal unhappiness she carried with her, even with “the best husband in the world.” She talked about the 2-3 years of counseling she had just completed when her therapist told her “I don’t know what else to do for you.” She talked about her dreams and the weight of feeling unfulfilled as she approached 50. Then she said, “How would you guide me in the quest for a spiritual path?”
It was obvious that the Lord was drawing her to himself. It was his Spirit at work in her. I was just the guest at the party, the interpreter, the navigator.
So I told her of how Christ came to reestablish a connection between us and our creator. I told her that our ancestors rejection of God’s perimeters for our protection (that’s sin for most of us) had broken our relationship with God and badly damaged our human relationships.
“What you need, Anne is to be reconnected with the God who made you and loves you.”
“But that’s a big step, Gary, and I’m not a risk taker.”
“Anything in life worth going for is a risk, Anne.”
“I know. That’s why I need your help.”
“Well, okay. But really need to talk to God himself. He’s a lot more help than I’ll ever be.”
We just gave her the Guide Book, a Bible.
Gary

Phases 12-Where do we go from here?

 we_can_do_itThis will be the last entry in our series- The Phases of the Christian Life.
     If you have been following this series, by now you have tried to determine where you are in the phases of your own Christian life.
  • Deliverance
  • Delight
  • Discipleship
  • Distraction
  • Disillusion
  • Discouragement (Despair)
  • Decisions
  • Dedication
  • Deliverance (again)
  • Delight (on and on and on)
Well, don’t bother. Time for me to ‘fess up.
     There is no sequence of phases to the Christian life. You might find yourself in one phase or another depending on your life circumstances and your responses to them: you may find yourself delighting in one area of your life and discouraged in another; this may last for a long time. Get some help.
     The goal, however, remains the same- Delight. Delight is the culmination of all the facets of our Christian journey: accepting Christ’s deliverance from and forgiveness for our sin, overcoming distraction and disillusionment, deciding daily to dedicate our lives to the joy of becoming Christ’s disciples; bringing all aspects of our life under His authority until it feels more like freedom than obedience.
     Do keep in mind that this is a life-long process. It is NOT an instantaneous “poof” and all is well. Some Christians never fully accept Christ’s forgiveness for their sins, deciding instead to wallow in chronic guilt and confession. Others rarely delight in their Lord; they always seem to be working harder at their Christian life. Still others avoid decisions at all costs, dreading they might make the wrong choice. Some never fully dedicate their lives to Christ, fearing they may miss something our world dangles before them.
     There are some practices that will help you stay the course, especially through the rougher times.
  • Private Prayer
  • Friendships
  • Time Alone Time in Community
  • Scotch
  • Exercise
  • Rest
  • Time Away
  • Productivity
  • Scripture (en mass)
  • Reassess your Routine
  • Prayer with Friends
     Everyone needs a Safe Person, a Safe Place, & a Safe Activity. A great meal out would be a good place to discover what yours are; and to put to use some of the ideas in the above list. My favorite place is the Sonterra Grill in Colorado Springs. Great Pineapple-Habanero Salsa. Bring a friend.
     Whatever you do, give God room to work in your life the way He wants to work. Don’t dictate to Him how things are to be done. It’s just not safe.
In Phase 3, or 5, or is it 7? Whatever!
  Gary

Phases #4 Discipleship

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PHASES— #4, Discipleship

    Welcome to the Christian life!

The word DISCIPLE is from “Old English, from Latin  discipulus ‘a learner,’ from discere ‘to learn’; reinforced by Old French deciple; to follow. Same root to DISCIPLINE ones self.

To be a disciple is to be a learner; it means to sit at the feet of one more learned than yourself and to listen to them, to learn from them.

Following deliverence and delight, the next thing you will experience in your Christian journey is discipleship. That is, a deep desire to know more about Jesus and the context for His leadership in your life. You will hunger to follow His precepts for living, His teachings, His admonistions to live a righteous life within a society that has rejected most, if not everything, of what He represents. Some of the things you will learn are—

1.      Christian faith is much larger than you may have first surmised. It holds a grandeur that exceeds the simple recognitions of trust and forgiveness. It is a way of viewing and living life that extends well beyond the limitations of human intellect and the vastness of the universe itself.

2.      It is learning your place, your role, in the grand scheme of things. The Lord has designed you to make a difference on this planet. How will you discover what that is?

3.      It is taking on the role of a Servant; not when you feel like it, but even when you don’t. We who claim the name of Jesus grow through serving others and in worship of God. How are you doing with that?!?

4.      Righteousness comes more readily as you accept the Father’s design for your life. The more you allow God to sculpture your life the more your desires will coincide with His. We are declared righteous, and so we will grow into it…, one way or another.

5.      You will be able to bear more suffering in your walk of faith. Yes, suffering. Whether from those who reject and ridicule Jesus Christ, or from those who claim His Name and find your faith warrants some correction. Consider first the extent to which they might be right in their judgment; Then turn to the Lord for either admonishment or vindication.

    To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is first and foremost to sit at His feet…, and to learn. Never confuse this with anything else.

 

Growing in grace and forgiveness,

  Gary

PHASES- #1, an Introduction to the Christian life

            Welcome to the Christian life!

stoning_of_st_stephen1625oil_on_oak_panelmusee_des_beaux-arts_lyons“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”–Tertullian

       In the first few centuries, Christianity grew quickly. By AD100, it had become mostly Gentile and had begun to break from its Jewish origins. By 200, the faith had permeated most regions of the Roman Empire, though Christians were mostly in the larger urban areas (Gaul, Lyons, Carthage, Rome). By 325, an estimated 7 million were Christians with as many as 2 million killed for the faith.”http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/anceint_christian_martyrdom.htm

The Martyrdom of Stephen, (only 36 at the time of his death) spurred many “Christ Followers” to deeper understanding of the cost of their salvation. Is this what you’ve sighed up for?

Throughout these next few months I will set forth the various Phases of the Christian life, as I see them. Granted, there are many more, or fewer; this is only one early 21st Century writers perspective. Enjoy.

Here is my list of the Phases of the Christian life we will explore.

1.      Deliverence 6.      Discouragement
2.      Delight 7.      Decisions
3.      Discipleship 8.      Dedication
4.      Distraction 9.      Deliverence (again)
5.      Disillusion 10.  Delight

For now, let’s start with the admission that if everything in your life of faith is static, solid, and unchanging, you are not growing in your newfound faith. You are pretending or hiding or deceiving yourself. The Christian life is not a static, once-for-all-time thing. It is a fluid work of art in constant flux.

Get used to it.

Much love,

Gary