Karen, Your Faith Isn’t Worth Sh*t

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If you’ve got a problem with this title, take it up with Jesus. He said salt that has lost its flavor isn’t fit for the soil or the manure pile (Luke 14:34-35). Maybe that doesn’t strike you as offensive. Maybe you are mindful of the wonderfully fertile qualities of shit. People refer to worm shit (“castings”) as “gardener’s gold.” Chicken and cow poo is good, too. But salt without flavor is mostly good for killing things. Even shit has redeeming qualities.

When Karen Handel says her faith “leads her to a different place” on gay adoption, I’m not playing with this toxic manure. Faith that leads you to prevent gay parents from adopting does not bring life. You aren’t “saving” kids from becoming gay, or increasing the probability of them having healthy childhoods, or reducing the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth. Quite the opposite. It isn’t spreading the Good News. You’re doing harm in the name of Jesus, and that’s some serious bullshit. Not the good kind.

And don’t give me this hypocritical tone-policing humbug that has a problem with the word “bullshit” either. I’ve got LGBTQ friends and church members who have adopted kids, and straight parents who have adopted LGBTQ kids. This is not a difference of opinion. This is an attack on people I love. There are much, much stronger words that are appropriate, but they can articulate them better than I.

Mixing your flavorless faith with bullshit doesn’t make it worthy of our community garden. You and Roy Moore can keep that manure in your own yard. I don’t need the stink.

For further reading:

On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt

Text of the Day for 5-30-17

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Today’s text is from Amos 2:6-7:

Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way… (NRSV)

This is one of those passages that packs even more of a punch when you read it in context. Amos starts in chapter 1 by addressing all the surrounding nations and city-states: Damascus, Tyre, Gaza, Edom, and so on. He uses the same phrase: “For three transgressions, and for four…”

It’d be a bit like if I wanted to deliver a prophecy to the United States, but I started with North Korea, and then Iran, and then Russia, describing all their failures. I’d get my audience nodding along with me, but I’d save the best for last: “And as for you, you United States of America…” The repetition is a set up for a surprise.

Amos says that the guilt of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, is oppression of the poor. I’m going to stick with Amos for a few weeks, and later on we’ll get to the passage Rev. Dr. King made famous more than 2500 years later, but right now I just want to leave you with this perspective on Amos:

First, he lumps Israel in with the other nations in order to make a point: Israel’s special, but they ain’t that special.

Second, their main sin is oppression of the poor. Whatever else you may have heard about God’s judgment of Israel, Amos wants to make it clear—it’s not because of their lack of religiosity. It’s their mistreatment of the poor.

Which raises this question: “How are the poor mistreated?” And how can we avoid doing the same thing?

 


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 

Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia. 

Dear Jephthah

Alexandre_Cabanel_-_The_Daughter_of_Jephthah_(1879,_Oil_on_canvas)
You thought perhaps
it would be someone else—
a servant, or a servant’s child,
or a child’s pet.
You would trade
in someone else’s grief,
while you made sad eyes
and talked about a greater purpose
and collateral damage
and breaking eggs to make omelettes,
and the cost of discipleship
and each of us bearing our cross
and sacrifice.

 

When she ran out of the door,
smiling,
breathless,
almost as tall as you,
long limbs (where does the time go?)
covering the ground in half the time
(where does it go?)
as your wife,
and the servants
and their children
and their pets,
first through the door,
because she was faster than the wind,

 

I saw your face crack;
I heard your heart break.
Only last month
(or was it last year?)
she asked for a story every night,
followed by a song,
followed by a prayer,
and I hoped you would have the sense
to know that God has no need
for anyone to prove their righteousness.

 

When you swore your oath,
to sacrifice the first creature
who ran out of your door
in exchange for victory,
the chance was slim,
you thought;
and if it did so happen
that it was your child,
then you saw yourself as faithful as Abraham.
In your head,
you were already composing the story,
and you were the hero
because you sacrificed so much.

 

(Do not bring God into this.
Your idea
never entered God’s mind.)

 

You told her to go into the mountains
and bewail her virginity, and so
that is what she told you
she did.

 

I heard what she bewailed:
She bewailed a world
where men trade their children
for the image of their own virtue,
where they prize abstinence and virginity
more than life,
where legislators
and preachers
and pundits
and generals
bereave parents again and again and again,
where people in authority
make foolish oaths,
and stupid laws,
and empty promises,
that keep taking the lives
of queer kids,
and straight kids,
and any child
who sprints out of the door,
full of hope, and excitement, and love.

 

Jephthah, God is tired;
tired of parents grieving
so you can prove
how worthy you are
by sacrificing their children
for your holy war.

 

Jeremiah 7:31
Judges 11:29-40

If Paul Wrote “The Love Chapter” Today

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If I speak Christianese, but do not have love, I am just an annoying advertising jingle for Jesus. And if I have a big blog following, and three best sellers, and if I run a big church, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I become a martyr for evangelism or social justice, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 

Grandstanding is not love. Smarm is not love. Love does not belittle the beloved’s anger. Love does not gaslight, tone-police, or tell victims to reconcile with their abusers. Love does not shrink from conflict, but calls all parties to act like mature adults.

 

Love does not bear all things, because it rejects that which diminishes the image of God in self or others. It does not believe all things; it rejects bullshit, because it is neither naive nor gullible—it rejoices in the truth. It can endure much, but it cannot endure “love the sinner and hate the sin.” See above. Love treats others with the compassion, respect, and dignity we want for ourselves.

 

The internet will end. Politics will end. Blogs, books, and religion will end. Right, now? All this stuff is a pale reflection of the love and justice God has in store.

 

When I was a toddler, I thought “sharing” meant that you give to me. I thought “love” meant you defer to my wishes. I thought Christian paternalism and pity were love. But I grew out of that.

 

I’m not perfect, of course. I’m still capable of self-deception. I’m not as mature as I will one day be, but one day we will all know God’s love inside and out.

 

Sure, faith is important. Hope is important. But you know what’s more important?

 

Love. Mature love.

 

(1 Corinthians 13, for comparison)

Text of the Day for 2-9-17

Today’s text is from Matthew 5:12-16:

Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all]. [Y’all] are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. [Y’all] are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. (CEB [with my edits])

I’ve heard plenty of salt-and-light sermons calling Christians to do good things. But often it is preached as though this section is divorced from the preceding sentence:

In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before [y’all].

These are not separate ideas, though they are often separated in your printed Bible by verse numbers and section headings.

Jesus is speaking to a community of prophets.

See, it depends how you read this phrase. Most people read with a comma, like this: “…the prophets, who were the ones who came before y’all.” I read it without the comma, i.e. “…the prophets who came before y’all prophets.”

Jesus just spent his prologue telling us that the people who we think are losers are really winners (“happy are the poor in spirit”). It takes a prophet’s vision to see this reality. Jesus is speaking to a community he expects to carry on this prophetic tradition. That is why this community will be a “light on a lamp stand,” letting people see what has been hidden by darkness.

Too often, preachers have focused on simply the last phrase in this section: letting others see your good deeds and giving glory to God in heaven. We have separated good works from the prophetic vision, charity from social justice, and works of mercy from evangelism. The call to be salt and light has a particular context: a prophetic community who is willing to be persecuted for Jesus’ and righteousness’ sake.

We are a prophetic community. That is why we are salt and light.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

You can give online here to support the ministry of Saint Junia. 

Text of the Day for 2-7-17

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The Sermon on the Mount (1896), Károly Ferenczy. Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Today’s text comes from Matthew 5:3-12:

  • Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
  • Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
  • Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
  • Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
  • Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
  • Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
  • Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me.Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.

I formatted it as a dot list so you can see (in a contemporary way) the kind of impact it is supposed to have.

I said this past Sunday that the words of The Sermon on the Mount are fire. From the beginning, Jesus speaks revolution: the world is upside-down, and God is going to turn it right-side-up. It is not the winners who are blessed: the confident, the happy, the alpha dogs, the satisfied, the privileged. No, the blessed are those who are poor (or poor in spirit), those who mourn, those who are starving for justice. The blessed are those who are persecuted for seeking peace and justice and righteousness.

Which is what you will be, if you follow the words of this sermon: both persecuted and blessed. You will be persecuted and blessed because you will be a prophet in a community of prophets, and prophets are always persecuted. (That’s what “people harassed the prophets who came before you” means—you, too, are in the company of prophets.)

By your light, Jesus says, others will see reality, the way the world really is. Your light is not something to stare at—it’s meant to give light “to all in the house,” so that they can see.

All of this is just the prologue. Jesus spends 15 verses telling us who to aspire to be as individuals and as a community before he ever says anything about himself.

I gave our church some homework: read the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks. Read it, or part of it, every day. See how it changes you.

Have fun.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day 1-20-17

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Today’s text is from 1 Kings 3:7-15. It is about Solomon’s request from God about leading God’s people:

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. (Contemporary English Bible)

The thing that strikes me most about this story is that God actually invites Solomon to ask for whatever he wants in verse 4. Solomon chooses to ask not for himself, but for his community, because he understands leadership is not about him.

Proverbs says that there are steps to acquiring wisdom. The first step is fear of God (Proverbs 9:10). You can’t become wise without humility, without realizing you are not God, without acknowledging that your knowledge is frail, incomplete, and prone to error. Solomon even refers to himself as “a little child.” Another step is to desire wisdom (Proverbs 4:5). According to the author, desiring wisdom and fearing God are basically the same thing.

There is no wisdom without humility. No learning without desire.

Israel told its history as an object lesson in the character qualities that made for good and for poor leadership. Their political theology was rooted in the idea that the laws of God and society are like laws of nature. Wisdom is an appreciation and application of those laws. To be a good leader, one must be a student of human nature and one’s own character. Those leaders who did not “seek God” disparaged the poor and created chaos in the nation.

It pleased God that Solomon asked for wisdom. It was a sign that Solomon was already on the right path. Wisdom is a gift not just for ourselves, but for everyone connected to us in the web of our relationships. Whether we are wise or not is not an evaluation we can make for ourselves. It is proved by our conduct.

Pray for wisdom.


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for 12-20-16

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Our text for today is from the story of Gideon in Judges 7:4-7:

The Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many people. Take them down to the water, and I will weed them out for you there. Whenever I tell you, ‘This one will go with you,’ he should go with you; but whenever I tell you, ‘This one won’t go with you,’ he should not go.” So he took the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Set aside those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, from those who bend down on their knees to drink.” The number of men who lapped was three hundred, and all the rest of the people bent down on their knees to drink water, with their hands to their mouths. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men who lapped I will rescue you and hand over the Midianites to you. Let everyone else go home.”  (CEB)

This is a story about how God whittles down Gideon’s formidable army from 20,000 to 300 in order to take the enemy by surprise.

God is constantly doing this kind of thing: asking us to win battles with fewer people, or fewer resources, or against uneven odds. Fighting giants with slingshots. Attacking cities with trumpets. Invading our world through a manger.

We miss the point if we think this is just about Cinderella or underdog victories. God establishes a pattern early in God’s history with God’s people that God will not fight according to conventional tactics. God doesn’t want anyone else to take the credit. This is God’s fight, and God’s victory. Our leadership and our actions are simply the methods by which God gets what God wants. David’s hand holds the sling, but the stone moves according to God’s trajectory.

This is one reason I think activists and social justice warriors need to be reminded that we are not the ones bending the arc of history toward justice. We often labor under the delusion that we need bigger armies or better weapons to win, when what we really need is God’s devious strategy—which we only discern by listening carefully.

In Christmas, God is not using the tactics of conventional warfare. God is sneaking in the back door and deploying a biological payload. This package will spread its effects virally, like yeast in bread or a mustard seed in a field, from person to person, community to community, until it transforms the world. The resistance and the victory belong to God.

Text of the Day for 12-14-16

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Incarnation. It’s on my mind because Christmas is coming. I’ve got a few texts for reflection kicking around in my brain today:

Genesis 1:27:

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them

Genesis 2:7:

…the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.

Song of Songs 1:16-17

Look at you—so beautiful, my love! Yes, delightful! Yes, our bed is lush and green! The ceilings of our chambers are cedars; our rafters, cypresses.

Luke 1:34-35

 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.”

Incarnation is one of the most important—and least appreciated—aspects of the Christmas story. The word “incarnation” shares the same root as “carnal.” It literally means “flesh.” The scandal of the incarnation is that God loves flesh and material existence so much that God put on our flesh in order to save and heal us and our broken world.

There is no single Christian attitude toward the body. The theology of the body has covered a wide spectrum of beliefs and metaphors. But it’s safe to say that Christian theology has often spiritualized the body. Many Christians have talked about salvation in terms of a soul becoming free of the body instead of talking about a resurrected or transformed body.

But part of being made in the image of God is being rendered in material and temporal clay. In humanity, God chooses to “get God’s hands dirty.” God has carnal joy in squishing the fertile mud through God’s own fingers. God shares God’s own breath with us in an intimate kiss of life. In the creation of humans in relationship to each other—socially, sexually, politically, religiously—God also shows that we are interdependent, like the rest of God’s material creation. There are no tides without the pull of the moon and no rain without the heat of the sun.  In the Song of Songs verse, humans rejoice in their love for each other and see themselves as part of God’s natural world.

We have several theological choices when it comes to talking about the Virgin Birth and what the story means for Christian theology. Some see it as a sex-negative reinforcement of patriarchal theology. Some see it as a feminist declaration of independence and God’s solidarity with the oppressed. Some see it as a radical reframing of “fruitfulness.” Some see it only as a demonstration of God’s power (“Look! God can do magic!”).

I think the incarnation and the Virgin Birth gives us an opportunity to reflect critically on our theology of the body and how it affects the way we live. How does it affect the way we think about justice for the poor? About hunger? About sexuality? About the material conditions of people’s lives? About the baby born in a manger? When we spiritualize the message, we miss out on God’s concern for the material conditions of human existence.

If the incarnation is just a story about the miracle of birth, it is sweet and inspiring, but not redemptive. I believe it is a story about God’s embrace of the whole complex human being, full of contradictions: pain, pleasure, hope, loneliness, sin, grace, and vision. The body matters, and we cannot tell our faith story in such a way that we ignore real bodies.

Here are some quotes for further reflection:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The soul is part of the body. The mind is part of the body. When folks do physical violence to black people, to black bodies in this country, the soul as we construe it is damaged, too – the mind is damaged, too.”

George MacDonald: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Karl Barth: “Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.”


Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for 12-8-16

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Today’s text is from Exodus 23:1

Don’t spread false rumors. Don’t plot with evil people to act as a lying witness.

“Fake news” is in the news a lot right now. Its power has changed our culture. I took the above photo in line at the grocery store last week, and I realized that these tabloids are now exemplary for what passes for “news” for about half of the population.

Lots of people see this through a cynical lens. “You can’t trust anyone,” they say. “There’s no such thing as truth—only spin.”

But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “truth.” It evades responsibility for our own critical reading and thinking, because it’s simply “too hard.” And while I’m skeptical of our ability to completely grasp truth or discern God’s perspective on reality, what we can affirm is this:

Some claims are lies. And some claims are more true than others.

The gospel is “Good News,” and in order for it to be good it must have some claim on the truth. It offers a counter-narrative to the dominant one(s). The Good News gives us reason to resist the powers that be, to affirm the existence of truth in a world that tells us such resistance or affirmation is futile.

For us, truth is not merely about a set of facts we agree or disagree on. It’s about a relationship with the Ground of Being, an orientation to the Source. The Truth, the Way, and the Life calls us away from cynicism to pursue certain objective goods. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.”

Good News is always the enemy of fake news. And fake news is always the enemy of the Good News.


Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day