Gospel and the Art of Shark Tooth Hunting

There was a book someone told me to read.  It was cool they said.  Enlightening.  Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I read it.  I don’t remember it.  I guess it didn’t enlighten me.  That is probably more a statement about me than the book.  Lots of people read it and found it helpful.  I couldn’t relate.  The journey of the book interested me, but the Zen and the motorcycles didn’t.  I use technology that I don’t understand.  And I don’t want to understand it.  I want it to work.  I don’t want to think about how this computer is capturing these key strokes and saving my thoughts in bits and bytes.  And the Zen feels the same to me.  Too much thinking in little bits and bytes that run down rabbit trails and at the end seem so breathtakingly insignificant or worse, unintelligible.  The Zen felt inaccessible to me, like the carburetor on the motorcycle laid out in tiny pieces that only the initiated can see and put together.

I am a Christian and a pastor.  I like thinking but I’ve found Saint Paul’s warning that “knowledge puffs up” to be an occupational hazard and a cultural epidemic.  Pirsig was writing in a time when technology seemed to be overtaking us, endangering us with becoming functions, pieces of machinery in a godless mechanical universe grinding along with an unseeing merciless drumbeat.  My time is overtaken with information.  We are in danger of becoming receptacles of pieces of information.  Our drumbeat is godless and merciless too.  We are googled and googling. We are becoming what we eat, and we eat information.  We are can’t be disconnected from the the pipeline of knowledge or we might cease to exist.  We are social media.  Incoming and outgoing.  The puffing up chokes out life.  Saint Paul contrasted knowledge with love.  “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”  Living is love.  Love is living.

I noticed how much the puffing up was killing me.  Reducing me to posts and likes and comments and followers.  I noticed how loveless it felt.  I deleted my Facebook account FullSizeRender (3)without telling anyone.  No fanfare.  No goodbye sweet world.  Just deleted it.  My real world loving living friends asked me where I went.  None of the thousand friends outside of them has tried to find me.  I’m gone and they don’t notice it.  Why should they?  We don’t love each other.  We don’t live together.  We don’t miss each other.  I feel good.  I feel better.  Not smug or superior, just better.

I am loving the people in my real world more now.  I am practicing the gospel which is not knowledge but flesh and spirit.  I am practicing sabbath which is the art of giving up being God and affirming I can disconnect and not shrivel up and die.  And I’m hunting shark teeth which is pursuing something of value because I love it and not because I gain anything from it.  By these acts I am becoming myself and this is what God promises to make me.

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A Confusion of Identities

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.
– SuperTramp, Logical

The story broke this week that activist Shaun King, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, is white.  That’s a story.  That’s a breaking story.  Why?  Because King identified himself as biracial and the evidence is mounting that he is not.  He’s just white.  Plain old white.  Did he know he was white all along? Or did he really think he was (and is) black?  King said by the time he went to high school he identified himself simply as black, not biracial. His mom is white; there is no doubt of that but even though King’s family members say he is white, born to his mom and the white man named in his birth certificate, King claims his real father was an unknown black man with whom his mother had an affair. Confused yet?

Sounds familiar to another story from A few months ago. Remember Rachel Dolezal the president of a chapter of the NAACP who identified herself as black even though both her parents are white?  She said there was no proof her parents were her parents because there was no medical witness to her birth (which was in a teepee) and her birth certificate wasn’t filed for 7 weeks. She claimed she grew up seeing herself as black and drew pictures of herself with dark skin and curly black hair.  But in 2002 she sued the black college she was attending for discriminating against her because she was white.  Confusing.

Besides the Shaun King and Rachel Dolezal stories there is Elizabeth Warren who called herself a Native American, and proud of her Native American heritage but has no Native mirror-image1Americans in her family lineage.  And then the great big story of the year of Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner who changed his-her physical identity to match his-her internal identity of a woman.  Very confusing.

Identity is not optional.  We cannot live without one.  Not knowing who you are is the worst kind of psychosis.  It is so bad that truly crazy people will take on any identity rather than be identity-less; they’ll call themselves a rabbit, or take to calling themselves Jesus Christ.  I found this quote from Rachel Dolezal to be very appropriate:

“Overall, my life has been one of survival, and the decisions that I have made along the way, including my identification, have been to survive.”

True.  Very true.  But not necessarily in the way Rachel thinks.  She puts identity in that category of things that get things for us.  Identity is actually the thing that we must get or we have nothing at all.  The trouble with the identity stories we’ve read about lately is just this: the people seeking to use identity to accomplish something – social justice, career advancement, emotional integrity – have all missed a crucial and eventually devastating fact.  If you create your own identity then you must maintain it.  This is real identity confusion.  This is a real problem.  This isn’t to belittle the problem of having identities we don’t like.  That’s a problem too.  If you feel like being white is better than being black or that being a woman is better than being a man or that being an Indian is better than being white – if you really believe that – it presents a huge problem.  It’s whey people take on not just racial identities but also social and emotional identities.  People become the hero, the success story, the doctor, the lover.  All of them have the same fatal flaw; self maintenance.  It gets exhausting maintaining a self generated identity.  And when someone questions our self generated identity, we have no choice but to defend it.  We have to; it’s a matter of survival.

Surely though, all of us must recognize that it isn’t a breaking news story that will ultimately expose our lesser identities.  We will have to pass out of this life at some point.  Then who will we be?  All our carefully produced images will melt away and we will be in the presence of Eternity; in the presence of The Identity.  That experience will either be terrifyingly confusing or comforting depending on how we have oriented our lesser identities in the here and now.  The gospel is the only system of thought that tells people they can have a given identity now that will last forever.  It says God wants to give that to anyone willing to accept it.  The Christian term “repentance” is really nothing more than giving up lesser identities for the true identity of the God who created us.  The world could use more people who are not using systems, money, or other people to create temporary identities; who are humbled by an identity they did not earn, but emboldened by the riches of an identity that cannot be taken away.  SuperTramp said please tell me who I am – that is why Jesus came; to tell you who you are, and it isn’t a slave to God’s law but as a son for God’s glory and for your identification – and there will never be a breaking news story when that identity is exposed as a lie.  We can rest in it.

A Reason and a Place to Write Right

I realized this week how much time I’m giving to thinking about the current political reporting and debates and tweets and punditry, including making time to write my own analysis of the Trump and Hilary part of the show.  Politics interests me and I have strong opinions (a family characteristic passed down from my Granddad Kiser on my mom’s side) so I feel the need to join in and add something valuable to the discussion.  My medium of choice for adding commentary was Facebook, but a few weeks ago I deleted my account.  The back and forth of post – comment – reply – counter-comment, etc doesn’t work for me.  Facebook posts are too short and not formal enough to be conducive to presenting well thought out ideas, and comments, replies and counter-comments for the most part are reactive and lacking thought, and well, not nice.  I am decidedly impatient with anything I consider to be ignorant and I write things with an edge intended to inflame and/or cut rather than instruct or persuade.  Switching to Twitter as a medium of adding to the commentary hasn’t been much help.  Although the limited format forces me to think hard about what I want to say it’s pretty hard to stay away from snarky, cutting words in my Tweets and replies to Tweets.  Since my native language from birth is Sarcasm (everyone in my family is fluent) I feel right at home jumping into a thread of “burned you” and “I burned you back.”  The trouble with this is that my heart doesn’t end up feeling great after I fire off ten or so pithy, snarky Tweets.  I find myself delighting in the amount of favorites and retweets with a well shaped shot in someones twitter feed.  And that delight decays into a selfish dark slushy bitter taste in my heart until I jump into the next snarky 1375738928_free-speech-words-are-weaponsstream.  So I’ve decided to move the Twitter feed into better places.  To add light to the feed with godly comments and commentary and proverbs.  I think this is my part.  But I also feel I should contribute to the political discourse of my time.  This seems to me to be in the tradition of the gospel and clergymen.  Worldviews have consequences and Christians, especially Christian leaders must not disengage from the line where the gospel intersects politics, public policy, and the culture.  I feel like Eric Liddell in Chariots of fire:

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

I believe God made me thoughtful.  When I think and analyze and write, I feel His pleasure.  I also remember the words of C.S. Lewis at the beginning of Mere Christianity where he explained why he choose to write on the subject of basic Christian apologetics rather than wade into doctrinal debates:

That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.

As I look upon the state of punditry it seems to me the left and the right the liberal and the conservative positions are thoroughly covered.  It also seems many Christians are creating content and publishing opinions from their perspectives; some more overtly Christian than others; some like Bono and some like Casting Crowns; Christians who make commentary and Christians who make Christian commentary.  But the line seems thin where I most naturally feel at home and that is the news story of the day and how it relates to the news story of our race in light of the most significant event in human history; the gospel, the Good News.  I am a Gospel commentator on my times and culture.  Trump is popular.  How does that relate to the gospel?  Hillary is accused of lying about email.  What would we do with/for her if we believed the gospel?  This is where I am at home and my heart is at rest.  This seeks to bring light to the eyes of my race and glory to a name that deserves it.  I sat down to write the book I am working on right now but ended up writing this.  It is something I need to publish so I’ve put it in the light and open to examination by others.  I need this kind of accountability and transparency.  This is also why I am choosing to write here on my site under my own name where I must take responsibility for my words and I have as much room as I need to think and to express.  I am a man of God and I work for Jesus.  I seek to write in a way that pleases him and helps others to know and to love him.  I believe in Jesus.  This is why I write.

Pam’s Ring: Getting Better from the Inside Out

“Christianity is the only system of thought where the people who hold it expect those who don’t to be better people than they are.” – Tim Keller

I am a Navy Officer at heart.  My office is full of reminders of my Navy life.  Books about the sea and especially Naval service are some of my favorites.  I break out The Caine Mutiny about once a year and read it again.  It is the favorite of my favorites.  The Caine is an old destroyer converted to minesweeper.  In the story, the first Captain of the Caine is Lieutenant Commander DeVriess, a pragmatic veteran who runs the ship efficiently, if not exactly by the book.  The ship and her crew are not much to look at; rusty and crusty, but she out-performs the other ships in her squadron when its time to get down to the business of minesweeping.  Devriess’ relief is the strictly by-the-book Lieutenant Commander Phillip Queeg.  Soon after taking command of the Caine, Queeg institutes a campaign to square away the ship.  He is obsessed with appearances.  He harasses the men over the slightest infraction of dress codes.  He insists upon cleaning up the exterior of the ship.  Soon, the same ship that was the envy of the other Destroyer-Minesweepers can’t even deploy her own minesweeping gear without a fiasco.  She runs aground leaving port.  She steams over her own minesweeping tow cable and cuts it.  Queeg never lets up his pressure to change the ship’s outsides, even as his command descends into inefficiency and ultimately disaster.

There’s nothing wrong with clean and bright exteriors.  It is a good thing to wear a clean uniform and keep the regulations.  One of my favorite lines from The Caine Mutiny says the Navy is a system designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.  The rules and regulations are important, but they aren’t the core of the thing.  They aren’t the heart of the matter.  A Navy exists to fight and win the war at sea.  No system can put a fighting spirit in a ship.  No set of regulations will create epsrit de corps that will cause a crew to fight as one.  These 1229804_10151822196156442_468071875_nthings are interior.  They come from belief in the cause we are fighting for and belief in the leadership of the ship to have the crew’s best interest at heart.  If you try to impose change from the outside in by enforcing the rules and procedures, you will have neither a fighting crew nor a cohesive crew.  The first time real pressure comes, everything will fall apart.  None of us are built to trust in rules; we are made to trust in relationships.

A friend of mine got married to his second wife about a decade ago.  They face a lot of challenges.  Blended family.  Business pressures.  New baby.  Different sets of expectations.  When they got married, him being a business guy and into efficiency, he went to the same jeweler where he got his first wife’s rings and he bought the same set.  It was simple.  He knew the value and it seemed like a no brainer.  It was a nice set and she wore it proudly even though when she discovered it was the identical set of the ex-wife it was a bit unpleasant for a while.  Just recently though, as a surprise, he went and traded out the old set for something brand new.  His wife was very happy to receive it.  She said something profound when she showed off the new set over dinner.  She said she was glad he hadn’t gone out and replaced it in the first few years after she found out it was a copy.  She said that all the struggles they went through to be a couple and to work out who they are made this new ring feel more special and valuable and a true representation of their marriage.  Thats the thing.  You see it?  The outside is the last thing that gets changed, not the first thing.  Put a ring on it if you want to but the real change comes from the core.

Christianity is not religion.  It is not a set of rules imposed upon us by God that we attempt to keep so that eventually the core of our lives change.  Its the opposite.  Christianity is God giving us a new core identity that is working its way to the surface through the trials…in spite of the trials and the way it may appear at the surface.  Many religious people are better people than Christians.  Many non-religious people are better people than Christians.  There is plenty people can do to change things on the outside of their ship.  Paint the hull.  Shift the configuration of the equipment.  It doesn’t mean the ship is a fighting ship that can sail into harm’s way.  The gospel tells us that some day, because of the change that happened at the heart of us, God is going to put a new ring on our finger.  He will take us completely as his own.  He isn’t going to do this because we keep his rules (even though his rules and system are genius and would help us and the world run better), but because we accepted his esprit de corp; we entered his service and gave up on setting our own course.

Christians who know the gospel are not bothered by non-Christians who are better people.  It doesn’t make us feel inferior.  We know we didn’t make ourselves into Christians and we know its ok to “work out our salvation.”  We should relate to others with neither fear nor pride.  We should learn to keep God’s rules because we know he loves us and we can trust his leadership.  He has our best interests at heart.  If we can’t get that by looking at the cross, we need to keep looking.  No other captain dies for his crew when they fail him.  And no other captain is so unconcerned with how his crew reflects upon his own image.

A Bad Sign for Your Relationships (and what to do about it)

I have several relationships that exist across wide gaps in time and distance.  Friends who live in other states I only get to see a few times each year, and with whom I don’t maintain regular contact (ie we don’t email, Face Book, text, Skype, facetime, etc, frequently or at all).  These relationships exist with a lot of empty space, yet the minute I am together with these people I feel as if I’ve never missed a beat.  We pick up right where we left off and keep going.  Actually we have grown in friendship even without regular communication.  But there are other relationships I have that a week without communication creates something dark.  Its as if the lack of contact creates more distance.  I notice that I fill up the empty space in some relationships with good thoughts and others I fill up with negative thoughts.  Some people don’t call me for 3 months and when I think of them I smile and say, “Wow, I bet Joe is super busy. I should probably check up on him.”  In the other kind of relationship three days go by, and I think of them and say “Wow, what’s Joe’s problem?  I must have made him angry about something.”

It is a bad sign for a relationship when you start filling up the empty spaces with negative thoughts.  Every time you get back in contact with a person in this kind of relationship, you have to expend time and effort checking to see if your negative thoughts were right.  That is time and effort you can’t use to grow the relationship.  Since most of us don’t have huge excess of time and energy, the time and energy lost to the dark space is more than we 604891have to give.  Instead of digging out all the nastiness we pour into the empty space and getting rid of it, we don’t deal with it all.  It takes too much effort.  It accumulates.  The next time we are disconnected from the person we throw a little more negativity into the empty space and it doesn’t get cleaned out.  Like barnacles on a ship, this stuff puts a drag on our relationships.  Sometimes you are right about why your wife didn’t call you while she was away on the business trip.  She was mad about an unresolved conflict over the kids.  Sometimes your friend did get your texts and ignored them because your needs weren’t very important to them at the time.  Add enough “true” situations where your negative thoughts are accurate, and it gets easier to throw even more negativity into the next time there is empty space in the relationship.

This is a mess.  It is full of guilt and shame, presumption and anger and self-righteousness and hurt.  It is the exact opposite of the easy, fulfilling and life-giving kind of relationships we treasure.  If you continue pouring negative thoughts into the empty space, the relationship will break down.  You’ll have the occasional “come to Jesus” meetings where months worth of junk gets pulled out of the dark and you start over again, but those take a lot of effort, and after you’ve done it enough you’ll stop having them.  You will be worn out.  Marriages like this don’t last.  Parents and children like this drift apart and only connect in the mandatory meetings of life.  Friendships cool and die out.

What’s the answer?  Well you could try thought replacement.  Every time a negative thought tries to come into the empty space just squash it.  That is fine if you are strong and consistent.  But it also wears you out and often feels false.  There are some really negative things that come into our relationships and it seems a bad idea to pretend they don’t exist. The root of negativity is the thing we need to get rid of.  How can we find it?  Well what is at the core of those other kind of relationships where empty space gets filled with positive thoughts?  That must be the thing we need to bring into all our relationships.  The thing is called grace.  Grace allows me to think of you in the highest light.  A grace-based relationship is the opposite of a works based relationship.  It means I’ve decided to love you for who you are, not for anything you do.  I make no claims upon what you owe me; not a phone call or text or a birthday card.  If any of those things are missing it has not changed the foundation of our relationship AT ALL.  But in works based relationships, the exchange of goods and services is the basis of how I relate to you and when you or I are behind in payment our relationship foundation cracks and shifts.  I’m not sure who I am any more or who you are.  Am I the one behind in payment?  Have you ever owed money to someone and not been able to pay them back?  It isn’t easy to come around them is it?  You might start avoiding them.  If you see them talking to someone you may assume they are talking about what a no load you are.  This is what a works based relationship looks like.

How do I get grace into my relationships?  Foremost, grace is a decision.  You must decide your relationships are not going to be based upon works.  You have to say that your friends, lovers, and children owe you nothing.  Then you have to put this into practice.  No matter what happens you have to keep a zero balance sheet.  My husband owes me nothing.  My daughter owes me nothing.  My best friend owes me nothing.  Sound easy?  No, it is pretty hard.  But it is the way to go if you want lasting and healthy relationships.  Fortunately the gospel gives us a huge resource we can incorporate into all our relationships if we accept it.  Jesus told a story about two sons.  The younger asked for his inheritance and spent it in a wild extended party until he ended up eating out of a pig trough.  The older keep working at home tending the father’s farm.  When the younger came home, asking to just become a hired hand, the father not only received him back, he put a ring on his finger and a robe on his back and threw a party for his lost son.  The older brother got angry at this and complained to the father.  One of the things the older brother says to his dad is basically, “I’ve never done anything but work and do your will and yet you throw a party for this horrible son of yours…while you’ve never done anything for me.  What’s wrong with this picture???”  The older son had a relationship with his father based hawala-money-changing-handson work.  I do for him and I should expect X out of you.  The younger son had a relationship of grace with his father.  I should only be a servant, yet you call me a son.  If you notice in the story, the father takes the same position toward both sons.  He stands ready to give them what they don’t deserve.  The older prodigal son couldn’t possibly work hard enough to earn what the father offers him – yet the father says to him “all I have is yours.”  Wow!  He gives up everything for the older son.  Grace.  And the father offers the younger son his place in the family even though the younger son, by asking for his inheritance before his father was even dead was saying, “I’m outa here pops, you can drop dead for all I care.”  Grace.

How can you and I change the basis of all of our relationships at once?  Get some perspective.  The gospel is God being in relationship with you regardless of what you do.  Wish him dead and just want his stuff?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still call you son or daughter.  Think you are pleasing him and earning your keep by all your hard work even though you couldn’t know your left from your right unless he gave you air to breathe?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still invite you to come in out of the field of works you’ve made for yourself.  At what cost does God extend his good thoughts about us?  How can he afford to fill up the empty space with good will towards us when we are so obviously messed up?  He gave up his son.  He let Jesus do all the work of the older brother and make up for the inheritance the younger brother blew with prostitutes.  If you and I see the grace God extends to us, it puts our grace in perspective.  It shrinks the burden.  When I want to think ill of you the gospel reminds me that God thinks well of me when I don’t deserve it.  It also reminds me that God is thinking well of you too.  The cross is the evidence of how God feels about you and me. Grace.  It is fresh air.  I have so much I have plenty to spare.  Now I can give it to you and I still haven’t lost any of God’s infinite supply.  No wonder Paul opened so many of his letters with “Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.”  He was filling in all the empty space of every relationship in and around the church with the most positive thing he could think of.  Grace and peace to you.  Give this to all your relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.

Do You Have Problems You Can’t Fix?

I decided to get rid of a program on my computer.  I went to the Add/Remove programs section, found the program I wanted to delete and clicked on a tab saying “remove.”  A Broken-Screenmessage came up on the screen:  You do not have sufficient access to delete this file, see the system administrator.  I tried it again and got the same result.  This was a program I had installed myself.  After puzzling over it for a while I decided to call the company from which I downloaded the file.  The helpful people there walked me through all the steps I tried already.  They couldn’t delete the program.  Insufficient access.  Finally they gave up.

This was pretty frustrating.  I didn’t know it at the time but when I downloaded the program, I was receiving something I couldn’t get rid of later.  My computer didn’t seem to be my computer anymore.  Every time I logged on the icon for the program would remind me I wasn’t in control.  It was one thing to consciously download a program and then be stuck with it, but what if you never asked for it? Spyware are programs which come as files attached to something on the internet like an advertisement.  You click on it to see what it’s about and a little dialogue box comes up saying you have to download this file in order to go further. Click.  Next thing you know you’ve got a program pouring popups into your screen every five minutes for Viagra.  You may have been looking for info on trips to the Bahamas but now you are being inundated with info you never asked for and don’t want.  These programs get intertwined with your hard drive like an electronic boa constrictor.  Often, when trying to delete them you will get the same message: Insufficient access.

What if there was something inside of you you didn’t want but constantly had to face?  You try every trick you know to erase it.  Reboot, run away, read up on it, buy another program which will supposedly get at it, ask an expert to help free you, but in the end you find no way to rid yourself of it.  Fearful? Angry?  Suicidal?  Suicidal people are really on to something.  They have come to the conclusion there is something so broken they can’t fix it.  They know they don’t have sufficient access to get at the thing making their lives miserable.  The problem is killing the outer man doesn’t get at the inner man.  Suicide is like taking a sledge hammer to the computer monitor; the light may go out and you don’t have to look at the image anymore, but the hard drive is still running and still messed up. Sin is the human spyware none of us asked for, but all of us live with.  It has wrapped around each of us in ways we can’t even understand.  No one has the access to rid themselves of it’s effects on their own, even though some obviously cope much better with errorimagetheir fallen state than others.  No matter how well you deal with sin here and now you are left with one final effect of sin you must face: death.  Insufficient access.  Somehow, somewhere we all come up against this statement about our own lives.  We can’t sustain them.  We can’t fix what’s broken.  We have to have someone with the ability to reach places we can’t reach.  Jesus can reach anywhere.  He holds the keys to hell and death.  There is no door He cannot open, there is nothing overcoming us that He hasn’t already overcome.  You may think you have done things to your life that cannot be undone and you are probably right if you look at your access or the access of men or the tools of men.  Invite a God into your life and He won’t start on the exterior.  God begins to work where men are unable to reach.  Just admit you personally have insufficient access and let Jesus initiate the true work in you.

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” – Jesus (Rev 1:18)

“Therefore (Jesus) is able also to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25)

“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” (Rev 3:8)

Arizona: There is No Such Thing as Freedom of Religion

The Governor of Arizona vetoed a bill yesterday that had a lot of people up in arms.  Did you hear what the bill was about?  I saw a lot of activity on social media with posts about discrimination and race and homosexuality.  It seemed to me the bill must be about letting people decide to discriminate against minorities if they wanted.  I assumed it must mention specific issues abridging a gay person’s rights.  Who would support that?  Stupid.  This morning I finally got around to reading the bill.  You know it is amazingly simple to get informed in our day and age.  The bill I found is only two pages long.  You can read it yourself in less than three minutes.  Even with the legalese it isn’t hard to get through it.  I was surprised at what I found.  This bill isn’t about discriminating against gay people, its about protecting people’s rights to act according to their religious beliefs.  That is what it says.  The government is not allowed to make anyone violate their conscience. It is basically nothing more than a repetition of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Personally I am very happy to have the First Amendment guaranteeing me that no one can make my wife wear a burqa or tell me I can’t read the Torah.  If you’ve looked around you know that religions ask people to believe and to do lots of things.  What to wear, what to read, what to say, when to say it, who to associate with, who you can marry…tons of stuff.  Most of it leaves somebody shaking their head one way or another.  There is no sensitive way to say this, so here it is:  freedom of religion means the freedom to act stupidly.

Now if it happens to be YOUR religion, it is the freedom to act piously or correctly or whatever, but if its someone else’s religion, that’s a different story.  We all know this or feel this, but few of us can be real enough to say it out loud.  And some religions take their particular set of beliefs and practices so seriously that venturing to criticize or laugh at state_oppression_1them will get your name on a religious hit list.  Religion is about pleasing God, improving the world and/or getting to heaven.  If you believe in God, there aren’t many things that could be more important than your religion.  Forcing someone to give up their religion’s belief structure is stealing their core identity.  It is intolerant.  It is evil.  No matter how stupid it may seem to you.

The dirty little secret, though, is that only religious people try to force their religion upon others.  The religious are both the oppressors and the oppressed.  It is the nature of religion to enslave, not to free.  If you really believe you have THE set of beliefs and behaviors that please God and that God can only be pleased by people believing and acting upon these things, you cannot help but look down upon those who don’t.  You have to relegate them to second class citizenship.  You have to oppress them either implicitly or explicitly.  You have to discriminate against them.  They are the people messing up the world by acting in ways that displease God.  They are the ones who bring judgment on all of us.

Great, you say – I was looking for someone to finally agree with me that religion is the problem so we can all agree to get rid of it.  But it isn’t so easy as that.  The absence of God or gods does not mean the absence of religion.  If you have what you think are THE set of beliefs and behaviors that will make the world a better place if everyone would just adopt them, you have the same issues as the religious people.  You don’t have a God you have a Good that you worship and serve.  You are in fact, a religious person without a religion.  And you look down upon those who don’t hold your beliefs.  You are intolerant of them and you oppress them in the name of your Good.  Your non-religious religion is just as enslaving as any other.  The fact is there is no such thing as religious freedom.

I will make a claim here that will make many of you scoff, but it is true.  The Christian gospel is not religion.  The Christian gospel is the opposite of religion.  I am not saying Christians are not guilty of religious abuses.  I am not saying Christians don’t do stupid things in the name of Christianity.  I am saying that the Bible does not teach religion.  The Bible is not the story of what we must do to please God or to get to heaven or to make the world into a great place.  The Bible tells the story of what God has done to help us, to fix what is broken, to get us to heaven and to make the world a better place.  The Christian gospel is not about bad people gradually becoming better people from the outside in by their beliefs and behaviors; it is the story of God changing people from the inside out when they start believing what he has done and that he is for them.  People who rightly believe the gospel have no business looking upon others as second class citizens because they are not keeping the right rules and holding the right beliefs.  Christians know that they are not making the world or themselves better because they keep the rules or believe the right things. They know it is a miracle of grace that they have come to believe the gospel.  They can’t give themselves any credit for it.  God is the one making everything better by what he does.  Christians don’t expect to be better people than their neighbors and have no glory in it if they are.  A Christian can only claim to be loved by God for no good reason, and because they know that the last thing love can be is coercive, they know better than to try forcing the gospel into anyone’s life.  It can’t be done.  There is no such thing as religious freedom, but there is freedom from religion.  The gospel is freedom from religion.  It is freedom to love people who really disagree with us.  It is freedom to know that God is the one who will make everything right in its time and in his way.