Peace of Jesus and Mary

2012-12-10 by Peter Turner. 3 comments

Post to Twitter

The peace of Jesus is the peace of Mary
as a piece of Mary would be the Person she’d carry.
For where would we be without her yes?
Still waiting for God to clean up our mess
God chose her specific before all the ages
even though He didn’t say so on Biblical pages.

No one can deny that she must have been favored,
but there is some confusion about how hard she labored.
Was it hard for her to say yes to the messenger?
Does a healthy skepticism some how lessen her?
Or was it too simple, if she had no sin?
Was she playing a game in which she had no skin?

These questions and more are the basis for heresies.
But a simpler one came out of the Pharisees.
Who was her Son and why did He care for these,
littlest ones whom He made His inheritees
and how was He different from His parodies
and should we give to each of His charities?

Jesus to Mary was Son, Spouse and Brother
Creator and Redeemer (although undercover)
Mary to Jesus was most truly a mama
but who is better in the thickest drama?
And whose heart could have more love in it
than the one we compare to the ark of the covenant?

For Jesus, to all, is Priest Prophet and King
but Mary’s the quiet voice whom He heard sing.
He gave us sweet Mary for our mother each
so that her peace is not out of our reach.
For although troubles do come into our hearts
she says listen to Jesus and do then your parts.

So as Christmas comes, think a little of Mary,
and a little of Hanna and Sarah who carry
the promise of children that they’d love to have had
and gave them away without appearing sad.
But remember too, the childless and the barren
and this Christmas, let them know that you’re carin’.

The peace of Mary is the Joy that she had
the Joy to the World who makes all nations glad.

Merry Christmas everyone!

profile for Peter Turner at Christianity, Q&A for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more

A tradition even Evangelicals anticipate

2012-12-03 by Jon Ericson. 0 comments

Post to Twitter

Many Protestants are proud of not having a liturgy, which smacks of tradition, the papacy, and salvation by works. But when it comes to Christmas, we all have traditions. My mother makes the same variety of cookies every year. My father always needs coffee (and us kids made orange juice), read the Christmas story in Luke, and forced us to take turns opening presents on Christmas morning1. We have Advent calendars, tree lightings, gift shopping trips, special meals, and so on that we feel compelled to attend to. For many Christians, Evangelical or not, the December holiday revolves around dozens of revered family, church, and cultural traditions. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nearly every church I’ve been to in December celebrates the four weeks of Advent. I bet your church does too. But I wonder how many people know that the Advent tradition is observed by nearly all Christians? Even the Scripture readings are common between Catholics and most Protestants2. There’s something wonderful about the worldwide Church agreeing on something (anything) and our local church, at least, is trying to get on board with that.

If you went to church this week, there’s a really good chance the Old Testament reading was:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’—Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)


As Christians, we believe that this promise was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David. But when Jeremiah heard this word and spoke it, he was in Jerusalem as it was under siege by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, for the second time. Since after the time of Solomon, David’s son, the Kingdom of Israel had been split into two kingdoms. Then the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom was defeated by Babylon and a puppet government was established in Judah. God’s promise that a descendant of David would rule a united kingdom forever seemed, at that moment, as far away as could be possible.

In some ways prophets, such as Jeremiah, were ancient editorialists. They commented on the direction of the nation, influenced public opinion, and often disagreed with each other on partisan lines. Near the end of the Kingdom of Judah, there were two camps: those that predicted Babylon would be repulsed and the other that warned that God would allow them to purge the land of idolatry. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were the primary proponents of the later view.

We read Jeremiah’s despair over the destruction of Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations. Nearly his entire career was marked by pessimism over the future of his nation; the Lord required him to prophesy the inevitability of Babylon’s victory. When their armies surrounded the city of David, Jeremiah was imprisoned in palace of Judah on charges of defeatism. God had decided that Israel would be carried into a foreign city because the people would not turn from worshiping other gods. It must have been hard to have hope for the promised peaceful Davidic kingdom.

And yet, he did preach hope. For the next 600 years, Judah waited for the promised messiah. And even now, we wait for His return and the culmination of the promise with expectation and hope. This week of Advent is all about those layers of hope.

Night Watch

How far do you hope? We read in Revelation that God will bring together His Church from every ethnic group who will worship Him forever. As we look around at the brokenness of our culture and the division in our religion, it’s easy to assume that God will need to start over. In a lot of ways, the Protestant Reformation was founded on that assumption. It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again. Is it time to give up on His return?

Who do you put your hope in? Do you expect politics to solve the problems in society? Jeremiah opposed his government, but at the same time affirmed God’s promises that the line of David would one day establish peace. He was impatient with sin, but patient with God to deal with it3. God, unlike anyone else is always good. He always comes through, though not always at the time we expect.

In the coming weeks, we will see how God fulfilled His promise in His Son, Jesus. But we must recall that we are still, in some ways, like the Old Testament prophets: we are waiting with expectation for God’s next move.


  1. His father did the same thing, but on Christmas Eve. That part of the tradition got lost as we attended churches with candlelight services on Christmas Eve and doing everything that needed to get done got complicated. My dad now has a tradition of watching the Pope’s midnight mass on TV while he wraps presents. I guess the papacy isn’t all bad.
  2. The Orthodox church does things a little differently, largely because they have retained the Julian calendar.
  3. Jeremiah acknowledged God’s justice to punish Jerusalem for her idolatry, but also pleaded that she would be restored. God is big enough to take our frustrations with Him, but we cannot allow ourselves to completely lose hope.

Christmas is Coming!

by waxeagle. 0 comments

Post to Twitter

Brace yourselves, Christmas is coming.

Jokes aside, I’m sure you noticed back in October that your local retailer had lights, trees, ornaments, and the other sure signs that another Christmas season is upon us. While Santa Claus and presents are great, let’s not forget why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

We here at Eschewmenical would like to take the time this month to celebrate the season of Advent, an Anglicization of the Latin word adventus which means coming. This is the season where churches that observe the liturgical calendar (and others that only incorporate liturgy occasionally) celebrate the four Sundays prior to Christmas with special readings and lighting candles. Each Candle has a special meaning and a reading commonly associated with it.

This month our authors are going to take a break from their normal argumentative style and present the reading and a blog based on the typical theme for Advent.

One of the things we want to be aware of is that A. not all Christian traditions celebrate Advent, and B. that not all Christian traditions observe Christmas. I’d like to extend an invitation to either of these traditions to contribute a blog post this month. I don’t believe we have a current author from either of these traditions but we’d welcome one to come and contribute. Please get in touch with us in our Blog Room to contribute.

Without further ado, I’ll turn the floor over to our authors. This is Eschewmnical!

An Amicable Separation?

2012-11-16 by Peter Turner. 2 comments

Post to Twitter

The People's Court

Is there such thing as a good divorce? That’s not the subject of this month’s Eschewmenical blog. This month we’re talking about the separation of church and state. But, in an age when corporations are people it’s fair to consider the two parties (Church and State) and consider the grounds of their divorce.

The Petitioner
The State:
  • Secular, profane, worldly
  • Bound by human laws
  • Highest calling is reason
  • Prefers a scientific understanding of the universe
The Respondent
The (Catholic) Church:
  • One, holy, catholic, apostolic
  • Bound by eternal and divine laws
  • Highest calling is spiritual truth
  • Understands the universe in the light of faith and reason

Even though the two seem at cross purposes, as is the case with so many divorces, after cross examining the respondent I found that She wasn’t quite ready to break off the commitment:

Pope Gregory XVI

Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.
Pope Gregory XVI – Mirari Vos – 1832

180 yeas ago and only 40 years after the beginning of the first major secular revolt against Christianity, the Holy Father still wasn’t prepared to let go. He actually thought that a relationship could be fruitful and useful for preventing things that are detrimental to church and state such as breaking the commandments.

Thomas Jefferson

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Thomas Jefferson – Letter to Danbury Baptists 1802

But Mr. Jefferson doesn’t desire that the relationship should continue. He’d rather see religion just as the personal relationship between man and God. And that may be well and good for Protestants and deists, but we Catholics would rather love God in a loud and boisterous manner with timbrels, harps and good stuff like that. We even invite God’s mother to our celebrations and all their friends the Saints and Angels. So, because of a few key doctrine of the Catholic Church, embodied since time immemorial in the Apostles Creed a mutual separation is not possible. The Church doesn’t want to settle for visitation rights only on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, the Church wants full custody of the souls of Her children.

Pope Leo XIII

Again, that it is not lawful for the State, any more than for the individual, either to disregard all religious duties or to hold in equal favour different kinds of religion; that the unrestrained freedom of thinking and of openly making known one’s thoughts is not inherent in the rights of citizens, and is by no means to be reckoned worthy of favour and support. In like manner it is to be understood that the Church no less than the State itself is a society perfect in its own nature and its own right, and that those who exercise sovereignty ought not so to act as to compel the Church to become subservient or subject to them, or to hamper her liberty in the management of her own affairs, or to despoil her in any way of the other privileges conferred upon her by Jesus Christ. In matters, however, of mixed jurisdiction, it is in the highest degree consonant to nature, as also to the designs of God, that so far from one of the powers separating itself from the other, or still less coming into conflict with it, complete harmony, such as is suited to the end for which each power exists, should be preserved between them.
Pope Leo XIII – Immortale Dei – 1885

The respondent seems to want some sort of reconciliation (albeit on her own terms), but the petitioner cites the troubling statement that free thought will be abolished and the rights of other religions will be trampled. Be this as it may, a desire for harmony is progress and any just judge would be inclined to find that the Church, who doesn’t desire that her children be split in two, should have a little more than joint custody. But, just when the judge was about to throw out the divorce and order 200 years of counseling, another American president wholly subverted the respondent’s argument and nearly irrevocably destroyed any hopes for a reunion.

John F. Kennedy

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
John F. Kennedy – 1960 – Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association

And yet, we still have CatholicVote.org, so there must be some voices within the Church who don’t quite agree that Catholics aren’t supposed to vote a certain way. Well, maybe in 1960’s America there was an option who to vote for, but five years later Contraception would be wholly liberalized and largely because of that thirteen years later abortion would be legalized. In the 90’s the platform of the Democratic party in the USA would include making abortion safe, legal and rare. And more recently, just safe and legal.

So, not long after the judge of public opinion sided with my coreligionist John F. Kennedy, anyone who wanted to be Catholic in real life would have an even harder time doing so since the ideal was no longer to do so in a way that bothered anyone else. For instance, if in the closing arguments, some Pope said:

Pope Paul VI

Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.
Pope Paul VI – 1962 – Humane Vitae

Those who argue for a strict separation would say, “You said God”, “you said exclusion”, “you denied an evolutionary principle” and the respondent wouldn’t even get to say what she didn’t say. The Catholic Church believes some things that it teaches (merely as a caretaker of certain self-evident wisdom) to be accessible to all mankind and some things it teaches to be only incumbent on its adherents, like the very next sentence of Humane Vitae, which no one is trying to legislate:

The marriage of those who have been baptized is, in addition, invested with the dignity of a sacramental sign of grace, for it represents the union of Christ and His Church.

So, someday the Catholic Church may have it’s true day in court and find common ground in the natural moral law. Maybe that’ll be judgement day, maybe sooner. But we need to get beyond a soundbite mentality and risk infinite repeats of Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensberg lecture and start making the hard reasonable arguments that win minds while saturating our arguments in the levity that wins hearts. If you need help forming a fun and rational argument, read Chesterton! If you have questions, ask them here!

profile for Peter Turner at Christianity, Q&A for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more

Too Cozy with Caesar

2012-11-12 by Bruce Alderman. 4 comments

Post to Twitter

There is no greater threat to the vitality of Christianity than a benign government.

In the early days of the church, loyalty to Christ meant opposition from the state religion. Christians could not submit to a Roman Emperor who labeled himself the savior of the world, and as a consequence they were often treated with suspicion, or worse. The Emperor Nero found Christians to be convenient scapegoats, and executed thousands of them in the first of many periodic persecutions of the early church. But despite the official opposition–or more likely because of it–Christianity grew and thrived. Wherever and whenever Christians were attacked by worldly powers, the church emerged stronger than before, and it quickly spread throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia Minor. The second-century apologist Tertullian observed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

It’s a different story in the United States in the 21st century. Surveys indicate that 75% of the American population call themselves Christians. Nearly every candidate for national or statewide office professes to be a follower of Christ. Christians in this environment are in no danger of persecution.

Nevertheless, every year around this time a small but vocal group of American Christians protest what they label the war on Christmas. This “war” usually revolves around department store managers who encourage their clerks to wish customers a generic “happy holidays,” rather than “merry Christmas,” or government officials who choose to decorate a “holiday tree” rather than a “Christmas tree”.

Although these practices perturb peevish pedants, they do not match the level of hardship faced by the early Christians. The apostle Paul wrote of his experiences:

2 Corinthians 11:24-28: Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

It would be hard to imagine Paul stressing over being told, “Happy holidays.”

But maybe I’m being too harsh toward today’s faux martyrs. They at least seem to be vaguely aware of the discrepancy between Jesus’ promises that his followers would be persecuted or even killed, and the comfortable, complacent lives of many Christians in the United States today.

Some American Christians have gotten so cozy with Caesar that they believe they have a right to legislate their morality. Conservative Christians like Gary Bauer and James Dobson have worked for more than three decades to elect Republicans in the hope of eliminating abortion (among other goals). But the reality is that the U.S. abortion rate has been steadily dropping since 1980, regardless of which political party is in power. The biggest four-year drop was during Bill Clinton’s first term. There was a slight uptick during George W. Bush’s second, but the overall trend is a slow, steady decrease.

On the other hand, the U.S. still has a higher abortion rate than many other countries, including more secular nations with liberal abortion laws. France, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong are among the nations that have both lower abortion rates and a smaller Christian population than the U.S. If American Christians are having an influence in reducing unwanted pregnancies, it isn’t showing.

Attempts to legislate morality are not limited to conservatives. Liberal Evangelical Jim Wallis has made a catchphrase of “budgets are moral documents,” and has gotten himself arrested more than 20 times protesting government policies toward people living in poverty. Wallis has gotten a lot of pushback from other Christians who believe it is the role of the church, not the government, to give aid to poor people.

But American Christians have wasted so much time arguing about whose responsibility it is, we have failed to get the job done. The childhood poverty rate in the U.S. has reached 23% and is still trending upward. And those same secular democracies with lower abortion rates also have lower child poverty rates than this nation of Christians. Once again, if Christians are having a positive impact on our society, it’s not evident.

Bill McKibben has observed what he calls the Christian paradox: “America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior.” By any number of measures–murder rate, divorce rate, teen pregnancies–this nation of Christians has fallen behind our secular counterparts in living up to Jesus’ teaching.

During the initial debate over the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy enacted by the Clinton Administration, ethicist Stanley Hauerwas wrote an opinion piece for the Charlotte Observer, entitled “Why Gays (as a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group)”. Hauerwas was disturbed by some of the arguments against allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. He was disturbed, that is, because the same arguments were not being used against Christians.

Christians, argued Hauerwas, should give our loyalty first and foremost to the Kingdom of God and not to an earthly power. As a result, political and military leaders ought to question whether we could ever be loyal to the secular state. Hauerwas imagined what people would say if Christians really put Christ first.

Consider the problem of taking showers with Christians. They are, after all, constantly going on about the business of witnessing in the hopes of making converts to their God and church. Would you want to shower with such people? You never know when they might try to baptize you.
Christians are asked to pray for the enemy. Could you really trust people in your unit who think the enemy’s life is as valid as their own or their fellow soldier? Could you trust someone who would think it more important to die than to kill unjustly? Are these people fit for the military?

Christians’ failure to make a difference in the larger culture, in other words, stems from a failure to take Jesus’ teaching to heart in our own lives. It’s time for Christians to stop worrying about the speck in society’s eye, and work on removing the giant redwood from our own.

Evangelicalism and politics

2012-11-05 by Jon Ericson. 4 comments

Post to Twitter

Let me start by apologizing to readers who are not interested in US politics—it’s the only politics I know. It’s also, I think, a somewhat unique system that has loads of interesting implications for Christians. As we rush to the finish line of the 2012 US Presidential election, you might want to know that I’m a registered Democrat who usually votes for Republican Presidential candidates. I’m also a perfect swing voter according to USA Today. Right at this moment (and I could very well change my mind by the end of this essay) I’m probably going to vote for Obama because I hate the title of Romney’s book.

But this post isn’t about my politics. Instead I’m writing about the ofttimes strained relationship between Evangelicals and the United States’ political process. We trace our heritage through the Puritans, who were a frustrating contradiction: Jonathan Edwards died of a small pox inoculation he took to help the Mohicans and was disquietingly silent on the issue of slavery. I believe that our political history shows that Evangelicalism has redeemed itself when it has taken firm stands against injustice and has failed when we put the cart before the horse. Remember that Jesus healed first and preached second.

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24 ESV)

The Founding Deists

If our country was founded on a religious foundation, it was deist. Or, if you prefer nuance, the US was established by theistic rationalists. That is to say, our political principles derived from the work of Descartes, Locke, and Hume, which place reason at the center of all human endeavours. Given the religious warfare and civil strife that these Americans escaped when they left Britain and Europe, we should not be surprised they took refuge in the hope of human intellect and industry. Rationalism would be the ultimate mediator in the nation they were forming.

As an Evangelical, I’m thankful for the great words of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Constitution (and the First Amendment especially) went on to secure those rights for all Americans with one startling exception: African slaves. With all of the reasoning of Solomon and none of the wisdom, slaveholding states tried first to minimize the personhood of slaves to reduce their tax burden and later to maximize their influence on representation in Congress. The conclusion they came to was that African slaves were worth exactly “three fifths of all other Persons”.

That’s an insane answer. Either slaves are just property, in which case they don’t count as people, or they are people and also property, in which case they count as full people. For a country that was created on the principle that “all men are created equal” to build a government on a document that states that some men are to be treated as less than equal shows that it’s founders sacrificed their ideals for pragmatism.

Abraham Lincoln—Our Greatest President

I recently read Eric Foner’s book, The Fiery ­Trial, which traces Lincoln’s political career from his early days with the Whig party to his Republican presidency. Like the most prominent Founding Fathers, whom he adored, Mr. Lincoln can not be classified an Evangelical Christian. He attended many churches, but never became a member. Though he opposed slavery all his life, he was not an Abolitionist. Rather he objected to the economic consequences of slavery on the value of free white labor and the conflict between the words of the Declaration of Independence with the realities of slavery in the South.

Am I not a man and a brother?

It was not until the collapse of the Whig party that Lincoln aligned himself with the Abolitionist movement and he did that out of political savvy rather than religious conviction. His private words and his hope that Colonization would resolve the deep national divide would expose him to the charge of racism if he lived today. I do not believe the Great Emancipator was an Evangelical, but his movement from a position of gradual, compensated emancipation to his final decision to free Southern slaves on 1 January 1863 was heavily influenced by Evangelical, Catholic and Quaker advocates for African Americans.

Our nation paid a heavy price for the short-sighted pragmatism of the Constitution. At the cost of a brutal Civil War, America eliminated the system of legal slavery that devalued humans. I’m certain that if Lincoln had served out the balance of his second term, Reconstruction would have set African Americans on a course to become full citizens as well.

Martin Luther King’s Dream

If I could, I’d quote the entirety of Dr. King’s famous speech. It was a turning point in the Civil Rights movement and a prophetic wakeup call to the nation:

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

King's American Dream

If you read or listen to Martin Luther King’s speeches, you’ll quickly notice that he quotes frequently from the Bible—especially from the Hebrew prophets. While he certainly learned from Gandhi’s nonviolent protest tactics, King drew inspiration from the promises of God to Israel and their fulfillment in the person of Jesus. He took a stance on social issues from the firm foundation of his Protestant upbringing.

Remarkably, there are some Evangelicals who question King’s Christian credentials. Perhaps I can’t lay claim to King as a member of my particular brand of Christianity, but I can walk with him (metaphorically) and call him my brother. If Martin Luther King wasn’t an Evangelical, I don’t want to be either. More Christians (especially those of us with a Conservative bent) should listen to his words and follow his example.

Where do we go from here?

There so much more to be said about the ways that Evangelicals in America have succeeded and failed to be positive forces in politics. I was inspired to write this topic by reading John Piper’s excellent book Bloodlines, but that’s all I have time to say about it. It convinced me that race is the overriding political problem our nation has faced since it first emerged from being a British colony. We have not yet freed ourselves from that struggle.

To non-Christian readers: Almost everything you read, see and hear about Christians, particularly Evangelicals, is a distortion. As Martin Luther King once noted, if a store window gets broken in a peaceful protest, the newspapers will report it as a riot. While there are certainly hateful Christians and Christian groups, most all of the people I know are loving and concerned for the well-being of our nation and its citizens. Get to know a Christian; you might be surprised.

To Christian readers: Despite the prevalence of the word “God” in our nation’s founding texts, we are not a Christian country. We never have been. Please don’t think that our goal should be to put the right people in office or to enforce correct theology via government action. On the other hand, don’t sacrifice your belief for the sake of pragmatism. Politics is about turning the collective convictions of a community into its public policy.

Sometimes people say, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain about the results”. I take it one step further: if you aren’t doing something to make the world a better place (visiting prisoners, assisting the unemployed, tutoring students, and so on) you don’t have the right to complain that the world is falling apart. That’s how we will earn the political currency to make real and lasting changes.

Church and State. Separate or Same?

by waxeagle. 0 comments

Post to Twitter

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” – First Amendment, Constitution of the United States
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. – Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father in a letter to Danbury Baptists

What Jefferson meant in his letter is much talked about, but the concept of the separation of Church and State is much larger than any one man or one country. The church and the state are often at odds, but they also work in conjunction.

This month on Eschewmenical we are back to our monthly topic series where we get authors from a variety of different positions to chime in on all kinds of topics.

This month’s topic is relevant with the election going on in the United States this week and at least some of the focus will be on issues the church takes very seriously.

Some questions that will (or at least should) get answered are: “What is the church’s role in politics?”, “What authority does the government have for Christians and the church?”, and “Should Christians take any kind of active interest in politics at all?”.

Without further ado, I’ll step aside and cede the floor to our authors. First up is Jon Ericson.

The Long Path of Preparation

2012-10-31 by El'endia Starman. 0 comments

Post to Twitter

All my life, God has been preparing me to do great things for Him. So, I’ll start at the beginning.

When I was born, I had profound hearing loss. The reason was that my cochleas weren’t fully formed. A normally-hearing adult has cochleas that turn two and a half times, but my left cochlea only went one and a half times and my right cochlea just one turn. Many or most hair cells were probably missing too. I wore hearing aids until I completely lost my hearing around six years of age. December 22, 1998, I got my first cochlear implant, on my left side, at almost 6.5 years of age. About 9.5 years later, it malfunctioned. Thank God it had a 10-year warranty. Also, it was determined that having two cochlear implants was a “medical necessity” because if a battery went dead or something else happened to just one of them, I would still be able to hear. Thus, I got a replacement for my left implant and a new implant on my right side…for free. This and many other things (like unusually-good electrode-array placement and great speech therapists) are all evidence of God’s providence in my life, getting me to where I am now.

That was about three and a half years ago. Last spring, I went to the BASIC conference, which was a conference of many BASIC (Brothers And Sisters In Christ) groups from around the northeast, the country, and even the world. There, I was finally baptized. I had been baptized as a baby, but that was way before I could possibly make the decision to publicly proclaim my death and resurrection in Jesus. Consequently, for a few years prior, I had been feeling that I still needed to be baptized. When I came up out of the water, I had the greatest joy I’d ever had, and it lasted for weeks. (There was also a great amount of relief as I didn’t have that uncertainty anymore.) That was in the afternoon. In the evening, I was also baptized in the Holy Spirit. Immediately after that, I could and did speak, sing, and pray in a tongue.

It didn’t stop there though. About seven days later, I (mentally) heard from God for the first time. Up until that point, I hadn’t ever expected or desired to hear from God, so I never did. God asked/said “you love me”. I replied with “Yes God, I love You.” He then said “Feed my sheep.” I replied, “Yes God, I will feed Your sheep.” A few seconds later, I had a WAIT-A-MINUTE! moment when I realized that we had recreated the first part of Jesus’ conversation with Peter. I had a second WAIT-A-MINUTE! moment while brushing my teeth a couple minutes later when I remembered that a very good friend of mine had compared me to Peter on account of my rock-iness. Either that Wednesday or that Sunday, another good friend – who later became a mentor – told me after church that God had told him that He wanted me to lead a small group based on the series that was going to happen at church (based on The Me I Want to Be, by John Ortberg). I was actually surprised at this given that up to this point, I had been content to follow and rarely ever stepped up as a leader. I told him I would pray and ask God about it.

That night, God reminded me of our exchange earlier. I quickly made the connection between leading the small group and feeding His sheep. With that, I told said friend and because of God’s providence, I got the last of their small group study materials. The next five weeks, I lead the small group (which consisted of 1 to 10 [depending on the week] of my fellow BASIC friends) and it went pretty well. That summer (summer of 2012), I was inspired to start and lead a five-week small group based on A. W. Tozer’s book The Pursuit of God. From that, I learned quite a bit as I was producing all of the material (aside from the book) myself in addition to organizing and leading. Before the first small group (The Me I Want to Be), I actually didn’t know that I could be a good leader. So, God used these two experiences to show me that I could indeed lead and lead well.

At the time of writing, I am the treasurer/secretary for my BASIC group here at RIT, one of the three leadership positions. Here, I’m learning valuable skills when it comes to management and organization, which are important for a good leader to have. Also, I learned a couple weeks ago that I am leading by example. That is, when I share mini-testimonies or when I dance/sing/sign (sometimes all three at the same time) during worship, I am setting an example. The way I live is an example of what a life on fire for God looks like.

All this so far has been preparation. Remember what I said at the beginning about my deafness? One of the colleges of RIT is NTID – the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. About 1 out of every 8 students here at RIT is deaf or hard-of-hearing. The only other college with such a high concentration is Gallaudet, which was set up specifically as a college for Deaf students. Anyway, because I am deaf (and becoming more Deaf) while at the same time being able to hear almost as well as a normally-hearing human, I am able to act as a bridge between the Deaf and Hearing communities. I can reach out to both sides and I have good friends on both sides.

In addition, last spring, I prayed to God that He would let me be at the forefront of the revival that is coming to RIT. I look back on that now and see that God basically went “Okay then”, and set to work transforming me from a supremely prideful person who would do damage in the long run to one that could honestly listen to God and lead a revival. Consequently, I had a number of little but significant mental and emotional tweaks. For instance, the idea that leaders serve. Jesus exemplifies this beautifully in John 13:1-17, where He washes His disciples’ feet because He has all authority. True leaders serve the ones they’re “leading”. So, I will serve the people of RIT, and I am proud to serve them.

This time here at RIT is preparation too. If anything, the next two and a half years will be even more preparation than I’ve had in the past twenty. After I graduate, I know my role will be connected to the state of New York and the revival that will be exploding by then. Beyond that, I don’t know anything except that I will go wherever God calls me and I will serve all those that God would have me serve. No matter what my level of leadership, God is and will always be my leader.

A long path of preparation indeed, from birth to the present and into the future. The preparation will not stop until I am face-to-face with Jesus in the flesh, and perhaps not even then.

A Long and Winding Road, part 2

2012-10-22 by Bruce Alderman. 1 comments

Post to Twitter

Scene 3: On a Mission

It wasn’t just my bad experiences that soured me on church. The whole premise of Christianity was starting to bother me, especially in the way it was portrayed by its most vocal practitioners.

On one side were fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, preaching an amalgamation of legalistic theology and free-market capitalism. On the other side were groups like the Jesus Seminar, scholars who spent their time debating which of the words of Jesus were actually spoken by Jesus. Then there was Bishop John Shelby Spong, who advocated something he called non-theistic Christianity.

If I could point to one thing that bothered me about all these versions of Christianity, it was that they all seemed to agree that the most important element of the Christian faith was to talk about Christianity. I had a need for a faith that was more than just talk.

I remembered reading in the gospels how Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, lifted up the lowly and humbled the proud, and I wanted to find Christians who lived like that. Due to my previous experiences I doubted I would ever find that type of faith community. But in the spring of 1994, the thought entered my head that I should join a church and go serve in a foreign country. At first I dismissed it as unrealistic, but the more I tried to ignore it the more persistent the thought became.

So I made myself start visiting churches again. This time I limited myself to mainline denominations, in the hope of avoiding the authoritarian traps I had previously fallen into.

In August I visited East Heights United Methodist Church. One of the things I would grow to love about East Heights was that every week before taking the offering, they highlighted one of their ministries that the offering helps fund. The first week I visited the ministry focus was the annual February mission trip to Costa Rica. The pastor added that there was still time to sign up for the trip. I knew instantly that this was the church I was looking for.

The only problem was the cost. United Methodist missionaries are expected to pay their own way, and I would need $800 to cover my expenses. My night job covered my rent and bills, but I didn’t know if I could spare $800. So I told God, with less humility than the situation probably called for, that if he would provide the funds I would go.

That night my boss called me into his office and said that he appreciated my work, and he gave me a 75 cent per hour raise. I mentally calculated 75 cents times 40 hours times the 27 weeks remaining until the trip: $810. Despite the fact that my take-home pay would be less than that after taxes, I managed to save enough for the trip.

When February came I went with the team to Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica, to help build an additional wing to a rural hospital. The locals, despite their poverty, displayed a strong faith and a trust that God would take care of them through hardships. Back in the U.S., a lot of people I knew worried constantly about whether their paychecks would cover their credit card bills.

In Costa Rica I saw the type of faith community that I wanted Christianity to be. I flirted with the idea of dropping everything and moving to Central America, but in the end I didn’t have the nerve.

I would later make two more short-term mission trips to Latin America. I’d like to believe that I did some good, but the truth is that I got far more out of the experiences than I could ever have given.

Scene 4: Faith in Crisis

On my return home from Costa Rica I was still uncomfortable with most of what I saw in American Christianity, but at East Heights I at least found a refuge from the extremes.

But about that time, my faith took a hit from a completely different direction. The recently repaired Hubble Space Telescope was producing incredibly detailed photos of the far reaches of the galaxy. At the same time, astronomers discovered the first clear evidence of planets outside our solar system. It was an exciting time for astronomy, and my old love of the night sky led me to seek as much information as I could about the origins of the universe. I saw how the Big Bang made more sense than any other explanation.

And that wasn’t all. New fossil discoveries in Africa, combined with the human genome project, gave scientists an ever-increasing understanding of our relation to extinct hominid species, and the more they learned the muddier the picture became. For the first time, I grasped the role of evolution in how we got to where we are.

This new knowledge appealed to the rational side of me, but I couldn’t see a way to reconcile it with the spiritual side of me. The more I learned about scientific discoveries and the scientific process, the more uncomfortable I felt professing a faith rooted in miracles–even though I’d experienced miracles in my own life.

I mentioned these struggles in a BBS forum where I was active, and received a reply from someone by the handle of Shaolin, who opined that this was a weakness of Western religion. He suggested I look into Taoism as an alternative.

I was so confused about my faith that I was willing to give it a try. I bought a copy of the Tao Te Ching and started reading. From the very first words, this book challenged and confronted my rational side.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the true name.

In Western society it is comforting to have an explanation for everything. Life, however, is messy and doesn’t always lend itself to answers. No matter how well we think we understand this world, some things remain beyond our grasp. This theme of not being able to grasp the ultimate is repeated throughout the Tao Te Ching.

The Taoist concept of wei-wu-wei (literally “action without action”, meaning something along the lines of going with the flow of the way things ought to be rather than trying to bend things to our desires) also struck a chord with me.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering.

Christian faith is like this as well. We will never accomplish God’s will by interfering and doing things our own way. Only by yielding to God can we accomplish anything. The more I read of Taoism, the more I realized it had nothing for me that I couldn’t already find in Christianity.

Look, it cannot be seen–it is beyond form. Listen, it cannot be heard–it is beyond sound. Grasp, it cannot be held–it is intangible. These three are indefinable; Therefore they are joined in one.

I never expected to see support for the Trinity in the Tao Te Ching. Granted, this passage is talking about something else. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity does indeed hold that three are joined in one, and that ultimately they are beyond our ability to define. The Tao Te Ching had given me a way of viewing the world without the need to rationalize everything. And with that in place, I was finally ready to accept Christianity on its own terms.

I still struggle with questions most people will never ask, and I still have problems with authoritarians. I’ve still got a long road ahead of me, but I trust that God knows better than I do. And at this stage of the journey, that’s all I need.

A Long and Winding Road, part 1

2012-10-21 by Bruce Alderman. 2 comments

Post to Twitter

Scene 1: The Night I Met God

To say I was not one of the popular kids would be a major understatement. I was a typical 1980s-era nerd, a loner who spent much of my free time learning how to get the most out of my TRS-80 microcomputer or exploring the night skies with my telescope. Living in a sports-crazed rural community but lacking athletic ability, the closest I could get to fitting in was competing on the cross country team.

The fall of 1985, my junior year of high school, I could see things starting to turn around. My running had improved enough that I was occasionally getting medals, and people were starting to see me as less of a nerd, and more of an athlete. In October I managed to get a date to the homecoming dance, and afterwards somehow found myself in my first relationship. But by early November, both the relationship and the cross country season had ended; by Thanksgiving weekend I was alone again, and this time I didn’t enjoy it.

On Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend, I was sitting in my room reading The Scarlet Letter for my English class when I started to feel dizzy and short of breath. My best guess is it was an allergic reaction. I’ve had severe allergies most of my life, but this was the strongest reaction I’ve ever had.

I don’t remember the next few minutes. The next thing I recall, I was on the other side of the room, lying in my bed, breathing slowly to catch my breath. In my confused state I remember thinking, my life is worthless, and I whispered a prayer, “God, if you can hear me, just let me die.”

What happened instead is hard to explain. I slowly became aware of a presence in my room. I couldn’t see anyone, but I had a sense of being watched. The intensity of this presence began to grow, until it was so overwhelming that I was aware of nothing else. The bed, the room, even my own self seemed to be swallowed up by the intensity of–whatever it was.

Years later I was struck by a scene from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Lewis, imagining a bus trip to heaven, says:

At first, of course my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighborhood of the omnibus, though beginning, some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent–fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air. One could attend to them or ignore them at will as you do with the dirt on a window pane. I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed. Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.

The presence I experienced in my room that night was like what Lewis described–so intense that all the ordinary things of life paled by comparison. But at the time, the only way I could describe it was that I was in the presence of God.

A few days later an acquaintance stopped me in the hallway at school and said, “I was reading the Bible last night, and God told me to share this message with you: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.’” I asked him what that was supposed to mean, and he said he didn’t know, just that God wanted him to deliver that message to me.

I’ve spent many years trying to figure out what it means.

Scene 2: Problems with Authority

In college I fell in with the Pentecostal crowd. I started attending the Church of the Foursquare Gospel with some friends. The way they spoke about God, as someone who was palpably present in the world, seemed to match my own experience. But I soon ran into difficulties. First was their insistence that the gift of speaking in tongues was intended for every Christian. My own experience suggested otherwise. Second was a pervasive paranoia, an us-against-the-world attitude that left them distrustful of everyone outside their circle.

In my sophomore year, the associate pastor led a college Bible study centered around Edgar Whisenant’s “88 Reasons Why The Rapture will be in 1988”. When I raised some doubts one week in the Bible study, the pastor spoke to me afterward, asked me if I was harboring some secret sin, and accused me of being arrogant and having a problem with authority. I knew something wasn’t right, but at the time I wasn’t sure if the problem was with me or them.

I prayed about this, but didn’t get an answer from God one way or the other.

After a number of talks with my friends, they concluded the problem was that I had done my baptism all wrong. My parents had had me baptized as an infant; it wasn’t a choice I had made myself. So we talked to the pastor about getting me rebaptized, and I was scheduled to get dunked a few weeks later at a Wednesday night service.

I was one of three people getting baptized that night. My friends sat in the front row to support me. But I still wasn’t fully convinced that this was the answer to the questions that were bothering me. I was beginning to suspect that my “problem with authority” was a warning sign that something wasn’t right with this church.

Finally my time came to go under the water, and when I did I heard God’s voice as clearly as if he was standing between me and the pastor. In the brief moment before I came up again, God told me, “Get away from here. These people are hindering your spiritual growth.”

My friends told me that when I came up out of the water I had a look of peace like no one they had seen before. If they had known the reason for that peace, they might not have been so quick to congratulate me.

I tried a number of other churches during the rest of my college years, but never committed to another one. I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.

After college I enrolled in graduate school at Wichita State University. To pay the bills I took a night job in a warehouse. I kept busy enough between school and work that I convinced myself I didn’t have time for church.

But one day on campus I happened to run into a friend from college who was also now at WSU. She told me about a great church she had found, and she invited me to attend. I was reluctant but I agreed to give it a shot. The next Sunday morning found me in downtown Wichita in the Century II Convention Hall, worshipping with the Church of Christ Jesus. After the service I was introduced to some guy that told me he would become my mentor. Something about this struck me as not right. Nevertheless I ageed to meet with him a few times, but it soon became clear that we had irreconcilable differences. I still had a problem with authority–or more accurately, with authoritarianism. Within less than a month I left that church and never looked back.

Through it all I somehow maintained my trust in God, but I was through with church. Or so I thought.