Imagine John Lennon in Heaven

I was shocked when I heard someone say, vehemently, that John Lennon is burning in hell right now. What? How could they say that? How dare they make such a broad assumption? Are we now so chummy with God that we’re his right-hand men, knowing other people’s salvation? All theology aside, doesn’t God—and only God—get to make that decision?

I believe a few things that part with fundamentalism: I don’t believe in a fiery torment based on not checking the “I believe in Jesus” box, and I believe God speaks to all people, even before they know Him, understand Him, or know His name. Even if they haven’t made any conscious choice to “give their heart” to Jesus. Even if, because some Christians have rejected them, they think God has rejected them.

Only God knows what heaven and hell are like, and we can only guess. Mainstream Christians guess based on old, and very “colorful,” concepts, like “Inferno” by Dante and “Hell” by Hieronymus Bosch. (Google it. The guy had quite an imagination.) Many progressive Christians say there’s no heaven or hell. Coming from a fundamentalist background, I’m uncomfortable with that, but I can say I don’t believe in a literal heaven or hell: they’re not like anything we can dream up, because we’re human and our imagination is limited.

So, if there is a heaven, what’s it like? Without even knowing it, John Lennon described heaven:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)

Why I Choose To Side With Progressives

Progressive 31If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20

Christianity seems to be eating itself from within. People accuse one another of not being “Christian” enough, the rich and the poor take opposite stances, and denominations splinter over the interpretation of verses. I’m so sick of the division. I’m sick of the gay bashing, the thinly veiled racism, and the very unchristian attempts to demonize the poor.

I don’t like labels that divide us from within. I would like to simply call myself “Christian” and accept other Christians as part of my family. Sadly, I’ve been accused of being less Christian for quoting verses such as “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:1-11) So I’ve reluctantly taken a side. I’ve tacked on the word “progressive” to identify myself as something other than fundamentalist or evangelical or right-wing.

I don’t agree with everything said by progressive Christians—it’s a grab-bag of beliefs and ideas, still largely under construction—but I agree with the essence. (I especially love Red Letter Christianity. It’s closest to what I believe, and I like the concept: an emphasis on Jesus’ words.) I do like the term progressive because the world is changing and moving. We don’t live in the world of our childhoods, (for many of us, simpler times seemed like better times. We’d recently won a world war, television had only a few channels, jobs were plentiful, and everyone knew their roles), but pretending we can return to Camelot won’t make it so.

I don’t think my fundamentalist friends are evil. I believe they’ve been misguided by powerful political forces and a desire for simple black-and-white answers to difficult questions. But I think fundamentalism has gone far away from God’s message by using a lot of clever word manipulation. (Think of easy-to-repeat catch phrases such as “family values” and “God, guns, and glory.”) They’ve also cobbled together a lot of long arguments to say that gay Christians cannot be Christians, (although all other sinners can.) Fundamentalism has forgotten grace. It’s forgotten the Good News:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17

Most important to me, progressive Christians welcome people who are hurt and broken. (I am one of the broken.) They don’t require us to be perfect before setting foot in church. (I am far from perfect.) I’ve chosen it because it reflects the teachings of Jesus more closely. Jesus emphasized love and acceptance over slavish adherence to rules. Am I wrong? I don’t think so. But  if I err, I will err on the side of love.

Is it discernment, or is it judgment?

Progressive 30

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

Fundamentalist Christians must be aware that they sound judgmental. I’ve always wondered how they can square that with the Bible: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) However, they continue to make judgments on others, in and out the church, and argue that they are not being judgmental. Recently, I heard someone say, “I’m not judging; I’m discerning.” He was involved in an online argument over (what else?) gay rights. I want to understand the Bible, so I don’t make snap decisions. I prayed, and I did a quick study on discernment. This is a portion of what I found. I included some context here (because context is important).

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

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For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12).

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The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)

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Paul and Timothy to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi … “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:10).

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18)

None of these passages say we should “discern” others. In fact, they indicate that it’s pointless, because discernment comes from God Himself and from the Holy Spirit.

According to the dictionary, Christian discernment (anakrino) is perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is related to wisdom. The passages here lead me to believe that I am to use discernment regarding my own walk with God and my relationships with fellow Christians; I found nothing here requiring me to go out into the world and “discern” other people’s sins. I urge anyone who is interested in discernment (and who thinks they’re required to “discern” other people’s sins) to read these chapters in full.

Certainly, discernment is important. But I continue to believe that nearly all of us should be the best example of Jesus’ gracious love that we can be, practice discernment only within the church (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1), and leave judgment to God.

Freedom of Speech and Respect for Authority

Progressive 29

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17

I am really glad we live in a democracy. It’s not perfect, but we no longer have to deal with slavery or other barbaric practices, and we can vote—something the writers of the Bible couldn’t do. (And best of all, we don’t have an emperor.)

And yes, we have freedom of speech. But have we taken that freedom too far? For the last few years, I’ve seen and heard incredible disrespect coming from all sorts of people, including Christians. Especially Christians.

Think the system is unjust? It is, as is every human-made system. (Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Colossians 3:22) I don’t believe the Bible ever condoned slavery; I believe God wants us to do the right thing even in an unfair world. (Fortunately for us, we have rights that allow us to change what is wrong, albeit slowly.)

In my country, we can say practically anything we want. We can insult other people, even our leaders, without fear of being thrown in jail. Sadly, discussions in social media usually turn into insult-swaps. Apparently the person who comes up with the most colorful (and often disgusting) affront declares him or herself the winner when the other backs down (or gets tired of it). Hence, everyone is talking but no one is listening. The “contenders” in an on-line conversation are always thinking of their next put-down.

How lucky we are to be able to say almost anything without fear. But by exercising their right to free speech in this way, I think people are ruining it–we’re a nation of self-styled satirists. How many problems are solved by one person calling another a “dipshit” for believing as they do? (Do you really think the insulted person will change their mind?) Next time you’re in an escalating insult-swap, think of that.

Here’s an alternative:  1 Peter 2:12 says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Let’s educate ourselves before we vote, then accept and respect our authorities, even if they’re not the ones we voted for. If we want change, let’s bring about change. Respectfully.

Discussion, yes… Satire, okay… Insults, no. It’s just not Christian.

Jesus Loves Sinners

Progressive 28Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7

God is a righteous judge, and Jesus intercedes for us.

He went in search of me when I was lost. I was poor, I was lonely, I was confused, and I was actively sinning (I was bothered but I wasn’t repentant) when I felt compelled to walk back into a church building. Thankfully, I found a group of people who were equally imperfect and who didn’t judge me.

Many churches give the impression that people need to qualify before even walking in the door. I have never qualified for heaven and I never will. So I am deeply troubled by the expectations placed on outsiders.

Remember, there are two messages in Luke 15: Jesus actively seeks sinners. And Jesus does not favor “good” people. As insiders, we have to be gracious about that. Welcome should apply to every one of God’s children, and Come as you are should refer to everyone who is curious, questioning, or hoping. Come rich, come poor. Come white, come colored. Come hurt or angry. Come tattooed or not. Come married, come divorced, come gay. If God’s children need changing, it’s up to Jesus to change them, as only He can. Let’s let Him do it.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:34

A Yellow Ribbon for September 11th.

yellow ribbon

I’ve been thinking about September 11th. What have we learned in fourteen years? To “never forget”? What does that even mean? To feel sad? We already feel sad—very sad. To feel angry? We feel angry, and we’ve poured out our anger on people who superficially resemble the monsters that perpetrated the act. As a result, more monsters have cropped up, and on it goes. Has it helped?

So now what? Get more revenge? What now?

In the days and weeks after the attacks, we came together as a country and as a world. I don’t remember any time, before or since, that we have been so unified. And it wasn’t anger that did it—it was sorrow, and it was love for one another—for the people who died and the people who survived. We wanted to do something to help; remember? We wanted to support one another. Do you remember that? I remember making little yellow ribbon pins to pass out at school; it was all I could think of, but at least I was doing something.

Now, fourteen years later, our country is fractured. We squabble over politics, hurl insults, shoot at our own people. We’ve created a generation of people who shoot randomly into crowds for attention! Now we’re fearful of anyone who looks different from ourselves. Have we grown more fearful, angry, and violent as a result of 9/11?

Isn’t this what the terrorists intended? If so, THE TERRORISTS SUCCEEDED.

Never forget? It’s hard to forget the images seared into our brains on that day. I’d like to forget that. Instead, we should never forget the way our country came together for a little while. Maybe it’s time to move on. It’s easy to be angry. It’s harder to love one another and help heal the wounds. It’s harder to mend fences with our neighbors—people who disagree with us about details, but still have the same hopes and desires we do—and admit that inside, we’re all the same.

The yellow ribbon above is one I kept from those days. It doesn’t mean “attack all perceived enemies.” It means “bring our soldiers home safely.” Let’s NEVER FORGET that we need to support one another in times of need. After fourteen years, maybe it’s time to “come home safely” from this endless cycle of pain, fear, and anger.

When we do, we will finally WIN the war on terror.

Do You Speak Christian?

Progressive 27

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

“Clobber passages”

“Witness wear”

“Cafeteria Christianity”

“Born-again virgin”

These terms that are used in various churches, but may not be familiar with the “unsaved.”

I’m not actually sure if I speak much Christianese, because I’ve gone to church on-and-off my whole life. (Apparently I’m a cradle Presbyterian—who knew?) I do use verbs such as “fellowship,” “bless,” and “witness,” but not liberally. And I try to avoid using words and phrases that might feel smug or self-righteous.

I don’t “love on” anyone. My friends are just that—friends—and not pre-Christians. To me “love on” feels insincere at best, (and at worst, it feels like what a cult might do to a newcomer.) If I love someone (platonically or otherwise), then of course I’m going to treat them kindly. And I do my best to find something to love about everyone, so I don’t need a clever phrase to describe treating someone with respect. (I want to make it clear that it’s the attitude I dislike, not the phrases themselves. If you honestly love on people, good on you!)

No matter how blessed I feel (and I feel very blessed!), I don’t say I’m “blessed with good health,” because I have friends who are struggling with cancer. One friend, who was very active in my church, died of cancer while she still had a school-aged son. It still hurts after three years.

So, why do I bring this up here? (I could simply stop using the phrases.) But there are people who use them so liberally that I feel uncomfortable. That’s not bad in itself, but I think they want people to know what good Christians they are, and I feel like it goes hand-in-hand with the insider/outsider mentality. These words can be shorthand for “I’m saved and you’re not” (Wink, wink), and I can’t handle that. I see it a lot in social media. Sometimes it feels like a way of separating people, especially if I’m pressured to “like and share” if I love Jesus. (What if I don’t? Oh, dear!)

Some of my non Christian friends say that, when they hear Christian-talk, they just move on. This applies to public forums as well as real life. The last thing I want to do is to push people away from God. So I’ll leave the Christian talk for my “koinonia.” (My church community.)

Anything that makes me feel like an insider and makes someone else feel like an outsider is a lousy witness.