Weekly Ponderings

Here are some blogs/articles that made me think this week. Inclusion does not equal a full endorsement of everything in each post or at each site. To read each post in it entirety click on the link under each excerpt. (Anything in bold is an emphasis made by me).

“On any given week our fellowship will have between 200 and 300 attendees. In that group is the full range of Christian denominations. From high church liturgical to aisle dancing charismatic, we all come together as foreigners and believers. Like any church, ours has taken on its own personality (somewhere in between those two) but the full spectrum of potential theological debate is always present…

Disagreeing actually forces our focus towards what matters instead of an unchecked sense of rightness

Our worship team routinely consists of some mix of a couple of a couple Brits, a German, a Canadian, two Filipinos, an Indian and an American or two. Once a month a team of African students come from the other side of the city to lead. It’s not uncommon for 30-40 nationalities to be present and yet we join in a common voice.

It’s like a little taste of heaven.”

Three Things I Love About An International Church by Jerry Jones

I see a lot of places where I made mistakes or I “should have known better.” But none of that changes the fact that I was a victim and they took advantage of me. Nobody should be talking about sub-optimal choices a victim made, when another person consciously made a choice to hurt and manipulate someone.

When people talk about abuse, they ask questions like “but why didn’t the victim leave?” or “but why didn’t you report the rape immediately?” Really? I can think of SO MANY reasons why. My situation was just about money, not anything as serious as rape or abuse- but you could ask why I kept choosing to go back there. So many reasons. My own optimism. I didn’t want to believe I had made a bad decision. I didn’t want to believe that they were the kind of people who would claim to be my friends but really just want money. I thought maybe someday I would win an argument with them and they’d have to treat me better. I thought I could get them to respect my right to receive the service I had already paid for, without constant harassment. I didn’t even realize how badly it was affecting me because I didn’t know my feelings mattered- I didn’t know that it could be so hurtful and unhealthy to just have a “friendly and polite conversation.”

An essential part of manipulation/ coercion/ abuse is making the victim believe that they actually like it, that they chose it, that it’s not manipulation/ coercion/ abuse. So OF COURSE you’re going to have victims that don’t realize they’re victims until much later. I totally believe you if you say that’s what happened.

A victim who’s made mistakes is still a victim by perfect number 628

“We talk about how suicide is ‘selfish,’” a friend said to me a few weeks ago. “But that means that people who are suicidal but struggling to live are doing something incredibly selfless, every day. Why don’t we talk about that?”

On a societal level, we rarely, if ever, acknowledge all of the thankless work that people who wrestle with suicidal ideation pour into staying alive — labor that they engage in not for themselves, for the most part, but because they know how much their deaths would devastate family and friends. There’s not much in the way of resources or aid available to those doing their ultimate best to avoid suicide. Instead, we mostly treat those who are suicidal — as I am, sometimes — as morally deficient for even thinking about killing themselves in the first place…

The other day a friend and I were dreaming up a place where people might learn how to live. We called it the not-hospital, because it should be everything the hospital isn’t: warm, comfortable, loving, tolerant. A place with corners full of blankets and pillows where you can go cry if you need to. A place with huge heated tubs full of salt water where you can soak and read and sip fancy drinks. Common rooms where people can be together if they want to; individual rooms where people can go if they need to be alone. A proper convalescent home, where people can recuperate and rest and feel cared for — that’s maybe what the not-hospital would be.

But until we invent the not-hospital and start training people in how to live, the least we can do is acknowledge the massive amount of effort it takes not to die

If You’re Suicidal, Staying Alive Is The Most Selfless Thing You Can Do by Anne Thériault

But the thing that struck me the most this past Sunday morning was how much everyone talked about God’s amazing grace, the amazing love he showed us in sending his son to be beaten to death on our behalf. The message was primarily a positive one, I’ll grant that. But there was something else lurking beneath the surface, something far more negative…about us.

This preacher got up in front of an auditorium full of people to tell them they are lucky to have God in their lives, lucky to have him condescend to show grace and mercy to them because they deserve so much less. His love for us and his grace toward us is amazing, the man told us.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? We are being told over and over again that what they have to offer us is good news. But implicit in this good news is the very bad news that we are so bad, God had to kill himself in order to get over it.

Does that not strike you as…I dunno…excessively demeaning? For every time we are told that God’s love surpasses all other loves, we are being told that it takes an extraordinary kind of love in order to love the likes of us…

See, I know this narrative very, very well. I’ve inhaled deeply of this message and I can recognize its aroma almost anywhere. Each mention of the surpassing love of God reminds the listener of his or her own innate unworthiness. Without that unworthiness, without the implicit notion of our own horribleness, this love wouldn’t even be anything special.

For grace to be amazing, it has to overcome something terrible. According to the Christian message, that terrible thing is us

The sugar coating on that pile of anti-human excrement satiated me for many, many years, but time has made clear to me what lies beneath that saccharine exterior: The good news of the Christian message is built upon an inescapably dehumanizing narrative which says that you’re so very bad that only God can love you the way you really need to be loved. If you look for that love in any other source, you’ll be disappointed because the likes of you requires something especially gracious and forgiving…”

The Dark Side of Grace by Neil Carter

“The Christian agenda to “get” people is so weird to me. Having these strategizing meetings to best figure out how they can convert whomever and convince them of the “truth” they hold. I imagine Christians having a conversation with whomever non-Christian they want to convert, sitting there not listening but waiting for any chance to strategically insert their beliefs. It’s uncomfortable, that’s not how normal people have a conversation.

And before everyone gets all mad, I’m not saying to never talk about your faith or whatever. I really like Jesus and I talk about him all the time, but not with the agenda to convert anyone – that’s where it gets weird. Awkwardly inserting your religious ideals or straight up arguing why people need Jesus so they don’t go to hell is kind of creepy.

What if instead of focusing so much on how we can convert, we focused all that energy on how we can love bolder like Jesus? Seriously, sit and have meetings to try to figure out how to love our neighbors better. There are people out there doing this and they are changing the world and people actually like hanging out with them…”

It’s Okay to Love Your Religion Without Forcing People to Convert by Sheri Faye Rosendahl

Christians speak about “Judgement Day.” For many, this is a terrifying concept where everyone’s secrets are laid bare so that God can “smite” people for what they’ve done. But I believe that the very opposite is true. God’s justice is actually about everything being in right relationship, in its right place—“the way things should be.” God’s judgement is not a heavenly courtroom where we are all tried “for our sins,” instead, judgement is the means by which God’s justice is achieved, the process of righting all wrongs so that His justice comes into full fruition.

God’s justice and His judgement are therefore restorational concepts, not punitive ones. Like most Kingdom concepts, this is happening in the here and now wherever Christ’s followers bring Him into a situation. It is also what will happen at the “Last Judgement” when it will be brought to its completion. I look forward to everything being restored to its proper order and place, with everyone in right relationship with God and with others. I look forward to everything that was ever wrong being made right, and every injustice set straight. I look forward to everything being “the way that it should be.” When viewed in that manner, Judgement and Justice take on entirely different meanings from that of the angry god taking out his “wrath” on people, they become the means by which a loving God establishes peace and wholeness for everything He has made.

Why is this relevant to whether or not animals will be in Heaven?

Well, death is one of those things that is wrong and that needs to be put right. It’s so hurtful, so damaging, and so painful—and permanent too…

But I really don’t know—we’ll just have to wait and see. What I do believe is that intelligent, conscious animals, with which we formed a good relationship, will be raised up with us as part of our inheritance as saints.

Finally, there’s this vitally important point: God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes (Rev. 21:4). This means that everything that ever upset you, everything that ever hurt you, everything will be made right and things will be just as if the bad stuff never happened! This is part of God’s restorative justice. It’s part of what will happen. The Bible is full of God’s promises to restore. The heart of God is always to restore. Restoring: putting things back where they belong; giving them back; restoring relationship—including those with our beloved pets.

So, animals in Heaven. Why not? Given the unimaginably generous and, moreover, restoring nature of God, that He loves to surprise us and bless us with every good thing, and that Heaven will be better than anything and everything we could ever have dreamed, why not?”

Do Our Pets Go to Heaven? by Tony Cutty


“I realized that I was tired of being comfortable with sickness and death and inequality; so, too, was I tired of being overwhelmed with all of the places where it seemed that God was absent. I was tired of trying to fix all the problems on my own, of placing the burdens of the world on my own shoulders. I had reached a breaking point, where I no longer believed I could save anybody and I didn’t know if God could either. I, unlike the majority of people at the service, was afraid to give up my false sense of control. I was afraid of looking foolish, of deciding to truly believe that a very good God was at work in the world.

I was nervous to live in a world that seemed inhabited by so few, to refuse to assimilate into a life either of despair or of religious platitudes.

But really, when it comes down to it, I was scared that God might ask me to wave my own freakish, shimmering flag around – to declare that he loved all of us, when everything around me seemed to contradict this statement.”

– D.L. Mayfield (from her book Assimilate Or Go Home: Notes From A Failed Missionary On Rediscovering Faith)


“We interviewed 600 believers in 72 countries, and their persecution was not over homosexuality or abortion. Believers are suffering because of evil’s response to their positive witness. Most Western Christians have divorced their witness from the marketplace. So we won’t know if there is real persecution in the US until we Christians stop whining about our rights as ‘temporary’ citizens, and return to a loving witness. Including the US among nations that actively oppose the presence of Jesus demeans those truly suffering for their faith.”

~Nik Ripken, global strategist, International Mission Board (found on Christianity Today’s website)

Weekly Ponderings

Here are some things I read this past week. Inclusion does not equal a full endorsement of everything written in each post. To read the whole post click on the title beneath each excerpt. Anything in bold is an emphasis made by me.

Society has pitted the life of a child against the well-being and future of its mother, and asked us to choose one or the other. But not both.

For Christians, this is an impossible position because of our understanding of the Imago Dei—the image of God, which has been uniquely gifted to human life. This means that all human life is equally valuable, both the unborn child and the expectant mother carry equal weight. Both have inherent dignity, and both are worth fighting for.”

The Uncomfortable Truth at the Heart of Louis C.K.’s Abortion Comments by Natalie Walker

“Only about one in 10 of these mass-injury shootings involved domestic violence, the Times found. But the domestic violence shootings were more deadly than the other attacks. Domestic violence shootings represented only 11% of the incidents, but 31% of the victims who died.

Even when domestic violence does not play a direct role in high-profile mass shootings, the perpetrators of these attacks are often found to have records of domestic violence and abuse of women.”

“This is an issue that red and blue lawmakers can agree on: domestic abusers shouldn’t have guns,” she said. “All countries have domestic violence. The difference is that we arm our abusers.”

Domestic violence and guns: the hidden American crisis ending women’s lives by Lois Beckett

“I see the culture of Trump as undermining any net positive legislation from Trump. Who he is, how he leads through his leadership, undermines any net positive laws he might make possible. If he passes a law that makes abortion illegal, while promoting a culture that encourages creating more abortions, the net effect will be negative for the unborn children of this world.

Likewise, if we seek peace and reconciliation as the redemptive work of Jesus in the world, if we seek racial reconciliation in the world, and we support a president who promotes a culture of antagonism, conflict, war, any pro-Christian legislation in the world is undermined. May we discern carefully both how to pray for this president and in what ways we are called to either support the president or oppose him.”

What Gorsuch’s Nomination Means for our Witness by David Fitch

“I think most people reject universalism before hearing the full case because they are aware that the Bible does in fact, quite clearly describe some sort of consequences in the afterlife for refusing to be reconciled to God in this life. They mistakenly believe that being a Christian universalist means that one rejects the concept of hell or some sort of divine punishment. This in fact, is totally untrue.

One of the advantages of universalism is that it can affirm passages that seem to speak about punishment in the afterlife, and it can affirm them in a way that better reflects the love and character of God. In universalism one can argue compellingly that the intent and outcome of God’s discipline is restoration of relationship, instead of endless punishment or permanent separation. It’s a difference of restorative justice instead of simply punitive justice– and that difference better reflects the character of God which is loving and always inviting reconciliation

Christian universalism is not the same thing as an “anything goes” religion where we can all believe what we want, do what we want, and all end up in the same place at the same time.

Instead, it is a belief in the power of Jesus to atone for the sins of the entire world. It is a belief that Jesus truly has reconciled all things and all people to himself. It’s a belief that God’s loving nature is so endless, that even those who stubbornly refuse to be reconciled in this life will still find themselves pursued by God’s love and invited to have a change of heart, until every last one of them turns back to God– and hell is empty.

The case for universalism is not weak or some liberal nonsense, but actually fits God’s character and the biblical narrative quite convincingly.”

A Case For Christian Universalism (From A Non-Universalist) by Dr. Benjamin L. Corey

‘There is no such thing as a “self-made man”. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.’

George Matthew Adams, writer.

The Simplest and Most Perfect Explanation of Privilege I’ve Ever Seen by Toby Morris

“Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

… the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this program, too.

Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programs, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.

Is that wholly from the mindfulness practices? It’s impossible to say, but those are pretty remarkable numbers, all the same.”

This school replaced detention with meditation. The results are stunning. by James Gaines




Never accept and be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.

– Vincent J. Donovan

Love vs Power

I was watching a show a few weeks ago where two characters were arguing about whether someone who is in love should let that relationship interfere with their ambitions. In this case the ambition was getting into the White House. One character said love never matters and should be given up without question because your gaining the Oval office. Basically power is worth pursuing and gaining at all cost even if that means giving up the chance at being with someone you love.

This made me think about the unfortunate bargain Christians in U.S. have made in the hopes of retaining influence in this country. To paraphrase a well known quote ‘carry a big stick and make people do things your way’. Why do we feel the need to force our beliefs onto people? Because we stopped loving them the way Jesus taught us to love people. He told us how to change the world and we fell back into the age old trap of believing that power is the best, surest and fastest way to ‘change’ things. Love is hard, takes time and may not get you the results you hoped for. Whereas power can force change quickly and get you the results you want (though you have to ignore the damage you’ve created in the process).

You generally can’t change people through having more power. If anything you’ll just make them fear or hate you. But you likely haven’t changed things for the better. Take abortion as an example. Calling women who seek abortions and abortion doctors baby killers hasn’t changed anyone’s mind as far as I’ve seen. And gaining conservative supreme court justices with the hopes of changing the law still doesn’t address any of the many reasons a woman might seek an abortion. Oddly enough recent studies indicate that the abortion rate has dropped and that seems to be a result of efforts made by those considered liberal not conservative.

Christians may believe they have the moral high ground but they’ve lost respect in just about every other area because of their harshness and inability to empathize and work on other solutions on issues like abortion.

So when will we learn that when given the choice between love and power we should always choose love?

Weekly Ponderings

Here are some blogs and articles that made me think. Inclusion does not equal a full endorsement of everything in each post. To read the posts in their entirety click on the title beneath each excerpt. Most of the parts in bold print are parts I chose to emphasize.

You may have the most intellectually sound theology, but if it’s not delivered with love, respect, and kindness — it’s worthless.

The practical application of your love is just as important as the theology behind it. Our faith is evidenced by how we treat others. Does the reality of your life reflect the theory behind your spiritual beliefs?

We should never give up on theology, academic study, or the pursuit of understanding God, the Bible, and the history and traditions of the church, but these things should inspire us to emulate Christ — to selflessly, sacrificially, and holistically love others. Theology should reinforce our motivation for doing things to make the world a better place — not serve as platforms to berate, criticize, and attack others.

But too often, we’re guilty of failing to practically apply our beliefs in tangible ways that actually help others. In the end, this is what matters most to the world around us: that we simply love as Christ loved.”

When Christians Love Theology More Than People By Stephen Mattson

“Let’s be clear about what is really happening when we hear the “I just go by what the Bible says” types of statements. What’s really being said is: “I just go by what I have been taught, by what others have thought or written about these passages, and all that is still further interpreted and understood through my own personal, cultural, educational, family, geographical, social background and history.”

Remember, the Bible doesn’t “say” anything until someone articulates what they think it is saying. The last time I checked, the Bible did not literally and audibly just start speaking in English to me as I read it. We are the readers. We must do the hard work of hermeneutics, of interpreting, which is both an art and science. Furthermore, we should always be aware that our interpretations could be wrong. We might completely miss what the author wanted us to hear or understand. Instead of claiming that we are speaking for God or just “going by what the Bible clearly teaches,” we need to be humble and admit that we are trying to interpret and understand as best we can–and that it is us who is speaking.

Why is this important? One need only look to the issue of slavery or the way women have been treated historically to point out how wrong the church has at times found itself when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Are there issues in our present day where the church could be making the same interpretive mistakes?

“I Just Go by What the Bible Says” and Other Ridiculous Things Pastors Say by Darrell Lackey

Lonely practice was exactly as it sounds—practicing being lonely

I learned that day that the big moments of life are only fun when you’ve got someone to celebrate them with.

Celebrating alone is utterly vapid, lifeless, gray.

Humans fear being invisible almost more than anything. And feeling like that in the epicenter of a massive celebration is a very unique kind of human pain. To celebrate life’s big moments is to be invisible in those moments.

Imagine being invisible at a wedding . . .

or a graduation . . .

or a birthday party . . .

or an awards show . . .

or a New Year’s Eve party . . .

Oh sure . . . you’re present. You’re visible . . . but you’re unseen. Single people feel visible but unseen quite often. And the presence of strangers just isn’t all that comforting. It only makes the pain worse.

I got a little taste of that pain on that crisp autumn evening in Tuscaloosa. I got a little taste of my future.”

Episode 24 Lonely Practice by Brett Trapp

“This is not about inclusion. This is a matter of life and death.

By making their children stick to their own expectations and standards for them — whether they really think their gay child is going to hell or honestly are just ashamed of them — parents are asking their kids to change something inherent, something that son or daughter can’t change. No matter how much they pray or plead. It’s just not happening.

And the message that sends is absolutely devastating. It tells our kids (young, teens or adults) that they are broken, not okay, for whatever reason.
It’s plain wrong. And it can be tragic.

The suicide statistics for LGBTQI youth is alarming — 40% of gay youth contemplate suicide, 50% of transgender youth – 4 to 5 times the rate for their straight peers. And gay youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as gay peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection…

Family… we are supposed to love and support each other no matter what. If our own family won’t do that, how does that impact our confidence that anyone else can?

Would You Rather Have a Gay Child or a Dead Child?  by Susan Cottrell

Passages in Scripture do exhort us to flee from temptation, and there are certainly women who have had inappropriate relationships with married men. So, I understand the desire to fiercely protect something as precious as a marriage.

But the Bible exhorts us to live in the freedom of Christ. I don’t believe that treating women as if they are affairs-waiting-to-happen is living in freedom, nor is it faithful to our shared identity as co-heirs before God. God gives us self-control so that we may exercise it for his glory, not as an excuse to cut ourselves off from half the body.

Additionally, most women are not looking to seduce every man they encounter, and most men are not interested in having sex with every woman they encounter…

Billy Graham’s rule protects men from scandals, but it does only that. It does not promote the heart accountability that actually overcomes sexual sin. It protects men’s reputations, but it restricts women in the process. Women already face prejudice, stereotypes, and adversity in the workplace and in the church. Billy Graham’s rule does not empower them or promote healthy partnerships between men and women…

We should apply discretionary wisdom on a case-by-case basis rather than embracing a rule that makes many women feel dangerous and excluded…

But a better model for sexual integrity is possible. Men should not be treated as sexual beasts incapable of restraint nor should women be reduced to objects of men’s lust or sources of temptation. We are to hold each other in high esteem, not suspicion.

As Christians, we are no longer bound to legalism. Our model for sexual integrity should not be rooted in fear. It should not add additional burdens to the shoulders of women nor should it be grounded in gender stereotypes. Rather, it should promote the individual, relational, and communal wholeness that belongs to all believers.”

Why Christians Can Do Better Than The “Billy Graham Rule” by Tina Osterhouse





“…people like Jesus and Paul were not executed for saying, “Love one another.” They were killed because their understanding of love meant more than being compassionate towards individuals, although it did include that. It also meant standing against the domination systems that rule their world, and collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of a new way of life that stood in contrast to the normalcy of the wisdom of this world. Love and justice go together. Justice without love can be brutal and love without justice can be banal. Love is the heart of justice and justice is the social form of love.”
– Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan,
The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon