Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Dangerous Story: Subversion and Submission

Very short video, very strong idea. The gospel of Jesus is usually presented as a children's story, a fairy tale that just-so-happens to be true. Very much like the Santa Clause story, but with a scary twist. What do you think? How is the Jesus Gospel a "dangerous story"? How does the dangerous gospel fall on the ears of the world differently than the story-book gospel we often hear?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Protest Chaplains

Here's an article that's definitely worth a look! Does "Occupy Wall Street" look like church?
    ...In the music, conversations, meetings and daily work that come with running a community, there is a profound sense of abundance. A delivery of dry blankets and towels is met with cheers. Trained medics volunteer their skills to treat injuries and illness. The food station is “loaves and fishes” in action: There is always more than enough to eat, and homeless folks eat side by side with lawyers and students off of donated plates. There is always meaningful work to be done. It’s not charity. It’s cooperation. It’s The Way, and it’s happening right now. The Occupation is the church your church wants to be.
I'm intrigued at the idea of Protest Chaplains. So... what do you think?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Was a Stranger...

I had a couple of very odd experiences, back to back. I have been working far from home for several weeks, and so church is a little different we you're on the road. Experience #1, I dropped in at a church that kinda resembled my own church back home. I didn't expect them to bake me a cake, I just thought I would look at the place, because you can usually tell what's important by looking at the building. It's usually a long-shot to meet a minister on a weekday of course. So, I walked up to the big glass doors to the big lobby. Inside the glass were two handsome, wholesome men with laptops, intently conversing. They were three feet from me, but I was locked out. So I stood, and looked expectantly. They knew I was there. But they didn't dare look up at me. So, I stood. I refused to knock on the door because they were obviously and irrefutably aware of my presence. The fact that they would not so much as glance proved they knew the door was locked. Bible study, or some accountability thing. Maybe planning a project. So I stood there waiting for Jesus to return. The same evening I visited a Home Group meeting with a friend. Handsome, wholesome people, good brownies. Strange experience #2. In the two hours I was there, so help me, not one word was addressed to me unless it was an response to something I asked or said. Eerily, nobody looked at me either. The leader was a barrage of words, wonderful, smart, biblical words. God is a God of covenant. He loves. He reaches to us, as epitomized by Jesus. I sat at his left elbow and he never once turned his head toward me. But he addressed the last few minutes of the biblical torrent toward "anyone who may be present who feels like they just don't know God in the way these people do." Don't get me wrong, these were cool people, and I knew they would be my friends if we attended the same church for long. But as it was, this whole thing was just flat weird. As you may know, I am a veteran leader of such groups, and not exactly shy. And as you would guess, I kept ratcheting up the "gregarious level" to contrast with the odd indifference. Dude, I was a guest in someone's home. But if it had been an elevator the environment would not have been more impersonal.

There is an obvious common thread in these two encounters, that is that I was a stranger in a strange place. But I think there is a common thing on the part of those I encountered. What is it, and what can we learn from it?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Hell and Back

I've been thinking about hell and eternity lately.

Maybe not just about hell. Really, more about the CONCEPT of hell. The tradition of it. What we think about it, how it works, what it is. And mostly, what Jesus said about hell, and what the Bible says about hell.

Traditionally, I think most of us evangelicals have a similar concept of hell. It's the standard place people go when they die (unless they've been saved). It's pretty much eternal agony and flames. Punishment forever, apart from God. You don't want to be there. The concept is fairly cut-and-dry, even though a good many of "secular" people don't really like it. Right?

However, so many different things I've been reading, and people I've been talking to, have caused me to question how our view of hell managed to get to what we think about it today. So let's take a moment to go back to the Bible, and what Jesus said.

There are a couple of different words in most versions of the Bible that get translated into the word "hell." Let's take a look at what they are.

Sheol: This is a Hebrew word used often in the old testament. It means "grave" or "depths" or "the deep." The King James Version of the Bible translates this word (incorrectly, most would agree) as "hell" 31 times.

Gehenna: Jesus used the word "Gehenna" a number of times, and it is what is generally translated into "hell" in the gospels. Gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom, the Valley of Hinnom) was a real, physical place outside the southern part of Jerusalem. It was where old-time pagan religions had sacrificed their children by fire. It was used as the town dump, and was generally on fire. It was a lot of smelly, burning trash. Not the kind of place you'd want to go.

Hades: The word "Hades" is used a few times in the New Testament, and translated as "hell." It's a Greek word, derived from the the name "Pluto" (Hades), who the ancient Romans and Greeks believed was the god of the underworld, the realm of the dead. It was a pagan concept.

Besides those three terms, there is also one other interesting Biblical term that perhaps has wedged itself into our 21st-century minds in a different manner than was originally intended.

Aeon is a Greek word that is commonly translated into "eternity" in the Bible, and what we would consider "forever." But I've read that aeon also means "an age" or "the ages" or "period of time" or even "an intensity of experience." Jesus often used the phrase that could be translated as "this age" and "the coming age" or "the age to come." Does that mean "eternity, forever" the way we think of eternity? I don't know. Maybe.

Ancient Hebrew and Greek were complicated languages. Actually, it wasn't that they were necessarily more complex than our modern English -- The issue generally is that they were much simpler. Especially in Hebrew, there were many, many fewer words. Only a fraction of the number of words that we have today. So some words had multiple meanings. That's why we have issues where words like "ouranos" get translated as "heaven" or "the heavens" or "the sky." And "pneuma" gets translated as wind, spirit, or breath.

This little words study with these four words is just the tip of the iceberg. I don't have the depth of knowledge to write a term paper on the subject. I do know that it's important to question the ideas and "traditions" we have in our mind, because sometimes they can evolve over time into something they weren't meant to be. (I blame Dante. And years of bad movies involving a red, horned Devil holding a pitchfork beside flames and underground rock formations.)

For instance, one popular question that I've heard from multiple people: Does God torture and punish people eternally for finite sins?

I suppose it's in my best interests here to point out: I'm not saying I've decided that hell doesn't exist. I'm simply saying perhaps sometimes, it's a good idea to look at things from a fresh perspective. When looking at Biblical passages, it's good to know who the audience was, and what they were thinking at the time. That's tough to do.

Now: Discussion time. What do you think? Is the standard doctrine of "hell" untouchable in the church? Is any of this information even relevant? And most importantly: Was it a bad idea for me to open this can of worms?

Friday, May 27, 2011

After a Short Hiatus...

Yes, I know, it's been awhile. Your trusty unChurch blog hasn't been providing very much content and discussion over the past few months.

But don't lose hope! Something should be coming soon. We'll try to get back into writing once a month or so. There's some half-finished drafts we can dust off and polish up, plus some new things on our minds. We may be slow, but we aren't gone completely.

The kingdom of God is at hand!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why is it So Hard?

First a bit of background, then a quick story, and then to the question, "Why is it so doggone hard for a church to follow Jesus??"

My wife and I (Kendra & Joe B) have gotten deeply inolved in sharing Jesus with internet sex-performers in Eastern Europe. Pretty simple really, it's like God just shows us a person, we make friends with them, and we call them to join Jesus in his kingdom movement. In the last year we have gathered, I dunno, maybe a dozen Saints in two cities and about a dozen more curious hangers-on. Twice (Sep '10 & Jan '11) we have traveled to meet these kids face to face and to confirm them in their faith.

The Story:
Part of our work is to conect these kingdom-kids with solid believers and/or churches in their local area. I contacted the leaders of two very good churches I try to partner with in a particular city. I informed them that, for that particular week, I would be traveling without Kendra, but that I would have the assistance of Isabela, a girl who met Jesus during our travels last September. From both churches I received the helpful warning that (a) I imperil my soul by keeping company with Isabela absent my wife, and that (b) it would be frowned on in their communities if we had no chaperon. Naturally, I thanked them and made this request: "Since I am an alien and I cannot bring a chaperon, can you supply a person to accompany us? After all, it's a great opportunity to introduce Isabela to a lady who can shepherd her soul, right?"

So, what was the response? If you guessed "total silence" you guessed right! Now, let me underscore, these are fine people whom I admire and respect. I do not mock them.

Let me summarize this in an unflattering way: They all have time to condemn the mere appearance of a possible, theoretical impropriety. But, among 200 people, they could not muster a single one to satisfy their own mandate, let alone to exploit this juicy ministry opportunity. In contrast, Isabela said "Even if they must imagine I am your 'toy', I will not let you wander around my city without a translator. I am responsible for you." In essence, the pastors demonstrated they cared neither for my peril, nor for our reputation--they did their duty merely by voicing their disapproval. In American we would say  "Their asses were covered."

It was not complicated for Isabela and me...we simply resolved and agreed not to get sexual, and we did not. I didn't go in her apartment. Isa didn't go beyond the hotel lobby. No problems. Maybe it was not we who were in peril of temptation, but someone else after all?

The Question:
So help me out here...why is it so easy for churches, represented by their leaders, to gulp down camels while straining out gnats? What is the root of this deep moral confusion that infects us after we organize ourselves into church communities? In other words, why is it so difficult for churches to follow Jesus?
Joe B

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Choosing Celibacy"

So what do you think of this?

Choosing Celibacy

    ...Wesley grew up in a Southern evangelical home and family; there are no “typical” issues for his same-sex attraction; as he went through puberty he — confusingly of course — began to realize he was attracted to men and not women; he went to Wheaton; he worked as an intern in an evangelical megachurch; he is now doing a PhD in New Testament studies in the UK. He’s gay and he’s Christian and he’s celibate.

    He’s open and he’s struggling and he’s lonely and he’s accountable and he’s waiting. And his story made me empathetic with the story of those who struggle to be celibate.

    His theology is simple: he’s been washed pure in the graces of God’s forgiveness and he’s waiting for the restoration of all things. In between forgiveness and restoration he struggles.

Are churches open to this kind of thing? Are WE open to it? Or would there be an innate "fear" about it? It seems like such a simple (and Biblical) concept at first, but the topic seems to evoke a lot of issues and passions in people. Are our churches able to have a true, open discussion on the concept of sex, celibacy, and homosexuality?