Archives for August 2012

What A Christian Looks Like

I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).


Yesterday I asked: What does a Christian look like? This post is my answer.


photo credit:

I feel like it would be helpful for me to state a couple of things upfront in order to locate myself in this conversation. One: I am an American. I think this is a unique context in which to attempt to live out the Christian life. These comments are influenced by my physical location. Two: I am going to set forth some ideas that I don’t always manage to live up to. I’ve said this before (in postings about being a Christian anarchist), that I believe things that I don’t follow through on. My comments in this post are what I aspire to, what I hope God will bring to fruition in me, but I often don’t manage to live them out. I readily admit that some days (maybe even most days) I don’t look like a Christian. Thinking through these things has been convicting for me (in the best way) and I see there are a lot of areas where I need to grow and change. 3: I’m sure this isn’t everything, but when I think of the core of what it means to live out the Christian life, these are the first things that come to mind; these are the things that, to me, are the most vital. 4: Often when we talk about tough things in the church there is all sorts of guilt and shame tied up into the conversation. I don’t want this conversation to come off as a guilt trip, as a “holier than thou”, or as shaming, but I understand that sometimes when hard things are brought up, those feelings do come out. I hope that if they come up for you, that you can separate out what is shame/guilt you need to let go of and what it maybe inspiration to challenge yourself.


A Christian should be showing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)


A Christian should have an allegiance to God, shown in the example of Jesus, above all else. For me this means Christian anarchy (although I understand that others don’t go that far). This means working against Empire wherever it exists, not only to oppose it but to actively stand in the way of it. I oppose nationalism in all forms. I want to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God and that often stands in opposition to how I’m expected to live as a citizen of the United States.


I believe that God has (and therefore Christians should have) a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed. Christians should be working to eliminate poverty, taking care of the poor, and opposing anything that takes advantage of or further harms those living in poverty. Being a Christian means thinking carefully and critically about money. Money might just be the most complicated part of Christianity.


I believe that Christians should work against any system that is unjust, fight against systemic injustice of all kinds, and work for peace and the end to war. They should be working for the dignity and health of all people, especially those who are oppressed.


I believe that the Christian life is best lived out in community. Community can take many forms: from living in intentional communities, to being part of a church, to having friends that walk with you in the way of Jesus that have dinner together once a week. You don’t have to belong to a church (for some folks there are no churches near them that are safe, I get that), but I do think you need to be in some sort of community. You need to be able to be encouraged and encourage, to challenge and be challenged, and that is awfully hard alone.


Along with community I think a Christian should have some kind of private spiritual practice that refreshes them and challenges them to continue to grow. I think Christians should also be studying the Bible (and the history of it).


I think that, especially in the United States, to be a Christian does mean that you will look different than those around you. I think that following God in the way of Jesus cannot help but be counter-cultural. It might mean that you refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem at sporting events. It might mean that you refuse to be a part of unjust political systems. It might mean that you are on the front lines to get arrested in the Occupy Homes movement (if you can safely afford to do so). It might mean that you treat the person asking for money on the street as a human being and look them in the eye, offer a handshake or some food. It might mean that you refuse to buy new clothing and instead wear your clothes until they are really worn, or only buy second hand, or…. The list goes on.


Most days I don’t feel worthy of the name Christian. I know I am too often selfish; I care more about my own comfort than I do about standing up for what’s right. I talk a good game about standing against Empire, but I am afraid to get arrested. I buy too much shit I don’t need and don’t give enough money away. I am too concerned with how I look and so I stand and sing the National Anthem even though I feel like I shouldn’t. This life is hard. It’s not a checklist of things we need to do in order to win God’s favor, this stuff is a response to the Good News of Jesus’ incarnation. It’s the message the world can be redeemed, that new life can spring from death. It’s the message that the Kingdom of God can be here now if only we would work for it; and the message that the Kingdom of God is here now in spite of us.


To live as a citizen of a Kingdom that is both here and yet to come is complicated. It’s messy. It certainly can’t be reduced to a checklist of things to do or things not to do. But it’s more than just a vague “do good things” and “love other people”; it’s a deep understanding that these empires should not feel comfortable to us. That the pursuit of the “American Dream” is in opposition to the dream of God.


This is a call to a difficult life: A call to consider the cost, to take up the cross, to stand in opposition to the Empire wherever it is found. It is a call to live dangerously; to know that when you question power and privilege that you make people angry, but that you need to do it anyway.


And it’s not just radical acts: it’s radical acts rooted in a deep love of God, in the way of Jesus, and love of people. It’s action fueled by contemplation; it’s serious action and serious faith. It is not perfection but striving. It’s knowing that you won’t get it right all of the time, but that it’s still worth it to try.


When I think of what a Christian looks like it’s Dorothy Day starting a hospitality house in NYC and praying the rosary in the chapel, it’s Daniel and Philip Berrigan pouring their blood over and then burning the draft files during the Vietnam war, it’s the Catholic sisters standing up to the Bishops and the Vatican, it’s Oscar Romero preaching in El Salvador, it’s Jay Bakker standing up for queer folks at the cost of his job, it’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu working for peace and healing, it’s radical acts both large and small done in the name of Jesus. And, to me, it’s a much more compelling vision than “no drinking, no swearing, no sex.” It’s something I want to be involved in more than “show up to church, give money to the church, make all your neighbors believe in Jesus.” This is the good news, there is more to life than money and fame and power and privilege and success; there is joy and love, community and friendship, peace and sharing, incarnation and resurrection.

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

What Does A Christian Look Like?

I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).


Today’s question is: What does a Christian look like?


I know this question is a dicey one. It’s one that I went back and forth on asking. In the end I am deciding to ask it in spite of it’s complicated nature. As a queer person I have often had people tell me that I can’t possibly be a Christian so I know how these questions are used to berate and belittle people. I know how the question sounds. It sounds like I am trying to draw clear boundaries around who is in and who is out. That’s not why I am raising the question.


In the tradition I grew up in, there were clear guidelines about how a Christian was supposed to look and act: no drinking (or at the very least no drunkenness), no swearing, no smoking, no pre-marital sex. In order to be a good Christian you needed to be a part of a “Bible-believing” church and attend regularly. You needed to spend time in the Bible daily and be sharing your faith with others.


I think a lot of us are familiar with that tradition. We are also familiar with the ways failing to live up to those standards caused heartache and pain. I know I suffered for years with thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that God couldn’t possibly love me because I kept screwing up. I am not interested in creating a new checklist of things one needs to do to be a “good Christian” but I do think it’s important that we raise the question of what it means to follow in the way of Jesus. I have long been of the mind that anyone who wants to claim the term “Christian” should be able to claim it for themselves, but I think that in the mainline/liberal/progressive tradition we have watered down the term “Christian” so much that now it doesn’t mean anything as far as behaviour goes. We have abandoned the checklist (which is a good thing), but there isn’t anything in its place except a general sense of “be nice” and “do good things”.


I should state that I don’t believe in eternal damnation, so when I raise this question I am not asking who gets to claim salvation or who gets to go to Heaven.


But shouldn’t those who claim to follow in the way of Jesus look different than the world around them? Shouldn’t they have different values, different allegiances? And if so, what does that look like? What does it mean to take the Jesus story and the Gospel message seriously? What does it look like to live into and work for the Kingdom of God?


Are there certain practices that we should be encouraging in Christians both on the corporate and personal level? Daily prayer, Scripture reading, being a part of a community of faith (whatever that looks like), working in the community?


If someone were to come to you and say, “How is being a Christian different than just being a good person?” what would your answer be? Are there certain behaviours that are definitely incongruent with following in the way of Jesus, and if so, what are they?


Tricky questions, I know. I’ll give my answer in post tomorrow. I would love to hear your take on whether or not you find these questions helpful and if so, what your responses are.

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Quick And Dirty Intro. To Queer Theology

Last summer I put out a call for a Queer Theology Synchroblog and in August of 2011 a great group of people participated. So it’s time for another one! The date of this year’s synchroblog is going to be October 10. On each Wednesday from now until then, I will post some reflections on Queer Theology. The official call for the synchroblog (with the theme and the instructions) will go up in a couple of Wednesdays, so keep checking back!


Here is your quick and dirty introduction to the three different forms of Queer Theology.


The first (and probably still most common) form of Queer Theology is Apologetics. From Wikipedia, “Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”) is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information.” In Queer Theology this is the art of taking apart the “clobber passages”. It looks at the Greek and Hebrew, tries to uncover the historical context, and attempts to make a Biblical case for (usually) Gay and Lesbian people.


Apologetics has been done well by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Revised and Updated: Positive Christian Response, A, John J. McNeill in The Church and the Homosexual: Fourth Edition, Jack Rogers in Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, John Shelby Spong in Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality, Justin Tanis in Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry) and in the films For The Bible Tells Me So and Fish Out of Water.


The second form of Queer Theology is what I call “Queer Exegesis and Hermeneutics”. Again, from Wikipedia: “Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξήγησις from ἐξηγεῖσθαι ‘to lead out’) is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text.”
Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other analysis includes classification of the type of literary genres present in the text, and an analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself. The terms exegesis and hermeneutics have been used interchangeably. However, hermeneutics is a more widely defined discipline of interpretation theory: hermeneutics includes the entire framework of the interpretive process, encompassing all forms of communication: written, verbal and nonverbal, while exegesis focuses primarily on the written text.”


This is the art of reading Queer stories underneath the text. This works sees trans* experience in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the book of Acts, queer love between David and Jonathan in the Hebrew Scriptures, the gender nonconformity of Jacob and his son Joseph, etc.


Queer Exegesis and Hermeneutics has been done well by Peterson Toscano, Robert Shore Goss in Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto, Patrick Cheng in From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ, and in Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible.


The third kind of Queer Theology is what I would call “Embodiment Theology”. It’s the act of making queer experience central to the text. Reading the text through a queer lens. It moves into a living relationship with the text putting it in conversation with the lived lives of queer people.


It’s what I’ve done in my Trans* Passion Narrative. It’s also been done by Marcella Althaus Reid in The Queer God.


When I think about the future of Queer Theology, I want to see us engaging more and more with categories two and three, and leaving category one behind. While Apologetics can be a vital first step for people, it’s also a place where many get stuck. It creates a conversation that is continually about Greek words, whether or not you believe in inerrancy, and arguments that go nowhere. It’s a discipline that is more about words on paper than lives lived.


When we get into exegesis and embodiment we bring our whole selves to the text. We make the text live and sing and dance. We breathe into the breathe of queerness and in so doing it gives us back our spiritual strength.


As Marcella Althaus Reid says in “The Queer God” “There are those who go to gay bars and salsa clubs with rosaries in their pockets, and who make camp chapels of their living rooms. Others enter churches with love letters hidden in their bags, because their need for God and their need for love refuse to fit into different compartments.”


Exegesis and Embodiment bring together the chapel and the salsa club, they allow our love letters to be read and answered, they allow us to enter into the Word of God with our flesh and in so doing we make the Word flesh again.


(All links go to my Amazon affiliate page. I get like $1.00 if you buy something. For a more complete history of Queer Theology, check out Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology.)

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

Ask the AR: Bibles?

Ask the Anarchist Reverend is a weekly feature here on the site. If you have a question you’d like to ask, you can send me an email (anarchistreverend at gmail), find me on twitter, or submit your question using formspring.

Today’s question: You’ve lived some radical changes between your fundamentalist upbringing and now. Out of pure curiosity, what have the Bibles of your life been, and (how) have they related to those bigger changes?


This is a fun question!

I grew up reading the New International Version (NIV) pretty exclusively. There was some KJV thrown in there, but in my home and church we used the NIV. It’s funny because my grandparents were independent fundamentalist Baptists and used only the KJV. I thought our use of the NIV showed how “progressive” we were! I remember having a paperback version of the NIV Teen Study Bible that I had highlighted and underlined.


My NIV Bible. (This isn’t my beat up study Bible, I couldn’t find that one, but is another version with my underlining.)

I also remember struggling with the Bible throughout my teenage years. I knew I was supposed to read it every day (to have a daily quiet time) and to really cherish it, but I often struggled to read it with any regularity.


When I was in high school, Eugene Peterson’s The Message Remix: The Bible In contemporary Languageparaphrase came out (or at least the Christian testament and Psalms) and I really enjoyed reading that because it was so different. It gave the words new sounds and meaning. I knew, though, that it was just a paraphrase and not to be trusted as much as my handy NIV. (Although, I still really enjoy “The Message” as something that makes you hear passages in a totally new way. I still use it.)

My “Message” Bible with either high school or college highlighting.


In college the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was all the rage for serious scholarly study. I bought a huge, leather bound version but could never really get into it. The language just left me feeling empty.


Before I continue, I want to detour for a second: I just finished reading The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal and I want to highly recommend it. It’s part short history of how the Bible came to be and part meditation on how we view the Bible. It’s a very easy read and brings up a lot of important things. I want to share a brief portion about the NIV and NASB:

“In 1959 the inerrantist Lockman Foundation enlisted a large committee to revise the American Standard Version. Twelve years later, it published the New American Standard Bible (New Testament 1963; whole Bible 1971). This form-driven, often very wooden translation quickly gained popularity over the Revised Standard Version in conservative evangelical and fundamentalist circles. It was the best-selling Bible in America in 1977, and it continues to be popular among inerrantists to this day. The following year, 1978, saw the publication of the New International Version (New Testament only in 1973), which has dominated the Bible market ever since. Like the New American Standard Bible’s translators, its large committee of biblical scholars and ministers were explicitly committed to biblical inerrancy and aimed to revise what many conservatives saw as problems with the Revised Standard Version (both, by the way, restored the virgin to Isaiah 7:14). But the more neo-evangelical leaving New International Version was dramatically different in that it moved away from word-for-word translation and toward the new functional-equivalence, or meaning-driven, approach.” (pg 143, paperback version)


I find this really interesting, as it’s clear that both of the Bible translations that were prized by my church (and my college was affiliated with my denomination) were translations that set out to prove a specific theological point. Of course, I wasn’t privy to any of this history growing up, but knowing it now certainly explains a lot.


After college, when I worked in an American Baptist church, I was introduced to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and still use that one to this day, especially when I am doing scholarly work.


This past year I have been using the new CEB Common English Thinline Bible with Apocrypha DecoTone Black (CEB) and REALLY enjoying it. I trust the translators and the translation is easy to read. This is the Bible that I am using in my quest to read through the entire Bible this year.


Now to the larger question of how each translation has related to my spiritual journey: I feel like I could talk for hours about how my relationship to the Bible has changed over the years and what it means to me now, but I’ll try to keep my remarks relatively short!


One of the things that Timothy Beal talks about in his book is the idea of the Bible as this ideal that we think will answer all of our questions and should be easy to understand. He talks about how when people read the Bible and it doesn’t answer questions or isn’t easy to understand that they get frustrated and walk away. That was definitely where I was in relation to the NIV and NASB. I thought the Bible was the inerrant Word of God meant to answer every question and to be followed to the letter (well, or most of the letter). And along with that belief also came the belief that I was hopelessly messed up and could never live up to that standard. Hell, I couldn’t even manage to make myself have a “quiet time” every day!


Reading through the portions of those Bibles that I have highlighted and underlined point to my own confusion and frustration and also my grasping to be, and do, better.


Once I left evangelicalism and fundamentalism behind, my faith got very intellectual (I’ve written about this shift before) and so it makes sense that I gravitated to the NRSV as it’s often used in churches and seminaries that prize higher criticism. And I am thankful for that time as it was necessary for me to unpack a lot of harmful theology I had internalized growing up. But still, I am thankful for my fundamentalist, evangelical upbringing because it did instill in me both a ridiculous knowledge of the Bible and a love for it. (I was able to test out of both Hebrew Scripture and New Testament knowledge courses in seminary without studying because of my upbringing!)


And now this shift to the CEB seems to fit with my shift to again reading the Bible devotionally (while also reading it as a scholar). It echoes my fusion of head and heart: knowledge and felt mystery.

My CEB bookmarked to where I left off this morning. (Yes, I am in Job. I’m a bit behind on where I should be to read the whole Bible in a year, but I am catching up!)


Learning all I have learned about the history of the Bible, historical criticism, the Jesus seminar, Roman context, etc. etc. etc. has not made me love the Bible less, instead it has made me love it more. I love it in its mystery and complexity. In its contradictions and problems. I still see it as a guide but not as an answer book. It’s like a love affair that changes and grows with time. And I am thankful to have been raised to love it in the first place.


(links go to my Amazon affiliate page. If you buy something I get like $1.00)

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My Answer: Salvation Moment

Yesterday I raised the question of whether or not a “salvation moment” is necessary. Today I want to offer my thoughts.


On the one hand, I think the idea of a “salvation moment” is one we can let go of. It’s been used in manipulative ways, used as a “get out of Hell free” card, used to separate people from each other. In those ways I think this idea of salvation as a moment is unhelpful. I also believe, like some of the commenters yesterday, that salvation is a journey: one is both saved and being saved. It’s a process.


On the other hand I think it is helpful to be able to have some markers to look back to: a moment to say, “This is when I decided to follow in the way of Jesus”. I think this is especially important for those who have grown up in the church and absorbed Christianity almost by osmosis. The ability to say, “This faith is something I have chosen for myself” is important. It also says that following in the way of Jesus should make your life look somehow different from the norms of the empire; it should point to your allegiance being in a different place.


I think the larger issue, for me, is how we do faith formation in the liberal/mainline/progressive church. Where are the signposts that our youth and young adults can look to as markers on their spiritual journey. This is, theologically, one of the issues I have with infant baptism: no one remembers their baptism! I also think that we need to be really intentional with the way that we teach confirmation and the rituals surrounding confirmation. Where are the place markers that people can look to? Where are the signposts in a spiritual journey? Do we encourage people to make note of these moments and to share them with others? I think we should. I also think we need to be reminding people that Christianity requires commitment, it is not something that can be absorbed but not lived out. It requires a change of priorities.


I struggle with my own answer to this question. I can see the undue pressure put on the “Born Again” moment in the church of my childhood, and yet I still think there is a value to making a decision to follow Jesus, even if it’s as simple as saying, “This is the faith that I was brought up in, but I now choose it for myself.”


For me I feel as if I have both chosen my faith and been chosen by it at different points in my life. I don’t place a lot of stock in my own “born again” moment at age four because I know I was praying that prayer because I was scared of Hell. That’s nothing to base a life on. I do think, though, that it was a profound moment when I chose to be baptized as a teenager, even though I was terrified to be up in front of all of those people. It felt like the right time, a time to say publicly “This is the faith I have chosen.” And there are other signposts; going to seminary, picking up my Bible again after years away, claiming my faith even as I also claimed my queerness, my ordination to the diaconate…All of these moments are important place markers. They are places to cling to when this life feels hard and isolating. They are also reminders that I have chosen to put my allegiance somewhere other than in the Empire and that I need to be living accordingly.
Following in the way of Jesus is something that I need to continue to choose. I often wander off the path and need to be nudged back toward it: in this way I am saved and ever in need of salvation. This is my complicated and dichotomous answer to this question.

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

A Salvation Moment?

I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Last week I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and then offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.” I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).

Today I want to ask about the “salvation moment.” In my church growing up there was a lot of emphasis placed upon this salvation moment. You wanted to be able to point to a particular moment when you “accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour.” Often this moment was predicated on praying a prayer “asking Jesus into your heart”. These moments were (in my experience) often the result of pressure whether in the form of an emotional altar call, a threat of Hell, or an older teen “helping” a small child to pray a prayer that he or she didn’t understand. This was also the moment that all evangelism led up to: moving someone to the moment of decision.


As I’ve left the church of my youth (and especially as I have left behind the doctrine of Hell), I have left behind the idea of a salvation moment.


I’m wondering if I/we need to revisit that idea. Is there a moment (or even moments) in our liberal/mainline/progressive experience that a person can point to and say, “This is the moment I decided to follow Jesus”? And to push it even farther, is that moment even important?


For those who grow up in the church, those who have absorbed the faith over the years, what does salvation mean? If you convert as an adult there is a clear moment (or at least trajectory) of decision. You have decided to make the way of Jesus the way you attempt to live, you have thrown in your lot with these other Christ followers, but for those who have never left the church, what does salvation mean, especially if you believe in a universal salvation?


If we understand salvation as a journey, a lifelong process, is there still a way to account for a salvation moment? Is this a question that matters to you?

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A Prayer for the Wanderers

Yesterday I released “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”. Today I want to offer a prayer for all of us who sometimes take the circuitous route, those of us who wander, who leave home and find new homes.

God of the exiles, of those who wandered for 40 years in the desert, of those who have no place to lay their heads. God of the seekers and dreamers, the disaffected and disillusioned, the worn out and burnt out, the rejected and leavers…

We ask for blessings as we travel, as we doubt, as we meander.
We ask for the grace to leave when necessary, to come home when we can, to create new homes when we need to.
We ask for protection of our souls from those who don’t understand, who judge, who mock.
We ask for the fortitude to undertake the journey even when it’s scary (or, maybe, especially when it’s scary).

We know that as we wander we are not alone and as Tolkien says that “Not all who wander are lost”. We know that sometimes we have to leave the confines of what we knew to see the truth, to hear Your voice, to find out what to do next.

We pray you lead us where we need to go, by whatever route it takes. We pray for new ways to see You, to understand new ways of being in the world. We pray for healing and for redemption, and, where possible, reconciliation.

We pray for all of this so we can know wholeness, know our bodies, know each other, know You. So we can be found.




And to play you out today, a beautiful song by Philip Phillips called “Home”.

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found


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Ask the AR: Why Be Catholic?

Ask the Anarchist Reverend is a weekly feature here on the site. If you have a question you’d like to ask, you can send me an email (anarchistreverend at gmail), find me on twitter, or submit your question using formspring.

Today’s question: Why be Catholic?

a photo of the altar in my room


This is an interesting question for me to answer. I have been struck recently by how much separation there seems to be between people who say they are Christian and people who say they are Catholic. I don’t feel this separation in myself. For me, Catholicism is the outward tradition that most resonates with my faith. 


I have long been drawn to Catholic tradition: the mystery of it, the ritual, the solemnity. I have been drawn to Catholic thinkers: Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton. It’s the first tradition I have found that both honors and encourages both contemplation and activism.


For years, though, I thought Catholicism wasn’t for me. I was born and raised an adamant Protestant. People in my community taught that Catholics weren’t Christians. When I realized that the information I had been given was false, there were still other barriers. I felt called to the ministry, but there was no way I could be ordained in the Catholic church. I didn’t agree with church hierarchy, the Roman church’s views on women, queer people, etc. etc. etc.


Then I was introduced to the Old Catholics. Catholic in tradition but progressive in thinking. Here is a church that fuses together all of the things I find meaningful. Here is a church that wants to ordain me, as I am. Here is a church that I feel is doing exciting things in the world, things I want to be a part of. This is a church I feel I can be useful in. I feel my gifts will be used even as I am challenged to learn and grow.


Catholicism is the form of Christianity that works for me. But above anything else, I am a Christian first. My allegiance is to God and Christ above all. I find that I feel Catholic expression of my faith makes the most sense to me.


I’ve also reflected on this here and here.

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This Is Why I Am A Christian

Yesterday I asked for people to answer the question “Why am I a Christian?” This is my reflection on and answer to that question:


I remain a Christian for a reason. Certainly, as a queer person, it would be easier to not be a part of the church. It would be easier to write all of this off. But my theology means something to me. It sustains me and gives me strength. It also challenges me to be and do better.


I believe that there is something life giving in the Christian story. There are themes of liberation and justice throughout the Scripture, there is a story of a God who is intimately involved with God’s own creation.


There is the incarnation. The story of God becoming human: the story that tells us both our bodies and our spirits have worth and are holy.


I find meaning in Jesus a man who was so wholly in touch with his own divinity and so wholly human. He teaches me that I can find the spirit of God in myself. I believe that Jesus tells us something important about God and what God is like.


I see in Jesus’ story an example of fighting nonviolently against the empire, his vision of a new world where there will be justice and that we can have that world now if we would all work for it. I see an example of what it means to put a higher law over and above states and governments. I see a vision of what the world could be like and strength to work for that world.


I see in the ministry of Jesus those on the margins being brought to the center, those who have been silenced given voice, those who have been shunned given hope and comfort.


I believe that in the story of the crucifixion and resurrection we learn something deep and important about justice, renewal, and new life. That we also learn something vital about bodies and scars.


I believe that concepts like sin and redemption have meaning. That there is both systemic sin and personal sin and that we can find salvation from both. I realize that I am not always a nice or good person. That I don’t always want to help other people and that I can be selfish. But in this Christian story I can see a call to do and to be better and I find a hope that with God’s help I can.


I am Christian because in spite of all of the evil done by the church, in the name of God, I still see beauty in this story. I see a vision for a world where those things don’t happen. I see a vision for a new heaven and a new earth: not in an otherworldly way but here and now, that the kingdom of God is within and among us.


I am a Christian because I want desperately to follow in the way of Christ. And I am a Christian because even though I so often don’t follow in that way I believe that there is grace and forgiveness and the ability to start again.


These aren’t doctrinal statements, these are the core of my heart. Articulating your theology doesn’t mean that everyone else is wrong. It doesn’t mean that this is where I’ll land forever, that I have it all figured out. But it does mean that I see there is something in this story and I want to be a part of it. I choose THIS story to be the one that gives guidance and meaning to my life because I believe it shows me certain truths about myself and the world.


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Why Christianity?

I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. I want to shift the conversation a bit and start to talk about a way forward.


I want to start with a question to those of you who indentify as liberal/progressive and as a Christian. Why are you a Christian?


I plan to answer this fully tomorrow, but for today I want to focus on why I think this question matters. I think the question is important. I have always been more concerned with praxis than with theory.  I want to know how things are lived out in the world rather than our ideas about them. I’m not looking for doctrinal positions or creedal statements, I am looking for people who are able to tell me why they believe what they believe.


I don’t think we’re very good at articulating this and it’s a problem because if we can’t answer this very basic question, then why should anyone listen to anything else that we have to say? I often hear Christianity in the mainline/liberal/progressive tradition reduced to being a good and nice person, to doing good things, to loving people. And all of that is important, but lots of people are good and nice, lots of people do good things and love others. Those things are not uniquely Christian. And yet, if we claim this name then there must be something unique about who it is that we are. In our efforts to increase plurality (which I think are vital and good) we’ve lost the ability for specificity. And I think this is why we’re dying. If there is nothing different about being a Christian, why would anyone choose this?


We’re having an identity crisis in that we no longer have an identity that separates us out. In a world where there are many religions to choose from or the ability to choose no religion at all why do you remain a Christian? With the ugly history of Christianity, with prophets, pastors, and popes who have done awful things in the name of Christ and God; with the religious right and Fred Phelps and Mark Driscoll claiming to speak for God, why do you remain a Christian?


Our inability (or our refusal) to answer this question means that those who proclaim Christianity the loudest (Fred Phelps, Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, etc.) get to define what it means and we’ve allowed that to happen. We say that we’re just not “in your face” about our religion, that we don’t want to proselytize, that we prefer to live out our faith quietly. I get that. But in our attempt to not be the screaming of the religious right we’ve become a kind of watered down left filled with platitudes and vague warm feelings. That doesn’t cut it for me anymore. And I have a feeling that it doesn’t cut it for a lot of other people either.


I want to know why you’re in this faith. I want to know why you remain a Christian? Why does it matter?


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