The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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The Allure of a Foul Mouth: Curse Words and the Church

imgres-3These days it seems like everybody uses curse words. Although those that monitor the usage of these words in the media call for censorship, they allow just the right amount of letters to slip out of the bleep so that the intended audience can have some idea what the word is supposed to be. This type of censorship reflects the attitude of the culture that it’s in. If a large amount of those that live within the culture were bothered by the usage of these words then the censorship committees would be hard-press not to bleep them completely, or better yet, rework the dialogue so that there wouldn’t be a need for bleeping.

The existence of a censoring committee is evidence that a large part of the audience is concerned about words. The committee would not have existed and any attempts to create one would have been strongly protested if a large majority of the audience was fiercely against it. The majority of the audience is not anticensorship and if they are, they are not passionate in their conviction. However, over time it seems that the committee has become more lenient in what it allows. The partial bleeping of certain words and the removal of some from the bleeping list–that is to say they are not curse words, or that they are acceptable curse words–are indications of the progressive leniency of the committee. It is only able to do so because a lenient audience allows it.

In its day to day interactions the audience uses a vast array of curse words. A curse word is used when one wants to degrade another, to express anger when something goes awry, or as an adjective in a sentence. It seems like there is no end to the type of ways curse words can be use. It has gotten to the point that if you don’t curse you stand out as an anomaly. The reason that this is possible is because the underlying drive that pushed not only the explosion of curse word usage, but nudity and the telling of what use to be classified as “private business,” is the self-expression mentality.

The mentality goes beyond simply being yourself. It’s about allowing the world to see who you are without care for what is considered right and wrong, no sense of morality. Everyone reveals things about themselves to some degree. It’s natural. However, this mentality allows for the extreme: the revealing of everything without care for the opinions of anybody else. It allows for rebellion to be glorified and to be viewed as how things ought to be.

What happened over time is that the mentality has also grabbed hold of most of those that it initially was reacting against. So now it’s not really a reaction, its a norm. Part of the norm is the constant use of curse words. It is in this environment that the Christian is found. Lo and behold curse words are heard more than ever on the lips of Jesus’ followers. Is it for the better or the worst? It’s easy to get an answer within the confines of a faith community. But how do young Christians sort their way through this complex environment?

The existence of a faith community entails not only that those within hold to the same beliefs but that those beliefs are reflected in their lifestyles. There are Christians that don’t curse. This does not mean that they’ve never said a curse word. It means that they rarely curse. They hold to the view that using foul language is wrong so they don’t use it. They tend to be more cautious with what they say and therefore choose their words carefully. They are viewed as anomalies for their rejection of the everything goes communication system.

There are Christians that curse. Some of these don’t want to do it and are struggling. Others are not really concern with stopping and feel that it’s completely acceptable if they use some choice words here and there to get their point across. Making the distinction between those that are struggling and those that don’t care is important because Christianity recognizes the inward struggle of the believer between what is right and wrong. Whereas foul language may be an issue for one, it’s not necessarily an issue for another. The one that it is not an issue for shouldn’t feel superior.

The Christian can’t allow cultural environment to alter classification on what is right and wrong without significant thought. Whereas on one hand the culture applauds those that mingle Christian views with itself, it is quick to identify certain behaviors as unfitting for those who profess Christianity. One of those behaviors is cursing. If you were to ask non-Christians: do Christians curse? They would say yes. If you were to ask them: should they be cursing? They would probably answer no.

The reason that a Christian should not curse can’t be base on wether or not the culture thinks so. It should be base on the meaning, the impact, and the intent behind the usage of the word. If this concept is difficult to understand it is because there exist a lack of exposure to biblical teachings on speaking. The teachings speak against the anything goes approach. Perhaps this is the reason why they do not receive sufficient attention. This automatically puts Christians at odds with their surroundings. They are then face with conforming to the biblical stance or going the way of all the earth.

How do we help young Christians? We need to teach them what the Bible says about speaking. Adults need to be aware of their speech. There is a dual effect when teaching and living flow together, They shouldn’t only be told about it, but they should see it. Perhaps part of the failure may be that a large amount of Christian adults are now cursing and so those that come after are simply following in their footsteps. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The allure of the foul mouth will keep calling. This contra-Christian, rebellious, mystical way of being will attempt to sink its teeth on any Christian who dare to stare longingly. It’s time to show the better way of communicating. One in which countless neglected words in our languages are use to communicate effectively.

 

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Ecclesiastical Elitist

From without, the church is often viewed as a fortress inhabited by arrogant and socially awkward laymen guarding the gate from attacks and candidates deemed unfavorable. From within, some of those supposing they are spiritually strong embark on everlasting campaigns in which they continuously bombard others with fire and brim-stone diatribes. Newcomers are perplex in their attempts to navigate through an ocean of unknown faces and sea monsters. Perhaps they are looking for a welcoming smile, but they are often greeted with a stern look and handled like surgical waste. Among the many that have been within for awhile, those who are not class amidst the ranks of biblical elites are treated as pseudo-humans, slaves to be commanded concerning when to turn to the right or to the left.

Unsuspected by some who are called to lead, certain fractions within organized ecclesiastical institutions seems to long for them to don the totalitarian regalia of the medieval church. Control is the top priority in the agenda and character modification is the policy being advocated as the means to that end. Heart transformation is of little importance, though it is the victim of much lip service. Waiting for the Spirit to mold and develop at His pace and concerning what He deems  of primal importance is considered too exhausting. Instead, mortal minds are ever developing and modifying techniques to hasten themselves and others to their perception of godliness. Thus, it can be said by the elitist  to the lowly, “you are godly, if you do what you’re told.” This creates a mechanical religion that paralyzes the soul.

Wrongs are not always intentional, but wrongs that are derivatives of malice–the desire to do harm–are. Is it that we, the church, have adjudicated our purpose as being the formation of ecclesiastical zombies by any means? Continuing down this trajectory, whether we intended to commence it or not, will result in a major scandal that will paint us as hypocrites. These are not the kind of brushstrokes we long for. Now is the time to acknowledge the wrong and seek correction. When a Christian realizes he/she is wrong and desire a change, that’s the first step. When wrongs are recognized, it is up to the so-called “repentant” one, the one responsible for the harm, to alleviate the suffering or suspend from acts that causes it. That’s the second step.

The mistreatment of those who are of lesser biblical knowledge by some in the church is wrong. However, it is not a recent anomaly. The indoctrinating process–which, despite the vicious ring to it, is enlightening and necessary–is not done in a shepherd-like manner. Instead cattle herders push their intended victims through a proof-texting labyrinth. Seems harsh? Well, it is.

Criticizing a system is not wrong. Yet, it is only one half of the solution. The critic indicates that you’ve located an area, or several,  for which improvement is necessary. Well, how should we go about correcting this area?

A Different Way of Fighting: Verbal Attacks in the Church

Patada
Image via Wikipedia

On the street corner, conflicts are resolved with the throwing of knuckles, the quick slashes of a knife, or the rapid fire of a gun. There is always the potential that they can be handled that way in the church, but that is the exception rather than the norm. Physical violence, as an approach to conflict resolution, is often avoided because of the damage that it will cost to one’s public image. Therefore, even though one would prefer to handle an issue through violent means, it rarely happens.

A different method of dealing with conflicts is more dominant. Instead of violently taking down an opponent, it has become the norm to use cleverly selected phrases. There are two results: (1) the first is that the attack has the duo effect of not seeming to be an attack, when in fact it is; (2) the second is that one gets to avoid the public disgrace of reacting violently in a physical manner. Perhaps some further elaboration will make matters a bit clearer.

When offended individuals decides to use phrases as a means of attack, they intend for the message to be communicated. If that wasn’t the case then there is no point in utilizing that method. However, they also don’t want to be seen as being too direct. Being too direct will result in bad press. To correct this problem, they carefully word their phrases in a manner that gives the listeners enough evidence to make assumptions concerning what (and of whom) they are speaking about, and at the same time, leave enough room for doubt. It’s a balancing act.

Using a non-physical assault is more “civilized,” at least that’s what we tend to think. In fact, most would probably lift it to a higher standard, such as: “the method of the intellectuals.” Somehow many assume that we are better Christians, or perhaps, not as bad as others, if we don’t use physical violence. Our sinner’s rating scale reveals that it’s o.k. to attack somebody verbally but not physically.

Where has this gotten the members of the church? Years of endless hatred between families. At times the hatred is so evident that one may be fair in concluding that perhaps we think that it is o.k. to continue existing like this because God has approve our hatred. The most absurd thing is that we think that we are so clever that other members of the church don’t realize what is going on, especially the youth–who, if they haven’t already, will most likely do the same thing.

It has also made us very prideful. The more that we cleverly mask our phrases to launch attacks, the better we get at it, and the better we get at it, the more we think that we are smarter than everybody else. If a person who is trying to live a godly life still has to watch out for pride, imagine one who revels in the fact that he/she has just assaulted an enemy through the use of words. The very fact that that individual finds it o.k. to use the verbal attack makes it difficult for he/she to then turn around and confess the wrongness of the act. How can they be convinced that pride is something to be shunned when the act that is being committed leads to it? They won’t be worried about pride. Their satisfaction concerning their verbal achievement will be more important to them than pride.

Talking bad about people has been preached on, however, I’ve yet to hear a sermon that goes into detail concerning the various tactics that are used to launch verbal assaults. I truly believe that if the topic is brought to the forefront, some will continue it (as is the norm whenever admonitions are given) and others will cease to do so either because their secret is out, or they never sat down and reflected on the implications of their actions. The problem is that most sermons only go surface deep when commenting upon real life issues. The nail is rarely hit on the head.

Maybe I should not have said anything about this. It seems that there is a large fraction of the church that is fine with the way things are and would like to continue in that direction. However, for the few who dare to think that there is a greater ideal for the church, then this is another deficiency that needs to be reflected on, and with the help of the divine, overcome. Being content with disease will only result in the eradication of the one infected.

Ecclesiology: Introductory Thoughts About the Church

For as long as I can remember I have always been a part of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Initially it was because I was born into an Adventist family. I didn’t really become an Adventist until I decided to get baptized. Baptism was my way of saying publicly that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior, and that I believe the Adventist church has a more accurate interpretation of scripture then the other Christian denominations.

For a few days now I’ve been attending a program at my church on the Holy Spirit. The objective, as I understand it, is to present a biblical perspective on the identity and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is special emphasis given to His dealings with us, individually, and the church community at large. I’ve come away from these meetings thinking of what our actions and words as members of the church really say about our thoughts on the nature and mission of the church. Though these meetings are the catalysts for this post, they are not the beginning of my reflections on the church.

My reflections came as a result of various sermons and statements made on the exaltation of one or a group over the other members of the faith community. Now there is truth in saying that God exalts persons over their enemies, whether they be in the church or not. However, I get the impression that most of these statements are driven more from feelings of hatred because of wrongs done. A spirit of division seems to anchor itself in us and as a result we become determine to prophesy of our ascension over the entire church even though God didn’t send us. In creole a major phrase that gives voice to these feelings is, “Bondye mete m ‘sou moun,” (translation, “God put me over people”).

Hatred for others is sanctified and deemed acceptable as long as we structure our statements to emphasize God’s uplifting of ourselves. To some extent it is not our fault because that’s what we were taught to understand. On the other hand we have a responsibility to seek after the realization of Jesus’ prayer for the church in John 17. Unity must be emphasized unless it is spiritually damaging to do so. Of course we will not admit that most of the time the motivation for which we say these things is because of hatred, but our refusal to find unifying means by which to resolve conflict is indicative of our beliefs. Actions speaks louder then words.

The criticism stated above reveals two things. Either we are blindsided by the frustration that conflicts bring and thus our minds narrow in to selfish resolutions, or we don’t know what the Bible says about the nature and mission of the church. A third possible option is that we have rejected what the Bible says. If this is the case we need to really consider why we have joined the church.

These cherished ideas are the progenitors of some of the clicks that are form within churches. Division in of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In a community some will be closer to a set of people then others. This happens even in families. However this closeness should not be a dwelling place for anti-others sentiments. We should never allow our friendships to be a centre for character assassination. Division should serve as an enhancement to the community.

The church will fail in its mission if it doesn’t understand how it should exist. There will and must be a struggle in our attempts to align with the biblical model of what the church should be. In return the struggle will strengthen us as a community and reinforce our belief in the surety of the Word of God. For if the church can’t and doesn’t desire to unite as a body then it can’t exist as intended. The church will always exist, but if we wrestle against God we may not be a part of it.

Why Do Young People Leave the Church?

Image at: http://www.kingdomsound.org/

Recently someone I know asked for some reasons why young people leave the church. Initially I wasn’t going to answer because I thought that those type of questions often bring one sided responses from young people, responses that only show them as victims. However, I decided that the question was important and merited serious considerations. I hope to present here four reasons why I think that young people leave the church.

It is not comprehensive because I can’t presume to know all the reasons. This is a reflection on why black youths in the Seventh-day Adventist church leaves.

1. Not Interested

One of the reasons that is usually ignored by young people when they are asked to state their opinion on this question is that some of the young people that leave are simply not interested in the God of the Bible and the lifestyle that He is calling them to lead. This is one of the most neglected reasons. Some young people are simply not interested in church. Nobody chased them out, they just prefer the lifestyle that non-religious people are living.

2. Frustration with how the Church Function

A second reason is that some young people didn’t like how a particular church functioned and so they started going around visiting other churches. They never found what they were looking for. It wasn’t their intention to leave but eventually that’s what they ended up doing. They lost interest after a prolonged period of instability. It is important to note that not everyone who leaves the church made a conscious decision to stop going. Most of the time people leave after slowly moving away from fundamental spiritual practices–prayer, Bible study, etc.

3. Bad Reputation

A third reason is because of the shame or ill reputation that some of them gain from bad actions. Some young people commit mistakes, others live a lifestyle that is contrary to the practices of the faith they claim. I emphasize the difference because some young people really try to do what’s right, but since they are imperfect they make mistakes–I’m using mistake here to indicate that they are not living a lifestyle contrary to scripture, they just slipped. Some of these mistakes can be very bad. Others are just on the membership listing of the church but can careless about what God wants.

In either case what usually happens is that once something goes wrong then they are viewed as “children of darkness.” Of course once you are classified as such it’s hard to make a comeback. The pressure of being classified as spiritually worthless drives some of them away. They don’t feel as if there is a place for them in the congregation.

4. They Crave Relationship

A fourth reason young people leave the church is because of the church’s emphasis on “right doing” over “relationship.” These young people feel as if the members of the church don’t care about knowing them but care about judging their actions. They feel as if they are under a microscope all the time and nobody cares about the real them, so they decided that they had enough.

Your Turn

What are some other reasons why you think young people leave the church? How can we resolve these problems?

The Resurrection of a Son of Man

Ted Haggard image by the Daily News

Ted Haggard, former pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church who was fired due to his “tour de force” with a male prostitute, has shocked the world once more by announcing his intent to return to ministry. This time, Haggard wants to start a non-denominational church at his home. He is reported as saying, “This is my resurrection day.” Quite a bold declaration for a man whose image receives heavy airtime on the internet within the confines of articles mocking his sexual exploits.

Even with his wife by his side during his announcement on Wednesday, Haggard still could not bring forth the pomp and splendor that is associated with what a Christian would call a “resurrection.” What will become of this endeavor? Only time will tell. What I do find disturbing concerning Haggard’s announcement, based on the reporting of it, is that he only mentions God in reference to how a marriage should be, but not as the one who called him back to ministry, or the one who helped him get his life together (Associated Press). In fairness, this analysis may be incorrect due to the fact that the media does not always report all that is said.

Haggard’s return to ministry is not the end of the world. Nor is the very idea of it occurring with success, an impossibility. After all, the Christian Bible is replete with tales of sordid actions pose by men of God who were able to move in the right direction after those events–i.e. Abraham, Samson, and David. The history of a man is best understood after the fact. Unless there are recent incriminating statements or actions by Haggard, commentaries criticizing his intent and likelihood of success are premature. I have never been a supporter of Haggard’s eisegetical use of the Bible, but I’m willing to see what he does this time around. It is better to be judge for what one does then for what one might do.

Faith commentators will be quick to note Haggard’s failure, allegedly, to integrate Christ in his news conference. Anyone who seeks to re-enter the Christian faith world after a devastating scandal needs to acknowledge complete reliance on the God of the faith. I have yet to see this from Haggard and my skepticism concerning his preparedness is especially based on this.

That being said, Haggard should be conscious of the fact that his actions tarnished his image to the point where he is not recognized as one capable of being a spiritual leader. Measures must be taken to prevent even the similitude of back tracking to his former ways. The fact that his new church will be open to all–even homosexuals, with an emphasis on “broken people,” creates a paradoxical environment. However, in an ecclesiastical institution, that is and must be, the norm.

*The image of Ted Haggard on the front page and above this article is taken from here.