I recommend the entire article, but this part is especially worth quoting.

Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.

This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they missed out.

That’s why we miss out.

According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (John 8:36), love rather than ritual (Mark 12:30-33) and peace rather than guilt (John 14:27). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and frees us to cut loose and celebrate.

I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness. So God wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness. And grace.

"It Doesn’t Mean You’re A Bad Person"

Back in October, I wrote about a dinner debate I had with two friends over the definition of the word “Christian.”  There was one moment in that conversation that has continued to play in my mind.

As I wrote in my earlier article:

Her definition of the word “Christian” corresponds with what the Episcopal Biblical scholar Marcus Borg defines as the “heaven and hell framework.”  Man is born in a state of original sin (thanks to Eve and that apple), but God sacrificed his son Jesus on the cross in order that those who believe in him shall have eternal life in heaven.

While I have often been excited by the teachings and stories about Jesus and found great meaning in the symbolism of the resurrection, I come up against a brick wall when confronted with the idea that only those from a Christian background have access to salvation.

After a fruitful discussion of some of the writings about Jesus that have informed and inspired me, and how my understanding of their meanings varied from my Baptist friend’s theology, my friend concluded that I could not be considered to be a “Christian” if I interpreted the story of Jesus in this framework.

The other friend at the table at this point said, “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or anything.”

This is the part of the conversation I keep thinking about.

My first reaction, of course, was to wonder why someone would assume that I would ever think that my own religious point of view made me a bad person.  If I did, wouldn’t I believe something else?

Whether my working hypothesis about the nature of the world and our place in it is labeled Christian or not Christian does not change anything.  It certainly doesn’t change my sense of my own morality.

What is interesting about “It doesn’t make you a bad person” is that its text belies its meaning.  It says that the speaker equates being a Christian with being a good person. 

If someone were to say this to someone of a different faith, say a Muslim or a Jew, would it not be perceived as, at best, insensitive?  Imagine the kind of hot water a politician would get into for saying to a Muslim, “You’re not Christian but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”

Beyond that, there are quite a few atheists out there who not only think that their point of view is more rational but also more moral than that of Christians.  It is hard to imagine them saying, “You’re not an atheist, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.”

Being able to say something like this means that you feel confident that you hold the socially dominant point of view.  That your assumption is society’s default assumption.

The conversation with my friend about the requirement to accept Jesus to enter heaven ended, as it had to, with a friendly acknowledgement of our differences. 

Later, though, I had to wonder.  If you do not think that my difference in belief makes me a bad person why would you have me damned to hell for it?

"

I am convinced that much of the strongly negative attitude toward homosexuality on the part of some Christians has arisen because, in addition to whatever nonreligious homophobic reasons may be involved, homosexuality is seen (often unconsciously) as a purity issue. For these Christians, there’s something “dirty” about it, boundaries are being crossed, things are being put together that do not belong together, and so forth. Indeed, homosexuality was a purity issue in ancient Judaism. The prohibition against it is found in the purity laws of the book of Leviticus. It seems to me that the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code’s perception of homosexuality. Homosexual behavior should therefore be evaluated by the same criteria as heterosexual behavior. It also seems to me that the passage in which Paul negates the other central polarities of his world also means, “In Christ, there is neither straight nor gay.”

Granted, Paul didn’t say that, but the logic of “life in the Spirit” and the ethos of compassion imply it.

"

— Borg, Marcus J. (2009-03-17). Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (p. 59). Harper Collins, Inc.

"If we ask: ‘Why ought I to be unselfish?’ and you reply ‘Because it is good for society,’ we may then ask, ‘Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?’ and then you will have to say, ‘Because you ought to be unselfish’—which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further. If a man asked what was the point of playing football, it would not be much good saying ‘in order to score goals’, for trying to score goals is the game itself, not the reason for the game, and you would really only be saying that football was football—which is true, but not worth saying…Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing—a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves. And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact. It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behaviour, and yet quite definitely real—a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us."

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"In all the ages the Roman Church has owned slaves, bought and sold slaves, authorized and encouraged her children to trade in them. Long after some Christian peoples had freed their slaves the Church still held on to hers. If any could know, to absolute certainty, that all this was right, and according to God’s will and desire, surely it was she, since she was God’s specially appointed representative in the earth and sole authorized and infallible expounder of his Bible. There were the texts; there was no mistaking their meaning; she was right, she was doing in this thing what the Bible had mapped out for her to do. So unassailable was her position that in all the centuries she had no word to say against human slavery. Yet now at last, in our immediate day, we hear a Pope saying slave trading is wrong, and we see him sending an expedition to Africa to stop it. The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession — and take the credit of the correction. As she will presently do in this instance."

— Mark Twain

"

I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money—the one you have almost forgotten—came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done—well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it—and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?

For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves. These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

"

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?’ But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did—if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did? There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house."

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"

Zondervan’s NIV Study Bible, which boasts more than twenty thousand notes. Nearly half of this Bible is “supplemental.” Some of the added material offers to help readers delve deeper into the biblical text itself, providing information about historical contexts, or alternative translations of the original Greek or Hebrew. More often, however, the intention is not to encourage readers to interpret for themselves but to interpret for them, to control meaning, dispelling doubts and questions and directing readers toward specific conclusions…

Often these values-adding editorial controls focus on texts that could have something to do with present-day hot-button issues…Take, for example, the small handful of biblical passages usually cited in discussions about homosexuality. The popular cultural assumption is that the Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is an abominable sin. Biblical literature itself, however, is not so clear. In fact, it has very little explicitly to offer by way of moral teaching or legislation on matters of sexuality, let alone homosexuality, and what it does have to say does not speak directly to the issue as it appears in contemporary society…

In the New Testament, Jesus has nothing to say about homosexuality and very, very little to say about sexuality in general. Paul’s letters do disparage some specific male-male sexual practices common in the larger Greco-Roman society (e.g., pederasty, or sexual “mentoring” of young men by older men, and soliciting young male prostitutes). But Paul never condemns consensual same-sex relations between adults. That’s not to say that if Paul were time-machined to the present he would be an advocate of gay marriage. It is to say that one can—and many do—interpret the Bible in ways that are supportive of homosexual unions and gay rights. The simple fact is that the Christian Scriptures are not clear on this issue. It is a matter of biblical interpretation and ethical reflection in which faithful Christians can and do disagree…Yet the supplemental features in many Bibles, especially those marketed to teens, make much ado about the “biblical view” of homosexuality—that is, “what God says” about it in the Bible.

"

— Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible

It is a favorite talking point that the Government should protect the sanctity of this or that, such as the Sanctity of Marriage. This means that the Government should prevent gay marriage, in effect, to ward off God’s wrath, i.e. Sodom. So, I got to thinking. What if we forced the Government to protect the Sanctity of Compassion?

John Shore – a straight blogger who shows tremendous love to the gay Christian community – has a great perspective on Hinkle’s dilemma:

While Hinkle’s closeted homosexuality may not be sufficient cause for all this horrendousness, it is, I believe, a necessary condition for it. The shameful behavior for which Hinkle is certainly culpable grew from a shame for which he is certainly not. That shame—the great, burning inner shame that every gay and lesbian person is forced to overcome if he or she is ever to claim for themselves the same righteous pride of self that straight people so easily accept as their birthright—should be the shame of everyone who is not today working toward full LGBT acceptance and affirmation. And that holds especially true for Christians, who for far too long have used the Good News of the Gospels to bring nothing but terrible news to homosexuals, who, just like them, want nothing more, and nothing less, than to be loved for who they are.