Posts tagged Religion
How the Church Failed Mo


Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.
Should Christians Respect "Other" Beliefs?


Should Christians Respect "Other" Beliefs?
Last week I attended a gathering titled "The Dare Effect" with guest speaker Dilly's Brooks. This blog series are my thoughts on some of the conversations we engaged in.

Alterity is defined as "the state of being other or different". At first glance, alterity appears to be just a fact of life that we must all learn to live with. After all, our world is full of diversity. But how do we relate to this concept of "otherness" when it comes to faith and worldview? For example, Jesus declared that a connection to the Father is not possible outside of himself. In truth, Jesus has just declared that there is a gulf that separates man from God and that there is only one bridge which allows man to reconnect with God. Jesus then declares that he alone is that bridge. By default, all other bridges are faulty. In his immediate context these would have been the bridges of Platonism, Aristotelianism, Hellenism, Pharisaism, and contemporary Judaism. Jesus doesn't seem to mind that he is offending his hearers by neutering the perceived effectiveness of their systems of belief. He declares unequivocally: "No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)


So where does this leave us in the present age? In a world in which many worldviews and religions coexist? How are Jesus-followers to relate to the Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews? How are we to connect with the Marxist, Humanist, Skeptic, and Post-Modern? Do we respect their worldview? Or do we condemn it as just another faulty bridge unable to fully bridge the gap between God and man?

The question is truly not difficult to answer. All one needs to do is observe the many decades in which the church has attempted to force its belief on other cultures to realize that it never has nor will it ever work. If there is a faulty bridge that eclipses all other faulty bridges in its faultiness it is the bridge of coerced religion. If there is one thing guaranteed to not only keep man and God separated but to compound the separation it is this: religious intolerance. If the Jesus story is to penetrate the human heart one thing is clear - it cannot be forced.

However, the opposite is just as true. In our Post-Modern world tolerance has taken on a whole new meaning. What was once seen as a healthy respect for the "otherness" of another has now morphed into a type of indifference which considers the very proclamation of an alter-story the height of arrogance. In order to avoid being seen as Bible bashers many Jesus-followers embrace this hyper-tolerance and in doing so lose their sense of urgency - or even necessity - to share the Bibles redemptive alter-story. We reason that telling the story is too confronting so we stop telling it even though Jesus himself charged us to tell it.

So is there a middle ground? Is it possible to be intentional about the Jesus-story without being intolerant toward the "otherness" of the culture around us? I believe so. Here are some of the ways in which I personally approach this tension:
  1. Don't try and convert people. Just love them. It's God's responsibility to lead the conscience of man, not ours.
  2. Don't make relationships with people because you are looking for a baptism. Connect with them because you really, truly care.
  3. Seek to be with people. 
  4. Seek to understand people rather than argue with them about their beliefs. Ask them to explain their worldview to you and seek to truly enter into their world and see the world through their eyes. In other words, become an other with he who is another.
  5. Find common ground with other worldviews and celebrate those.
  6. Live out the Jesus-story in your personal life and be ready to connect others to him. Don't hide your faith. Instead, live it out in an organic and enriching way.
  7. Plant seeds. Let God water and grow them.
  8. Be prepared to teach the gospel from the Bible and to lead someone into a relationship with Jesus. Although God is the one who waters and grows the seed, he is known to use us as his watering-can.
  9. Seek God constantly for indwelling of his Spirit. Apart from him we can never hope to connect anyone to Jesus.
If we approach the religious tensions of our day this way we will find a good balance between being hyper-tolerant and intolerant. In this way we will fulfill the way of Jesus:
The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, "Follow Me." - Ellen G. White
Do you have any other ideas that can help? Share them below!



How I Handle Anti-SDA Assaults
photo credit: Anant N S (www.thelensor.tumblr.com) via photopincc


I get emails and comments every month that range from friendly to hostile. Adventists often write and thank me for this blog. Members of other denominations write and engage me in friendly debates. And of course, others (sometimes former Adventists sometimes not) write with aggressive tones, angry accusations, and hostile inquiries. I have had people email me to tell me ever so kindly that I am in a cult, that the church I love teaches heresy, that Ellen White was a false prophet, and that the SDA church has roots in freemasonry. I have had people tell me that the teachings of our church are unbiblical and built upon "the leaven of Ellen White," that I am in a "works-based religion," and countless other statements that I cannot even remember.

So how do I respond? With grace. At times this has helped turn the attacker into a friend, but there are other instances in which no amount of kindness has helped. Some people write with one goal in mind: to argue with me. They are not interested in common ground. They are not interested in appreciating my faith and having a respectful conversation. They just want to fight. But I made up my mind a long time ago that fighting about religion is immature and downright ridiculous. What's funny is when I refuse to argue but instead open an invitation to respectful and friendly dialogue these would be defenders of the truth never write back. I am left wondering, if I really was in a cult how in the world do these people expect to help me by bombarding me with hostile accusations from every possible angle? To those who like to attack my church, allow me to share with you a response I gave to one of my many assailants: "Is it possible that I am misled? Of course! But if you know the truth, you certainly are not doing a great job of wooing me toward it."

I am not surprised when people are hostile toward the SDA church. First of all, the SDA church is still relatively new in the world of Protestantism. Study the history of protestant denominations and you will see that every time a new denomination popped up the old ones were hostile toward them. As a matter of fact, SDA's are lucky when we are called a cult. Historically speaking many members of new protestant denominations were fatally persecuted by members of the older protestant denominations. "Because of the belief of opposing infant baptism and refusing to fight in wars, Anabaptists were persecuted by Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Calvinists. Hundreds to thousands of them were tortured and executed for their beliefs."* This trend continued as late as the arrival of the Methodists and Seventh Day Baptists. John Wesley encountered fierce persecution during his life, even to the point of being dragged out of his home by an angry mob that wanted to kill him. John James, a Seventh Day Baptist preacher, was martyred in 1661 for his political views. So when people call the SDA church a cult, as much as it hurts, I am thankful. I bet John James would have preferred such treatment.

At the end of the day the aggressors will always be there. There is nothing I can do about that, but as we begin this new year I would like to thank everyone who has ever dialogued with me in this blog and has done so with kindness and respect. Even when we disagree entirely it is always refreshing to talk about our differences with love. If that is you, don't stop writing me. I love to hear from you even if our faiths are polar opposites.

Wishing you all a happy new year.

Blessings,
Marcos


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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians#Early_Modern_period_.281500_to_1815.29