Posted 5/15/12 at 10:59 AM | Michael McNichols
In reading Luke chapter nine this morning, I was struck by the way Jesus seemed to play a bit fast and loose with the qualifications for joining him in his work. We know that the twelve disciples were pretty sketchy in their understanding of who Jesus was and what he was up to, yet they were sent out in his authority to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. And Jesus sent them out unsupervised!
On top of that, when he was told that someone was out there casting out demons but not as part of the group of disciples, Jesus told his friends that it was okay: If a person isn’t against you, he says, then consider yourselves on the same team.
But what if (I am thinking to myself) that other person doesn’t think rightly about things we consider to be important? James might be wondering, “What if that person thinks that Samaritans are just as good as Jews?” John might ask, “What if that person is like the Sadducees, and doesn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead?” Peter could be asking, “But what if that person hasn’t given up everything like we have?” If the disciples were to have asked Jesus these kinds of questions, there’s a good chance he would have answered them like he answered Peter much later, described in John 21:22: FULL POST
Posted 5/3/12 at 11:12 AM | Michael McNichols
I’ve been reading various blog comments regarding Christianity on a number of sites. I find myself perplexed and bothered by the vitriolic responses by some non-religious folks who find the Christian faith to be stupid, violent, evil, repulsive, and dangerous (one commenter even offered the hope that a certain high-profile TV preacher would be “taken out” by some disillusioned parishioner).
One thing I notice is that much of the angry comments are crafted around a lot of popular distortions of Christian faith—including some distortions maintained by Christians themselves. On occasion I read critiques against Christians by atheists and am somewhat disturbed that I don’t entirely disagree with them. It is rare to see a religious skeptic taking issue with legitimate biblical scholars or theologians. The kind of reasonable reflection that comes from some of those Christians in the academic world is not typically the fuel that lights up the commentator’s fires. Most of the attack is on popular religion and too much of it reeks of deep hatred and even violence.
I worry about this. I don’t mind that some people find Christians to be irrelevant or mistaken—that’s been going on for a couple of thousand years. But I am concerned when the blogosphere carries comments and declarations suggesting that a purging of Christianity from society would be the balm that soothes the wounds of the nation (although people like the Emperor Nero and Adolf Hitler thought the same thing). FULL POST
Posted 5/2/12 at 11:51 AM | Michael McNichols
Rachel Held Evans’ recent campaign to get her publisher to allow the word vagina to remain in her upcoming book was not only funny, but also successful. She correctly describes the concerns and fears of editors and publishers that the use of certain words will offend their popular Christian readership and diminish book sales. Rachel rightly calls for that to change.
But it probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. Publishers of popular Christian books seem to view their audience as ones who don’t want to read things that go too deep, ask too many uncomfortable questions, contain violence, or use offensive language. A visit to one of the few remaining Christian bookstores will offer evidence of the literary Pablum that people seem to want to slurp.
However, I don’t think our publishing friends give their audiences enough credit. I’m not saying that everything has to be heavy-duty academic stuff, but the history of Christianity is hardly bereft of weighty writings or scandalous stories. The first three hundred years of the church alone produced volumes of serious theological thought that still line the shelves of academicians today. FULL POST
Posted 4/29/12 at 7:54 PM | Michael McNichols
I just finished reading Dr. Richard Peace's new book, Noticing God. Here is my review.
The title of this book--Noticing God--suggests something astonishing to the average reader: That God is everywhere, and noticing him is a possibility.
Dr. Richard Peace takes a slippery and often miscommunicated topic--the awareness of God's presence and actions in the world--and makes it accessible, reasonable, and hopeful. While there are familiar tours through some classical spiritual disciplines and practices, Dr. Peace also recognizes that God sometimes appears to people in some very ordinary places, such as quiet voices, dreams, worship, and community.
This is no muddled journey through pantheism or foggy mysticism, but rather an embrace of the story of God's engagement with human beings through the narrative of Scripture, the accounts of saints throughout the ages, and experiences of contemporary pilgrims. Dr. Peace confesses his own cautions and concerns about claims made by some people (cautions and concerns that I share as well), and in doing so gives the reader permission to hold loosely to assertions about things God might or might not be doing in the world, and offers tools for processes of discernment within the Christian community. FULL POST
Posted 4/27/12 at 11:00 AM | Michael McNichols
Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent speech at Georgetown University seems to have caused some of his Catholic brothers and sisters to take issue with Ryan’s budget proposal, viewing it as incompatible with Catholic teachings, especially in relation to care for the poor.
This brings up an interesting set of questions: Does the so-called “Separation of Church and State” doctrine prohibit such connections in the first place? Doesn’t that doctrine make the influences of any religious group unwelcome when it comes to the affairs of state? What is the church’s relationship to the state when it comes to topics like this?
First, as I understand it, the idea of separating church from the state was intended to prohibit the government from establishing a state religion. It was a clear reaction to the power of the Church of England, and the colonial framers of the US Constitution did not want to repeat what they considered to be an inappropriate alignment of power in Europe. FULL POST
Posted 4/24/12 at 8:51 PM | Michael McNichols
In his book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, William Cavanaugh writes,
“Consumerism is an important subject for theology because it is a spiritual disposition, a way of looking at the world around us that is deeply formative.”
“The problem is a much larger one: changes in the economy and society in general have detached us from material production, producers, and even the products we buy.”
There’s a way to test this out: Ask a child where fruits and vegetables come from. If the child names a grocery store rather than a farm or an orchard, then there is probably a disconnection between consumption and production.
Ask the same child where your church came from. In fact, ask yourself the same question. How many people know that a number of thriving churches started out as small group Bible studies or as church plants struggling with meager resources?
I have an idea. Let’s give this a shot and see what happens.
Start buying produce from local growers rather than from big-chain grocery stores. Take your kids and grandkids along and help them see where things come from. Plant a garden and participate directly in the production process. Share the produce with your neighbors.Connect with an organization that supports fair trade exchanges and buy things from places where you can actually see who made the item you are buying. Learn to see that real human beings dirty their hands making the things we enjoy.Interview someone from your church who was involved in its beginnings, or at least who knows the church’s history. Help you and your loved ones to appreciate where buildings, parking lots, children’s ministries, etc. actually come from. FULL POST
Posted 4/19/12 at 10:36 AM | Michael McNichols
An NPR story (dated today, April 19, 2012) highlights the growing tension between evolutionary science and politics. However, to keep religion in the mix, I now share some personal family archival material that will put the matter to rest.
My great-grandfather, F. M. Lehman, was a traveling evangelist and hymn writer (he died when I was an infant, but I knew my great-grandmother well; she died at age 102, when I was 18). Among more well known songs, such as The Love of God, No Disappointment in heaven, and Old Time Religion, he also wrote major hits like King Nicotine Must Die, The Royal Telephone, and A String of Empties (I am not making this up).
One of my favorites was written in 1924, in an effort to put the emerging evolution controversy to rest. Here are the words to Up a Cocoanut Tree:
The “wise and prudent” tell me just what once I used to be— FULL POST
Posted 4/17/12 at 11:45 AM | Michael McNichols
I’ve just discovered a very dangerous group of subversives who threaten the consumer demand, free-market capitalism system that makes America great. Forget the Socialists, the Communists, the Green Party or any other group that seeks to undermine all that is great about western civilization. This group is more potentially devastating than any other.
They are called followers of Jesus.
I avoid the terms Christian, Protestant, Catholic, or any other moniker that seeks to create a definable and predictable category. These people can be found throughout those faith systems and probably wouldn’t be accepted by their own religious tribes if their values and actions were popularly known. They are clearly a minority group, but one whose potential influence could undermine our preferred way of life.
Here’s why they are dangerous.
They are refusing to buy things without knowing their origin. If a shirt at a megastore has a label that says “Made in ____________” (fill in the blank with any country in the southern hemisphere or in Asia), they want to know the conditions of the factory and the quality of the treatment of the workers. They claim that these invisible weavers of expensive clothing are kin to them, co-humans made in the image of God, and the relationship between production and consumption matters. If they don’t get a satisfactory answer, then they won’t buy the product. Such activity limits the power of consumer shopping and potentially diminishes corporate profits. FULL POST
Posted 4/16/12 at 10:35 AM | Michael McNichols
In a recent CNN article, the focus is on the actor Kirk Cameron, who has recently produced and starred in the documentary movie, Monumental. The movie seeks to investigate the Christian faith of America’s founding fathers and attempts to draw attention to a historically revised culture whose soul, he claims, is sick.
In response to challenges to the veracity of his claims and the accuracy of the historical work done by his colleagues, Cameron insists that his detractors are the ones who “bow to the god of political correctness.” I suspect that the historians who have critiqued the movie—some from Christian academic institutions—might see their motivations differently.
I think, however, that there really is such a thing as the attitude popularly known as “political correctness.” I’ve been in settings where the mere mention of a different way of looking at an issue raises cries of horror and claims about personal offense. I find that such hyper-sensitivity does not allow for creative, thoughtful dialogue, regardless of the issue. FULL POST
Posted 4/14/12 at 3:11 PM | Michael McNichols
I’ve been reading and grading some very interesting papers that deal with Christian leadership. As always, the students cause me to learn new things, and here’s what I’m thinking about this morning.
The interplay between Christian leaders and those they lead might be analogous to a team building a house for Habitat for Humanity. Christian communities often have seminary-trained leaders among them, whose counterparts would be seen as the professional builders who guide the projects for Habitat. In each case, the role of the leaders is to use training and expertise to draw people together into a common mission. Not everyone has to be a specialist, but without the leaders there is a lack of direction, focus, and skill.
For the builders, the end product is a habitable dwelling. For the Christian leaders, the end is a missional community. In both cases, neither the leaders nor those being led do what they do for their own sake. The builders will not live in the house; the house is for someone else. The Christians will have a community, but it is not primarily for them; it is for the sake of the world.>