It’s OK If We Don’t Worship The Same God And It’s Not Intolerant To Say So (Right?)

coexistBy now you may have heard the tale of (former) Wheaton Professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins was recently let go from the college, not for wearing a hijab but for declaring that Christians and Muslims worship the “same God”.

This situation has stirred up the proverbial poop-storm of controversy with media outlets pretending that they understand (and can define) “Christianity” (and religion in general for that matter) better than its practitioners who themselves can’t seem to agree on definitions and boundaries. Miraslov Volf has tried to play with the meaning of the word “same” (as in “Muslims and Christians worship the same god”) while Scot McKnight and others have contradicted him.

For many, the controversy centers on the ideas of tolerance and intolerance. Some seem to believe that Hawkins’ firing was an act of intolerance by Wheaton College. Much of this, of course has to do with how we perceive the ideas of “tolerance” and “intolerance”. Tolerance used to mean something like we disagree and that’s OK, we can and probably should continue in dialogue and cooperation while still owning our distinct beliefs. But somewhere along the path to politically correct town, it has come to mean something more like: we disagree but you can’t say I’m wrong and you probably need to make room in your set of beliefs for mine. I paraphrase, of course.

The key issue at stake is not whether or not Hawkins wants to wear a hijab but her assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the “same God”. As an employee of a Christian institution of higher learning, Hawkins has committed herself to live and teach within certain parameters. The leadership of Wheaton has decided that her current beliefs are outside of those parameters.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-16-at-8.49.56-AMWe need to remember that every system of religious beliefs has boundaries. This is what makes them unique and distinct. This is the root of the idea of “Orthodoxy”, which every religious system of belief has. There are some beliefs within the bounds of orthodoxy for every religion and there are some beliefs that simply disqualify from walking that religious path.

If I reject the Koran en toto or the legitimacy of Muhammad, I am not a Muslim. If I reject the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, I am not a Mormon. If I reject the legitimacy of the Pope as a vehicle for God’s revelation, I am not a Catholic. If I believe that Jesus is God and the long-awaited Messiah, I am not a Jew.

If you do not worship the God who has revealed Himself as One God in Three Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), each distinct yet fully God, then we do not worship the same God and you are not a Christian. In other words, if you do not believe in the Trinity or if you do not believe that Jesus is fully man AND fully God (along with the Father and Spirit), we do not worship the same God.

Jews are not Christians. Mormons are not Christians. Muslims are not Christians. And it’s not intolerant to say so. In fact, it does each religion a disservice to pretend otherwise.

Pretending that all religions are somehow the same or lead to the same place devalues all of them. While there are certainly areas of agreement, there are also most certainly differences in belief and practice. Tolerance dictates that we acknowledge those differences while seeking ways to work together for the common good. It is not intolerant to acknowledge and own our differences and it doesn’t help to try and change the commonly accepted definition of words like “same” as Volf has done. That’s akin to Bill Clinton trying to blur the definition of “is” to escape ownership of transgressions. It’s not only unhelpful, it is destructive.

It’s OK to acknowledge that we worship different gods and it’s OK for a professing “Christian” college to fire someone who holds different beliefs. In fact, this seems to me a better alternative than pretending that the distinctives of Christianity are no longer distinct.

I’m sure I’ll hear from you and I look forward to it.

 

Liberal Compared to Whom And How Did I Get Here?

political-logosUnless you live under a rock off the grid, you’re probably painfully aware that it is presidential election season once again.

As embarrassing, awkward and vitriolic as American politics can be, it can also be a valuable time to (re)consider our political/social convictions. We take for granted that we get to exercise our right to vote but we do not so readily acknowledge that the regular rhythm of the political system presents the critical opportunity to re-visit our opinions and ask why we hold to the positions that we do.

It can be an opportunity to reinforce our preexisting biases and remind ourselves how lucky we are that we’re right. But it can be more than that. The rotation of political seasons can also be an opportunity for self-examination and, if we’re lucky, growth, and possibly, even change. Just as people change over the years, it is only natural that our political views will change over time as well.

I was once the President of the College Republicans at a private Christian university. I once volunteered to put up signs for a Republican presidential campaign. But this year, as presidential politics begin to boil, I have found myself in the curious position of being characterized as liberal. isidewith.com said I side 95% with Bernie Sanders. Several other political quizzes have confirmed these sentiments, one even telling me that I am “solidly liberal.” And of course we can trust online political quizzes, right?

Regardless of the merits of any one particular political quiz, I am very interested in the consistency of my results, especially in light of my own past political leanings. It’s made me wonder what has changed. I am fairly culturally conservative on several key social issues such as marriage and abortion and I am certainly considered a theological conservative. So how am I considered liberal and, liberal compared to whom?

The obvious and snarky answer, of course is that I’m liberal compared to those right of me on the political spectrum. But what does that really mean and how did I go from openly identifying as Republican to now being told that I should feel the Bern? How did this happen and in particular, which of my views shifted?

As I’ve considered this, it seems to me that the issues that have pegged me as “liberal” are issues primarily dealing with social justice. I believe the government should offer a “safety net” for those struggling to find their way and that most people who receive government assistance are not freeloaders. I believe we should rely less on military force. I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the environment. I believe that “trickle down economics” only serves to increase the wage gaps and actually harms the people at the bottom of the system rather than giving them a leg up. I believe that the free market economy is equally part of the problem and I believe that healthcare should not be driven by profits. I believe that our school systems should not have to beg for budget overrides every year. I believe that the “war on drugs” is a sham. I oppose the death penalty. I believe that our current model of mass incarceration amounts to social injustice. Not to mention the fact that our prisons should not be run by for profit companies. And I believe that Christians should be more than simply “one issue” voters. This paragraph has already given many of my family and friends conniption fits.

I came to these convictions not necessarily through politics but by faith. As I strive to become more like Jesus, I can’t escape the fact that my faith demands care for the poor (Exodus 23:6Leviticus 25:25; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:39). My faith demands that we care for refugees (Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19, etc.) I believe our social systems, especially our justice systems should not favor either the poor or the rich (Leviticus 19:15), etc.

The issue, of course, is the question of what the role of government is in all of this. These commands, of course are not meant as government policies for our modern systems but were primarily for the Israelite theocracy. So how, if at all, do these issues relate to the modern Christian and our modern government systems? I believe that though these commands were for Israel, they communicate something deeper: humans should care for one another. Any approach that simply says “every man for himself” will inevitably not only leave some behind but will eventually result in injustice, especially against the less fortunate. I do not believe this can simply be chalked up to saying that some people don’t work as hard as others.

As an extension of humanity, I believe that governments should share in our fundamental human concerns. This, I think is how I’ve come to be labeled as “liberal.” Many of my fellow Christians (and please understand, I am not questioning their faith, simply acknowledging that we have different interpretations. of how our faith should be applied to everyday life and politics) believe that the government should do less, be smaller and have very little to do with actually helping people.

 

As a person of faith in Jesus, I own the fact that these obligations fall first on the Church but I believe that the government is an extension of our humanity, not a replacement for it. The church should take the lead in caring for the poor, in housing refugees, etc. but the government should bear some of this responsibility simply because we are all humans. It would be great if the American church took care of all of these issues but we aren’t and so, we need to look to other avenues to fulfill our duties to one another.

I’m still trying to work through a lot of these issues and don’t claim to have any better understanding than anyone else. All I can say is that, as I’ve begun to wrestle with the clear demands of my faith, I have been considered by others more and more “liberal.” I don’t know what to make of this.

I know that many of you disagree with my thoughts. I can’t wait to hear from you because I believe that opinions (and please remember, that’s what these are) are sharpened through dialogue. I’m simply sharing my own journey, so please be respectful.

the Weekly Town Crier

Town CrierI’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure
Waitress comes over
Nobody in the place but me and her

It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around
She studies me closely as I sit down
She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs
She says, “What’ll it be?”
I say, “I don’t know, you got any soft boiled eggs?”

She looks at me, says, “I’d bring you some
But we’re out of ’m, you picked the wrong time to come”
Then she says, “I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!”
I say, “I would if I could, but
I don’t do sketches from memory.

Welcome to the Weekly Town Crier. A weekly world wide web page where I gather links of interest for your interest. Please show your interest by browsing.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Read as Quora wonders “Why Do Car Buffs Dislike Tesla?”

Read as Ozy considers the cost of weddings: “the more you spend, the shorter your marriage is.”

Read as CNN wonders about “How to think straight in the age of information overload” and why so many smart people wear the same outfit every day.

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Columbus Day Is Now Indigenous People’s Day in Seattle And Minneapolis.”

Read as the New Yorker considers Max Richter’s new eight-hour album: Sleep.

Browse Paste‘s list of “10 Hip-Hop Albums For People Who Don’t Like Hip-Hop.”

See “Gorgeous animated pixel-art depicting everyday Japan.”

Read The Art of Manliness‘ piece “The Lost Art of Cheap Recreation.”

Read as the AV Club reports: “Joss Whedon made more money from Dr. Horrible than the first Avengers.”

Read Pitchfork‘s report that “St. Vincent Working at New Dallas Restaurant.”

R.I.PThe Stooges‘ Steve Mackay.

See The World’s Largest Man-Made Wave.

Read Atlas Obscura‘s piece about “The Doomed Effort To Make Videos Go Vinyl.”

Read as Slate wonders how to “Become More Articulate in Everyday Speech?”

Read as The Atlantic considers: “The Cheapest Generation Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.”

Read The Daily Beast‘s piece: “Lou Reed “was a monster”

Read Fast Company‘s piece: “Getting More Done At Work Won’t Make You As Happy As Just Working Less.”

Read as First Things considers whatever happened to liturgy in gathered worship.

Read as American Songwriter considers “Lucero’s Never-Ending Tour.”

Read the New York Times‘ report that “Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Is Found.”

Read IFL Science‘s report: “Study Claims People Who Like Their Coffee Black Are More Likely To Have Psychopathic Tendencies.”

See “A fully transparent solar cell that could make every window and screen a power source.”

Read as The Atlantic considers “Twilight of the Headbangers How long can the legends of heavy metal keep on rocking?”

See a “Bicycle That Lets you Play Records On Its Wheels.”

Read as Draft Magazine considers “Why the DOJ is investigating AB InBev” (SPOILER: It’s their war on “craft” beer).

Read Stereogum‘s report that Urban Outfitters will now carry cassettes.

Watch/read as AZ Central considers the “Day of the Dead” ritual.

See tattoos made from one continuous line.

Watch First Teaser for Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas” at Paste.

Read about the move “to put DRM in JPEGs.”

ReadRelevant”‘s piece: “Playboy’s Move Away From Nudity Is Actually a Bad Sign.”

Help your kids discover punk music with this new new children’s book.

Watch Natalie Prass cover Slayer.

Read as the Guardian profiles Kristin Hersh’s new book on Vic Chesnutt: Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt.

Browse this list of “The ten best rock docs of all time.”

Browse this list of “must-read books by musicians.”

Read/Listen as NPR’s Fresh Air talks to Berke Breathed about the return of Bloom County.

Browse as Pigeons and Planes makes their picks for “2015’s top indie music labels.”

Read/Listen as NPR‘s All Songs Considered profiles Elvis Costello’s memoir: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

Read as Paste profiles singer/songwriter Josh Ritter.

Browse years and years and years’ worth of KMart muzak.

Browse “a primer to the works of Flannery O’Connor.”

Read ABC‘s report that Phil Collins‘ “autobiography will be published in October 2016.”

Peace In The Waiting(?)

Many of you have reached out to us lately asking not only how we’re doing but what’s next for the Thomas Ten. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s comforting to know that people care. And, to be honest, we still don’t know what’s next. We’ve had several dreams sprout without taking root. We’ve become closely acquainted with life’s waiting room.

If you’re unfamiliar with our situation, here’s a summary: After resigning from ministry, I am seeking employment. I’ve applied to well over 150 jobs so far and yet I’m still searching. This in and of itself is frustrating enough. But on top of that, our house is for sale. We’ve had a ton of showings but no offers. Double Frustration. It’s sort of like Double Dutch but a lot less fun.

Our faith gives us the perspective of knowing that God is working in and through this for our good (Romans 8:28), but here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve come to wonder why it is that some verses, though true, don’t seem to have the desired affect to those in the midst of struggle. In fact, delivering some verses to someone in the midst of struggle may result in disdain rather than comfort. How can this be?

Though well-intentioned, telling something in a dark night for the soul, “God moves in mysterious ways” may deserve a raspberry more than a “Thank you dear brother.” Let me try to explain:  sometimes verses like  Romans 8:28 feel more to me to be more “rear-view mirror” verses than a headlights in the storm. I know it is true but sometimes verses like this only find their significance once you’ve stumbled through the shadowy valley and are finally able to see a bit more of God’s perspective. In the meantime,  the verse is true but not entirely helpful. In the midst of struggle, I don’t just need to know that it will be OK in the future, I need to know that I’m not alone in the meantime and that sometimes, the best thing to do is to wait faithfully because I have no idea how this is going to turn out, even if you tell me it’s going to be for my good. So you telling me it will be good someday may not be the help you intended.

It’s like holding to a pre-tribulation interpretation of Revelation in which you argue that, John, writing from Patmos to Christians in the midst of persecution tells them that it’s OK, don’t worry because God will someday in the future rescue another set of Christians from persecution. It just doesn’t entirely make sense. But I digress.

I’ve had lots of time to wonder how to try and find peace in the waiting. As such, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  [4]There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5]God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6]The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7]The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. [8]Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. [9]He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. [10] “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” [11]The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:10a, “Be still, and know that I am God” is one of the best known phrases of Christianese and it has come to mean a lot to me over the past few months. However, to carry its full weight, it must be understood in context. We don’t know the specifics of this Psalm other than it was set to music and likely sung in some form of Gathered Worship and that it heavily implies that its singers were accustomed to lives of struggle.

The song opens with encouragement in the midst of tumult: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

God is present in our trouble. In. Our. Trouble. God is with us,

  • though earth gives way,
  • though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
  • though its waters roar and foam,
  • though the mountains tremble at its swelling

God’s presence does not always make the trouble go away. But it does mean we react differently: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.[2]Therefore we will not fear. In fact, we may have to wait for God to actually deliver us. After pondering the beauty and security of God’s city, the Psalmist says in 46:5c: “God will help her when morning dawns.” But what are we supposed to do in the meantime? How long until dawn? Sometimes we will have to wait.

Be still and know that He is God. He is with us, therefore we will not fear even though things suck. Even though we can’t see a way through and even though dawn’s morning light seems like it will never come. He is with us and somehow, that is enough. His presence comforts us even when He is not flexing His muscles. Even when His help has not yet come. Somehow, the Psalmist tells us, somehow, God’s presence in the midst of our struggle should be enough.

I think that Jesus draws directly on Psalm 46 in the midst of a very real storm. Consider Mark 4:35-41:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” [36] And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. [37] And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. [38] But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [39] And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. [40] He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” [41] And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jesus’ pals, highly experienced fishermen encountered a storm which caused them fear. The boat was taking in water and these men, who likely spent quite a bit of time roughing their share of storms woke Jesus up and asked why it seemed like He didn’t care that they were going to drown?!?!

This is one of my favorite scenes in Scripture. Where is Jesus during this life-threatening storm? Asleep on a cushion! They had to wake Him up to inform Him of the danger. I sort of picture Jesus (but not in too much detail because I don’t want to break any of the Commandments) wiping the sleep from His eyes and sort of groggily mumbling to the storm: “Peace! Be Still.” Then, as He becomes more awake, He also becomes more animated as He turns to the disciples in frustration: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear . . .

“Why are you so afraid?” God is your refuge and strength. He is present with you in trouble. Don’t you get it?! I’m right here with you. You’re afraid because you don’t believe . . .

I’ve often wondered what the disciples should have done. Should they have diligently emptied the boat as it took on water? Should they have simply pointed the boat and sailed through the storm? Have a snack? Snuggle up next to Jesus and go to sleep? I don’t know, but Jesus seems to say: “I’m right here with you and that is enough.”

This lesson is not easily learned. Please pray for us as we try to connect our heads (knowing that He is with us and that is enough) to our hearts (knowing that He is with us and that is enough).