Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Uh-oh, it looks like it’s Jen Hatmaker’s turn. The protectors of orthodoxy appear to have drawn a bead on her as they did on Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren before her. And it’s getting ugly. Not only are they repudiating her views on various issues (especially on same-sex marriage), but they’re even attacking her for daring to express the pain that all this criticism is causing her. Sadly, this is what happens when religious communities become obsessed with building walls to exclude others. Sooner or later they start excluding their own, throwing those members they perceive to be recalcitrant over the wall to the wolves below. We see it most clearly in closed communities like Scientology, or in cults like Jonestown or the Branch Davidians, or among fundamentalist churches like Westboro Baptist. And we deplore it. We’re sickened by it. But often we fail to see it when it’s practiced within our own communities. Hey, I’m not saying conservative evangelicalism is as bad as Jonestown, but I do know this: once the pack starts circling an identified victim there’s very little stopping it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, recall John Piper’s incendiary tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell”, written in response to Bell’s book Love Wins. Over the wall you go, Rob Bell. When Jen Hatmaker wrote a

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It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

It’s perfectly natural, not perfectly biblical, to desire the death penalty

You’re probably gonna tell me to stop reading Charisma News when you hear I was stunned to come across their recent lead article, Executing 8 Murderers Isn’t ‘Unchristian’ by Bryan Fischer. Fischer is a broadcaster with American Family Radio. His article was originally published on their website. In it, he offers the usual reasons why capital punishment is necessary, sprinkling his commentary with various Old Testament references and then detailing the crimes of the eight men about to be executed by the state of Arkansas (one of them, Ledell Lee, has already been put to death by lethal injection). But his outrage isn’t entirely directed toward the men on death row. It’s also directed at Christians who have the temerity to oppose the death penalty. Grousing about a Christian Today article entitled Christian campaigners horrified by Arkansas execution, Fischer takes the site and the article’s author to task for daring to imply that the Christian position on capital punishment is to oppose it. Wrong, wrong, wrong, he says. “This headline is written as if that is the only acceptable ‘Christian’ position to take,” Fischer bemoans. In fact, he goes on to say, “It would be unbiblical and unChristian not to carry out the death penalty for cold-blooded murder.” Bryan Fischer then quotes Martin Luther King, as if to imply that

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#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear shows it’s sexism not hermeneutics

#ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear shows it’s sexism not hermeneutics

Feminists: “A strange sub-strata of women with a peculiar inferiority complex”   That isn’t a quote from some ignorant, aging Fox News commentator. It’s from one of the rising young stars of the conservative movement, writer Daisy Cousens. In this week’s edition of the Spectator, she refers to feminists as being “obsessed with picking at the scab of women’s lib, trying to draw fresh blood, often being seen prowling (or lumbering) around, attempting to sniff out sexism in every nook and cranny.” According to Cousens, women who complain about sexism are whiny and pathetic. And they lumber (whatever that’s supposed to mean!?!). She concludes, “The idea women that in our society are still somehow under the thumb of men is a fallacy; every opportunity available to men is also available to us.” The same day I read Daisy Cousen’s diatribe against feminism, I discovered that Canadian Christian blogger and author Sarah Bessey had just launched the Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear and it was trending. Big time. Woman after woman (including many personal friends of mine) tweeted the passive aggressive put-downs and out-and-out sexist statements they’ve heard in churches over the years. It seemed cathartic. Like lancing a boil. Years of snubs, sneers and rebuffs flowed like puss. For me, reading it was like passing a car wreck on the freeway. I

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Is meaning simply in the eye of the beholder?

Is meaning simply in the eye of the beholder?

When I first saw a photo of the Fearless Girl defying the rampaging bull of Wall Street I loved it! There she stands – feet apart, back arched, hands on hips – boldly staring down the ultimate symbol of out-of-control capitalism. Viewed from behind it looks as if she’s stopped the bull in his tracks. He crouches tentatively, quizzically sizing up his opponent, unsure of whether he has the measure of this defiant girl. How clever to subvert such a masculine symbol of greed and power with a figure of sheer feminine chutzpah.   At least that’s what I thought until I discovered who created each sculpture and what their motives were for doing so. Charging Bull was created in 1987 by Italian-American sculptor Arturo Di Modica right after the Black Monday stock market crash. He claimed he wanted the bull to represent “the strength and power of the American people” – like a kind of shot in the arm after the collapse of the financial market. Interestingly, Di Modica wasn’t commissioned to design the bull and he spent $350,000 of his own money to create it. He trucked it into Manhattan himself and installed it – without permission – right in front of the New York Stock Exchange. It was guerrilla art in the true sense of the word,

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Is this the greatest Easter painting of all time?

Is this the greatest Easter painting of all time?

It has the imposing title, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. More often than not it’s just referred to by the shortened form, The Disciples or Les Disciples. You won’t find it in the Louvre or the Met or the National Gallery. It hangs tucked away in an old railway station in Paris, now the Musée d’Orsay, on the left bank of the Seine. It was painted in 1898 by a relatively little known Swiss artist named Eugène Burnand. He was something of an old-fashioned realist at a time when all the cool kids were embracing modernism. The Disciples didn’t make a splash when it was first hung. Burnand’s style was already considered passé by the 1890s. But those who take the time to find it in the d’Orsay come away saying that viewing the canvas is akin to a spiritual experience. Some say it is the greatest Easter painting ever made.   Scroll up and look again at the picture. As the first blush of dawn is tinting the clouds, Peter and John are rushing to the tomb of Christ. They’ve just been told by Mary Magdalene that she and the other women found it empty, that Christ has risen. Her words are ringing in their ears. But their faces and their bodies

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They’re dying in Egypt while we’re whining about Easter hat parades

They’re dying in Egypt while we’re whining about Easter hat parades

This week I was interviewed by a local radio station about the place of Easter in the post-Christian West. Specifically I was asked how I felt about schools removing references to Easter in their annual hat parades. I told them I couldn’t care less. I honestly don’t care if schools want to run a “happy hat parade” or a “crazy hat day” instead of an Easter hat parade. I just don’t. And then I heard about the two suicide bombings at Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta and the deaths of 44 worshippers on Palm Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week. And then I didn’t just not care about Easter hat parades, I was outraged at our insensitivity and complete lack of perspective on these things. And then I saw this photo (above) of a shocked and grieving nun staring blank-faced into the debris caused by the bombing at St George’s Church in Tanta, and I remembered that there are Christians in the West who actually talk about experiencing “hostility” because of their faith. They say they are being persecuted and marginalized, silenced and ignored. This Easter, Egyptian Christians will have to clean the blood spatters from the marble pillars of their church and grieve the deaths of worshippers and priests and choristers. And I really hope no one tells them

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I don’t want to rain on Jesus’ parade, but…

I don’t want to rain on Jesus’ parade, but…

Entry into the City was painted by Californian artist John August Swanson in 1990. It’s one of those enormous pictures where the artist utilizes both vertical space and depth in order to fill the canvas with a host of people, many of them alluding to some hidden narrative. We can only imagine their stories. As Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see among the crowd women holding children, a man on crutches, a soldier with dogs, flag-bearers, palm-wavers and those who cover the street with cloaks. What brought each of them there, out onto the streets? John August Swanson’s use of color, movement and light captures the dynamism and the energy of Jesus’ arrival in the capital. He said of his picture, “I wanted to convey my feelings from being in marches for peace and justice. This scene has been repeated countless times in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders who have fought for love, peace, and social justice. It is relived in the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez.” I too have participated in my share of peace marches. They are full of energy and vitality. People are marching because they believe in something. There’s a tone of hope. The speakers rail against injustice or war or prejudice, and we feel bound

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On this miserable rough-hewn block

On this miserable rough-hewn block

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mt 20:25)   It was abundantly clear from the US presidential campaign that Donald Trump is very close to his kids. Their affirmation of his nomination at the Republican convention was pretty impressive. And since his election they have joined him as part of a quasi-official inner circle. The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump was appointed as Assistant to the President in March, and her husband Jared Kushner is one of his Senior Advisors. And while Mr Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric don’t have official roles in the White House they do enjoy peculiar access to him, appearing occasionally in the front row of official presidential announcements. Hey, I’m not complaining about this. That’s just the way of the world. So what if Mr Trump appoints his kids to top positions? So did Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, and Kim Il-sung. So did plenty of leaders of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and, well, just about every empire in history. So when, on the eve of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, two of his disciples, James and John, and their mother Salome, approached him asking for special status in the kingdom he was about to establish, they were

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