Get mad and do something

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Ferguson police shooting

A wise friend–John Inazu–who teaches criminal law at Washington University in St. Louis has written an insightful piece about race and criminal law in St. Louis. I encourage you to pick up and read and consider how you might do likewise where you are:

John D. Inazu

“You spent too much time talking about race in this class.” Of all the student evaluations I’ve received over the years, this one rankled me the most. I teach criminal law. In St. Louis. It’s not possible to talk too much about race in that context.

In past years, our class discussions on race have centered on Trayvon Martin, or before that, on the kids shot up by Bernie Goetz on a New York City subway. From now on, the example will come from much closer to home.

In the coming weeks, we will have much to say about the tragedy, chaos and anger surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Among the most important issues will be the connection between law enforcement and race. That is not to say that all police officers are evil or that all black youths are innocent. But it is to insist that criminal justice and racial injustice are intrinsically linked in this city and its surrounding communities. And the injustices that manifest in handcuffs and bullets flow out of the injustices of neighborhoods, schools and shopping malls — all linked to issues of race that nobody in this city likes to talk about.

Read the rest here.

[List] Critical resources for understanding faith and mental illness

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depression_1-ad78d208bfd0907a122c249a74cd8f6ff184705e-s6-c30Yesterday’s post, “I am Robin Williams” [Link] has really taken off, and it seems that many of us are struggling to understand how faith and depression are related.

Some of us have struggled with depression ourselves and question our own faith or the faith of the church.

Others are married to spouses who struggle and find themselves languishing in a life shared with someone deeply struggling–an experience every bit as painful as being depressed.

Generally, the Christian community struggles to care for those who are deeply suffering. This is, to put it mildly, deeply ironic given how Christians have understood the church over the centuries. Richard Sibbes captured the sentiment when he wrote: “The church of Christ is a common hospital wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or another, so all have some occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness” (The Bruised Reed, p. 34).

The church is, by definition, a community of broken people (in every sense of the word) gathered around a broken savior–a savior whose lifeblood was poured out to undo the effects of sin in the world. We very quickly lose sight of this most elemental of beliefs.

I offer these resources as a starting point for those who’d like to dig deeper–both in understanding the disease of depression–its lighter form, melancholgy–as well as the spiritual experience of both. I should note that these books reflect my own theological tastes (generally reformed) and inclinations (some of them are academic–not a big fan of pop psychology).

There are plenty more titles out there so get reading:

  1. The Bruised Reed (1630)
  2. A Place for Weakness (2006)
  3. The Roots of Sorrow: Reflections on Depression and Hope (1986, 2000)
  4. The Theology of Illness (2002) [Academic]
  5. When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in Depression (2012)
  6. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (2013)
  7. The Roots of Sorrow: A Pastoral Theology of Suffering (2012) [Academic]
  8. Darkness is My Only Companion (2006)
  9. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (1965)
  10. When the Darkness will not Lift (2006)
  11. A Lifting Up for the Downcast (1649)
[NOTE: As I have time between appointments, I’ll be adding more links as well as giving a brief blurb about each book]

A Christian response to same sex attraction

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If you haven’t read about the student protest at Wheaton College in response to Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s appearance on campus, do. It’s available here. Butterfield is author of “My Train Wreck Conversion,” the second most popular Christianity Today article of 2013. The article describes how “a leftist lesbian professor” who “despised Christians” eventually became one.

Butterfield’s appearance, the protest, and subsequent reporting on it all demonstrate an increasingly nuanced understanding of human sexuality in the evangelical world. Like most intellectual developments the changing understanding of sexual identity is sort of jerking forward like a teenager trying to drive a manual transmission car. It is possible that out of our collective confusion–by a sort of cultural dialectic–a better understanding of sexuality is emerging. I’m not convinced that this new understanding will remove all distinctions between Christian ethics and those of the broader culture, far from it. What I hope will emerge is both a Christian ethics and pastoral theology that better serves those who experience same sex attraction.

Rosaria-Champagne-Butterfield
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

On either side of our conversations about sexuality are two poles, both equally erroneous.

The first is the “lifestyle” understanding of human sexuality. This belief posits that everyone who identifies as gay has simply chosen to be so–like choosing to drink Coke rather than Pepsi. With appropriate “taste tests” this preference can be altered.

The second is the belief that sexual identity is always and everywhere simply fixed: once gay, always gay. In this view, the individual is simply a victim of a predisposition that is unalterable and, as a result, ought to be able to give full expression to this identity.

The Wheaton student protest leaders feared that Butterfield would come to campus espousing the former belief (“pray away the gay,” if you will). I worry that they affirm the latter:

We feared that if no conversation was added to the single message of the speaker that students who are not very well informed were going to walk into chapel, hear the message, and have misconceptions confirmed or that students who are LGBT would be told that this story is the absolute way that things happen…

A more nuanced understanding of sexual identity means that it’s possible to navigate a way between these two poles. And it’s possible to affirm things that the evangelical community has been remiss in doing. As Butterfield herself put it,

Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia; the snarled composition of our own sin and the sin of others weighs heavily on us all. I came away from that meeting realizing—again—how decisively our reading practices shape our worldview.

A Christian response to same-sex attraction should avoid either simply explaining away attraction as a choice. It should also avoid taking our appetites and attractions–as essential as they may seem–as inevitable.

Butterfield continues,

Homosexuality, then, is not the unpardonable sin, I noticed. It is not the worst of all sins, not for God. It’s listed here in the middle of the passage, as one of many parts of this journey that departs from recognizing God as our author. Homosexuality isn’t causal, it’s consequential. From God’s point of view, homosexuality is an identity-rooted ethical outworking of a worldview transgression inherited by all through original sin. It’s so original to the identity of she who bears it that it feels like it precedes you; and as a vestige of original sin, it does. We are born this way. But the bottom line hit me between the eyes: homosexuality, whether it feels natural or not, is a sin.

Here we have to ask an important question: what is meant by “homosexuality”? Is this term equivalent to “having same sex attraction? Does it mean homosexual practice? Or is it some combination of both?

At this point some biblical principles related to sin are helpful. Jesus tells us that infidelity can occur outside of a physical encounter: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). So while we can say for certain that homosexual practice is sinful in that it violates God’s moral law, we can also say that dwelled-upon, nurtured attraction may turn into desire which in turn may itself eventually become sinful.

The church has generally been lax in guiding its members to experience Christ in the Scriptures. As a result our ways of thinking have been formed by our culture and, in many ways, simply (and perhaps exclusively) adopt the intellectual categories constructed by scholars of society, sexuality, etc., or some reaction against them. As a church we should be moving deeper into a Jesus-centered, Bible-shaped Christian experience that is values the difficulties of following Christ sufficiently to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care that intends to lead to greater holiness, as long and as hard as that road might be.

Escaping Christmas craziness

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ImageIf you’re like me you have a love-hate relationship with the American “holiday season,” perhaps skewed slightly more to hate than love. On the one hand, it’s so much fun to see our kids get excited about wearing their new Christmas pajamas–snuggly little bundles of holiday-themed energy. On the other hand, there’s the traffic and decisions about budgets and gifts. I often experience a strange melancholy in realizing that some of the things I most want–more time, a sunny vacation with Anna, a PhD–aren’t going to be under the tree on December 25. Sometimes the holidays seem like a straightjacket more than a celebration–a period of crazy added to an already full life. 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;

and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,

let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,

be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer for the Third Week of Advent, Book of Common Prayer

There is a growing body of literature demonstrating that human beings are innately inclined to benefit from ritual and habit. In a sense, contemporary research is demonstrating a long-forgotten theological truth that freedom is not the ability to choose between alternatives without coercion, but the ability to choose the good. We learn to choose the good by practice.

That’s why the church calendar is a pre-modern resource that can help combat what I call Christmas craziness. You may be new to the practice or it may be something you’ve experienced your whole life. I find that those who are new often benefit from a guide that can orient them to the church year. Those who’ve always practiced it often benefit from this sort of guide too. Liturgical practices may become so comfortable that they lose their theological moorings and become disconnected to their purpose.

A new book offers help to both types of Christian. Let Us Keep the Feast provides an overview of the theological meaning of the seasons of the Christian Year and guidance in how to observe it.

For each season of the year the book provides:

  • An introduction to the season
  • The calendar days the season occupies
  • Traditions–old and new–that are associated with the season
  • Explanations of how the season is observed around the globe
  • Ways you can observe the season in your home and in your community
  • Resources you can use.

The publishers website makes the following observation:

Our days and our weeks are part of God’s created order; the sun setting and rising, the regular shift from work to rest: all of these form a rhythm for our lives, a rhythm that the church has historically observed through a set calendar of feasts and fasts.

Maybe you’ve used an Advent calendar to count down the days till Christmas. Or you might have recently tried giving up something for Lent. These practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the riches of the Christian church year.

Why do we celebrate seasons in the church? How can we do it well? And what does it mean for you?

Thousands of Christians wrestle with these questions, and others like them, every year — even every season. In this series of books, these questions are answered!

The first installment focuses on Advent and Christmastide. I encourage you to pick up a copy and choose a new tradition to incorporate into your family life this advent and Christmas.

The publisher agreed to send one of my readers of free copy of the Advent and Christmas volume. If you’d like to get a copy please complete the form below. I will choose randomly someone to receive the book.

A Hindu monk and a Baptist preacher got married

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About one in four Americans (27%) is intentionally sharing their married life with someone whose religious belief system is different from their own.[1] If difference within traditions like Protestantism is included, the number jumps to 37%.[2] This emerging trend is consistent with the generally agreed-upon trajectory of our culture. We are moving into a period of intense plurality. Difference—in all its forms—is pushing its way into the lives, churches, schools, and neighborhoods of Americans.

interfaith

As people face these new experiences they often look for resources to help them navigate their new reality. This has produced what the Huffington Post calls a “mini-boom of guides to interfaith marriage and family.” A case in point is J. Dana Trent’s recently released book, Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk.

Trent’s book describes how she—a Baptist minister—met and fell in love with Fred Eaker, a practicing Hindu. The rapid increase in interfaith marriage poses a significant pastoral challenge for the Christian church. It’s important to remember that this is not the first time in which the Christian church has had to engage in pastoral and theological reflection on the nature of marriage and of marriage to those who are outside the household of faith.

The early church developed in the context of a pluralistic culture where, much like today, the cardinal virtue was theistic inclusivity. Greco-Roman culture was willing to welcome new gods as long as they could be incorporated into the already recognized deities. We see from St. Paul’s interaction with the people of Athens that the Greeks were eager to learn of this “foreign deity” and this “new teaching” (Acts 17: 18, 19). Early Christianity was quite comfortable in communicating the message of Christ to those who had yet to experience it.

As Paul addressed problems that arose in the churches under his apostolic care, he found it necessary to give the following counsel to the church at Corinth, “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity?” (2 Co. 6:14ff.).

This verse is often used to warn against the dangers of marrying someone of another faith. And the warning is likely well heeded. Yet, it’s also likely that Paul here is speaking more broadly than simply of matrimony.

Read the rest here.


[1] U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 34. Available online at: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[2] Ibid.