I’ve got some problems with repentance (and how you people talk about it)

belle-isle-bridge-long-walk This post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.

Martin Luther famously kicked off the Reformation by saying the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. In this, he was implying that it was not a singular moment, but rather a lifelong process. Yet, as I’ve lived life in the Church, I have found that this is not quite the way that most Christians talk about repentance, nor does it seem to be the way the Bible itself does.

If you ask your run-of-the-mill Christian convert, or even pastor or theologian, what repentance is, you will usually get some answer that involves the phrase “180 degrees” or talk about a change of your mind or turning away from a sin you do.

Good sermons and books on repentance will usually involve the Luther formula of using the Holy expectations of a Holy God to expose just how sinful we are, and then hitting us with just how radical God’s grace is in light of that. They will show us our need, trying to woo us to a God that forgives us. They try to expose even those sins hidden to ourselves or those that we hide from others or those that have beset us for years, and then invite us to “turn” from those things and instead trust God.

Sermons and books like this have contributed to beautiful moments in my life, drawing my heart to God and convicting me of my sins.

And yet, I have a problem with this. In these articulations of repentance, there seems to be a disconnect. A major, major disconnect.
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Intelligent Repentance: Hearing our Hearts

[This is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.]

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink— even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk— it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

The writings of the Prophet Isaiah, Chappter 55, verses 1-9 Continue reading

Lent & Repentance: Come & Mourn with Me Awhile


This is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.]

Last week was Ash Wednesday, which begins the church season of Lent. On that day, hundreds of millions of people (perhaps even as much as a billion) went to quiet services and got ash crosses finger-painted on their foreheads.

It’s a strange act, but perhaps the most striking one in Christian tradition. It’s certainly my favorite.

No matter how widespread Christianity has been in the world, I can’t imagine there was ever a time in which the public mark of ashes on one’s face did not stir some sort of double-take from passers-by. Even to this day, it’s the most counter-cultural and outward thing many American Christians widely do.

Ashen forehead crosses are one of the few Christian traditions that is still ours, and hasn’t been co-opted by the wider culture, and thereby watered-down in its meaning or force.
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Male-Only Church Leadership: Blessing or Curse?


In these discussions on women’s roles in church leadership, a favorite little one-off argument by Egalitarians (and a pretty darn good sound bite) is that the very idea of exclusive male headship is part of the curse laid upon humans in the Genesis Eden story. In Genesis 3, this is what God speaks over the woman as a curse in response to her sin:

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t done the research on the Hebrew or scholarship on those lines to know exactly what these lines really might mean.

Honestly, both sides could use them. Conservatives could say that the curse is that women will desire the authority that God rightfully gave men. Egalitarians would say that man’s “rule” over women is the curse.
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Merry Christmas Season!!!


As of today, it is Christmas season!

Today, we turn our minds from the sin that required God to take human form in Jesus Christ, and we give ourselves the freedom to respond with unfettered joy to this fact. We give gifts in response to the gift that’s been given to us; we sing songs in response to the heavenly angelic song that inaugurated his birth; we eat good food with others in response to the body of Christ–the bread of life–having come among us.

Today begins the culmination of our thinking and meditating these past 4 and half weeks. This Advent, I’ve been trying to connect this time to parts of life that we may not usually associate with it. And so, if you have any time and interest, here are those posts from this year’s Advent series (and by the way, holy crap. I had no idea how much I had written this year until I made this list).

May they help you enter into this next Church season with depth and joy. (You can also check out last year’s series, if you want.) Continue reading

Advent & Christmas: they’re not the same thing (Ode to a Christian Calendar)

Munch-melancholyWell, it’s the Eve of Christmas season. Yes, that’s right, Christmas is not only an entire season in the Church calendar, but it’s a season that is distinct from Advent.

I know many in the global church know this fact, but I only learned it a couple of years ago, and each year it seems I have to be reminded. (Hopefully with this post, I can start internalizing it some.)

I find it interesting that we in the West have not only removed the “seasonal” aspects of the holiday, but have reduced this nearly two-month-long Advent/Christmas time into a single day on which we put most of our attention.

So why is the calendar structured like this? And what do we lose when we boil this down to one day?
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Art & Advent’s Intellect: Barnett Newman’s “Black Fire”

barnett-newman-black-fireIf you look at the top of every page on this site, you’ll notice there is a prominent header image. If you’ve paid any sort of repeated attention to the posts on this site, you’ll notice I have different headers for different themes and series. Lent, Easter, Women in Ministry, The Bible, Theology, Art, Personal, Political, Writing, and my upcoming Guatemala posts each have their own distinct headers.

Throughout this year’s Advent series, I’ve used a cropped version of the above piece as the header image. It’s called Black Fire by Barnett Newman. Until recently, it hung for many years in the abstract expressionism room in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve spent much time sitting in the presence of this piece, contemplating it’s meaning.
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Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!


Yesterday, I wrote a post about some implications of Advent on sex. And, of course, I stressed the goodness and beauty and transcendance of that act as God intended it.

And it was one of my least read posts in a long time (as an update, interestingly, this is to date one of my most-read posts of all time!). I’m wondering if people are tired of hearing Christians talk about sex ad nauseam.

It is my humble opinion that the American Church right now is currently obsessed with sex. Well, to be fair, it’s always been obsessed with it; but now, it seems, the obsession is with “taking it back” and yelling and screaming about how Christians are just as sex-crazed, sex-eager, and sexually exciting as the most ardent secular hedonist.

Of course, they all qualify it by saying (as I even said yesterday) that this (oh my god really amazing Christian sex that we value so much) has to be “within the confines of marriage”. And so, this sex-obsession often expresses itself in an equal obsession with marriage. Preparing people for it, encouraging people towards it, beating up guys that aren’t “pursuing” women (or at least “preparing to”), and giving women tips on how to attract a “good, godly husband.”

And yet, yesterday, when I was thinking about the Advent of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and the idea of the Incarnation, I realized something:

What is the story of Advent but the story of a virgin girl who has a virgin birth of a man who will remain a virgin his whole life?

The story of the Incarnation is, relatively speaking, one of the most “sex-less” stories in the Bible.

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Advent & Sex: we are holy ground


Update: I’ve also written some Advent thoughts on singleness and celibacy.

In Advent, we celebrate that God came as a human, in a mysterious act called the Incarnation. But in this act, God didn’t merely clothe himself in humanity. Flesh and blood were not the trappings of God. Instead, he became human. It was no mere illusion, nor was it a facade God took on.

God became flesh and blood.

God found it suitable (desirable, even!) to take on a body–a created, formed, physical, material body. The implications of this are huge. Take sex for example.

Advent show us that the created world can contain God, and it still does not violate God’s Holiness–his “Otherness” or “Separated-ness”. He can know his Creation in such union and intimacy and yet still remain transcendent above it. Our bodies do not challenge his Holiness. He can take it on and still remain Other. He became “one” with us in a similar way to how we become “one” with others in sex. With this in mind, let’s unpack some implications:

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Adventures of a social worker on election day

Today is one of my proudest days as a case manager, as I’ve been able to assist several of my clients in voting today. Sitting down with them, helping them find their local polling place, driving to the center, walking them through the ballot and the voting machines, and then watching them vote has been amazing. I wanted to share a conversation I had today with (as we’ll call him) “Chris”. He’s grown up well-within poverty his entire life in the roughest neighborhoods of Philadelphia. He’s been in the mental health system since he was very young, with a mind full of voices and confusion.
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on blogs that begin and never start… [casual friday]

The blogging platform I use, WordPress, has a nifty feature where you can “find your friends” with blogs also on WordPress. I spent the other day doing this, and ended up really enjoying myself. It was like dropping into random time capsules here and there. I ran across blogs that many of my friends had begun, only to never write a single post. Then, some of them would come back months or years laters and express their desire to start back up again and…well…. just look at this example:
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Christianity: paradox & Paradise, fall & Fall

I had the privilege of spending a long weekend these past few days in western Pennsylvania under the kindness and hospitality of my girlfriend and her family. It’s a place that is hard to describe without falling into cliches of big sky, clear air, and bright stars. It’s near the area that Johann Jacob Burkhardt, my first ancestor in America, settled in 1754 after sailing from Germany and landing in Philadelphia exactly a week ago today. I made almost the exact same trek as Johann and his family, from the rivers of Philly to the rural countryside of unsettled Pennsylvania.

Strangely, in the rest of Pennsylvania that I have seen, the trees are still mostly green and just starting to turn for the Fall. But here, this weekend marked the peak of that beautiful transition. The pictures above and below should testify to this (click them for larger versions). They were taken only a couple of days ago–with my phone (fun fact: the picture directly above this text was taken from Mt. David, the highest point in Pennsylvania).

I can’t express to you the beauty my eyes and soul were able to behold.
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Let’s (TED) talk about porn & Struthers’ “Wired For Intimacy” [REVIEW]

Earlier this year, I read William Struthers’ book Wired For Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain. It was an amazing book and I learned much from it (and I encourage anyone to read it, male or female).

One justified criticism, however, that I have heard about this book is that it doesn’t quite speak to the questions that many would naturally bring to such a book. It’s separated into two parts: the first is theory, the second is application and implications.

This is all well and fine, except the first part is extremely clinical and tries really hard to be a casual observer to the effects of pornography. This results in a whole lot of the minutiae of various hormones and chemicals in the brain and what happens to them and why. But, there’s no context as to why (or whether) any of these effects are necessarily bad or harmful. It merely describes various chemicals and brain structures and how pornography is received and processed, but in his attempt at neutrality and avoiding value-judgments, he ends up creating at atmosphere in which the reader continually thinks “okay, so what?”.
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Atheist: A Biography | {story#18}

This is an original fiction piece posted for StoryADay September. It’s a long one, so for your convenience, you can also read this story in PDFKindle, or EPUB formats. Read more about StoryADay & follow here.

Luke was born into a moderately religious household. His family spent each Sunday morning rushing around the house amid a flurry of curses and arguments trying to get everyone ready for the Sunday School and service at the large Baptist church down the street. When Luke was older, he also went to the Wednesday night youth group this church had. But outside of that, religion wasn’t any great percentage of his day-to-day life. His parents never prayed before meals, there was no religious paraphernalia around the house, and the most frequent invocation of God was in front of the phrase “damn it”.

There was one time, though, that for some reason, Luke remembered his entire life. During one period when he was about 6 or 7, when his parents were fighting a lot, Luke found himself needing his father for something shortly after a particularly loud argument had concluded. His mother was in the washroom, loudly banging the doors to the washer and dryer as she changed loads. Luke walked into his parent’s bedroom and found his father on his knees beside the bed, knuckles clasped as if he would die should he let go, muttering quiet pleas within breaths taken between violent sobs. Luke stood there wordless for about 30 seconds watching this, until his presence was felt by his father. His father looked up and saw Luke staring at him with wide eyes.
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I almost voted for Romney, but then I remembered…

[Updated below]

[Update II: I have a companion post up about why I’m not voting for Obama either.]

I’ve got to admit it. The Convention knocked me off of my game. For a brief few days, I was being wooed by the scripted politi-fest of the Republican National Convention. I ended up listening to Paul Ryan’s speech live on the radio (on NPR, no less!) after a long day at work, and for some reason, I really resonated with it.

I started thinking, “Hey, I know they are jerks, and immature, and arrogant, and reactionary, and obstructionist, but I could maybe sort of think about thinking about thinking about voting for these guys!” (Clint Eastwood notwithstanding.)

But then a few things happened. First, this 8-minute dismantling of the Republican National Convention (and the GOP generally) by Jon Stewart. Brilliant. (If these Hulu clips ever expire, you can find the clips at the Daily Show website at the alternative links below.)
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