Category Archives: God stuff

I’m a hypocrite and that’s why I’m Christian

Today I read separate pieces about Christian hypocrisy and why it’s turning people off.

The first piece, by John Pavlovitz, says that there’s good news and bad news. In writing to church, he says there’s bad news–that it’s dying. But the good news is taht its dying and something better. Left open is whether that something better is secular.

Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne writes the second, which takes the same approach, but with a more political (and less snarky) tone. In general, the message is that Christians are kind of a pain to be around and more people are noticing.

I’ve proclaimed myself a Christian multiple times, so I should respond.

Yes, I am a hypocrite. I’m mean sometimes. I prejudge people more than I should.  I like the way leggings frame a woman’s butt and legs. I’m often stingy with my time, talent, and treasure.

And I’m currently listening to a song called Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced on Spotify (Dropkick Murphys if you must know).

No less an authority than Jesus would call me out on some of that. If you call someone a fool–if you judge them as unworthy, you’re in danger of judgement. If you check out the yoga pants, you’re just as guilty as if you schtupped.

I do all those things and more. And I know I shouldn’t. And that’s why I’m a practicing Christian. Of the Abrahamic religions, Christianity’s the one that isn’t dependent on your efforts. It’s central theme is that my Father can’t allow sin because it hurts his children. So in order to balance perfect mercy with perfect love, he came and paid the price so we can be reconciled.

We can’t–and needn’t–earn his love. I wouldn’t give my son a Miller Lite when he asks for a beer. And if I know how to treat my son that way, how much more will God treat us that way.

That kind of love is humbling. Except that the Father chooses to give it to me, I don’t deserve it. Mostly because I am all the things Pavlovitz and Dionne claim many of us are.

I don’t want to be those things. Certainly my Father doesn’t want me to treat his children that way. For half a century I’ve been trying to get better but it hasn’t worked all that well. So if my Father won’t give my son a Miller Lite, he’ll give me what I ask for, too–a softer heart.

The problem isn’t hypocrisy. We’re all hypocrites. It’s not hate. We’ve all hated.

It’s hubris. It’s the assumption that love makes agreement, that the Creator of the universe must agree with me.

Because I know what I am, I’m glad God doesn’t agree with me.

When Jesus met that woman at the well–a slutty whore if ever there was one–he didn’t judge her. He engaged her. He told her that she’d been through five husbands and was shacked up with a sixth man. But he never judged her. Instead, he offered her hope.

In his final days, Jesus took a low position–the position of washing feet. It was a servant’s task. One of the people whose feet he washed was the man who arranged his murder.

I fall short of that standard in a big way. In that, we’re the same. So the best we can do is the best we can do–together.

As for the church, it’s far from the monolith you might think. While the hard-asses of the world are getting the headlines, Pope Francis is trying hard to live up to his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. People like Father Richard Rohr are interpreting Christianity in new, challenging ways. Even Christians are included in the growing scope of people who don’t want harm upon gays.

So yeah, we’re a mess. But that’s kind of the point. We’re less messy together.

 

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Thoughts and Prayers and Utes

My current church isn’t big on complacency. Over the past few months, the pastor has repeatedly called for us to examine what we’re doing, thinking, and spending time and money on–and challenging us about making sure it’s the right thing.

The latest of those challenges came this morning, in a call to have an unshakeable focus on the future, which is to say the utes.

The challenge was to consider strongly investing in the future with our time, talent, and treasure (the vaunted three Ts of pastorship) in supporting this church value, which he has identified as being the most important. Failing that, he’s also challenging us–very directly–to devote our prayers to the utes.

Devoting prayers is something that’s become looked down upon in the mass media most recently. It’s a sign of complacency, they say–and ultimately hypocrisy. If you really cared, you’d stick your worthless prayers where the sun doesn’t shine and freakin do something.

And while we’re at it, Chris, what the hell are you doing for the utes right now, other than throwing money in the basket?

I have in the past volunteered as a Scout leader, baseball coach, umpire, chaperone, and nursery monitor, not to mention driving three-quarters of the distance to the sun to ferry the utes to activities. But right now, I’m doing nothing. And maybe that’s a problem and maybe its not.

So I’m gonna pray about it.

Prayer isn’t a substitute for action, b–

But you just said you’re gonna pray rather than help the chillren.

I thought they were utes.

I like variety.

Whatever. You pray for a lot of reasons. One of them is because it’s all you can do. I have a friend who’s kind of antagonistic to the church. And yet my offers of prayers for her are always warmly accepted. I think they help. I personally believe in a God who loves her–and all the rest of his utes–extravagantly. But I also think they help her. Backed up with care and attention, they make her feel less alone.

Another is for discernment. I’d hope that all the people offering prayers for victims of gun violence, for instance, are also praying for discernment. In spite of the rhetoric from both sides on this issue–“it’s simple, you must agree with me”–this is complex. We do have a second amendment. And if you were to remove all legal guns from their owners, the bloodbath would be unprecedented. On the other hand, does the second amendment cover 30-round clips? Does it mean you get to keep the guns if you’ve had mental problems or domestic violence in your past? That’s just the barest surface of the issues to be worked through.

I’d sure as hell hope that any representative who believes in God is asking for divine guidance in performing his job. And that he’s humble enough to realize that God doesn’t typically agree with people. He’s a bit bigger than that.

So I’ll pray that the youtttthhhhs are taken care of. And I’ll pray that whatever my decision is in terms of involvement, it follows God’s wishes for me.

You may consider this silly, but it’s a free world and it’s the best I can do.


Dear Ted Nugent

Dear Ted Nugent,

I’m a Republican. I have been since my 18th birthday, more years ago than I care to admit. Among other things, I believe in border security, limited government, and freedom of expression. I believe gay people should have the same right to marry as straight people. And I believe that bakeries should be allowed to refuse to make their cakes, then take their chances in the free market.

I also believe in the second amendment.

In the picture below are my children. Only they aren’t children any more.

The woman on the left is Jennifer. She’s been working since sixth grade to make the most of her God-given talents. She was the best student in her International Baccalaureate middle school and the validictorian of her IB high school. She graduated from George Washington University Phi Beta Kappa. She spent a year in the Marhall Islands helping kids learn English. She’s now a doctoral student at UCLA. She wants to be an academic.

Since sixth grade she’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to make her way in the world. I love her more than my words here can convey.

The guy on the left is Daniel. He currently attends Syracuse University. He’s worked hard, too, but in a different way. His life is chaos. He’s always working on something and he’s on track to graduate a year early from school. He’s a little surly sometimes, but he’s quick and witty and has a touch with people I’ll never understand. And I love him differently, but every bit as much.

For reasons I won’t pretend to understand, you went on Alex Jones’s radio show and called for the murder of my children, among other people.

If you were just some random nut case, I’d chalk it up as stupidity and move on. But you aren’t a random nut case. You’re on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. You consider yourself a spokesman for people in the party I’ve always belonged to.

I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton–a fact that caused strain in my relationship with my daughter for a while. And now a growing part of me wishes I had, because President Trump’s reckless, unpresidential public persona has encouraged people like you to say things like “There are rabid coyotes running around…every time you see one, shoot one.”

In the context of your remarks, you’re referring to Democrats, academics, media, and RINOs (Republicans in name only). I guess under the First Amendment, you have as much right to spout this horrific drivel as the Westboro Baptist Church has to show up and make asses of themselves at high-profile funerals.

But, Mr. Nugent, in your remarks, you called for people to shoot my children, along with approximately half of the rest of the country. Some of those people are very close friends of mine and better people than you could ever consider being.

You can have whatever political positions you want to have. And that’s as it should be.

But if one of your hair-trigger followers even considers harming my children because of your words, the so-called fake media will be the least of your problems. I will make it my avocation to make sure every second of your life–and I truly hope it will be a long one–will be filled with the realization of the effects of your reckless, ill-considered, murdrous words.

These are human beings, not some imaginary vermin you can put out of their misery and out of your mind. These are God’s children you want put down like a rabid dog. And two of them are my children.

I hope common sense will prevail and you will reconsider and denounce your words. Failing that, I hope the NRA will remove you from its board and rescind your membership. And should the worst happen to anyone. I hope the riches that you’ve worked for decades to attain are paid out as a poor, inadequate recompense for the cost of your verbal poison.

The God I believe in will surely forgive you for your words, should you ask it, and I’m happy for that. But my soul and my logic are weak where my children are concerned.

Sincerely,

Chris Hamilton


Imagine there’s no hell

Pope Francis made the news earlier this week–Holy Week in the Christian faith–by saying that there is no hell. In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist friend of his, which was published in La Repubblica, the Pope said, “They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

welcomeToHellMichigan

A little inside baseball for non-Catholics:

  • Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Holy Scripture point out the existence of hell.
  • The Pope’s statement to Scalfari is just that–a statement. Papal infallibility does not apply to everything a Pope says. It’s used only twice–once to cover the Immaculate Conception and once about Mary’s assumption into heaven.

immaculate reception

With that out of the way, it’s always seemed to me that the overriding desire to attain heaven or avoid hell misses the point.

If God is the father in the story of the prodigal son, then what he wants is to have a relationship with us, and then for us to have a relationship with each other. Hence, he waits every day for his wayward son and runs to him when he returns. For a Jewish patriarch of the time to do that was unheard of. It would be like Archie inviting the Meathead to sit in his chair.

archie-meathead-chair

After the reconciliation of the wayward brother, he practically begs the responsible son inside to accept his brother back. There’s no reference to heaven or damnation because the story ends there. It’s entirely about relationships, not eternal reward or condemnation.

In the Christian faith, we’re taught the necessity to surrender ourselves to God, to give back to him the most precious gift he’s given to us–our free will. Not because he demands it, but because of his desire for relationship. Sort of like you give up your right to date when you get married. It’s a desire for union, not a harsh command.

Beyond that desire to enter into a trusting relationship is the desire for us to love his other children, or do our best. He’s inviting us into that larger union that exists horizontally. He wants us to join everyone else in the messy, sometimes agonizing party.

It’s another request to trust.

If that trust exists, then heaven and hell are beside the point. The relationship with the Beloved is heaven and its absence is hell.

I’m not sure of heaven or hell. I’m not nearly as sure as I’d like to be about that loving relationship of the Father. But if I were sure, heaven and hell would be the last thing on my mind. When a relationship that overpowering occurs, there’s no room for anything else.


The worst hypocrisy

During a meeting for a ministry I’m involved in, there was a lot of talk about how the church is full of hypocrites. Hypocrisy is often mentioned as one of the primary reasons that people avoid the Christian church.

It’s a valid complaint. I know it is, because I’m a hypocrite of sorts.

I believe in–or claim to believe in–a God who loves me exactly as I am. I claim to believe in a God who doesn’t need me to change before He’ll give me the time of day. I claim to believe in a God who doesn’t expect me to become some perfected version of myself that really only exists in my mind.

On those points, I’m a liar to the people.

Let’s say I really did believe in all of that stuff. How would I react to the crap that happens in any typical day? How would I react to people who anger me or crap on me or–and this is the worst–get to the front of the line at Dunkin Donuts and have no freaking clue what to order? (What did they think was going to happen when they got up there?)

The answer is that if I really, really believed in all that stuff, my view of that other stuff would be correctly sized. I wouldn’t think there’s a rain cloud over my head.

I’d know that the freaking Architect of the Universe kind of digs me and that <person X> might have a different opinion and too bad.

As for the Dunkin Donuts thing, I think God might actually agree with me on that one. I mean, we all have our limits, right?

In all seriousness, though, if we believe in the stuff that Christians are supposed to believe in, we wouldn’t get a stick up our butts about <insert outrage here>. We’d live in joy and act to try to make other people feel that joy.

But if you believe that you suck–that you don’t measure up to God’s freely given love, then you can’t extend it to other people, either. Too many of us–including me far too often–fail on this count.

Maybe it’s best to love them all (or try really hard) and let God sort them out.


On Christian hurricane hypocrisy and fairness

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, megarich, megachurch prosperity-gospel pastor Joel Osteen made news because his church–a building that used to be the Houston Summit, home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets–wasn’t opened to house hurricane refugees. In my opinion, it was a fair criticism and Osteen eventually opened his NBA aren–err, church.

Then this meme showed up, calling out not just Osteen, but the massive hypocrisy of almost all Christian churches in Houston and, probably, by extension, across the country.

More than 19 of every 20 churches, out of greed, callousness, and hypocrisy, left their church doors shut while their neighbors lost everything including, in may cases, their lives. Damn them all to hell!!!!! Except…

Except most churches don’t meet in former NBA arenas. Most aren’t megachurches. Many have very few, if any, paid staff. Many pastors have full-time day jobs. Some churches don’t even have a physical presence, instead renting space in high school gyms or even other churches.

The Catholic parish I used to attend, a pretty well-to-do parish, has a paid staff of maybe a dozen. And it’s a big church. Were a similar storm to hit the Tampa area, it’s a decent bet that even in a church that big and well-to-do, that most, even all, of the staff would have significant issues that would prevent them from rushing down to the church to open the doors to the needy–just like their neighbors’ issues.

The people at most of the churches in Houston don’t live in Joel Osteen’s house. They don’t have paid staff who can fix the house while they attend to other things. They don’t drive $80,000 cars. They’re a lot like you and me materially. Some aren’t even at that level.

I try to be what Jesus would have me be. Far too often, I suck at it. I’m selfish, egotistical, greedy, and like leggings far more than I should. Based on Jesus’ rules about things like anger and lust, I have broken every one of the Big Ten.  So whatever slings and arrows you cast at me are deserved.

Whatever my hypocrisies, were I to take care of my house and family first after a hurricane–then turn my attention to my friends or neighbors, then think about what I could do at the church to help…if I did these things, I think Jesus would be happy with my efforts. I don’t think he would Gibbs slap me and say I need to also get down to the church.

That’s not a fair burden to place on most of the people referenced by this meme.


Not all Christians make atheists

I’ve done some shitty things in my life. I’m not guilty of any of the things required by Hedy Lamarr to be in his posse (except being a Methodist), but I’ve had my moments.

But, I’ve done some bad things. I am, in many ways, what some Christians would say makes a person unworthy for heaven. And that condemnation’s a big turnoff. According to this article from a guy named John Pavlovitz, the reason the Christian church is declining in the West is because of, well, Christians.

I’ve done it. If you’re Christian, you’ve probably done it, too. Hell, Jesus even did it. He made a whip and drove the dirty pagan bastards out of the Temple. But Jesus wasn’t typically angry and judgemental.

When it came to people we would consider sinners (the condemned woman, the woman at the well, even a dirty stinking tax collector), Jesus was remarkably approachable.

In reality, my journey to real redemption started when I realized that I was, in my own special way, just as bad as the people I thought were bad.

The truth is, if I want to condemn the gays, I condemn myself, too. Sexual sin included looking at a woman and watching her yoga-pants sheathed legs or wonder at some length what it’s like to be with her.

The truth is, and it’s right in the Big Book of Myths, that when I call someone a fool, I’m subjecting myself to the same risk of wrath as them. When I gossip or backstab or get irrationally angry at someone, I’m Biblically qualified to be damned.

Just like the dirty God-less heathens.

In truth, because I’ve done the same thing, if I damn them, I damn myself to be in the line to eternal toastiness directly in front of them.

It’s right in the Bible.

But God loved me. He said that stuff doesn’t matter. He said his love conquers my self-focused stupid stuff.

Yeah so you can do whatever you want and it’s okay with God–you’ve got a license to be an asshole.

Actually, I’ve got a license to try to be to my brothers and sisters what God is to me. There’s no one on earth who has acted against me the way I’ve acted against God. The Bible is clear that I’m to forgive them because I’ve been forgiven much more.

The good news is that for every loud-mouthed televangelist with a diamond ring, there are two people living the life, serving as missionaries to the poor, hurting, and imprisoned. The good news is that there’s a growing movement toward love and away from judgement in a lot of churches.

The good news is that Pope Francis sees what Jerry Falwell didn’t, that mystics like Richard Rohr and Mirabai Starr are spreading a very different Gospel. (Rohr is fond of saying that he believes hell exists, and it’s empty.)

The point of this article isn’t to reduce the harm done by those who use the Bible as a bludgeon. It’s to say that they aren’t Christianity. A lot of us understand that we fall just as far short–and then do their best to extend the overwhelming love we’ve gotten to others.

Are we perfect at it? Oh, hell, no. But we’re trying and we really want to do our best to love our brothers and sisters.