The Funny Thing About Fundamentalists… (The Christian&theAtheist)

Ronelle Adams said:

“If your fundamentalists are faith healers, snake handlers, child abusers, sexist, racist, and anti-gay bigots, then there’s something wrong with your fundamentals.”

Nice job, Ronelle. I can understand entirely where you’re coming from. That is a bit creepy, the way fundamentalists portray themselves so often as ragingly dangerous, closed-minded, single-sighted/sided figures in the world. And I really think we should change the name we give those who exist on the extremes of the far right of the Christian religion; because one thing Ronelle said was a little off. The funny thing about fundamentalists is they are about as far from teaching/living the fundamentals of Christ as you can possibly be, while still standing in the shelter of the umbrella term, “Christian.” Bigotry, sexism, racism, and child abuse–not even in the slightest sense or contortion—reflect the foundational teachings Jesus shared while alive in the world. Jesus, in fact, taught the exact opposite to those who walked with him all of those years ago, and stood strong with the same passion for social justice as Christianity’s harshest modern critics.

Throughout the gospels (just open a page to any of the four) and Jesus’ teachings are about lifting up inclusivity, embracing the outcast, prizing the importance and sanctity of the lives of children (begging us all to be so beautifully and simply situated in the world), and working endlessly–to death, in fact—for cross cultural/cross-ethnic/cross-gender social respect and equality. Jesus was the ultimate critic of religion, himself, and would have readily taken sides with Ronelle Adams in his statement, along with Bill Maher, George Carlin, Trent Reznor, and all of those other voices we hear so loudly criticize the habits and ways of religion. Again, just open any of the gospels, and Jesus yells just as fervently about these very same things.

So why is it that Christianity, the religion against religion, gets all of the flack?

How do we rightly live up to the fundamentals of Christ, while people wrongly labeled as “fundamentalists” run rampant through the world, spreading hate, greed, corruption, and exclusion throughout a population of people yearning to break away from the barriers of the past and breathe free?

To me, the world is searching—yearning—for what Christianity used to be, while running—fleeing—from what Christianity has become.

As individual Christians and as spiritual seekers together, what do we do about this? Something to examine and think about as we move along each day in the world.






Smiling Back at God

I opened my eyes this morning with a feeling in my chest—a powerful urge moving down from my mind to my heart. (Or maybe it was the other way around…hard to tell sometimes, isn’t it?).  The feeling was sudden, but deep. And that feeling was  a want to worship God.

Strangely, I just woke up with that lifting-up feeling inside—that need to smile back at God, from where I stood.

So, I breathed deep. I went to the study and sat with the Quiet for a while. I read words from books I thought tapped into my sense of God, and lifted up thoughts of praise. I even found some powerful music of worship. The good stuff. Not necessarily church-brand, but other songs that really captured the power and beauty of Life.

Of course, being a pastor, I naturally started sensing an urge past all of this. I wanted to shout from the top of the mountain, and help other people feel what I was feeling, too.  Because it was good.

So I logged onto our Deer Park facebook page, and started posting some of this stuff. Some of the readings. Some of the music. … All of it to keep lifting It up and out.  Just a little later, I noticed there were some people outside,  going in and out of the food pantry; and I wanted them to hear it, too—on the off chance that it might lift their soul up just a little higher, and give them a sense of God in their own lives.

I opened the windows wide, and turned the sounds up so they might carry through the air.

And then… it hit me.

Just as suddenly as that sense of worship came, a very real sense of God’s movement in our lives filled me up and ran over. The silent words of God—maybe God’s response to all of that worship, I’d been shouting—rang out loud past all of those sounds I was hoping might reach the outside air, “…Well, thanks! Feels real good to hear.  … Sooo…. What are you still doing in here?”

I looked down at the volume remote in my hand,  and to the speakers rattling in the corners, and had to laugh at myself for a second.

Of course, God was right. (As usual) ;)

All of this time, inside my house, while I was trying to get these sounds of worship out into the world, and spread that goosebump-feeling of God through other people’s skin—-all of those folks outside had been moving back and forth from the food truck, stocking the pantry to help people in need. And there I was, sitting inside with my volume remote.  In this makeshift Sunday I’d set up, I’d been so happy feeling God move through my soul, that I hadn’t noticed all of that movement of God through the life just outside my door.

I didn’t turn off the music inside; but I put down the remote, and I tied my shoes tight.

Walking out the door, I found that all of that volume inside didn’t go much further than my doormat. The wind carried it away, just past the first step from the porch.

Downstairs, I grabbed a box of food and joined the others.  Greeted with voices, and smiles, and hellos, we worked together with our hands to do what we could to make life better for people experiencing  the bad stuff.

And it was then that I felt all of that reaching out to God I was trying to do from inside my house, was finally and actually happening.  From hand to hand, God moved back and forth through all of those willing fingers, spreading the warmth and love of God’s soul as we passed the boxes. There was no music. No readings. But there was love.  And that’s what all of those sounds and thoughts are for, anyway, right?  In the end, that feeling of worship inside is there to lift us up from where we are, into the heart of God, and fill us with enough heat and passion to stand up and move. To step out from our sanctuary doors and give praise to God’s overwhelming life and love in the world, by showing it in our own.

As a pastor, I know that so many of our conversations about the larger church’s survival, these days, center around the question of how our music and words can sound out loud enough into the surrounding community to draw more people into our sanctuaries.

But there might be a different question for us to think over.

…Maybe the question to pass between us as we shout out our love for God in worship is, ‘what are the ways we can step out from our walls, to be with all of them?’ Which days and ways can we step out from God’s house, our hearts and minds full of the sounds and words of worship that empower us to move, and hold out our hands in love to help the people outside our church walls survive the tough stuff of the world?

The way I see it, each of us holding our love and worship for God in our hearts, live as little sanctuaries.  Our church is mobile. It doesn’t exist in drywall. It exists in us. And these temples can move through the world and touch more lives than could ever fit in our pews.  These temples can move to move the world, and finally help that goosebump-feeling of God’s love spread through the skin of each of those faces standing outside, just past our window.

And, who knows? Maybe all of those ways we let our little sanctuaries move into the world to spread God’s love outside, will fill up each one of those hearts surrounding ours, and leave behind a strange urge in the morning to smile back at God, and stand with us,  singing those songs and reading those words of worship, too.

















Some Food for Thought

Not too long ago, one of our closest friends came up to the parsonage to meet me and my husband for a weekend camping trip into the hills. He showed up a little earlier than expected so we killed some time outside on the dirt while we waited for my husband to pull up from his long commute.   As we talked about all of the random things we tend to discuss together, one of the volunteers pulled up to the food pantry below the house to unload the many boxes of food we’d so thankfully received from Food Bank of the Rockies to supply the people around us who’ve had a hard time making ends meet (like so many people these days), with food for their families.

I looked down at the truck, then back to my friend; and he knew before I said a word that I was hoping we could head down together to help.

Immediately he shook his head. “Huh-uh. I’m not going down there with all of those Churchies around.”

I “lol’ed” just now, typing the word.  “Churchies” is what this good friend of ours calls people who regularly show up at services on Sundays.  He knows I’m a pastor, of course, and we mutually respect the details of each other’s lives; but you’d be hard pressed to find someone more against organized religion than “Jim” (this isn’t his name, but for the sake of privacy, this is the name we’ll give him for the blog).

His reasons for being against organized religion are legit. He’s aware of the ways Christian history has played out in the world over the centuries, and of how the various, and unfortunately, multiple moments of corruption have hurt good people.  As a result he’s become deeply jaded.  No surprise there.  I hope we all are, to a certain extent, or else we’d have to wonder whether or not we’ve been fully informed about the details of our own religion, and the accuracy of that nagging needle on our proverbial moral compasses, right?

On top of all of this, Jim was hesitant to head down because he tends to rattle more traditional church-goers with his tattoo sleeves, which on one arm extends into the second knuckles of his right hand.  He didn’t want to go through the awkward pains of being judged.

I assured him the people down there were laid back, and absolutely wouldn’t push him away—that they were down there to help people who needed some support, and wouldn’t shove pamphlets into his pockets or bible verses into his brain.

With one last look of hesitation, Jim nodded his head, gave me some chuckled grief on the way down the stairs, and walked with me to the bed of the truck to unload. Inside the pantry, Jim helped the kids move containers of frozen food to the freezer, worked at organizing the non-perishables, and broke down boxes.  The volunteer downstairs burst out with endless thanks for us coming down to help, and gratefully let Jim know how much time he took off the task by lending a hand.  No one looked twice at his well-crafted tattoos (at least not in any way a person could notice from the outside).

As we all worked together, I noticed Jim smiling—often. He isn’t the type to grin without reason.

With all hands together, the time we spent in the pantry was short and sweet; but to my complete shock, the impact was long.  Jim talked about the experience of being down there on and off for almost the entire hour before we finally got on the road to go camp. As he later sat down with my husband by the fire, he brought it up again, cautiously mentioning how good it made him feel to do something to help people who were down on their luck.

The afternoon highlighted very brightly in my mind the fact that so many people these days (of my age, or younger, or older) stay away from Christianity for what Christians have done, but I think something inside – some spiritual spot which sits in the deep parts of us all— still wants to be filled with these moments of doing something they know is right and good to do in bringing loving support to the people around us.

Ironically enough, being a part of the moments of doing something good—of bringing loving support—to the people around us, is the very heart of that Christianity so many people have labeled as a spiritually superficial and socially destructive religion.

Where does this leave us, as Christians, then? And where does this leave all of the people who share the very well-founded opinions floating around in Jim’s mind?

Some food for thought.







Stepping Outside of Our Open Doors: A Meditation on our Vital Congregations

While my feet trudged through the thousands of frail wafers of yellow and white dropped by the aspen trees surrounding my home,  a fellow seeker of God walked beside and behind me, filling the quiet with news and info about the current state of things for the people who come to sit in the chairs together each Sunday.

Our conversation was supposed to take place inside of a big room under florescent lights, with multiple folders and papers; but we decided to ditch the rug and metal and head up the side of the mountain across from the church.  The conversation was, at first, business. As planned, we went over the news we’d received from the bishop, who’d provided guidelines for each congregation, each year, regarding our growth and calculating all of those nice statistical digits congregants and clergy hope will fill their eyes each week, but prefer not to see on paper.

The two of us quickly tossed between each other the numbers and projections; but  as our legs moved over the dirt, lifting us higher through the trees, our conversation changed.

The cold crunch of the  fall air had finally reached down to the bottoms of our lungs, deepening our talk with the color of the leaves under our shoes; and our minds pushed past the conference room jargon to consider where we’re supposed to go, as people who hope and yearn to find a closeness with this beautiful force of Life we call God.

We talked about a lot of things.  The history of the church, the old ways of missionaries, and all of the ways people, over the years, had come to resent the church for its role amongst people; and how this history — which stands as flawed as each one of us— had worked, over time, to actually isolate people from their natural movement toward God.

What a horrible and wonderful thing to let ourselves consider.

Acknowledging this truth is horrible, because it leaves us with a sense of fear and anxiety toward what has already been done; but it is simultaneously beautiful and wonderful for us to let this truth enter, because it allows us more clearly, and with more bravery, and strength, to walk ahead from where we are.

People still search. People still yearn to be closer with the Higher Force of Life we’ve all felt invisibly present inside and around us since the beginning of our human experience on the dirt.  Sit down at any table with any group of intoxicated college kids (funny, I just turned thirty, and now find it natural to call these adults, “kids.” Oof.), and you’ll find this deep yearning and searching in each of the words expelled from their souls, as long as you don’t ruin the conversation early, by safely and simply regurgitating dogmas and creeds.

People want God.  People search for the God they sense in the deepest parts of who they are; but they haven’t yet found a place to go, where they feel they will find what they seek.

The church is not the church if it is not this place.

While I walked with this other seeker through the trees on the mountain, I couldn’t help but feel a connection with those yellow-white wafers dropped from the aspens to the ground, blowing without attachment to the source of their natural life.

In that cold fall air, I also couldn’t help but remember that life moves in cycles, each beautiful, and necessary, and unique as they are; and that though this seeker and I moved through leaves which right now lied scattered and dry all around us, a time is coming soon, when our eyes will again fill with the green connected strong to each branch of the tree which grows and spreads life through each extended wafer.

As a church, as a branch reaching out from the life of God, we are vital.

And all of us seeking the sight of growth and change, will find it, as long as we’re willing to take a step outside of the conference room, and surround ourselves with the life outside of our open doors.

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