Is the American Way the Jesus Way?

Brian Zahnd is the co-founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Brian is known for his focus on embracing the deep and long history of the Church and wholeheartedly participating in God’s mission to redeem and restore His world. He is also the author of several books, including, A Farewell To MarsBeauty Will Save the World, and Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. Today, as we in the US prepare to celebrate Independence Day, Brian talks to us about the conflation of flag and cross, Christianity’s long history of accommodating itself to the pressures of nationalism, and the transformative hope of local churches to overcome both of these distortions of the true message of Christ.

You’ve said that for many American Christians, the American Way and the Jesus Way are essentially the same way of being human. What do you mean by that?

Many American Christians would be hard pressed to identify five examples of how the Jesus way differs significantly from the American way. In the civil religion of America, the Jesus way and the American way have been conflated into the same mode of being human. In essence this means Christianity exists primarily to support the supreme idea of America. Put just so it sounds ludicrous, nevertheless it remains the tacit assumption of American civil religion. But authentic Christianity is a radical challenge to all other allegiances.

Christians confess that Jesus is Lord and thus “We the People” are not. Christians are far more committed to the Beatitudes than the Bill of Rights. Christians believe that only Jesus has a manifest destiny to rule the nations. Christians proclaim that “the last best hope of the world” is Jesus, not America. And that most American Christians would view these assertions as controversial reveals just how deeply the Jesus way has been subverted by the American way.

You can read the rest of my interview with Brian Zahnd at Red Letter Christians. He’s an amazing writer and speaker — the interview is truly worth a read!

Brian Zahnd headshot

Amy Schumer’s Feminism: And Then What?

I am not one to eschew the feminist label. I am a feminist, plain and simple.

But I reject the notion that there is one standard definition of “feminist.” I remember how rejected and misunderstood I once felt in the women’s studies department of my undergraduate institution — so much so, in fact, that I dropped my women’s studies minor a mere one class short of completion. My particular Christian ethics did not jibe with the feminist norm being taught, and many thought me a traitor to the cause.

That was about 15 years ago. In the interim years I’ve learned a lot about popular conceptions of what it means to be a feminist. I’ve realized ideals I once thought immutable are actually cyclical and subject to both minor and major revisions, made by different thought leaders over time. And one current, popular semi-wave of feminism is being led by comedian and actress Amy Schumer.

You can read the rest of today’s post on the “new” (problematic) face of feminism at Sojourners(Definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than to check out their beautiful new website!)

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Where is the Hope in Charleston?

Last night while attending Sojourners’ annual conference, The Summit, I heard from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Jim Wallis, C.T. Vivian, and so many other legends in their fields. Afterwards, I stood in a small circle with others, discussing faith, justice, and reconciliation. I was the lone white face in my group of five; the other four were African-American, faith- and thought-leaders all.

One person, the only man in the group, referenced white supremacy. My ears perked up and I wondered, “Is that really a large part of the issue anymore?” I waited for a break in conversation so I could ask, “Aren’t we dealing more with subtle, insidious, and implicit biases these days?”

I never got the chance to ask. This morning at 5:00 a.m. when I picked up my phone to hit snooze, I saw an NPR alert: nine dead. I knew without question that those nine were black. Turing on CNN confirmed it, and I cried. No one had yet said the gunman was a white supremacist, but what else could he be? Who other than someone who feels his life supreme could take the lives of nine others, cause such aching disbelief and sorrow to their friends and family, and bring such hot pain to those around the nation who, like me, woke to tears and rage and confusion and heartache?

You can read the rest of my morning-after lament at Sojourners.

A Primer on Fast Track Trade Authority for People of Faith

In what the Obama Administration called a “procedural snafu,” the House last week refused to extend a four-decade old program that grants protections to workers displaced by global trade. While this longstanding program has traditionally been popular among Democrats, the trade deal it would usher in if passed is one they fiercely oppose.

Image via pogonici/shutterstock.com

While the procedural details of what exactly transpired in the vote are fairly complex, the take-home message is this: the House successfully shot down a contentious piece of legislation, commonly referred to as Fast Track, that would grant the president executive powers to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress. And once that happens, President Obama would certainly use his fast track authority to speed along passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a proposed free trade agreement with 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim that would affect 40 percent of the global economy. The TPP would be the most expansive trade deal reached in history, and President Obama has made its success a top legislative priority in his last term.

It’s also one of the most divisive political issues on the Hill right now. Here’s why:

You can find out why, and read the rest of today’s post, by visiting Sojourners.

Freeing Men From Patriarchy’s Chains

Carolyn Custis James is president of the Whitby Forum, a ministry dedicated to addressing the deeper needs that confront both men and women as they work together to extend God’s kingdom in a messy and complicated world. She is also the founder of Synergy Women’s Network, a national organization for women emerging or engaged in ministry leadership. She is the author of six books, including Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, and Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing Worldwhich is scheduled for release this month. In Malestrom, Carolyn explores how our culture’s narrow definition of manhood is upended when we consider the examples of men in the Bible and Jesus’ gospel. She shares with us today how Jesus’ gospel liberates men from the strictures of patriarchy and restores them to their true calling as God’s sons. 

What is the malestrom?

The maelstrom—a powerful whirlpool in the open seas that threatens to drag ships, crew, and cargo down into the ocean’s watery depths—offered the strong image I needed to represent the power and seriousness of what men and boys are facing. A slight alteration in the spelling, and Malestrom was born. Put simply,

The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.

These currents can be overt and brutal, leading to the kinds of atrocities and violence we witness in the headlines—wars, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, and the trafficking of men and boys for sex, forced labor, and soldiering. The number of male casualties on the giving and receiving ends of the violence is beyond epidemic. But these currents also come in subtle, even benign forms that catch men unawares yet still rob them of their full humanity as God intended.

The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally as the world is depleted of the goodness and gifts men were originally designed to offer.

You can read the rest of my interview with Carolyn Custis James on the Red Letter Carpet.

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Heavenly Treasures

Today I have the pleasure of writing for my friend, Lindsey Smallwood. I wrote this over a year ago, as we prepared for our move to Maryland. I’m happy to say I’ve learned my lesson, but it did take a while. We’re all a work in progress…

You can read the post here, at Lindsey’s excellent blog.

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

A Theological (Mis)Treatment of Hello, Dolly!

There are at least three things I know to be true: one, this week always sucks for me, no matter how much I think it won’t; and two, I have a very slight obsession with the movie, Hello, Dolly! When I say “very slight,” I really mean it. It isn’t like my obsession with, say, acronyms, Trader Joe’s chocolate yogurt, or good books. But it’s there, nonetheless.

So today on the way to drop Rachel off at pre-school, I was thrilled when she and Aaron both requested to listen to the HD soundtrack. I love the songs, yes, but more importantly, the songs make me happy. This week, I’ll take any form of happiness I can get.

After listening to the first track several times in a row because Aaron demanded it, we moved on to the other tracks. We were singing with gusto, using jazz hands, and largely being dorks in general. As I sang along, I could vividly picture the long-legged, loose-jointed dancing of Barnaby and Cornelius, and I wished I were free to move around rather than stuck behind a wheel.

It was good, it was fun, it was what we do.

But then, as it does every year, the unbridled grief came, right there on Ritchie Highway in front of the gas station that for some reason has statues of cows in front of it.

As I belted out the chorus, “And we won’t go home until we’ve kissed a girl!” it occurred to me with painful alacrity that not all little boys get to grow up and kiss a girl.

And I was suddenly just done and over, dabbing my eyes with the Scruncii I leave in the cup holder in case of wind and hair emergencies. I checked the rearview mirror and, thankfully, the kids were too busy singing and staring at cow statues to notice their mom had just melted into a nauseated puddle of sorrow and mascara.

I somehow managed to drop Rachel off but leave her part of the class project, due today, in the car, as well as talk to several teachers without anyone noticing that the entire world had turned to ash.

On the way home, Aaron blissfully snoozing away in his car seat, the CD played on, and I realized that the HD soundtrack is much more than mere songs: It is, in fact, both a deep theological work as well as an almost perfect representation of a parent’s grieving process. (The two are not exclusive, nor are the “whys” listed here inclusive.)

Dolly, despite her seeming cheer and Subliminal Man-style humor, is a grieving widower. After years spent mourning her husband and helping other people fall in love (she works as a matchmaker, among other things), she wants to move beyond her grief and discover what life has to offer her:

Life without life has no reason or rhyme left
With the rest of them
With the best of them
I wanna’ hold my head up high.
I need a goal again
I need a drive again
I wanna’ feel my heart coming alive again
Before the parade passes by…

This is a turning point for Dolly, and it is only two songs later that she decides she can’t live in daily grief. She does this in “Love is Only Love,” when she sings about finally, years after her loss, looking to fall in love:

If it’s love you’ve found
Your heart won’t hear a sound
And when you hold his hand
You only hold his hand.

The violins are all a bluff
But if you’re really wise
The silence of his eyes
Will tell you
Love is only love
And it’s wonderful enough

And just like that, she has found her hope: Love may be only love, but love is everything. She can love Ephraim (husband one), she can love Horace (soon-to-be husband two). And she can love them both equally, wholly, and passionately, because love is not finite. And if you let it, love will resuscitate and resurrect you into who you are meant to be and allow you to enter into the world of the fully living. Which Dolly does.

The now fully living Dolly walks—no, sashays—in all her glorious finery into Harmonia Gardens (her old stomping grounds), and sings:

Here’s my hat fellas
I’m stayin’ where I’m at, fellas.
I went away from the lights of 14th Street
And into my personal haze,

But now that I’m back in the lights of 14th Street
Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days

Dolly’s overjoyed and overwhelmed and over par.

Do you hear the ice tinkle?
Can you see the lights twinkle?

I hear it tinkle.
I see them twinkle.

Wow, wow, wow, fellas,’

Dolly’ll never go away again.*

You see, she is living the resurrected life. She is living love. That is a hard thing to do, but once you’ve got it, it is, as Dolly says, the most emphatic of wows.

That doesn’t mean the rest of life will be forest green shutters and late nights by the fire for Dolly or for any of us. It won’t be. Love is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Grief is hard. And no resuscitation, no amount of resurrected living, can take grief away. It can only make it better, bearable; tortured moments fewer and further between.

But as Cornelius sings in what is for a grieving parent the most heartbreaking song on the whole damn album, none of that matters. Because in the end, we have this truth to hold to:

It only takes a moment
For your eyes to meet and then,
Your heart knows in a moment
You will never be alone again. 

I held h[im] for an instant
But my arms felt sure and strong
It only takes a moment
To be loved a whole life long…

And that is all
That love’s about
And we’ll recall when time runs out
That it only took a moment
To be loved a whole life long!

And so this is the third thing I know to be true: He may have only had a moment, but in that moment, Jeremy was loved his whole life long.

* I cut out all the lines that weren’t Dolly’s. (and even cut a few of hers.)
PS – I hope it’s clear that much of this is tongue in cheek. Then again, some of it absolutely is not.