How I would say what Victoria Osteen said differently


In a video clip that has been making the rounds on social media, prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen's wife Victoria goes on a rant about worship that has gotten many Christians up in arms. She said that worship is about making us happy more than it's about pleasing God. While I would say what Victoria Osteen said differently, I absolutely affirm the basic insight that worshiping God is not supposed to be moralistic drudgery but actually a genuine source of deep joy. … [Read more...]

Grace vs. niceness in interracial dialogue


I wanted to ponder the difference between grace and niceness in difficult online conversations, particularly the discussions of race that have sprung up in response to the crisis in Ferguson, MO. Please do not read this as an analysis of any particular conversation that has occurred. It is meant to be a completely generic, hypothetical consideration. The problem is that many of us conflate grace with niceness, and while they have some overlap, they are very different phenomena. … [Read more...]

Teach us to want: the quest to transcend evangelical moralism


"I was beginning to confidently believe that the only way of discerning what God wanted me to do was, in every case, to find the path that seemed least desirable and most difficult." These words, from Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want, capture the curse of evangelical moralism, the assumption that the only way to ensure that I'm obeying God is to do the opposite of what I want to do. Michel's book is an attempt to get past this moralism by learning how to want things that are good and … [Read more...]

Could you listen to an angry black Jesus?


I know. He doesn't look all that angry. There just aren't any good angry black Jesus photos available on the internet. But the real Jesus in the Bible gets angry a lot more than most Christians really feel comfortable acknowledging. And he definitely wasn't white, physically or culturally. We generally gloss over things Jesus says that are offensive to modern white Enlightenment sensibilities. One of the most offensive stories in this regard is Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman in … [Read more...]

Why I refuse to shame people for social media silence


A few days ago, a friend of mine expressed disappointment that a preacher many of us follow had not written anything about the situation in Ferguson in social media since he's in Missouri. This particular preacher had counseled me a few weeks before to be "contemplative" instead of "reactive" in my activism. I'm not sure how well I've followed his advice in terms of my social media output. I've been a retweeting machine first about Gaza and then about Ferguson. I'm perpetually conflicted about … [Read more...]

Our gated communities and the black bogeyman that haunts us

audubon place

I decided to take a picture of the most violent thing I've seen so far in New Orleans. Maybe that sounds silly to you. How can a sign in front of a peaceful gated community filled with ten million dollar homes far away from the tear gas street battles taking place tonight in Ferguson, Missouri be violent? But the ideology that is articulated in this sign is the source of great violence: the idea that super-rich white people must be kept absolutely safe and segregated from the poor people of … [Read more...]

A brilliant thing Kierkegaard wrote about love


I discovered the Danish Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard my first year in college. He made such an impression on me that I wanted to name my first son Soren, which I would have done if my wife hadn't objected. I left Kierkegaard behind for a long time, but over the past few weeks, I've been flipping through is Works of Love, where he spins off essays riffing on 15 Bible passages about love. And his piece about 1 Corinthians 8:1, "Love builds up," is brilliant. … [Read more...]

Is it okay to notice that Jesus can be a jerk sometimes?


The lectionary reading for this week is the familiar story of Jesus walking across the water in Matthew 14:22-33. It's very easy to let your eyes glaze over when you're looking at the story for the hundredth time. But there's something about the text that bothered me reading it through this time and I'm not sure that it isn't supposed to bother me. Peter has jumped out of the boat and done something that required way more faith than I would ever be able to muster: walking across the water to … [Read more...]

What if instead of attacking gay people, evangelicals supported celibate monasticism?


The latest thing conservative evangelicals on social media are getting excited about and sharing around is the newly discovered phenomenon of celibate gay people. There are even celibate gay people who live together as a couple and just don't have sex. One couple named Lindsey and Sarah shared their story on this blog a few months ago. Though I completely reject using celibate gay people as bludgeons against sexually active gay people, I do think that celibacy in general is something the church s … [Read more...]

Ridicule is great clickbait, but is it good for Christian community?


If there's one thing that defines our era, it's the way that people like to make fun of other people. Ridicule is the favorite pastime of the social media age. The most clicked-on youtube videos are the ones that give us an opportunity to laugh at people for looking stupid. We make memes with Willy Wonka zinging the idiots we define ourselves against. Ridicule is great for high-fiving the people who already agree with you about who the dumbasses are, but I'm not sure how Christian it is or how … [Read more...]