A Message on Christmas

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is discord, union; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy; Oh Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

-Saint Francis of Assisi

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“A business owner was approaching a busy time of year and did not have enough workers to get all of the jobs of the day finished. So, he set off early in the morning to town to find work for the day. Around 5:00 he found a group willing to help him for the day. Around 9:00, the owner realized he would need more workers, so he again went into town and found another group of workers. The same thing again happened at 12:00 and 3:00. For the final push of the day, he went into town and hired a few more workers for the last hour.

The owner then told his manager to pay each of the groups that came, starting with the group that came in at 5:00 in the afternoon. They were paid the usual day’s wage of $100. In expectation of much more than the wage of those that only worked one hour, the next groups all came to get their payments. Yet when they received it they saw that it too was only $100. The workers were perplexed. Grumbling, they argued, ‘But why should we get the same wage as those that have only worked one hour? We did so much more work than they and worked far harder.’

The owner replied, ‘My friend, we agree on a normal day’s wage. I am not doing anything wrong for you. I chose to give to the last the same I chose to give to the first. Surely you will allow me to pay as I see fit? Or are you just envious because I choose to be generous? Now, take what belongs to you and go.'”

This parable of Christ is the epitome of everything American culture is not. Here in America, we worship hard work, success, and money. Because the American Dream tells us if we work hard enough, anyone can be successful. Our goals, our politics, and our lives however, resemble little of what Christ calls us to be. Personally, I find myself spending more time being concerned with who is getting money or health care, and whether or not they deserved it, than I am thankful for the generosity of others, whether that be individuals, businesses, or government. Or, when there is a lack of generosity (which seems to be running rampant in America’s White House today) it doesn’t get critiqued. Unfortunately this is largely because we don’t like generosity. We like the church to be generous (even though that is often very much to the contrary considering how much the American church spends on itself). But we hate to see the government or businesses being generous because, just as the workers grumbled that others were not getting paid what they deserved, so do we.

This Christmas, I hope you have a special time being with family and friends, celebrating the incarnation of the Lord God into a wee little boy we call Jesus. Yet, we cannot forget the radical message of grace and mercy that Christ offered to us. Let the generous message of Christ fill our lives in all we do, including how we live, how we do business, and our politics.

As we enjoy the amazing holiday that fully embraces giving over receiving, I pray that we also understand that we have done nothing to receive the mercy of Christ, and yet it is freely given to us.

We hope you have a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year,

Carrie and Lukas Steenhoek

What in the Hell, Rob Bell?

Some thoughts on Heaven and Hell

ReThinking Thinking

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

-Luke 17:20-21

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In 2011 Rob Bell finished his book Love Wins. The book sparked a huge conversation among Christians and a strong critique from evangelical circles. It became so widely popular that Times Magazine did an article and named Rob Bell as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But many Christian leaders were disgusted by Rob Bell’s ideas portrayed in the book, particularly evangelical leaders like John Piper, David Platt, and Francis Chan.

The concern for many of these Christian evangelicals was that Rob Bell was claiming in his book that Christians should…

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What in the Hell, Rob Bell?

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

-Luke 17:20-21

Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 10.29.11 AM

In 2011 Rob Bell finished his book Love Wins. The book sparked a huge conversation among Christians and a strong critique from evangelical circles. It became so widely popular that Times Magazine did an article and named Rob Bell as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But many Christian leaders were disgusted by Rob Bell’s ideas portrayed in the book, particularly evangelical leaders like John Piper, David Platt, and Francis Chan.

The concern for many of these Christian evangelicals was that Rob Bell was claiming in his book that Christians should call into question the idea of Hell as an eternal torture chamber. Bell talks about a number of different views on what Hell is, and also speaks to the idea of Universal Reconciliation. Bell does not actually claim to take a particular side in any of these cases, and even after the numerous threats of him being labeled a “universalist,” still claims to deny that belief. From listening to several interviews and sermons by Rob Bell (I have not read Love Wins) he claims that the goal of the book was to show that love will win, not to show that everyone will be saved. He points out the fact that true love involves the freedom to partake in God’s being love, and that for Christians to claim that anybody who is not a Christian will be tortured forever in a fire is toxic to the idea of God being love. While many Christians attacked him for this particular view, others like Eugene Peterson, Greg Boyd, and Brian Zahnd came to the defense of Bell, claiming he provides a valid and important point for Christians to hear.

Here are my thoughts on Heaven and Hell, and the thoughts that I think every other person should have: I don’t know. I do agree with Rob Bell however that the idea that God sends everyone who doesn’t believe to be torchered is quite toxic. I guess my first concern is, why even believe that in the first place? What benefit does it give us to claim that the God that we worship torchers anyone who doesn’t believe?

Let me lay out a scenerio: There is a young lady about 21 years old who lives in Japan and is a Buddhist. Ever since she was born she has been raised as a Buddhist. She knows nothing else beyond this religion. She is a kind young lady, she works hard, helps others and is peaceful. She has spoken up numerously when people are mistreated, and she has made it a priority to give anything she receives to those who need it more than she does.

Then there is another lady that lives in America. She was raised in a Christian home and has confessed the creeds in church each Sunday. But she is very self-interested. She has a good job but never really tries to help anybody. She has chosen to invest most of her time and money into her own particular life. A nice, cozy house. Lots of clothes. Good entertainment. And everything else she saves so she can have a good retirement. She goes to church every Sunday, claims to be a Christian, and votes for Christian politicians.

So in the view of most evangelicals, the young Buddhist lady would go to Hell to be torchered forever while the American girl would enjoy eternal life in heaven.

I can’t get this out of my head: Forever. Non-stop. Eternal, never-ending. Have you ever touched a hot stove for like half a second? It hurts really bad. But it was like half a second. What if you were burning on your entire body forever and ever. Oh, and not just burning, but a bunch of demons are gnashing their teeth at you and maggots are feeding on you. But it never, ever, ever, ever, ends. Can someone please tell me how this is a productive perspective for Christians to have under any circumstance? Many say it’s what we deserve. But is it? Really? Even someone who committed murder, do they really deserve to be torchered constantly forever and ever?

And yet, evangelicals were disgusted by the fact that Rob Bell would even mention the possibility of an alternative. John Piper tweeted “Farewell, Rob Bell!” as soon as he heard about the claims he was making, and Francis Chan made several videos afterword ensuring us that Rob Bell was wrong to suggest we should question this understanding of Hell.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell claims, but I do think he provides a valid point: That Christians are way to arrogant in the way that they claim to know about the afterlife, and that there is only one understanding that is valid. If you don’t believe that, you are a heretic, and therefore can no longer ever be the source of anything valuable. The way I see it, the only thing I really need to know is that God will come to judge the living and the dead. However that is, I’m sure that it will be done in a way that is consistent with the life of the incarnate God, Christ.

But more importantly, the problem I have with the obsession with Heaven and Hell among Christians is that it tends to lend us to the thought that our world is broken, so we patiently await a new kingdom in heaven. This is handy, but we forget that we must be co-conspirators in the commitment to restoration on earth. It should make us feel a deep pain when we know that there is enough food in the world for everyone to eat and be full, yet millions of people are starving. It should hurt when we see the world being pumped up with huge amounts of CO2, eliminating plants and animals from the earth at a rapid rate. It should hurt when we don’t see people being treated equally. But as people committed to restoration, it should also make us get up and fight against big corporations ruining the environment. It should make us want to fight against a system that feeds the wealthy and takes from the poor. It should make us want to get up and serve the poor. It should make us fight against war. It should make us promoters of peace.

Evangelicals today are sympathetic. But they are sympathetic for the wrong reasons. They are trying to get as many people to become Christians as possible, so that they will not die and be sent to Hell. What I would object is that we cannot force people to become Christians. But we can partake in the Kingdom of God everyday we live. We can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly as co-conspirators in God’s restoration of earth. Maybe if we lived out our faith, rather than attacked anybody who questions whether God sends people to Hell to be tortured forever or other unimportant theological issues, and stopped forcing our faith on others, the Church of Christ would become a much more appealing place for the huge population of people today that are leaving the church.

Because Christians are so obsessed with Heaven and Hell, we become obsessed with getting ourselves there. This is why we are so committed to laws. This is why we are so committed to doing the right things. This is why we try to save as many people as we can. But we forget that we are already spiritual beings. We forget that the Kingdom of God is within us. Each day we have a choice to make. To make our life about getting people to a place we want them to be, or to actively engage in the Kingdom of God on earth. We live in a day and age when what we say is everything. But what is it that we are doing?

Here is the trailer for the film “Silence,” directed by Martin Scorsese in 2016. It is a very powerful film that deals with the desire for Christians to push their faith on others, and the trouble that it can get us into. It is one of my favorite films.

 

To The Real Americans

ReThinking Thinking

“I did not see anything [New York 1886] to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus [white man] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation’s hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.”

-Black Elk

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In 1868, an agreement was signed between the Lakota, Yanktonai, and Arapaho Nations, and the United States government, guaranteeing the Sioux full ownership of the Black Hills region and the promise that they would not be bothered by white men in their sacred land. This agreement was known as the Treaty of Fort Laramie. But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills…

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To The Real Americans

“I did not see anything [New York 1886] to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus [white man] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation’s hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.”

-Black Elk

Bears-ears-172-ho-ps-171201_12x5_992

In 1868, an agreement was signed between the Lakota, Yanktonai, and Arapaho Nations, and the United States government, guaranteeing the Sioux full ownership of the Black Hills region and the promise that they would not be bothered by white men in their sacred land. This agreement was known as the Treaty of Fort Laramie. But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills region in 1874, white miners and prospectors disregarded the established agreement, and tore up the sacred land of these tribes in a greedy search for wealth. A war ensued, known as the Black Hills War. This ultimately ended in a victory for the Native Americans, yet was not enough to stop the powers that be. The United States government eventually forced the Sioux into relinquishing their rights to the treaty so that the land could be made for profit. And profit came. Numerous gold mines became huge sources of revenue, particularly the Homestake Mine, which became the largest gold mine in America.

In the early 1980’s, the Sioux Indians won a case in which the United States agreed that a mistake had been made, and that the Sioux Indians should be compensated. As payment, the U.S. government offered around $120 million to the Sioux Nation. The Sioux to this day refuse to take the money, still in hopes they will be given back their land.

The moral of this story relays a common theme seen in an objective look at history: The powerful taking advantage of the powerless, for the sake of securing their wealth.

Today President Donald Trump declared that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments in Utah would be significantly reduced. Bears Ears National Monument would be reduced almost 80%, while Grand Staircase National Monument would be reduced to about half the size. Several American Indian tribes consider these sites sacred, and are in a deep state of dismay over this recent occurrence. For Trump, these were sites that were pointlessly public. They could be used for mining and ranching, and would be greatly beneficial for purposes of wealth.

The reason we teach young people history is because history still has implications on what happens today. Anyone who examines history from an objective base cannot be ignorant in today’s world. The problem is, most people have been fed a nationalistic, patriotic, white version of history. This either causes us to become unsympathetic when issues occur that have been ingrained within our country’s long history, or it causes us to be a subtle figure defined by complacency. Both are deeply troubling. No, they are not troubling to the privileged, they are troubling to the marginalized.

I promise you, if you take a truly honest look at American history, putting all biases and preconceived notions behind, and read about Christopher Columbus and his band of Spanish Conquistadors murdering and terrorizing huge populations of American Indians… Or hear about the life of a Black slave… Or working conditions in factories… Or the Sand Creek Massacre… Or a woman’s fight for a voice… Or read about a lynching in Alabama… It changes the way you see the world around you. You start to realize that these people that you have always thought of as deserving of where they are, might really have another side to the story. Maybe it isn’t that they just have a horrible drinking problem. Maybe they aren’t actually savages. Maybe it is actually the white people that could be seen as the savages (search the “Sand Creek Massacre,” and read about it… I think you’ll get what I’m saying). Maybe black people aren’t a bunch of uneducated criminals. Maybe they are kneeling because of something real and inherently unjust.

What has stuck out to me the most though, is the way in which those who do not hold a place of power, have historically been used and abused. Which is why when I see that Trump is getting rid of large portions of public land so that huge private businesses can take advantage of these sacred sites for wealth, I become deeply disturbed. Why do we continually take advantage of these people? We conquered them, massacred them, stole their land, destroyed their culture and way of life, forced them to follow white religion, white practices, and white language, broke virtually every treaty and promise we made with them, and yet we continue to take advantage of them. For money. For power. For prosperity. And those of us who do not choose to challenge the principalities and powers (which is not limited to simply government officials but also large corporations who in reality have just as much or more power than the government considering they literally buy political stances for politicians) that enforce their prosperity over the marginalized are essentially choosing against love. My friend, how can anyone who embodies any sort of semblance of love say nothing when people who have been used and abused for over 500 years, are being told that they are not important. That we can continue to do what we have always done. When we ignore these problems, we are just adhering to the mission of the greedy, consumer culture that has so vividly corrupted and blinded America.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I went visited Glacier National Park in Montana. It was among the most beautiful places I have seen. It was a place that I felt was truly the definition of freedom. There were no factories, no houses, on the trails there were no vehicles. We went on a hike to a glacier called Grinnell Glacier. It was the most beautiful hike I have been on. We were the only people there. It was majestic and primitive. The turquoise lakes below the misty clouded mountains covered in snow was something I will never forget. It truly was a spiritual experience. What I can’t get out of my head is what it would be like for a people to live in these places. To everyday have to work with the land, animals, plants, and streams. These places became so sacred to these people because they were their life. They respected the natural world because they had to.

It is a dark reality that this ended with a bunch of rich white men in search of more wealth coming in to displace these groups for the sake of their own personal gain. We completely took away every bit of these people’s life. We took away their culture, their land, their religion. And now we continue to take away their sacred areas for the sake of our greed.

Now more than ever before, we must resist any systematic forces that choose to ignore the needs of the marginalized for the prosperity of the wealthy.

A Name Gained, A Deed Lost

ReThinking Thinking

“My criticism of the church is that you [study] the Gospels and then you go out and you don’t fight for them… If you define the anti-Christ as that movement which essentially defies everything Christ stood for, then, to me, the Christian right is the anti-Christ. It promotes greed, it’s the gospel of prosperity — Jesus comes to fulfill your material wants — it’s chauvinistic, it demonizes the other, all of which, I think, are absolutely contrary to the fundamental message of the Gospels.

-Chris Hedges

Sermon on the Plain

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

Jesus asks this question following his most radical sermon. The Sermon on the Plain. What stuck out to me after seeing this question, was why it was being asked in the first place. It is clear Christ was concerned with those who called upon his name, yet…

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