Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. It's a special day for those of us who follow Jesus. We remember Christ's death on the cross today. We call this event the ultimate sacrifice, and God's reconciliation of the world to Him.

Christ's followers freaked out when He was crucified. The gospels tell us they scattered, afraid of association with Jesus. Can you blame them? I can't cast a scornful eye toward's Peter's famous denial–the Roman Empire was brutal in maintaining its power.

But Christians also believe that something special happened on Sunday, that Jesus triumphed over death. We believe that the victory has been won, that good really does triumph over evil. This resurrection story is understandably controversial, and many people don't believe it. But we do. We believe that Jesus Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday.

We believe that salvation is here.
We believe that Christ came to save us all.
Don't we? I'm not sure.

If Christ came to save us all, why do I have so many friends who have been utterly broken by His church?
If Christ has won the victory, why do we need to circle the wagons to protect ourselves from outsiders?
If the cross defeated sin, where does this obsession over the speck in our brother's eye come from?

In short, why do we make the least of these wait outside?

When I read the Bible, Jesus shows limitless compassion toward the weak, and toward the outsider. He reserved his rebukes for the religious and educated–the church of his day. He came to heal, and he was unapologetic about breaking down social taboos and biases. He was a man who associated with sinners and Samaritans. His twelve included both fishermen and a man who collected taxes from them.

He invited them into community. His invitation was simple: "Come, follow me." The disciples fought. They misunderstood each other and Christ himself. These were not people who had all the answers.

But they grew and changed, and they did this because they were part of a community. The only thing Jesus required from his followers was a willingness to follow, to give it their all. The only people turned away were those too attached to their own identity and possessions. Jesus built a band of misfits and rebels.

Outsiders.

They continued to sin as the followed Christ. They continued to sin as they built the church from scratch. But they worked together and they worked out their differences.

Then Paul comes along and he has to deal with all sorts of different ideas forming in this community. How could there not be? This group had no central structure, and no documents to follow. All they had was a story.

Still, they changed the world.

But some of us take the writings of Paul and use them as a bludgeon. Paul's writings about doctrine and church discipline become a weapon used to break people down, and to marginalize them.

You can't destroy someone with love.

Scripture instructs scripture, right? What's the greatest commandment according to Christ? Love God absolutely. What's the second? Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

Who's your neighbor? Christ tells the story of a good Samaritan, where a member of hated group pours oil and wine on a man who'd been abandoned by the upright and the righteous.

There is no room in the church for racism.
There is no room in the church for homophobia.
There is no room in the church for putting down other denominations.
There is no room in the church for rejecting and breaking anyone who has heard the call, "Come, follow me."

Jesus came to heal the world. He came for the least of these, for the one lost sheep.

If you're actions cause hurt in the world more than healing, check your motives. I'm tired of watching Christians hurt people. We are in the reconiliation business. We're here to help the man on the side of the road, not chide him for how he ended up there.

Love your neighbor on this Good Friday. It's the only way Christ is resurrected. The cross is a sacrifice made to heal the world, not a bludgeon to beat it into submission. Are you helping others to heal or breaking them?

An Easter Garden

Garden Cover Art

Garden Cover Art

Our latest work with The Liturgists is out now! I'm thrilled to introduce you to Garden, a collection of songs and movements designed for Easter. This is the most gratifying work I've ever been a part of, and I hope you are blessed by it as much as I have been. http://www.theliturgists.com/garden

Garden is also available on iTunes and Bandcamp.

My Reading List

I've been asked to recommend books on science, religion, and the intersection of the two a few dozen times this week. I thought it would be easier to make a post aggregating this list for anyone who is interested. This was a hard list for me to build–there are very few books I agree with completely, but almost every book I read teaches me something I enjoy. The books listed here either had a lot to teach me, or taught me one or two really powerful ideas.

God & Science

How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist - Andrew Newberg M.D. Few books have influenced me as dramatically as this one. I'd been searching for a researched based insight into how humans experience God for months, and was building my own model bit by bit. Little did I know, Andrew Newberg had a book that would revolutionize my understanding of how humans experience God.

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God - Tanya Luhrmann. This is another foundational book for me–a deep, anthropological examination of faith in America.

A History of God - Karen Armstrong. A solid overview of how human societies grew to understand God overtime. I found the section on Sufism particularly interesting.

The "GOD" Part of the Brain - Matthew Alper. Among other things, this is an excellent overview of why humans are so oriented toward belief in God and the supernatural.

The Psychology of Religion - Ralph Hood, Jr. More of a reference than a read in my case, this book is an expansive look into, well, the psychology of religion.

The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt. A fantastic examination of why religion and politics are so polarizing, even among people who are kind and reasonable.

God

What We Talk About When We Talk About God - Rob Bell. Is God an antiquated notion, rooted in ancient mythology? Rob argues that God is not only timely, but ahead of humanity, pulling us forward.

Love Wins - Rob Bell. Does God send people to Hell? In one of the most controversial religious books of our time, Rob makes a case for a different view of the afterlife.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff - Christopher Moore. Fictional and fantastic account of the life of Christ as told by his childhood friend. Be warned: This book will deeply offend you if you are a traditional Christian, unless you have a dark sense of humor.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith - Ann Spangler. We often read scripture through modern, Western eyes. This book is an introduction to considering the Bible and the Gospels in the context they were written.

Why Christianity Must Change or Die - John Shelby Spong. An introduction to Christian non-theism. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the teachings of Christ, but turned off by supernatural faith claims.

Religion for Atheists - Alain De Botton. An interesting look at how to approach religious for nonreligious persons.

Surprised by Hope - NT Wright. A Theologian challenges the traditional views of heaven, the afterlife, and the call of the Gospel. It'll be a stretch for secularists, but may be interesting to people believe in God as a being, and accept that Jesus is God's son.

Sin Boldly - Cathleen Falsani. An experiential look at the way the story of grace presented by the gospel subverts the human tendency toward vindictive justice.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood - Rachel Held Evans. What happens when a progressive, modern woman tries to live her life in accordance with Biblical principals and edicts? A funny, touching story.

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller. A series of essays whereby Donald Miller comes to terms with an ancient faith in a modern world. One of my all time favorite books.

Inspiration and Incarnation - Peter Enns. The Old Testament is difficult for many Christians as it raises a number of thorny ethical problems. Enns works to reconcile this by describing the Bible as fully divine and fully human, like Christ. A great read for any believer, while very uninteresting to secularists.

Letters from a Skeptic - Gregory and Edward Boyd. A series of letters between an agnostic father and a newly Christian son.

What is the Bible? - Rob Bell. A blog series describing the usefulness and power of scripture in the modern world. A great read for anyone who's ever said, "Why does the Bible matter anymore?"

Science

Pale Blue Dot - Carl Sagan. One of the most beautiful science books ever written. In it, Carl Sagan explains the vastness of the Cosmos and it's implications on man's self centeredness.

A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking. This book literally made me dizzy the first time I read it. You will know more about the nature of reality on grand scales if you read this.

The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins. An incredible look into the mechanics of Natural Selection, The Selfish Gene redefined biology. It's a big deal.

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier - Neil deGrasse Tyson. If the question is, "Why explore space," the answer lies in this book.

A Universe From Nothing - Lawrence Krauss. A guided, head-spinning tour of the most recent insights quantum physics and cosmology and how they relate to our origins. Krauss is a prominent critic of religion, but his physics is truly world-class.

Free Will - Sam Harris. Do humans have Free Will? Neuroscientist and spiritual atheist Sam Harris makes an excellent case that we do not.

The Rocks Don't Lie - David Montgomery. A geologist looks into the flood account in Genesis.

Trends in Faith

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics - Ross Douthat. Douthat explains his premise that the splintering of religious dogma and subsequent conflict are weakening the American experiment. Even if you disagree with the premise, this book offers a fascinated glimpse at how we arrived at our current faith landscape.

The Great Evangelical Recession - John S. Dickerson. A pastor/journalist crunches survey and trend data and comes up with a troubling forecast: the longtime decline among mainline Protestant Christianity is spreading to Evangelicalism.

God is Alive and Well - Frank Newport. A data based case that religion is beneficial, and that faith in God has never been stronger. The sections on the benefits of faith are powerful, thought many of the conclusions seem like an overreach.

Why I am no longer a Christian - YouTube. This series of YouTube videos is the personal account of a man leaving faith. His journey is very close to my own, and his recommended reading is great.

Easter with The Liturgists

We started The Liturgists with an ambitious (insane) goal of releasing a new liturgy every month. Our first release was Vapor, and we've been really blessed watching people respond to it. I've been especially pleased with the tremendous diversity represented in people who've experienced Vapor. We've seen an awe-inspiring variety of denominations and traditions within the Christian Church, but we've also heard encouraging words from people who aren't sure exactly what they believe about God or what the story of Jesus means to them.

It's all very exciting, but it's a brand new month. April is here and it's time for the next liturgy: Easter. I'm thrilled to tell you that our Easter liturgy will be out next week from today, on April 8. We've worked really hard on this release, and I hope you're going to love it as much as we loved making it.

The piece has three movements, each with a meditation and a song. Amena Brown, Rachel Held Evans, and Rob Bell deliver the meditations that take us through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the Easter story. There's something for everyone, both in the form of affirmation and a challenge to see life with new eyes. Working with Michael Gungor, Amena, Rachel, and Rob to create this work is some of the most gratifying work that I've ever done.

If you never fail, you aren't trying hard enough. Another goal for The Liturgists is to include a guided prayer or meditation as part of every release. We heard from a lot of people who found our Centering Prayer exercise helpful, and we really aimed high for Easter. Unfortunately, we couldn't get this meditation done in time to include in this month's liturgy--but we're excited to include a guided meditation in next month's release, and we're planning a larger meditative liturgy a little later in the year.

Easter is the most significant time of the year for people who follow the teachings of Jesus. We've done our best to offer you beautiful, evocative art worthy of this season. And for those who aren't sure what they believe about a story involving a man risen from the dead, we hope you'll find this work to be thoughtful and encouraging as well.

Thanks for being a part of our work.

God and Atheism Q&A

Yesterday's post about God really lit up my email inbox. My readership is pretty diverse in terms of religious beliefs (or lack of religious beliefs), so questions/comments come from all over the map. Here are a few of the most commons ones, with corresponding answers.

There is no need for religion. Anything religion offers is available via other means. The world would be better off without religion.

There is no need for ice cream. Ice cream doesn't offer anything unique nutritionally. People who binge on ice cream become obese. The world would be better off without ice cream.

There is no need for kites. Kites don't offer anything unique recreationally. Any fun you have with a kite could be had via different means. People who fly kites all the time get fired from their jobs. Kite enthusiasts sometimes make fun of people who fly remote controlled planes. The world would be better of without kites.

There's truth in both of those statements. The world would be fine without ice cream or kites. And yet, I love ice cream–it's my favorite treat. There's something about the way the coldness of the ice cream interacts with the fats and flavors in a way that is magical. We don't make and consume ice cream out of need, we make it because we enjoy it. The same is true of kites–I've spent some incredible spring days standing in a field with my daughters, marveling at how high our kite is flying. This experience is a great opportunity to spend time together and learn how the world works.


There is no need for Twitter. Anything you can communicate on Twitter can be communicated via other means. Twitter is distracting, and limiting. Also, Twitter allows uninformed opinions and hate speech to spread freely. The bad of Twitter outweighs the little good, and the world would be better of without Twitter.

There is no need for rice. Rice doesn't offer anything unique nutritionally. Rice is mainly consumed by people in poor economies, and is inferior to the nutritional options in more developed nations. The world would be better of without rice.

Again, there is some truth to those statements. Twitter is used to spread misinformation and hate. It does distract us–it's like having a text message conversation with the whole world. Unlike ice cream or kites, people don't usually love Twitter. Yet millions of people use Twitter–even though there are other communication options. Somehow, the technical architecture of Twitter intersects with the people that use it to create a means of communicating that is interesting and compelling enough that millions of new people join Twitter every year.

Who's really passionate about rice? It's a pretty unremarkable food. Yet rice can be grown in vast quantities relatively inexpensively and without specialized farm equipment. It allows a basic human need for nutrition to be filled, even in countries that can't support other grains at scale.

Like ice cream and kites, religion brings many people joy.
Like ice cream, religion is often abused.
Like Twitter, religion can build unique and interesting communities.
Like rice, religion addresses basic human needs.

Modern humanistic atheism is a bit like sushi: a luxury belief system enjoyed by the educated and wealthy of the world. You can't have sushi without excellent sanitation and specialized chefs, and you can't have atheism without an educated populace with the time to ponder intangible things unrelated to daily survival.


Why can't people just be atheists? Why prop up religion?

They can! This series is for people who desire God. If you are a happy atheist, great. I defend your right to be an atheist, and I work against people who discriminate against you based on lack of belief.

But New Atheism and antitheism trouble me. I think critical thinking and skepticism are helpful and should be promoted–and I'm thankful for the work of skeptics in highlighting this. Yet, there are claims from these communities that are dogmatic, and poorly supported by evidence.

"Belief in God is harmful."
"We'd be better off without religion."

These two claims are dogmatic and unsupported by data every bit as much as young earth creationism--and people support them with the same righteous zeal. Belief in a loving God has been demonstrated to be beneficial to health, cognition, and behavior. Likewise, I don't see adequate evidence to support the idea that violence, discrimination, tribalism, poverty or greed would be eradicated or reduced if humanity suddenly gave up faith.

As I've written before, the true enemy of peace and progress is authoritarianism. Religious and secular authoritarian movements have been the source of incredible oppression and violence in human societies.

Can't you see that your words enable fundamentalists?

No. Fundamentalists don't care for me. In the eyes of a fundamentalist, an atheist is simply a lost person who doesn't know any better, but I've been called a false teacher, false prophet, and heretic so many times that I've lost count.

Anyone who says I enable fundamentalists must not know very many of them.

I will give you some credit though. I do acknowledge that fundamentalism also has measurable benefits–few belief systems can reform behavior so quickly, and few offer such certainty about the world. Human brains crave certainty, so an unchallenged fundamentalist enjoys tremendous peace and happiness when compared to other belief systems.

I also know and love many fundamentalists who accept me as a friend, albeit with the disclaimer that they disagree with me on almost everything.

Fundamentalists aren't unique to religion. There seem to be a growing number of secular fundamentalists. Like religious fundamentalists, they want everyone else to accept their beliefs. Like fundamentalists, they devote incredible energy into forming communities of like minded people, and then "preach to the choir."

This frustrates me to no end. Both Christianity and Humanism have incredible value. Christians follow Jesus–a man who taught that self sacrifice was essential, and that God cared for the poor and the afflicted. Humanists believe that there is no salvation for humanity other than what humanity can make for itself. This belief should drive action toward alleviating the suffering and poverty that is so pervasive in our world. This is why I often label myself a Christian Humanist.

Instead, the Church spends enormous energy and resources looking after itself. Somehow, the Great Commission is translated into constructing buildings and creating programs that serve the faithful, along with lobbying politically to protect the interests of the Church.

Atheists, humanists, and secularists often claim to be a step forward for humanity–a better way of knowing and doing. But what I see the most is atheists trying to make more atheists. Like the Church, secularist movements try to spread their beliefs and lobby for political protection. There's nothing wrong with that; atheists are genuinely discriminated against today. The problem is that the movements promoting atheism exhibit the same type of tribalism that religious movements have exhibited. That's why people keep calling atheism a religion.

We'd all be better off if Christians and Secularists stopped trying to win the verbal argument and started demonstrating why their world-views are so great by actually make the world a better place.

We're all born atheists. Religion is indoctrinated, not natural.

A massive study conducted by researchers at Oxford disagree. We are born with a predisposition toward supernatural beliefs, a bias toward purpose-based explanations, and a majority of persons–including secularists in secular societies–profess belief in some form of life after death.

We aren't born scientists or skeptics either. Humans are born with a messy, conflicting set of biological impulses. Without education and socialization, we would be clever, brutish primates.

I haven't seen any data that supports a claim that we're born atheists. I can't understand why people who profess to be skeptics accept this idea so easily–aside from the fact that one of the primary drivers of human belief is social identity.

You seem to really value science, but what about history?

Secular history is a science, but one with much less certainty than physics. All sciences are uncertain--only math offers proof. But physics is much more firm than history, which in turn is more firm that psychology.

What about Jesus?

I am a Christian. The call of my life is to follow Christ. Although God is the foundation of this series, Jesus is the crescendo. I am unapologetically a Jesus person. The conclusion of this series on doubt will be about Jesus.

But, I'm also an empiricist. I believe based on evidence. Evidence leads me to value mysticism, and in mysticism I encounter Christ. All that to say, my faith is unconventional.

What about the Bible?

I love the Bible and read it daily. I'll probably do a post or two on it, but Rob Bell's series on the Bible is better than anything I'm going to write. If you want to know how I approach scripture, Rob's writings on scripture are the closest thing I've seen to my beliefs.

What about the Church?

I will absolutely do a post on the Church in the future. I am a member of the United Methodist Church in good standing. I am under the teaching and authority of a pastor, and the accountability of a congregation...

...and I love it.

If you've got more questions, just hit me up on Twitter or drop me a line.