Justin Lee: When Christians Are Christianity’s Worst Enemy

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justin-lee/are-christians-christianitys-worst-enemies_b_2586339.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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I’m a Christian. I’m proud of my faith, and I love the church. But sometimes my fellow Christians make me want to scream.

Like a couple days ago, when a restaurant server posted the following photo to reddit.

Restaurant Receipt

The story: The pastor was part of a large party who ate at this server’s restaurant. Like many American restaurants, this particular one has a policy of adding an automatic 18 percent tip for large parties. It’s something the computer does automatically, not something the server has any control over.

According to the server, the pastor’s party tried to get around the automatic 18 percent tip by asking for separate checks, even though the same person was paying for the whole table. The server says that everyone was happy with the service; they just didn’t like the idea of a compulsory tip.

The result? The pastor scribbled out the tip, leaving NONE at all, and adding the note, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?”

(As a side note, I suspect the server would have been happy with 10 percent of the diner’s income as a tip. Only 18 percent of the cost of the meal is a bargain.)

Oh, and just to drive the point home, the diner made sure to add the word “Pastor” above the signature at the bottom.

Really?

In my book “TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate,” I argue that we Christians have often become our own worst enemies. In many communities, our reputation is that of uncompassionate culture warriors, quick to shout about gays or abortion or political candidates, but slow to show grace and mercy in our everyday lives. And these acts of ungrace by Christians have far more power to damage Christianity’s reputation and influence than any attack launched at the church from the outside.

“But wait,” some of my Christian friends have said. “It’s not fair to judge the whole church by one ungracious jerk, even if that person is a pastor.”

I agree, and I know many generous Christians. But unfortunately, this pastor’s bad behavior isn’t an isolated incident. There are enough Christians out there behaving similarly to give us all a bad name.

In my book, for instance, I tell the story of my first job waiting tables:

“Sundays are the worst,” one of the servers explained to me. “That’s when the church crowd goes out to eat.”

 

“What’s wrong with the church crowd?” I asked.

“Oh, honey,” she said. “They’re usually the most demanding, and they’re always the worst tippers. I guarantee you, if you see your table praying before the meal, you can mentally subtract a third from your tip.”

Standing nearby, the manager cracked a smile. “They already gave at church,” he said. “They don’t have any money left.”

In conversations with my server friends across the country, I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed time and time again. As a Christian, I find this infuriating.

 

Yes, a lot of us think the tipping system in America could be improved. In many countries, servers are paid a decent wage, and tips are an added incentive to reward a job especially well done. I know a lot of people who think it should be that way in the United States, too. But it’s not. In most states, servers are paid only a little over $2 an hour (yes, you read that right), with the expectation that they will make their living from tips. You might not like that system, but if you choose to express your displeasure with it by tipping your server poorly, the only person you’re hurting is the server — someone who is already living on very little money and depending on your tip to help them pay their bills.

As a former server myself, I always tip at least 18-20 percent unless the service was just so unbearably horrible that it destroyed the dining experience. Even then, I still tip, just not as much. If I can’t afford the tip, I don’t eat out, or I eat someplace where diners aren’t expected to tip. Otherwise, I consider paying my server to be part of the cost of the meal.

I think everyone should tip that way. It’s the right thing to do, regardless of your faith, and followers of Jesus are especially called to be generous and give more than people expect. Personally, I’d love to live in a world where non-Christians said of Christians, “I don’t agree with their beliefs, but those folks sure do know how to tip!”

But if there’s nothing I can say to convince you to tip well, then at least do me this one favor: Don’t go out to eat after church, don’t pray before your meal, and don’t sign your receipt with the word “pastor.” In short, don’t let people know you’re a Christian. Because your bad behavior is reflecting on my God and the faith that I love. We Christians are supposed to be the generous ones, not the stingy and selfish ones. And I can tell you from experience, when servers see a pattern of Christians who tip poorly, it gives them one more reason to distrust anything and everything connected with Christianity.

And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, please don’t make the mistake some of my customers did:

Some of them would leave fake “money” as part of their tip — pieces of paper designed to look like high-value bills until you picked them up and realized they were tracts telling you about giving your life to Jesus. Why would anyone think that tricking and disappointing a broke food-service employee would be a good way of spreading the Christian good news? …

 

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that Christianity isn’t about us at all. It’s about Jesus. Our human failure to live up to what we believe doesn’t make the gospel any less true. But as the old saying goes, we are the only “Jesus” most people will ever see. People inside and outside of the church judge Christianity by what they see in its practitioners.

Remember, my fellow Christians: Whatever you do, wherever you go, whenever you tip, you are representing Jesus. And what makes the most difference in that moment isn’t your words or your theology; it’s your grace, love and generosity.

 

If we miss that, we’ve missed the Gospel.

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NFL’s Ray Lewis’ idiotic theological slippery slope    —

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-tim-schenck/the-theology-of-ray-lewis_b_2617107.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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 “How does it feel to be a Super Bowl Champion?” He responded “When God is for you, who can be against you?” The implication being that God was “for” Lewis and the Ravens more than God was “for” the 49ers. That’s a slippery theological slope. Does it mean that God preferred one Harbaugh brother over the other? Does it mean that if you pray enough, God will reward you with success and riches beyond your wildest imagination? If you don’t win the big game or get that promotion or get an A on your calculus test, are you a lousy Christian?

This not only turns faith into competitive blood sport, it sets up a dangerous dualistic approach where you’re either on God’s side or not. Everything becomes black and white with no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the human relationship with God is much more nuanced than this — our faith ebbs and flows, there are moments of inspiration followed by periods of doubt. Like the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, faith is a living, breathing life-long journey of falling away and returning to God. 

In other words, if God is for us, that doesn’t mean there’s an equal and opposite person that God is against. It just doesn’t work that way since God is “for” everyone who seeks God out and takes even the most tentative step toward relationship.

I’m still going to enjoy this Super Bowl victory and wear my purple with pride. I just don’t think I’ll be inviting Ray Lewis to guest preach any time soon.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/david-lamb-god-behaving-badly_n_2585708.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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David Lamb: Is God Really ‘Angry, Sexist And Racist’?

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David Lamb God Behaving Badly

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Evangelical theologian David Lamb tackles some of the Bible’s most troubling passages in his book, “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?” His answer: yes and no.

The book has received mixed reviews in the Christian blogosphere, but Lamb was well received when he recently spoke at a church here. Religion News Service sat down with Lamb, an Old Testament scholar at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa., to find out how believers’ long-held views of a wrathful Old Testament God might waver with his findings.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You write about how God “strikes, smites, slays and slaughters.” Why is it important to understand why God is angry?

A: I think the biggest thing that God gets angry about is injustice: when poor people are being oppressed, when widows are not being cared for, when orphans are not being provided for. And those are really good things to get angry about. And let’s face it: When people are angry, it gets our attention.

Q: You write that while God “may seem sexist, He is affirming of women.” What is one example to sum it all up?

A: The very first thing we learn in the Bible is that women are divine — they are God-like. Now, men are too, but I think most men think this already. The man and the woman, when God creates them in Genesis 1, they are made in his image. And there’s nothing more positive you could say.

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Q: You also write that while God “may seem racist, he is hospitable.” What do you think is key for people to know about cultural context in trying to understand this?

A: We need to go to Genesis 12, where we encounter God first talking to Abraham. He is calling the father of the nations. He wants to bless them, but he wants to bless them to be a blessing to all nations. God gets angry when foreigners are not being cared for. God wants his people to be concerned about people that are different from them.

Q: You talk about the distinction some people make between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. How do you unify the tension between the two?

A: If one looks at texts in the Old Testament where God seems to be mean or violent, and people look at texts in the New Testament where Jesus is compassionate and caring for people and healing people, you can see kind of a dichotomy.

I see God in both testaments doing the same things. Jesus bases his teaching, as does Paul, on the teachings of the Old Testament. And the things that Jesus does in the New Testament — healing people, forgiving people, caring for people — we see God in the Old Testament doing the same things.

Q: You give several examples of negative depictions of God. What are some of the biggest cultural contributions to people’s perceptions of God?

A: The classic I look at is this “Far Side” cartoon where God is at his keyboard, and there’s an innocent-looking guy walking down the street, and God’s got his finger over one key — the “smite” key.

I talk to a lot of college students, and a lot of people read, or are at least familiar with, books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the so-called New Atheists. So, you’ve got these New Atheists out there writing about some of the most problematic texts in the Bible and the Old Testament, and it shapes culture.

Q: You respond in the book to the New Atheist movement and to atheist writers such as Dawkins and Hitchens. What kind of responses have you received from atheists?

A: I sent an email to Richard Dawkins and got no response, which is perhaps not surprising. I’ve had some great interactions with atheists, and they love to talk about this. Some of them feel very strongly about it, which I think has been fantastic.

A lot of Christians, we do the same thing that Dawkins is doing — Dawkins just focuses on the negative texts, and Christians just focus on the positive texts. And I think Dawkins needs to acknowledge the positive texts in the same way that Christians need to not ignore these negative texts.

(Kellie Kotraba is the editor of Columbia Faith & Values.)

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We need to get over ourselves [hubris/overpride]  —

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/tool-use-culture-and-huma_b_2617830.html?utm_hp_ref=science

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Get Over Ourselves

In defining our uniqueness, we are using a bizarre circular logic, working backward from a desired result.  We look at all of our capabilities as humans, and then declare that those very sets of capabilities are what make us better than other animals, if not the image of god himself.  But even when we give ourselves a big handicap by creating self-serving definitions that we know beforehand will prove advantageous, the categories of “uniquely human” talents are shrinking rapidly as we learn more about other animals and their adaptive behaviors.  Characteristics previously considered special to our species have eventually been found, at least to some degree, and often with some humor, elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  We see in the animal kingdom examples of impressive brain development, intelligence, self-awareness, empathy, social organization, even some ability in mathematics, as well as of course culture and tool use.

We are faced with the need to combat a fierce bias.  People tend to believe that our species is superior to and separate from the animal kingdom, that we are the end point of the evolution of life on earth.  That notion is not only false but extraordinarily dangerous.  It is this hubris and arrogance that drives much of our most unsustainable behaviors. If we are special we need not respect natural resources put here by god for our use; nor must we protect animals we believe to be our inferiors.  Yet biological reality on the ground is quite different from this species-centric view:  human are nothing but a normal consequence of natural selection, and certainly not the pinnacle of evolution.  We are nothing special, and bacteria are the proof.  We desperately look for traits only we possess, like tool use and culture, only to be thwarted by animal ingenuity.  It is time we got over ourselves and adopted a more humble attitude about our role in the biosphere.  The chimps are watching as they sip their juice.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/how-religions-deal-with-death-video_n_2599988.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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How do we prepare for death of loved ones — and ourselves? We will be forgotten?

Jaweed Kaleem, who reports on religion and death, joins Sharon Salzberg (a Buddhist) and Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr on HuffPost Live to discuss how different religions cope with — and even embrace — the end of life.

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http://live.huffingtonpost.com/#r/segment/the-reality-of-death/5105db8678c90a2016000066

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