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Christianity: Upset the Powers that Be, Disdain Certainty, Love the Other

For some real-er Jesus than Don Kopp will ever see bungee-jumping from a thunderhead, I turn to a faithful reader who reader submits the following quote from her "liberal/hippy" Lutheran church's weekly e-mail blast:

This is my belief: that at the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to speak to and transform us. As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right. What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn't promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pleading that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God's [Sara Miles, Take This Bread, Ballantine, 2008].

If you gotta do Jesus, do Jesus right. He didn't want his words to become a parlor game. He wanted his words to motivate people to act. Feed the hungry. Speak truth to power. Do justice and love mercy for all. And believe that against all our fallibility, we can do good.


  1. Steve Hickey 2014.04.03

    Over 150 chapters of the Bible are at least 50% about the theme of the coming Day of the Lord, the End Times, JEsus' return or whatever else it's referred to in the Bible. If you are going to DO JESUS RIGHT, you can't leave that out and only focus on caring for the poor, mercy, etc. or you are just as guilty as the religious right.

    My assessment is that both religious right and left get it wrong when it comes to Jesus. A key verse says "righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne." The religious left today wants justice without righteousness and the religious right trumpets the righteousness message and not so much justice. Both are critical in the coming days. One does not want to be trumpeting the one to the exclusion of the other when he returns. :-)

  2. PNR 2014.04.03

    I disagree, Steve. I think you are accepting the secular understanding of both "righteousness" and "justice" and in the process seriously misrepresenting the views and objectives of the religious right. What you write buys into the notion that justice equals fairness equals uniformity of results, but that's not what the prophets meant by "justice" at all.

    But you are correct in that, to do Jesus right, one cannot ignore the fact that he is going to return - that this present age will end and that there will be a judgment. But Cory is also correct. The truths we teach are not a parlor game and they are intended to motivate people to act. I would change one part of his summation, though. Not that, "against all our fallibility, we can do some good" but that despite our fallibility, God can and will do some good through us.

    I make that change because one of the acts these truths are to motivate us towards is giving glory to God alone. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory..." (Ps. 115:1 NIV)

  3. larry kurtz 2014.04.03

    "GOP insanity: The party that blames gun violence on mental illness shamefully denies healthcare to the mentally ill." @thedailyedge

  4. Bill Dithmer 2014.04.03

    Nothing but words

    The Blindman

  5. Roger Elgersma 2014.04.03

    As is typical when talking religion, each individual and each denomination sees some good that they do and see the others shortcomings.
    We all have the responsibility to our creator to live very right and to help others. But no matter how we try or how good our intentions may be, we have all had real disappointments even in what we are best at. When we realize that when God is moving( the Holy Spirit) the process is when the successes come. Not based on our will or effort or good intentions We still have to do our part right but it is like when Jesus told Peter to throw his nets into the water again when he had been fishing all night and caught nothing. When Jesus told him to, they caught so much fish that the nets started to rip and almost sunk the boat. That is when we realize that is it God that makes things work and not we ourselves.

  6. owen reitzel 2014.04.03

    sorry Rev. Hickey but this guy is a nut. Throwing out Jesus but wanting to get rid of the ACA, supporting the Governor and not expand Medicaid to help the poor. I be t he supported NOem in cutting SNAP.
    No sir, to me he's not a Christian.

    By the way I wish I could have talked to you when my son and I came to watch the legislature. You did wave though. Thank you. I might disagree with you on many things but it's a pleasure to talk to you.

  7. Nichole Colsch 2014.04.03

    Love Sara Miles! That book is an excellent read, by the way!

  8. Mark Remily 2014.04.03

    "Here's the problem with religion. You never know which religion you're going to meet: the "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" kind or the Get thee behind me,Satan" kind. These words from Sr. Joan Chittister from Here is the link. htp:// religious-group-just-deadly-ones-preceded-it
    This liberal nun gets it right in her column.

  9. mike from iowa 2014.04.03

    It has been my experience that wingnut christians dearly love the poor and downtrodden because they consistently vote to make more of them. You don't want them to have healthcare or food or living wages to support themselves,or heat when it is freezing outside and in,but when korporate amerika starts squealing,you guys take those calls immediately. Just like jesus would do,I'm guessing.

  10. larry kurtz 2014.04.03

    Of which sect is Don Kopp a member? Or is he just another cult follower?

  11. Jessie 2014.04.03

    Oh crap, Cory. It's your blog and you get to do as you think best.

    But I thought this was one place I could go online and not find religion. Could we please get back to politics?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.03

    Sorry, Jessie! I couldn't resist juxtaposing the apocalyptic nuttiness of Don Kopp with the practical faith of another believer. And as long as I'm surrounded by conservatives who conflate Christianity and politics, I need to swim in their soup and point out when possible how wrong they get the application of their faith to daily life.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.03

    Steve, help an unbeliever out: what practical good does thinking about all that end-times talk do for us? I can dig the notion that living as if Jesus is coming tomorrow might keep more people on the straight and narrow, just like thinking the teacher might walk back in any moment keeps the kids from acting up—is that the main idea? Is there any other practical takeaway from all the Second Coming talk? Does watching for eclipses and omens make anyone a more faithful Christian, a better parent, or a better conduit for the work that PNR says God does through us?

  14. Roger Cornelius 2014.04.03

    Unless you get an email or tweet from God the likelihood of any us being alive to witness second coming, if there is one, are odds you couldn't get Vegas bookies to lay out.

    Like what happens after death is mystery, is so is what happens to this planet. No Biblical, faith, stars in or out of alignment or whatever you choose to believe is a mere fallacy.

    To be blunt, YOU DON'T KNOW!

  15. Joseph Nelson 2014.04.03

    I think it is right to be aware that there will be a Second Coming, associated with the end of the world and the Last Judgment. However, this knowledge should not lead one to be afraid to act or disregard the issues in the here and now. The Parable of the Talents illustrates Jesus' views on those who do nothing with what they are given. Can an organization get to wrapped up on either side of the spectrum (becoming a social organization which neglects the spiritual needs of individuals or becoming a doom and gloom, the end is coming, so we will pray for you (but not feed you or clothe you))? Certainly, as we have seen this occur (with 41,000 Christian denominations, there are bound to be fringe groups in the mix). Even with a single denomination, a spectrum of people will exist. It is necessary to address both a person's spiritual and corporal needs (Jesus usually paired these together: forgiving sins and healing bodies, feeding minds and feeding stomachs). Just as the Jews ate lamb on the night of the Passover to save themselves, so to is Jesus the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, by whom we are saved when we eat his body. Of course, one must recognize and accept what He has to offer in order to truly ask and receive it (consider the woman at the well.)

  16. Jessie 2014.04.04

    Thanks, Cory.

    "I need to swim in their soup"

    My condolences.

  17. PNR 2014.04.04

    If you want my answer, if you're talking about efforts to pin down an exact date, the answer is it does no practical good. Knowing that, in some measure, there will be an end to our striving, then it can help.

    If you want to continue the school analogy, it's less like "teacher's coming back in the room" than it is a final exam. But the thing about finals is that they also indicate the start of summer vacation. Prepping for finals is tedious, but knowing that once they're done, it's over and I get some time off helps one bear the tedium.

    Some Christians however, like some students, spend so much time anticipating summer vacation they don't actually get the work done (and, consequently, blow the final, too).

    Let's assume, for the sake of illustration, that Kopp is correct and Jesus is returning in 18 months. Fine. So why is he quitting now? It's as if the kid anticipating graduation in May 2015 figures he can skip everything between now and then. Sorry. Doesn't work like that.

  18. larry kurtz 2014.04.04

    Who would Jesus water board?

  19. Jim 2014.04.04

    So, summer school is like purgatory?

  20. PNR 2014.04.04

    Yeah, that's about right, Jim.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.04

    Thank you, Jessie. Now pardon me while I wring the chicken noodles out of my swim trunks.


    Joseph! I do like having a grasp of the facts. If the end is coming, I'd like to know. But PNR's casting of the Second Coming as a pop final causes this teacher heartburn. That flavor of Christianity seems to be based on keeping us guessing. Maybe summer break starts tomorrow. Maybe it doesn't come until after I die. What decent school board does that to its kids and parents? We gotta make plans here! :-)

    If the Apocalypse is a final exam, I suppose we shouldn't fault people like Don Kopp for trying to figure when exactly the exam is going to take place. But might we also view him as the naughty kid trying to break into the teacher's file cabinet and filch the answer key?

    Knowing the end is coming on X date, or even within a year or two of X date, seems to do nothing but foul up acting on earth. We stop paying mortgages, we stop building the Lewis and Clark and Keystone XL pipelines, we don't waste our money on four-year degrees... unless Scripture clarifies that we're going to need pipelines and degrees in the restored Kingdom. PNR and I are on the same wavelength there.

    I get the impression that Jesus gave us the "no one knows" song and dance specifically to keep us from getting distracted. Maybe he should have said much less about the Kingdom to us silly kids.

  22. Joseph Nelson 2014.04.04

    Gah! Summer School would not be Purgatory! If you flunk the final exam, you cannot redeem you grade! Purgatory would be for those who passed the exam, so maybe consider it as the prep work one does between the final exam and graduation (showering, haircut, fancy clothes/gowns). If you do not pass the final, you do not graduate.

    Unless you ascribe to Mormon theology, where a person can die without salvation, but then in the afterlife can be baptized and gain salvation. LDS Summer School!

  23. PNR 2014.04.04

    "I get the impression that Jesus gave us the 'no one knows' song and dance specifically to keep us from getting distracted."

    Yup. Rather explicitly in Acts 1 when the disciples ask when the final will be and Jesus tells them "It is not for you to know...but..." and then he gives them their task. In other words, "Don't worry about it. You've got work to do."

  24. Steve Hickey 2014.04.04

    "Steve, help an unbeliever out: what practical good does thinking about all that end-times talk do for us?

    I'll give it a whirl. Those of us who take the Bible seriously read passages about the END that say it'll be "as in the days of Noah." That means people will be oblivious to anything but themselves and their own pleasures and what's good for them. Those who are like Noah will have a sense that we are accountable to God and that our days are numbered and we'd be fools to devote ourselves to things entirely temporal. So we go about storing up "treasures in heaven" but investing our lives here in the things that matter to God - the plight of the poor, oppressed, suffering - and make a eternal difference for others. This isn't incongruous with business and making lots of money - the blessing of prosperity is for a purpose - most people today can't even be a Good Samaritan and help a beat up person on a roadside without using their credit card. So, money isn't evil. It's what we seek it for, and what we do with it. And there is an urgency in being aware of the end of the age.

    A couple years ago I was in Moldova because we started a transition house for girls we were pulling out of the sex trade. In Moldova, the largest part of their GDP comes from the sale of women. When I was there I was overcome with urgency - most Christians today hope Jesus takes his sweet time before returning because are have a pretty good life here. Shame on us. Every girl in the sex trade desperately wants someone to come right now and set the captives free. That's what the return of Jesus ultimately will do and until he comes and finishes the job, that's what we ought to be doing.

    The Christian Hope is not some disembodied heaven on a cloud somewhere forever. Heaven as we know it is temporary. He returns to a renewed earth and we live with him forever, here, in renewed bodies. Those of us who grieve the loss of close loved ones hope for that reunion sooner or later. And we are motivated to make sure others hear the Good News so they to can enjoy this heaven coming to the earth.

    Last thought. The metaphor the Bible gives is that of a Bride waiting for the Bridegroom. The Bride is the Church. Jesus is the Bridegroom. Those of us who have been pulled out of life's gutter by Jesus and saved from ourselves and saved from things which would hurt our bodies, families and futures -- we owe him everything and long for his return. Until then, this love he's given us, we try not to keep it to ourselves.

  25. larry kurtz 2014.04.04

    Howz South Sudan working out for christians, Steve?

  26. larry kurtz 2014.04.04

    About the same way it worked out for the Lakota, et al. under catholic assimilation?

  27. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.04.04

    "Those of us who take the Bible seriously "

    Nice cheap shot Stevie. I think what you meant to say was, "Those who read the Bible like I do and focus on what I do"

    It's a Lutheran thing to view the Bible as concentric circles. In the center is Jesus, the Gospels. The farther the text gets from Jesus, the more distant that circle. So I place the most emphasis on Jesus.

    According to the writers, God told the Israeli military to wipe out entire villages. Jesus said turn the other cheek. I'll go with the cheek turners.

    Various prophets were full of fire and brimstone, the wrath of God, etc. But Jesus forgave and blessed and cured people without asking them a thing about their behavior or what changes they were going to make.

    On the other hand, Jesus did tell people that the end is coming and they should be ready. It's interesting to me that Jesus gave those general warnings to gatherings of people, but never to individuals.

    Jesus helped people with no reservations, no requirements, no preconditions. To me, that's HUGE. The way that I "take the Bible seriously", is by taking Jesus seriously. That tells me that Christian emphasis ought to be on loving the other, caring for them, serving them. Judging them, criticizing them, frightening them, loses the center of the faith, which is Jesus Christ.

  28. mike from iowa 2014.04.04

    Nick N-I predict in 7 billion years,wingnuts will still be giving the wealthy huge subsidies for being wealthy.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.04.05

    Thanks, Steve. Knowing the flood is coming to wash away sins can give some hope. But does that knowledge change at all the actual work we do to free the slaves? Would we work any differently if there were no end coming, if the Lord had created a world meant to go on forever in this fallen state, in a constant battle between good and evil?

  30. I always find answers in the theology of Wendell Berry's writing. None of these quotes fits perfectly in the discussion above, but I think they speak so well about the work we humans are called to do:

    “As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.”
    ― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

    “Good human work honors God's work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit.”
    ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

    “I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”
    ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.04.06

    Wendell Berry is a wonderful theologian. I've read some of his work too, and I find it inspiring. Thanks Heidi, for such wonderful quotes.

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