Tag Archives: faith

Church Basement Theology

For my freshman and sophomore years, I attended a junior college close to home. I was coming off a two-month summer stay in the hospital, and I wasn’t convinced of a future direction, so it was the most convenient option. As with most kids, college was an entirely new experience for me and introduced me to many unforgettable experiences—from weekly war protests to a teacher who frequently stood atop his desk.

I remember one class where this big kid, sitting in the front row, fell asleep one day. Just as he started snoring, someone reached across and jostled him awake. Fewer than five minutes later, his head was back on his desk, deep in sleep, and snoring even louder. This time, instead of waking him, the professor suggested we should let him sleep since he probably had a rough night.

I made two glaring mistakes that first year of college. First, I took a class on Art Appreciation. Second, the class met right after lunch. Every afternoon after eating, the professor turned off the lights in the room and projected slides of great works of art on the wall as he discussed them in detail. I confess I was the one sleeping more than once.

Normally, I’m not a sleeper. I never take naps. Once up in the morning, I’m awake until bedtime. I stay busy, and even if there’s nothing pressing to do, I find something and entertain myself. You can accuse me of a lot of things, but I’m not one of those people who sleeps a lot, but I’ve known many people who have essentially slept through life.

When I speak of sleeping through life, I’m not referring to an occasional nap or dozing off during a boring movie. It’s a reference to the person who spends an entire lifetime without learning anything new about God. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to think of the person who believes the same thing they believed at age 20 when they are 70, or 60, or even 50. Their grasp of theology has been unchanged by experience—they have basically slept through life when it comes to faith.

I see it all the time in Facebook discussions. People who grew up in the church and lived their entire adult life as faithful church members but they still cling to elemental theological opinions that they learned in kid’s Sunday School.

I grew up in Colorado and most churches had basements for Sunday School classes.

Perhaps I can make sense of what I’m saying by describing my own experience. I remember sitting in the church basement during Sunday School as a kid and discussing what happens when people die without knowing Jesus. I suspect I was always the skeptic that untrained teachers hated. I was the one who asked about the poor people in Africa who never even heard about Jesus, would they spend eternity in hell? It didn’t seem fair for God to do that to them.

The smarter, more experienced teachers would say something like, “That’s not for us to decide, God will do that right thing,” and then continue teaching that everyone who died without being saved spent eternity in hell. If you have gone through life without wondering about that, then you have been sleeping; you are brain dead. The entire evangelical doctrine of hell rests on answering that question.

But we move beyond the questions of childhood. Important theological questions are not answered in the church basement. Life happens, and we have other pressing matters. Then one day, a friend dies, or perhaps a family member. He was a good person, kind, considerate, generous, liked by everyone, a bastion of honesty and integrity. However, not a follower of Jesus in any sense of the word. Now the question is more important. Is my friend destined to spend all of eternity, without any ending, suffering from fiery flames, covered with skin that won’t burn up?

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the same God I learned about from those same Sunday School teachers in the church basement. I mean the ones who taught me to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,” and “God is good, God is good, God is good to me.”

Life goes on, and now you’re 60 years old. Your granddaughter, your oldest grandchild, is out partying with friends from college and has a fatal car crash on the way home. You were never invited to her baptism because she never had one. No church Christmas programs because her parents never took her to church, and as far as you know, she was not a friend of Jesus. She was a beautiful girl, loved by her many friends, on her way to being someone special, and you loved her dearly. She was your first, and to be honest, your favorite grandchild.

Can you live with the idea that she will spend eternity in excruciating torment? I’m talking about the kind of punishment no human would even inflict on another human. After all, isn’t that what you were taught about hell.

The person who has slept through life still believes what he was taught in the church basement—everyone who dies without knowing Jesus spends eternity in hell. If they are ever asked what happens to people when non-Christians die, their answer is simple; they go to hell. These people have slept through life. None of their experiences register with them. The fact that life doesn’t seem consistent with their belief is a non-factor.  

This person is the parent with a gay son or daughter who they have disowned because they have always believed God wants us to condemn homosexuality. They know this because that’s what they were taught at VBS held in the church basement. Life is much easier if we don’t question the things we were told are true. After all, if it was good enough for Jesus, then it has to be good enough for me.

It’s time to graduate from Sunday School and move your theology out of the church basement. Don’t be afraid to reflect on how your experience is inconsistent with your theology. Be willing to examine what you learned as a kid and start considering what life has taught you and how it impacts what you believe (or think you believe).

Now that your wonderful granddaughter has died, do you still believe God will oversee her eternal existence in a fiery hell? After all the things God has done for you, do you think He would do that to her? For eternity?

The only way to get out of the theological church basement is to be willing to ask questions. Just because your favorite Sunday School teacher taught something doesn’t mean they were correct. Even if they attached Bible verses to what they taught, have you studied to determine if that’s what it really means?

In every area of life, we continue to learn new things. I’ve tried to think of any other area of life where we stop learning, but I have failed to come up with even one. I’m open to your suggestions. Why do we do that in what might be the most important area of life? Many do. Listen to people. Those with a church basement faith are easily recognizable.

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My Mother’s Gift to Me

The photo attached to this article was taken in the fall of 1951, on the shores of Lake Brownwood in Texas. It is a picture of me and my mother. She is sitting on a rock, and I am the one sitting naked in the water. By all appearances we were both having a good time. My mother told me many years later that for some reason my sister did not want to get in the water that day, so she stayed dry on the shore with my father—perhaps one of the best decisions she ever made.Polio Lake

Most likely it was on that day, in that place, that my healthy body came into contact with the polio virus floating in the water. Symptoms appeared a few weeks later, and that is the last picture I possess of my time with a fully functioning body.

We have never talked about it, but knowing my mother as I do, I suspect she has felt some guilt for putting me in the water that day. The primary goal of any loving mother is to protect her children from harm, to keep them away from the ravages of the world.

My health changed that day. Striving to keep me alive and able to regain some of what I lost was a significant driving factor in my family for the next few months. First, we moved to Fort Worth, where I lived in a hospital ward for children with polio, coming to within hours of being placed in an iron lung, one of those monstrous machines from which folks seldom escaped.

Daddy described the fear of polio that gripped people in 1951. Several times he was forced to relocate his family once others in the neighborhood learned they had a son with the disease. Many years later, after I moved my own family to Fort Worth, my mother told me how the city conjures up those memories in her mind. My mother has lived much of her life in fear.

She grew up in the Depression years on dusty farms in Oklahoma and Texas. Her family lived in constant concern about basic necessities from day to day. In her own words this is how she describes that time:

 We never did have a large house, usually had three or four rooms. We did not have water in the house. We had a well and drew water with a bucket from the well and then carried it to the house. We did not have electricity or a bathroom in our home. We did not have a furnace. We heated our home with wood or coal in a stove which meant that one room was heated and in cold weather we all stayed in that one room. In real cold weather we would sometimes heat an iron that we ironed clothes with and wrap it in layers of cloth and put this in the bed at our feet. Sometimes we would have a kerosene heating stove. We also cooked with the kerosene stove. Each night the coal, wood or kerosene would have to be brought into the house for the next day. These were kid jobs. Another job was filling the kerosene lamps each night. None of these jobs were much fun!

Mama fell in love with her high school sweetheart, and he was sent off to war before they could marry. He came home after leaving a leg on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima, and spent three years in and out of army hospitals. Once he was discharged, they moved to Amarillo, Texas to begin a family. Continue reading

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Christianity in the Bathroom

In response to an outbreak of transgender violence in restrooms, the North Carolina legislature recently passed a law requiring people to only use the public bathrooms designated for their sex as identified at birth. This new law has been the source of great consternation around the country, causing even more confusion surrounding an already confusing issue.

Apparently, if I’m a Christian, I’m supposed to be concerned about the people who are in the restroom with me. I get it. A parent should be cautious about sending children into the restroom alone. In fact, don’t do it until they are old enough to take care of themselves. That’s common sense that does not require an act of Congress. However, as an adult, I couldn’t care less about who is in the bathroom with me. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals during my life and everything I’ve got has been seen by a lot of people already, and I’m no worse for the experience. Bathroom

This is truly an example of bathroom discrimination, and I consider myself an expert on bathroom discrimination. I was not allowed to use public bathrooms until I was 40 years old, and it did take an act of Congress to end that discriminatory practice. All my life I have used either a wheelchair or walked on crutches. Wheelchairs didn’t fit through most bathroom doors until the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990. I went through school, including college and seminary, without ever seeing the inside of a public restroom, men’s or women’s.

By the way, I was also limited by public restrooms when walking on crutches. Using crutches on wet floor tile is as dangerous as walking on ice. If you have been in a men’s public restroom you know what I’m talking about.

The bottom line is that I have little concern about bathroom etiquette as long as we all try to behave like adults. However, I am bothered by the preponderance of Christians who make things like this an issue. If you read my Facebook newsfeed you would think that every time someone uses a public restroom they are making a statement for or against Jesus. Passing laws to keep certain people out of the bathroom is not a spiritual issue!

Be honest. The North Carolina law is really nothing more than a statement that homosexuality (in any form) is immoral. To use a bathroom law to make this statement is just stupid. Transgender people exist, and they do need to use the restroom (their plumbing might be changed, but it is not eliminated). So what are they to do? Do you really want a person who looks like a man, dresses like a man, and identifies as a man to show up in the women’s restroom? Will that make you and your children feel safer? Of course not.

Will it make you feel more spiritual? Apparently so, at least for some of you.

Does it enhance the cause of Christ? No!

But here’s the thing for me. I already said I have little interest in bathroom etiquette (other than basic adult behavior), but I am bothered by Christians who constantly take up causes intended to slam or demean other people. It seems that Christianity has come to be defined in negative terms rather than something positive.

I grew up as a Baptist in Colorado, and there were not many of us at the time. When people learned that I was a Baptist, they would often say something like, “Oh, you don’t believe in drinking and dancing.”

While it was true that my parents did not use alcohol, and they didn’t dance (perhaps because my father had a wooden leg), I don’t recall either of those issues being a topic of discussion around the table. They taught me a lot about the Christian faith, but very little about being judgmental. However, it seems that today’s most common version of the Christian faith is highlighted by judgmentalism, and focuses on the negative. We are more interested in what people shouldn’t be doing than we are about what we should be doing.

Here’s my suggestion. Instead of boycotting Target because of the restroom policy, go down to the nearest Target, find someone who looks like they could use some financial help, and pay for their groceries. Or better yet, take them across the street to the Chick-fil-a and buy them a chicken sandwich. This would be even better if the person you chose was transgender, although I’m not sure how you would know.

In other words, get your faith out of the bathrooms and bedrooms of others, sit across the table from them, and share a meal. You might be surprised how much you learn about others, and even about yourself. It will also be a good start toward enhancing the cause of Christ.

 

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Keep Me Out of Your Boxes

I recently shared an article on Facebook that said something positive about the President’s religious faith and practice. As you can imagine, it was like kicking a hornet’s nest in an abandoned barn. Getting folks stirred up is not a problem for me; I don’t mind a lively discussion, as long as everyone is civil.

When I shared the article I expected a few comments. I have a bunch of good Facebook friends who are not afraid to speak up. However, I must admit, I was caught off guard with the response. The second comment took the conversation in a totally unexpected direction.

The article I shared was a description of the President’s activities and comments about Easter. Immediately, a pastor who is a Facebook friend essentially said he did not believe the President was a Christian because of his belief about gay marriage. I can live with someone making that statement in today’s political/theological climate. It seems that gay marriage has become the default discussion for every conversation.Boxes

However, he kept insisting that I declare my position on gay marriage. He wouldn’t give it a rest, even calling out others who commented during the discussion. For some reason, it was extremely important to this man that we all declare our stance on the issue of gay marriage.

I understand that some have a need to put everyone neatly in a box. It makes their life simpler. “I can relate comfortably with those in this box, but I need to be careful around those in this other box, and I must stay away completely from those in that box over there.”

Several years ago I was trying to build a consulting business, helping churches and individuals arrange their lives around good stewardship principles. A friend in another state was trying to expand his similar business to Texas, and it appeared that by working together we would both benefit greatly.   Continue reading

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