christianity

The Emperor’s Clothes

The Emperor’s Clothes 800 533 Corey Leak

I grew up believing that I shouldn’t give money to homeless people. At a young age, someone told me that homeless people were a bad investment. “They’ll go by drugs or booze with the money,” they said. I carried that posture into adulthood until the last few years when my attitude towards the marginalized changed. I began feeling like I based distrusting the poor on a capitalistic belief that poor people are lazy or immoral.

If America rewards hard work, discipline, and ingenuity, then how could a person who is homeless not be getting what they deserve? I hope that sentence disturbed you. It does me. Now when I give to people in need, I do so because the act of helping someone in need is virtuous. It fills the world with good to help another human being that’s facing dire living conditions. The act alone is its own reward. If a person is faking homelessness or desperation, that’s on them. I would rather err on the side of being taken advantage of by a con artist willing to brave the cold or burning sun than to walk past someone who is in legitimate need. However, if I gave a person money to buy food only to find out an hour later that they did buy Jack Daniels with the money, that would create an issue for me.

All of us care about how people and organizations use charitable donations. Whether it’s the homeless person whose cup we drop a five dollar bill in or the offering bucket we drop offerings into, we care. That’s why no one can stop talking about the Instagram account that has pastors hiding sneakers in their closets and friends debating the ethics of non-profit spending. Preachers in Sneakers has started a National conversation, and I’m thrilled we’re having it.

Last week one of my kids asked me if I’d seen Drake’s video of him showing off his MILLION DOLLAR outfit. I hadn’t. When I watched the video of him telling a room full of people and the camera what he was wearing and how much it costs, I became a hater. I’ll admit it. I was. I wasn’t a hater because I don’t think people should have nice things or because I don’t believe Drake works hard. I was a hater because for an instant I thought “I contribute to that”.

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I buy Drake’s music, and I’m a fan. I’ve often found myself conflicted when I listen to rappers brag about their cars, houses, “ice,” and money when most of their audience will never have the extravagance they do. It feels gross to me when I think about that fact. I’ve been bothered when I saw kids living in severe poverty quoting rap lyrics about a lifestyle so far removed from theirs it’s likely they will never attain it. Something in me hates to see Emperors strutting around while the poor suffer.

I’ve been reluctant to write about my beliefs when it comes to celebrity pastors featured on the Preachers in Sneakers Instagram account because I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of what bothered me. This morning it dawned on me. It’s not about the sneakers or the extravagant lifestyle. It’s about faith leaders looking like emperors among the poor.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in what was described by the gospel writers as a kingly processional, he was riding a donkey instead of a horse. Emperors rode into cities on horses in glorious processionals designed to announce their greatness and divinity. They were dressed in the finest materials, riding the most beautiful horses, surrounded by decadence and glamour. Jesus did the opposite. He entered a town of which he was, in fact, king with the style and flare of…

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The writers of Jesus story go out of their way to show their readers that Jesus was not like the emperor.

The reason this conversation about preacher’s extravagant possessions is so polarizing is that we don’t have a precedent for such lifestyles in the writings pastors are supposed to be experts at teaching. We have no indication from scriptures that Jesus, Paul, Peter, James or John were living extravagantly. They also didn’t live in America in 2019. Today a pastor can sell books, appear on tv, and get into any number of wealth building endeavors that can reward their work with stacks of cash in addition to their duties as clergy.

The founders of the early Christian communities nor the people in them never had opportunities to get rich from their faith. They were outcasts in society. Paul wasn’t getting rich off the letters he wrote to churches. Peter didn’t receive honorariums for speaking. Today the Christian faith community is different. We deeply value great communicators, and those who have perfected their craft can leverage that into all kinds of wealth building opportunities both in and outside of the church. That’s a far cry from how things were when the Christian faith began, but that’s not the only way things are different now.

The early followers of Jesus had “no poor among them” because they shared everything and lived communally. That’s not how we live today. We are all participating in the American dream – trying to get all we can while we can, and sharing some of what we get. The ethical conversation about what is excessive spending for a faith leader doesn’t have much doctrinal basis on which to start the discussion for most of us. The examples in the Bible of religious life are of poor and oppressed people huddled up together for survival, while we are all pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps to make something of ourselves individually.

In essence, the conversation about the morality of fancy shoes and clothes on a preacher boils down to which version of Christianity you subscribe to. The one whose doctrine says living righteously means enjoying blessings beyond your wildest dreams or the one that says following Jesus is a gruesome road of sacrifice and suffering. Maybe you’re somewhere in between with what you believe, but those are the far extremes that drive the conversation.

I don’t believe it’s unethical for clergy to have nice things, go on vacations, or enjoy a nice meal from time to time. Nor do I think it’s sinful for a pastor to have a nice pair of sneakers on when they preach. I do feel tension when I see pastors dressed and behaving like emperors. When their chariots cost 200k, their garments cost thousands of dollars, their feet are shod with 5 and 6 thousand dollar Yeezys, and they still pass offering buckets around their churches that poor people, widows, and orphans drop dollars in, we have reached a moral dilemma that is worthy of us pausing and discussing.

Far be it from me to tell another human being what to do with their cash. I know my brothers and sisters of the cloth work very hard, and dedicate their lives to serving people. I’m also sure that they give a ton of money and resources away. I’m not anyone’s judge. We all have a role to play in the world.  I only hope that we are always helping the people, and not inviting the people to help us live like emperors.

 

 

Game of Thrones and The Bible

Game of Thrones and The Bible 1020 574 Corey Leak

The Game of Thrones premiere airs Sunday!!! The anticipation in the air is palpable. GOT fans have waited two years for this moment, and boy is it exciting!

I recently told a friend that Game of Thrones and the Bible have a lot in common. They asked me how, and I explained. But, before I tell you what I said, here’s a little background on how I began watching the show.

A few years ago I was watching a behind the scenes story about GOT. I hadn’t watched a single episode of the show, but after watching that behind the scenes commentary I was hooked. I was drawn in by how they described the story arc, how the characters developed, and of course the dragons. THE FREAKING DRAGONS!!!

The idea that the dragons grew from babies to fully developed as the show progressed enthralled me. It seemed like a metaphor for the essence of the whole story, and I thought that was super cool. The story had drawn me in, the visuals intrigued me, and the characters left me desperate to know what would happen next. I so badly wanted to start watching the show! Then I remembered – I’m a Christian, and Christians don’t watch GOT.

In the couple of years that followed I would find myself frequently telling people: ” I would love to watch the show, but I’ve heard it’s way too graphic.”. People made suggestions for how I could get past my reluctance. “Read the book.” or “Just watch it on VidAngel.”

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Neither of those sounded even remotely appealing. I would see commercials advertising the newest season, and see how big the dragons had gotten. Every time I would wonder what I was missing. Then one day a Christian friend and colleague told me they watched the show and put me up on “The Red Wedding.”  I was all the more intrigued, but still not feeling like my conscious would allow me to watch the show. Until one day, it did.

My wife and I started watching a little over a year ago. We streamed it from HBO Go, not VidAngel. We talked about the boundaries we needed to have for the extreme visuals, and I asked lots of questions to make sure my wife was comfortable with us watching a show that was renowned for its depravity. We agreed to give it a shot, and after four weeks or so we had finished all seven seasons.  After about three months, we watched them all again. We both loved the show. The story is remarkable, the visual effects are impeccable, and the character development is fantastic. However, none of that is the core reason why we enjoy it. It’s not the core reason why most Christians who watch it enjoy it. I asked a few of them. The reason any of us, Christian or Athiest, watch Game of Thrones is because of something much more profound. George R.R. Martin says it best:

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.

That’s why I told my friend GOT and the Bible have a lot in common. I told them that the depiction of genuinely evil people contrasted with morally conflicted and virtuous people is potent in this fantasy world. The characters, grappling for power and justice struggle to know the difference between the two. You hope for the wicked to eventually get what they deserve and the righteous to rise to power and save the world. We watch the oppressed long for a savior and hope that savior is on the way. Sound familiar?

There are several scenes where I watched people in chains, cages, or under the power of an oppressor, and couldn’t help but think about the audience to whom the Bible writers wrote. I thought about how powerful it must have been for first Century Christians awaiting certain death in the Roman Collusiems to read about a Savior who had prepared a place for them where there was no more pain, oppression, or suffering.

Then there is the elephant in the room where Game of Thrones is concerned. You can’t have a conversation about the show without talking about it.

I won’t pretend that the sex scenes aren’t explicit, and at times far more graphic than necessary to tell the story. But, sex is an essential part of this story. Sex throughout history is used to gain or exert power. In GOT we see both uses, just as in the Bible. I believe every person of Faith who watches the show should be introspective about the possible adverse effects of taking in the graphic sex scenes of the early seasons.

One of the other ways Game of Thrones parallels the Bible is in the way good characters living in an unjust world struggle to define justice. We watch characters rise to power and ask themselves how they can be better than the oppressive rulers they just succeeded. The bible is laced with that same theme. Jewish people were rising and falling from power based on the way they lived out the answer to that question. The Jewish people would face exile over and over again because they failed to be better than oppressors around them.

Game of Thrones gives those of us who watch it a fantasy outlet for our tensions about virtue and evil. We hate the characters we hate because they are deplorably vile human beings and love other characters because we understand the pressures they face even if they don’t always take a straight line to good works.

I’m not recommending that all Christians or anyone else for that matter should watch Game of Thrones. They don’t pay me for that. Some people who are triggered by graphic images or violence should perhaps be cautious about watching it. I know some people who can’t watch Lord of the Rings without having nightmares.

If you’re a person who doesn’t get into it because you find graphic storytelling offensive, I legitimately wonder how you’ve stomached the majority of the Bible’s Old Testament. There are stories like the heroic tales of David who cuts off the head of a giant and walks around flaunting the severed head to show off what he’d done. Later in David’s story, he watches a woman bathing and brings her into his bed before having her husband killed to cover it up. There’s also that one time David collected ONE THOUSAND FORESKINS from the bodies of Philistine soldiers.

How would we view these stories if they weren’t in the Bible? Would we avoid them or learn from them despite the graphic nature of the tales? I’d guess, like the original readers of the Bible stories, we would see the value in what the stories mean. And we would see the graphic nature of the tales as a means of telling better stories.

 

Fear of Faith

Fear of Faith 660 440 Corey Leak

I shared a quote this week in the wake of the terrible Christchurch shootings – the attack that left 49 families grieving the loss of their loved ones. The quote was short and sweet.

Islamophobia is anti-Christ.

I believed then what I feel now. The quote is simple, beautiful, accurate, and elegant. I assumed that days after the attack of two Muslim Mosques in New Zealand, people would be full of good-will and empathy towards the Islamic faith. I was wrong.

Shortly after I shared the quote on FB, a few people objected to the term “Islamophobia.” I’m accustomed to people opposed to the things I share and write. It’s become par for the course, and I’ve made my peace with that fact. Human beings come from a myriad of different backgrounds, so it’s natural that we won’t all see every issue the same way. I don’t believe everyone who disagrees with me is evil or stupid – at least not all the time. I do, however, find it disturbing when people resist the condemnation of evil.

Several people felt that it was rational and appropriate to have a “healthy fear” of Muslims. Even now as I write this, I’m deeply disturbed, and what’s most troubling is the fact that these objections to empathy for our Muslim brothers and sisters came from Christians. I want to say that I can’t imagine how a Christian could ever believe it’s ok to hold a phobia for another human based on a difference in religious beliefs, but that would be dishonest on my part. Sadly, I can imagine. I’ve been a part of the Christian tribe for a long time. I too have been ignorant as to how my beliefs and the expression of those beliefs can be harmful to the world, and I’m grateful to have been awakened to a different way of seeing the world.

Unfortunately, many people(often Christian)  enter into dialog with others to show how smart they are and fail to listen to the input of others. The problem with approaching social conversations with such an ignorant stance is that people who hold postures like that never grow. I frequently encounter people who only step outside of their echo chamber long enough to tell everyone else that they are wrong. It may seem harmless for people to dig their heels in on their bad ideas about other humans, but some of these ideas lead to real-world tragedies. Here are two of those dangerous ideologies we have to address.

Muslim’s are terrorists who regard all Christians and American’s as “infidels”.

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I found this sentiment nearly unbearable after I shared the above quote about Islamophobia! It’s irresponsible and lazy thinking for any human being to accept such a dull-minded idea as valid. It’s irrational. It’s grounded in a lack of relationship to Muslims who practice their faith sincerely and peacefully all around us. One of the dear men who lost their lives in Christchurch greeted the gunman with “Welcome Brother” before he was gunned down. Yet, somehow Christians found themselves defending the belief that American Christians should fear Muslims. I hope you noticed the profound irony.

A white nationalist gunman murdered 49 human beings in the name of white supremacy, and in the wake of that people were arguing that we have good reason to fear Muslims. Save your time running to google to search for “Muslim beliefs” on the internet. You won’t find the most accurate witness to what Muslims believe from Google any more than you’ll see a great witness to the Christain faith that way. I have read things about Christians in print, social media, and on the internet that did not at all represent my faith or what I’ve witnessed as a Christian. If you really want to find out what the Muslim people in your community believe, ask them.

The idea that there are good reasons to fear Muslims allowed people who consider themselves followers of Christ to show a gross lack of concern or empathy for people from a different faith. Even though those people were suffering worldwide after being the targets of blatant hatred. We have to do better. If you’re not a Muslim or haven’t done an extensive study of world religions, your assumptions about Islam are likely completely misguided, and beyond that they are dangerous. Should Muslim’s now fear all white people because of the evil acts of one?

Which leads me to the second dangerous ideology I encountered this week.

White Supremacists aren’t the same as terrorists

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White people have to stop giving white supremacist terrorists a pass by not naming them what they are. They are terrorists. They have a religion that they believe in sincerely that leads them to hate people outside that religion. Whiteness is their god, and all who aren’t white are their opposition. They intimidate, bully, and even kill in the name of their god. That is terrorism. The use of violence to propagate a political or religious idea is a tactic of terrorists around the globe, and white supremacists aren’t excused as innocent when they use the same tactics.

I understand it can be difficult to believe someone who is from your tribe is evil, but you have to name it! Call it what it is. It’s terrorism plain a simple. The white men in white hoods and the ones who commit evil acts of terror have made up their minds about who they are. It’s time that the god-fearing, justice-loving, advocates of good-will who are also white do the same.

Ask yourself:

Are there any ideas I have about others that are dangerous to their well-being?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If We’re Being Honest (Part 2)

If We’re Being Honest (Part 2) 800 450 Corey Leak

I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have worked in churches for the past 20 years. I’m a Christian, and as a Christian, I think there is one more topic we should be more honest about.

Jesus

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There is not “Christian” without Christ aka Jesus. Following Jesus is what every Christian signed up for. We spend time in church, prayer, worship and Bible reading trying to become more like Jesus. We want to be conformed into the image of Jesus which is admirable and virtuous. I was a teenager when the WWJD movement began. Remember the bracelets? I thought anyone who wore one HAD to be a Christian. The bracelets and the movement itself were a tool to remind us before doing or saying anything to ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?”. Great question. The answer is probably more complicated than we think, however, and here’s why.

The default image of Jesus has been white, cisgendered, heterosexual, married, patriotic and male. That’s the image we’ve been lead to believe is the standard for a follower of Christ. It’s no wonder the overwhelming majority of Evangelical Churches in America are lead by pastors and boards that reflect that image. Think about how Evangelicals traditionally vote. What makes Evangelicals take to social media to share their outrage?

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Can you imagine what we would think of a faith leader like Jesus in our context today that wasn’t married? We Christians tend to assume that a person, especially a man, who isn’t married by a certain age has something wrong with them or they’re hiding something about themselves. That forces an extra layer of social expectation for being like Jesus.

Most of what is taught about this historically Jewish rabbi is filtered through a lens that is white, American and male. Which means, that if you’re an American citizen of color, an immigrant or a woman, you have work to do to find yourself conforming to Christ’s image. If your transgender or gay, you’re out of luck.

Based on what we know from the birth narratives in the Bible, Jesus was born to Jewish parents who spent a few years as immigrants in Africa. According to historical accounts of his adult life from the Bible, he never dated, married or had a romantic relationship with another human being. He healed sick people, walked on water, miraculously multiplied small meals to feed thousands, gave his life as a ransom for all and then resurrected from the dead according to scriptures.  He never pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. His language on marriage was pretty clearly in support of heterosexual marriage as normative, and he was mum on slavery.

If we’re being honest, having Jesus as a role model isn’t simple. It’s complicated. It’s not as cut and dry as we might like to believe. Based on just what I describe above (which left out chunks of his life) I couldn’t name a person I’ve ever met who is truly like Jesus. So, what does it mean to imitate or be conformed to his image? How can we answer the question WWJD? How can we live in our culture and act like he would if he were born in our time? How can we be like Jesus if we don’t do and say all the things he did?

Love.

Jesus told those closest to him that the way people would know that they were indeed like him was by love.  Any expression of Christian faith that isn’t loving isn’t Christian at all. A faith in Jesus that is exclusive, self-centered, homogeneous, sexist, xenophobic or homophobic is not faith in the Jesus of history or scripture, but faith in America’s default Jesus birthed from patriotism and supremacy. The story of Jesus from birth to resurrection is one of liberation, love, and inclusion. And, if we are going to be conformed to an image or imitate his legendary exploits and ideas, we should consider what THAT Jesus would do when we ask ourselves WWJD.

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If We’re Being Honest

If We’re Being Honest 480 360 Corey Leak

I’ve been a Christian for 35 years and have worked in churches for the past 20 years. I love Christians. I am a Christian. And as a Christian, I think that there are some topics that we should be more honest about.

Hell

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We know very little about hell, but talking about hell honestly in many Christian circles is the fastest way to lose friends and be labeled a heretic. Just ask Rob Bell. Throughout the literature in the Bible, hell is used in various ways. It’s used to describe where everyone goes when they die (Sheol/Grave) in the old testament, and metaphorically by Jesus alluding to Gehenna which was a valley where trash was burned and before that where children were sacrificed by fire to a pagan god named Molech. Beyond that, a “lake of fire” is mentioned by John in his epic book of Revelation which is an imagery-rich commentary on politics. Scholars debate exactly what John was saying in his book in much the same way we drew deep meaning out of the “This Is America” video without talking to Childish Gambino about what every detail was really saying.

If we’re being honest, most Christians don’t know why they believe what they do about hell. Most would likely say they get their beliefs about hell straight from the Bible, and they aren’t lying. They truly believe that, but most of what we have believed about hell isn’t directly from scripture. It’s from an era well after the original texts were written. We have the Medieval Period to thank for much of our modern beliefs about the afterlife. I would argue that what we read from scripture about the afterlife is left to our own imagination. The idea that those who reject God will live forever in a burning torture chamber is highly debated by Bible scholars, and not as cut and dry for people who read what is actually written in scripture on this subject. Being wrong about hell is scary, and I understand why for so many Christians believing in the Evangelical tradition about hell is safer than not. I guess it never hurts to have fire insurance.

 

Marriage

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There is little debate in Christian circles that marriage is a commitment between two people to love and care for each other exclusively, and “traditional marriage” is between a man and a woman. We teach marriage principles learned from the psychological community as though they were strictly Biblical. “Biblical marriage” crosses a broad spectrum. Old Testament men married multiple wives. Paul suggested people not get married at all, and Jesus never married.

He did talk about divorce, however. Jesus said that the only grounds for divorce were in the case of adultery. Which means that other reasons deemed perfectly understandable by most today like… abuse, addiction, indifference or general unhappiness, all fall short of Biblical grounds for divorce.

If we’re being honest, Christians have for some time made concessions for divorced people out of a desire to be compassionate. Most of us wouldn’t dare tell an abused partner to go back home and “stick it out” because Jesus didn’t give them permission to leave.

I wonder if it’s not time to extend the same compassion to our LBGTQ brothers and sisters. I personally know people who considered divorcing their spouses because they were unhappy who also believe that homosexual marriage is an abomination. How can Christians extend grace to people who have done something God hates (Malachi 2:16), yet remain staunch in their resistance of same-sex partners entering into a commitment to love and care for each other exclusively?

 

The Bible

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The Bible is viewed by most Christians as the inspired word of God. It’s as if God himself hand wrote it and dropped this leather-bound book with that mysterious silk paper out of heaven and onto the earth. Over the years we’ve made silly arguments about what it is, what it says and what it means. Being Biblically literate has become a badge of honor above loving our neighbors for some Evangelicals, but how much do we really know the Bible for real?

If we’re being honest, the Bible is puzzling. It’s mysterious. Its “facts” don’t always line up, and some of its ideas are underdeveloped. If you’re thinking to yourself, “that sounds human” you’d be correct. It does. That’s the point. As much as there have been arguments made about the perfection of scripture, it’s long past time we admit that it’s not perfect. Too many human hands have been on it for it to be perfect. The writers, editors, and translators were all human beings, and we the interpreters are also human beings. Our faith to believe that God inspired the writers of the Bible has to come from outside the Bible itself. Trusting its words in our modern context is also trusting that the human beings who canonized it totally nailed it.

You see, Christianity as are all world religions, is about faith. Faith isn’t knowing. Faith is faith. We believe some things. We don’t know why sometimes, we just do. Life often presents us with pieces of a puzzle, but not the whole thing. We piece it together as best we can, but sometimes there are large parts of the picture missing. That part we fill in is faith. It’s foolish to try and convince ourselves or others not to look at the pieces that are missing or worse, to try and act like there aren’t pieces missing at all. There are lots of things from the Bible that we as Christians don’t know, but we believe. That’s beautiful! That makes us fully alive and fully human because we aren’t using our energy trying to do God’s job of knowing everything. There are many things we don’t know, but we believe them. Believing and knowing are not always mutually exclusive, but they can be. (SELAH)

We have tried to make the Bible the authority on science, history, politics, and religion, but outside of religion, the Bible isn’t the most accurate accounting of those categories. Trying to make it authoritative on the subject matter it’s not intended to be the authority on diminishes its beauty and lessens its effectiveness in the world. The same can be said of us Christians. Maybe it’s time we just are honest about who we are and what we truly believe.

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Not Safe For Church

Not Safe For Church 4224 2604 Corey Leak

A friend messaged me this video yesterday and asked what I thought of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6KPJONhj7w

Initially, I wanted to have a conversation with the pastor….

I’m not sure I’ll ever get to have that conversation, but I do have issues with this video on several levels. I’ll share a few.

Theologically

This one time Jesus (Jewish Rabbi) took his disciples to a town called Caesarea Philippi, and while there he had a ground breaking conversation with them. I imagine most Christians are familiar with the story. It’s in Matthew chapter 16 if you’d like to read it for yourself. What’s obscure to modern readers about this story is that the town Jesus brought his teenage students to was not a nice town. The town was dedicated to the Ceasars and was the home of a pagan temple for worshipping a Greek god.

Rabbis forbade “good” Jews from going to Caesarea at all, so the fact that Jesus not only went there, but took his disciples is pretty unusual. More remarkable is the fact that this is where Jesus says one of the most famous phrases in history.

“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.”  Perhaps you’ve always thought these words were talking about religious institutions versus a raging fiery place where the devil lives. Most of my life that’s what I believed, but that’s actually not true. The word church means gathering of citizens, and the “gates of hell” is an actual physical place that you can visit today. Ancient people believed it was mystical because of the literal mist that would come up out of the opening of this mysterious looking cave. They believed it was a doorway to the underworld where the god Pan lived. They would engage in pretty obscene sexual acts to worship Pan that would be NSFW to this day.

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Yes, Jesus and the teenage boys with him were within hearing and watching distance of some really nasty stuff while having this conversation. Anyone who’s watched GOT and tried to follow the story line without enduring all the sex scenes can identify with how hard it is to try and pay attention to what’s being said over the debauchery happening in the background. Jesus is saying some really important and ground breaking things to his closest disciples while there is an orgy going on nearby. Of all the places to start talking about this new kind of gathering called church, why do it in Caesarea Philippi? Why not Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish faith? What statement does this make about what Jesus’ intentions were for church? It’s unlikely he has this talk where he has it by accident.

Could it be that Jesus is making a statement about who is welcome? This announcement about church and its impact could have been had within the friendly confines of a Jewish synagogue or inside the temple, but instead it’s happening out in the wild where “those” people are. That should inform our belief about church and the messiness that Jesus intended “his” gatherings to be part of. If Jesus could sit with his disciples in a place where people literally had sex with goats to worship a pagan god, how should we imagine he would treat a transgender man or woman in church?

Morally

Let’s suppose you are a person who truly believes that in order to keep faith based space “holy”, you have to keep all the really bad sinners out. What is gained from embarrassing a human being in front of a whole room? I have a moral issue with stripping another human being of their dignity simply because I believe they are acting in ways I disagree with. I wonder how many people in that room, including the pastor, could remain in that church if we were to put all the unsavory behaviors, practices, or thoughts on display for a whole room to judge? This hierarchy of morality is neither godly or appropriate for society. Shame on all of the people in that room who clapped and shouted amen at that reprehensible act of grand standing. It was wrong, and I hope this pastor is lead to see that it was wrong and apologizes to whoever he was targeting with his tirade.

Personally

Often times our negative feelings about others are triggered by something we see in ourselves. I pray that I don’t have any degrading caricature of true religion left within myself, but I know that I once did. I can remember one of my first sermons as a youth pastor. I was full of personality and wit, and for some reason I decided to direct my wit and humor at the LBGTQ community. I was grossly homophobic in my language, and thought I was right to talk the way I did. It’s one of my greatest regrets in life. It breaks my heart to know that someone in the audience was probably made to feel ashamed of who they were because I was trying to prove I was cool.  My final issue with this video is me. I’m sorry I have used words publicly to shame people. On behalf of the Christian church in America to anyone who has been hurt by rhetoric like you watched in the above video or that I used as a young, insensitive, dummy, I’m truly sorry. Every human being is on a journey, and you don’t deserve to be degraded for yours. It’s my hope and prayer that churches and pastors that dump shame on people learning to accept who they are close their doors unless they learn to practice inclusive faith that makes room for everyone to belong.

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Imperial Myth 3 (Three Political Topics Your Church Hasn’t Avoided)

Imperial Myth 3 (Three Political Topics Your Church Hasn’t Avoided) 1200 627 Corey Leak

Something I find really ironic is people being put off by churches or church leaders talking “politics” from the pulpit. I’ve heard people say things like: Jesus didn’t get involved in politics. Says the pastor who has 12 sermons on the “power of the cross” saved on their computer. We Christians sing songs about the cross, wear crosses on our necklaces, hang crosses from our rear view mirror, display them on our mantels and fire places… as the symbol of our salvation. However, before it was a symbol of redemption, it was a form of capital punishment reserved for political enemies of Rome. Jesus wasn’t stoned to death or murdered in the streets by a soldier or an angry religious leader. He was killed publicly to discourage any other enemy of the state from speaking of any “kingdom” that was powerful enough to usurp Rome. So, yes, I’d say Jesus was involved in politics.

The Jewish people walking the planet during the times of Jesus expected their Messiah to overthrow Roman government through military efforts like the “saviors” before him. Their interpretation of their ancient holy writings lead them to expect physical salvation as much as spiritual if not more. Political struggle has always been a part of the story of mankind, and the writers of the Jewish scriptures didn’t write in a political vacuum. They wrote in the middle of political struggles for supremacy. When John, a political exile, wrote his often misunderstood epic “Book of Revelation”, he was using art to elevate Jesus as the true Divine Emperor who would ultimately make right the injustice enacted by the unjust Roman Emperors. John followed in the footsteps of prophets like Isaiah when he wrote to the Jewish exiles:

“Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows” Isa 1:23

Imagine hearing words like this at church on Sunday referring to POTUS or Congress. Chances are  you won’t hear anything like that this weekend at church, but if you’ve attended an Evangelical church over the last ten years or so you’ve probably heard “politics” from the pulpit. Here are the five topics I’ve heard, and chances are you have too.

Abortion

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I’ve sat in entire services dedicated to this one topic. It was done with sensitivity to any millennial democrats who may have been in the crowd, but the service and the sermon were both unapologetically anti-abortion. This is a topic that most Evangelicals have historically not been afraid to talk about. The killing of innocent babies inside the womb is an abomination and amongst the most heinous of all of Americas sins perpetrated by leftist sinners. Roe vs Wade was the beginning of America’s fall from God’s grace, and He will judge this nation for it’s horrible sin. That’s some of the rhetoric you’re likely to hear from an Evangelical church about abortion. I think we can all agree that life is sacred, and the taking of life, any life is deeply tragic. I’ve begun to wonder recently if these same Evangelicals are equally concerned about black and brown lives outside of the womb.

 Same Sex Marriage

God made “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. I’m not sure who coined it, but I hope they patented it. I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard the term “Biblical Marriage” at least once in the last year or so if you’ve gone consistently. That phrase denotes the marriage of a man to a woman. In recent years with the advent of “affirming churches” and homosexual pastors, there has been less and less full sermons or weekends about this topic, but sermon series about marriage and parenting rarely include language or principles that include same sex partners. The term “husband and wife” used throughout and on the images used for marketing and branding the series both reinforce the idea that same sex partners aren’t recognized as married in the churches or God’s eyes. Also, the majority of Evangelical churches have boundaries for where a person from the LBGTQ community can volunteer. I find the fact that few churches speak out as strongly as in years past about this issue interesting. Especially in light of the fact that ,outside of the afore mentioned affirming churches, most Christians still believe that living life together as same sex partners is a sin. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s a growing sensitivity to the gay community. Maybe it’s a fear of polarization. Who knows. Though churches haven’t been as vocal in recent years, they haven’t avoided the issue.

Ten Commandments and Prayer in Schools

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Chances are after a school shooting your church has prayed for the victims families and expressed sadness over the violence that claimed innocent life. Usually churches will stop short of talking about “gun control” as a possible solution for ridding our schools of violence, and will instead site the government’s decision to remove prayer and the Ten Commandments from schools.  As if once that happened God stopped caring about what happens to students and faculty in public schools. Again, you’ve probably not heard full sermons on this political topic, but it’s not something your church will avoid mentioning from time to time. Federal law prohibits vocal “disruptive” prayer in schools which is something that Christian churches have lamented since it became law in 1962. In 1990 a small group of students gathered on their campus before school at the flag pole for a time a prayer and scripture reading. Since then, millions of people gather every year on the fourth Wednesday of September for See You at the Pole. The youth pastor at your church and possibly the whole staff likely attended last year, and will again this fall.

I think if we’re all honest, none of us truly have a problem with our church talking politics. Our issue is with churches talking politics we don’t agree with. We applaud the pastor courageous enough to not be “politically correct” when that boldness is in line with our own sentiments. When was the last time you applauded your churches courageous stance you didn’t agree with? We don’t applaud the boldness. We applaud the alignment to our personal values. In my 35 years attending and working at churches, I’ve found that Evangelicals have been most vocal about social change when a democrat is President. It seemed as if America was on the precipus of total moral decay every minute a democrat sat in the Oval Office. I thought God was a republican until ten years ago, and apparently some people still do. I’ll never forget seeing this imaged posted on social media by a Christian artist the moment Trump was elected president.

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Apparently, Jesus wasn’t welcome in the White House under the previous administration. I guess he was avoiding being too political.

What has your experience been with politics in church?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!!!

Resistance

Resistance 191 264 Corey Leak

There is a story of religious and political leaders that approached Jesus with the intent to throw him into a political conundrum. They asked him a question they thought would force his hand and make him share his political views on Roman oppression and Jewish resistance.

“Is it lawful for Jewish people to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor Caesar?”

There were groups of Jewish resistance fighters who were violently resisting Roman occupation and subjugation. Many Jewish leaders profited from collaborating with Roman officials in the oppression of their own people. These were the tax collectors the gospel writers spoke so lowly of. Lastly, Caesar and the Romans themselves were quite fond of levying heavy taxes on the Jewish peasants that they had made their slaves. These are the people who would’ve had a keen interest in how the famous Jewish Rabbi Jesus would answer the question.

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The trap is set. A yes or no has significant political connotation for Jesus. If he says “yes” he aligns with the Romans and the hated tax collectors. The resistance would have then known that Jesus didn’t support their cause. If he said “no” he would have been openly opposing Rome, and the people that hated him would have all they needed to have him put to death right then and there.

Most of the teachings I’ve heard in my lifetime about this particular story use the answer that Jesus gives as an example of apolitical religious wisdom. Like this was Jesus’ way of being clever and not taking a side in a political debate because the “Kingdom of God isn’t about politics.” I hope you see the irony in that statement.  I’ve recently come to realize that Jesus’ answer was far more political than I’d ever thought. You can read this story in Mark chapter 12 in the New Testament of the Bible.

Jesus realized that he was being set up, and responded by asking for someone to bring him a coin. They did. He looked at it, and asked: “Whose picture and title is this on the coin?” They told him it was Caesar’s, and he said: “Give Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s.”

That’s a brilliantly clever response and on the surface pretty apolitical. However, this is like a magic trick being performed by a master magician. It’s a beautifully executed slight of hand. It’s astounding the way Jesus hid what was truly happening from everyone with how he answered their trick question.

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Notice that Jesus didn’t reach into is own bag to grab a coin. He didn’t ask one of his disciples to go get one out of the mouth of a fish as he did when asked about the Jewish Temple Tax. He asked the people trying to trap him to provide a coin for examination. In their anticipation of Jesus getting tangled  in a political web, they missed the most significant thing happening in this interaction… JESUS DIDN’T EVEN CARRY CEASAR’S COINS! He doesn’t go back and forth about whether Jewish people should or shouldn’t resist Roman oppression. Jesus resisted by not carrying the coin in the first place.

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Caesar’s coins were used as propaganda to remind everyone that Caesar was deity. In the most subversive way possible Jesus communicated that he wasn’t cooperating with Caesar’s system of oppression. He knew who God and His people were, and he wasn’t going to give dignity to Caesar’s claims about himself by carrying his coin around. It was so sly that his adversaries missed the statement he was making.

I share the above story to show that all forms of resistance to oppression aren’t the same. I would argue that most of the women and people of color you know are resisting marginalization and oppression in their own way. Whether they are demonstrative with their voice or actions or they chose more covert methods of combating stereotypes – they are resisting. Below I’ve listed a few of the silent ways that I’ve known POC and women to resist oppressive stereotypes:

  1. Learning to swim.
  2. Interracial dating.
  3. Growing dread locks.
  4. Out performing white men at golf.
  5. Being obsessively professional.
  6. Tipping above 20 percent.

As I wrap this up, two final thoughts:

First, ask a woman or person of color if they do things to resist the cultural stigmas associated with their race or gender. See if these or any other come up, and feel free to message me with their responses.

Secondly, a question for you.

How do you resist systemic oppression in the world around you?

Left to Right

Left to Right 980 980 Corey Leak

Last week I asked people on my FB page if they believed that the conversation about race was picking up steam in American religious circles. In the dialog that followed I promised a friend I would share a theory I have about the race conversation in America. Often when I’m sharing I ask myself the following question… “Is this BY me or ABOUT me?” Today what I write is a little of both.

I have to admit upfront that I have a severe case of “FOMO”. If I’m not careful I can spend hours on social media gazing at where other people are and what they are doing. When I see people doing things I enjoy doing and believe I do better, I can get in my feelings. I was this way as an artist, and I’ve continued to wrestle with the same issue as an outspoken social activist. It’s hard to watch people who have been silent on issues of race suddenly become an expert on the subject. That is how what I’m about to share is partially “about me”. How’s that for vulnerability?

In a previous blog about MLK I wrote about how revolutionary leaders are rarely celebrated in their lifetime. I believe it’s because their voices are saying something that most people don’t want to hear, but their persistence and the truth of what they are saying make the message they carry irresistible. People can’t argue with the validity of the issues that pioneers raise, but the truth can make humans extremely uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort typically has 3 outcomes.

  1. Seeking shelter by ignoring the issue altogether, and thereby muting the voices that are saying uncomfortable things.
  2. Combating the legitimacy of the message or the messenger.
  3. Finding a kinder, gentler, more palatable version of the message from someone they are more comfortable listening to.

The latter is what I believe is happening today with the recent, slight increase of conversations about racism within Evangelical organizations. Voices like Shaun King, Michael and Ben McBride, Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick, Shane Claiborne, Bree Newsome, and Andre Henry make the noise about racial injusticerelentlessly. People like them are deemed “far left extremist”, but the issues they raise cannot be ignored.

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The race conversation continues day after day because people like them are driving the conversation. They endure insults from low key racists trying to belittle them with name calling and arguments against their stances and comments, while other leaders who agree with there principles remain silent.

Eventually, once the noise gets so loud it can’t be ignored, some of those less outspoken “right leaning conservative” leaders are asked to give their take about “diversity”. They are positioned in such a way as to be celebrated because they were given permission to speak on the subject. They were asked to speak about injustice and therefore the message was delivered the “right way”. People applaud, share their words, and say things like “you gotta hear what… said at… conference.”

I understand that hard words are easier to hear in the context of relationship, so I’m not lamenting the process. It’s been around for many moons. Every Martin needs a Malcolm as they say, and John the Baptist was a wild man in the desert saying the same things Jesus was saying in houses with tax collectors and religious leaders. I suppose that’s just how social change works. Some voices scare us, and others saying the same words make us feel safe enough to hear them out.

It’s fine that we praise the voices we respect and resonate with. We all have a preference of style and tone, but I’d ask that we re-think how little credit we give the voices that were brave enough to start and stay in the conversation daily. They’re the ones in the fight on a daily basis, and putting their livelihood and reputations on the line to move us forward toward a more just society.

For those of you wondering, I do consider myself a voice crying out in the wilderness about social issues. Yes, I have been in my feelings watching people I’ve never heard talking about racism before become overnight experts on the subject. However, once I’ve taken my emotional elevator to the top floor of my consciousness, I’m thrilled that the conversation is happening.  I pray it continues on every platform and in every venue possible until we have made every change we can make in our lifetime.

What voices on social change have you listened to the most?

Do you believe the conversation about racial injustice would be where it is today without people like the ones mentioned in this blog?

Starbucks Musings

Starbucks Musings 1024 683 Corey Leak

Today I’m on location. I’m writing from what has recently been a hot bed of controversy, and even though I just left the bathroom, I haven’t purchased anything. I’m at ground zero. The spot of the crime. The epicenter of the most recent incident sparking debate about racism on the internet. Alright, I’m being hella dramatic (Bay Area term meaning “very”). I’m not sitting at THEE Starbucks in Philadelphia that started all this conversation or the store in Los Angeles that had a second incident days later.

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I am sitting at a Starbucks, and I couldn’t help but share my thoughts while sitting here.

First, I am at Starbucks. I haven’t spent my money here today, and the jury is still out on whether I will. I’m not mulling over whether I want to boycott Starbucks or continue to be a customer. I’m just not sure I want coffee right now. I’m not angry at Starbucks. I’m satisfied by the fact that Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology, personally met with the two men, and is closing ALL EIGHT THOUSAND US stores to educate employees about racial bias. Stated here.

I have been impressed with how quickly Johnson and Starbucks have identified that what happened was wrong. Starbucks came to that conclusion much faster than some of the people I’ve seen pontificating on social media about “waiting for all the facts.”

I think there is great wisdom in not jumping to conclusions. I think it’s human decency to give the benefit of the doubt. Humans do and say wrong things. I can forgive people for that. I’ve been forgiven for that. Chances are you have too. I can’t forgive however the kind of arrogant supremacy that doesn’t allow a person to see the obvious racial bias right in front of their eyes or in their own hearts. Not because I don’t want to, but because people in that position don’t want it. How do you pardon a transgression that isn’t being confessed but denied instead?

It’s interesting to see denial at work. Human beings have an ability God didn’t give other animals on this planet. We have the ability to deny the reality of what our senses and intellect tell us are certainty. It’s actually a very healthy part of the grief process. It helps us absorb the emotional blow of something traumatic happening in our lives. There is nothing wrong with being in this stage of grief provided we move on to the other stages in the grief cycle.

It seems that denial is the only stage America’s dominant culture knows when it comes to traumatic incidents of racial bias and inequality. People in the majority seem to struggle with the notion that people are still mistreated, oppressed, and targeted by human beings and institutions in America. When faced with video evidence, “we should wait for all the facts”. When faced with the stories of personal experience from POC some from the majority culture present data to discredit the experience. That, my dear friends, is D E N I A L, and it’s probably time to come outside of that emotional fortress and face the ugly truth.

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That reality is POC are still struggling for equal footing in America. A quick google search can reveal statistics of incarceration, unemployment, household income, or home ownership rates that are asymmetrical when compared to the same rates of those in the dominant culture. You can also hear or read it in the subtle comments people make about POC when there is an incident that makes National news. I’ve heard things like: “If things are so bad here, why don’t those people go back to where they came from”. Those words are stooped in the idea that the people who “belong here” are those whose European Ancestors “built this country.” It reinforces the belief that those in the majority are native and everyone else is a foreigner in America. Most people wouldn’t tell the co-owner of their house to leave over a disagreement. In fact, because they are co-owners it’s incumbent upon both parties to figure out how to come to a mutual understanding of how to live together.

Kevin Johnson sat down with the two young men who in his own words didn’t deserve what happened to them. I listened to him express something I’ve said many times. Proximity to another human being whose ethnicity is different than yours gives you a more compassionate perspective.

Philadelphia police and others from the dominant culture took a more sadly predictable stance. It was more denial and shaming of the victims in this story. I suppose in our lifetime this will be how the story goes, but we took step forward this time by how proactive Starbucks has been. That is encouraging. Often times the injustices that happen to people have a more tragic ending where culpability unfairly rests on the shoulders of the victims. That wasn’t the case this time. Well done Kevin Johnson and Starbucks. Oh, by the way I did buy a cold foam cascara. I didn’t really like it. 🤷🏾‍♂️

As always, I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions.

Who do you typically give the benefit of the doubt to when you hear stories like the one coming out of the Philadelphia Starbucks?

How do you feel Starbucks has handled this?