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The “Good” about Friday

I grew up in a shame-and-blame religion.

The so-called Good News, as taught to me, is that we humans are fundamentally evil, unholy, sinners, distant from God. And so to save us, God needed to execute the perfect blood sacrifice. And there was only one person perfect enough to serve as that sacrifice, God himself. So he came to Earth in the form of a man who was without sin, and allowed himself to be executed, the perfect scapegoat, in order to take upon himself the sins of us all. As a result, we can blame him for all the shame we feel about who we are.

When I’ve told this story, I have gotten shocked looks of disbelief. “That’s not what Christianity is about, is it? I thought it was a religion of love and peace and helping people.”  Click to continue »

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Last night began the Jewish holiday of Purim. This is a celebration of the book of Esther. The last time I celebrated it was when I was still a member of a Messianic Jewish congregation two years ago, before I came out as an atheist, long before I came out as polyamorous. It was even before all the private drama that separated me from my religious community. But not before my doubts: I had doubts about Purim even then.

But this year, I’m getting closer to the point where I want to be. I miss Purim.

I miss the costumes. I miss reading the Megillah. I miss making noise and eating hamantashen.

I don’t miss the glorification of revenge, the lack of empathy and compassion, the deification of power.

But I miss getting so drunk that I can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”  Click to continue »

On the Anniversary of Losing My Religion

I was born into a Pentecostal family. My dad was the pastor.

All versions of my story start the same way, with that line.

For decades, I was stepping further and further away from the faith I was taught as a kid. But the emotional core of my faith was still fundamentalist, and I still thought of myself as an Evangelical. And I still believed in fundamentalism (kind of like Daniel Dennett’s “belief in belief”). By the end of 2013, there were two of me living inside my mind. There was the fundamentalist, who believed in some version of Evangelical theology. And then there was the rationalist, who would admit that it’s all just a story, a religious narrative, but—I believed at the time—a useful narrative. I thought of myself as an agnostic Christian, because I didn’t think you could prove whether God existed—all the “evidence” people cite are just stories—but I believed in him anyway, just because.

And at the same time, I didn’t feel I could talk openly about these thoughts. The few times I had cautiously put out feelers in front of religious friends, or even worse, religious leaders, I had been been soundly thrashed with them.  Click to continue »

An Atheist in an Airplane

No one raised in a religious environment wants to come out atheist. Few people who grew up in the US would want to use that word. And when I finally told one of my close friends that I was an atheist, she said, “Oh no! You lost your faith?!” But after I explained exactly what I believed and why, her tone softened. “Oh, that’s pretty much what I think, too.”

Or as Julia Sweeney described it in her solo show Letting Go of God:

I think that my parents had been mildly disappointed when I’d said I didn’t believe in God any more, but being an atheist was another thing altogether.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church. My dad was the pastor. I was raised an Evangelical fundamentalist. But my parents also taught me to think for myself, and I continued to learn and to explore the rationale for my beliefs. If you examine my writings over the past 25 years or so, you may be able to detect a subtle, gradual shift in the underlying vibe, a progression away from religious conservatism, toward liberalism and sex-positivity, but always with a nod to the dogma, as if a bungee cord attached me to my fundamentalist roots.  Click to continue »

A Born Again Unbeliever

The last time I wrote to you, I was a Christian fundamentalist. Now, I’m not.

That’s not quite true. The last time I wrote to you, I still gave a nod to Christian fundamentalism. Now, I do not.

In April, that house of cards collapsed. And while the fundamentalist dogma runs deep, I think you’ll find I’m largely the same guy you knew, but hopefully new and improved.

This is my coming-out post.

I remember wanting to be an atheist a couple years ago. I was listening to an episode of Penn’s Sunday School. I don’t remember which one; I think it was an early episode.

As I recall, Penn told a story of a fan who came up to him after one of the Penn & Teller shows. The fan told him, he didn’t believe in God, but he couldn’t tell that to his family or friends, because his entire sense of community, his entire support structure, depended on them thinking that he was still a believer. And I thought, Yeah. That’s me. I wish I could just not believe in God. It would simplify so many things. But my life, my family, my synagogue, my friends, they all depend on me worshipping—or appearing to worship—Abraham’s God. On top of that, I was heavily involved in synagogue life. I sometimes led music for the Shabbat Shacharit service. And I was a home-group leader.  Click to continue »

3 Best Things Being a Gentile in a Jewish Home at Passover

Tomorrow is a very special Sabbath, Shabbat Pesach. I spent almost two whole days this week wrestling over which songs to play in service. I probably overdid it, yes.

As a result, however, this is my excuse for a Friday post this week.

The three best things about being a Gentile living in a Jewish home at Passover:

  1. Buffalo chicken and blue cheese dressing on matzah.
  2. Liverwurst-matzah sandwich (with mustard).
  3. Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and matzah.

This is not crazy. Rather, because I’m a Gentile, it’s perfectly kosher for me to eat pork and to mix meat and milk. But Jewish homes contain no chametz during Passover, none, not even a little. Even a Jew’s dog goes unleavened during those 8 days. How much more so the husband of a Jew?

So no bread, no doughnuts, no cake, no cookies. Not really a problem for me, as I’m not supposed to be eating those anyhow. But a bacon double cheeseburger (without the bun)? No problem.


P.S. I actually don’t eat much matzah, either. Because it too is bread, and is loaded with carbs.  Click to continue »

It’s Not Sunday’s a-Comin’

Today is the first day of the omer. Actually, it began last night.

Beginning with the second day of Passover, Jews begin counting the days. For 7 weeks they count, 49 days. This is called “Counting the Omer,” laid out in Leviticus 23:15-17. The omer was a measure of grain, an offering of thanksgiving for the freedom of Pesach. On the second day of Pesach, an omer of barley was brought to the Temple as an offering. The counting culminates with day 50, which is the holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, the holiday of Pentecost. Shavuot is a like a Hebrew Thanksgiving, and on this day, two loaves made of wheat were offered in the Temple. Jews don’t go to the Temple today, because there is no Temple right now; but they still offer prayers and thanksgiving to God for all that he’s given us. Many decorate their homes and synagogues with greens and flowers, to remember the harvest. Some stay up all night studying Torah. And they read the Ten Commandments in the morning service.

In Jewish tradition, Shavuot is when God gave the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai, and Israel became a nation, rather than just a bunch of refugee slaves escaped from Egypt. If Pesach is the holiday of chaos and questions and upheaval and dramatic miracles (and it is), then Shavuot is a holiday of fulfillment. And so Jews count the days between Pesach and Shavuot, and they pray each day, and wait for the fulfillment of the promise.  Click to continue »

The Last Passover

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Pesach meal with you before I suffer.”

Tonight begins the first night of Passover, of Pesach, the Jewish holiday of remembrance and living-out the Israelite escape from Egypt. It is a holiday of questions, of upheaval, of chaos, of suffering and deliverance. And for Christians, also the beginning of a significant spiritual change.

Yeshua pours the wine. Then he lifts up the cup and says the brachah: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” He drinks, then looks up at his disciples. “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine,” he says, “until God’s kingdom comes.”

His disciples had the sense that he was going to miraculously overthrow the Romans and usher in a new age of Israeli peace, all in good time. Now they know, “good time” means “real soon now.” A great political upheaval is afoot.

This is Pesach.

He lifts up the bread and says the blessings: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, king of the universe, who sanctified us with his commandments, and commanded us concerning the eating of matzah.”  Click to continue »

The Very First Wife Swap

(This is part 3 in my series on 1 Corinthians 5. Click here to read from the beginning.)

Most of us probably imagine the first swingers as 1960′s hippies in a free-love commune. But in fact, it started earlier than that, in World War II. Christopher Ryan explains:

It seems that the original modern American swingers were crew-cut World War II air force pilots and their wives. Like elite warriors everywhere, these “top guns” often developed strong bonds with one another, perhaps because they suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the military. According to journalist Terry Gould, “key parties,” like those later dramatized in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, originated on these military bases in the 1940s, where elite pilots and their wives intermingled sexually with one another before the men flew off toward Japanese antiaircraft fire…

Joan and Dwight Dixon explained to Gould that these warriors and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual, with a tacit understanding that the two thirds of husbands who survived would look after the widows.”  Click to continue »

Whatever the All-Merciful Does Is for Good

The Talmud tells this story (in Berachot 60b):

Rabbi Akiva was once going along the road and he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings. But everywhere he went, he was refused.

He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”

So because he couldn’t find a place to stay in the town, he walked out of town, into an open field, and camped out there.

Now, he had with him a rooster, a donkey, and a lamp. But during the night, a gust of wind blew out his lamp, and so he had no light, and no protection. Then a weasel came and ate his rooster, so he had no one to warn him up when the sun rose. Then a lion attacked and killed his donkey, so he had no transportation.

He sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”

Early in the morning, while Rabbi Akiva was still sleeping, a band of brigands attacked the town. They stole everything they could get their hands on and even carried off the inhabitants of the town. But they didn’t see or hear or even realize that Rabbi Akiva was there.

When he woke up and realized what had happened, he sighed and said, “Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.”

We can’t control everything in our lives. And often our lives even wipe out spinning careening out of control. Every human has an innate sense that tells him—correctly—that this is a really bad thing. And that’s why it’s disturbing, and distressful.

But there’s a wisdom in accepting the things you can’t control, and focusing on those things that you can. Just because you feel out of control, that doesn’t mean your life is a mess. It only means that you can’t predict right now exactly what you’re going to be 10, 20, 50 years down the road. Well, welcome to the club. Sometimes it turns out that the distressful things that happen to you, they actually were blessings in disguise.  Click to continue »

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