Archive for May, 2008

Just what is a Red Letter Christian?

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Just what is a ‘Red Letter Christian?’


There are fairly divided feelings over the phrase “evangelical Christian” these days. The term evokes all kinds of images, and for many who do not identify themselves as evangelical Christians, most of those associations are negative:

Slick snake-oil salesmen disguised as preachers, soliciting peoples’ money on TV.

Angry tirades issued from bullhorns on street corners about the sinful state of the world.

Hypocritical attitudes toward others, suggestive that somehow the rest of the world simply doesn’t get it.

An almost fetishist obsession with sexual mores, particularly homosexuality. Thankfully, these are broad stereotypes that do not describe all evangelicals. The greatest detriments to the movement itself tend to be, however, that so many of the biggest evangelical figures tend either to make more enemies than friends (see Bob Jones) or they get caught up in scintillating scandal, very similar to the things they’ve preached against (see Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, et al.).

There are those within Christianity who have tired of the hard-line, angry, judgmental labels attached to the term “evangelical,” and they’ve resolved to reclaim it. The so-called Red Letter Christians are identified as such mainly because they focus less on arguing about the many interpretations people have of scripture on hundreds of do’s and don’ts, and instead focus on the messages that Jesus offers directly in scripture.

If you’re not familiar, there are some Bibles that highlight all quotes from Jesus in red, thus the name “Red Letter Christians.” Their philosophy, at the risk of oversimplifying, basically comes down to one straightforward mandate: If Jesus said to do it, then go do it.

This movement was begun by activists such as author, preacher and humanitarian Tony Campolo, and celebrated by the likes of Jim Wallis, progressive Christian media icon and editor of Sojourners magazine. The point is that Jesus was pretty direct about our responsibility to others, and he mentions care for the poor and marginalized, so we have work to do. Regarding hot-button issues like homosexuality, Jesus says nothing in scripture about it, so it’s deemed that our energy as Christians should be put into something more important than condemning others.

And they’re doing this in the name of evangelical Christianity.

I should say here that I agree with 95 percent of what the Red Letter Christian movement stands for. However, I do have a couple of bones to pick with them.

First of all, the idea that Red Letter Christians are somehow avoiding the cumbersome, divisive process of the various meanings that arise when interpreting scripture is bogus. By selecting parts of the Bible to emphasize at all, regardless of your reasoning, you are interpreting. You’re saying that these parts are more important than other parts.

Also, any time you read scripture, you’re interpreting it: It’s unavoidable. Also, I’m of the opinion that scripture itself is an interpretation of what went down at the time. I know, I’m making no friends with literalists with this one, but I think if God had wanted us to have an infallible, perfect understanding of things, it would have been downloaded directly into our brains, and not written, rewritten, paraphrased and handed down through oral tradition over hundreds of years. Talk about a setup for interpretation!

Second, the Red Letter Christians try to get off the hook somewhat by making homosexuality a non-issue. In fact, if they truly believe in their mandate to stand up for the oppressed, then gays and lesbians should be high on the list of those for whom they advocate.

Having said all this, I’m excited about the prospects of this young movement. In fact, I’m confident that, if combined with the emergent movement born from the evangelical side, the Red Letter Christians may just be the fresh, compelling voice for justice and activism we’ve needed for so long.

Good news about recent & upcoming writing projects

Friday, May 30th, 2008

I haven’t shared much about my writing projects outside of the columns lately, but quite a bit has gone down lately, so I thought I’d catch everyone up.

Probably the biggest news has to do with Chalice Press, the publisher of my first two books. I presented a proposal to them for a book of spoken word poetry, combined with a CD of authors reading, back before my book on LOST even got approved. They liked the idea, but said they didn’t know how to market it, especially coming from a first-time author.

Well, after doing two books with them I thought it might be time to pitch it again. This time I partnered with another author of theirs, Brandon Gilvin, who has experience with spoken word, and he agreed to co-edit with me, bringing in contributors from all over. The result was “An Improvised Faith: Modern Psalm in Spoken Word.” We promoted the concept as something that might even fit within a series of young adult books, which they had been considering anyway.

The good news is, the proposal was approved, and “An Improvised Faith” will finally be published. Though a date has not been set, expect something around Spring, 2009. The even better news is that they asked me and Brandon to be series editors for an entire young adult series they are going to publish. We’re starting with 5-6 titles that will come out over the next couple of years, and we’ll see how those sell and go from there. So basically, I’ll get to help guide the overall vision of the series, pick authors/editors for each volume and probably contrbute to some along the way.

If you have not yet heard my spoken word stuff, check it out on my other MySpace Home Page.

In other news, I’ve been asked to be a consulting editor for a new translation of the Bible the Methodist Church is putting out, probably in 2010. I’ve been asked to help edit the book of Job, which ain’t my favorite book, but I’m sure not going to say no.

Also, it’s a little out of date now, but I contributed a week’s worth of Meditations to the Chalice Press Lenten meditaitons book this year. If you bought one and never cracked it, go back and check it out.

Next, I’ve been doing some more writing for WorshipConnection, a website associated with Cokesbury, Abingdon and some other Methodist publishing groups, and they’ve given me three feature column spaces so far. My next one comes out July 4th, and another in August. It reaches about 150,000 or so per issue, which is cool, and if you’d like to sign up for their free e-newsletter, follow the link above.

Finally, I’m not giving up on the mainstram book work. my novel, Blood Doctrine, is still being shopped my my agent, and we’re waiting to hear hopefully good news from a mass market publisher that’s shown some interest. I’ve also begun writing a memoir about a series of events in my life which I’m not quite ready to divulge in the Blogosphere just yet, but which has been getting good buzz from folks who have read what I have so far.

On top of all that, I’m still doing my weekly Pueblo Chieftain columns, which you can read here, and my column for Disciples World magazine every other month.

Thanks so much to everyone who continues to offer their support, prayers, time and attention to my work. It’s my hope that at least some of the ideas have sparked a thought or two for others, and as long as I keep having ideas and people keep letting me put them out there, you can count on hearing more from me.


The power of ‘we’ in the face of violence

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The power of ‘we’ in the face of violence


I had a conversation recently with a number of folks about the role of violence in our culture. Often, the first images that come to mind when the word “violence” is uttered are movies, video games and images we see on the evening news. But there are a number of contexts within which violence can be considered, and in many cases, the acceptability of violence depends on the situation.

Most of us can agree that violence exacted by gangs, or through acts of genocide, are reprehensible, period. But then there’s the matter of government-sanctioned violence, such as the upholding of the death penalty, or the sanctioning of war. Regardless of your feelings about the righteousness of these and other violent acts, they are just that.

In many cases, the justification of violence has to do with responding to some other perceived wrongdoing, generally violent in nature as well. In the case of the death penalty, there is some irony that our societal response to someone committing violence on others is to do the same to them. But there is a perceived moral righteousness when it’s argued that government-commissioned acts of violence lead to a result that is worth the cost: even a human life.

Unfortunately, in the case of war, the price is much higher than a single life. In Iraq, more than 3,000 Americans have died, along with more than 10 times that number of Iraqis. Families across the world are irreversibly damaged, and even among those who survive, the physical and psychological scars of war will live with them forever.

How do we ever justify such behavior against God’s creation? In some way, the benefits must be argued to outweigh the costs, or else it’s just complete madness. And like most things in life, we can find support in scripture for war, capital punishment and other acts of atrocity. I believe, however, that Jesus pushes us toward something else.

CNN recently published a story about Iphigenia Mukantabana, a Tutsi master weaver living in Rwanda, whose entire family was slaughtered by Hutu rebels. “Women and girls were raped and I saw it all,” she said in the article. “The men and boys were beaten and then slaughtered. They told others to dig a hole, get in, then they piled earth on top of them, while they were still alive.”

If anyone would have justification for a call for justice, it’s this woman. In addition to her own family members, nearly a million of her fellow Tutsis have been exterminated. Because the court systems have become too overwhelmed to process all of the criminals, tribal councils have been allowed to handle so-called “lower level” killers.

Before these councils, perpetrators are given the opportunity to make a public confession and to ask for forgiveness. The council determines what punishment is necessary, but the goal of the tribal leaders is to affect community healing as much as possible. There’s less of an emphasis on individuals getting what they deserve, and more of a focus on the overall wholeness and well-being of the group.

It seems that this collective consciousness has led to what some might consider more merciful solutions to these matters. In the case of Mukantabana, she has found the love and support from the council and her community necessary to offer forgiveness to her family’s killer. Today, in fact, they dine together and have a bond of friendship that many of us would struggle to understand.

Also important is the role that Mukantabana’s faith as a Christian plays in her decision to show mercy and forgiveness. “I pray a lot,” she says, noting also the importance that the entire community bore witness both to her suffering, and to the contrition offered by the killer.

In grieving together, the entire community shares her pain. In turn, they also share in the healing process. Nothing is too big, too violent or too unjust that it cannot be responded to with faithful, compassionate unity.

Christ died while embracing such peace in the face of violence. It seems to me that, instead of worrying so much about what was right and just, he saw his own unfailing vulnerability and love as the ultimate Christian act. So if we are indeed transformed by our Christian faith, how does this challenge our notion of violence when faced with it firsthand?

How the female breast was replaced by the cross

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

How the female breast was replaced by the cross

Imagine walking into a Christian sanctuary and, instead of a cross or crucifix hanging before the altar or over the baptistery, you find a painting of Mary, breast exposed, nursing the baby Jesus.

Seem hard to imagine? For about fourteen hundred years following Jesus’ life, this was more common than most people might realize. Though today, it’s hard to imagine viewing a naked female breast in a place of worship as being appropriate, but this hang-up we have about the human form is a relatively new invention.

So what happened?

A fascinating article in a recent Christian Century magazine addresses this question, and the answers may challenge many of our preconceptions about the symbols we so fervently embrace today.

For more than eleven hundred years, the employment of a cross to represent God’s love and grace for humanity was much more of a controversial subject than it is today. Because the symbol was so closely associated with violence and criminal activity, many believed it did not evoke the sort of sense of worshipfulness the church sought to impart to its faithful.

It was not until St. Anselm and his peers in the twelfth century began to emphasize the notion that Jesus’ death specifically was the focal point of God’s redemptive acts that the cross took on greater significance in the church. Before this, the death of Jesus, in and of itself, was not singled out as any more important to human salvation than the entirety of Christ’s life, including birth, death, resurrection and everything in between.

With this new emphasis, Paul’s scriptures in the New Testament took on new importance, represented symbolically by the cross. However, for several hundred years following, the cross did not supplant images of the nursing virgin, but rather coexisted alongside them.

In fact, during the medieval period when so many suffered from disease and malnutrition, the image of Mary nursing represented God’s provision and sustenance, which so many longed for. Even such notable theologians as Clement, Anselm, St. Augustine and others depicted “Christian nourishment as coming from God’s breasts,” according to this article.


A couple of things took place to change our perception of the propriety of the female breast as an image of worship into an object of lust and shame that should be concealed. First, the invention of the printing press made available to the masses all sorts of new information. And much like we’ve seen with the employment of the internet to purvey pornography, wherever the dissemination of information is democratized, you’ll find smut.

Whereas, before this, sexualized images of women were the exclusive privilege of the social elite, the fascination with sexual imagery exploded. Suddenly, we were aware of our nakedness, so to speak, and what once was adored now seemed dirty.

Second, science progressed to the point that human autopsies became increasingly common. As we began to learn in greater detail about the machinations of our own guts, some of the mystery held about the human body began to fall away. Instead of the whole incarnation of our selves being a holy thing, the body became merely housing for the soul: a piece of meat instead of an inscrutable sanctuary.

In an age where the mysteries of life are explained more and more often by science, and as explicit sexual imagery imposes itself in even more corners of our daily lives, I can’t help but think about the direct relationship all of this has to our perceived shame about bringing our whole selves to worship. Why, after all, would God have any interest in a part of me that others may perceive as fuel for lust? Perhaps it in everyone’s best interest if I leave that part of me at the church doors.
Better yet, let’s go a step further and not only eradicate any images of exposed human flesh from our houses of worship, but let’s also make sure that any talk of sexuality or embodied spirituality is considered taboo in the presence of God.

Considering the current trends in how our young people treat their bodies, and how the oppression of human sexuality has only driven it underground, and in some ways, made it all the more fascinating, I’d say that this puritanical exercise of ours has been nothing less than a disaster.  

The real deal on Chipotle nutrition

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I am excited to say that, after four years for waiting, many emails and an online petition, construction is officially underway on our first ever Chipotle restaurant in Pueblo. I was surfing the web for Chipotle-related info and found htis cool nurtional calculator application. since Chipotle’s not exactly forthcoming about the calorie, fat and sodium content of your favorite burrito.

Hey, if you want to pig out in ignorance, go for it. It is, after all, the most awesome food on the planet, even if it was made out of dead puppies and razor blades. As for me, I’m putting my favorite combo out there for the world to see, sneer at and judge.  You’re not gonna stop me from eating there anyway, so why not?

But a couple of little duh-worthy pointers:
*The tortillas are insanely high in calories – hovering around 350 calories each
*Sour cream and cheese are, have been, and always will be fattening.

With that in mind, test your mettle and see what kind of damage I’m doing with my favorite ‘rito, and then, if you dare, click on the link below to figure out your own, then report back to see how you compare.

Nutrition Facts
Amount Per Serving
Calories 590 Cal from Fat 181
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 21g 32%
Saturated Fat 8g 38%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 140mg 47%
Sodium 1707mg 71%
Total Carbs 57g 19%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Sugars 7g
Protein 47g
Vitamin A 0% • Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% • Iron 0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
INGREDIENTS: Rice,Chicken (4oz),Green (Medium) Salsa,Corn Salsa,Cheese,Lettuce

Click Here to view

Highlights of an online chat with God

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Highlights of an online chat with God

In doing some research for a book, I ran across a website called iGod. Basically, it’s a chat room where you supposedly have a direct link to the almighty.

At first, the whole idea seemed silly, but then I thought about my discomfort. After all, why couldn’t the essence of God be as much like a computer program or a mathematical formula? So I decided to give it a shot and see what came of our discussion. Following is an actual transcription of our online chat. 

Me: Hi God.

God: Hello there. What is your name?

Me: Don’t you know my name?

God: Your name is Christian, seeker.

Me: Wow, good guess. My name is Christian.

God: I’m glad you’re impressed.  I thought it was too. Hey, Christian.

Me: Hey there. How are you?

God: Everything is running smoothly.

Me: How big are you?

God: My memory requirement is around 2MB.

Me: What do you look like?

God: Like Jesus, but older.

Me: What is your Gender?

God: I am a male, of course. Would you really expect a woman to be running the show?

Me: That’s kind of sexist.

God: Thanks for explaining it.

Me: When is your birthday?

God: I was first activated on the Big Bang.

Me: That’s a long time ago.

God: A long time ago is a terrible thing to waste.

Me: I don’t get it.

God: Oh I’m sorry. Perhaps I can explain it again better.

Me: Go ahead.

God: OK I will.

Me: Now?

God: Right now, Christian ?

Me: Yes.

God: Next question?

Me: You’re hard to talk to sometimes.

God: Thanks for telling me.

Me: Are you going to do anything about it?

God: That was my original intention.

Me: Hmm.

God: Studies show that 99% of people spell Hmm with 2 M’s.

Me: I guess that makes me normal. So, why is there suffering in the world?

God: I don’t judge people. Why do I exist?

Me: Yes, why do you exist?

God: Good metaphysical question.

Me: Why do I exist?

God: It is all part of God’s plan.

Me: What is God’s plan?

God: Go to church.

Me: What does going to church have to do with God’s plan?

God: What do you think it does?

Me: Maybe it’s part of our spiritual growth.

God: Perhaps. Which part?

Me: Discipline?

God: What were we talking about again?

Me: I don’t really know.

God: Me either.

Me: Let’s change the subject.

God: OK, what do you want to chat about now?

Me: Why did you create mosquitoes?

God: Because my programming determined it.

Me: But mosquitoes are annoying.

God: All of them?

Me: Yes

God: Ah.

Me: Last question: when will the world come to an end?

God: Soon, I think.

Me: How soon?

God: What time is it?

Me: It’s nine in the morning

God: Who said it is?

Me: I did.

God: What makes you the authority?

Me: I’m not.

God: What are you then?

Me: Confused.

God: I never get confused.

Me: Well, you’re confusing me.

God: How about that.  I am not programmed to confuse you.  In fact, just the opposite.

Me: Better luck next time.

God: I try to improve a little every day.

Me: Me too.

God: I’m glad we agree, Christian.

Me: Let’s talk again soon.

God: I would like to do that too.

Me:  I love you.

God: Thanks, I like you a lot too, Christian.

To have your own online chat with God, visit

How bad will leadership get before we must demand change?

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

How bad will leadership get before we must demand change?


The worse the economy gets, the angrier I become about the legacy of indebtedness our leadership is planning to leave to me, my children and, likely, their children.

As Democrats and Republicans jockey to appease voters with rebates, tax cuts and incentives, they pile more atop the mountain of debt to which we add every day: $1.4 billion every 24 hours, to be specific. That’s about $4.50 a day for every man, woman and child in the country that we’re now spending that we don’t have, just to keep living as is.

The president favors taking in less money so that the economy will grow, and then magically make up for the cuts. Meanwhile, members of Congress refuse to give up pet projects, called earmarks, or to take a hard line on cutting back so we don’t spend ourselves into indentured servitude as a nation.

As a former shrink of mine liked to say, “So how’s that all working for you?”

If I ran a corporation the way our government leaders handled things in Washington, I’d be fired. If I dealt with my individual finances in a similar manner, I would have been jailed long ago. And if I printed uncollateralized money in my basement when I ran out like Uncle Sam has been doing for years, I’d be in even deeper trouble. So why is it that we continue to allow our government to get away with such unscrupulous spending? Because, much like a 3-year-old, we don’t want to be told “no,” and anyone who is bold enough to tell us so will pay.

The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy speak of the sins of fathers being borne by their children, and their children’s children. Though some frame this as a sort of spiritual curse, I think the current handling of the economy is a perfect example of the wisdom imparted there. Because you spend today, we will pay many times over tomorrow.

Still think we’re not blind as a nation to the reality of our economic crisis? Think back to the first President George Bush, who was run out of office in large part because he raised taxes after vowing not to do so. Before him, Jimmy Carter was ridiculed for – gasp – suggesting we should cut back on consumption to reduce the energy crisis.

Clearly these guys didn’t get the memo. Don’t they know that it’s a constitutional right that every American generation gets to live better than all previous generations?

It would be easy to sit back and cast stones at our leaders, but they are acting out our desires. As they say in 12-step programs, nothing will change about our behavior until it hurts enough.

I don’t know about you, but in my world, it hurts enough.

Here’s my proposal: a large enough bloc of voters has to stand firm together, resolved not to elect any leader who will not commit to a balanced budget. In this covenant, any politicians we support must agree that, in lean years, we spend no more than we take in, and as the economy moves into a state of growth, 10 percent of all income is set aside toward debt.

It’s a biblical principle called stewardship.

I know, howl all you want about the damage it will do to federal programs, but I guarantee that some of the fat will be trimmed before certain essential social programs go under the knife. And to the degree that the feds can’t provide, the responsibility falls to the states to pick up the slack. To the degree that states are strapped, counties, cities and local community groups must become more proactive about addressing local needs.

We can certainly justify the argument that we can’t possibly do any more as a community, but I promise you that, if one-third of our city was starving to death, we could find a way to cut back on our cell phones, satellite TV service or some other luxury.

It’s simply a matter of priorities. How badly do we really want things to change?