Archives For Jesus

You’re probably not one of those Da Vinci Code heretics who believes Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. But even if you’re quick to slap a scarlet H on the Gospel of Thomas or the idea that Jesus wasn’t really human, you might be affected by a subtle reboot of this heresy seeping through American evangelicalism. Unlike it’s older brother, Christian-gnosticism can be hard to see and a bit slippery to catch–a fact I know from firsthand experience. So here’s a quiz to take your temperature and see if you’ve been affected: 

10 Questions

Photo by Ben White on Unsplashedited

Quiz

  1. Does it feel like a stretch to think about worshipping through football, a slice of german chocolate cake, or–if you’re married–having sex? 
  2. Do you think it makes God happier when you read your Bible than when you pick up trash from the side of the road? 
  3. Do you feel like sex is dirty? Are you ashamed of your sex drive?
  4. Does it surprise you that there might be politics and commerce after the resurrection?
  5. Is your Christianity strong when it comes to lying and prayer, but light on gluttony and fasting? Continue Reading…

A stranger’s fingers grip mine. The words reverberate from my throat and into my ears. Liturgy is new for me–but stepping into the same words every Sunday works like a garden hoe on my heart. After weeks and months of hands grasping mine as we pray together, “Our Father in heaven,” two realizations have churned up from this regular tilling of the Lord’s Prayer.

Even though I grew up in nonliturgical churches, like many Christians, I memorized the Lord’s prayer. I could say it in my sleep, and when I started attending my husband’s church last fall, the words tumbled out of my mouth, often on autopilot. 

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Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash, edited

In the months since, I’ve stubbed my spiritual toes on two truths about the Lord’s prayer, so large I’m shocked I never saw them before. (I’ll stick to tackling the first one here). In both cases, my blindness stemmed, in part, from treating the Lord’s prayer like a newspaper clipping. I learned it out of context and never asked how the surrounding paragraphs should shape my understanding of what Jesus intended to teach with this string of phrases.

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I love Jesus, but if God is handing out spiritual report cards, I’m probably getting an F when it comes to getting excited about Heaven.* The Apostle Paul—who tells us to imitate his faith—says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23), but when I try to rev my enthusiasm for that place after death, my battery sputters.

Over the last five years at seminary, I had the chance to study the Bible as one big story, from the garden to the city. Revisiting the edges of God’s story gave me a new lens for understanding why I have a hard time getting excited about heaven. Here’s three of my top reasons:

I find it hard

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

1. Worship songs aren’t really my thing. 

After three repetitions of the chorus from “10,000 Reasons” at church, I’m ready to call a time-out and connect with the maroon cushions, not stay on my feet for another four songs. I’ve never been a good stander. And despite my laser focus when it comes to reading and writing, singing turns my mind into seven-year-old with ADD. Music time at church deteriorates into twenty minutes of hand-slapping my brain back to attention. 

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I tried to peel myself off the alley as the Spanish words got louder, men’s voices, but my Columbia pants stuck to the dirt. My bones ached and bowels churned. Montezuma was mounting his revenge and it was one of the worst hours of my life.  

 

It was also one of the best days of my life, but you have to widen the edges of the story to see it. Zooming out, you’d see the alley I lay plastered in, tucked high up on a jungle mountain. You might see that–by a miracle of nature–later that day I’d steady my limbs and force them up ancient steps until I could look back over the green and grey city of Machu Picchu.  

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

 

One day, but two different stories depending on how wide you set the frame. In a similar way, Christians can cut the edges off God’s story. Sometimes we zoom in so tight on the cross, sanctification, and getting to Heaven when we die, that we crop the storyline. The Great Commission looms so large in our minds, that we almost forget about the first commission, the one God gave us in the Garden of Eden.  

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Pills or Prayer?

smgianotti@me.com  —  April 12, 2018

She slumped in her chair as I again suggested that she might be depressed. She teared up, but declined a prescription. Her husband, a leader in the church, believed depression came from spiritual issues, not medical ones. She couldn’t risk people finding out she took pills for depression.   

 

This is often the case when I see patients for mental health issues. I find that they want to condense their problem into something bite-sized. As a health care provider, I’m tempted to do the same. A diagnosis feels more manageable if we can isolate and label the problem. So we zero in on biochemistry. “Just give me a pill, doc.” Or we focus exclusively on spirituality. “If I had more faith, I could get past my anxiety.” Or we allow our social history to consume us. “I’m damaged goods—life will never get any better.” 

 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Other times, we do the opposite, ignoring or smothering dimensions of our lives that contribute to our diagnoses. We ignore the impact of relationships. “I can’t deal with those memories—they hurts too much.” Or we neglect the physical, recreational, or emotional aspects of our lives. “I’m too busy to exercise . . . find a hobby . . . spend time making friends.” But wherever we neglect part of our humanity in our struggle with mental health, we curtail God’s healing in our lives.

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* This article first appeared on Patheos on November 9, 2016.  

“This isn’t middle school anymore,” one of my ninth grade teachers used to say whenever someone complained about homework, “it’s not a bunch of warm fuzzies.” Neither is forgiveness, and for many of us the holidays can feel more like forgiveness boot camp than walking in a winter wonderland. 

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As our families disappoint once us again, old hurts flare up, and holiday shopping ends in shouting matches, forgiveness can like an assault to our humanity. Could God really ask us to stoop that low, to forgive that person Continue Reading…

Let’s be honest, we’ve all had days where work makes us angry. Thanks to Chris Dortch for being honest about it for the Finding God at Work series. 

 

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Blasted crape myrtles. I know most people wouldn’t describe them so, but their pretty, pink posies fall in droves, faster than my net can skim them off the water. I know I should enjoy the hot sun on my back, the cool breeze fighting back against the warmth, and the freedom for my mind to wander—from Aslan’s bright shore beyond the Great Sea all the way to the bloody streets of Victor Hugo’s French Revolution, from the emeralds of Oz to the dark stage haunted by the Phantom.


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The strong smell of chlorine wrenches me from the worlds whispered into my ears, and I have to step back before the fumes overpower me. I really should pay more attention to my job. This daydreaming landed me in the pool last summer. I pull out my headphones and focus on the plague of pink that has now consumed the pool. How is this even possible? There are more flowers now than when I got here half an hour ago Continue Reading…

My roommate walked in the door as I finished typing an email. As she asked me a question, my fingers went into autopilot. I clicked a few words, hit send, and started to answer her when it broke onto my consciousness that I’d tacked “Love you, Shannon” onto an email to one of my professors, a man in his fifties who also attends my church.

“Oh crap!” I burst into the middle of my roommate’s sentence, “I just typed ‘Love you’ to Dr. Zhivago.”¹

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While her diaphragm nearly seized up with laugher, I typed a hasty apology explaining how my roommate came in right as I was finishing the email and how my fingers went into autopilot and how I always sign emails to my family that way. I hit send again and, rubbing my face in disbelief, turned around to finish the conversation.

A shocking response

My roommate and I were still standing in the kitchen, my laptop doing penance on the counter, when his response popped onto the screen.

“Oh my word,” I said to her, “listen to this Continue Reading…

My friend felt guilty. A grad student and barely able to pay rent, he didn’t have enough money to tithe and worried that he was disappointing God. As I listened to the strain in his voice, it struck me that Jesus never taught about tithing.

 

Jesus’ silence on the subject is startling considering that money was one of his favorite topics. His voice fills the gospels with financial advice, stories about bosses, investors, and trust fund babies gone wrong. He admonished a rich businessman, commended a poor widow, and sent Peter to find their tax money in the mouth of a fish.

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In the church’s current fascination with tithing, it seems we’ve lost the breadth of God’s interest in our money. We’ve settled for an Old Testament rule, adding it to our checklist of ways to please God; but, by drawing a line around a part of our income and packing it off to the church, an orphanage in Africa, or the homeless shelter downtown, we’ve restricted the scope God’s interest in our money and, as a result, shrunk our relationship with of him Continue Reading…

Growing up in church, I wanted the truth of God to burn in my chest, but too often it sat shelved in my brain, collecting dust. In youth group, I learned about this disease. I had a breakdown between my head and my heart. Other people had it, too. In fact, everyone seemed to be talking about it, but while they diagnosed the problem in sermons, Bible studies, and at my Christian college, no one seemed to have a cure. 

 

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You can’t cure a nagging cough without treating the underlying pneumonia, but that’s what many Christians were trying to do. The gulf between our brains and our hearts wasn’t the problem, it was only a symptom of an underlying disease, an infection that started with Modernity. 

 

The real infection was the belief that truth is ultimately a package of facts Continue Reading…