All posts by pcpjwriter

PCPJ is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world.

The Messy, Dirty, and Beautiful Birth of Jesus

by Greg Boyd, originally published on his blog and in the Minnesota Christian Chronicle, Volume #28 No.21, December 3, 2006.

Few things capture the spirit of Christmas better than a traditional nativity scene for many people. The star shines down on the serene baby Jesus, sleeping in a nice little manger with golden straw spilling out from the edges. He’s surrounded by Mary, Joseph, three wise men and several shepherds. They are all radiantly peaceful as they gaze in wonder at the newborn Christ child. Even the animals lying in their nice clean hay seem almost Spirit-filled as they look serenely upon the infant Savior. As the song goes, even when the cattle start lowing and the poor baby wakes, the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. It’s a cute, quaint scene, capturing the spirit of a cute, quaint holiday.

Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, and I’m not suggesting there’s anything heretical about this cute, quaint scene. I’m all for tradition – our family sets up a nativity every year. On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize that this scene is not completely accurate.

Try to imagine for a moment how things most likely unfolded the night Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were probably teenagers when they traveled to Bethlehem, for in first century Jewish culture girls were usually engaged around the age of 12 or 13 and boys around 16 or 17. The two were undoubtedly exhausted from their long journey when they arrived at the inn, but all the rooms were taken. The two decided to bed down with the animals in the inn’s stable, which must have been an act of utter desperation (was Mary beginning to have contractions?). They really had no choice, since the possibility of Mary giving birth in public was (especially in first century Jewish culture) completely unthinkable.

Plus, an early church tradition tells us that the stable was a cave, a suggestion many scholars find plausible. So the young, unwed mother and her fiancé make their way to this cave, which was probably animal-packed if the inn was full. We should probably imagine these two exhausted and desperate teenagers squeezing past livestock, stepping over animal droppings, making their way to a corner of an unventilated, smelly, dimly lit cave so Mary can have her baby with some degree of privacy.

Suddenly the manger scene is beginning to look a bit less cute and quaint.

Nativity scene in an Iraqi refugee camp

Now try to imagine what the actual process of giving birth might have been like. Even with the best preparation and medical assistance, the birthing process is painful, “messy” and, at times, terrifying. Yet, Mary and Joseph would have had little preparation, and likely no medical assistance. They were alone.

When the child was born, they placed him in a manger – which in this context can only refer to a trough the animals ate or drank from. This certainly couldn’t have been their first choice! It’s hard to imagine anyone remaining calm and serene given these circumstances.

If even half of these assumptions are accurate, they suggest a nativity scene that was much less cute and quaint than what we traditionally picture. We should imagine two desperate, exhausted teenagers passed out on bloody, manure-filled hay in a crowded, smelly, dark cave while their baby sleeps – and sometimes wails – in a slimy feeding trough. The original audiences of the Gospels would probably have imagined something like this, and it would have shocked them. I believe this is a central point of the story.

Our God uses his almighty power to dive into the worst this world has to offer. He dives into the shame of an unwed Jewish mother. He dives into the rejection of an already-full inn and the darkness, odor and inconvenience of an overcrowded stable. He dives into the desperation and fear of a young, ostracized couple. He dives into our humanity; and not humanity at our best, but humanity at our worst. He’s not a God who gravitates toward the cute and the quaint, but a God who immerses himself in our mess, our manure, our pain, our fear, our sin and our shame.

He is a God who takes on himself everything that is shockingly ugly and redeems it all – and by doing so, he reveals himself to be a God who’s shockingly loving and beautiful.

This Christmas if you set up a nativity scene, don’t worry too much about what it looks like. There’s a place for tradition, and I doubt many stores sell “realistic” manure-filled caves to put on your end table! But remember that our God isn’t cute and quaint. He is a God who’s beautiful because he takes on our shocking ugliness and lovingly transforms us.

And I’ll take that Christmas story over cute and quaint any day.

Greg Boyd is an internationally recognized theologian, preacher, teacher, apologist, and author. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Charlie Rose Show, CNN, National Public Radio, the BBC, and numerous other television and radio venues.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

“Kill them all, and let God sort them out” – Why Evangelicals’ Reaction to 9/11 Went so Wrong

20 years ago, Al Qaida killed 3,000 civilians through terror and fire. That was a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

In response, the USA started two wars that have killed 70,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 200,000 (!) in Iraq. Thousands of them were children.

That was also a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.

Shane Claiborne is an activist and theologian who had wise things to say concerning the violent aftermath of 9/11. From his book The Irresistible Revolution (2nd edition, pp. 185-187):

When Kingdoms Collide

Shortly after September 11th, I traveled to speak to a large congregation in the Midwest. (And no, it wasn’t Willow Creek.) Before I got up to preach, a military color guard presented the US flagat the altar. The choir filed in one-by-one, dressed in red white, and blue, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background. I knew I was in big trouble. The congregation pledged allegiance to the flag, and I wished it were all a dream. It wasn’t. I got up to speak, thankful I was standing behind a large podium lest anyone try to pelt me with a pew Bible. I went forward to preach the truth in love with my knees knocking and managed to make it out okay with a bunch of hugs and a few feisty letters.

This is a dramatic (though painfully true) illustration of the messy collision of Christianity and patriotism that has rippled across our land. I thought this was an exceptional and dramatic example, but l’ve had same zingers since this. I spoke at a military academy where they had a full-on procession of military vehicles and weaponry. They fired cannons and saluted the flag, and then I got up to speak. I felt compelled to speak on the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control), the things Scripture says God is like and we should hope to be more like.

I talked about how the fruit of the Spirit take training and discipline and are not always cultivated by the culture around us. Afterward, one young soldier came up to me, nearly in tears, and told me that as he heard the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it became clear to him that these were not the things he was being trained to become. We prayed together, and I think of him often. I know that young man is not alone.

I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.” A bumper sticker read, “God will judge evildoers, We just have to get them to him.” I saw a T-shirt on a sold’ that said, “US Air Force … we don’t die; we just go to hell to regroup.” Others were less dramatic-red, white, and blue billboards saying, “God bless our troops.” “God bless America” became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, “God bless America–$1 burgers.”

Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles.

This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community–for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage, and fear.

But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets … Many Christians missed the opportunity to validate both the horror of September 11th and outrage at war as a response to September 11th.

In the aftermath of September 11th, many congregations missed the chance to bear witness of God’s concern for the victims of the attack and God’s concern for the victims of the imminent war. Many of us hunkered down into familiar camps rather than finding a more creative way of standing with all who suffer. Many of the antiwar activists would do well to visit the memorial in NYC. And many of the war hawks would do well to visit the Ameriyah shelter in West Baghdad. Every life lost is reason for grief and outrage.

The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound.

A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President. His newest book is Executing Grace: Why It is Time to Put the Death Penalty to Death.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Why People Look for the “Mark of the Beast”

by Ramone Romero.

I’ve written before about the “mark of the beast”, but it seems that every few years, especially around election cycles or the advent of some new technology, some Christians see circumstances that they believe will lead to “the mark of the beast” from Revelation 13. 

So here are some thoughts about “the mark” versus the gospel of Christ’s love. Because the common understanding of “the mark” is not compatible with the gospel. One will invariably overtake the other in the end.

Did Monster Energy Drink Hide Satanic Symbols on Their Cans?
Attempt at showing that the Mark of the Beast is energy drinks

1. The Dividing Issue

Firstly, the crux of “the apocalypse”, the central issue, the great “controversy”, is about Christ’s love.

It’s not about some overlooked ritual, the knowledge of a more correct doctrine, name, or command.

Instead it’s what sounds so simple, too simple, too elementary. It’s what the apostles proclaimed from the beginning, and what they wrote “we are nothing” if we do not have.

It’s not about the mere profession of the name of Jesus Christ, for he said that in the end many will call him “Lord, Lord” but will not do what he commanded them to do. (And we’ve seen that all too often throughout history, up to the present day.)

It’s not about proclaiming the doctrines of the gospel *unless* that gospel is backed up with living out grace in love for others. Of course many of Christ’s statements about himself offended religious leaders, and his miracles offended them, too. But what upset and offended them most was in all of those things he was giving grace and mercy, proclaiming God’s justification and love for the “sinners” that they felt above, for people they believed were undeserving.

Continue reading Why People Look for the “Mark of the Beast”

The Lasting Impact of Night Raids

This article is cross-posted from Churches for Middle East Peace.

It’s midnight. There’s a knock on the door. You yell that you are coming to open it in hopes that the soldiers don’t blow it open. Moments later, dozens of soldiers invade your house. Your children wake to masked soldiers with guns pointed directly at them, yelling in a language your children don’t understand. They force your family into one room and tear your house apart without explanation. This is the reality that many families have faced across the West Bank.

Night raids are one of the most devastating acts of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. The violent raids occur between midnight and 5 AM, often without the families getting an explanation. According to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 1,360 night raids are executed every year, the majority within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of a settlement or near roads that settlers frequent. 

Continue reading The Lasting Impact of Night Raids

How Jesus Dealt with Male Supremacy

by Bob Ekblad, originally published at his own blog.

I’ve been moved afresh by Jesus’ authentic and gentle way of engaging with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar according to John 4. The way Jesus handles his Jewish-male believer status before a woman of another faith in heart of her territory informs and inspires me. How does Jesus deal with outsiders’ perception of his Jewish male supremacy? How does he embody the fullness of grace and truth attributed to him as the Word become flesh?

Jesus first meets the woman when she arrives at the well to draw water. He is already there ahead of her, weary and thirsty from a long journey from Judea. He requests a drink from the woman, provoking her to question why he, a Jewish man, is asking this of her, a Samaritan woman.

Jesus doesn’t apologize for himself and skirts her question. He is secure in his identity and mission. In response to her resistance to him, Jesus shifts from unwelcomed guest to generous host. He offers her living water, a faith-filled move that shows his confidence in what he has to give. After a prolonged conversation where she expresses her reservations and he responds, she finally asks him to give her living water.

When Jesus tells her, “Go call your husband and come here!” the woman denies having a husband. Jesus exercises his power at this point, showing her that he knows what is true about what she’s said, and then brings into the light what she’s left unsaid.

“You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly” (4:17-18).

Continue reading How Jesus Dealt with Male Supremacy

The Two Walls of Israel

(a thought, and a prayer, by Ramone Romero)

If only…

I was thinking

If only all the prayers in that wall

The Western Wall

Were put into the West Bank Barrier instead

If only all those prayers

At the ruins of the temple

Were put into the lives of people

Who live among ruins

In the West Bank

In Gaza

Whose homes and lives

Have been left in ruins

If only

If only the wishes that the temple still stood

Were put into seeing the temples of people

Who are standing next door

If only their temples could be rebuilt

In lives

As living stones

If only the temples where we seek God

Were the temples of our neighbors

If only we saw

That the holy temple of God

Is people

Is one another

And our prayers were changed

Into a desire to see them blessed

If only our devotion to religion

Was a devotion to one another

To loving our neighbor

Instead of putting walls between us

If only

Think of what a holy place it could be

When our neighbor is as sacred to us

As the holiest temple of God

If only

I thought, and I pray, in hope

“If only.”

The American Church Must Choose the Way of the Cross

by Ramone Romero.

It seems that now there is a kind of lull in the momentum of the church at large in America. For decades she has poured her efforts into achieving political power. It culminated in being raised to the mountaintop during the last four years, after electing a leader who promised power to the church, if only she would support him.

And support him she did, in spite of his obvious greed, unrepentant immorality, dragon-like words, and his demonization of others (particularly his mocking of the weak and the ‘least of these’ such as the poor, foreigners, and oppressed minorities). At first many may have had a pang of conscience, but rationalized it as necessary to bow down in order to achieve the goals they sought through political power.

They may have rationalized that he could be influenced and changed. That she could hold him accountable. But instead he remained the same, and the church had to bow down repeatedly as he demanded more and more support (and praise). Having sold her soul once was not enough. She had to sell it again and again. And having done that so many times, she found that she had put all of her hope in him. She made herself afraid with conspiracies and countless fears of what would happen if her immoral champion were not re-elected.

She taught support for him from her pulpits. She prayed for his will to be done. Her prophets prophesied his victory. She sanctified his place and his causes, such as the imprisonment and breaking apart of refugee families. She allied with enemies of Christ’s ways such as white supremacists.

When he stirred up undeniable violence, and her prophecies failed (even as she tried so hard to have faith in them and make them come true), she had to pause.

Now she is in a time of pausing, in a lull.

Now she is at a crossroads.

Continue reading The American Church Must Choose the Way of the Cross

This is the Full Fruit of Trumpism

by Alexander Venter.

What we witnessed and are witnessing in the US on Capitol Hill…

…captured in these images of the confederacy flag in the house and the fascist aryan fist raised in the chairperson’s, Vice President Mike Pence, seat of government (the equivalent of displaying the old Apartheid flag and raising the Hitler salute of Eugene Terblanche in our South African parliament)…

…is the full fruit of Trumpism, the full fruit of the root of bad character, mixed in with the ideology of ‘Christian’ nationalism, white supremacy.

Quote from Trump’s speech before the attack, reported by the Washington Post.

Trump himself called for this “stop the steal” “wild protest” on Capitol Hill, publicly in-spirit-ing his followers on The Hill (with words of fraudulent lies of massive election rigging) to do what they did: invade the house and stop the ratification process of the election result.

Continue reading This is the Full Fruit of Trumpism

A Call to Post-Trump America: Make the Environment Great Again

by Elias Kruger, originally published at the AI Theology blog.

As electors have cast their vote, we can breathe a sigh of relief: Donald J Trump is no longer president of the United States. Let that sink in! I honestly believe that even those who supported the president will not miss his conduct in the office, his tantrums, and undignified tweets. They may miss his policies but most will gladly dispense with his destructive personality.

The last four years have been a long whirlwind of chaos that I hope our nation never returns to. Just not having to deal with his tweets and the consequent media outrage surrounding it has been refreshing. Moreover, we can celebrate that civility is returning to the White House.

My main hope is that a Biden presidency can make politics boring again unlike the intrusive disruption it was in our lives for the last four years. With that said, this cannot be an invitation for disengagement as the work is far from complete. Let us not repeat the mistakes of 2009-2010 when an Obama presidency was quickly undermined by losses in the mid-term elections. While the electorate sat back, radical factions of the right woke up and mobilized. Their efforts would eventually bear fruit in the election of 45. A vacuum of a common cause that unites that country will invite a resurgence of irrational populism.

Continue reading A Call to Post-Trump America: Make the Environment Great Again

Occupation and Covid: A Strange Christmas in Bethlehem

Guest blog by our friends at Churches for Middle East Peace, originally published here.

Bethlehem, considered the cradle of Christianity, is perhaps one of Earth’s most special places to embrace the Christmas spirit. Located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it’s the “little town” where Jesus was born, and it attracts thousands of pilgrims at Christmas. 

Christians have flocked to Bethlehem for centuries to celebrate the Christmas season, and each year the city hosts approximately one million tourists. 

A Sacred City for Three Religions

Bethlehem is the site of the Church of the Nativity, an underground cave where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus. A 14-pointed silver star beneath an altar that the emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena had built around the year 338 marks the spot, and the stone church is a key pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims alike.

Continue reading Occupation and Covid: A Strange Christmas in Bethlehem