Guest Post- Why Do Christians hate other Christians?

This is a post created by my wife, Amy Wolf Nastase. Please comment if you get the chance:

My college, like so many other Christian colleges, held a morning chapel service twice a week that all students were required to attend. And so every Tuesday and Thursday morning, roughly 2000 students would flock into the basketball gymnasium outfitted with wooden bleachers on one side, rows upon rows upon rows of metal folding chairs on the court floor, and pull-out metal bleachers on the other side with a small balcony section directly above them.
The “early bird” students came to chapel with one class already under their belt, while many more students poured out of the cafeteria and down the staircase to the gymnasium clutching travel mugs filled with coffee and pulling napkin-wrapped bagels out of their pockets, the hiding necessary to get around the rule prohibiting food from being taken out of the cafeteria. Finally, there were the students who came running from the outlying dorms dressed in clothes that may or may not have been worn the night before, desperately hoping to reach the gymnasium doors before they were officially shut, thereby barring students from purposefully sneaking in for the last five minutes of the service to meet the requirement.
If you wanted to be counted present at chapel, you had to be in the gymnasium for the whole service. But there was no requirement for being mentally or emotionally present. Eating breakfast, finishing homework, and studying for a test were all common activities during chapel. The far corner of the balcony was widely known, even among college staff, as the sleeping section. And even if you did pay attention, and liked the speaker or felt the topic was relevant, it never stuck with you for very long. Sure, you might talk about the morning’s chapel service with the person who lived down the hall from you in the dorm that night or maybe even write about it in your journal if it was still in your mind the next day. But often after a week, a month, a year, you had forgotten most, if not all, of the details of that chapel service.
Five years after graduation, I only vividly remember one chapel service. I can’t recall the speaker’s name. I’m not sure if he spoke in the spring or the fall of 2004. I can tell you the general theme of his message, but none of the details. In fact, I only remember it for one particular reason – students walked out in protest.
You see, this guest speaker was visiting a campus where a significant majority of the student body believed in just war theory and the latest just war was underway in Iraq. But the speaker, while sharing in the Christian faith with his audience, differed from them in one major way. He believed in pacifism, a theory at direct odds with just war despite both theories being rooted in, and built upon, Scripture.
No more than ten minutes into his talk, the speaker said [loosely quoted], “The Iraq War is wrong.”

Faint applause from the school’s few fellow pacifists followed, and as the speaker started his next sentence, a student voice rang out, “You’re wrong.”

As the speaker stopped and astonished students looked for the responsible party among themselves, the source of the voice identified himself by standing up and stomping down the wooden bleachers and walking out the back doors of the gymnasium. The silence after the initial shock only lasted a few seconds until more footsteps sounded and cheers and clapping filled the gymnasium. While the speaker and everyone else closely watched, about 50 students expressed their disapproval of the speaker and his interpretation of the Bible by leaving the service.

Sitting near the bottom of the wooden bleachers, I sat in stunned silence. What was happening that morning had never happened before. As a political science major, I was and still am for voicing opinions, but this protest was conducted in the wrong setting and in such a deliberate and defiant way that was meant to shame and provoke the guest speaker. I was further surprised by the reaction of my classmates, the ones who remained sitting in the bleachers with me, but who cheered on hatred. I never knew such emotions existed in the idyllic bubble of my Christian college.

In January, the Women’s Bible study ministry at my church started a new study written by Beth Moore. I had heard her name, as names tend to bounce around Christian circles, but I had no real knowledge of or about her when the study began. That first Tuesday evening, as the DVD played on the over-sized projection screen, I got to meet Beth Moore. It doesn’t take long for her to make a first impression on you. She’s a blond Texan, snappily dressed with a bright voice coming out of a perfectly lipsticked mouth that has a remarkably high words-per-minute rate. Although her bubbliness and quirks can easily distract a viewer, by the end of the video, I was distinctly aware of two things: she loved God and she loved being able to share about God with other women.

At home the next day, I decided to Google Beth Moore to learn more about her – her background, her story, her ministry. The first result was her personal website which provided her biography and introduced her ministry partners. Subsequent Google results linked to her books on Amazon, magazine interviews, and YouTube videos of her teaching. Near the bottom of the first page of results, Google politely suggested some Beth Moore related search terms.

The phrase, “Beth Moore criticism,” popped out of the list. Hmmm, I thought, criticisms. I had to admit that her strong and unique personality and “power woman” clothing and jewelry could be anything from mildly distracting to slightly annoying or even irritating for some women viewers. Not to mention her speaking style laced with her mantras of “Turn to the person sitting next to you and say…” and “Does anyone here get where I’m going with this?”

So, I clicked on the link and was shocked at the search results that came up. These critics had nothing to say about her hairstyle or her video persona or even her restless way of walking all over the stage and up and down the aisles while she taught. No, what these critics had to say was disturbing and unsettling, calling her a false prophet and warning against her bad theology and un-Biblical teaching.

And these critics didn’t stop with Beth Moore; many of these websites listed other pastors, teachers, authors, and theologians, some of whose names I recognized and others I didn’t. But all of them were labeled not just false prophets who were Biblically and theologically unsound, but also as evil and dangerous heretics. Heretics? Really?

I felt naive. How had I never heard about any of this before? Have I been fooled and led astray from the truth by these so-called heretics? Why would my church choose to do this Bible study if its author was a danger to the Christian faith? And then I felt sad. Why did the Christians writing these websites identifying and denouncing false prophets and heretics hate those other Christians, the ones preaching and teaching and writing and studying about God, so much?

I call it hate because I believe it is hate. And I believe it was hate that compelled those students at my college to loudly storm out of chapel service. It is hate because it shows no respect or attempted understanding of someone with a different interpretation or theological belief. It is hate because it shows no grace or love to another person who is not just any other person, but a fellow Christian who worships the same God and loves the same Jesus.

I don’t understand and so I ask the same question again. Why do Christians hate other Christians? My reflections on these two examples, markers of a distance of seven years of my life and faith, have developed into three theories I would like to present as possible answers to my own question.

1. We [as Christians] become so strongly focused on an issue like just war versus pacifism, minute points of theology, homosexuality, abortion, etc. that it takes over our vision and we fail to see people anymore. While there is a venue and a need at times to oppose an issue, the tragedy is when the attack on the issue spills over to an attack on a person.

2. We [again, as Christians] transfer the concept of the religious/moral/good/right versus the secular/immoral/bad/wrong into a my-kind-of-Christian versus the not-my-kind-of-Christian mentality.

3. We [as humanity, not just Christians] are apprehensive about differences and from our uncertainty about how to act in the presence of differences and our uncomfortable emotions, stems overreaction in the expression of hate.

I am not so naive as to think that all Christians should fully agree on every social or cultural or theological issue. That will not happen and it doesn’t need to happen. Different points of view and respectful discussion can challenge and grow our personal faith while serving as a launching pad for relationships with fellow Christians.

However, I am bold enough to implore Christians to love each other despite difference, small and large. And not just an inner love, expressed only in one’s mind to console oneself that one does live a life of love or within the safety of one’s own church’s walls, but an outward love that spills out from the heart and graciously extends respect and appreciation for each person in words and in gestures, virtually and physically. So to all my fellow Christians, please stop hating each other, and if it all possible, please love each other.

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A New Story – In The Soup

I have been forcing myself to write creatively again and this is the latest (semi-complete) attempt. It is long for a short story, so I figured I would link to the Google document instead of copying and pasting it.

I have heard that a writer should write about what he knows – this story somewhat came out of that idea. The context for this story is cooking (a passion of mine) as well as life in the state of California. I was inspired to write by an incident that happened at my work – the starting point for the character of Henry.

This is a rough draft and will be revised a few times before it is complete. But, for now, enjoy! Let me know your feedback!

Off Day

It was silent this morning, other than the sounds of rain dripping off the eave above my window. I opened my eyes and looked at my alarm clock. 5:11 am stared back at me. I closed my eyes, hoping that the time would change to an hour I liked better. But when I opened them again, those numbers as tired and red as my eyes had only changed to 5:12. Something was off- the volume of my alarm hadn’t sounded, and by the grace of God I woke up about ten minutes late. I flicked a switch this morning – that little knob that puts a delay on gratification, that sabotages success and thwarts completion.

For the last hour I have wanted to throw a self-pity party. It is pathetic, really. That little friend inside of my head refuses to be nice to me. Instead he is suggesting that these little hiccups of life are really glimpses into the reality of who I am. Flawed. Broken. Ignorant. Selfish. And ultimately not that good at my job or life in general. I want to have that party of cheerleaders rally around me, to say that I am good enough, that I should give myself some credit, and to spell out my name while kicking and laughing. But the metal that comes with success is not in my hands, and I really have nothing to show the surrounding culture and the voice in my head that I am better.

There is a wide gap between childhood and adulthood in this culture, and I think what I am feeling is a product of it. What if I really am not good enough at what I am doing? The real world of private industry can spit you out if you don’t taste good enough. It is not like Ms. Golden’s first grade class, where everyone gets a fair chance and failure corresponds merely to a lack of effort. It is like being the Dad in “Little Miss Sunshine,” giving yourself positive coaching all of these years that if you keep trying you can achieve and realizing you were not cut out to achieve. Pretty painful, huh?

I have a close friend who has felt this way for most of his life; he just cannot seem to fit in the larger puzzle of contemporary America. And even worse, he feels this way about the God of the Universe. In his eyes, he can’t ever seem to get it right; every time he tries to talk to God, he hears nothing. Failure. Every time he tries to be honest to God, he hides out of a lack of trust. Failure. Every time he tries to do the right thing, he inevitably fails. It is like he turned a little switch and nothing in his life or his relationship with God can go right.

What do we do with failure? Does it always have to be saccharine self-affirmation or fearful retreat? I am an American, and therefore I forget that life sometimes is hard. And that doesn’t mean I should just suck it up. James says, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials…for the testing of your faith develops perseverance. And perseverance must finish its work so that <I> may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Joy in the mess on my desk. Joy in the project that keeps coming back. Joy in the hours away from home. Joy in the hours I spend on the phone, encouraging my friend who often feels hopeless. I’ll be honest; calling it joy doesn’t make it so. God makes it so, and to Him I must return.

Some people live life on a yacht with everything they could ever want, sailing in the happiness. Others are being dragged behind on a rope, barely able to keep breathing, constantly fending off sharks. Most of us are somewhere in between. We can’t always flip the switch. But we can hang on and consider it joy.

Little Bit of Green

“Green. I see green. Must be it. Give it up, yeah. Give it up,” muttered Madge, all covered in mud, her mind racing just moments after dropping off the kids. “There is no way I’ll make it.”

Like rubber boots on ice, something slides as she makes a hard right, then left, then a thud as she hits her brakes. A small voice is whining from under the minivan’s back seat. She pauses at the stop sign to think, staring through the rain.

“How’d he do it?” Cars race past, and the clouds are swirling. Then the light pours through. Across the road lays an open field, glistening in the sunlight. And then it happens.

“Must be my lucky day,” Madge thinks. She looks both ways before gunning it, flying across lanes and up over the low-lying curb, through the chain link fence and onto the grass. Her wheels spin malevolently through the mud, and Madge is stopped.

She bursts from the front door to the sliding one, eyes darting across the floor.

“Come out here you little goblin! I’ll make you pay!”

Reaching under the seat, she pulls out a little black package, tearing the tape from his face and pointing to the field below the rainbow.

The little man looks fearfully up at her. “Miss,” he pleads,”I’m sorry I didn’t cross your kids. I’m new to this crossing guard thing. “

Speak Clearly So I Can Understand, Part 4

Sunday afternoon, my wife and I went to a memorial for a friend’s grandmother. It was the first memorial service that either of us had been to in years; they are far less common when you are in your late twenties and early thirties. I always get contemplative around the time of a funeral, like I have reached the end of a long trail and need to look back over where I’ve come from. Albeit a rare experience, and often a difficult one, we gladly went to show support for our friend.

In the sunny upstairs meeting room of the retirement home, lined with gold damask wallpaper and littered with a life’s worth of pictures, we met our friend. She was smiling and friendly, though the loss showed in the lines on her face as if years of experience had suddenly come into her life. We gathered with a potpourri of people; most, it seemed, did not know her grandmother well. It was somewhat expected, I guess, being that our friend’s family is scattered across the country. Her friends from the retirement home, for the most part, also did not show up – they were not eager to face their own mortality in the death of a friend. Despite the small group, there was a poetry about the service, a quiet beauty and hidden strength, and, somehow, a hope-filled security.

I have heard my Dad say on a number of occasions, “live in such a way that many people will come and celebrate your life at your funeral.” If the size of the crowd at this memorial were an indication of this grandmother’s life, it would seem like she affected few people in her many years. But I intrinsically knew that wasn’t true. Her life of humble servitude, living alongside a pastor and church leader, touched so many. Yet she didn’t leave behind fame and popularity. If, at the end of my life, all I have to show for it is that people liked me, I am not certain I would be satisfied. From afar the idea seems great – I mean, who doesn’t want to be liked – but there is a hollow ring to it. Where is the concept of legacy or intentionality, of positive effect on the world, of a greater purpose beyond changing the way other people perceive you?

I was reminded by the gentle and loving words shared, however few, that there is much more to the Christian life than is popularly sold. The best thing that this woman had to show for her life of faith was a room of people at peace, unashamed to cry, but not living in the hopeful somedays and mystical visions of a greater beyond. I have been to many funerals where nice things are said and we are comforted with pastoral images of clouds and angels. Despite the beautiful language, no one really knows for sure what happened. Instead, they imagine and hope for an answer to their despair. Suddenly a person who had no interest in God is going to be in heaven, and they are waiting for the rest of us in the place beyond imagination called someday. But this memorial was different. This room of people did not talk about the somedays, the places beyond our understanding. They simply said that she is with God, and that that place is where she wanted to be.

So what was it that assured all of us, from her closest relatives to those that hardly even met her? I don’t think it was the charisma of the pastor, or the pleasant warmness of the room, or even the stories. She, like all of us, could rest in security and peace. Nothing more could be said. We were experiencing the presence of God.

I can hear a few of you. You just said, “what?”

All of this time I have been talking about the life story of Job, tip-toeing around the destination, hoping to warm you all to the answer at the end of suffering: God. The book of Job does not allow for any warm-and-fuzzy formulas or any pat answers. There are not clouds and halos. For months, Job was left destitute. His wealth is gone, his children are dead, his wife despises him, and his friends turn on him. He sits in a dump, covered in sores, left to make a defense for his great suffering.

That is why I started my story out on the pontoon boat, waiting for resolution, waiting for my Dad to give an answer, an explanation, something – I relate with Job. One lesson that I have had to repeatedly learn in my life is to wait, expecting an answer that may never come. Out on that little pontoon boat in the midst of a big and scary ocean, I let my fear get the best of me. I approached the situation colored by the little life experience I had – limited and debilitated by a lack of information to work with. And in the thirty minutes it took us to roll out to sea, I lost track of the most important fact of all; my Dad was controlling the boat. Would he ever intentionally hurt me or put me in grave danger just for his own pleasure? Doesn’t he love me? Isn’t that in his very nature?

I wonder – was Job in the same situation I was on that pontoon boat? After many rounds of discussion with his friends, his soul is nearly worn away to nothing. He sees no point in being alive – all that is his existence bleeds torment, and he is the reproach of all living people. Desperate to be free of scrutiny, Job pleads for some answer, some reason, some security that shows his life was meant for more than his current situation. I think he is afraid – not for his own reputation, or for the possibility of death, but afraid that no one was going to understand. If God did not speak up then Job would be condemned by theology, by the worldview of those closest to him. There was no security for him; the world and everything in it was controlled by the dictates of man, the cruelty of nature, the majority understanding at the moment. The greatness of God would be hidden by injustice and slander. Job doesn’t plead; he demands that God answer, not for healing or restoration, but that God would bear witness to his innocence and admit He allowed this suffering for apparently no reason.

I suppose you could say that Job became proud at that moment, in the end, when he stood up to his friends. I give him credit for at least keeping his integrity and human dignity. And He never made a negative statement about God, whether or not He allowed suffering. In the end, Job had to endure one more round of questioning before God appeared. But when He did, everything changed.

There was a moment while talking to my wife this weekend that I had a mini-freak out. I noticed inflation in the form of higher prices at the grocery store. That was to be expected since gas prices had risen recently. But I was afraid. There was a theory tossed around by several political figures and hopefuls during the last year, people I didn’t like and didn’t want to believe- and I hoped that what they were saying never came true. They pronounced doom at the hands of inflation, the mechanism they believed our current government was relying on to lower the national debt. It sounded absurd when I first heard it. And yet I felt like here we were, on the cusp of their fear-mongering becoming a reality, and it started getting to me.

If life gets more expensive, how am I going to afford to live? If inflation starts to limit people’s spending, then does that mean no one will need new buildings? And if there aren’t any new building projects, I am at risk for losing my job. If I don’t have a job, then I can’t pay my mortgage, I can’t take care of my wife, and I become, well, a failure. How could I raise kids? Would my wife and I stay together or would the pain of failure break us apart? If I lose it all, what do I fall back on? The questions began to spiral out of control as I raised my voice.

My wife, the voice of reason said, “we don’t know what is going to happen. We will deal with whatever happens when it happens.” And I apologized for my irrational fear, for my expectation of future doom in the present. Whether or not it was a stupid prediction, it highlighted how I would react to losing everything, or at least everything I perceived to be anything. I became that little kid on the pontoon boat, overwhelmed and under-informed. What is the remedy for that? How could I receive a verbal answer that would satisfy my overwhelming fear, pain, and ignorance all at once?

Let’s go back to Job, sitting in a trash heap, at the lowest place he could ever be. Then a storm starts to gather around him. In fact, in many translations, it is a whirlwind or tornado. By his recent, seemingly suicidal, monologue, I am pretty sure he was hoping this great storm would just put him out of his misery. Perhaps God heard that request, because he was about to answer it.

God speaks out of this storm, and it is clearly an awesome display of power. He says to Job,

“Who is this who seeks my counsel with words without knowledge? Now brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me!”

God proceeds to ask Job question after question, rhetorically pounding into Job’s mind how relatively little he knows. He asks him about the foundations of the world, the great systems of the oceans and the skies, the stars and the universe, and the created beings. God wants Job to explain how all the world works together, the mechanisms that control it, and the rules it runs by. For our contemporary worldview’s great knowledge of science, I think we could hardly even answer God’s questions – they are far beyond the scope of human understanding. They illustrate that we human beings know and understand so little, and that God, God is so much greater.

Some might say that God never answers Job’s question; He neither vindicates him or gives a reason for suffering. He doesn’t explain out the complexities that led to Job’s suffering, nor does God point a finger at the devil. Nope, none of that. But God reveals himself, His very nature, and the vast expanse of how far above humanity He is. And I realized; that is the answer to it all.

At the end of a church service I went to recently, things got messy in the best kind of way. The woman leading worship stopped the whole production, sent the other musicians off of the stage, and demanded that the puppet-masters of the sound booth leave in order to join the congregation. She said that she was convicted; why do we all approach God with the statement: “I worship God when…”? The dot-dot-dot tormented her, it convicted her and how she chose to lead. So she told us all to do whatever, that there wasn’t going to be a screen or words. The songs were going to be up in the air, and the style was not going to be the same. So we dove into it. And the Holy Spirit started to talk to me.

God told me to lay down. I protested that the chairs at our church were not made to lay down on. He told me to get on the ground. I hesitated, then obeyed. ‘Whatever,’ I thought, ‘if this is what the Holy Spirit wants, then I can’t argue.’ But I sat on the ground for a while (because I am stubborn, and it looked weird). Then I stopped my petty argument, and lay flat, my eyes to the ceiling. And God spoke to me.

He reminded me of a time back in college, when I used to pray for a worship band. They would be practicing, and I would lay back on a pew, and pray, and look into the ceiling. I would ponder the greatness of God. I would see through that ceiling to the universe beyond, the planets and stars, the dust and emptiness. I would contemplate our planet, and all the people, and the great love of God. One time I even asked God to show what he meant by the greatness of his love. And He did. And I cried.

There I was on a gym floor, looking at the ceiling, and God was telling me to remember how great He is, like a vision out of a storm. He told me that I cannot fathom what He is going to do with me, and that there are far greater things ahead than I can ask for or imagine. And then something else came up again – security.

I predicted my future earlier that day, and I was afraid. My future was insecure, uneven, filled with loss. And God wanted my idea of security to come up against His character. If I lost everything, all sense of value that the world could bestow on me, would I really be lost? Would I really have nothing? What if I lost it all and was in the middle of a storm? My soul would find no rest in cute answers, a pat on the back, or a human explanation. The only answer would be the very God I had almost forgotten – and I would be on the ground, staring up in wonder, silenced and convicted that I ever doubted, ever feared, or ever spoke.