The Atheists Are Right: Skip Church This Christmas

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There’s been some recent buzz regarding a billboard that was put up by the American Atheists that told people to skip church on Christmas. Obviously, there will be some backlash from Christians who are, once again, upset that Christ is being taken out of Christmas. Articles on Facebook will circulate that will tell us why this is all due to President Obama wanting to allow Syrian refugees into America to strip us of our religious rights after he called the Christmas tree the Holiday tree…or something along those lines. Petitions will be signed. Arguments will be had. And in the process, zero people will change their minds.

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But for once, I agree with the American Atheists: skip church on Christmas.

Let me be clear on one thing: this isn’t about how some people only go to church on Christmas and Easter. I’m not saying if you don’t go every week, you shouldn’t go at all. Some people go every week and do nothing at all. In my book, those who don’t go at all are better than those who do and do nothing.

Why do I agree with the American Atheists? If you’re going to go to church to become good, then go ahead and skip church on Christmas. The American evangelical church is plagued with this idea that all of our sermons should be something about how we can become better people. If your view of church is a place where it teaches us, “how to become better people,” then I think you’re misunderstanding the point of the body of Christ.

This isn’t the fault of the atheists. The American evangelical church has done quite a bit to show people that our only concern is to help people become better. A quick glance through the Christian bestsellers will show you a handful of books that borderline self-help rubbish. And this is what people want to hear.

Just because this is what people want to hear doesn’t mean it’s what we should be saying. We spend quite a bit of time crafting messages that will make people feel like they can become better and in the process of doing so, we remove any need for Christ.

We tell people how they can become better at…

Managing their money…

Building a stronger marriage…

Controlling their anger…

Living a purposeful life…

Raising their kids…

We hear these kinds of sermons all the time. And so, to the outside world, the church exists to help people become better versions of themselves. But the church can’t exist to do this. The church has to exist for something more. And if people see the church’s purpose as that, then I apologize, because that’s not what we are about at all.

As simple as it sounds, we are about Christ. That’s it. We’re not about becoming good. We’re about recognizing our brokenness and Christ’s wholeness. We celebrate this through the Eucharist each week. Christ, in His brokenness, became whole and we, by consuming the emblems, recognize that and celebrate that.

Can we, in the American evangelical church, begin to reshape how people see us? Here’s how I propose we do this:

1.) Since we’re great at boycotting things (I get emails all the time), boycott buying books from Christian authors that propagate this self-help ideology.

2.) For once, don’t find a way to blame the godlessness in America for every “wrong” perception about the church. Let’s own up to our mistakes.

3.) Stay clear of click bait articles from people who just want to start a holy war. Don’t click on them. Don’t share them. Report them for spam. Because in my opinion, that’s all they are. Spam.

4.) Continuously remind your friends who don’t go to church that it is not a place to become good. That goes completely against the Gospel. Be transparent and open about your own failings.

5.) If you do, by chance, go to church only to get your life in order, can I challenge you to rethink that position? Perhaps try going to church to celebrate what Christ has done and what that means for the world. Celebrate your brokenness because Christ didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick.

I’ll say it one more time: Don’t go to church this Christmas if you’re going to become a better person. Go to church this Christmas to celebrate the incarnation of Christ and the hope that brings to the world.

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Why I Must Confess

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Confession is good for the soul. Some people live their lives with a hidden secret that will go to the grave with them. Not only will they live with that secret, but they will also live with shame, regret, and fear.

I love that the Roman Catholic Church has confessionals. It provides an opportunity to confess what is hidden in that darkness. This not only acts as an opportunity to confess that which is hidden, but also the day to day sins of which so many are guilty.

If you are anything like me, you walk through life without paying much attention to sins. Because we live in an age of grace, sometimes we forget to go through the discipline of asking God for forgiveness for things we have done and for things we have left undone. There is something healing in confessing. Sin begins to lose its power in our life when we give words to it.

Grace is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would all be lost. I fear, however, that even with it, we are still somewhat lost. We assume grace. We assume that God will forgive. We assume that our sin will no longer be counted against us.

There is a stark difference between having assurance and assuming. Having assurance is trust. Assuming is not giving much thought to something.

We can have assurance in God’s forgiveness and grace but we cannot assume God’s forgiveness and grace.

One of the things the Book of Common Prayer has in its service is a time of confession. This is not a time for each person to go around saying their sins of the week. It is a time of silent confession before God. Then, they end with this prayer said together:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

This is one of my favorite prayers to pray. I pray it often. Each time I come back to it, the words become more powerful.

Christ taught us to pray each time for God to forgive us our trespasses. Have we forgotten to keep doing that? Some of us will ask for forgiveness for what we consider to be “bigger” sins…but we don’t confess sins of omission, being greedy with our money, lying, or other things that are considered culturally normal. When we remind ourselves of daily sins, we remind ourselves how much grace we actually need. Then we become all the more grateful for the grace of God.

Knowing that God’s grace covers each and every inch of our lives can easily become an assumption.

Confession makes me all the more grateful for God’s forgiveness and grace. It reminds me just how much I need it. And it helps me not to take it for granted. It helps me not to cheapen it.

Sometimes I wish that the American Evangelical Church had a place in the service for confession. How powerful would it be for us to weekly pray a prayer of forgiveness and corporately remembering how much we need God’s grace? It’s amazing to me that so many things in culture point to people desiring confession. There are numerous websites that people can confess on. There are multiple opportunities to anonymously confess your darkest secrets. People want to speak. People want to say what is weighing them down. Shouldn’t we be providing them with that opportunity?

Confession might scare us. Confession might make us uncomfortable. Confession might frustrate us. But confession also reminds us. And we need to be reminded. Daily. Just how much we need God’s grace. We need to be reminded how much we have cheapened it. We need to be reminded how thankful we should be for it. Confession paves the way for that. It’s a discipline that we neglect…but it’s a discipline that should be a daily practice.

The Supposed Threat of Gay Marriage…

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In the coming days, the Supreme Court will make a decision regarding same sex marriage. I have seen Facebook explode with people saying to “pray for the Supreme Court and that they would be led by God in this decision.” Although vague, I am pretty certain that “being led by God” means to them that homosexuals will not be allowed to get married.

With everything happening around us, I am always surprised that this is the thing that Christians get upset about. I have seen more outrage over the possibility that the Supreme Court ruling will be in favor of same sex marriage than I have over the blatant racist actions in South Carolina this week. Are we missing the point?

I tweeted last week that if Christians spent as much time living the Gospel that they did condemning Caitlyn Jenner, then we might be able to end hunger. I still stand by that mentality. As I look to Jesus, I never see Him spending His time protesting outside of the Supreme Court. I see Him spending His time with those who are hurt and neglected.

We abandon the Gospel for comfort.

And then we parade around with a new definition of the Gospel that is as far away from good news as possible.

I don’t want to bash Christians. I want to rally us together and ask, “is this really the point of what we should be doing?” Stopping people from getting married? We protect the false ideology of a “Christian nation” more than we do the Bride of Christ.

If your faith is built more on your definition of marriage than it is on Christ, then the end of this month might be a difficult time for you.

For those that quote Paul’s epistles, learn context. Paul was speaking to the church. Not to the government. Anytime Paul had the chance to speak to the government, he told the story of what Christ had done in his life…he didn’t use that opportunity to tell gay people that they are going to burn in hell.

It makes me nauseous that out of all the injustices happening, we decide to sign a petition to “defend marriage.” We allow divorce rates to soar, we tell women to remain in a marriage with a pedophile, we help people get married who have no business being together (but in that moment, it’s not our place — only if they have the same set of genitals is it our place) and later on get divorced, we tell women to stay with men who are physically abusive…and yet we want to sign a petition saying to gay people that they aren’t allowed to get married?

If marriage is that important to you, then defend it all the way. I better see outrage at divorce rates. I should see the same violent language used anytime a Christian marries a non-Christian that you would use toward a homosexual couple. Let me see the same “this country is turning away from God” posts used for Christians telling people to stay in abusive relationships that were used when states allowed gay marriage. If you draw that line, then stick with it.

But, if you’re like me, maybe you think it is time to change our tune. Jesus said to make disciples of all nations…not to make all nations disciples. I want to see us get back to what is important to the Gospel…and I don’t see “defending” marriage in that situation.

If we added up all the money that we used to “defend” marriage, I can only imagine all the actual good we could do with it. It’s time we truly began following Christ and hung out with the people he hung out with, ate with the people he ate with, protect the things he protected, and fought the things he fought (which, in this situation, might be the current church).

It’s time we begin to live like Christ and I don’t really see how stopping gay people from getting married fits into that equation. So let’s put down our protest signs and pick up our crosses. Let’s be known for the Church that lived out the Gospel.

Vulgar Worship

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It’s been a few years since the whole “sloppy wet kiss” debate began happening. Most churches have safely landed on the phrase “unforeseen kiss” as opposed to the original “sloppy wet kiss.” To them, “unforeseen kiss” seems less vulgar (even though by using the phrase “unforeseen kiss,” I get the image of a surprise and I don’t like surprises). Churches want to sing “How He Loves” without the image of messiness as portrayed in the original version of the song.

This piece is not meant to bring up the whole debate again. There’s no use beating a dead horse. I use it as a reference because it shows a greater truth about modern worship music in the evangelical church: we don’t like vulgar worship.

The word vulgar was originally used to describe the language of common people. Today, it is generally used to describe something lacking good taste or referring to coarse and rude language. When I use the word, I’m talking about the language of common people.

Modern worship seems plagued by “Stepford Wife” theology. We say to people that even in the darkest of moments, they should still praise God. To, basically, put on a mask and sing words to God that you don’t mean. In doing this, we have robbed songs and hearts of authenticity. In the evangelical church, songs are sung each week that deal with God’s love, Christ’s love, God’s power and strength, grace, etc. Anytime we deal with dark themes, the song will inevitably redeem that darkness. It is uncomfortable for us to sing songs that do not resolve. But the Psalms seem to paint a completely different picture. For instance:

Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy. lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks! – Psalm 137

I love this psalm. It portrays such depth and anguish. Even when they talk about rejoicing, we shudder at the thought of babies being smashed against rocks.
Psalm 22 is another psalm that is dark and yet still manages to worship God. It aptly describes the feelings of the author:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
And then is able to worship God in those feelings:
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
I am not advocating that our songs become morbid and depressing. I am advocating, however, that songs begin to echo the feelings of the common people. This is one of the things that I love about the Episcopal church. It is able to capture all of these emotions in one service through liturgy. There is nothing more humbling and beautiful than to say “Lord, have mercy” over and over.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s grace because I feel like I have abused it and have lost the privilege to sing those words.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing about God’s strength because I do not see it in the atrocities happening around me.
There are several Sundays I do not want to sing at all. I just want to sit in silence and repeat, “Lord, have mercy.”
Evangelical services carry with them a component of happiness. We want people leaving feeling energized and ready to take on the world. But as I have been rereading the Psalms, I see something different being sung.
I understand that worship isn’t about me and that it is about God. But you cannot say that all of these forced songs of happiness are about God. They are about us feeling better. They are about us escaping troubles. They are about us trying to assimilate the people into thinking/feeling the same way about God.
If worship is truly about God, then one will understand that there are several different words that need to be said. Not just words that point to happiness and satisfaction. Words that point to discord, words that point to anger, words that point to sin, words that point to abandonment, etc. These words need to be said because they are all part of the human experience with God.
Through these vulgar words, we will discover the greatness of God.

Stop Trying to Make Me Cry

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  Emotions are a powerful force. They can cause us to doubt, get married, get divorced, love Jesus, hate Jesus, etc. If we aren’t careful, our emotions will overrun our lives and cause us to do the most illogical things. 

Some people will say that this isn’t a bad thing. One should listen to one’s heart (or whatever other pop psychology one believes). We focus heavily on the way we feel rather than the way we think. How does this make us feel? Or “I feel like…” 

The American evangelical church is good at gauging feelings. And unfortunately, it is also good at manipulating emotions to get a desired outcome. Think about it:

That one song with the huge build in it is played after an emotional story is told in a message. 

The lights are are dimmed low during a powerhouse song. 

The speaker begins to speak in that tone. 

Pictures/videos are shown that would make even the hardest of hearts break down. 

We are good at this. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, just go to any church youth retreat and you will see something along these lines played out. Emotions run amuck with teenagers. 

I was once at a youth conference where the pastor got up and said that God had told him on the way here to change his message. So he threw out his old message and was now just going to use the Spirit to preach. It was incredible how the Spirit also cued up the music at the right time in his sermon. Or how the Spirit caused slides to be created on the spot. Or how he Spirit miraculously provided police tape for an illustration hat was just given to him. A lot of people were crying at the end. People were shaking uncontrollably. People were making promises they couldn’t keep. It was emotional manipulation at its finest. 

At first, this doesn’t seem too bad. It is, after all, causing hearts to change. But how long does that change actually last?

Until the emotions run dry. 

This is why it is so difficult for emotional decisions to take root. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to create a space for those emotional decisions. We do everything we can to “set the mood” for the Spirit. And because of that, we are left with a vast number of people who consider the Spirit to be a purely emotional being. So when you don’t feel those emotions you felt on the 5th time through “Our God,” then you must not be open to the movement of the Spirit. 

Thus we create a theology that is based purely on our emotions. If we cry during worship, the Spirit is moving. If something doesn’t feel right “in our heart,” it must mean that God is calling us to do something. And if we are weeping uncontrollably, then maybe it’s time to accept Jesus and get baptized. 

Emotions aren’t inherently wrong. But when manipulated to cause change, I think we cross the line. We either are conduits for God, or we are trying to play God. 

What we end up creating is an addiction. People become addicted to those emotions rather than reliant upon God. They become addicted to the emotion that song causes or that message evokes or those pictures create. But, as with any addiction, soon something more will be needed. No longer is this good enough. 

We have to step it up and add different creative elements. We have to yell longer in our message. We have to sing more songs that get really quiet, have a long build, and then ends with a deafening chorus. 

When we no longer feel those emotions, our faith in God crumbles. God must be distant if I don’t feel as passionate as I once did. My relationship with Him must be on the rocks. 

But none of this is even close to the truth. 

I like faith being compared to a journey. When I was road tripping back from Las Vegas to Illinois, I remember there being some monumental moments. There were some awe-inspiring terrains. I got scared in moments driving through some difficult weather. Boredom set in about my 2nd hour into Kansas. And there were even moments I couldn’t stop laughing at random things. There were a variety of emotions that made up my road trip. But not one emotion was meaningless. Not one moment should be thrown out. 

What would happen if we began looking at our relationship with God like this? I think we would begin to see a change in faithfulness. Spiritual disciplines may not seem appealing, but they are part of the journey. Intellectual conversations might seem above our pay grade, but they are part of the journey. Miles of endless deserts in our relationship with God might seem deathly, but they refine us. Not everything can be the gorgeous mountain or the beautiful sunset. Something has to be the roadkill. Something has to be the car accident. Something has to be the stretch of land without civilization. 

And each moment is just as important as the other. 

Unfortunately, we try to create those awe-inspiring moments all the time. So we become conditioned to believe that unless there are tears, it’s not been genuine. The sad part is that emotions are one of the ways we connect with God. Why can’t our services (in the American evangelical church) employ all the different emotions? 

Why can’t we have a service where we get upset over the racial injustices?

Why can’t we have a service where mourn our sins done to others?

Why can’t we have a service where we focus on the fear of God?

Why does each service look like we are trying to set the mood for tearful decisions?

Church: not everything has to be more emotional than last week or last year. Tears are not a sign of a successful service (it is sad that we even consider our worship to God as either successful or unsuccessful). Decisions are not even the sign of something done well. God is the sign. And He has promised to show up, so we don’t need to worry about that. He has promised to move if we step out of His way. And He has never failed us before, so stop trying to create a back-up plan. Stop using hell as leverage for decisions. 

Let God do His job in us. Stop trying to create an emotional experience because you think that it is helping lead people to Christ. There may be a few that accept Him; but for the most part, we create a group of people that are addicted to the emotions that they felt rather than the God that moved. Emotions happen on their own. And there are a vast number of them that God uses. Luckily, we don’t need more lights, louder music, and weeping preachers. We just need God. And He has promised to be there. So step aside and let Him work. 

My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

What We Forgot On Memorial Day

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Question: If you went to church last weekend, what holiday, if any, did your church acknowledge? If your church is like mine, you acknowledged Memorial Day and, hence, the U.S. military. Across the country last weekend, church projector screens donned digital American flags, choruses of God Bless America filled the rafters, and prayers were uttered thanking God for “those who, like Christ, have given their lives so that we might worship here in freedom today.” For many people and churches, this is standard operating procedure for patriotic holiday weekends, and it would seem strange, even offensive, not to honor those who have served in the military on such occasions.

Here’s my question, though. When we gather together to worship, as whom are we gathered? Are we gathered as citizens of the United States who happen to live in the same area and worship at the same church? If so, by all means let us salute our flag and thank God for our soldiers.

However, if we are gathered as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Col. 1:13-14), a Kingdom that transcends national borders and unites the Church as one people regardless of nationality, socio-economic status, or gender (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), we are a new community—a counter-culture—that operates not by power, violence, and coercion, but by humility, meekness, and death and resurrection (Romans 12:14-21). As a people baptized into this new community, we worship God and God alone in our assemblies. Our new identity in Christ supplants prior allegiances, and the King of kings becomes the sole object of our worship (on Sunday and every other day of the week). Any other power of this world, including nations and their soldiers, we choose to honor in our assemblies is, quite simply, an idol.

Honoring a power of this world in Christian assembly detracts from the worship of God and introduces a competing allegiance to that of the Kingdom of God. To honor the United States or any nation in Christian assembly is to lose sight of who we truly are—we are followers of Jesus, baptized into his new community, no longer defined by worldly socio-political boundaries. Thus, when we salute the American flag, sing patriotic songs, and adorn our sanctuaries with red, white, and blue, we divide our allegiance to God and his Kingdom and we make an idol out of the worldly kingdom in which we live. Our Kingdom, however, is not of this world (John 18:33-38).

Now, back to the holiday question. What I find perhaps even more disturbing than the blatant nationalism displayed in many churches last Sunday is the special day most of these churches failed to acknowledge. There was another day, a holy day, on the calendar last Sunday. At least it was on the liturgical calendar (our calendar). Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.

Most evangelical churches do not acknowledge or operate by the liturgical calendar (outside of Christmas and Easter), and many would dismiss it as antiquated or too “Catholic.” I couldn’t disagree more. (Well, I guess it is kind of Catholic, but I disagree with that being a bad thing.)

The holy day of Pentecost, which coincides with the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22), occurs 50 days after Easter, and on Pentecost Sunday, Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire upon those gathered for the Feast of Weeks in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension.

In more liturgical traditions, Pentecost Sunday is a day of great rejoicing and celebration. Festive, colorful processions make their ways through the gathered people of God as the church universal experiences anew the story of the Spirit descending upon those assembled in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I worshiped with an Episcopal church on Pentecost Sunday one year, and at a certain point in the service, about twenty people in the congregation stood and simultaneously read aloud a passage of Scripture in different languages to incarnate afresh the coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowering of the people to speak in tongues at Pentecost. This was one of the most memorable and impactful moments of any worship service I have ever experienced.

Calendars carry formative potential. Calendars shape us. Think about how the weeks leading up to Christmas alter your mood (either positively or negatively); so, too, with other holidays. The liturgical calendar is no different. The season of Lent is a time of purging, penitence, and preparation before the celebration of Easter. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is a time of special reflection and meditation on the last week of Jesus’ life. Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is a time to both remember and give thanks for Christ’s first coming and eagerly await and pray for his second coming.

The liturgical calendar reminds us who we are. It reminds us where we’ve come from and, with God’s help, where we’re going. For some (myself included), it even acts as a subversive alternative to the American calendar. I love Arbor Day as much as the next person, but disciplining myself to observe the liturgical calendar and its special days and seasons helps me further solidify my identity in Christ, my connection to the communion of saints, and my allegiance to the Kingdom of God—a Kingdom whose soldiers carry crosses, not guns.

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  –A prayer for Pentecost Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer