Poverty, Inc. Michael Matheson Miller. #0970 #ActonU Session 4

These are my notes from a screening of Poverty, Inc.

Available for you to watch on many platforms.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 4.26.21 PM

Development (Global). Who has all the power? And who should have it?

Wanting to help the poor comes from a good heart. The problem is, paternalism doesn’t work. Every ten or twenty years we try something new. And we have the same broken system.

Africans are portrayed as helpless. “Do they know it’s Christmas.” Of course they know when Christmas is….

Africa has always been a reservoir of riches for the whole world.

Feeding the world: good for farmers in Arkansas, not so much for farmers in Haiti. Our rice charity ruined much of Haiti’s industry.

First we block out foreign farms from our markets thru tariffs and protectionism, and then we produce a surplus and dump it on the foreign market….

“The Republic of NGO’s” 


It makes us feel good to help. But then we don’t let go. More NGO’s per capita than anywhere else in the world. They keep looking for ways to give away free stuff–as if they didn’t want the Haitians to be self-supporting.

The NGO’s show pictures of squalor. But Haiti is not all like that. Also a global leader in solar powered street lights which they produce themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 4.11.11 PM

People assumed that Haiti did not produce these–so they sent FREE solar panels after the earthquake and almost put Enersa (the Haitian company) out of business.

Those who were raised in the aftermath of the earthquake have cultivated a dependency mentality.

The Big Picture

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. GATT, which became the IMF, World Bank, etc. The purpose was to rebuild Europe after World War II. A parallel was the Marshall Plan.

Crisis aid followed by infrastructure development. Rebuilt Europe. It was a success.

These became the model for foreign aid for generations to come.


This is a HUGE global system which benefits the donors. A form of neocolonialism. The heads of aid agencies have become like colonial governors who often have connections to authoritarian, corrupt leaders.

We give them loans and make them economic slaves.

Cheetahs vs. Hippos. Iconic TED Talk:

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 4.24.12 PM

There is a ladder to prosperity in rich countries.

But there are incentives for the local governments in the global south to sever this ladder. They benefit from the favor of the NGO’s.

Who benefits the most?

The influx of tons of second hand clothing has crippled the clothing industry in the global south.

Tom’s shoes. Blake Mycoskie. “One for One.” Has put countless local cobblers out of business. And then the truck doesn’t show up all the time. But there’s no one making local shoes anymore.

Giving people shoes “for the rest of their lives” (Mycoskie) implies that people will need shoes for the rest of their lives. No one wants to be a beggar for life.

No doubt he is compassionate. But we must consider the long term unintended consequences of our actions.


When we build orphanages in the global south, we can unravel families. Over 80% who live in orphanages have parents who visit them on a regular basis.

When orphanages open up, it’s an opportunity to relieve parents of the responsibility to feed and educate their children. It’s an institutional solution to a family problem and deprives children of the warmth of family life.



Poverty is not “making 1 or 2 dollars a day,” it is being excluded from the market where money is made.

The process for getting a SME (Small Medium Enterprise) loan takes forever. In rich countries, SME’s drive the economy.

Rule of Law (justice in the courts) is missing where SME’s are missing.

In 2/3 of the world there is not yet the Rule of Law. Property rights are essential. In many countries, you can’t really own land–you use it at the whim of a local official. So you can’t use it as collateral. There are 4-5 claims on many pieces of land in the global south.

Not that there aren’t enough laws. There are a lot of corrupt laws. Without corruption and bribes, it is hard to start a business. In Lima, Peru, the producers of the movie tried to start a small business with two sewing machines. It took 289 (!) days, full time, for the locals to get all the permits they needed. If you can’t afford bribes, it will take you forever to get something going.

The people are not stupid. They are just disconnected from the Global market on purpose.

Celebrity Culture.

Celebrities learn the old framework and sell it to the next generation. Caring is not enough. All the visuals they use create the impression that the Africans are helpless.

But there is good news, Bono has been involved for a long time. Coming around intellectually. He is now saying that entrepreneurial capitalism brings more people out of poverty than aid.

Only Africans can develop Africa.

We don’t need one more celebrity doing one more pop song to help poverty.

The poverty industry as we know it has to go.

It’s time to re-think poverty.

The full version of Poverty, Inc. is available to everyone with a Netflix subscription.

Christmas at the Synagogue? #0759

Warning: You may not be able to process this article.

It’s the Saturday before Christmas, 2014.

Shabbat (Sabbath).

Still trying to sort out what I experienced at a synagogue this morning.

Congregation Ohr ha-Torah features the teaching leadership of Rabbi Mordecai Finley. I’ve been following his teaching for several years. He introduced me to two wonderful things:

  • The teaching and work of Avivah Zornberg, who continues to reframe my mind every time I read her commentaries.
  • Duties of the Heart. Arguably the greatest devotional classic ever, written in Spain about a millennium ago.

Make that three. We both share history in the Galilean town of Tsfat. I had the most profoundly spiritual event of my life there: Underwater in Israel.

This is my second visit to this synagogue in the last couple of years. Entering near the welcome and reception area, I picked up a bulletin. Would you believe it said “Annual Christmas Sermon?”

Let that sink in for a moment. 

Now I knew that Rabbi Finley was open-minded, but I had no place to put this thought. These are not Messianic Jews. These are plain old Reform Jews. As Methodists are to Christians, so are they in relationship to Judaism.

Rabbi Finley had been studying Luke and Acts all week and he was so anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, that he could barely contain his energy.

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 8.22.19 PM

Some sound bites from his message (every Saturday at 9am):

  • I could title this message “The lies I was told (about Jesus) in Hebrew School.” (Heavy laughter from the congregation)
  • The center of Jesus’ message is the Malkuth Shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven)
  • This is in direct opposition to the Kingdom of this World (Jesus said “my kingdom is not of this world”)
  • I can only create the lamp, I cannot light the fire.
  • The time of Jesus (Second Temple Period) had much thought of an unseen realm full of forces that we cannot see. Angels and demons. Jesus clearly operated with this in mind.
  • The Davidic Messiah morphs into a Cosmic Messiah during this time into which Jesus was born.
  • Daniel is the loneliest book in the Bible, we Jews ignore it.
  • Jesus is a non-rational teacher. His parables are like Buddhist Koans. They deconstruct the common received worldview
  • Jesus came to wake people up from their spiritual slumber and help them to stay awake.
  • Jesus: Don’t act according to Reason and Rule of Law. Because that’s what got us what we have. You have to think in a new way (Meta-noia).
  • People (to the congregation)! Open yourself to the changed consciousness which Jesus is teaching!
  • Jesus is a spiritual-mystery teacher. His worldview is trans-rational.
  • In Daniel there is a percolation of the worldview that Jesus teaches later.
  • Every teaching of Jesus has an antecedent in Jewish scriptures and writings. There is no new material, but he reworks it in a brilliant way.
  • In the book of Enoch, the Son of Man was given a name above all names before the creation (See John 1 for an amazing parallel).
  • Jesus also echoes the archetype of the “Teacher of Righteousness” from the Qumran community (the Dead Sea Scrolls people).
  • If Jews found the New Testament today (and there had been no successful Christian movement), they would see all of it as Jewish thinking. Totally Jewish.
  • Luke and Acts: Luke was a gentile. The big question is “How far does this New Covenant extend?” and “How much of the Law do the Gentiles have to keep?”
  • You’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan. The key is that he was an outsider. Luke always shines positive light on outsiders. A light to the Gentiles.
  • Here’s an illustration on Jesus and the Law. You have a owner’s manual for your car in your glove compartment. But you never read it. It’s true. But you don’t need it to drive. Don’t mistake the handbook for driving, or a map for the true landscape.
  • Luke pushes the idea that this is for everyone.
  • All of you, get out there and read the gospels. Be intentional about it. Read at least one gospel a month. Don’t read stuff people write about Jesus. Read his teaching “raw.”
  • Don’t get into arguments with Gentile Christians. Ask them questions like “What does Grace feel like.” Then you can actually get somewhere and learn from each other.
  • We are Grace-challenged as Jews. The Christians always teach on Grace so we decided that it must not be a Jewish thing. So we neglect it. Grace is present throughout the Torah.
  • When I see Jesus, I get what he’s doing. We Jews have lost a great teacher. We need to re-aquaint ourselves with him. Reading the New Testament is like reading lost (and now found) Jewish scripture.
  • Jesus challenges the idea that communities should be about sex and money. He goes for something bigger.
  • What teachings have we lost that we need to find?
  • Things have to change. There has to be a change of Spirit.
  • Metanoia. Change your head.
  • There is a new self to be discovered.
  • I want to read this man (Jesus) raw. There is something in here for all people.
  • Jesus is on the lookout for marginal people. He uses transformative interactions with them to challenge the very foundations of how people thought.
  • Jesus is a lost Jewish teacher who is still trying to wake people up.
  • Malkuth Shamayim is the official liturgical name of Rosh HaShanah. Kingdom of Heaven Day. This is common ground with Gentile followers of Jesus. We need to build on this.
  • How do we wake up to this Kingdom and stay awake.
  • “Daht” — The capacity to know God was given to all.
  • Jesus has disorganized my consciousness.

To go deeper (if you dare):

Rabbi Finley’s Newsletter Article for This Week:

Our motto is “Moving Tradition Forward” and my annual Christmas sermon is probably on the “forward” side in terms of Jewish Shabbat teaching but on the “tradition” side when it comes to Ohr HaTorah. I spoke about Chanukah last Shabbat, so this Shabbat I will keep that Ohr HaTorah tradition of a “Christmas sermon”. Here is the background:

Most you know that we rented space for our services and Religious School from Redeemer Baptist Church from 1995 to 2000, and then from Faith Tabernacle from 2000 to 2008 (our undying gratitude to Pastor Rick and Pastor Mike). Every year the sanctuaries were adorned with Christmas trees at this time of the year.

The first year that we were in a church on the Shabbat before Christmas, I made a decision to speak to the topic instead of past it, for a few reasons. First, most Jews have only a caricature understanding of Christian faith. As I have taught over the years, I have constantly heard well-meaning people say less than thoughtful things about Christianity. Since Jews often times think about Christianity and sometimes have a lot to say on the topic, it is well that we think in an informed way and speak accurately.

Secondly, we are blessed to have many Christians in our community (usually, though not always, through intermarriage), and nearly all of us have close family members and/or extended family who are Christian. We have a large number of Jews by Choice at Ohr HaTorah, perhaps up to a third or more of our membership. The topic of Christianity, therefore, has to be treated with informed circumspection.

Third, and probably most deeply, my own spiritual path has been shaped by my readings of Christian thinkers. For example, all I knew about Martin Luther before I began college was that he led the Reformation and that he was anti-Jewish. That was just about all a Jew needed to know, where I came from. Then, I was assigned to read Luther in my history of Christian thought class. I was hit to the bone when I read Luther on grace. I reflected that I knew we had mentions of grace (chen) all over the Psalms, the prayer book, rabbinic literature and so on. But I had never read a treatise on grace from a Jewish perspective. I realized why: grace was “Christian”, therefore we Jews stay away from the topic. I realized that I had to figure out a theory of grace from a Jewish perspective, and that process deepened me as a person immensely.

As my studies progressed, and I read Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Helmut Gollwitzer, and a host of other Christian thinkers, I realized that reading Christians thinkers made me think about Judaism with new questions, with a new set of eyes. My studies of Christianity have been absolutely transformative in how I see Judaism, because those studies made me look at things that were obvious in hindsight, but that I never noticed before. I am a better Jew because of those studies. I want to share some of those riches with you.

I divide my teachings on Christianity the Shabbat before Christmas into two parts. At the morning 9:00 study session, I go over some aspect of the spiritual crises in first century Judea, when various Judaisms became Rabbinic Judaism, and how Christianity was formed in that first century. I also cover aspects of Messianism in Judaism, a concept that certainly had major influence during that time, and afterwards, in both religions. During the second study session, at 11:15, I will speak on some other essential aspects of Christianity that I believe will be edifying for our community. As I write these words, my thoughts are moving toward understanding how experience became dogma in the works of Paul, who laid the foundations for Christian thought. I may move on to something else as I sink back into the topic, but I think you will find whatever I focus on to be not only of interest, but also spiritually important.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Same’ach.

Why Crushing Legos is Bad Parenting #0571 Jennifer Clark Tinker

Love is patient.

1 Corinthians 13:4


Confession: whenever I see my son’s Legos on the floor I have the urge to step on them and crush them underfoot just to make the point that he needs to pick up his toys. I’m pretty sure that’s terrible parenting, but the thought goes through my head. Every. Single. Time.

Is my 10 year-old son old enough to take responsibility for his own toys? Of course he is. It’s just that angrily destroying his belongings isn’t the best way to instill a greater sense of responsibility in him.

There’s a term for behaviors like crushing Legos just to teach a lesson. It’s called being “passive-aggressive” which basically means you don’t address the person or problem directly, but you do or say something indirect that undermines the person or situation.

Passive-aggressive behavior is never a good idea in any relationship–parenting included. Here’s why:

  1. It isn’t actually addressing the problem in a way that is likely to get the desired result.
  2. Quite often, it is so subtle as to get no result.
  3. In many cases passive-aggressive behavior makes the situation worse.
  4. It just isn’t nice.

So, if it is such a bad idea, then why do I want so badly to crush those crazy bricks to bits? Well, honestly, because it is easier to avoid addressing it head on. Because really, the problem is bigger than just a few Legos left out.

You know the old adage, “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Well, there isn’t actually a place for everything–let alone all the Legos–in our home.

There are a lot of reasons why there isn’t a place for all the Legos.

  1. My son’s room is still half-filled with boxes from our move two years ago.
  2. It is hard to find good Lego storage methods that work for us.
  3. My husband and I probably let our son have too many Legos and it is hard to find places for that many.

If you’ll notice, all of those problems are due to factors that are at least in part my responsibility. So, to actually address the Legos left on the floor problem, I would have to take responsibility.

It’s important to me as a parent to own my responsibility in the situation. It would be way easier just to get angry and blame and shame my kid for the problem. But it’s not fair and it’s not nice and it doesn’t solve anything.

I’d love to be able to sit here and tell you that since I know I’m part of the problem, I am going to mend my ways and be part of the solution. But really, really, really, clutter just makes me want to run and hide.

I hope to make progress over time and work with my son to find solutions, but I will be patient with him as I need him to patient with me.

It’s not easy being the grown up.

But I am the adult, I am the parent! I don’t want to be a bad parent, so even if I’m not the best at all the details, I won’t actually crush the Legos when I find them on the floor.


Disclaimer: No Legos were crushed in the digitization of the photograph that appears with this post. It was staged for illustration purposes only.


Why I’m Ambivalent about Mother’s Day #0532 Jennifer Clark Tinker

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. I’m a mom–it’s my day! So why do I have such a hard time getting into it?

Okay, in fairness to all the other moms out there, my own mom, included (Hi Mom, Thanks for always reading & listening to my work!), Mother’s Day isn’t just my day. But the part of it that is about me has always come with a complex set of emotions.


Infertility Angst

I am a mom now, but it took a long time to have my one and only child because of my history of infertility. And despite doing nothing to prevent pregnancy since my son was born 10 years ago, I still have only been able to have one child. It’s a reality sometimes called “secondary infertility” which is when you already have one or more children and then experience infertility.

I go back and forth about whether I want more kids. Mostly I do.

But then I daydream about my other goals in life and feel like I could be okay without going through the hands-on baby & toddler stages one more time. I’m starting to get somewhere with my writing and speaking and it takes time to churn out the words, prepare talks, and make connections–having another small child would make it harder to fit it all in.

But I can’t help it…I want another baby. I don’t know how I would make it all work. We’d definitely need some more hands on deck here at Life & Liberty. And I would have to choose wisely the writing and speaking opportunities that I accept.

But I want another baby.

But it’s not happening. And that takes me to a painful place. I ache to think I won’t be able to hold another baby in my arms, to expand my family.

I know, I know, I should be grateful that I have one child. And I am. I really am. You can’t know how much I am. I can’t imagine my life without him.

But I also pictured having a few more kids around too.

The pain of secondary infertility is different from the pain of one who has no child at all, but it is still real for those of us in this place. So, I often approach Mother’s Day with a hint of lament–mourning that I don’t have the big family I always thought I would have.


Stupid Depression

In addition to my history of infertility, I also have a history of depression. And that also factors into why Mother’s Day is hard for me.

Before I was able to have my son, that time of infertility was very dark for me. I spent a lot of time being mad at God, and being mad at my body.

The most difficult questions for me spiritually were about God’s will as it relates to me being a mom. I had always thought I would have a lot of kids, but then found that I couldn’t. I wondered whether God was purposefully keeping me from having children because I wasn’t good enough to be a mom.

I worked through those questions with a lot of prayer and supportive Christian community and eventually was able to hear God’s comfort that he loved me no matter what and that he was not punishing me with my infertility.

In many ways, this assurance of God’s love in my life was as much a miracle as the birth of my son.

Fast-forward to when my son was born and I hit rock-bottom with postpartum depression. I struggled to bond with my son in those early months and I felt tired all the time.

I felt awful for not being more enthusiastic about mothering. And it was as if all of my worries about not being good enough to be a mom were coming true.

I emerged from the worst of the postpartum depression with the help of medication, therapy, and an amazing husband.

But my ongoing issues with depression continue to mess with my head and my confidence in my parenting still wavers.

I know that comparing myself to other moms is a trap and there is no such thing as a perfect mom. But with all the superlatives and poetic expressions extolling the virtues of mothers on Mother’s Day, I am left feeling like I don’t actually deserve to call this day mine.

See how stupid depression is?


Thanking You Kindly

All the same, this is my day because, well, I am a mom.

And I rejoice that I have my sweet son despite my infertility. I am a mom because of him.

And I know my family doesn’t expect me to be super mom and they love me for exactly who I am. In my better moments I like to think that I am the best possible mom for my particular kid.

My depression sometimes makes it easier to give than to receive praise. Sometimes I have to consciously make myself say “Thank You” when someone says something nice to me.

So, as Mother’s Day approaches, despite my doubts about whether I deserve to be celebrated, I plan to be grateful for the day.


Small town Texas Christian speaker, writer, and all-around creative type, Jennifer Clark Tinker is a Lutheran Deaconess, mom to a son, wife to a Lutheran pastor and emerging communication talent. Jennifer is our “Journalist of the Heart” and Editor-in-Chief here at Life & Liberty.

Follow Jennifer’s blog, Living Faith, by clicking on the flower:

Jennifer Clark Tinker: Living Faith

Find Jennifer on Twitter and Facebook by clicking on the buttons below:

Jennifer Tinker Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 5.10.57 PM

Generate life changing community:

blackberry bush

41 (Surprising) Things Not in the Bible #0386 How many can you guess?

The List of 41(+):

As of today (October 1, 2014) we are actually up to 62.

  • Angels with wings (there are angels but no mention of wings). Or that people become angels when they die. And would you believe the angels are not singing at the birth of Jesus, but rather just speaking? And yes, seraphim (the “burners”–Flame on!, plural form of “seraph”) have wings, and no, the Bible never identifies seraphim as angels. Ditto cherubim (plural of cherub), who are intimidating beasts in the Bible, but turned into fat, naked, winged babies on the walls of Italian churches. Find me one place that says seraphim (burners) are angels (messengers). I’m waiting….
  • Any female angels at all in the Bible. In both biblical languages, spiritual masculinity comes out of heaven and femininity comes out of earth. Ruach/Malkuth/Shekhinah (feminine), form the connection between the two. Kinda like the Christmas song “let earth receive her king—let heave and nature sing.” Female angels are found mostly in gift shops on earth, and of course, with wings. Gabriel (GBR-i-El) is literally, in Hebrew, God’s intimidator. Hardly a precious moments statue.
  • The devil with horns and a pitchfork (there is a devil but no red skin, horns or pitchfork)
  • Any account of a battle at Armageddon. They gather for battle, but does the Bible say that anything happens? Have a look. I once had coffee at the Armageddon truck stop in Israel. Yes, it’s a real place and you can get gas there.
  • A singular apocalyptic Antichrist figure (used in plural by John) and….
  • Anywhere that says any singular Antichrist is the “Beast” of Revelation
  • That people mocked Noah for building an ark. By the way, seven (!) pairs of many animals were taken into the ark–not just two by two.
  • Jesus being the reason for the winter season. We’re not sure what time of the year Jesus was born. December 25 to January 6 (Epiphany) was just a beautifully symbolic guess.
  • The word or even the concept of a “halo.”
  • Any prohibitions against certain kinds of peripheral “cuss” words. Taking the name of the LORD (YHWH-יהוה) in vain is specifically mentioned and forbidden in the strongest terms. Cursing (but that was literally cursing people and things, not just dropping salty adjectives) is prohibited in the book of James. But throwing in occasional H, S and F words (although I don’t use them) is not specifically prohibited.  Only the Old Testament forbids taking the name of יהוה in vain; there is no equivalent prohibition of the expletive use of Jesus’ name (or Christ).
  • Any encouragement to celebrate Advent or Lent. Or even any mention of them.
  • Any English version of the Bible with God’s pronoun capitalized. (i.e. “He”). Let alone the original versions that didn’t have an upper-case/lower-case writing system at the time.
  • Any mention of birth control (Although there is plenty of encouragement to have children).
  • The idea that God literally calls us to “be our brother’s keeper.” Cain simply asks it of God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
  • Any mention of the New Testament church celebrating Ash Wednesday or any biblical suggestion to do so in the future.
  • An apple in the Garden of Eden (only fruit)
  • Any suggestion that clergy should perform marriages, or that a wedding is anything but a family/community reception/feast. Old Testament priests never perform weddings that we can see anywhere in the Bible.
  • The Bible says that those who have sex before marriage should indeed get married. And that once you join with someone in that way, there are permanent consequences. But a strict, specific prohibition against cohabitation before marriage is hard to find, and all of we youth pastors would like to have had it handy. Courtship-betrothal-marriage customs in the Bible do not mirror our own very well, so it’s hard to know exactly how that worked. My guess is that premarital chastity was expected and assumed (for property and disease-prevention reasons) and thus not explicitly mentioned.
  • For that matter, any ordained clergy in the early church at all. Jesus and Paul were lay preachers who learned crafts. The former was a stone contractor (tekton). The latter likely supplied tents to the Roman army.
  • Any in-the-Bible explanation as to how we switched from worship on Saturday (Sabbath) to Sunday. Quite a historical mystery with a lot of speculation…
  • That Jesus was a (just a poor) carpenter. Inaccurate English translation of the original “tekton” (builder/contractor); likely with stone.
  • Any sense that communion, baptism, “sin management so we can get to heaven someday,” etc. were central to Jesus’ teaching. He did mention these things, but clearly his core teaching was always about Malkuth (Kingdom–the Creator’s creative and sustaining power in the universe). And his main purpose seemed to be to convince us to have the faith to share and operate in this power. The Kingdom is like unto a mustard seed…
  • The fish which swallowed Jonah identified as a whale (just a fish).
  • Jesus uttering the word “grace.”
  • Any word for “faith” (as we understand it) in the Old Testament.
  • Discipleship. A made-up word based on a military, Latin mis-translation of “mathetes” (students).
  • Any clear doctrine of Original Sin, let alone “total depravity.” Sure, there are proof texts you can find to support it, but there is tension with the fact that we are made in the Image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and “behold God saw that it (humankind) was very good.” There’s tension there.
  • Shepherds and wise men visiting the baby Jesus at the same time (wise men came way way later). Or that the number of wise men was three. I just saw this error (three wise men walking thru the shepherds to visit Jesus in the manger) watching the movie Ben-Hur last night! Most people ignore the fact that Magi are Zoroastrian holy people.
  • Anything that specifically says Jesus was single. No evidence either way. Very few ancient records of any famous people bother to mention spouses.
  • The fact that we live in heaven forever. No matter what your end times view, we end up on a renewed earth at the end (See the end of Revelation). Heaven is at best a way station in the Bible to our ultimate destiny.
  • Any suggestion that we should dress up for church
  • Any prohibition of gambling
  • Any record of a vote in the early church. They’d rather cast lots for big decisions ;-). Nor any votes at congregational business meetings.

  • Any sense that “liturgy” is on the Creator’s short list. Jesus never even mentions any “order of worship.” Mostly just “on the road” informal outdoor ministry.
  • Any overwhelming proof that Jesus was poor. Most evidence suggests the opposite.
  • Any mention of Mary remaining a virgin after Jesus’ birth
  • Any direct mention or description of an abortion. Or comment upon the issue. (For the record, I am very pro-life, but that’s beside the point)
  • Any record of a “confirmation class” or “confirmation ceremony.” Ditto first communion.
  • Any direct linking of Mary Magdalene being a prostitute or woman of ill-repute. Ditto any direct mention that Herodias’ daughter was doing any kind of suggestive dance.
  • Anyplace where the original languages of the Bible say that a person is “possessed” by an evil spirit. It usually just says a person “has” an unclean spirit or something like that. We have unclean spirits. They don’t “have” us. Most modern translations which use the word “possessed” were published after the movie The Exorcist.
  • Any specific mention of transgenderism, although men and women are forbidden from wearing each other’s clothes. Sorry, Boy George.
  • Any sense that Jesus wanted the government (Caesar) to take care of the poor. That would be our job.
  • Any record of anything Jesus said in his native language (Aramaic) except for “Abba,” “Talitha Kumi,” “Raca,” “Mammon,”  “Jot and Tittle,” and “Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani” His teachings and sayings were written down by Greek speakers.
  • Anyone praying with hands folded
  • Pews or Pulpits
  • “God helps those who help themselves.” That would be Benjamin Franklin, not God.
  • “God will never give you anything you can’t bear.” Obviously not true in real life. God only knows where it came from.
  • “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” That would be Francis Bacon, not the Bible.
  • Any suggestion that churches should be decorated with crosses, outside or inside. Or that there should even be church buildings at all.
  • Any blanket prohibition of drinking alcohol
  • Any prohibition of consciousness-altering through external or internal means. Drunkedness is discouraged; but never controlled altered states. We alter our consciousness through prayer, going to movies (an induced vision), reading imaginative books, running (endorphins), and using coffee. John was in a serious altered state seeing the vision in Revelation. Ditto Ezekiel in his prophecy. Ditto Paul (who wasn’t even sure if he was in his body or not).
  • Any mention that church leaders should wear different clothing than the regular peeps (clerical collars, robes, etc.)
  • Anything that says church music should be reflective, subdued, or played on an organ. (See the loud clashing cymbals in the Psalms–with trumpets and shouts)
  • Anywhere that says women can’t wear pants (pants aren’t mentioned at all) or use makeup
  • Any mention that women should work at home (see Proverbs 31)
  • Any specific “age of accountability” for baptism. Or even the concept.
  • Any command that baptism has to be by submersion. Paul was baptized in a home which likely had no running water.
  • Of course, only people in the New World were smoking tobacco; a substance and behavior totally unknown to the writers of the Bible. And using “your body is a temple” to forbid smoking would also outlaw junk food if you wanted to be specific.
  • Any mention that there should be separate “departments” in the church for kids (Sunday School), youth groups, or men’s and women’s ministries
  • The word or explicit description of a holy Trinity
  • Elijah taken up in a chariot (he was taken up in a whirlwind)
  • God changing Saul’s name to Paul (Paulos, or “shorty” was just his Greek trade/business nick-name). Imagine: “O Saul, from now on thou shalt be named….Shorty!”
  • The word “wine” associated with the “cup” in the Last Supper. Fruit of the vine is probably wine, but the Bible does not make the explicit connection.
  • Jesus’ command to baptize mentioning water (could be Spirit baptism–See Mark 1:8)
  • The “rapture” mentioned anywhere in the book of Revelation
  • Anything mentioning that Jesus had long hair (or a beard)
  • The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus.”
  • Any record of anyone ending a sermon in the Early Church inviting people to receive Jesus into their hearts (the altar call perfected by Finney over a century ago)

Here are some of the biggest errors in Bible interpretation:

  • The mistake that “description is prescription.” Since Jesus “came up out of the water” (description), baptism by immersion is commanded (prescription).
  • Inference equals explicit command. You can make an argument that the Bible infers a trinity (and I am a trinitarian, by the way), but the word is never used nor is the concept explained in even the most basic ways. The Bible doesn’t connect the dots. We have to. But our “dot connecting” is not equivalent to an explicit Bible text.
    • Thus implicit does not equal explicit. My list is a list of things NOT explicit in the Bible.
  • An unfounded equating of terms. E.g. “seraphim are angels.” Perhaps in your world this is true, and you are welcome to believe it; but the Bible uses different words here for different kinds of beings.
  • “You can’t disprove it!” (e.g. that seraphim are angels). “You can’t disprove/prove it” only works (and it works well) if you are trying to start a conspiracy theory. E.g. “You can’t prove men landed on the moon.” I’m just stating a list of things that the Bible simply does not explicitly teach. They may be true, but not because “the Bible tells me so.”

Perhaps you can add some more in the comments below.

Or if you can prove me wrong, say so (ditto in the comments).

Please pass this link on to others. Fun discussion starter in a group setting. Or a good church newsletter article (you have permission to print it as long as you mention the site http://ThornHeart.com). Shortlink to share (copy and paste it): 


I’m not politicking against any of these things in the list above, per se. Just inviting you to join us at Robinwood Church where we teach what is actually IN the Bible. And there is plenty to keep you growing spiritually for a lifetime. Click on our logo for more:

Robinwood Logo Sand

Elf on the Shelf #0310 Life & Liberty

Why the Elf on the Shelf is Evil and Must be Destroyed!

Have you heard of this crazy Elf on the Shelf thing? What fool started this nonsense? You get this creepy looking elf doll thing and tell your kids this scary little imp is watching and reporting everything they do to Santa. As if Santa and his Naughty or Nice List weren’t enough.


Just to give the illusion to the kiddos this thing is alive and active at night, like some crazed hamster that sleeps all day long hidden under bedding and spends the entire night grinding away on his wheel, you move the elf around the house after the kids are all fast asleep. And the elf can’t be nice and be helpful.

No this cretin gets into mischief, destroying things, unrolling the toilet paper, scattering flour all over the kitchen counter, leaving their tiny elf footprints in the mess. And who do you think will be cleaning that mess up? The kids? Right, because at my house with three sons I can’t walk ten feet without finding another abandoned sock randomly laying on the floor. And why don’t I just remind the kids to clean up their socks? You think my wife and I have not tried that? Are you kidding me? And now we are supposed to trash our house to make it look like some evil elf is active in the house at night and then we have to clean it up as well???

This is madness.

And have you seen one of these evil little beasts? To say these elf things are creepy does not do their evil grins justice. As someone who is still wigged out by clowns I can’t imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find the Elf on the Shelf sitting on my night stand staring at me. I would not sleep for the next week. Children probably come screaming into their parents’ rooms in the middle of the night, as if I don’t have enough trouble getting a good night’s sleep as it is.

But it gets worse. So you tell the kids that Santa is real and he has the naughty or nice list.  The beauty of course, is this suggestion provides great leverage for parents trying to keep their kids in check in the mad rush towards Christmas. No need to tell the kids it is an empty threat. I cannot imagine a parent actually returning gifts to the store. But never mind. Back to the elf. Then you raise the stakes and give the kids this real looking thing to see and feel and touch. You trash the house a couple times, move the elf every night and next thing you know the kids, the ones who love you and trust you, are starting to believe this elf is really alive and tracking their every move.

You are better parents than that.

Now let’s talk to the kids about someone else, say Jesus. Can you show them a picture of Jesus? Not really. Can you see him or feel him or touch him like the elf? Nope. I would guess for plenty of kids Jesus is far less real to them than that creepy elf. So what happens when they discover the elf is a fraud, a fake, a phoney?  If they can’t trust you about the elf that seemed so real, how will they trust you about Jesus?

I believe you want to be a better parent than that. I also trust you want your kids to have the gift of a faith that will sustain them when really truly bad things happen in their lives, because you don’t live long in this life without some pain. There must be a better way.


So tell the kids the truth. Santa was inspired by St. Nicholas, a pastor of the early church who gave gifts to children. Sure you can give gifts from Santa, but tell the truth: We are Santa to each other. And remind them of this as well: We give gifts to each other as a way of celebrating the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus.

If you bought an elf, don’t return the evil thing. Throw it is the garbage where it belongs. Teach your children about the love of God, not the fear of some crazed evil elf and his coconspirator, Santa Claus.

Paul Walters is the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master in Troy, Michigan, and Senior Spiritual Editor for Life & Liberty.

Click on the links to the left of this post, and share this with others. Thanks!

Follow Paul on Twitter by clicking on the twitter logo:


Click on Paul Walters’ picture for all of his contributions to Life & Liberty:

Christian Spirituality

His facebook fan page can be found here:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 10.07.50 AM

Have a better church in six months:

Blackberry Ad

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Church #0256

Top Ten Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Church!

Pass this on to every church member everywhere.

Today I begin with a modern day parable:

It seems there was a skinny teenaged boy who was self-conscious, like every other teenage boy, and wanted to be part of the group, thought of as cool, respected and the like. Early one summer the story goes, he got his hands on some steroids. (This is the part of the parable where I get in trouble.) He was elated. He did not care about long term health consequences, he saw all the pictures of all the buff and muscle bound guys. He knew the steroids in his hands were the key to it all. He took the steroids that summer.

So what happened? Did he show up at school huge and strong? Did he suddenly make the high school football team? Did all the girls suddenly swoon as he walked by? Nope. None of that happened. That summer he took the steroids, but he forgot to lift, so he just got fat.

This young man and his story is a lesson for everyone who is connected in some way to a church, whether you are a member or the occasional attender. Faith surely comes as a gift, but like that gym membership, if you do not make it a part of your life you can’t really expect anything to change in your life.

So here is the list: Ten ways to get the most out of your church.

1. Show up.

Some things really are that simple. Show up in worship. Be with the gathered people of God Sunday after Sunday. Not when you feel like it. Not on the Sunday morning when you feel like you need to be there. Every Sunday, or Saturday or whenever your church worships. You get the point. Be with the people of God and make it a regular part of your life.

2. Tithe your income.

By tithing I mean give 10% of your income to the church. Sound like a huge commitment? It is. Trust me, I know from experience. If you can’t just go to 10% start smaller, 5% or 6%, but set a percentage and work to increase it over time.

Why? Because giving generously frees you from the hold money can have on your life. Because we care for and support the things we give money to. Because our spending and giving habits reveal priorities.

3. Volunteer, take a class, be part of a group.

Don’t just be generous with your money, be generous with your time as well. Find something in the church that interests you, something that speaks to things you care deeply about. Maybe it is feeding the hungry. Maybe it is learning more about the Scripture. Maybe it is singing in the choir. Whatever it is give your time, be with the people of God and make a difference in the lives of other people.

4. Help lead worship.

Most congregations have lay people (people who are not pastors) help lead worship. Do this. Lead worship. After you lead worship a few times you will forever experience worship differently. You will understand the flow of the worship service. You will pay attention differently. You will be changed.

5. Bring food and eat with people.

Sharing a meal helps connect you with other people. Sharing a meal makes it easier to talk to others. If nothing else you can start with, “How about that Jell-O salad!” And see where the conversation goes from there.

Thom Rainer Church Member

6. Start something new.

Have a passion? Is there something you care about that the resources of your congregation could contribute to? Organize it. Lead it. Plan it. Talk to your pastor and other leaders. Start something new, but be willing to put your efforts into making it happen as well. People with great ideas who are only assigning tasks to other people are rarely appreciated. Take initiative and lead. Find an outlet for the things you care deeply about through your church.

7. Wear a nametag and introduce yourself to people you do not know.

First let me be clear, I realize many people, myself included, are not terribly interested in walking up to people and saying, “Hi, I’m Paul, what’s your name?” But when you show up at church you are surrounded by people who all claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get together in a group and you pray together. You sing together. The least you could do is risk introductions. At churches with multiple worship services the most common excuse for not talking to strangers is this: I do not want to be embarrassed when I find out they have been members for ten years and usually go to the other service. So own it. Lead with: You have probably gone here forever and just attend the other service, but I do not know you…

BlackberryBush Course < Click on. Have a better church. 

8. Read the Bible.

Start with the gospels. Start anywhere you want, but read scripture. Make that a regular part of your life, day in and day out. Let those holy words become part of your vocabulary. Read the Bible regularly and as you do reflect on your experiences in worship, listen for connections and for those moments when the still small voice of God might be speaking to you.

9. Pray for the people at the church.

Use the church directory. Picture directories are even better. Pray for the people. One by one, day by day. Lift each person up in prayer. Even pray for the people who challenge you, the people you have a hard time being with. Pray for God’s people and discover how you are changed.

10. Take your pastor out to lunch.

Okay, as a pastor maybe this one is a little self-serving, but the idea remains. Spend some time with this person. Share who you are. Share your hopes and dreams. And ask questions. Every wonder why something is in the Bible? Ask. Not quite sure about an illustration in the sermon? Ask. Ask theological questions, that is, questions about how God is alive and active in the world. Just be prepared to share a few of your insights as well.

In other words: if you want to get something out of your church, see it as a gift, but don’t forget to lift.

Finally this: Ten things you can do makes for a nice list, but this is hardly definitive. Why not post a comment after this and add your own ideas. What do you do to get the most out of your church?


We’ve been asked by many if this can be reprinted for your church newsletter. Yes, indeed, it’s perfect for that and please do so.

We just kindly request that you credit the author and this site:

  • Paul Walters, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Master, Troy, Michigan
  • ThornHeart.com

Have a better church in six months:

Blackberry Ad