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I got a free PDF of this book for blogging purposes, but I liked the first chapters so well that I paid for the actual ebook so I could finish reading it on my phone (which is where I seem to do most of my reading now).

I also told my husband that this book could have been written specifically for him. And then he read it and agreed!

Being Jesus In Nashville started off as a bit of a gimmick – Jim Palmer was going to do a modern version of In His Steps, the 19th century classic that first asked, “What Would Jesus Do?” He was going to apply the question to his own life and write about his experiences. Simple enough, right?

But it turned into a book that his publisher declared “outside the bounds of biblical, orthodox Christianity.” And he suddenly found himself without a publisher. So this book is now self-published.

What happened? It’s hard to explain quickly – but really, it’s right there in the title. Jim asks whether a person, like himself, can BE Jesus. Not just be LIKE Jesus — BE Jesus. That’s the controversial part. But he’s not saying I’M GOD, WE’RE ALL GOD, either.

It’s worth reading just to try to make sense of it all. Palmer’s written a couple of other books, which he refers to during this one. I rather wished I had read them before, but I don’t think its necessary, either.

Find out more about Being Jesus in Nashville (and how to buy a copy on Amazon) at Palmer’s blog.

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This book has a SQUIRREL on the cover. I have no idea why. Somebody should figure that out. [update: my husband reminded me that there’s a story about a squirrel in the introduction. I was too busy thinking “SQUIRREL?!” and thinking about this.]

The subtitle is The Art of Not-Evangelism. I love this. I have never felt like traditional, getting-people-saved evangelism was an effective tactic. Actually, I’ve never felt like the whole philosophy of “let’s convert people and get them to attend our church on Sunday” was a good one. So this book is right up my alley.

According to Medearis, “making disciples of all nations” doesn’t mean we have to get everyone to go to church on Sunday, subscribe to a certain set of theological beliefs, or recite a certain prayer or prayers. It just means helping people to develop a relationship with Jesus and to follow Jesus.

And that’s it. It’s about Jesus. Not about Christianity or any other religion.

I loved it. It’s well-told and easy to read.

Here’s a sample:

Visit Carl Medearis’s blog.

Buy this book from Powells.com

We chose the Beatitudes as one of the readings at our wedding, because my husband felt it was a meaningful passage for him (although we really weren’t even churchgoers at the time). Today, we heard it once again at church.

These are all ideas from the pastor’s sermon — I didn’t come up with this myself! But it made a lot of sense to me, so I wanted to share it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12, THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I’ve seen the Beatitudes interpreted a couple of different ways. First, they are often seen as prescriptions for how we should live — we should be poor in spirit (humble), pure in heart, merciful, etc. We should be OK with being persecuted; it just proves that we’re doing all the right things!

Or, we think that Jesus is saying “It’s OK if you’re broken-hearted, or if people persecute you, because you’ll be rewarded later, so don’t worry about it!” Yay, pie in the sky!

Both of these are lacking something, I think.

So, in the sermon, Dustin suggested that perhaps the Beatitudes are an invitation, and a message of inclusiveness, instead! Jesus is saying that everyone is welcome in the kingdom — the broken-hearted, the meek, the mourners, those who are persecuted by society, as well as those who are already pure in heart, hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from the kingdom — and neither can we.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. (First Thessalonians 5:16-18a)

Paul gives this advice to the Thessalonian church, and it’s a list that transcends time; I certainly find it as useful in the 21st century as it presumably was in the first.

But how? OK, maybe I’m not literally CONTINUAL about it. But I do reach out often for a hand, a rope, a presence. And if I don’t know what to say, I fall back on a couple of short prayers that are easily memorized and repeated.

One is similar to Paul’s advice above.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 118:29, paraphrased from the NRSV)

This phrase appears in many of the Psalms and in other books of the Bible; I can imagine people throughout the ages repeating these words.

And the other is the Jesus Prayer, a traditional prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I got this one from Madeleine L’Engle, who described especially falling back on the Jesus Prayer when waking up with middle-of-the-night anxieties. I’ve read about it elsewhere since then (and even seen it on Twitter), but that was where I first heard about it.

In times of joy, anxiety, grief, or any time at all, this is where I go.

This post was triggered by my reading of the daily devotional from The Upper Room; reading this is a great daily practice and I urge you to check it out if you’re interested.

Want to read a FUNNY book about Jesus? This is it! Imaginary Jesus is a novel, in which Mikalatos introduces us to various familiar versions of Jesus — King James Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, Magic 8-Ball Jesus, while he searches for the REAL Jesus.

I was a tiny bit disappointed at the end…real Jesus didn’t quite work for me. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and its reminder that we’re not always following the real Jesus, even (or especially) when we think we are.

My husband managed to snatch this book and read it before I did, and he posted his review a long time ago. He also included Todd Agnew’s song “My Jesus,” which totally fits with this book.

Finally, I’m proud to say that Matt Mikalatos is from our own Portland, Oregon. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Check out Matt’s imaginary website for Imaginary Jesus! You can even download and read a sample chapter there.

Disclosures: I received a free copy of the book through The Ooze Viral Bloggers in exchange for this review. I do receive a small commission for any purchases made through Amazon.com links above. Thanks!

It’s Friday. I’m worn out. But tomorrow is September 11, and I promised I’d do a post.

September 11 is the anniversary of a horrific event. I don’t generally take special notice of the date. I don’t have a loved one to remember, and it doesn’t rouse any feelings of patriotism in me.

I am still sad about it. Sad that so many people died. Sad that other people could hate our country so much. And sad that over the years, many people have used this event to justify hating and even killing others.

I’m sad because I believe wholeheartedly that this is not the way to live.

I’m a follower of Jesus, and Jesus is very clear on this.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

“But I tell you, anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

(all quotes from Matthew 5, New International Version)

So I’m sad when others who claim the name of Christ instead follow the way of hate, fear and anger. I believe there is another way: the Way of Love. And I believe that there is an abundance of love among God’s people; enough to overcome the fear and hatred!

For example:

Carl Medearis practices the Way of Love by meeting with and befriending leaders of Hezbollah, an Islamist group regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

Christian Peacemaker Teams have been living and working in Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion. They are currently working with displaced people in the Kurdish region.

Christian Peacemakers also live and work in Israel/Palestine, walking Palestinian children safely to school, monitoring treatment of Palestinians at security checkpoints, replanting olive groves, and more.

Also:

People responded so strongly to the gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California last night that within 24 hours enough food, clothing and supplies had been donated. They didn’t need any more. No, I have no idea how many of the donors were Christians! Does it matter? I think it still counts.

And there are many others, Christian and non-Christian, who practice this Way of Love.

However, we all fall short, too. I do it all the time. I become angry, snap at others, and often feel justified in my anger. I mean, it’s OK to be angry with people want to burn the Q’uran, or who hate on cyclists, or who are otherwise small-minded, right?

Oops. That’s not the Way of Love, either. But God’s grace lets us start over and try again, whether our transgressions are big or small. Which means two things: that I get a second chance, and that I have to be willing to give others a second chance. That I have to love them.

This post is part of a 9/11 Campaign of Goodwill organized by author Sarah Cunningham. If you’d like to take part, write a blog post, tweet, or Facebook status communicating your own message of goodwill.

A few months ago, I enthusiastically reviewed and highly recommended Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread.  So when I read “An Interview With Sara Miles” by Jarrod McKenna on Jesus Manifesto, I was pleased to see that she does have another book out now — Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead. And McKenna included this amazing video of the food pantry Miles founded at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

I’m adding Jesus Freak to my Goodreads list, and I’ll be sure to review it here when I get a chance to read it.

On May 21 this year, a tweet or a blog post (I don’t remember which) reminded me that it was Ascension Day, the traditional celebration of the day that Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, returned to heaven.  The most detailed of the biblical accounts (Acts 1:1-12) says that “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9, NIV)

Naturally, many scholars (and average believers) now question whether this is what literally happened. For me, the reminder about Ascension day led me to ask what Ascension Day means to me, regardless of its factual status.

I had trouble with this idea at first. I read over the various accounts of the Ascension, along with traditional Christian teachings and creedal statements, and discovered that most of it meant nothing to me!  The Incarnation is important to me; that Jesus lived as a human among humans.  His death is meaningful to me (see previous post).  The Resurrection tells me that Jesus is still with us; that he defeated death, and it did not separate him from us.

In contrast, the Ascension does seem to separate Jesus from us.  “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right and of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (The Nicene Creed)  He left us, returned to heaven, and someday he’ll be back.  He’s not with us any more.

But wait!  Jesus also said “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)  And that’s been my experience — that he is with us and accessible, not separated from us until some future glorious event.

So how can a believing follower of Jesus reconcile this with the Ascension?

Strangely enough, there is a traditional belief that helps.  It’s more common in the Eastern Orthodox church, according to Wikipedia (although sadly I can’t find a source that clearly verifies this).  Jesus’ ascension “consummated the union of God and man.”  Or, as Grace of Kingdom Grace puts it, “Because of the bodily ascension of Christ, we are now lifted into and included in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.”

Rather than a separation, the Ascension represents a joining of God and humans.  Once again, it says that God is with us, now and always, Emanuel.

I didn’t know until this morning, when I read an essay by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek, that the Bible used in President Obama’s inauguration had additional significance.  Yes, it was the Bible used in President Lincoln’s inauguration.  But who was the other party involved in that inauguration ceremony (and did he get the words of the oath right)?

Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over Lincoln’s swearing in.  As far as I know, he got the oath right.  But one thing he didn’t get right was the Dred Scott decision.  Taney wrote the opinion on that historic decision, which said that Scott, a slave from Missouri, could not automatically become a free man by traveling to a free state.  In his opinion, Taney said that such African-Americans

had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
(Taney, Roger Brooke, C.J., “Opinion of the Court,” Scott v. Sandford)

Things have changed more than a bit since then. One might say that it’s justice, poetic or otherwise, to have an African-American man take the presidential oath of office on a Bible previously used by Justice Taney.

On my other blog, I asked and partially answered, “What is Justice?

Justice is related to the word justify.  If you work with type, or if you use word processing a lot, you might have heard the terms left-justified and right-justified before (or simply justified).  In this case, justified means the type lines up evenly on one or both sides of the text.  The text you’re reading here is left-justified; it all lines up on the left side.

So, justice can also refer to making things line up evenly, or making them line up correctly, the way they are supposed to be.  That’s the way I like to see it.

Justice does not just mean making people pay for what they’ve done, and it definitely does not mean taking revenge.

It’s about making things right.  So how do we do that?

Justice is also God’s business.  God is interested in making things right between us and God, and between all of us here on Earth.  And as I said above, this can’t involve revenge.  According to Jesus, it has to include forgiveness; continual forgiveness.  For instance, Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

It’s also essential to be reconciled with our brethren in order to be right with God:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV)

Does President Obama’s inauguration Bible, perhaps, signal the beginning of an era of reconciliation and justice?

Because there is always laundry to do, I spent part of my Saturday folding laundry and listening to a Christian radio station. During a commercial break, the station announced that they are having a contest, and the prize is a Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) shopping spree, complete with limo ride, lunch and $500 gift card.

I dropped one of my husband’s shirts on the floor in surprise. Yes, this is the type of contest radio stations normally offer, but I was taken aback at hearing it from a Christian station. I immediately asked myself, “where would Jesus be on Black Friday?”

The first thing that comes to mind, I’m afraid, is the Temple scene, where Jesus drives out the moneychangers and tells everyone off. I think you can make a pretty strong case for shopping malls and big box stores, and yea, even the Wal-Marts, being the temples of the United States of America. So I’m thinking he’d be there, but not to shop.

You may have heard that some people celebrate Buy Nothing Day instead of Black Friday. I’ve gone back and forth on this. It’s hard to resist the deals (especially, in the Pacific Northwest, the Fred Meyer half-price sock sale). And we don’t have a lot of money, so huge deals can be helpful to our budget. So, in some years I’ve gone with Buy Nothing, and in others I’ve shopped. Last year I even wrote an article about Black Friday deals, in order to earn a little extra money.

This year, I could easily justify scrambling for the best deals. Our budget is as limited as ever, if not more so. But I’m not going to do it. This year, above all years, we need to change our ways. We’ve seen the economy going down the toilet. Many people will tell you that the cure for this is for people to spend more money. Spending more money will make the economy better!

Maybe temporarily. But, as we’ve seen this year, an economy based on consumerism and greed is not sustainable. We can’t keep doing this.

If you believe we need to change, join me in ditching Black Friday. But don’t stop there! If we boycott Black Friday and then shop just as much as usual later on, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Think about alternatives that help other people, or that support the local economy.

  • Alternative gift giving, or giving to charity instead of giving a physical gift. Check out living gifts from the Heifer Project, Mercy Kits from Mercy Corps, or the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) gift catalog.
  • Used items: books, games, kitchen items, clothing, and more.
  • Handcrafted items from a local bazaar or from Etsy (http://etsy.com)
  • Make your own handcrafted gifts, and spend time together as a family while doing it.
  • Gifts of time or experience rather than things: Babysitting, yard work, a trip to the zoo, dance lessons, etc.
  • Give your time to help others instead of giving each other gifts: volunteer to serve a holiday dinner for the homeless, help with a food drive, or pick up trash on the beaches.

After all, Jesus didn’t just stop at throwing the merchants out of the temple. According to Matthew 12:14 (The Message), after this “Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.” And children ran and shouted through the temple for joy.