Tag: Religion

Notes from Dr. Kenda Dean’s sessions at Symposium on Youth, Religion and Culture (Spartanburg Methodist College)

Kenda Dean

Symposium on Youth Ministry with Dr. Kenda Dean

Spartanburg Methodist College

Thursday April 11th, 2013

Speakers: “Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dean is the author of several books on youth culture, including “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.” This latest book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted from 2002 to 2005 and provides an analysis of teen religious practice.

The symposium will also include an address by Darwin Glassford, director of the M.A. program at Calvin Theological Seminary, book review editor for the Journal of Youth Ministry and a well-known speaker on youth ministry and culture.” (I do not have notes for his sessions because it was a lunch session – we were eating).  For more on the symposium click here.

(Session 1)

Biff, Christ’s best friend – wishes he could do what Jesus does (lizard story)

When we see what it is like to bring life like Jesus, we begin to say, “I want to do that too.”  (Finger around the clock exercise – perspective/hermeneutics) What you see depends on where you sit.  We are helping young people begin to see their lives through God’s clock.

Research – Christian formation isn’t helping children/youth see life from God’s way

*Flea video – behavior set by the lid put on the jar

Jane Magonicle – “Institute for the future” – Playing video games will save the world; in gaming the player is looking for the “EPIC WIN” (research on WOW); Gamers feel better about themselves in the game than they do in real life – how do they transfer their skills to real life (10,000 hours in video game – parallel education system) You need 10,000 hours of practice to make yourself a virtuoso at anything.

Video gamers are Virtuosos at:

(1) Urgent Optimism

(2) Tight Social Fabric (we like people better after playing a game with them)

(3) Blissful Productivity (we feel better about something if we work hard at it)

(4) Epic Meaning (gamers are immersed in epic stories – saving the world)

God in Jesus Christ gave us an epic win.

(National Study of Youth and Religion 2005) – Christian Smith

(1) Teens are not hostile toward religion (apathy)

(2) Teens faith mirrors their parent’s faith

(3) Teens are “incredibly inarticulate” about religion (kids shut down)

  1. Mainline protestant kids are least articulate
  2. Catholics were slightly better (symbols and iconography)
  3. Teens are articulate about many things, but in talking about their faith they just did not know how to speak
  4. Mormons were tops (they get top of charts)
  5. Conservative protestants next

(4) A significant minority (40%) say religion is important to them and makes a different in their lives (8 % were in the highly devoted category; pray, go to church, read bible)  The church is good with the small group that attends, not with those who don’t

(5) Religion is most significant for

  1. Mormon Youth
  2. Conservative Protestant Youth
  3. Black Protestant Youth
  4. Mainline Protestant Youth
  5. Catholic Youth
  6. Jewish Youth
  7. Non-Religious Youth

Conclusion: Most teens adhere to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as their unacknowledged religious creed.

(1) God exists that created world and watches over us

(2) God wants us to be good and fair to each other

(3) Central goal of life is to be happy

(4) God doesn’t need to be involved unless I need him to solve a problem

(5) Good people go to heaven when they die

The Apostles Creed is about God!  MTD is about us (self-centered)

Teens faith mirrors their parents.  Because the teens mirror their parents religious lives, the adults are as well – this is our country’s dominant religion.

Churches that teach MTD rather than Christ are not differentiated from the world.  Young Adults think it is honest to claim “No Religion” and become “Nones”

(1)                   Fastest growing Religious group in the US – 19.6%; 1/3 of Young Adults 18-26)

(2)                   More “nones” than Mainline Protestant Christians (most people are as religious in college as they are about to get, 23 is least religious year).  When people come back, they usually come back because of marriage (marriage age is going up), and as you age you tend to get less religious.

(3)                   Most “Nones” are raised in Religious homes

(4)                   Most of the “Nones” are not atheist or agnostic (no religion, practice religiousness secularly – have rituals, secret communities, culture, and prophetic witness)

What would it take to get the attention of Young Adults?  Where can they be honest about the toxicity of the world they live in?  The Church

Destroying Two Myths

(1) Young people will save the church

  1. If our church is going to survive, we need young people (only Jesus will save the church!)  Youth will not save dying congregations.  We should not use Young people for our own congregational needs

i.     VAMPIRE THEOLOGY – Young people are young blood that we need, and we proceed to suck the life out of them (this is an Anxiety Reaction)  This is survival, threatened thinking.

ii.     Entitlement goes into overdrive – we aren’t greedy, we are scared.  We can’t grow because we can’t take risks

iii.     Institutions cannot grow when you’re trying to survive, circling the wagons!

iv.     When anxious, we can’t access our whole brains (using reptile part of the brain) – classic reactions are fight or flight (freeze/protect) – we can’t think rationally, have no humor HOW MANY ANXIETY REACTIONS ARE IN YOUR CHURCH

We tend to think that Young Adults need the church, but it tends to be the opposite way around.  When you are a young adult, all the institutions that have tended to support you tend to be done with you when you hit a certain age.

(2) Making the church appeal to youth means we need to act like one

  1. Contemporary worship service is first way people try to solve the problem (critique of worship)  There is a lot of bad worship of all styles out there
  2. Marketers have learned that you don’t win teens by treating them like teens, you treat them like PEOPLE
  3. Pentecostals and Eastern Orthodoxy are attracting Young People
  4. Eastern Orthodox Saints are drawing for some
  5. Both of these groups (P and E.O. are High Expectation, Participative)  When we compromise ourselves to reach young people we say our church is “cheap”
  6. Mark Yaconelli (tells story of 4 year old who understands being a Christian has a high cost – might get killed like Jesus)
  7. When Resurrection happens – when young people are reached affectively they want to see

i.      Meaning – you have a part to play in this quest, people notice when you’re gone, living for the future because the church knows how the story ends

ii.      Belonging – being part of something everyone is playing a part in; Jon Stewart called the UMC the Univ. of Phoenix of Religions – we don’t want to inconvenience people by following Jesus into the dark places of the world .  When we invite young people to participate.

iii.      Radical Hospitality (Drew Dyson 2011) – people are appreciated for whatever they bring

  1. Story: A young admissions counselor dismisses UMC affiliation because they really accept anyone Kenda D: What!  Its because of your affiliation that you accept everyone!
  2. When was the last time you saw a community of Christians reflecting Christ so brightly that you said: “I want to do that too”?
  3. Example: A group of young adults face Neo-Nazi demonstrators dressed as “Coup Clutz Clowns” – Each time the demonstrators put their hands up, they would find something that rhyms with their slogans and turn it into something silly (ex. White Power/White Flour/White Flowers/Wife Power/Tight Showers) – tried to diffuse any potential violence (clowns defeat the clan)  People saw life, hope and thought: I’d like to do that too.

Young people are open to possibility, are not anxious about death, and are full of Hope.  Being young is not an age thing.  Conviction that the future is full of unlimited possibility.  Everyone whose future is bound to Jesus Christ is young (we have a different definity of youth).  We are participants of the Kingdom of God.  “Its not that the future belongs to the young, its that those who have a future are young.”  Ex. Pope John Paul II dancing with youth as they say “you are young”  Isaiah 40:30-31  – What if the church became known for its life, productivity, and live into their “EPIC WIN” in Jesus Christ.  How long before young people start saying “I want to do that too.”

(Session 2)

The “nones” have been around for a long time, but there is no social pressure or points to/for faking being a Christian anymore.

Sociological conclusions of how good a society is doing according to how we treat our Children.  USA is last of countries only after U.K.

Lois C.K. Clip – Nun is irritated with him and his friends who won’t pay attention in class and so they bring in an over the top Crucifixion storyteller (education debacle); Child feels responsible for Jesus’ nails and pulls them out to “make Jesus better” or make amends.  Mother doesn’t believe in Jesus and tells her son that she wanted her son to have “religion” but he doesn’t have to get it if he doesn’t want to.   (ex. I need to take you to church so they can give you religion)

The shift to the “Nones’ has been an incredibly fast sociological shift.  Break down: Atheists and Agnostics has been growing slowly, but Nones has grown rapidly.

OT Scholar – Walter BrueggemanHelp young people become bi-lingual in faith. When conquered, the conquered people had to negotiate the treaty in the language of the dominant culture.  When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, they had to write a treaty in Assyrian, but they knew their covenant with God was written in Hebrew.  Behind the wall of Jerusalem, they knew that their identity was locked up in God.  On the wall conversation and behind the wall conversation.

(1) In our culture, we have to learn the language of the culture (don’t do Christianese) – On the Wall.

(2) Our inner-language – seeing an internal way to see the world – Behind the wall

(3) Kenda – There is a third part of our language (symbols, arts, rituals and practices) that express faith beyond words, and is a primary language for young adults.

Adults who want to care for these children/young people have to learn their language.

How do we translate?

*The best way to translate is to use people, not programs.  If we leave translating the Gospel to Youth Programs, there will be a wooden translation of the gospel.  Icrebreakers are not real life.  (We have a whole generation of parents who are not trained to be translators)  Video: Mom confronting Confirmand who reveals he’s an atheist.  The parent doesn’t have a way to respond (no conversation); her son Michael is outing her own doubts (the parents faith formation is pretty sketchy)

Parents want to be authentic with their kids, they want to do right.  Parents losing it are just trying to be honest.

Youth workers have thought that throwing information at people is the way to bring about faith growth – but it is really about transformation.  The easiest thing to share is what you love; it gets hard when we need to share what we know.  Kenda: her dad shared his love for White Castle hamburgers, and she remembers his love for her everytime she passes a White Castle.  She wants that love to be felt everytime someone passes the church. (example of sharing; History re-enactors, volunteers who want to share their love for history with someone else)

You Learn Best What you love the most.

When a person falls in love with a band, they hear the music first, and then the find out everything about the band, and then we share it with others.

Do we love Christ sufficiently to share Christ with our children (word and deed)

Get rid of things that get in the way of our relationship with Christ (embrace sacrifice) and dislodge us from our comfort zones ( A Big Adventure )

6 Tangible Ways (concrete Steps) for parents (Congregations can step in)

(1) Invest in your own Faith (you must live out faith in your own life)

  1. Profound Religious Experience (aside from parents faith)

i.     Answer to prayer

ii.     A moving worship experience

iii.     Witnessed a miracle

iv.     Sensed God’s presence in suffering

(2) Share what you love (its easy for you to learn what you love)

(3) Share your faith story with your kids (why do you follow Jesus?)

(4) Emphasize Good News over Good Behavior (counter the Jesus Jacket – compartmentalization of morality, just take it off)

  1. Kids that associate being a Christian with how you behave are the quickest way out of Christianity and Faith once in College (disposable kind of Christian identity)
  2. Who you are flows out of Christ, not what you do

(5) Speak Christian at home

  1. Do we talk about what happened at work like “the boss really showed you some grace.”
  2. Do you speak about and talk about Jesus OUT LOUD
  3. Congregations that talk about God as subject of sentences rather than an object (God as active and alive) have children of faith

(6) Do one radical thing for your faith in front of your children, and explain that you’re doing it because you love Jesus (because this is what it means to love Jesus)  (TAKING RESURRECTION SERIOUSLY)

  1. Acts of Radical Hospitality
  2. Acts of Radical Mercy
  3. Acts of Radical Grace
  4. Acts of Radical piety and practice of faith

How much are we willing to risk in our relationship with Christ?

Everyday Radicality.  The church needs to live out Resurrection and Transformation.  If we won’t be used, then God will find something other than us.

Some Next Big Things in Tech and Lifestyle

There are a few things that I see on the horizon for tech and how we use it that will eventually effect most people online.  I thought I would share a few of my projections, since they are on my mind at the moment:

(1) Facebook and Twitter will become more and more important as communication tools. 

I believe that Twitter will be like social glue between your phone, your laptop, and your social networking platform.  Personally I use Twitter to update Facebook and I check my FB later to see what people think.  Twitter is like the free flow of ideas and resources, Facebook is the place people actually talk about it.  Those people who don’t like Timeline don’t realize how important the improvements (and interfunctionality between the two platforms) have been.  I became a developer just to get Timeline early – and the ability to share and get a pulse on what people are thinking or projecting is amazing.  We will see more and more growth here.  900 Million on FB, and 500 Million on Twitter.  And growing.

(2) Apple TV’s (and Roku’s) imminent growth, coupled with Digital over air television, will start to squeeze out cable and dish operators. My wife and I made the split from cable long ago as a cost cutting measure (though we have probably given starbucks our savings over time).  Most of our content is online through laptop or phone, and we get networks over the air on our television.  I can connect my iphone to the television so we can still watch seasons, and our PS3 plays our DVD’s and BluRays – so we can buy whole seasons of shows we like. With Apple TV about to boom – Seriously – and Hulu and Netflix back in the growth seat – as long as bandwidth continues to meet demand, standard cable and dish are going to be in trouble in the near future.  I’m already plotting to buy the $99 Apple TV unit that will run tons of online content through wifi.

Lastly, (3) Faith will begin to find more expression online.  In the past, the internet sphere has been the domain of trolls and those who like to tear things down.  I even recently read a blog about the internet being the church of Atheists, who without churches or community centers, find fellowship and debate online.  With the suburbanization efforts of Twitter and Facebook, the wild west that used be the domain of search engines, is understandable to the ordinary person.  In the last year, I’ve noticed more and more people of different creeds and religions join me in the spheres of talk and influence.  More and more bloggers are showing up and with The Huffington Post and Patheos – there are more people talking and debating than ever.  That means that the easy “Straw Man” of faith is no more.  It is easy to tear people down if they are not in the room.  People of faith are entering the online sphere.  They are trading information, praying for each other, creating content and writing – a lot.  The room is filling up and we’re seeing the awkward transition in culture.  I don’t think News Media outlets in the traditional sense really know how big this is.

So there are three things I see right now.  What do you see happening?

Always On? Always Connected? Our Ability to Transform Reality and Act for Good Starts with Solitude

Imagination and Deep Thoughts

(This is the full text of the article that ran on Wednesday April 4th, 2012 in The Bluffton Packet)

By Daniel Griswold

A family sits together in a living room in front of a television screen watching American Idol.  Every few minutes, someone hears a beep and a phone screen appears.

Actually several phones appear because everyone is reminded of their phones and tablets.  Dad gets on his Ipad checking stock prices and his daughter uses the moment to do a few rounds on the Kindle Fire playing Angry Birds (she’s accomplished 78 of 99 levels) and switching between that and her Facebook app.

After texting a bit with his bud, the son opens YouTube and watches several funny cat videos.  After the television-show ends, the mother is asked what Randy had said about a contestant and who sung the best.  The television has been merely a backdrop for the connectedness that so many screens provide.  The family sits together, but they were all in different worlds on different screens.

And with all this entertainment, education and content streaming to us constantly, I still see and hear this odd statement, “I am sooooo bored.”  I suppose that there is a point in which we have been saturated with media – and yet we still want more.   Our appetites are so large that when a quiet moment comes, we become scared because we have been passive consumers for so long.

I think that the ability to consume entertainment and educate ourselves at any point we choose has given many a feeling of power and confidence.  When stripped from the sources of connectedness, we feel like we are not accomplishing anything anymore.  This fits the picture of the good American – always on – always productive, even when enjoying a morning cup of coffee.

But this “always on” culture is blocking two huge facets of human growth:

(1) Imagination – Our minds are capable of dreaming big, and making new worlds by envisioning better combinations of what we know.  Disciplined imagination changes the world (“I have a dream”), and gives guidance and hope to the individual.  It comes from within and is inspired by the world of the spirit.  When Christ taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven,” we have a moment to imagine what our world could be like and what it will be like – if we take the time to draw it out in our minds. It is an act of creation that mirrors God’s creation of the universe.  From daydreaming to action, the world is made into a better place.

(2) Deep thinking – After a good cup of coffee or right after waking from sleep or during a walk through the woods, there are moments in life where our logical mind has time to dig deeper into the problems we are trying to fix.  No matter what the commercials say, life will always present intense challenges.  That means that to face them, we need time to process and think through the best course, the best way to act, or the best words for a speech.  Great leaders often need times of sabbatical to read for lengthy periods of time, but not just to gain information, but to make space and time to design the future plans for their projects, whether building teams, skyscrapers, philosophies or contemplating the intricacies of God’s interaction with Creation.  These structures in our mind take time and training to build strong foundations for growth of the individual and the society they plug into.

When Jesus had spent a great deal of time speaking to people and work with the disciples, in Mark chapter 6 there is a picture of Jesus looking for a quiet place.  People were coming and going, so much was going on, so many distractions.  But to grow and assess, Jesus needed moments of peace to process and commune with his Father.  In verse 46, Jesus has to literally climb up a mountainside to find time to pray and refresh his spirit.

We all need quiet times, but many of us are afraid of what might change if we dive deep into our minds and hearts.  There, God waits on us patiently, but we often wait too long, finding new distractions, and our spirit breaks down.  The greatest thoughts, the greatest peace, and the greatest projects are waiting for you there, so step in and see.  You’ll find living water that never runs dry.

Daniel Griswold is the Director of Youth, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC, danielgriswold@gmail.com, twitter name: dannonhill

Methodist Vigor and Inspiration – Early Thoughts In Methodist History Class

I have been taking a Methodist History class online through Asbury Theological Seminary.  As I read about the Wesley’s, Whitfield, the Oxford Club, and the people of the movement within Anglicanism, I’m realizing two congruent trends that made them successful.

Trend 1: They were passionate about their faith.  They fully believed in Christ as their saviors and in the Bible as their word of Truth. Within the scriptures they learned about compassion and action – moving out to help those in need, and doing so as often and as much as possible.  They preached the Good News from owned cemetery plots when towns said they could not speak on their soil, and the word got out.  These Methodists believed what they preached, they lived it out, and they had a passion to live out the discipline to make it real.

Trend 2: They were rational and disciplined in their lives.  The amount of responsibility each Methodist man and woman would have, astounds me.  Especially those who would become the ministerial wing – they lived and breathed the study of life, of God, of the natural sciences, of everything.  They were people of learning and would never have rejected progress of thought and the goodness that free will has in potential.  They woke early, prayed and studied, they ministered and worshipped every day, they fasted, they fed the hungry, developed medicines to heal the sick poor, they visited prisons and started schools for orphans, then they would do watch night services and worship in covenant into the night.

Take Away – I’m ashamed of my own discipline.  I feel that I work hard, but the more I hear of these men and women of early Methodism (who were modeling their lives after the early church’s apostles and ministers), I realize that my work is a drop in a bucket.  Their zeal for personal holiness is something to venerate.

In books, I often wonder how much of the human side we are missing.  John Wesley struggled with something that kept him from feeling completely assured of God’s salvation in his life.  Much like Paul talked about a thorn in his side.  I wonder at that, and perhaps on the facade he was a powerhouse, but on the inside, he was the same as any of us – working out the details of a relationship with God and sometimes the doubts of that same faith.  But as a whole, this movement reinvigorated England, almost directly led to the end of the Slave Trade on the English side, reformed the practice of Christianity, and showed that despite the decline of the Anglican church of the time, there were plenty of people who wished to live out serious faith.

I think that we are in a similar time.  People who want to be serious in their faith often wonder where they will belong, and perhaps are in a wandering experience.  I have had that experience going from Nazarene to Pentecostal to Baptist to Non-Denominational churches and finally I find myself at home in the Methodist church.

I think that is because the historical Methodist faith is the faith of Christ in its simplest form, rationally though passionately experienced, with a well thought out action plan and Methodologically carried out.  Reading the Social Principles of the Methodist church alone gives me the chills.  If you’re looking for a church that is about action, read up on the Methodists. It is a living faith that continues to inspire millions around the globe today.

Religion Can Be Beautiful – A Response to “Spiritual but not Religious”

Religion Can Be Beautiful

An edited version of this was published in The Bluffton Packet

A spoken word video recently made the rounds on Facebook called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”  It was well rhymed and made some interesting points. It was so reposted (reposting is borrowing the video and sharing it with your friends) so often that NPR picked it up and had a representative from the Barna group talk about the non-institutional spirit of our young generation.  Certainly, this video is an outgrowth of something I remember people saying when I was young – “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  I said it a few times when I was younger and I felt that it allowed me to be a “rebel” in the tradition of James Dean, but I could also love Jesus and read the Bible, both of which have always been foundational to my identity in one way or another.

Even a few years ago I would likely have felt at home posting this video myself, but since I have become part of the Methodist church, and have been part of a traditional church, I have found the trappings of “religion” to be like a beautiful art, a canvas in which the beliefs of people who have faith have placed their paint.  At one time I would have joined the rebel cry as young people throw off the old and bring in new styles of worship.  Not even “contemporary” worship as some people call it, but an even more progressive form of  loving Jesus that would be considered all action with very little program or form.  That seems to be the call of this video – more action.

As with any argument, there is an anti-thesis or I like to call it “push-back.”  Jesus himself pushed back on the institutions, which would seem to support the claims of this video, but it the issue is so much more complex than that.

As I read the scriptures, I do not see Jesus as the anti-institutional figure that he seems at first glance.  He spoke in the synagogues as an adult and even as a child he enjoyed being at the temple and talking with the religious leaders about his father, God.  In fact, Mary and Joseph had a scare when they, like many parents have, left Jesus behind after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Jesus in some degree felt at home in his faith.  He was also called Rabbi by his disciples, he spoke of paying your taxes to Caesar in respect for pagan authorities, and he died accepting the punishment for a crime he didn’t commit.

So why does Jesus seem like such a rebel?  He turned the tables at the temple, he broke wheat and ate on the Sabbath against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law and he declared he was God – which went against all human comprehension.  But at the heart of his rebellion, it is not against religion itself.  It is against corruption of the heart which leads to destruction of the individual and society.

Read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and you will see that Jesus had a religion.   True religion is about orphans and widows.  Translated: True religion is about justice and compassion and love.  When people forget this, all religion (the expression of our faith) becomes hollow.

So now I would say, “I am religious because I am a spiritual being.  I ask God to make me pure so my religion remains pure as well.”

For your reference, I am responding to this video that went viral a few weeks ago:

Creating New Religions – Eddie Long is Crowned a King

Eddie Long is a pastor at a mega-church in Georgia who was recently accused of indecent sexual behavior with young men in the congregation.  He settled out of court, took some time off and now has come back to be pastor.

According to a Washington Post blog:

Megachurch leader Eddie Long is making waves once again after a video being circulated on the Web shows him being crowned “king” in an elaborate ceremony, the Associated Press reports. Other religious leaders have called the video “repulsive” and “inappropriate.”

Long is wrapped in a Jewish Scroll of the scriptures by a preacher who is sourcing Jewish customs and traditions as well as some DNA justifications for Long’s Kingship within himself.  The video (see below) is wrong on many different levels:

(1) It has nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with re-establishing Long’s authority in the church.  I don’t know who plans and coordinates worship – but doing this bizarro world religious mash-up in front of  a congregation, rather than having an intimate time of prayer and seeking God’s will as a leadership team in private, is beyond me.  All I can fathom, is that this was done to glorify Long to greatness – not God.

(2) It is obviously produced more like entertainment than sacred worship (which would be about glorifying God, not Long).  They have it all scripted out and people move in and out of the scene like a play.  The props are bright and colorful.  While worship does entail story telling, this collaboration of facts to justify Long’s leadership is a spectacle of celebrity, it is manipulative.

(3) Lastly, Long just accepts everything as it is.  Is this planned by him?  I’ve been in churches where things got a bit out of hand charismatically, and the pastor, charged with the order of the church, brought people back to reality.  He cared about the people going off track, so he corrected the situation by ending it, explaining from scripture how we are to worship, and moved the service along quickly – the focus remained on Jesus’s authority, Jesus’s Glory – not any person or their ability to entertain the congregation.
This deeply saddens me because this makes news and this is all many see of Christian worship.  They see what goes wrong.  But the tens of thousands of congregations that reverently and honorably give their time to be in God’s presence on Sunday mornings and times throughout the week, the same people who do service throughout the community and care for people in countless ways – and this is what is presented.  Good pastors die all the time, great people sacrifice for others daily, people are praying for the sick, and bringing a message of hope to the world – and all we see of ourselves in the mirror of the media  is this – the oddity that is hardly recognizable as Christianity.  Judge for yourself – here is the video:

Sacrificial Love Wins

Genuine love of others a key ingredient to stronger


Published Monday, September 5, 2011

Why do we love and care for others? Some would say that love is just part of the process of evolution: Someone once killed his neighbor, and because others did not want to be killed as well, they banded together and punished the murderer. People saw this punishment and deduced that killing is wrong and that the tribe is a stronger unit when people look out for each other.

This is a hypothetical but plausible scenario if we look at how things work today and use our intellect to explain what happened eons ago in human history. The problem is, though, we weren’t there.

As a person who studies religion and is a follower of Jesus Christ — which, believe it or not, is a choice I made after rational inquiry and finding satisfying evidence that God is acting in the world even today — I have spent much time reading through the many millennia-old written document of humanity’s interactions with God.

There are two strands that I always make light of when learning about the history of love as recorded in Scripture. First, I look at what humans were doing, and second, I look at what God is doing. The two are often very different. Human morality, even in the Bible, is very relative and focused on the self — and, in this view, the account of morality as hypothesized in evolution is probably true.

In fact, in Canaan, when the Hebrews began moving into the promised land, the cities were independent states, engaged in trade, alliance or war.

The city-states had kings. Codes of laws were variously applied so that each person did what he or she thought was right, and when that infringed on another it was up to the king and his governmental officials to bring balance and fairness. It was an imperfect system, however, so long as people continued to look out only for themselves.

God’s interaction with this economy was devastating to the local way. At Mount Sinai, Moses received the Commandments. These 10 precepts shifted focus from the human self to two others. First, love of God; second, love of others. It was more than just tolerant refrain from stepping on toes. It was a way to change the human heart toward a more divine economy. God’s words united the Hebrews, and God’s strength helped them as they left Egypt and assimilated the warring city-states.

Humanity constantly has to relearn this basic principle, and it is something each of us has to grapple with every day. Will we love ourselves and only contract with others toward a peaceful truce? Or will we give up our rights and give ourselves 100 percent for God and for others?

Christians look to Christ and see this sacrifice made completely real. The cross is a symbol of God showing us the way. Reclaiming the world by inserting light into the darkness and showing that selfishness will not prevail.

John says: “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.”

In the four gospels we see the son of God give up a stable life, devote himself to healing the sick and feeding the hungry, become betrayed by a close friend for money and then willingly accept an undeserved punishment to turn the tables of justice toward grace and forgiveness rather than legality and containment.

For those with and without faith, God’s economy has huge lessons with an efficiency that can only come when people genuinely love.

Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at http://www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.com.

Read more: http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/09/05/1781273/genuine-love-of-others-a-key-ingredient.html#ixzz1Yhgf3lbu