Perception Is Reality

My latest for Sojourners

Let’s face it: we are an opinionated society.

We have entire television channels and radio stations dedicated to the propagation of one particular way of thinking. Some people like this channel because they are “more liberal” while others like this channel because they are “more conservative” and the rest of the world falls into the trap that we can be objective (read: ‘fair and balanced’).

We seek out opinions from everything from a new toaster to the new medical center in the area. We want to know people’s experiences about something before we waste our time, money and energy on a futile venture. If a product on Amazon has too many “one-star” reviews I am not going to purchase it. If my friends or family members have a bad experience at a restaurant or store then I will think twice about going there myself.

Sharing our opinions or perceptions is never easy. They can be met with great disdain or hostility. ESPN prides itself on these conflicts. Its marketing plan is to put four talking, opinionated heads in a room and ask a question that none of them can agree on like “Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?” or “Is Tom Brady overrated?”

Some of the greatest conflicts in the world’s history have been over difference of opinion. Governments have been shut down over difference of opinion. Trying to “change” someone’s opinion is hard if not impossible; for some people the “damage” is done and there is no turning back.

The church is not immune to this to this. I believe that the church today finds itself in a bit of an opinion/perception crisis that Christians are ignoring. On one hand, many Christians see the decline of the church around them. They see the decline in the significance of the church in the American society and culture. Churchgoers lament every Sunday about the good ole days and have a laundry list of reasons why people aren’t in church; they blame everything from MTV and passive parenting to the Devil himself.

The problem that is really facing the church is others’ opinions of it. Many people do not have an issue with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Their opinion is formed and shaped by the experiences they have at a church and/or the actions of fellow Christians.

If my perception of the church is one that is shaped by people who come across as “holier than thou” and want to point out my flaws all in the name of sin eradication, then I’m not going to have a high opinion of the church. If my perception of the church is one in which love is conditional based on a series of postulations from a sweat-slinging preacher, then I’m not going to have a high opinion of that church.

If the church’s perception is centered on the notion that it exists not for outsiders (people who think differently of God), that certain “sins” are worse than others, that perfection is demanded, then why in the world would I want to devote my time to this religion?

The church must come to grips with its perception problem. The church that is being propagated in the world is a one-sided, narrow-visioned, distorted articulation of the church. But again, this is just my opinion.

I get irritated when I am lumped together with Bible-beating Christians who see the Bible more as a law book than a book of faith of how God moved, interacted, and changed the world. It saddens me when people have had a bad experience with a ‘well-intentioned’ Christian that has turned them off to a faith that I hold so dear.

I want them to experience the same Christ that I know, the same grace that I have been afforded, to be welcomed into a community that loves them for who they are and who they were created to be — not by who they chose to spend their life with. I want them to be in a community of faith that shows them the beauty of God, the majesty of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit in all of creation — all with grace, unconditional love, humility, and respect.

Some churches will hear this as “weakening the gospel” or becoming “soft” when the gospel is something that demands we stand firm, but this is not the case.

I am not advocating that people abandon their faith; rather I am calling on all followers of Christ from all denominations and faith communities to take a step back and see how the message of Christ is being shared and perceived.

Given the rate of the decline of the church I am not sure it can “afford” any more perception problems. We, faithful followers of Christ, need to show the world that the Christianity of TBN or the 700 Club is not the only way of understanding God. No one denomination, TV minister, or church has a monopoly on God.

Some people will make their way back to faith in spite of their experiences. But this will only be a small percentage. It is up to followers of Christ like you and me to open the doors and show them an understanding of faith that will reshape their perceptions of the church.

It’s worth a shot.

Sermon: “The Journey: Part 1- Structure”


This past Sunday (February 9, 2014) I began a three part sermon series over-viewing my post entitled “14 Things The Church Needs To Do In 2014.”  Below is the audio link as well as Prezi presentation.

In Christ,
Rev. Evan

Photo Credit: “Blueprints” by degelia via Flickr used under the Creative Commons License 2.0

Sermon: “Blessings For All”

Below is a link to a sermon I preached on February 2, 2014 entitled “Blessings For All” based on Matthew 5:1-12
(Recorded by Voice Record Pro by Bej Bej Apps for iOS)

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

The Person Who Was Missing From The Nye/Ham Debate

The internet has been a buzz after the “Creation Debate” between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the CEO of Answers in Genesis.  The debate focused on the question “is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”

Ham is the founder of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky which postulates the world was created how it is described in the book of Genesis and believes that the world is only 6000 or so years old (this model is known as Young Earth Creationist.)  Nye showed another side stating that science and evolution were the models of creation that should be accepted.

Both people gave their reasoned arguments in a bevy of pictures, graphs and charts.  They had their particular point of view and they were showing the world how they understood the world to work.  Ham is a Christian literalist and Nye is a Scientist.  Both are coming from completely different angles while looking at the same thing.  On one hand you have Ham trying to make the model of Creation found in the Bible fit the world around him and on the other you have Nye who uses the empirical method to be certain about his beliefs.  Both of these men were using their view to be the one that should be seen as true and authoritative.  Here in lies the problem.

Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) articulated the notion of perception when he wrote:

“Just as if A, B and C should each put on different colored glasses;  A puts on green spectacles, B yellow, and C blue; each one of them looks through his own glasses at a piece of white paper and concludes he is right, not remembering that he has his spectacles on.  Thus to A it appears green, to B yellow and to C blue.  They begin to argue on the subject, and it is impossible for any of them to convince another that he is wrong- each one feels a conviction next to absolute certainty that his opinion is right. But D, who has no spectacles on, and who is standing looking on during the contest very well knows that they are all wrong; he sees the spectacles on each man’s face and accounts for the difference.”[1]

Throughout the debate I could not help but to think that one person was missing: the person who doesn’t see religion and science as mutually exclusive.  Where was the person of faith who is OK with a bit of mystery in the world and OK with the notion that the world might not have been created in seven 24 hour days?

The problem with this type of debate is the same problem that people have with the political pundits in Washington: they are too polarizing.  Both sides think they have it figured out.  This is being played out in our society; a Gallup poll stated that 42% of voters claim to be Independent, while 31% affiliate with Democrats and 25% with the Republicans.  People more and more do not like to be “nailed down” in one camp or another.

Some of the biggest complaints I hear from people not in the church or those who recently left is that some churches have “it all figured out” and leave no room for questioning or growing or new ways of looking at something.  Learning, growing, shaping and forming our own ideals is something that we instill in children when we teach them critical thinking.  Why do people in some churches feel they have to become robots of their church or pastor and just spit out what they have been told to believe?

The creation debate more than likely didn’t change anyone’s mind about how the world came to be.  If anything those on either side felt their guy “won” and their view was shown in the best light.  Then there are those who struggle with faith and how the world works in harmony together.

They were left out.

The way I see it is that both Ham and Nye missed the mark.  Ham is using the Bible as a science book– the Bible is a book of faith and people’s experience with the Divine.  Nye did not leave any room for mystery and faith; it was charts, graphs, facts and figures.

There has to be a balance made.  Faith and Science do not have to be at odds with each other.  The debate was too focused on facts and not on mystery.  Where was the presenter who said “I’m not sure how this all happened, but I have faith?”

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

[1] Mark G. Toulouse, Joined in Discipleship: the Shaping of Contemporary Disciples Identity, rev. ed. (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1997), 42.

God Is Making All Things New

Below is an article I wrote for a newsletter for the hospital I am working for.

2013 has come to a close we find ourselves in the midst of 2014. Every year people resolve to make the New Year better, more fulfilling or even less hectic than the one before. These resolutions or promises are guides that will help us reach our goal of bettering ourselves, our family or our community. Some people want to exercise more, learn to cook or stop biting their nails. Others want to volunteer more, worship more fully or step out in faith by responding to a call or stirring of their heart. And yet some can be quite different like the woman who ate every meal at Starbucks for an entire year.

The New Year is a way to reflect on the life that has gone by in the previous year: the struggles, triumphs, blessings and heartaches that we have felt. All of these events and emotions form us into the person we are today. We are not the same person we were on January 1, 2013 and we will not be the same person on December 31,2014. We are being transformed and changed by the power of God and the experience we have with God through worship, nature, prayers, the sacraments and the scriptures.

Every day is a possibility to see how God is interacting with the world and in our lives.

In the Bible, at the end of the Book of Revelation, we find that God declares that one day God will make all things new. This is the declaration that is given to all of humanity. One of my favorite hymns, “This Is the Day of New Beginnings” speaks to the power of new beginnings and how we are not alone in them. The words are printed below.

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

For by the life and death of Jesus,
love’s mighty Spirit, now as then,
can make for us a world of difference
as faith and hope are born again.

Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring,
step from the past, and leave behind
our disappointment, guilt and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Christ is alive, and goes before us
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings;
our God is making all things new.[1]

As we journey in 2014 not knowing what is ahead of us, let us go in faith and know that God will be with us every step of the way.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan Dolive

[1] Copyright © 1983 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.; Words © 1975, 1995 Hope Publishing Co

Sermon: “Fishing”

Fishing from the back of an old pickup.  Morro Bay Scenes on Father’s Day 20 June 2010, Morro Bay, CA

On January 26, I preached a sermon entitled “Fishing” from Matthew 4:18-23.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Photo Credit: Fishing from the back of an old pickup. Morro Bay Scenes on Father’s Day 20 June 2010, Morro Bay, CA taken by: Mike Baird; used under the Creative Commons License 2.0