"My Uncle Kenny made me read an author named Wendell Berry. Here's what he says: 'The significance - and ultimately the quality - of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.' For years I thought of the Bible not as a story but as a black-and-white photograph, something you could use in a court of law to prove that our doctrines and propositions were rational and true. Talk about trivializing and holding back the beauty of the Bible!Here's to another year in the great Story that we find ourselves a part of.
Now I see the Story more like a painting filled with glory, poetry, and even blurry lines. Paintings are trickier than photos. They're open to a wide variety of interpretation, depending on who's looking at them and the situations those viewers live in. Seeing the Bible this way could lead to things getting messy from time to time - but the Word is living, not static. Our job is to invite people to inhabit our story, to be part of what God's doing in history. And we don't need to feel constant pressure to defend it against its critics. Truth doesn't need defending. It is its own witness."
-Chase Falson in Chasing Francis, by Ian Morgan Cron
Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
We all have far more common ground than most people seem to realize, if we can set aside the "us vs. them" mentality that fundamentalists of all stripes (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, etc.) hold to everyone's detriment...
Friday, December 17, 2010
Name-calling may sometimes seem like the only way to be heard above the din, but it's also the quickest way to make your opponents tune you out entirely. At the same time, avoiding strong terms altogether isn't always feasible - take, for instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center's addition of five new religious right groups (some of them very prominent) to its list of anti-gay hate groups.
"Hate" is a strong term that shouldn't be hurled lightly, and predictably, the groups that have earned that label are playing the persecution card to rile up their supporters. Any objective observer can easily see, however, that the SPLC's criteria for designating an organization as a hate group are quite reasonable and even fairly conservative. Only a handful of anti-gay groups have earned this designation; merely being opposed to gay rights is not enough, regardless of the motivation (and regardless of what the Family Research Council disingenuously claims).
Indeed, a group must actively and repeatedly spread lies about LGBT individuals (or another minority group) to be labeled a hate group - and the organizations on the SPLC's list do so on an almost daily basis. In this case withholding the term "hate" for the sake of civility would be a disservice, given the bile that Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer and their fellow-travelers spit at the gay community nearly every time they open their mouths. We still need to take care to avoid overusing the word, but when dealing with those who very clearly do hate us, there's no substitute for telling it like it is.
An even stronger word that I've recently heard used in association with anti-gay activism is genocide. If a word like 'hate' needs to be used selectively, a word like 'genocide' can quickly become an even larger liability. It isn't without merit, when one considers that most conservative Christians would view the eradication of homosexuality as a good thing, but the second activists begin shouting "genocide" at rallies, we begin pushing away many of our more moderate opponents who might have been movable.
It also needs to be noted that the majority of those on the religious right envision a world free of homosexuality in terms of converting gay individuals back to their allegedly natural heterosexual state, rather than killing them. However blind their faith in the possibility of such conversion, and however superficial an understanding of sexuality that one must hold to believe that homosexuals are merely damaged heterosexuals, only the most extreme would actually endorse carrying out the mass executions that would be required to truly eradicate homosexuality (at least in the current generation).
That said, as we are able to educate such individuals about the immutability of sexual orientation (at least for the vast majority), there can be great value in helping them to recognize the parallels that exist between the religious right's treatment of LGBT individuals and historical acts of genocide. It's best done calmly and dispassionately, and without resorting to hyperbole, lest we validate the notion that we're the real haters.
The facts are on our side - the more we stick to them and reserve the use of strong labels for those that have truly earned them, the better equipped we are to help our opponents come to understand that we are not the enemies they've been conditioned to view us as.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Along those lines, here are two perspectives on the "war," one from another evangelical and one from an atheist, that demonstrate just how counterproductive the whole brouhaha is.
One additional observation I would add to the mix is that this crusade, like virtually everything initiated by fundamentalists, is fueled by an emotion that's very much out of sync with the message of Christ's birth: fear. Fear of a brittle, easily offended god who plans to endlessly torture the vast majority of the human beings he created, a god who won't hesitate to destroy entire nations for any one of a long list of offenses.
Given such a mindset, it's little wonder that a season conceived as a celebration of joy could devolve into an angry shouting match. Thankfully the majority of Christians don't seem to be buying into that message of fear anymore. Unfortunately far too many still do.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
I'll be spending tomorrow at a board game day being hosted by some friends who, like me, think that sounds like a lot more fun than endless hours fighting the frenzied crowds at the mall. So if the economy doesn't recover in 2011, you'll know who's really to blame.
Saturday, after helping put up the advent decorations at church, I plan to see the new Harry Potter movie with my sister, after which we'll no doubt cast a few Imperius curses on unsuspecting Muggles in the name of the dark lord before grabbing some dinner.
After church on Sunday I'll be helping my parents put up that grand symbol of Paganism, the Christmas tree. A couple of the ornaments even depict Santa Claus. And then I'll cap off the weekend by watching the Amazing Race, which just spent the last two legs boosting the economies of Muslim countries.
In all seriousness, I do have much to be thankful for - a loving family, a great church, a stable job, reasonably good health and the freedom to enjoy them all. God is indeed good. Have a blessed holiday.
Friday, November 12, 2010
I find my own political convictions run along lines similar to those outlined by the author - with the added caveat that the corrupting nature of power should be remembered and highlighted whenever somebody (of any political persuasion) proposes to wield large amounts of it for our benefit...
Friday, November 05, 2010
[I]f we were studying the Bible together over a period of time, we could trace the maturation process among biblical writers regarding God's character. In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconciliation, and pace; God's grace gets the final word.The fundamentalist God is also a being that can ultimately only be feared, not loved. Under such a deity every activity of the Christian life - worship, evangelism, charity, etc. - is an act of appeasement, driven by the need to escape unspeakable punishment (or to rescue others from that doom). Even the most conservative Christian would never verbalize it in that way, but when Hell is defined as an eternal state and salvation is viewed as the "fire insurance" that must be obtained to avoid it, declaring one's love for God becomes first and foremost an act of survival and only secondarily one of devotion.
People who are part of what is often called fundamentalism today, whether Christians, Muslims, or Jews, often find it difficult to acknowledge this kind of progression in understanding across the centuries. If anything, they feel obliged to defend and give priority to the early, raw, more primal, less-tested and -developed views of God, minimizing or marginalizing what I am calling the more mature and nuanced understandings.
So the God of the fundamentalists is a competitive warrior - always jealous of rivals and determined to drive them into defeat and disgrace. And the God of the fundamentalists is superficially exacting - demanding technical perfection in regard to ceremonial and legal matters while minimizing deeper concerns about social justice - especially where outsiders and outcasts are concerned. Similarly, the fundamentalist God is exclusive, faithfully loving one in-group and rejecting - perhaps even hating - all others.
The fundamentalist God is also deterministic - controlling rather than interacting, a mover of events but never moved by them. And finally, though the fundamentalist God may be patient for a while, he (fundamentalist versions of God tend to be very male) is ultimately violent, eventually destined to explode with unquenchable rage, condemnation, punishment, torture, and vengeance if you push him too far.
-Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, pages 101-102
In most evangelical churches the reality lies somewhere in between; the New Testament is given enough weight that God's love can sometimes be understood. But the Old Testament's God of wrath still lurks just beneath the surface, unwilling (or unable) to show any mercy to anyone who doesn't offer verbal assent to the correct creed. The perceived need for an inerrant Bible precludes the possibility that its early books might be the product of a more primitive understanding of God, rather than a timeless portrait to be placed on an equal plane with the example set by Christ.
If perfect love casts out fear, then perhaps any doctrines that lead to fear need to be reconsidered. Such growth in our theology need not suggest that God has changed, merely that our understanding of God has matured.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
This Is Your Life, by Switchfoot
Although dwelling too much on all we haven't accomplished can lead to depression, we do sometimes need a nudge like this before we can get out of our chairs and make the most of the time that we still have. This song came along when I was first struggling to escape the mindset of avoidance and suppression that had been drilled into me from years of fear-driven legalism and ex-gay teachings.
I don't know that I've entirely succeeded yet, but life is too short to spend hiding from the ever-present possibility that something bad could happen when we dare to experience what lies beyond our front door.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
4. On a lighter note: via CrackerLilo, an entry for the "what were they smoking?" category: the 20 Most Hilarious Company Names on Earth.
Friday, October 08, 2010
When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.
"Faith without works is dead," and faith without doubts probably is, too.
God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find within him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction.
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
Friday, October 01, 2010
The brutal mistreatment that drove these kids to take their own lives is hardly uncommon, much less a new phenomenon, though to listen to religious right groups one might be misled into thinking that it's the gay kids who are the real bullies (a line of reasoning akin to saying that the Inquisitors were the real victims of the Spanish Inquisition). Indeed, observing how different Christians respond (or fail to respond) to this issue is a pretty effective way of separating those sincerely trying to live out the Golden Rule from those whose view of God has been so tainted by fear that they have nothing positive left to offer the rest of the world.
For my own part, I suffered less than a lot of kids in my position do. In eighth grade I returned to public school after two years in a small private school, and it wasn't too long before I became the target of some older kids (our junior high included 7th-9th grades). Fortunately for me their harassment didn't go much beyond verbal taunts - whether that was because they got bored when their efforts never provoked a response from me (I had already learned by that age how to maintain a pretty good poker face) or because I had a protector in the school that I wasn't conscious of, I don't know. But it's hard to say how things might have gone had their harassment ever become physically violent; it's not as though I could have defended myself well enough to stop them from doing just about anything they might have felt like doing.
Truth be told I don't remember that many details about the kids who harassed me, or even their names. Yet I doubt it was a coincidence that eighth grade was the year I became self-conscious about my more effeminate mannerisms and began making a deliberate effort to suppress them. Once disguised, I was able to fly under the radar (or gaydar, as the case may be), and I was mostly ignored by those outside my immediate social circle in high school. I may have hated myself (for a number of reasons), I may have been emotionally isolated with virtually no social life, but I did manage to evade the attention of those who would have hated me as much as I did.
Many kids (both gay and straight) fare far worse than that, which makes it all the more reprehensible when religious right groups decry any effort to protect gay youth from abuse as part of some sinister agenda to destroy society. Groups like the Family Research Council may not be directly responsible for the high suicide rate among gay teenagers, but only the willfully blind can pretend that words don't matter, and that being bombarded with messages about how sick and perverted one supposedly is doesn't cause harm.
Bullying is bullying, whether the perpetrator is the meanest kid on the playground or a self-styled spokesman for God in a three-piece suit. The good news is that bullies is all they are, and the brittle, spiteful god they claim to speak for is purely an idol of their own invention.
The better news is that it really does get better, as Dan Savage has been working to let everyone know. And the best news of all is that the One who made us, the Author of love - the real God who's far larger than any of our petty prejudices - really does love every one of us exactly as we are - no exceptions, no ifs, ands or buts. And no bully can ever take that away.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
-Experience is, admittedly, the most easily abused of the four. If we allow experience to be shallowly used as a trump card whenever a proposed doctrine makes us uncomfortable (as Wright accuses others of doing), then we might as well quit pretending that we have anything worth taking seriously. But to dismiss experience because some would abuse it is equally shallow, and equally dangerous.
Experience is the forum in which our theology becomes practical. If we never stop to evaluate the fruits of our beliefs, then we risk becoming oppressors of the worst sort. When a doctrine of ours demonstrably causes more harm than good, it is time to reevaluate what we thought to be true rather than blaming those we have harmed for their supposed failure. Without experience as a guidepost, our mandate to love others eventually devolves into an abstraction in which the needs of the people we claim to love are not truly the focus of our concern.
By listening to experience we have one final quality test to ensure that we have not veered too far off course. We allow our lives and the lives of those around us to inform our doctrines, not because we don't value the Bible, but because we value it too highly to allow it to become a symbol for oppression and injustice. We take the experiences of others into account not because truth is relative, but because truth is complex and so much larger than our finite ability to fully grasp it.
Stated in this way, I don't know for sure how far apart Wright and I really are on this issue. Since I haven't read much of his writing I hesitate to put words into his mouth. But I would hope that he recognizes the importance of stepping outside the sterile confines of the seminary before claiming to have divined God's will for those who live in the everyday world.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
2. History really does repeat itself, much as today's social conservatives try to pretend that things are different this time around.
3. Happy first birthday to Highlands Church in Denver.
4. All things considered, I think this is a fair question. Just don't hold your breath waiting for an answer.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
Herein lies the most obvious moral danger of religious faith. In taking themselves to be guided by divinely ordained commandments, theists may be tempted to relax the rigor with which they scrutinize their actions, and are thus capable of the most unspeakable atrocities. That is, secure in the faith that God wills a certain course of action, they may be prepared to disregard any suggestion (even from their own consciences) that this may not in fact be the morally correct thing to do. … Unfortunately, it is also often a tenet of faith that to question God is itself an immoral act, and so it can become especially difficult to correct a moral error once it has been made on these grounds. This is because the difference between questioning a command of God and questioning one’s own understanding of that command is a subtle one, not at all easily recognized, and harder yet when any doubt is seen as weakness of faith and therefore sinful in itself.
…This pride is uniquely difficult to identify, for it is well cloaked in the garb of pious humility. What makes it so elusive is that it appears as a faith in God, when in reality it is a misplaced faith in one’s own judgment. It may well be that God is just and perfect and incapable of error, but we most certainly are none of these things, and to act with the firm belief that one is in perfect harmony with God’s perfectly just wishes is to lose sight of that truth. Indeed, the person who acts in this way is guilty of the greatest pride, for she puts her moral judgment on a level with God’s. She claims to know with absolute certainty that which can be known only to God. The faith here, then, is not in God at all, but in the individual’s own reliability in knowing God, and if we understand idolatry as the sin of ascribing divine significance to a human artifact, the pride involved is idolatrous when the individual believes her knowledge to be perfect in this regard.
Monday, September 06, 2010
This post by Slacktivist sums up the behavior of so many people who identify as Christians in recent weeks: "This is what the hospitality of Sodom looks like."
It's a sad irony that individuals who have very likely used the story of Sodom as a club to batter their gay neighbors are, in fact, the ones whose behavior most closely matches that of the citizens of Sodom.
Update: As it so often does, the Onion sums it up all too well...
Friday, August 27, 2010
In the earlier rounds of America's Got Talent I thought, "I really like this guy, but he doesn't stand a chance of winning in the popular vote." Now I'm thinking anything's possible. He's a spectacle, he's very different, but in a good way. Win or lose I hope he ends up with his own tour; I'd pay to see it, and I haven't been much of a concertgoer since I was in my 20's.
On a side note, my posting of Prince Poppycock's first audition received a number of Google hits from people trying to figure out if he's gay. I don't know the guy personally, but I have to say that I can't imagine there's a heterosexual man anywhere on the planet who could come up with costumes this fabulous...
Sunday, August 22, 2010
No Such Thing, by John Mayer
An anthem for anyone who's transitioned from Stage Three to Stage Four in their lives. If only it were this simple to awaken those around us to what we've seen beyond the box we once inhabited...
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Far from being a license to do whatever feels good, as some worry, the law of love forces us to get out of our own heads and consider the needs of others - needs we can only understand as we get to know them beyond the acquaintance level. Still, not everyone is convinced that the Christian life can really be boiled down to something that seems to dismiss so much of the Bible. "Ah," they say, "but that is only the second greatest commandment. The greatest is love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind."
It's a valid point, even if those making it see it as justification for retaining whatever legalistic strictures they deem important. Who could argue, after all, against the idea that a Christian's highest priority should be to love and honor God, whatever the cost? Indeed, that priority lies at the heart of ex-gay theology - that no sacrifice is too costly if it is done to please God. That the need for the sacrifice in question cannot be reconciled within the context of "love your neighbor as yourself" (except through broad speculation) is quickly dismissed, since love for God necessarily comes ahead of all other considerations.
What this argument necessarily sets aside, however, is what the biblical authors lay out as God's primary requirement from his followers:
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6, Matt. 12:7)
Matt. 25:34-46, Luke 6:32-38, James 1:27, Isaiah 58:6-12, Jeremiah 21:11-12, Ezekiel 16:49, Micah 6:8 and numerous other passages reiterate that God is honored by how we treat others - not by how many vices we can catalog to be avoided. That's not to say that God is unconcerned with any other aspects of our lifestyles, but those areas, when they don't overlap with how we conduct our human relationships, are left to God's direct governance through the Holy Spirit (an agent that legalistic believers inherently distrust, since the personalized nature of the Spirit's ministry leaves them without any leverage that they can use to regulate and micromanage the behavior of others).
And for those points where individual interpretations of what constitutes a loving action begin to conflict, the church exists. Not to issue authoritarian edicts or enforce conformity, but to provide a community in which our efforts to become more compassionate can play out. The church can offer both a forum to share and debate those ideas, and a testing ground for discovering what does and doesn't work.
Within such a functional, loving community we would most likely find ourselves making greater sacrifices than we would in an institutional church - not to appease a picky deity or to earn another check mark on our list of dos and don'ts, but because we have cultivated a desire to do what we can to improve the lives of those around us according to their unique needs. Not to increase our suffering for the sake of earning heavenly brownie points, but to decrease the suffering of others.
Such an ideal community seems like a pie-in-the-sky notion most of the time. My own selfish preference is for that old list of rules, where I can still make everything revolve around me. But in the end it's not God I'd truly be pleasing.
Friday, July 30, 2010
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.
-Anne Rice, on why she's leaving the church
While I still choose to participate in (and thereby identify with) a local church, it's worth never losing sight of how quickly religion can become a stumbling block rather than a help to those seeking God. No institution is so sacred that its preservation should be a higher priority to any Christian than following the example of Christ, who favored the company of "sinners" over the blessing of the religious leaders.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life.
Give me the judgment of balanced minds in preference to laws every time. Codes and manuals create patterned behavior. All patterned behavior tends to go unquestioned, gathering destructive momentum.
-Darwi Odrade in Chapterhouse Dune
Friday, July 09, 2010
I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised, but I won't be holding my breath...
Friday, July 02, 2010
2. Not so heartwarming, to know that demagogues like this can still draw crowds of evangelicals.
3. An astute observation about the tolerance we show for violent methods of addressing problems versus the instant results we expect from more peaceful means.
4. On a different note, some information for your health's sake about sweeteners - which ones to avoid (most of them) and which to use in their place.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
In contrast to the "holy war" tradition of the Old Testament, in which Israelites were at times commanded to kill enemies, Jesus taught, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. " (Luke 6:27-28)-Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Religion, pages 97-98, 100
Note that loving our enemies, according to Jesus, entails doing them good. It is important that we understand this because there's a long and sad Church tradition, dating back to Augustine, that divorces one's loving disposition toward an enemy from one's actions. This allowed Christians to torture and kill their enemies while claiming to love them.
In reality, Jesus doesn't leave open this possibility. Just as God demonstrates his love toward us by acting in self-sacrificial ways to bless us, so we are to demonstrate our love toward even our enemies by acting in self-sacrificial ways toward them - to "bless them." By "love your enemies," Jesus meas we must do good to them. ...
Notice this: there are no exception clauses found anywhere in the New Testament's teaching about loving and doing good to enemies. Indeed, Jesus' emphasis on the indiscriminate nature of the love rules out any possible exceptions. The sun doesn't decide on whom it will and will not shine. The rain doesn't decide on whom it will and will not fall. So too, Kingdom people are forbidden to decide who will and will not receive the love and good deeds we're commanded to give.
Imagine what the world might look like if more Christians started taking the teachings of Christ more seriously...
Sunday, June 20, 2010
1. Is BP entirely to blame for the oil spill catastrophe? Yes, but there's a larger picture to consider before implementing solutions.
2. I normally want nothing to do with people who invoke natural disasters as warnings (or punishments) from God, but in this case there's something to be said for the idea of God acting out of a sense of good taste.
3. Interesting essay on the South African political scene. The tribalism that defines so much of life in sub-Saharan Africa is foreign enough to the Western mindset that we tend to underestimate its effect on African politics.
4. Finally, this gem originally posted on Craigslist. The story seems just enough over the top that I wonder whether it really happened as told, but the homophobia depicted in it is very much a reality, and as such the author's points deserve to be heard.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Thursday, June 03, 2010
The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.-Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You
Tolstoy's observation likely garners a hearty "Amen!" from just about everyone who comes across it; we can all think of people who simply refuse to acknowledge any facts that contradict what they have already decided must be true. Many of us could no doubt brainstorm a long list of ways in which the above applies to most of the evangelicals we have known. Those evangelicals, in turn, would probably present us with a similarly lengthy list.
Left or right, libertarian or socialist, Christian or atheist, and so on - it's simply human nature for us to reach conclusions on certain issues and then consider the matter settled. Even those who have moved beyond Stage Three in their personal development need to guard against short-sightedness. The best any of us can do is honestly acknowledge our own limitations and strive to remain open to new information, all the while extending the same grace to our opponents that we hope to receive when we are proven wrong.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Haven't Met You Yet, by Michael Bublé
For the most part I'm pretty content being single these days. I've always had a strong independent streak, and I enjoy being able to come and go as I please. After all these years it would be hard to imagine having to worry about somebody else when I'm making decisions.
But for all that I still have a stubborn romantic streak, and I catch myself daydreaming from time to time about finding that one special guy, together with whom we could each become more than the sum of our parts. When I do slip into that mode, my inner dialogue sounds quite a bit like the lines of this song...
And I know that we can be so amazing
And baby your love is gonna change me
And now I can see every possibility
Somehow I know that it’ll all turn out
You'll make me work so we can work to work it out
And promise you kid I'll give so much more than I get
I just haven't met you yet
Whether it's wishful thinking or healthy optimism, it does motivate me to try to avoid getting stuck in too deep of a rut...
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere ... "Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
-Kurt Vonnegut, as quoted in this insightful article.
Friday, May 14, 2010
What, then, is the solution? As long as people are people, wherever two or more are gathered there will be disagreement. Perhaps our demand for agreement and the high value we place on being right lie at the heart of the problem. This is not to suggest that our understanding of the Bible is unimportant, simply that what we don't know will always outweigh what we do know.
A better way forward may lie within our willingness to embrace uncertainty, focusing less on intellectual agreement and outward conformity, and more on the values that Jesus emphasized: compassion, charity, humility, forgiveness and the like. Rather than worrying about whether we have the One Right Answer that will apply equally to everyone in every time and place, we could allow for disagreement while testing our doctrines according to the following criteria:
Does it contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger and enemy more wholeheartedly?There's more to the study of theology than that, certainly, but if our dogmas fail to produce positive change in our lives, then perhaps we've missed the point no matter how carefully we've conjugated our Greek verbs and cross-referenced our verses. In my experience, the most zealous defenders of orthodoxy and doctrinal purity are often very unpleasant people to be around; a heavy focus on being right seems to almost inevitably stunt the development of empathy and compassion.
(Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity)
Similarly, those who treat the Bible as a rulebook often develop an avoidant approach to life, in which the things one abstains from take precedence over the development of positive qualities. Such individuals are often perfectly nice people (as the rules require them to be), but they rarely become catalysts for positive change in the world; such innovation requires a willingness to risk stepping outside the lines.
Expanding on McLaren's quote, we might ask some of the following questions when evaluating the efficacy what we believe:
-Does our theology challenge our prejudices and shatter the boxes we've tried to place God in, or have we merely painted a self-portrait and labeled it "God"?
-Does our theology compel us to get to know those that are different from us on their own terms so that we can better serve them, or does it validate our all-too-human desire to force those others to become more like us?
-Does our theology inspire us to make the world around us a better place for everyone, or does it drive us to create bunkers (literal or figurative) where we can wait in comfort for God to destroy everyone who isn't one of us?
-Is our theology truly invitational, or does it require fear of hell to motivate people (either directly or implicitly) to action?
-Are "sinners" irresistibly drawn to us like they were to Jesus, or do we find ourselves loudly insisting that we're actually very compassionate as they walk away from us?
-Does our vision of "freedom in Christ" truly liberate people to unleash their full God-given potential, or is our use of the term just an attempt to put a positive spin on a lifetime focused on sin management?
-Would a neutral observer agree that we're accurately answering the above questions?
While the above questions don't represent the end of the discussion by any means (and may, in fact, inspire more debate about their appropriateness), we still face one grave consideration: if we fail the test of love, what's the point in pretending that we have anything at all to offer?
Saturday, May 08, 2010
2. One can only suppress the truth for so long, as the religious right is continually discovering. It can come out in a healthy way or as a scandal, but either way the real "truth about homosexuality," as it plays out in the real world on a daily basis, has proven to bear almost no resemblance to the propaganda advanced by groups like NARTH and Focus on the Family. The George Rekers scandal is just the latest proof that dogma can only suppress reality for so long before the pressure leads to an explosion.
3. The left is susceptible to placing dogma ahead of the evidence as well, as the Climategate scandal suggests. Be wary of anyone who tells you the debate on this or any other issue is closed (in either direction). While it's indisputable that the Earth's climate is changing, and distinctly possible that human activity is a significant factor in how that change is occurring, it's far less certain whether the drastic (and expensive) actions promoted by environmental groups will do anything to improve the situation.
When those same advocates of massive changes in environmental law engage in suppression of dissent and carelessly glom onto any assertion that seems to support their case, they undercut their own credibility and cause people to question whether we're being railroaded into taking actions that will benefit an elite few at the expense of everyone else.
If they are in the right, the facts will back them up without the need for sensationalism. If not, then all the noise in the world will fail to vindicate them in the long run. Either way, descending into alarmism and name-calling will only send them down the same path to irrationality that the religious right so famously pioneered.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Explaining the theoretical biological origin of spirituality has no more impact on our need for, and enjoyment of, religious experiences than explaining that water is "only H2O" strips water of its actual meaning. We know what water is. But it's also fun to jump into and play in, good to drink, beautiful to look at, exciting to sail on, capable of putting one to sleep with the sound of lapping waves, useful for baptizing babies in, responsible for inspiring Turner to paint, and wet - even after one knows that there is no such thing as "wet" or "dry" because wet is merely a set of sensations that we call "wetness" caused by a configuration of molecules that are neither dry nor wet. So here's one answer to the question "What is water?" It might also be a partial answer to [atheist writer Daniel] Dennett's claim that he doesn't know whom to thank: Lucy loves her bath!
Lucy loving her bath and smiling while she kicks and splashes all the water out of the baby tub is also "why" water exists. The pleasure we take in a baby's pleasure might be a hint of what our meaning is too: the pleasure of God enjoying our pleasure at existing in the midst of, as Dennett calls it, "all this wonderful stuff."
-Frank Schaeffer, Patience With God (pg. 66)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
1. An examination of the problems evangelicals face when they read the early chapters of Genesis, and how moving away from a literalistic reading of those ancient stories can deepen our understanding of the rest of the Bible.
2. What makes this travesty even more galling is the knowledge that there are people who call themselves Christians who applaud when the lives of those they deem "sinners" are ripped apart like this.
3. Speaking of such people, this is rather sad even if the only surprise is that he ever agreed to sign the thing in the first place.
4. Finally, Rob Tisinai exposes, in lurid detail, the shocking, scandalous, sinister real reason that gays want the right to get married.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Life in Technicolor II, by Coldplay
There's considerable speculation about the meaning of the lyrics, but the song itself has an upbeat feel that always energizes me. And the idea of living life in technicolor (or in three dimensions rather than two - or, if you prefer, by taking flight) has been one of the major themes of my blog for the majority of its existence.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
That's not to say that those who most need to take Kincaid's latest essay to heart are listening, but it's precisely a lack of empathy on the part of conservative Christians (and of fundamentalists of every stripe) that has largely prevented bridges from being built between the evangelical and gay communities, as Kincaid aptly illustrates. If we begin with the assumption that everybody actually agrees with us and that any apparent disagreement is just a smokescreen for sinful rebellion, there's no possibility of real dialogue ever taking place.
Thus we fall into a vicious cycle in which conservative Christians proclaim what they have concluded in their own echo chambers is a compassionate message, only to have their message thorougly and vehemently rejected when that "compassion" is interpreted as precisely the opposite by its intended recipients. Rather than seriously reflect on why they didn't get the positive response they expected (much less the accolades they felt they deserved), the Christians in question (and in their own minds nobody who disagrees with them can legitimately call themselves Christians) immediately conclude that their own efforts were blameless and that everyone else is simply blinded by Satan.
Yet the simple reality remains that if all of your neighbors think you're a jerk, it's most likely time to at least consider the possibility that you really are, in fact, a jerk. To so quickly and completely dismiss the perceptions and opinions of those one claims to care about, as the Christian group in Kincaid's article did, can only be described as narcissistic.
This impasse doesn't have to be insurmountable; there are theologically conservative Christians who have successfully built bridges to those the church has traditionally cast out. Doing so, however, requires outgrowing the self-absorption that pervades every brand of fundamentalism and actually getting to know one's "enemies" on their terms.
In other words, it requires setting aside one's ego and personal agenda - which fundamentalists tragically think they're already doing when they close themselves off from anything that might contradict what they have been told is true. It requires empathy, and a willingness to acknowledge that we might not actually know everything there is to know after all. It doesn't necessarily require discarding what one believes, though our conclusions are likely to undergo some degree of modification as the reality of what life is actually like for the people outside our church walls begins to sink in.
It's a huge step to take; it might even seem like suicide to those who remain convinced that there's nothing more important than being right. But until more Christians are willing to truly die to themselves, the church can only look forward to becoming an ever-shrinking and increasingly irrelevant sideshow looking in on society from the outside.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
-Wendy Gritter considers the question: Did God really say? There are few tactics more effective in Christian circles than accusing an opponent of "twisting Scripture." But who really benefits when we close off an issue from debate?
-Along similar lines, Misty Irons exposes the gulf between those who are seeking answers that apply to flesh-and-blood people that they care deeply about and those who are simply concerned about being right. Unsurprisingly, the latter seldom have much of value to contribute to the former.
-Craig Adams offers a good quote about the danger of certainty: "The man who is certain he is right is almost sure to be wrong; and he has the additional misfortune of inevitably remaining so. All our theories are fixed upon uncertain data, and all of them want alteration and support... The man who wishes to advance in knowledge should never of himself fix obstacles in the way."
-CLS shares some stories that poignantly illustrate how fear-based religion can become - and all too often is - a far greater curse on society than the "wicked gays" it so often scapegoats could ever be.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Not all stumbling blocks are equally troublesome, however. For my own part, I've never had a problem with the idea that God could simultaneously be three distinct persons yet one being, though I know that concept has caused some to reject the faith. To the contrary, I find it far more illogical to think that a God capable of creating the universe we experience around us could be fully understandable in human terms, as such individuals seem to require.
I do understand the skepticism that many people feel when a paradox is presented to them. Adherents of the "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" school of mindless faith have used their catchphrase to justify all manner of abusive and destructive behavior, and in the process have done more to discredit the Christian faith than any external enemy could ever have hoped to accomplish.
Furthermore, when we attempt to wrap our minds around things that are beyond our comprehension, it can become difficult to draw and maintain a clear line between paradox and irrationality. By opening the door to the possibility that two apparently contradictory things could both be equally true, we seemingly run the risk of embarking on a slippery slope into a realm where any nonsensical notion must be placed on equal footing with the most well established scientific fact.
But just as there's nothing inevitable (or even probable) about societal acceptance of gay couples leading to acceptance of pedophilia, bestiality and other unmentionable things (except in the lurid imaginations of some fundamentalists), so the acceptance of paradox as a valid way of broadening our ability to describe an indescribable Creator doesn't have to leave us at the mercy of demagogues and madmen.
When two groups of Christians come to irreconcilably opposed conclusions about the nature of God, with strong arguments based on scripture, tradition, reason and experience, it becomes reasonable to argue for the existence of a paradox. Predestination vs. free will, above time vs. within time, perfect goodness vs. the existence of evil - on issues of this sort we can never hope to know for certain what reality beyond our plane of existence really looks like. Yet just as the basic forces of the physical universe (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear and weak nuclear) can only be reconciled if we allow for the existence of multiple dimensions beyond the four that we experience, so we can imagine that theological dilemmas that don't seem to add up now may fit together perfectly when viewed from a five (or ten or twenty six) dimensional perspective.
Regarding the idea of a triune God, consider how any of us would appear to a universe of two-dimensional beings who experienced depth the way we experience time (assuming, for just a moment, that we came up with a way to interact with their reality). A person intersecting their plane of existence would appear as one or more shapes; as we moved through their plane, our shape(s) (and their contents) would change in appearance without any explanation that our two-dimensional neighbors could conceptualize. Our arms, fingers, legs, head and torso might appear at times to be separate entities capable of moving independently and disappearing and reappearing at different times. We could even remove ourselves entirely from their universe and reinsert ourselves at a different point, seemingly without traveling the distance between our previous and new locations.
Consider, then, that a Creator would necessarily be many dimensions beyond us, and suddenly the paradox of the trinity seems like it must be a gross oversimplification of the ultimate reality of such a being. Such speculations are still fair targets for skepticism, since they cannot be empirically proven, but it stands to reason that we should be far more skeptical of any deity or higher power whose descriptions fail to transcend our own four-dimensional limitations.
Friday, March 12, 2010
The revolutions of the world have always been about one group trying to wrest power from another. The revolution Jesus launched, however, is far more radical, for it declares the quest for power over others to be as hopeless as it is sinful. Jesus' Kingdom revolts against this sinful quest for power over others, choosing instead to exercise power under others. It's a revolution of humble, self-sacrificial, loving service. It always looks like Jesus, dying on Calvary for the very people who crucified him.
-Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Religion
In other words, it doesn't look anything like this...
Friday, March 05, 2010
-What would Jesus do if invited to a gay wedding? Odds are this guy comes closer to the mark than Focus on the Family ever will.
-This sort of thing is why I maintain a healthy skepticism when it comes to global warming (and most other political issues). I remain open to following where the facts leads, but when an issue's primary proponents engage in alarmism, fearmongering and demonization of opponents (see also: the religious right's anti-gay crusades), it's usually a sign that their case isn't as strong as they insist that it is.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Not everyone does, of course. It makes me wonder how the young-earth creationists will spin (or dismiss) this to keep the age of the universe within their 6,000-year time frame.
Even more noteworthy than the age of the ruins, to me at least, is how this discovery suggests that religious observance predates every other aspect of human civilization, rather than being its byproduct. Such evidence that spirituality is an innate human trait may not prove the existence (or nonexistence) of God, but it does allow for the possibility that we long for something beyond the world around us because there's something beyond this world to long for.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Living in the tension between two conflicting truths can seem an impossibility at times: rely too heavily on positive terms to describe God, and before long God begins to look an awful lot like us, sharing our cultural biases, hating the people that we hate, endorsing the political causes we support and only loving those we view as 'sinners' conditionally. Move too far away from positive terms and God can quickly become an impersonal force in our minds, a distant power that we cannot relate to.
If there were a perfect balance that could be struck between the two extremes, no paradox would exist. But by living in the tension created by acknowledging both truths, we can self-correct as needed and continue to live in relationship with the God who defies all human definitions.
Friday, February 12, 2010
"A golden rule: we must judge men, not by their opinions, but by what their opinions make of them." -Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
“To be nobody but yourself in a world that's doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.” -ee cummings
"A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why ships are built." (fortune cookie)
"Sometimes I think Christianity is like an archeological dig, where you have to learn to differentiate between the real artifacts, the stuff that's covering it up, and the stuff that the locals make to sell to tourists." (source unknown - seen on Facebook)
"I'd rather have questions I can't answer than answers I can't question." (source unknown)
And finally, on a slightly less serious note, a counterprotest done right...
Sunday, February 07, 2010
I think that atheism and fundamentalist religion as we know them will last barely a geological eye-blink just a few hundred or a few thousand years more. Then we will begin to understand that we are spiritual beings and animals; that the universe is impersonal and love preceded it; that we believe and we doubt; that a particle may be in one place and in another place at the same time; and that love is a chemical reaction and a revelation. Above all, I hope that we will someday understand that apophatic paradox is the blessed, creative, and freeing nature of reality, not a "problem."...
I believe that someday the celebration of the spiritual/material paradox will break down what now seems to be a "Berlin Wall" between secularism and religion in a way that transcends the boundaries of the world's monastic communities and science labs and explodes into the realm of general knowledge, just as the once far-fetched idea of a round earth revolving around the sun exploded from the theory of one or two scientists, eventually to become general knowledge.
Meanwhile, speaking as a father, I know that my concern for my children was not what they believed about me, but how they behaved and how they treated their mother, their siblings, their home, and their schools. My concern was not whether my children believed the right things about school but whether they did their homework. My concern was not whether they believed the correct things about families, but whether they were polite to their mother.
-Frank Schaeffer, Patience With God, pgs. 180-181
(For more information on apophatic theology, click here. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it - or at least it does to me.)
Those that still see the world in black and white, "us vs. them" terms will no doubt regard the above statement as nonsense at best, and dangerous heresy to be stamped out at worst. For those who have progressed beyond a Stage Three faith, the above will likely elicit a fervent prayer of agreement that humanity can one day outgrow its pettiness (and survive long enough to see that day).
That's not to say that all Stage Five individuals would agree about what that future will look like or how we can get there, but with the understanding that there is no "them" comes the realization that even major differences of opinion need not be settled violently. I'm enough of a realist (or cynic, if you prefer) to doubt whether human nature is improvable, but I cling to hope - and to my celebration of paradox - all the same.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Shinedown, Second Chance
An autobiographical piece about the songwriter's decision to leave his hometown to pursue his dreams, against the wishes of his parents. It's a story anyone who's walked away from a fundamentalistic background will relate to, at least to some extent. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to do so without damaging any family relationships, but it's still felt at times like leaving home in other ways...
Monday, January 25, 2010
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that he not only gives us his Word, but also lends us his ear. So it is his work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think that they must always contribute something, when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service that they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They will not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be listening no longer to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattling in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to be spent keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and his own follies.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Thursday, January 14, 2010
1. Ted Olson's conservative case for same-sex marriage. Most likely everyone who reads this blog has already seen it elsewhere, but it's an encouraging enough sign to be worth repeating again.
2. On a different note, I was recently steered toward this analysis of Europe's changing demographics. Nobody really knows what the world will look like in 50 years (or even 20), but it's encouraging to note that the alarmists predicting a Muslim-dominated Europe are, in fact, alarmists. There's still room for concern, as witnessed by the riots in France a couple of years ago, but such matters are better addressed from a clear-headed perspective.
3. The tragedy in Haiti is at the forefront of the news this week, as well it should be. Donald Miller has written a thoughtful (and grace-filled) response to Pat Robertson's atrocious comments.
It's worth noting, though, that Robertson's view of the earthquake in Haiti as divine judgment is a logical extension of the belief expressed by many fundamentalists that God will destroy America if gays are given equal rights. His words don't represent an inevitable leap by any means, but the progression is logical nonetheless. And while James Dobson and most of his allies are intelligent enough to distance themselves from Pat on this one, they're really not that far apart in their conception of a God of endless anger and violence.
4. In light of the above items (and the Uganda situation and the many other negative things going on around the world), Karen Armstrong's call for the revival of the Golden Rule by people of every (and no) faith is as timely as ever. No crusade on behalf of theological or ideological purity has ever made the world a better place, but a little more compassion (genuine compassion, not another "I must save you from hell" bludgeoning) might just make a difference...
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
1. Timothy Kincaid's call for a more nuanced approach to addressing religious leaders. The point is not to whitewash the prejudice that still pervades much of Christendom when it comes to GLBT individuals, it's to keep in mind that most people don't recognize their own prejudices, and shouting "bigot" at them only pushes them further away and sabotages any opportunities we might have had to educate them.
2. Classically Liberal's analysis of the alleged top ten anti-Christian incidents of 2009. There are Christians in many parts of the world who genuinely suffer for their faith, but the United States isn't one of those parts, as evidenced by the fact that not one of these ten items holds up to any kind of scrutiny. Once again, the persecution complex that many conservative evangelicals cling to is doing more harm to the church in this country than any external force.
3. Andrew Sullivan's note of the growth in non-denominational churches with a political agenda. I add this one with a grain of salt, since some of the churches his reader mentions could well be part of the emergent church movement rather than the religious right - but it's also possible that things are different in the Bible Belt than they are in the northern and western parts of the US.