Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Life Soundtrack 22

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


Biblical interpretation is a controversial and often confusing field; there are as many methods for extracting meaning from the Bible as there are people who have ever tried to do so. Disagreement over interpretation has fueled countless schisms (and more than a few wars) over the centuries and arguably caused at least as much harm as good.

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?
(Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity)
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.

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

Food For Thought

Challenging your assumptions can be healthy...

1. Do 'Family Values' weaken families? Most evangelicals would find the very question appalling, but that's all the more reason to seriously examine whether the church might have missed the boat in its efforts to enforce sexual (and doctrinal) purity.

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)