Thursday, January 31, 2008


Prayer is a curious thing. It's a central element of the Christian faith (and of most organized religions), yet its results are highly subjective. If you believe that it works, you will accept that God is responding to your prayers even if you never get what you're asking for; if you believe it's nothing more than wishful thinking, you're unlikely to be swayed by any evidence that suggests otherwise.

Perhaps part of the problem is the assumption that most people (believers and non-believers) have about the nature of prayer. A visitor to your average evangelical church on any given Sunday is likely to come away with the impression that prayer consists of buttering God up so that he'll give us what we want.

Frank Schaeffer, I think, nails it on the head. Perhaps he's being a bit cynical, but I have to admit that I've had very similar thoughts when it comes to a lot of the prayers I've sat through over the years, especially in charismatic settings.

All of the basic precepts were right there in my parents' prayers. Now God knew what he was supposed to be doing - predestining each individual to be saved or lost and doing this from before creation - so we could relax. Prayer was a way to remind God not to let his attention wander or forget that we, and we only, really understood what he was supposed to be doing. So we prayed at him, too. The logic of those prayers, if one was reading between the lines, was something like this:

"Dear Heavenly Father, in Your Word You say that when two or three are gathered together, You will be in the midst of them. Well, we're gathered here, so do what we're telling You to do because we have You over a barrel and can quote Your own book back at you! And in case You're thinking of weaseling out of this deal, we claim Your promises, and because You can't break any of those since You wrote it all in the Bible, You'll do what we say, and You'll do it NOW! Amen!" ...

Theologically speaking, we believed in an absolutely powerful omnipotent and sovereign Lord. But in practice, our God had to be begged and encouraged to carry out the simplest tasks, for instance to keep moving the hearts of the local Swiss authorities to renew our residency permits.

How exactly was this supposed to work? God was in charge, but he wouldn't do anything for us unless we believed he would do it. But if he didn't do anything, what reason was there to believe?

We lacked the faith to pray effectively and make God do stuff. So we prayed for the faith to make God give us faith to make him do stuff. But getting enough faith was the biggest problem, so we prayed for the faith we needed to pray for faith. But how much faith did it take to pray to have enough faith to pray for faith? And if God knew you wanted faith, why didn't he just give it to you? It was like spending all your time calling directory information for phone numbers that you aren't allowed to call unless you can guess the number right without asking.

-Crazy For God, pages 150-152

One encouraging trend in the church today is a growing emphasis on the discipline of listening (including meditation) as part of the prayer process. While there's sufficient precedent in the Bible to suggest that there is value in continuing to talk to God, our all-too human tendency is to dominate the conversation. Does God need to be reminded of his promises? Perhaps we need periodic reminders, but how much of our prayer time should we spend on self-reassurances?

Not that I'm very good at being still enough to listen to God, but it's something I'm trying to improve at. Even if prayer is primarily for our benefit, talking to God very easily becomes talking at God, and then things just get silly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Here's the Story

Seeing how my blog just passed the 200 post mark, I figure it's time to answer the question I get asked most often when I meet one of my dozen readers in person: How did I end up with such a weird url?

In short, when it came time to choose the word(s) or combination of characters that would precede "," I discovered that "paradoxy" was already taken. Undeterred, I started trying some other words and phrases that I felt matched the spirit of what I was trying to create, only to find each of them already in use. (And no, I don't remember what those were anymore.)

Finally, when I was about ready to scream, I typed my scream into the box in a fit of frustration. Naturally, that's the address that Blogger finally accepted.

And thus, another online identity was born.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


I've been putting off organizing my thoughts on the GCN conference for a while now, but it's time to bite the bullet and get down to it. Part of what follows I already posted on GCN, but I wanted to expand a bit on some of the thoughts that I shared there.

I'll admit I came to the conference with relatively low expectations. I expected to have a good time (and I did), but spiritually I didn't expect to receive any great epiphanies. The daily grind has a way of numbing the soul, and it doesn't help that my job keeps me firmly ensconced in the evangelical subculture that I no longer identify with. I wasn't close to losing my faith in God, but I was cultivating a cynicism toward all things Christian that left my spiritual life somewhat lacking.

And there weren't any moments when the clouds parted, or anything like that. But there were some very powerful moments during worship, and there was no way to remain unmoved hearing story after story of all the ways God is at work in so many people's lives. I wish there was a way that more people could have heard the sharing time on Saturday night. God is active and moving at GCN in ways that can't possibly be explained away as the devil's trickery or some sort of "spiritual residue," as conservative theologians like to dismiss anything pertaining to gay Christians.

I see in GCN what the church could become. At this one small conference we had people representing an improbably wide array of denominations, ethnicities, ages, economic backgrounds and theological perspectives, all united around their faith in Jesus Christ. Not everyone who attended was gay, and not everyone who attended believes that same-sex relationships are blessed by God. But the community that was experienced there was so compelling that nobody left unchanged - even the hotel staff was drawn to what they saw during our stay, which (sadly) is far from a given where Christian conferences are concerned.

It may be the idealist within me speaking, but I believe that what is happening at GCN represents a possible future for the church as a whole. Such unity may seem impossible now short of one side eradicating the other, but if all things truly are possible with God, then perhaps one day we will learn how to regard those who disagree with us as brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Over my trip to DC I began reading Frank Schaeffer's Crazy For God. I can see why many evangelicals are angry at Schaeffer, not only for turning away from (and in some cases against) the religious right, but for his unflinching portrayal of his parents, warts and all.

While Schaeffer spends as much time dwelling on the good aspects of his childhood as he does on the bad, he does not sugarcoat anything. A reader can come away from the book still respecting the Schaeffer family and the work that they did, but one will never again place any of them (including Frank) on a pedestal. Given that the Bible itself sets the precedent for highlighting the flaws of even its greatest heroes, that seems to me to be a good thing.

One point that stands out in the book is how the individuals who had the greatest positive impact in Schaeffer's life were the ones who were the least legalistic. In my own experience and observation I can confirm that those who demonstrate respect and unconditional acceptance for everyone they encounter are the ones who nurture the faiths of others around them, while those who are the most fixated on rules and outward behavior and rights and wrongs are almost inevitably the greatest destroyers (and, in many cases, the greatest hypocrites).

That observation raises a question in my mind - one which I hesitate to raise since it's so easily misunderstood as an endorsement of licentiousness, but one which I cannot leave unasked: at what point does a dedication to sin avoidance become a lifestyle of life avoidance? Can such a self-centered focus lead to any other result?

Do we, in our demand for absolute certainty and our desire for the security of a blanket list of dos and don'ts, become slaves to the very sin we claim to be liberating ourselves from? Do we clip our own wings for fear of the dangers in the sky, only to forget that we were created to fly?

Many Christians who don't believe themselves to be legalistic nonetheless try to reduce holiness to a set of rules. Sin is indeed a serious subject, but by placing our focus on it we increase its power. "Fear not" is one of the most common commands in the New Testament, yet fear of sin and damnation characterizes the Christian life for far too many.

If perfect love does indeed cast out fear, how can legalism under any guise represent true Christianity?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Away For a Bit

Tomorrow morning I'm off to DC for the 2008 GCN Conference. For those of you who will also be there, see you soon. For everyone else, here are some items of interest to peruse while the rest of us are away:

-Eric from Two World Collision elaborates on Side X, the term he coined to describe the ex-gay perspective, and the problems he sees with that viewpoint.

-A brief history lesson from Box Turtle Bulletin.

-A very cool board game that will be hitting the U.S. sometime this spring: Agricola.