• The Entrance Leads to the Whole

    So, know anyone with some really bad theology? Like you hear them talk and all you can hear are the lies, errors and misrepresentations they are spouting and it makes you want to scream? OK, maybe you don’t actually care about theology that much. It’s probably better if you don’t when you get right down to it.

    But, we all know people who are intensely passionate about their opinions. And hey – if just putting your theology into the category of “opinion” offends you, well, passion’s not a bad thing. But that’s not really here nor there. My point was that some people have terrible theology. Like Westboro Baptist. And . . . well, we won’t get into the rest. Let’s just say there’s no end of churches believing really wacky things.

    Of course, it doesn’t all lead to crazy land. Some people have theology that you just think is wrong. Like Jehovah’s witnesses. I had a pair who stopped coming after I told them that living forever on Earth would never, ever be desirable to me. Because until I can reside with the God of the universe, I will not be content. There’s more to the world than our little planet and our people. They were appalled that I would reject the gift of eternal life. I was going to go into the role of the mosquito in the ecosystem to illustrate that their perfect Earth couldn’t exist, but they left before I had the chance. But again, not my point.

    What I really want to talk about is why we need to stop worrying so much about how wrong everyone else is. We’ve been doing that for a while now and I’m not sure what we think we’re going to gain by keeping it up. We disagree. About almost everything. Maybe we need to get over it and start building on a different foundation. Continue reading

  • The Injured Easter Bird

    Once upon a time, there was a farmer who decided not to go to church on Easter Morning. He’d been going his whole life, but a few years earlier he had decided that he was old enough to stop pretending that what went on in church was important enough to get up early for on his only day off.

    This year his wife had harrumphed when he announced that he wasn’t even going to keep up the bare minimum of appearances required to be a Chreaster (a person who attends church only on Christmas and Easter). The whole thing was ridiculous, he said in his calm, practical way. If there was a God, which there could be, despite the utter lack of evidence, why would he or she care so much what we did? Why didn’t God just show up in the sky every few years to confirm his existence and provide some clear, practical instructions for us to follow? Why all the drama? Why ask us to believe that some guy who probably didn’t bathe regularly was actually God and that his gruesome death provides for our salvation? Ridiculous.

    He suspected that his wife thought much the same, but held on to religion almost out of superstition. Sort of like knocking on wood when you say something that could come back to haunt you. You know it can’t really do anything to protect you, but it’s such a small gesture to make. Might as well not take the risk in case there is some truth to it after all.

    So his wife rolled her eyes at his little outburst and got up for Easter service all by herself. She didn’t put any particular effort into being quiet about it, though. She knew he was a light sleeper and had been awake from the moment threw back her covers with a little extra force while getting out of bed and went to the shower humming loudly. He said not a word through her entire performance, but she knew he was only pretending to be asleep when she left. And came back in to grab something she forgot before leaving again. Just to be sure he wasn’t actually still asleep when she left.

    After the third time his wife had left, the farmer waited a long moment before peeking out the window to watch her car pull out the driveway. He’d said his piece and the conversation was over. But he knew that sometimes his wife needed a little time to adjust to not getting her way. Better to feign sleep than get drawn into a pointless argument over it.

    Just as his wife’s car drove past the mailbox, a bird flew right into the window he was looking out of. The farmer was so startled, it took him a moment to realize what had happened. He looked down and saw a small downy woodpecker laying on its back on the ground below the window. He tried looking to see if the bird was breathing. He was too far away to tell, of course. But just as he realized that he’d have to go down and look if he wanted to know, he remembered the barn cats. He quickly put on a shirt and rummaged around the top shelf of the closet until he found an old shoe box. Continue reading

  • Late Fragment

    I just love this poem.

    BTW, I wrote about this poem here, if you’re interested. And sorry about the silence around here. Our internet company has this ridiculous, oppressive policy of expecting their bill to be paid on time every month. Which normally we manage. But it’s been a long, crazy couple of weeks. If you’ve been following along for a while, you are already aware of the fact that this sort of thing happens from time to time. Like the one time I got 5 flat tires in a month. On the same car.

    Anyhow. I am beloved on the earth. Even if life is ridiculous and dumb.

  • Becoming People of the Story

    Christian theology, while it’s often thought of as an argument over who’s right and who is wrong, can actually be understood as the stories we use to explain the reality of God, the reality of human existence and how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor and self. Using the bible and varying doses of church tradition and reality, we’ve written thousands of different stories, each purporting to be THE Christian story. Except the idea that any of us has found THE Christian story is preposterous.

    Jesus said there was one narrow path to him and we’d know we’d found it by its fruit. And I can say with confidence that not a damn one of the stories Christians have told produced fruit worthy of my God. None of them is good enough. Some are clearly better than others, but all of them are wrong.

    At best, the different theologies are like placeholders, explaining the best we’ve been able to figure out thus far. At worst, they are ideological prisons keeping people enslaved to a story utterly inferior to the real one. But none of the stories deserve our allegiance. Only Christ does.

    In Islam, Christians are called “People of the Book”. Jews also call themselves “People of the Book”. I think we need to become “People of the Story”. Continue reading

  • So Much For Soft Hearted and Squishy Headed

    There’s a popular stereotype which says that people who worry about the homeless, racism, poverty and other social ills have soft hearts and squishy heads. Those who do not share their concerns will often accuse them of abandoning logic for emotionalism. Because emotions are for silly women, queers and other people not to be taken seriously, of course.

    However, my friend Sonya (hi, Sonya!) recently passed on a study which shows that, scientifically speaking, this stereotype is dead wrong. Researchers using brain scans found that rather than being driven by emotions, people who are concerned with issues of social justice make greater use of the logic centers of their brains than people who do not:

    Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scanning device, the team studied what happened in the participants’ brains as they judged videos depicting behavior that was morally good or bad. For example, they saw a person put money in a beggar’s cup or kick the beggar’s cup away. The participants were asked to rate on a scale how much they would blame or praise the actor seen in the video. People in the study also completed questionnaires that assessed cognitive and emotional empathy, as well as their justice sensitivity.

    As expected, study participants who scored high on the justice sensitivity questionnaire assigned significantly more blame when they were evaluating scenes of harm, Decety said. They also registered more praise for scenes showing a person helping another individual.

    But the brain imaging also yielded surprises. During the behavior-evaluation exercise, people with high justice sensitivity showed more activity than average participants in parts of the brain associated with higher-order cognition. Brain areas commonly linked with emotional processing were not affected.

    The conclusion was clear, Decety said: “Individuals who are sensitive to justice and fairness do not seem to be emotionally driven. Rather, they are cognitively driven.”

    This goes a long way towards explaining some of the facebook conversations I’ve had lately. You know the kind; someone saying something idiotic responds to factual evidence that their claims are wrong by jumping to their next talking point or looking for some petty inconsistency in your argument rather than deal with reality. They aren’t being logical, but are driven by the emotional imperative to avoid being wrong. Ahem.

    You can read more about the study (conducted at the University of Chicago) here.

  • Not So Red of Tooth and Claw

    I’ve mentioned before that I’ve long wondered what it says about God that we live in a world of predator and prey. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that even in this world of predator and prey God’s more gentle, compassionate nature can be observed as well:

    A brave baboon attempted to make a run for it. Unfortunately, a lioness caught it. As the baboon died, the photographers noticed a baby baboon slowly disengaging itself from its underside.

    They held their breath as the innocent, frail baby stood before the lionesses.

    One lioness gently and curiously examined the baboon. He was frightened and hurt.

    She softly picked him up in her mouth and settled down over him, watching.

    The little one even tried to nuzzle the lion, not knowing what she was.

    You’ll need to go see the conclusion here. It gets even better.

  • Forgiving Is Hard, Not Impossible

    One of my many idiosyncratic beliefs is that Africa has a special role to play in God’s upside down kingdom. For so long, Africa has been last which according to Jesus’ words, means that the day is coming when they will be first. I suspect that we will be looking to them in order to understand God’s kingdom rather than assuming that it is our job as westerners to hand out the kingdom like a goody bag to the rest of the world.

    I bring this up because, as you might know, it is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days. It was a remarkable spasm of violence and hatred such as the world has never seen before. Truly unspeakable things happened during those 100 days. Rarely has humanity’s capacity for evil been put on such lurid display.

    One startling and fascinating thing about the Rwandan genocide is that in the early 80s, there were a series of Marian apparitions which took place in Rwanda. Three different youth were given horrific visions of the genocide which took place in 1994. The apparition of Mary in Rwanda is one of only three Marian apparitions which has been given approval by the Roman Catholic Church.

    In one of her messages, Mary said, “Today, many people do not know any more how to ask forgiveness.” Now, on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the people of Rwanda bring an astonishing testimony of forgiveness to the world.

    I hope that we will take their witness seriously and allow their example to inspire us to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. The witness of the Rwandan people shows us that whether we are dealing with conflicts between neighbors or between nations or groups, the seeking and giving of forgiveness are the only way forward for humanity.

    Below are images and quotes from Rwandan perpetrators and their victims. You can find more pictures and quotes, along with an explanation in this New York Times story “Portraits of Reconciliation”: Continue reading

  • Overcoming the Fall

    At the fall, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to what they looked like from the perspective of someone who didn’t like them very much. Prior to the fall, they were defined by God who thought they were as cute as toddlers in a bath tub. After the fall, they realized that this wasn’t the only possible way of being seen.

    God looked at them through the eyes of a loving, doting father. But his is not the only perspective in the universe. We also have an enemy whose entire reason for being is to tell God what is wrong with his creation; ie to make accusations. He’s the one who looks at mankind’s nakedness and says, “Look at how ignorant they are. Why don’t they stop lolling around and do something with themselves? Put some clothes on, go explore the mountains, become more sophisticated and refined? They’re capable of it. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

    The enemy views the world entirely differently than God does. God looks at it and says, “it’s good.” He looked at us and said, “they are very good.” The enemy looks at everything and says, “here’s what’s wrong with creation. Here’s how it ought to be better. Here’s what’s not good enough.”

    When the serpent told baby Adam and Eve that God didn’t want them to be as he was, he wasn’t lying. God knew what it was like to see things from the perspective of the enemy, the one who didn’t like him or approve of his ways. It was useful to him even, much like giving your work to someone with an extremely critical eye for evaluation can be useful.

    But God did not want us to have that experience. He wanted us to live and enjoy our lives like the animals do, without worrying about being judged. The enemy knew that we were different from the animals in an important way.  If you sneer at a lion for it’s poor table manners, it will take no notice. But the mere prospect of of using the wrong fork at a fancy dinner has been known to drive us humans into a panic. The enemy took advantage of that. He invited us to see what we looked like not just from the perspective of good, but the perspective of evil as well.

    Prior to the fall, all we knew was good. All we knew was what we looked like through the eyes of one who loves us. If we wanted to run around naked and throw poop at each other, that was no problem. Sure, throwing poop is unsanitary so we might get sick from doing it. But we humans are particularly good at learning. We’d figure out soon enough that the poop throwers always had the runs, sometimes died and had no friends.  In time we’d teach our kids that poop throwing wasn’t such a great idea. Continue reading

  • The Genuis and Challenge of Christianity

    The genius of Christianity is that it demands you give mental agreement to all sorts of things you don’t actually agree with. Love your enemies. Every man is your neighbor. You’ll be judged by how well you showed love to the least attractive, least moral, least appealing, most repulsive people you meet. Don’t judge. All those beatitudes about the meek and the suffering and the pure of heart.

    We don’t believe any of that stuff. We say we do, but we don’t really. Yet if we want to call ourselves Christians, we must affirm that we agree with these teachings of Jesus. Which creates mental dissonance. How we handle this gap between what we actually believe and what we profess to believe determines how successful we can become as Christians.

    The typical way to handle cognitive dissonance is to go into denial. You continue following your gut level support of cultural norms and personal preference and just call that love. If the people you love complain that you’re actually hurting them, you dismiss it as their problem, their flaw or their lack of understanding. Some people are so committed to their denial, that they will devote a lot of time and energy to creating and promoting high-minded ideals about human nature, God’s ways and church philosophy all in service of ignoring and justifying the suffering of others.

    These people will often become very involved in tertiary issues which do not have a great deal of bearing on Jesus’ teachings. Maybe they attend a lot of church or go on missions trips or memorize and quote scripture a lot. Maybe they sign lots of petitions and pass on scary stories about bad people. Maybe the adopt a strict moral code that guides where they shop, what sort of entertainment they consume and where to draw the boundaries between themselves and others.

    Some people in ministry do almost nothing but help others find ways to think of themselves as Christians despite disagreeing with everything Jesus ever said. Continue reading