The Church and Me

So, I happened to get into several conversations with church people yesterday. Now, by church people, I don’t mean people who belong to a church or work for a church or love a church. I don’t even mean people who have accepted and are trying to live within the boundaries set by a church. When I say church people, I mean people whose identity is tied up in a church or some brand or denomination in the church or a particular theology or even just a bunch of cultural assumptions which are supported by part of the church.

Church people are people who will object to the way something is said rather than deal with the substance of what has been said. Or someone who keeps making arguments meant to address things you never actually said and don’t necessarily think. If they do listen, it’s only so they can look for footholds they can use to render what you say invalid. Or someone who, once they realize they can’t defeat the ideas they disagree with, falls back on looking for excuses to discredit and dismiss the messenger – “you’re obviously emotional/you don’t even belong to a church/you’re in rebellion” etc. Charges of hypocrisy are almost always involved. None of these behaviors are unique to church people. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it?

I don’t usually talk much with church people. I mean, I have spent plenty of time talking with and listening to church people in the past. And I’m plenty happy to engage with them on matters where we’re in broad agreement. But usually, I keep my interactions with church people to a minimum because at some point we’re going to disagree and I either need to just bite my tongue which after a while just means giving up your right to have your own voice. Or I can attempt to have a conversation about it. Which is pointless once everything that can be said has been said and rejected on all sides.

Plus, I have a sharp tongue and a thick hide, so I am often much ruder and blunter than I ought to be. I can be a bit much for a lot of church people to take. And I get that.

But yesterday seemed to be my day for dealing with church people. I would say I did my best to be nice, but I did have to apologize to someone for attributing his callous disregard for vulnerable human beings to his male genitalia. I have to give him props for accepting my apology and moving on. So maybe I didn’t do my best, but I tried my best. Which is all anyone can really ask.

Towards evening, I inadvertently got caught up in my third conversation with church people of the day. (I sometimes forget that just because something is obviously true, doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial and accidentally said something that got several people all riled up.) I think I handled that one pretty well. I’d be practicing all day so I wasn’t all emotionally wound up. But for at least the third time that day, people assumed that I was angry at the church or highly emotional about it or had been hurt by the church.

None of those things is remotely true, but then I went to my blog and noticed that on the front page are posts titled “Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering”, “In the End Times, No One Listens to Their Pastor” and “The New Reformation”. And I realized that I may well be giving people the impression that I’m hostile to the church. Which is not the case at all. So perhaps some clarification is in order. Continue reading “The Church and Me”

New Age Stuff Drives Me Nuts

Since the 80s at least, brave Christians have been noticing that there is some syncronicity between the mystical practices and teachings of Christianity and New Age theories. Being a fairly adventurous sort of mystically inclined Christian, I understand the allure. But in the end, I would strongly warn people against delving in too deep.

Many Christians warn against New Age teaching primarily because getting involved with New Age teachings is so frequently associated with leaving Christianity altogether or morphing it into some sort of strange hybrid. I very intentionally made a commitment to remaining an orthodox Christian (the historical version of orthodox, not any of these new fangled post-Constantine versions these kids these days are into) before delving into any New Age materials. Which I’m glad I did because some of it is just right there on the split edge of truth. It’s very easy to see why people who start down that path so often follow it. But I just kept coming back to the fact that at its core is a very shaming message. 

At the core of New Age teaching are a lot of ideas which are really shaming to people who are struggling. No matter how gently they try to put it, the basic message is that there is something at the root of your suffering which must be addressed or corrected before you can reach enlightenment and end your suffering. I think even Christians like Richard Rohr get caught in this idea of the root of our suffering being about what we need to fix. 

I know it’s meant to be empowering and hopeful, but when you’re six feet under and ready to die from pain, being told that your ego is at the root of all your suffering is not helpful. I mean, go tell that to the little girl who just got sold into slavery. Or the woman who did it. I call bullshit. 

Then there’s the “name it and claim it” theology of The Secret. I also have a hard time with any practice which requires you to spend money on crystals and oils and classes. That chakra balancing Thai Yoga massage would probably do wonders for me, but not at $80 a pop.

New Age teachings very consistently fail to serve the needs of those who are poor, oppressed and suffering. Which means that they are not and cannot be the road to humanity’s freedom and enlightenment.

Among New Agers, what may need fixing is your ego or false self or energy balance or whatever. And none of it may be bad in and of itself. I’ve been thinking I have a blocked throat chakra for a while myself. But for a desperate person to be told “here are the answers” only to discover that the answer is “it’s all your fault for doing it wrong” is cruel. It’s no different than what Job’s friends did to him, except there’s a marketing arm involved. 

I think Christianity is the only faith which offers a real answer to people who are suffering. It basically tells the suffering person that  Continue reading “New Age Stuff Drives Me Nuts”

The Process is the Solution

I once knew a family that didn’t do Santa Claus with their kids at Christmas. The reason they didn’t do Santa Claus was because they felt it might lead their children to doubt the existence of God. You see, Santa is basically an old man living far away at the top of the world. He gives you what you want because he loves you. And nobody ever gets to see him. And many children think of God as an old man living far away in heaven who answers our prayers (gives you what you want) and you never get to see him either. So their concern was that when the kids discover that Santa isn’t real (sorry if that’s a shock to you), that would sow the seeds of doubt about whether they were being similarly bamboozled when it came to believing in God. No seriously, that’s what the mom told me. I’m not making it up at all.

I actually think that the experience of finding out that Santa isn’t real, when handled decently well, is a good thing for kids. It’s a safe way to teach them that sometimes you believe things that aren’t actually true. And it’s OK. Life doesn’t end. The presents don’t stop coming. Yeah, you lose a little bit of the magic. But it’s not the end of the world. The real fun of Christmas doesn’t come from in believing in magic; it comes from expanding what brings you joy beyond just receiving. Christmas is much bigger and richer than presents that show up by magic if you’ve been good. It’s just like Christianity that way.

Unfortunately, this whole “never allow doubt, never consider that you might be wrong, never question the reality you’ve be taught” mentality is exactly how a good number of people teach their kids to approach the faith. I know that the people who do this and think this way believe they are doing the right thing. But the hubris of it is astonishing.

In order for me to teach my child never to doubt, question or challenge what they have been taught about God, I have to be confident that what I have taught them about God is 100% accurate and complete. I have to be so certain that my faith experience and theology represents the pinnacle of the Christian faith that it would be foolish and dangerous us for them to ever seek anything better than what I’ve got. And if you believe that about your faith, um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, hmmmm . . . how to put this delicately? Maybe if I pet your unicorn while I figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk? I know they must exist somewhere in your world, because your world clearly doesn’t work the way my world does. Continue reading “The Process is the Solution”

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 Entrance Leads to the Whole”

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 “Becoming People of the Story”

Exegesis and Why Noah Isn’t a Jewish Hero

So . . . heard any good exegesis lately? What’s an exegesis, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t ask. Too bad. I’m going to tell you anyways.) Exegesis is simply the practice of explaining a section of text from the bible. So, a lot of sermons include exegesis because they start with the text and then offer an explanation as to their meaning.

A good exegesis is a thing to make the heart sing. My favorite are the ones that show you something in the text you never noticed or understood before. Typically these explanations draw on what the preacher knows about the history, the cultures involved, the language and nuances which aren’t clear in translation, other Christian’s interpretations, the text’s relationship with other texts. It should also be spiritually astute. And it should always be humble enough to offer a possible way to read the text, not the only possible way. That’s not asking much, now is it?

I’m not sure that the wider public really appreciates what it takes to teach (or explain or exegete) scripture well. But even a two bit preacher with no education and terrible theology has devoted more time to studying scripture than the average person has ever devoted to any idea in their life. Obviously, this is no barrier to preaching some really stupid, dull and idiotic stuff from the pulpit. But we’re all merely human. We’ll have to trust that God can get it all sorted out eventually.

One of the things I’m going to start doing is passing along clips of really good exegesis that I come across. Because I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ll like them as much as I do. Because we’re geeky like that. No, actually because they’re really good. And if you have to be geeky to see that, so be it.

Anyhow, I’ll just start with the insight of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the role, character of and errors of Noah in the bible (it’s not your typical exegesis, I suppose. But close enough):

the principal distinction between Noah on one hand and Moses and Abraham on the other is that Noah accepts God’s judgement. . .

Noah is not a hero in Jewish lore. Continue reading “Exegesis and Why Noah Isn’t a Jewish Hero”

The Embodied God

Fairly often, I run across something that makes my soul say, “yes, yes, yes!” (No, not like Sally in the deli from When Harry Met Sally. Get your head out of the gutter. It’s not very much like that at all. Not really. . . Much. . .) Anyhow, I’ve been meaning to do a better job passing along such things to y’all. Cuz who … Continue reading The Embodied God

What To Do About Bad Theology

A few years ago, I had the chance to spend some time with an African American couple who pastored a small church in an urban area. They were good, kind hearted people with a real passion for God. And they knew the bible better than anyone I’ve ever met. One night we sat down and opened the bible and spent about 3 hours doing the … Continue reading What To Do About Bad Theology

Raising Jesus and Original Sin

I have this theory about how it was that Jesus came to be born without sin and it is just that – a theory. But I thought I’d share it with y’all because it has real implications for those of us who are or will be parents. Traditionally, it has been taught that Jesus was born without sin because he was conceived without sex. Because somehow it seems, the act of sex by our parents mysteriously implants this dark stain of sin on us at conception. While there is a verse in Psalm 51 which can be read to confirm this view, I personally find the idea that my parents having sex to conceive me made me sinful unreasonable and unconvincing.

Sex is a good thing. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Sex allows the two to become one – to reach past ourselves into another. It brings joy and satisfaction into our lives. It is the means by which we bring forth life and become co-creators with God. It can be misused, to be sure, but how could something which is fundamentally a good also be the thing which stains us before we even have true being? Not to mention that the mechanics of how something my parents did when I wasn’t even there made me bad are problematic.

I don’t think that Jesus’ lack of sin had its roots in the way he was conceived. Rather, my theory is that his lack of sin came about due to something far less mystical and more practical – from his parents. Mary and Joseph had been told prior to Jesus’ birth that this child would be the messiah. Which means that before he was even born, his parents understood that Jesus was good, holy and anointed. Don’t you suppose that this knowledge influenced the way that they parented?

Orthodox Christianity teaches that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. But most Christians tend to give short shrift to the idea that Jesus was fully man. Rather, they seem to think of him as just playing at being human. He resided in a human body, sure, but otherwise, he was God. Continue reading “Raising Jesus and Original Sin”

Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions

Are there any limits on suffering? Does God sit around monitoring our thought? Does God know everything that’s going to happen before it happens? These are some big questions which I’m going to be tackling today. But first, if you haven’t already, you really do need to go read my last two posts so you won’t be totally confused:

Why Was The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden?

The Fall Wasn’t Our Fault

Don’t worry – they’re all short. This post will still be here when you get done.

‘Kay? All caught up? Alrighty, then. So, I’ve been talking about the story of the fall for the last couple of days. But for the moment, I want to rewind a bit and go back to Genesis 2. In that chapter, God brings the animals to Adam to be named. Words are powerful things – “In the beginning was the Word . . . Through him all things were made.” Naming has been seen in many cultures and in many times as an act with great mythological and symbolic power. And God gave the power to name and label the creatures of his own creation over to the man. This is the act of a God who is willing to allow for the unpredictable and in not threatened by what he doesn’t direct.

One of the grand arguments of Christianity is whether God knows exactly what is going to happen at all times or if events can be unexpected and unpredictable. I wrote yesterday and in another post on time that I think that there is a difference between God as he exists outside of time and God as he acts within the flow of material creation and time. Outside of time, all that is and will be and ever was exists together and God is complete, whole and unchanging. Within the material world where time exists, God is in dynamic relationship with his creation which does act and unfold in unexpected and unpredictable ways. In fact, I believe that God enjoys this aspect of creation. I think it gives creation an almost game-like quality and allows for true relationship. When God handed the naming of the animals over to Adam, God lost nothing. God does not have our dysfunctional need for control and predictability. He is sovereign all on his own to the point of being able to hand the naming of the animals off to humanity.

I bring all of that up because one of the questions raised about what I’ve been sharing regarding the story of the fall is whether God knew it was going to happen. It was made very clear to me that the answer is no. Not only was it not part of his plan, it was not something which had been anticipated. As I explained yesterday, the accuser had a role to play in God’s kingdom but it in no way required inviting children into an adult game. Continue reading “Does God Sit Around Monitoring Our Thoughts? And Other Pertinent Questions”