Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

John Kerry photo opI’ve got to give two big thumbs up for Hillary on this one, and that’s a hard thing to do for this lifelong Republican voting for Obama.

After a weekend spent making direct appeals to gun owners and church goers, Hillary Clinton said Sunday a query about the last time she fired a gun or attended church services “is not a relevant question in this debate” over Barack Obama’s recent comments on small town Americans. (CNNpolitics.com)

I could care less about how often our political leaders go to church or where they go, as long as it’s not the FLDS compound in Texas. All these made-for-TV photo ops at the gun range are just as ridiculous. What matters is what you say you believe and do your actions bear that out. It’s been a long hard fought campaign, and as much as I hate to confess it, my admiration and respect for Hillary has gone up significantly, although I am still pulling for Obama. 

My fear of another Bush-like Republican in the White House has gone up as well. If you remember, W. did not run as a hard right wing conservative. He ran as “a uniter not a divider” on the promise of “a new day in Washington,” where Democrats and Republicans could work together. He had such a track record in Texas. All of that sounds very McCain-ish to me, and aside from the “Bush tax cuts” and the Cheney/Rumsfeld warmongering, he’s been a very moderate Republican president. I’ve had more than enough of the hawks in the hen house. The days of saber-rattling must come to an end. It’s the 21st century by the way. At least Hillary has had the courage to realize it, at least for today.

I’m in love with words and dusty books,
the taste of deep red wine and salty ocean air,
drunk on a lonely tune and a sunset sky.

You might say that I am a romantic, in the classical sense. I go weak in the knees for ideas. I love nuance, symbolism, and possibilities. This makes me especially vulnerable to the seductive language of scripture.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “in love with the idea of being in love.” Dorothy Boyd’s description of her feelings for Jerry McGuire describe my affair with Christianity well, “I love him! I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is.” One of my favorite bloggers Real Live Preacher expressed this idea succinctly in a recent post:

Christianity has already shrunk in my lifetime from being the shining center of all truth and purpose to something less than that. Even looking at things from the inside, even willing to give the benefit of every doubt, Christianity seems like a bumbling, prosaic movement which is, as often as not, violent, anti-intellectual, and xenophobic.

But I love Christianity so much. Or at least I love what it could be. I want to hug it. I want to throw my arms around the beautiful language of salvation and redemption. I want to curl up in the warmth of my faith community, the people I love so deeply in this world. Truly they are like family to me. I feel I could get drunk on our ancient symbols, myths and stories, the ones that speak in luscious tones vibrating through a million voices across the centuries.

With time and disappointment love can change and devotion can wane, but for all that I have learned and all that I question about my faith I just cannot bring myself to walk away completely. In The Painted Veil Mother Superior said:

“I fell in love when I was 17… with God. A foolish girl with romantic notions about the life of a religious, but my love was passionate. Over the years my feelings have changed. He’s disappointed me. Ignored me. We’ve settled into a life of peaceful indifference. The old husband and wife who sit side by side on the sofa, but rarely speak. He knows I’ll never leave Him. This is my duty. But when love and duty are one, then grace is within you.”

I don’t stay from a sense of obligation or from fear of divine retribution. I think I stay because it’s familiar. These words I’ve heard so many times bring comfort when few others have. For all that I know there is more that I don’t know. I no longer look at the Bible as a rubik’s cube waiting to be solved. It has become more like a painting to me. One that requires long gazes from an open mind to appreciate. Every time I return I see something new in something old. Faith is not having all the right answers to spiritual questions. Faith is loving the idea of what could be, and the test of faith is in making small choices that bring those possibilities to life.

Note to self: Watch encore presentation of “God’s Warriors” on CNN Saturday night

I forgot this was coming on this week and only caught the third part tonight, which focused on the struggle between fundamentalists and moderates within Christianity. Wow! Very well done. This is the kind of thing you need to watch with a small group of people and have a great discussion when it’s over.

A couple of quick observations:

  1. Ron Luce of Teen Mania is a lunatic.
  2. I think Greg Boyd‘s been inside my head or at least reading my blog. Good stuff, Greg.
  3. Richard Cizik is a class act all the way on why it is “Christian” to protect the environment.

Mostly, as of late, I am embarassed of some of the things I have believed and said in the past (even from the pulpit no less), but mostly I am glad for having my eyes as well as my mind opened to see things differently. Whether or not you agree with this documentary or someone’s opinion, for that matter, listen and be respectful. I think it’s what Jesus would do.

Karen Armstrong on Fundamentalism (video)

This is a segment of Robert Wright’s interview of Karen Armstrong where she addresses how we might bridge the gap between fundamentalists and secularists. The entire interview is almost 80 minutes long but is broken into segments by topic for smaller consumption, including science and religion, mystical experiences, religion in a global age, myth, self-transcendence, and what is God. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Armstrong is the author of The Spiral Staircase, The History of God, The Great Transformation, and a number of other books.

A Hobbit's TaleTrying to describe the personal journey that I’ve been on for the last four years is like trying to nail jello to the wall.  I’ve gone through a thorough detox from vocational and institutional Christianity, plunged headlong into the “dark night of the soul,” and am slowly emerging with my head above unchartered waters. Bilbo’s story could well be my own, “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale,” yet the place to which I’ve returned is different and familiar all the same.

For those of you that don’t know I spent roughly 10 years in pastoral ministry, or I could say that I spent 10 years in pastoral ministry roughly. I broke from full-time ministry to become self-employed in healthcare marketing, a job I still have five years later. For 18 months I tried to be bi-vocational while building this new business, but aside from preaching on Sundays, my job didn’t lend itself to be compatible with pastoral ministry.

My departure from full-time ministry was against the grain of the church-growth mentality. I was capable and expected to move on to bigger churches to continue my “ministry.” Not only did I demote myself to a smaller pastorate, but I also went “secular.” There was a lapse of 9 months before I began the bi-vocational pastorate, leaving many to circulate rumors that my last church drove me from the ministry. Beginning with leaving full-time ministry I began to contemplate ways to reinvent the wheel. I had a deep gnawing awareness that something was wrong with the way we did church. I slowly began to peel back the layers of tradition trying to find something of an authentic spirituality worth practicing.

My earliest attempts at deconstruction focused too much on models and methods. I began to see small-group/cell-driven churches as a panacea. I even started a prototype group of potential leaders with the intention of duplicating into a small network of cells that would eventually begin corporate gatherings. One of the families went back into a traditional ministry role, leaving myself and a good friend of mine to discover that the root of our problems went much deeper than having the wrong model.

The reality we came to face was that we who had spent years in the ministry were completed isolated from normal people on the outside of the four walls of the church. You cannot reach people if you’re not with people. As we began to rethink our approach to reaching people, we became acutely aware of our own hidden agendas to “win friends and influence people.” There’s a powerful quote from the movie Big Kahuna with Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito that describes this well:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This realization has forever changed the way I interact with people and what I think of evangelism. I want to know people and value them for who they are and what they can teach me through their stories regardless of whether they agree with me or not.

It was about this time that I began trying to focus on being incarnational and became sympathetic to Celtic Christianity, in particular Celtic Daily Prayer of the Northumbria Community. I appreciate their focus on incarnation, prayer, contemplation, and service. It was a different, gentler form of Christianity that touched me deeply and sort of nourished me back to wholeness as a person, leaving one last link in my life to Christianity.

Aside from serving twice as an interim pastor for a few months following my bi-vocational pastorate, my wife and I quit going to church altogether. We felt no guilt whatsoever. We actually felt relieved and much happier. We didn’t disavow church for all time, but we were too well acquainted with the churches, parishoners, and pulpit personalities in our area to want to attend any of them. It was not long before a year had passed without darkening the door of a sanctuary.

In the process of deconstructing tradition and trying to be an honest broker of my motivations and convictions I became obsessed with trying to find answers to questions. Every answer yielded only more questions but better questions. It was not long before every truth I tried to stand on felt like mush beneath my feet. I found the most compelling answers not in theology but in the realm of science and reasoning. In particular my study of astrophysics and eventually quantum mechanics opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world and my place in it. The Matrix is a definitive movie of our time for expressing the dynamic shift in worldviews taking place.

When your eyes are opened to see the world in a new way, there is a mixture of emotions ranging from anger for being hoodwinked to wide-eyed wonder in a new way of engaging life. Perhaps mainly for comfort I continued to come back to Celtic Daily Prayer and continually tried to rethink my way through all that I had been taught about God, the world, and who I am. I sort of came to a place where I was prepared to leave behind everything I had professed to believe in and go my own way. I realized that if I was willing to forsake it all, before I did I might as well try to start with a blank slate trying to reconstruct some semblance of a real world, liveable faith that worked for me. Demythologizing became a pathway out of the dark night of the soul for me. I began to find far more power and truth in looking through the lens of metaphor and symbolism than I ever did through literalism.

I suppose I’ve become theologically liberal. Although I never thought that was possible, I’m completely comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time. In no way do I consider to have to come to the end of my journey. I’m not dead yet. I find myself in a familiar place again. We’ve been visiting a few churches and found a church and a pastor with whom I can identify. I don’t have to agree with everything to find value in something. So I find myself retracing old steps but going in a new direction with a new way of seeing the road ahead. So I say with humility that I’ve been “there,” and I’ve come “back again.” There’s nothing to say I won’t end up “there” again before the journey’s over, but I’m sure it would not be the same as last I found it. I’ve discovered that I haven’t been wandering aimlessly in circles after all. I’m winding up A Spiral Staircase and though each turn around feels familiar I hope I’m gaining ground.

I found Larry Vaughan’s blog on RLP this afternoon. This is a great post you have to read:

I was in a pickle. Hell sounded miserable, so I didn’t want to go there. My family and I had gone occasionally to a Methodist church, and THAT was miserable too. I didn’t want to go there either. In fact, on the misery scale in my 10-year-old head, church and hell were a dead heat. Church won because the misery lasted only a half a day, whereas hell was supposedly a lot longer. On the other hand, hell was a long way off and church was coming up in a few days. (read the rest here)

From The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong:

I remembered a Jesuit telling us once during a retreat that faith was not really an intellectual assent but an act of will. Christians could accept their essentially incredible tradition only by making a deliberate choice to believe. You could not prove or disprove these doctrines, but you could consciously decide to take them on trust. They might even turn out to be true. But somewhere along the line, I had given up. I could no longer summon up the emotional or spiritual energy to make that choice. I felt tired out, drained, and slightly repelled by it all. I was finished with God; and God – if he existed at all – had long ago finished with me.

For years faith for me was an “intellectual assent” held loosely together by the “infallibility” of scripture and a willful ignorance of an alternative. Once I stopped suppressing my questions and exposed myself to the world of possibilities, faith would have to be a choice made against the grain of reason or abandoned altogether. I’m standing now somewhere near the crossroads trying to find a middle ground between self-induced delusion and apostasy. Karen Armstrong has become a new found friend on this road to find the middle way.

We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” William Wordsworth

I’ve been reading The Man Called Cash, the authorized biography of Johnny Cash by Steve Turner, and have been enjoying it immensely. I read that he was criticized for spending so much time with prisoners. He responded that he thought there were three different kinds of Christians: “there’s preaching Christians, church-playing Christians, and there’s practicing Christians. I’m trying very hard to be a practicing Christian.” May we all keep trying.