Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

The Controversial New Post
September 13, 2011

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This is the part where I write an apparently shocking statement, preferably about God or religion. And this is the part where I try to explain how it’s really not all that shocking unless you’re really narrow-minded.

At about this time, I begin to experience a bit of writer’s remorse about what I just wrote, or the image I posted at the top of the page, and start to back-peddle so as not to totally alienate any or all potential audiences. And then I wrestle with thoughts of how one must risk alienating one audience in order to appeal to another, because that’s just how writing goes.

And here, well, this is where I get honest. I really try to do that, but I have a habit of endlessly questioning my motives, and want to make sure I’m not just being “honest” just so you’ll perceive me as more “authentic” than someone else you could be reading. You may think a habit of examining motives is honorable, but for me it borders on compulsion. So maybe that sort of trumps the whole honorable thing. Not sure who determines that.

Anyway, I was going to complete a post I started months ago about the origins of the pledge of allegiance to the Bible, which I grew up reciting in my Christian school, along with the pledge of allegiance to both the American and Christian flags.

I was going to call out how the guy who wrote the Bible pledge  included it in his creation of the original manual for Vacation Bible Schools for the Southern Baptists, back  in the 1920s. I would point out how he dedicated his words specifically to the “…white children of the South,” and mentioned how proud Southern Baptists are of their pure “Anglo-Saxon blood.” And that he explained in his preface how white children’s souls were going downhill, but that the spiritual conditions are “far worse among the negro children.”

I would say how I was shocked but not surprised to see for my own eyes actual proof of how racism mingled with religion, proving yet again the pattern of hypocrisy in Christendom. And I could state how some little children may have been, through no choice of their own, indoctrinated into that hypocrisy. Left to carry on the “honorable” traditions of those forebears who protected the purity of the Chosen culture that pledged allegiance to God’s Holy Word.

While all that may be true, of course, it makes no difference.

It makes no difference if I can regularly display proof after proof of the problems with religion. It makes no difference if the religious can provide proof after proof of the problems with doubt and disbelief. It makes no difference if any of us can justify our angst toward the other.

It makes no difference because it does not make us different.

Religious scholar Dallas Willard — a Southern Baptist, by the way — once wrote that, “We talk about leading a different kind of life, but we also have ready explanations for not being really different.” I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can get it, and that rings true for me.

Through the last several years, I’ve been learning that, for me, “being really different” does not happen through me trying to change others. Like I’ve repeated before, in the words of St. Michael, it starts with the Man in the Mirror. While we can inspire others toward positive change, we cannot change others. We can only change ourselves.

I don’t think I always need to be changing. Often, we interpret the need for change as saying that we are not good enough as we are. I am, as a person, good just as I am, but I think I can be better in certain situations, in my interactions with others, for example. Or trying to be less selfish as a husband. Or not wringing my dog’s neck when he pees on the carpet. That does not mean I must perpetually see myself as “almost there.” It just means that growth is usually good.

At this point in time, growth, for me, is in learning to be more true to myself. Learning who I really am, deep inside. Learning what I really want out of life, not what I think I should want. And for me that means making my own pledge of allegiance. Not to just another philosophy or system, and not even to some goal. Rather, it means constantly being honest with myself and others. Because when I’m not honest, I’m not at peace. With that in mind, I think my pledge could be best summed up in the words of the Temper Trap song, “Fader,” which mentions in one line:

“…I pledge myself allegiance to a better night’s sleep at home.”

So in the midst of all the provocative writing or imagery, the “authenticity,” the personality, the branding, the voice…whatever… in between the lines, my aim in the words I offer to you here — at least in this post — is to simply help me sleep better. To be more at peace. And that’s my wish for you.

Not attention-getting controversy. Not point-proving. Not trying to change others. Not fashionable philosophy. But honesty, and peace.

* Original image credit/link here.

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Conclusions on My Interview with Harold Camping, the Man Behind May 21, Judgment Day
May 18, 2011

If you haven’t read my interview with Harold Camping on KillingTheBuddha.com, you may want to read that first.

I came away from interviewing Harold with two somewhat differing conclusions, neither of which would have fit well if included in the KtB article. The first was too nice and too characteristic of my wishy-washy agnosticism. The second was too preachy. But some have asked me what I really think about it all after speaking with him, so  I’ll give both conclusions here:

First, I couldn’t help but think of how many of us, like Camping, are so confident in our particular perspectives on truth. And how all “those people” are deceived or stupid or crazy. I also think of the many Christians who, when discussing end-times things, have said something like, “Those May 21 people are crazy!” Of course, the Left Behind series, which seems only different from Harold’s prediction in that it doesn’t give a date, is perfectly acceptable in their eyes.

The fact is, everyone’s views seem crazy to someone else. So where does one draw the line between truth, heresy, and insanity? Who gets to be included in the range of acceptable answers? And who determines that?

While I may not agree with Camping, I’d like to think that all of us, even Camping and his followers, harbor a tiny bit of truth that’s trying to get out. Camping and his followers, at least the ones I spoke with, are genuine, nice people (well, as long as you ignore their anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything-else theology). And they don’t seem crazy. They have their wits about them and can carry on articulate conversations (something you can’t say about some evangelists). Their particular view of things is certainly not mainstream. It’s quite eccentric, but then again, I also think many traditional readings of scripture are, shall we say, problematic (I’ll get more to that later). But the May 21 folks are real people with real lives and families and fears. Recent videos like the following actually do a good job at showing the human side of Camping. If nothing else, it shows a man who I hope I have as much stamina as when I’m almost 90 (he’s been doing shows 7 nights a week)…

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in all their May 21 efforts, in the billboards and caravans and tracts and radio shows, in all the very intentional actions of those who care enough to warn others—even if what they’re warning of is false. It makes me wonder if God, or whatever you call it, just wants us to see what could happen if, even briefly, we could treat each moment, each day, each interaction, like it’s our last.

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At the same time…and here’s conclusion #2…as I listened to Camping, I realized that he would make an interesting case study of the anti-establishment ethos. A great punk rocker, if you will. He chose long ago to ignore the rules of the Ivory Tower and read the Bible how he thought best. He and his followers really don’t care what people think, because they live according to what they believe is right, which is based solely on his particular reading of Scripture.

And his approach sheds light on the problems that develop when absolute individualism meets absolute truth.

Again, many of us are so confident that we’re right, but worse, we have an addiction to using the Bible as the ultimate support for our claims. Like Camping, many of us have made the Bible our “university” to teach us only what we choose to learn.

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s a natural byproduct of the old sola scriptura principle (that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for spiritual life) combined with Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” protest (that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, without the need of religious authorities). And so whether used for the causes of liberal, conservative, or even the latest spiritual-but-not-religious ideals, the Bible, and our particular reading of it, is held up as the idol to which all others must bow. And we secretly hope that whoever doesn’t bow will ultimately suffer some type of Judgment Day, if even just a little one.

Messages like Camping’s help us see this underlying problem within the foundation of religion, and it’s not just the issue of deciphering who has the correct read on the Bible, or who has the authority to determine that. (Perhaps we’ll know this Saturday, but if Camping is right, it will be too late anyway.)

The problem is that we’ve made the Bible too sacred. As my very wise wife says, it has become our Golden Calf. Because when something—a person, an idea, or a collection of old writings—is declared to be directly from God and granted immunity from questioning, there’s simply no room for balance. And as long as we allow such ideals to hold us hostage, forget May 21; our world has already ended.

Christianity’s Continual Fade Into Irrelevance?
May 13, 2011

The powers that be within the bubble that is Christendom continually amaze me. …At their ability to increasingly banish themselves and the religion further into irrelevancy.

It used to be that only the most blatantly arrogant talking heads sullied the religion’s image in the eyes of “the World.” Those like Pat Robertson or possibly James Dobson. Ultra-conservative Christians who happened to have significant influence in politics while having little or no positive effect on Joe the Sinner. Or even the more obscure-yet-somehow-heard examples like Fred Phelps and Terry Jones. All those were easy targets for the rest of the world to quickly dismiss as right-wing lunatics.

But it seems recently things are reaching a new low. Now we’ve got bastions of liberal/progressive Christianity coming clean about how they may not care quite so much about the rejected, as many thought, as much as they care about their own reputation. I don’t know all the details, but when people like Jim Wallis of Sojourners reject an ad promoting gay inclusion in churches, regardless of the details, it sends a disheartening (but not surprising) message: Those who the Empire has rejected, who, in liberal Christianity, once had a place to turn for hope and shelter from the onslaught of prejudice from “Christian” bigotry, now must find a new home.

Because that home they once had has been sold out from under them to the influence of the Empire itself. Or if they haven’t completely sold out, at least they’re being leased to pay someone’s image-enhancement bills. But that’s just my theory. …Perhaps ask someone like Sojourners contributor Becky Garrison or others on what they think of it. (On a related note, my favorite is when Dan Savage writes, “If progressive Christians can’t unite behind the concept of ‘welcome’ then, gee, what the fuck good are they?” )

So the Few with Influence, whether they’re on the right or left, seem to be continuing a trend that’s gone on for ages. Creating a world of their own design that caters more to the whims of power for power’s sake, for comfort and safety, and progressively less to the cries of a hurting public. They are painting themselves into a corner that, while perhaps increasingly comfortable, grows increasingly smaller and isolated. While the rest of the world moves on, they’re trying to maintain and polish their little bubble, with all its mirrors and finery.

We used to think there was something different, something refreshing, about the establishment of liberal/progressive Christianity. But we’re starting to realize that it’s all just the same as that stuffy old box of religion as we’ve come to know it.

Yes, people like Pat Robertson and Jim Wallis (I’m saddened that I now must lump them all together) have great influence in the world…correction, in the Empire. But even with enormous power, individuals and institutions can become irrelevant. I think even of Barack Obama. The most powerful man in the world. And how even he is powerless against the Empire of greed. How great plans for Change devolve into stale taglines under the blinding lights of power and popularity.

Ironically, all this reminds me of the ancient times when Christianity challenged the Empire instead of sleeping with it. When even cruel emperors like Nero, who strung up Christians and burned them for light for his evening walks in his garden, were powerless against the tide of revolutionaries who stood for a Better Way. But then, somehow, those revolutionaries gained more and more power, with the likes of Constantine and such. And then Christianity became the Empire it once stood against. Then Christians, sadly, became the ones who did the burning of those in opposition to their power. And today, while not many literal burnings at the stake occur, the Church has executed many good ideas and people who don’t outrightly prop up their platform.

But again, it’s strange to me how a person or an institution can seem so influential, while in reality they’re nothing more than figureheads of a bygone era. The era of institutions itself is fading because the world has come to realize that they just don’t work. They don’t work because you can’t trust them. You can’t trust them because they don’t feel. When someone feels, they can relate to vulnerability and loneliness and powerlessness. But something sad happens when priorities migrate from relating with the stories of others to building a platform for one’s own story. And life becomes nothing more than a haze of people trying to grow their own bubbles. And we become less relevant to each other for the sake of trying to become significant.

And that’s what I’ve seen happening within Christianity. As it tries to hold onto its own reputation, it is losing it.

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So here’s a quick open letter to the religion and the figureheads, on the left and right, who maintain the status quo within it:

Face it. People just don’t care about you anymore. You’re too high-maintenance. You’re a nag. And you expect everyone to want to ride in your car–that ’84 TransAm that you can finally afford–just because you’ve got the loudest stereo on the block. The trouble is, you’re still playing Stryper like it’s cutting-edge. You’re balding. And your beer gut is hanging over your spandex pants. Yes, the ones you’ve stuffed with a cucumber. You need to go home, to the holy House you still share with your Mom, and look at yourself in the mirror. You are living in your own fantasy world. You have been sliding into irrelevance since the moment you started thinking you were cool.

So here’s my advice: You need a good cry. Move out of your Holy Mother’s house. Get a ratty apartment in the bad part of town. Hang out in the Home Depot parking lot and hail a job with some day laborers. Then–and this may be more difficult than working with the migrants (it seems to be the cliff over which only the true revolutionaries dare to explore)–go to a gay support group. Listen to their stories. Let them hug you. Hug them. Listen to their cries. Don’t give them advice. Just listen. Just keep your damn mouth shut and listen.

Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure. As long as you, Christianity, try to hold on to your reputation with power, you will continue to fade. As one unpopular rabble-rouser from a tiny, backwater Jewish town once said, “As long as you try to save your soul, you will lose it.” …Or is it already lost?

What Am I Giving Up for Lent? Lent.
April 13, 2011

I love the idea of intentionally depriving one’s self of something. It can work wonders for gaining perspective on a variety of matters, spiritual and otherwise.

It has been interesting to hear what people are fasting for Lent this year. Many are depriving themselves of certain foods, or all foods. Some are trying to give up drinking. My favorite so far is this guy who is ingesting nothing but beer and water for the 40 days of the Lenten season. Others are refraining from Facebook. Perhaps some are using Lent as an excuse to give up work. And for those who haven’t already bailed, now we’re in the home-stretch of Lent, the last several days that are the ultimate test of self-discipline.

So what have I, an agnostic pentecostal, given up for Lent? Well, Lent itself. And perhaps the oddest part of it is that I haven’t really noticed missing Lent. Not one bit. I’ve read blogs and other notes of people describing their fasting experiences. How some are dying for a drink or a smoke or a huge bite of bloody meat. But I’m not craving Lent.

I know, maybe I’m weird or something. Maybe others have a lot of trouble giving up Lent. I hear it’s especially difficult for Catholics. Maybe some people get the existential shakes when they go even one day without Lent, or any church-related experience for that matter. Not me.

I used to be like that. But maybe I’ve developed some sort of tolerance to a lack of religion and all its associated “seasons” and events and duties and remembrances. I really thought I would at least start getting headaches or something. But to be honest, I’ve started to not have headaches anymore. In fact, after having given it up for some time, it doesn’t really appeal to me at all. Actually, it’s all starting to look like bullshit. …I know, weird, right?

But maybe this is God’s plan for what I would get out of this Lenten season: The realization that I don’t need a Lenten season to become painfully aware of how my human impulses often control me, instead of the other way around. Or that I don’t need a church calendar to remind me that all time is sacred. Or that I don’t need church services to stay connected to a community of friends, as long as we are real friends. Or best yet, maybe God is trying to tell me that I don’t even need a religious belief in “God” to experience God deeply. Praise God for that! ;p

Will “Love Wins” Change Anything?
March 8, 2011

Yeah, I’m jumping on the “Theological Firestormageddon 2011” bandwagon. Though it’s not like my opinion matters, I just had to give my thoughts on this whole controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins, which apparently no one who has commented on has actually read. All the hype is based on the couple minutes of his promotional video, including this post.

[If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, Love Wins, which I too have not yet read, appears to be  a pop-treatise on why the Christian doctrine of Hell doesn’t make sense. And why that doctrine has turned millions away from the Christian faith. Since the position Bell seems to be taking is nothing new — people are branding him a Universalist, a position that says all will ultimately go to Heaven —  the fact that has everyone’s panties in knots is that this is coming from a well-known (semi-)evangelical pastor.]

Judging from the blogs I’ve seen, no one’s mind has changed on the topic of hell just yet, nor will it. The position Bell is asserting, along with the fact that such a popular Christian is asserting it, is just drawing the battle lines. People are taking their positions under their shields, wrapping their fingers around their sword handles, and preparing to defend their kingdoms at all costs. Some preemptive trebuchet firings have already flung off. And no one is listening to the other side.

Whatever people have thought about hell, they are continuing to think. Bell is trying to change that. Or perhaps he’s just trying to make Christianity more digestible to the unchurched or the jaded. I for one was moved by his first major release, Velvet Elvis. Not “moved” as in my position changed. But emotionally moved in the sense that I no longer felt alone in questioning what Christianity has become.

So the question is if Love Wins will do nothing more than make another heretic. The theological establishment has a way with easily shoving people out of their circle once the Fundamentals have been questioned. It’s been happening for millennia. It has kept the Tradition intact and “pure.” But today, when the masses now have access to the same information that only scholars and bishops had centuries ago, the circle of elites is becoming less and less relevant. They are continuing to push more and more people out of their circle, but what they don’t realize is that their circle is becoming so small, and the rest of the world is becoming so much larger, they are reducing themselves into irrelevance.

The day is already here when The Correct are merely talking amongst themselves. They are talking loudly, for sure, but no one but themselves are listening. The Correct are grumbling to each other, trying to expel heresy at every turn, while the rest of the world moves on. As more and more pastors are branded as heretics, they escape The Box and join the rest of us.

And so while Love Wins is creating a firestorm between CorrectTheologyLand and LiberalTheologyLand, perhaps no one really cares except those who need to reassert themselves as “Right,” on both sides of the issue. (I admit I’ve been guilty of that.) For many of us, the book will probably either give us hope for a more open world, or it will be just another blip on the timeline of the countless religious wars and declarations of heresy.

So there’s a far deeper issue at hand here than the downfall of the doctrine of Hell. It’s the division separating individuals from each other just because of unwillingness to listen to the other.

But for me, I choose hope. Then again, maybe my mind is already made up too, so I’m just playing the game like everyone else, and this whole post is nothing more than a ploy to boost my SEO and build my platform by using all the right keywords.

But maybe there’s another way? Maybe Love really can win, and someday maybe even bridge divides that have existed for ages. Or maybe not. I guess it’s really up to you and me.