Frontier
July 25, 2010

This is for Rick (and anyone else, of course). What started out as a paragraph became several, and maybe a bit too abstract. Sorry if I rambled too much. Just some thoughts.

Many think we are just selfish relativists who want to have our free will without any responsibility or consequence. We are seen and described as non-committal, apathetic-yet-verbose idealists whose primary desire is to buck the system to conform to and justify our own fleshly desires. We are perceived as having near-demonic repulsion to the holy absolutes handed down by wise, God-fearing prophets, teachers, and/or apostles. We may be seen as naïve. Or if we demonstrate that we are not naïve, we are declared as bitter malcontents whose hearts have been darkened by such sins as pride or rebellion.

These are some of the justifications given for declaring many of us heretics, among many other descriptors. And we know these all quite well. In spite of this, and not merely in quick reaction to it, I think the best way to respond is with words such as those spoken by Dean Thomas Ferret, one of the first Protestants who was burned at the stake during a Scottish inquisition: “I am confident my cause is just in the presence of God, and therefore I am not concerned about the consequences.”

I use that quote not because I piously think of myself or others in similar position as martyrs. I wouldn’t dare compare myself to someone who was questioned by an established regime of Christians who were so confident in their specific form of faith that they felt it okay to literally judge the faith of others. Okay, well, maybe I would. Because in the same way that it has been happening for centuries within Christianity, people have felt so determined to defend “the” faith, or at least their form of it, that they have named “their” faith “the” faith. And to this day the inquisitions live on, albeit softly, through various forms in all denominations of what the Catholic church has progressively re-named from “Inquisition” to “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the task of which since 1965 has been defined as “furthering right doctrine rather than ‘censuring’ heresy.” And I think such soft-pedaling is disingenuous.

Regardless, what I want people to know is that most of us really are, on a heart level, confident that our “cause is just in the presence of God.” And while some might say that one who is sincere can still be wrong, which just makes one sincerely wrong, I think the crux of the matter is that Christians have come to define a relationship with God with too tight of terms, including “right” and “wrong.” I know this may get into the whole relativism-versus-authority debate, but I’ll avoid that by just pausing to say that one way I have come to define my faith is with the same words of those who established the Christian Biblical canon: “This ‘seems’ right to us and the Spirit.” In other words, it’s all a guess. A hunch.

Whatever label some try to put on me, I am holding fast to this proposal: Faith is not faith if it doesn’t involve uncertainty. If it doesn’t involve some trepidation, mistrust, struggle, fear, blindness, and dare I say, doubt, it’s no faith for me. And if my version of God is a god whose deadly “justice” needs defense, that god must die, because he is apparently too weak to stand on his own. And if, in order to further the legacy of such a faith, I must reject any perspectives that question, deconstruct, or defy established doctrines, that’s a legacy not worth continuing.

So these views might make me an outsider of sorts. A wanderer. A lost “prodigal.” But in this sense, I’d rather wallow and share slop with my fellow pigs than return to a house that promises an inheritance. Because, in this case, the inheritance is conditional upon my acceptance of too many house rules based on imagined certainty, and such an inheritance, in my view, is fools gold. And many have made that house and that inheritance into more of a self-proclaimed kingdom. But it’s an insular kingdom, an incestuous monarchy.

For these reasons, I am content with my wandering. But I am intentional in wandering. It’s part searching and part enjoying the ride. Part sailing, part motoring, and part drifting. Part communicating and part staying silent. And a lot of listening. A lot of sniffing the air and licking my finger and testing the breeze. And occasionally putting one foot in front of the other, not on a staircase that brings me higher, but on a wilderness trail with lots of blind turns. And I’ve grown comfortable in the discomfort of that. Confident in the contradictions.

It’s like I’m suspended somewhere in-between, but not like walking a tightrope, trying to traverse from one side to the other and calling it a success. More like the neon suspended in a glass tube, happy when the twilight comes. The time when the world occasionally realizes that night and day are different for each time zone. Because that’s when I begin to see that I’m not the only welcome sign in our lonely town. With each flicker of light here and there, little signs popping on, I’m reminded of the beauty in the art of divine randomness. It’s the beauty of holy chaos. Reds and yellows and all sorts of colors blinking on, some in steady, predetermined  patterns, some of them stuttering for a while until they’re warmed, and some haltingly flashing, barely humming in their own discouraged dimness. But we all light up our own little portions of the solitary road, letting travelers know that they are welcome to stay a while, to exit the busy highway and rest.

Conquerers for Christ
February 28, 2010

“[The natives] are so naive and so free with their possessions… [I can get you] as much gold as [you] need and as many slaves as [you] ask. …Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way…”

— Christopher Columbus, circa 1492

(In a fundraising letter to Spanish royalty, as quoted in A People’s History of the United States.)

Constantine's Dream

I could go on with examples like this of conquests in the name of God. And this is the Christian tradition that founded the Americas, though many Americans may never have heard such words about Columbus, that “great hero.” From Constantine to Columbus, from Gideon to George W., and from Pizarro to Pat Robertson, the list is long. The line of such religious tirades dates back to ancient times and unfortunately that tradition has carried on through today, with determined Christians using the actions of Moses, Gideon, and David to justify their thinking, just as medieval Catholics, like the inquisitors and conquistadors, did. And another thing that both ancient and modern conquests have in common: deep ties to political and economic interests, but that’s another story.

Of course, even the most hardcore fundamentalist crusaders of today would probably not go so far as to dash gentile infants against the rocks and rip open pregnant women, as the Old Testament encourages, but the same principle is at work : Take the land for (our version of) God. And today’s Godly crusaders have focused more specifically on taking over on behalf of Jesus, a cause which, interestingly enough, most direct descendants of Moses, Gideon, and David (Jews) detest.

Haven’t Christians learned anything from the thousands of years of bad reputation that religious conquests have given the church? Why do Christians still take the Great Commission to a level where it was never intended? Why must Christians still adhere to the imperialist tradition of Constantine? Why do Christians still feel a need to vehemently defend their way of life, when so many others in the rest of the world wish simply to be left alone? And why does that defense so often manifest in the form of preemptive strike? Maybe today’s “Christianity” is in fact under attack on some level, but I contend that’s because Christianity has attacked the rest of the world and is merely getting a taste of its own medicine.

Yes, Christianity deserves credit for some of the most precious advances in humanity, including hospitals, the Red Cross, and the preservation of some history and science (as long as it was approved). And apologies have been made for such atrocities as the inquisitions and crusades. But why have today’s Christians just turned from physically violent crusades to philosophically violent crusades? Could Christians ever really take to heart the message that so often gets forgotten…the message that actually gives Christianity a good name that doesn’t need defending:

“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (James 1:27)

Some Christians might jump to use that last phrase to justify a defensive position, “…guard against corruption from the godless world.” But I contend that, especially considering the context, the corruption being mentioned there meant the typical way of doing things for that society, especially the way the Romans did things during the time when this letter was written: Imperialism. Greed. Fear of insurrection. Hunger for power. Arrogance.

(By the way, remember that group of people that the Old Testament talked about and suggested killing their children and ripping open their pregnant women? It was the exact same people group Jesus later threw in the face of the religious establishment and used as an example of true religion…the Good Samaritan. He knew the Jewish religion abhorred this people group because the Jewish holy book talked negatively of them, like they were a threat to God.)

The entire message of Jesus was anti-imperialist. That’s why he was killed. He wasn’t killed because he kept himself sinless or because he never cussed or never listened to secular music. He was crucified because he suggested that there was a different “empire,” a kingdom that didn’t need defending. A way of living that spoke for itself.

And I’m guessing a kingdom that speaks for itself probably does not need recruiters like this: