Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Emergent Mormons?

I saw an article over at Beliefnet by a member of the LDS church who was looking at Mormonism in the light of Emergent Christianity. This of course caught my attention because I would be classified by many as Emergent (I am at least on a similar trajectory) and because I live in the heart of Mormondom.

Beyond that, I have developed an affection over the past 6 years for Mormon believers and their faith.  In reading a few books on the Mormon faith and catching some video teachings, I came across one author/speaker in particular, Robert Millet, a BYU professor who shares my love for C.S. Lewis. For my 40th birthday, my wife phoned his office and asked if I could meet him after a conference he was speaking at. He did one better and we grabbed lunch together the following week. Through my conversations with Bob, I became convinced that God resided under no single banner. Many of my evangelical friends would disagree, but I have met few people whose desire to know God burns as strongly as Bob's.

I don't suppose too many Emergents know much about Mormonism. There are probably few Mormons who have read any Emergent authors. I like em' both, so this article brought to mind the old Reese's commercial where the chocolate crashes into the peanut butter.

In the article Ms. Riess asks, "What does Emergent offer to me as a committed Latter-day Saint?" Later in the article she comments "Part of the Emergent story is that we are more likely to encounter Jesus when we step outside our comfort zones and stop doing church primarily because that is what we're expected to do."

Ultimately, I think there lies the potential common ground. In all strands of religious thought, people are asking questions. Why do we do this? Why do we feel this way? How should I be relating to others? How can we do better?

Of course, in each religious group, there are voices trying to quell the questions, to get everyone back in line, back in the pew.

So in answer to her question, I think what we can offer each other is our perspectives, what we have discovered, and a safe place to ask those questions.

That was what Bob offered in each of my conversations with him. His perspectives, what he has discovered, and a safe place to ask questions.

It is a rare thing, and something I hope we all get better at offering one another.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hell Theory

I have stated my reasons for not buying in to Hell theory many times on this blog. However, as I was watching Neil Simon's classic spoof of whodunits "Murder by Death" I came across a scene which explains how I emotionally feel about it.

In this scene, the world's most famous detectives are brainstorming theories to explain a murder that has just taken place. Dick Charleston, played by David Niven, has just given a detailed theory when Sydney Wang, played by Peter Sellers, rebuts.

Sydney Wang: One moment please .... very interesting theory Mr. Charleston; but you overlook one very important point."

Dick Charleston: and that is?

Sydney Wang: Is stupid! Is most stupid theory I ever heard... Bwah-hah-hah!

The scene can be viewed at 3:35.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My View of Scripture

This is something that comes up very often amongst my friends and family. My more "fluid" view of the Bible often brings eye-rolling, sighs of pity, or downright anger.

Many people who hold to the name Christian believe in an inerrant/infallible view of Scripture. It is word for word just as God wants it. Beyond that, it often is believed to have supernatural qualities. In many circles it is referenced synonymously with Jesus. Regular readings will empower you and bless your finances. Reading the verses out loud can bring healings.

These Christians tend to approach their thought life in a very digital manner... everything is either/or. For example, when it comes to the bible, they see only two possible views : Either the bible is the infallible word of God, or it is completely useless. My view does not exist at either of those poles. Therefore, I have had some version of the following conversation about a half dozen times in the past year or two:

Christian: We must believe such and so on Topic X.

Me: Well, actually I think people can hold various views on that topic.

Christian: Not if they are a Christian, the bible says so.

Me: The bible says a lot of things, in fact on that topic the bible has a few different views.

Christian: It does not! The bible is very clear on this!

Me: Well, let me show...

Christian: Oh, so now you are just going to show me the scriptures you like? Just cherry-pick the easy ones?!

Me: No, but there are varied ways one can interpret these passages.

Christian: No there is not. The bible is clear, I just do what it says! Why are you trying to weaken my faith in the bible?! What caused you to lose your faith in the bible?

Me: Well, I don't actually think I need to have faith in the bible. That simply isn't the way I see scripture, I see...

Christian: If you don't believe in the bible, you don't believe in Jesus! Why do you bother quoting scripture if you don't believe the bible?

Me: I never said I didn't believe it, maybe we should talk a little bit about what we mean when we say we believe scripture.

Christian: Words, words, words, talk, talk, talk. Why are you trying to tear down my belief in God? I have faith! I don't need anymore of your arguing. I love Jesus, you don't! I am sorry for you, you have fallen away from the faith! I'll pray for you, but I don't want to talk to you anymore."

That is, of course, a Cliff Notes condensed version of those conversations. I do not hold the right view of the bible, so I am outside the faith. It often ends with a cut-off of relationship, or one that forevermore occurs at arm's length.

So what are my heretical views of scripture presently?

First, I believe the books and letters written in the bible are a collection of documents written by men. I do believe that they were written by men who were seeking after and/or had encountered the God of our Universe; but written by men nevertheless.

Does this make it useless for learning about God? Not at all. I once gave this example, using my classroom as a comparison:

As I finish up the school year, I could have my 75 or so students write an account of a year in one of my classes. Those accounts could never give an entirely clear or consistent view of my classroom. In fact, many of the accounts may seem to contradict one another. Whether a student was bored or challenged, male or female, calm or excitable, whether they had me for math, reading, or both would affect their view of me and my class. Some might think I was the greatest teacher ever, others may have felt generally unimpressed. So which account is true? Well, in some ways all and in some ways none. Reading multiple accounts will give you a better sense of what it would be like to be in my class, but as a reader, your view would always be peripheral.

Scripture is not spread over merely a year, but thousands. The authors, unlike my students, had radically different experiences in different time periods in varied cultures. Add to that, as a reader, I bring my own baggage to the table. I am white, married, western, protestant, middle-aged, liberal, educated, middle-class… the list goes on. All of these affect the way that I approach scripture. I cannot get around these things. The best I can do is recognize that I come at this with multiple filters in my head, that the scripture is speaking with many voices, and that if I am going to get a relatively clear view of the scripture, I also have to pay attention to the voices of other readers of scripture … who may not see life the way I do.

So we have Christians who can read the same scripture, believe it is as clear as the nose on one’s face, and yet draw different conclusions as to its intent. I would also point out that it is not always a matter of one interpretation being right and the other wrong. As with my students' accounts, two students can state apparently contradictory views – that are BOTH true from their perspective.

So reading multiple accounts of people's encounters with God can help me develop a view of God, while also being aware that the view I am developing falls short.

Second, holding such a view allows me to be honest about certain passages. Some are just indefensible. Christians will often point to verses in the Koran to demonstrate that Islam is violent; while in reality our scriptures can easily be used to portray a similar view of God. In fact, some scriptures are just plain goofy.

For example: Did you know that if you get in a fight with a man, and your wife comes in to defend you, and she hits your opponent in the balls - according the bible, she is to have her hand cut off. Think that is excessive? Who is cherry-picking now? :)

I do indeed cherry pick. I have NEVER met ONE Christian who doesn't. Christians just throw that argument at people who do not cherry-pick the same scriptures they do.

Third, I believe the Bible is the Christian authoritative text. This does not equate to Sola Scriptura, but it is authoritative for our religion in the same way the Constitution is the authoritative text for America or my HOA by-laws are for our neighborhood. However, like other authoritative texts, the bible must be interpreted and is subject to endless discussions amongst those who want to follow its text.

Fourth, I think in many ways, scripture should be viewed like art. Reading it should stir us, cause us to reflect, ask questions. When Christians come at it like a rule book that will give us the answers if we read it "right"; we mistake our interpretation for orthodoxy and close off other voices.... which is why, I believe, we have over 30,000 different versions of Christianity... most of which believe the other groups don't quite measure up.

In the end, though I believe scripture to be inspired by a living God, I do not believe he was channeling anybody. Paul did not wake up hours later with a sore hand and 16 chapters of Romans. For myself, it is just more apparent the writings are from our spiritual forefathers telling us about their encounters with God.

Also, let me clarify that this is not a new position for me. I questioned the whole notion of the innerancy of scripture very early in my faith (twenty-some years ago). Memorizing whole books of scripture through bible quizzing made it clear to me that Paul had his better and worse moments. That Paul may or may not have argued with James about faith vs works.... depending on the day. That Jesus words were recalled as best as possible, but as any cop who does line-ups can tell you, memories can play tricks on you... glad we got four accounts. The difference is that in the past, I had no confidence to announce my questions... and they probably would not have been well received.

There were many times throughout Christian history when I would have been tortured to death for holding such views. I, for one, am grateful for a separation of Church and State.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Author to Read to your Kids

I try to read to my kids every night, but as they get older it is getting harder for us to be consistent.  Still, I have read about a half dozen books to them this year.

Three of them were by author Margaret Davidson.  I have read a biography by her called "Helen Keller's Teacher" to my class each year for about 15 years.  It is a well told tale of the amazing life of Annie Sullivan.  This year I decided to read it a second time - to my own children.

My children loved the book, and my son Jacob asked a question that had not occurred to me all these years.

"Has this author written any other biographies?"

We checked online and discovered that she has written quite a few.  Many were out of print, but most are still available in our local library system.  So we grabbed Helen Keller and Louis Braille to start.

We found these to have the same traits that captured us in her first book.  Ms. Davidson is a wonderful story teller who attaches you emotionally to the people she writes about.  Aside from hearing a good tale, my children are getting great history lessons.

If you have children and you read to them, or would like to start to (it is never too late), I give Margaret Davidson's biographies my happy endorsement.  You will not be disappointed.

I have placed what books of hers I could find on my classroom Amazon wishlist.  If you like to make charitable contributions at times, perhaps you might consider donating a book to my classroom.  When you select an item from my wishlist, the books automatically get shipped to my classroom.  I have had a number of donations in the past year and, in an era of shrinking school budgets, each donation is greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sean Hannity and Ground Zero

I was driving home from the doctor today and turned the radio dial to Sean Hannity.  On and on he went about Park 51 (demonized by the Right as "The Ground Zero Mosque").  Within the span of 5 minutes, I heard a constant string of inaccuracies, exaggeration, and straight out falsehoods.  I hadn't heard this much bile since... since the last time I listened to Glenn Beck.

As always, I wondered what was going on inside of Sean's head.  Surely he knows how misleading his rhetoric is.... could he really believe what he is saying?

Yes and no.

I think it comes down to the end justifying the means.  I think he is so fixated on the defeat of "liberalism" that any tool that puts him closer to that end is a good thing.

It reminds me of an incident that I have mentioned on this blog before.  I was attending a church bible study and the group of 15-20 of had drifted off into a conversation about child rearing.  I was expressing my concern about navigating the process of educating my children about my faith without crossing the line into indoctrination.  Whatever faith, or lack thereof, that my children chose, I want it to be an honest choice.

A little taken aback by my perspective, one of the ladies in the room looked at me and said, "What is wrong with indoctrinating your children when you know you are right?"

I think truth and honesty quit being the goal for men like Sean Hannity a long time ago.  Winning is the goal, and whatever it takes to get there is fair game.  People and truth have become commodities to be traded; and it all can be justified because Sean knows he is right.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ooze Review: About You

Every few months I get an opportunity to review a book for the theooze.com with a bunch of other bloggers. I grabbed this selection based on the subtitle. The book is called by About You by Dick Staub. The subtitle reads: Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.

Given the recent declaration by Anne Rice, this caught my eye. There are a lot of Christians out there feeling uncomfortable with the institution of church and are wondering what a faith outside of the Christian subculture can look like. I assumed I was getting a book that would dive into those kinds of questions.

I should have researched a little more.

This book isn't about that. The title was a dead give away. This book is about you.

Which means it was not at all written for me. It states in the first paragraph:

"Would you like to make sense of your life? Do you want to achieve your potential greatness?"

I have never read a book by Anthony Robbins or Joel Osteen, but I bet they sound a lot like that.

Soon after the author writes:

"Perhaps your life has unfolded ideally and just as you planned. But for most of us, life deals us some serious blows and detours."

And that is who this book is for ... and why I am hesitant to critique it too much. It could be that a book like this is just the "shot in the arm" a person who has been beaten down needs. They need to hear about how they have a great design and destiny. For myself, the only thing I might add to my life is a 7 figure income (or six would be fine... heck, I'd even take a high 5).

My only direct critique is that the author, for some reason, feels the need to make disparaging remarks about science in one of the chapters.

"Science can make truly great progress in the study of the natural world, but is of little value in examining spiritual, non-material reality."

In a very cliche'd manner, the author sets up a science/spirituality opposition. I believe this antagonism only exists as we create it. I confess that the author's attitude soured me on the rest of the book.

As I said, I am not the best audience to review this kind of a book, however I would wager that for someone in need of the like, there are better options available.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Benevolent Dictatorship

I now have a new favorite episode of South Park. Season 10 Episode 7 "Tsst".

Like Jon Stewart on politics, sometimes only through comedy can truth be told well. This episode gets at the core problem with much of American parenting.

I have been teaching for 20 years, and I have seen it all. There are a few exceptions here and there, but most kids are a direct product of their parenting .... and many American parents don't parent.

When Kathryn was on the way, I became particularly interested in the practices of successful parents. I remember during parent teacher conferences, I would often ask particular parents what was the key to their success. The responses always followed a theme that was summed up by one mom:

"Our home is not a democracy... it is a benevolent dictatorship."

That was one of two pieces of advice that became the rudder by which my wife and I directed our parenting.

But back to the episode.....

In this episode, various super nannies try to get the incorrigible Cartman under control. All fail.... mostly because they keep trying to reason with Cartman or appeal to his better nature.... HA!

Finally, they bring in a world famous dog trainer... and Cartman becomes a new boy. However, it doesn't last because his mother simply cannot follow through.

I think every parent with a little one on the way should watch this episode.

I remember years ago we had some friends over. They had children who could be most generously described as "a handful". As it got late, it was time for my kids to get ready for bed. I called them into the family room to say goodnight to our guests, then to go upstairs, brush teeth, and head to bed. My kids gave hugs all around, said goodnight, then went upstairs.

I saw nothing abnormal about this, but our guests' eyes were as wide as saucers. Once my children had gone upstairs, the husband stammered out, "How??.... How did you do that???"

Some of the credit goes back to Mrs. Schweighoffer - Our home is a benevolent dictatorship. :)

A great scene from the episode.... "I am not being aggressive, I am being dominant."

As with all South Park, this scene is crass; watch at your discretion. For the full effect, I suggest the whole episode which is linked at the end of the clip.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chuck Colson Vacillates on Rule of Law

This is a very interesting video. Chuck Colson is one of those loud, legal, by-the-book constitutionalists. He references the Founding Fathers of America as if they were wearing his team's jersey. So it is fascinating to watch him switch tactics mid-stream when something is not going to his liking. In this video, he encourages Christians to make a loud cry in the public square so that the Supreme Court will not go against his view of gay marriage when this issue finally makes it to the high court.

Suddenly legal justice applied equally under the law is secondary to whatever rights and privileges the perceived majority wishes to grant or take away from a minority population. The reality is, he knows there is no more legal standing to prevent gays from marriage than there was to prevent inter-racial marriage; so he is going step up to the bully pulpit and see if we can't get this done the old fashioned way - INTIMIDATION!

Chuck, your bigotry is the remnant of a bygone era. The voice of your kind in the public square is weakening... and will soon fade away. Future generations will lump your rants in with the same folks who sought to withhold the vote from women or wanted blacks at the back of the bus.

No one will mourn the passing of your worldview.


Big Tent Christianity and The Sneetches

I was invited to write a blog entry as part of a synchroblog event leading up to the Big Tent Christianity conference being held in NC in September. Some of my favorite speakers and authors will be there, but it is nearly a continent away, so I won't be able to make it. The focus of the conference seems to be - how to get Christians together in some semblance of unity, despite coming to Christ from radically different worldviews. The questions for the blog are:

What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? What does it look like in your context? What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?

From my view, the church has always had one fundamental Achilles' heel. Its members cannot help but see themselves as "in" while others are "out". Typical solutions to this situation have been to be more stern, or more relevant, or more entertaining, or more... whatever... so that we can get a growing number of folks "in" with us. The goal is to get people in.

This foundational attitude creates the dichotomy which Dr. Seuss so brilliantly gave example to in his book "The Sneetches". There were Sneetches with stars on their bellies... and those who lacked "stars upon thars". Like the Pharisee and the tax collector praying before the temple, the star-bellied sneetches were grateful for their stars and thought less of those without.

So what is my hope for the church?

At the conclusion of the Sneetches story, the various Sneetches are running through a machine - either trying to get stars added to their bellies or stars removed. The star-bellied Sneetches are desperately trying to remain distinguished so that the lines drawn between the inner and outer groups can remain. In the end, they all run out of money to go through the machine and are hopelessly mixed... unable to distinguish the "in" and "out" groups any longer. In that moment, they discover that it was not the stars that were important... but that they were all Sneetches.

My hope for the church is that somehow our dividing lines would become hopelessly mixed up; that, like the Sneetches:

"until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
whether this one was that one... 
or that one was this one
or which one was what one... 
or what one was who."


Saturday, August 07, 2010

Stuff Fundies Like #2

Ya gotta laugh at Fundies in any religion; otherwise it is just too easy to loathe them. This is observation #2. My first listed observation involved John Piper.

This morning, Ojo Taylor, posted a great quote and picture by Carl Sagan on Facebook. Carl Sagan was a respected scientist whose awe of the cosmos was often expressed in poetic and philosophical language. Here is the text to the picture in the above right:

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Immense and wonderful words that should cause us to think and reflect deeply. Regardless of nationality, politics, philosophy, or religion ... these are words that should cause us to contemplate.

Not the Fundie though! Such words are lost on him. Below the post, a Fundie wrote:

"A very intelligent but also a very lost man."

The Fundie is not moved by Sagan's words. On the contrary, the Fundie feels a little threatened. The Fundie does not like this feeling, so the Fundie feels a need to give themselves a superior position. The Fundie condescendingly admits to Sagan's intelligence... but then asserts his ultimate superiority.

Sagan is lost, the Fundie is not.

Gotta laugh, or I'll loathe. :)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Prop 8 and Christian Persecution

It has been interesting to listen to Christians over the past 24 hours. Many (not all) are feeling persecuted, picked-on, and pushed aside. It seems rather funny to me that there is all of this drama over the loss of the ability to use majority rule to discriminate at will.

But I think I understand where it is coming from.

As I read over various blogs and Facebook pages, and I watch the more "fundamental" Christians make their case, it is easy to see where the source of frustration lies.


They are confused about how they got to this place.

The arguments they have developed against homosexuality make perfect and absolute sense in the boxes of their churches and sub-culture. As they sit listening to themselves in their echo chambers, their positions clearly ring true.

But then they take their arguments outside of the box.... and the public at large is not as easily convinced. The public wants justification. The public wants reason.

There was a time in American history, when Christianity clearly held the trump cards over society. The only reason it needed was "the bible says so" and the conversation ended.

Now society talks back. It wants a well-rounded, articulated position.

Christianity now needs to justify itself. It has to give cause. Christian voices must engage the public. The ability to coerce has given way to the need to convince.

This is such a downgrade of public authority that it is being misinterpreted by many as persecution.

It's not.... it's leveling the playing field.

A substantial portion of the Christian community is having to learn new speech patterns. The booming voice of authority doesn't work anymore; it has become hollow.

President Obama explained well how religious dialog needs to occur in the public square:

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Christians are not being persecuted, many are simply having to learn to play with others in a game in which they no longer get to set the rules.

Here is Pat Robertson's take on yesterday's events. He thinks life is pretty unfair at the moment.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Looking Ahead

Sometimes it looks like President Obama might be in for the fight of his life come next election season. At other times, it looks like he will breeze in.

It all depends on who the Republicans run.

If they run a social liberal but fiscal conservative, it could get interesting.

However, when I see republican politicians playing to tea-party folk; when I hear right-wingers singing the praises of Glen Beck and Sarah Palin; I realize that is not going to happen.

The last few elections came down to which way those rascally independents swing. Hard core left and right are not budging..... but where will those middle of the roaders go?

Independents: The attitude of the Pastor in this video may seem scary to you. I hope it does. However, thanks to the god-talk of Beck/Palin.... this is becoming not only acceptable in right wing politics... but preferred. This stuff is getting Yippee-ki-yays and guns shootin in the air.

William F. Buckley would have experienced nausea over a talk like this. But in much of today's right wing, this is a crowd stirrer.

This is what we can look forward to.....

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