My Ongoing Arguments with Christianity and Myself

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Wilderness: Pentecost, Week 24

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2009 at 3:21 am

I’m taking some time to follow along through the Christian year using the new Mosaic Bible. This week’s readings: Ex 3, Ps 106 & 107, Acts 7, Luke 4:1-13, and Deut 8.

This week’s theme is wilderness, and the readings include the burning bush, a recap of the entire Exodus story in both Psalms and Acts, and Jesus’ tempting by the devil. And I can’t help but find myself perplexed and pissed.

It’s a thin thread that runs through these readings. In the Jesus story, we find a rejection of power, place, and even raw human biological need. But in the Psalms recap of the Exodus story, we find the worn deuteronomistic embrace of power, place, and human want—if you do what Yahweh says, you will enjoy power, place, and more, but if you don’t…

Stephen’s recap is interesting though. He’s takes it a bit away from the prosperity nonsense and uses the story to heckle the religious powers-that-be: you lot have never got it right before, and so it isn’t surprising that you haven’t got it right now. Saying that Christianity replaced Judaism isn’t very far away once we’ve gotten to this point, but I have to admire the rhetorical jab Stephen pulls off. It’s a nice callback to the jabs that Jesus got in.

In the “tesserare” readings we don’t quite get to “God hits you because he loves you,” but we’re never more than a stone’s throw away. We do get “lesson theology” though—God sends you into the wilderness to suffer and starve as a teaching tool. The mother of all awful object lessons!

The Brian Catherman selection is a welcome relief. He notes that the biblical meaning of wilderness is closer to a deserted place than to a desert place. These deserted places can be chosen, and they’re not barren or dry—indeed, quite the opposite. It’s a nice tie in to the opening artwork, which features a lonely young boy sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. Above him grafiti reads “I was here” and “I was too.” Not an empty place, but a deserted one.

Why does everything bad thing that happens to a Christian have to be a lesson from God? Maybe shit just happens. Maybe shit just happens because someone is being shitty to you. And if it is God who is sending the shit your way, well at least we know who to call out for being shitty.

I’m reading the story of Jesus’ temptation as a direct rebuke of the “God gives you bling if you behave” theology. I don’t see how anybody can admire how Jesus rejects power and place and at the same time think that God is personally sending them rewards and punishments to teach them to obey him like a dog. There’s a hard choice here. One of these teaches us something about God, and the other, if it teaches any lesson at all, it’s precisely how God doesn’t operate in the world.


Losing my religion

In Uncategorized on July 15, 2009 at 5:19 pm

A sermon on leaving childhood fundamentalism behind and finding a new spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism.

Post-Christian Link Feed

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 at 12:00 am

Not much time for blogging lately, but here’s a feed I started at of interesting links I come across about post-Christian stuff.  And here’s the RSS feed.

The Gifts and Graces of Ordination Bureaucracies

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 3:11 am

I’m a bit behind the curve on this one, but the buzz in the emergent blogosophere is Adam Walker Cleaveland’s post “When an M.Div. from Princeton Isn’t Enough.”  The gist of it is that after three degrees in religion, one from a denominational college and two from denominational seminaries, Adam was told that he needs yet one more year of seminary in order to get ordained by that very denomination.

And to think what they would have said if he hadn’t gone to schools within the denomination!

The blogs are abuzz, and Adam helpfully linked to a lot of the blogs a-buzzing.  I took a few minutes to look through them and was astonished by some of what was being passed off as wisdom, mostly in the comments sections, directly or by implication:

1. Either you submit to the judgments of the ordination committee or you are in rebellion against God’s plan. Next thing you’ll tell me is that Jesus himself had exactly the sort of arcane bureaucratic nonsense we see in mainline ordination when he called the disciples.  If only they had listened better, we could have have high debt seminary education followed by years of subsequent hoop jumping two thousand years ago!

2. Ordination committees know best. Fifteen years of first and second hand reports tell me that ordination committees are of widely varying quality, often depending on the individual personalities of the people on a particular committee.  Designation as a denominational bureaucrat doesn’t confer any special wisdom of which I’m aware.  I became a volunteer denominational bureaucrat earlier this month, so you can imagine my disappointment.

3. It’s best to say whatever you have to say (or not say) to get ordained and bide your time until you can start telling the truth about yourself and your understanding of God. One commenter seemed to think this is what Jesus meant by “be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  If this is what it takes to get ordained, what further evidence of corruption and decay do you need? Ministers who advance this viewpoint should have their ordinations reevaluated if they won’t stand up loudly and proudly against a system they obviously believe to be in sin.

4. Ministers need to be tested; therefore, any hazing or abuse you suffer at the hands of an ordination committee is part of God’s plan for your ministerial formation. Yes, and daddy hits because he loves you. The worst part of bureaucratic abuse of ministerial candidates is that they usually have no recourse whatsoever, unlike abused children.

5. If you oppose mainline denominational ordination procedures, you must think there shouldn’t be ordained ministers. I’ve tutored eight-year-olds who could point out the logic flaw in that one.

6. Ordination bureaucracy keeps the bad people from getting ordained. There’s a good case to be made that giving ministerial candidates psych tests—even one as outdated as the MMPI—keep out the crazies, to cite one example.  I’m not against all bureaucracy.  But you can only wear so many helmets and knee pads and still ride a bike safely.  You can reduce risk in ministry, but you can’t eliminate it.  People still get killed when they do everything they can do to be safe, so let’s not pretend that bureaucracy is a magic protection again future clergy misbehavior.  Too much concern for safety becomes unsafe.

7. Denominations sin, so no one should play with them. But you sin, and we still play with you.

8. Denominations are value neutral systems; only the people in them can sin. Systemic sin is real. See also: racism, sexism, etc.  Systemic sin loves a good bureaucracy full of well meaning folks who’d rather not think about unpleasant things like how institutional privilege and the power of guilds hurt people, for starters. After all, they’re already through with that mess.

Kudos to Adam for putting up an evenhanded post (unlike this one) and keeping it up in spite of a lot of resistance.  I hope he keeps up the transparency, and I hope the San Francisco presbytery takes this all in the good stead in which it seems intended.

Persons of Sacred Worth

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2009 at 12:36 am

One of the great joys of being a youth director was watching new middle school relationships enfold.  Each week brought news of who liked who and who was “going with” who.  They were consumed with sharing the news.

It was as though each new relationship was a discovery, a discovery that Jeff could be interested in Tracy, even though Jeff was interested in Lisa last week, and Tracy had never been interested in anyone at all, at least not that anyone knew.  It was gossip, but it was harmless gossip, if not joyful.  It was like watching a baby take its first steps. You couldn’t help but be proud of them as they stumbled along.

Not all of them walked at the same pace.  Some of them were always in the gossip and seemed to understand that they were the talk of the group.  Others kept their crushes to themselves, keeping to a role of keepers of gossip, not subjects.

There was one girl in particular who was never the subject of the gossip.  She was popular enough, in spite of her odd haircut and wardrobe of homemade bell bottoms and Beatles tshirts.  But there were never any gossip about who she liked or who she was going with.  She was one of the sharers of gossip, not its subject.

We had lock ins from time to time, and a lot of the kids would bring friends who went to other churches, or to no church at all.  I remember one time in particular when she brought a friend with her, the only time I remember her bringing a friend to anything.

Her friend was a cute blond girl whose preppiness couldn’t have been more in contrast to her own social awkwardness.  How was it that she was friends with a cheerleader? How would they have even met?

What stood out more was her nervous energy.  She always played her cards close to her chest, playing straight man to the more animated kids in the group.  But that night she was visibly excited her friend came to the lock in.  It wasn’t  “my friend came to the lock in” excitement.  It was more like first date excitement.

And then I knew.  It might actually be a first date.

I hoped for her sake either that her friend knew it too or that her friend never figured it out at all.  The last thing I wanted for her was for her friend to figure it out and make a scene; she’d never come back if she was outed.  Or worse, that her parents would force her to come back to a place of ridicule.

Of course there was no way to find out either way, and really it was none of my business.  But it made me sad to know that this girl who just might be gay could never have a frank and honest conversation with me about her sexual orientation where I could be honest myself about what I thought God was doing in her life.  We would either have to have an off-the-record conversation where I ministered to her as a person of inherent worth and dignity who experienced her sexual orientation the way God created her to or have a conversation where I toed the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line and lied about the God I believed in for the sake of orthodoxy and keeping my job.  It was an early step away from Christianity.

More on the Meaning of “Post-Christian”

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Marker Signs Along the Way adds this to the mix:

Here, “post-Christian” is a term that refers to the disappearance of personal and societal assumptions and world views that are rooted in the language of Christendom. The argument goes, that as the citizens of historically Christian countries (namely those in Europe and North America) become disillusioned with Christianity, Christian language and values begin to slip out of societal norms. Children grow up under parents who have spit out the bad taste that Christianity has left in their mouth, and these children have no concept of the biblical tradition and language that was once considered common cultural knowledge.

Post-Christian Identity

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Just ran across the “Post-Christian” entry on Wikipedia. The article uses “post-Christian” to mean the decline of Christianity in Europe. I think “post-Christendom” would be a better term for that, but I suppose that if you’re a post-Christian European, the need for two separate terms would be lost to you. It would be like an American calling himself post-British.

Here, though, I’ll be using “post-Christian” to refer to an individual’s identity. I’m not ready to settle on a definition, but I imagine this identity taking three possible shapes. The first kind of post-Christian looks like a a person who is no longer Christian but isn’t anything else yet. I suppose that when this sort of post-Christian moved on to some other religious tradition, or lack thereof, they’d no longer be a post-Christian.

The second kind of post-Christian might have a new religious identity as well as a post-Christian identity. They might now be Buddhist, but because they started out as a Christian, they’re a post-Christian Buddhist. It’s a matter of tracking where someone started and where they end up.

A third kind of person is post-Christian because, while they no longer consider themselves to be Christian, they still use Christianity’s symbols, stories, and spiritual vocabulary as a key frame of reference. They might disagree with Christianity about what sin and salvation mean, for example, but they still think talking about sin and salvation is important, even key. (Whereas the post-Christian Buddhist will have moved on to a completely different, and Buddhist, frame of reference.)

Beads vs. Belief

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 1:46 am

I’m wondering what it means that I was longing for the rosary on the way home today. I don’t otherwise long to say the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary.  But lump them together with some beads and I’m suddenly game to pray words I don’t believe in.

New Book: Longing for God

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 1:36 am

I picked up a copy of Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, Richard Foster’s latest re-categorization of Christian spiritual formation, this time co-written with Gayle Beebe.

I first read Richard Foster in high school. Celebration of Discipline blew me away.  The prayer of Examen planted the seeds of a healthier way of measuring my spiritual progress (or more likely, lack of progress). Centering prayer affirmed what was real and honest in those long quiet moments praying after worship at church camp, and without all the Holy Ghosty melodrama. And study, well, study is about the only spiritual discipline I’ve practiced with any consistency. (Now I mostly practice spiritual undisciplines.)

The chapters center around major Christian figures like Origen and John Wesley.  More posts in reaction as I read though.  And thanks to iMonk for alerting me to the book being out.

Why I Write

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 1:13 am

Because Christianity supplies most of my spiritual vocabulary, even if it no longer supplies my creed.

Because Jesus fascinates me, no matter who Christians say he is.

Because I keep coming back to the Bible, even if I seldom pick up and read.

Because America is still overwhelmingly Christian, if the polls mean anything.

Because my favorite Christian bloggers happen to be Baptist, of all things, and I want a way to respond.

Because the Emergent Christianity conversation intrigues me, and I’d like to throw in my two cents.

Because I like to keep up with the excesses of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

Because I believe Christian spiritual formation can do great things, even if I don’t think it works for the reasons Christians think it works.

Because I hope I haven’t thrown out the baby with the bath water.