Story Reprise – Harry Potter Edition

It’s not often that I sit down to write without thinking long and hard about the topic. I can spend weeks developing a theme to discuss here.

However, today is an exception. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want to.

Those of you who have followed what I write or have talked with me know that I put a lot of importance on the idea of ‘Story.’ Story provides us with roots that hold us firmly in place. Story teaches us respect for people and the entire Cosmos. Story helps enable our moral compass and encourages us to follow it. Story connects us.

So, today when I read about a conservative commenter showing contempt for Story, I understandably found it necessary to say something.

Apparently,  Hillary Clinton stated to an audience that the Harry Potter stories taught kids tolerance and empathy for others. I agree with her assessment. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times. I’ve seen the movies in theaters and DVD and cable more times than some may think healthy. I love the way J.K.Rowling weaves mythology and history into each story. Simple details like the naming Sirius Black.

We were introduced to this character in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” In that book we learn that Sirius is an ‘animagus.’ That is someone who is able to shape-shift into the form of an animal. In Black’s case, that shape is a dog. This is quite appropriate since Sirius is the name of the ‘Dog Star’ in the constellation Canis Major, or the ‘Greater Dog.’ Details like this are found throughout the books.

This seems to have rankled right-wingnut commenter Jesse Lee Peterson. Quoted from a podcast, he stated,
“If that is true, immediately stop your children from reading Harry Potter,” Peterson said. “If it’s true that reading Harry Potter causes kids to be more open to immigrants and LGBT people, then you’re going to pay for brainwashing, traumatizing, turning your children away from good toward evil. I would shut down those books right away if that’s true.” (Emphasis added.)

Heaven forbid! Children may learn tolerance and empathy for others! Especially those who are marginalized. Apparently, teaching such things makes Baby Jesus cry!

What is wrong with these people?! Are they so bloody arrogant that there can be NO possible way to understand reality than their narrow, hateful path?

I try to stay neutral on things political on my blog. I want to embrace as many people and ways of being as I can. But, this is simply Bull-SHIT!

I hope that no one is offended too much by what I’m sharing. No, I really do. But, these people are trying to control thought and ideas. Things which by definition cannot truly be contained and controlled. Or, at least should not.

Anyway, thanx for letting me rant for a few minutes.

As always, please use the comments section to share any thoughts you may have.

You Will Be Assimilated

Everyone likes a good story. We grow up with Aesop and Little Red Riding Hood. Stories that contain some kind of moral. There are the stories of Christmas with that old elf in Red. Stories of wonder. Tales of ancient heroes and travelers. Stories of adventure. All good stories capture our imaginations. They carry us to distant lands and worlds. They, in a way, form connections between us and the characters, our past, our lives. Stories can evince within us an emotional, even spiritual, identity with our world and ourselves.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “it is affirmation that story is true and takes us beyond the facts into something more real.” More real than our empirical Western minds can describe. For story unveils the true world that facts and figures cannot possibly discern. Things that reveal the deep longing for that which is truly “real”. The Germans gave us a word to describe this: sehnsucht. This may be defined as “Spiritual yearning; a longing after a higher, unbroken and eternal world in which something that is adumbrated in the images of stories – and in life itself truly perceived – will be real, and a conviction that that world is one’s true “home.”

So, what is story? Why is it important? Do we have one?

I think that many of us, in the U.S. particularly, don’t appreciate the power of story. Or, at the very least, we don’t recognize it in our lives and culture. In most parts of the world there is an ancient culture that has nurtured it’s own indigenous story for many thousands of years. We can look at the indigenous nations of North America and find a rich heritage of story passed from one generation to the next for over 10,000 years. These stories were born out of intimate relationships with Creation, especially the Land. Deep roots grew into the rich earth where indigenous Nations dwelt. This is spirituality that flourishes in gratitude and relationship to each other and every part of the Cosmos. Creator God was busy building God’s own relationship with these people. In a very true sense, Indigenous people understand the mandate to steward the land and its resources.

But, what about us? What is our connection to this land, the beings who live here; the People who live here? I don’t think that we who came across the ocean have a story. Well, we do. It’s a story of conquest and murder. We hail from people who, like the Borg of Star Trek, came to assimilate anything and anyone. “Resistance is futile.” Our fathers uprooted themselves and left their stories behind. In fact, I think that many of our ancient stories were lost as we assimilated another one. We took and owned the story of Israel and her Messiah. That story became ours. We even changed the Jewish Messiah, a Semitic man from the late Temple period, into a white savior with long brown locks and a Roman nose. By taking Israel’s story, her connection with her land, and making it our own we were cast adrift from any true moorings to our own land and history. And, without those deep roots to original cultures, we cast about for any other story that could fill the void of our loss. Yeah, Israel’s story helped. But, it wasn’t quite ours.

As we came to this land, new to us, we brought our assimilated story. This story formed our thinking and our way of life. The grafted connections to an ancient Near Eastern people had mutated and became a story of conquest. We overwhelmed the original inhabitants of this land through force and deceit. We stole their land and their lives in the name of our story. We then worked to assimilate these people. In the words of Steppenwolf, ‘the whole world’s got to be just like us.’

In the process of assimilation we attempted to graft onto ourselves the stories of the Original inhabitants. We appropriate what is rightfully theirs and made a cheap mockery of them and their story.

What would happen, though, if we honored their story as THEIRS and learned from them? If we let them tell their story and, if they were willing, to share in their wisdom and understanding of this land? Maybe we could be equal partners in the care and stewardship of this land. I’ve often thought about the Europeans’ so-called divine mandate to colonize these lands. What if there truly was a divine mandate to sail to these shores so that WE COULD LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED HERE. Instead, we came as rude intruders who burned and destroyed. Our Christian lust and greed decimated the people and laid waste to their land.

The real sad part of this story is that we are the same as our ancestors. Nothing has changed.

We have no story of our own. We have no roots. As the French say, we have no raison d’etre. When will we humble ourselves and seek the forbearance of our Original hosts? I believe that our very survival rests in the wisdom and knowledge of these people. They have the true story of how to live here.

Can we set aside our murderous arrogance long enough to listen?

 

 

God is Not Bound…

This was originally posted July 2, 2015. Yeah, I know it’s been a long time. But, I want to share some things that are in line with this post. Especially, after the horror that was the 2016 presidential election cycle. (I include ALL participants. Not just 45.) Hopefully, will be back soon.

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

God Is Not Bound to Our Ways

This is my first post since I decided to change the focus of this blog. After much prayer and counsel from my Spiritual Director and my counselor, I feel that, at least for awhile, this is the direction that I must go.

I’ve reflected on my personal experiences and those of others. I’ve read a lot that has been written by people who have been hurt by abusive ‘teachers.’ Heavy chains have been wrought out of the iron of dogma. This has been done primarily by White men who drape these chains upon the shoulders of the meek; the hurting; the marginalized.

So, this is a beginning. My desire is to reveal what I believe are errant interpretations of the Christian Scriptures. Also, I desire to shine a light on the fallacies of historic precedent that so many leaders try to use to validate these interpretations.

I know that this may appear to be a lot to consider. And, it is. But, it is important that we take this journey together at this time. Many good and sincere people are trapped in abusive institutions. Many others are leaving the faith journey altogether. There has been a marked rise in the number of folks who simply can’t believe any longer. I have been one of those who has questioned that God even exists. But, I can’t go there. Something…that ‘still, small voice’… keeps me from walking away. I BELIEVE that there is more to the Universe…to our existence…than simply cosmic dust. I have only my experience to hang on to. My experience with the transcendental ‘Other’ compels me to continue on this path.

Perhaps, you also, are in a similar place in your life. If so, ‘Come!’ Let’s walk together for awhile. You, me…and God.

The masthead of my blog quotes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I have thought about this verse for many, many years. What does Paul mean? What did the folks in the Galatian church hear? How does this apply to me/us some 2,100 years later?

For starters, most Fundagelical leaders dismiss this whole concept by saying that the meaning of this verse is that we are all ‘free’ to not sin. WTF?!?! I’m free to not do something? But, what AM I FREE to do? What am I free to think and believe? Who am I free to be?

I have never really felt comfortable with that definition by negation. For one to be free implies that there is something to be freed from. Some kind of bondage or prison that is not good. So, they would say, “Well, you’re free from sin.” As I’ve grown and matured in my faith, I honestly don’t know what that means. No one can provide a definitive answer to what ‘sin’ actually is. (This is the subject for a future post.) Some say it’s simply ‘missing the mark.’ However, the most common term for ‘sin’ in the Greek New Testament is hamartia. This has to do with being evil, wrong doing and guilt. And, many of the people who hold to this holiness outlook are more than willing to pile on the guilt.

There are many kinds of slavery. Slavery to addictions, praise, food, etc. In this passage from Galatians, Paul was writing about slavery to the Jewish works of the Law. These were primarily the ‘identifiers’ of who was a Jew and who was not. Basically, it set the gates for who was in and who was out. Things like circumcision, dietary laws and Sabbath-keeping were what Paul had in mind. Today, many Christians bind themselves to laws that effectively perform the same function. They have developed ‘laws’ that must be adhered to in order to be members in good standing in their ‘tribe.’ What is one’s stance on abortion? LGBT people? Has one followed whatever ‘formula’ is currently in vogue for tribal initiation, (did I say some kind of “sinners’” prayer correctly)? Do I hold to the ‘correct’ doctrine, (whatever that means),?

What these do not do is free people. They heap on the unsuspecting a burden that they cannot bear. Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:4 are true of these people, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

This may sound like the rant of an angry person. Well, actually, it is. I am angered by the presumption of these people to say they speak for God. Every time one of them states, “God said this or that” the hair on the back of my neck stands up. When I hear hate speech being spewed from pulpits I cringe. I recently saw a video of a man claiming to ‘know’ God’s will screaming at a second grade girl who had the audacity to hold a rainbow flag. Somehow, I can’t picture Jesus, the One who welcomed the little children and blessed them, doing this.

I think that my favorite passage in all of the Bible is Luke 4:18-19. The story recounts Jesus’ coming out at a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

He stood to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He found the text he desired and read,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

I could go on and on. And, I will. Eventually. I intend to broach issues that Evangelicals prefer to ignore. Or, worse, disparage. I am going to poke and poke to evoke a response in folks who think differently. This is a place for civil discussion.

So, let us begin. What do you think about slavery? If there is some bondage, how do we move toward freedom? Does God require that we wear some heavy yoke?

Use the comments. Please note that I moderate the comments. Refrain from inflammatory language.

Frustrated with Where This Road has Taken Me

frustratedLast week I wrote in my journal for the first time in nearly 4 months. I think that’s the longest I’ve gone in 3 years. I don’t know why I stayed away so long. I enjoy putting words to paper. It gives me a safe place to share my thoughts. Somewhere that I can vent my anger and frustration and communicate with God and my soul.

I also noticed that I have found my frustration with my job, again. For at least the last half-year I’ve experienced a lot of ambivalence toward it. I mean, I haven’t been happy doing it. But, well, I really haven’t given a shit about it, either. I get up; I go to work; I come home. In the words of the famous sage, Garfield, “Big, fat, hairy deal.”

I found myself spending way too much time imbibing in my favorite adult beverage. Yeah, the pain and frustration diminished. But, so did my health.

So, what’s different now? I’m not sure, actually. I suppose part of it has to do with the season of my life. I’m pushing 60 and, looking back, I can’t see all that much that’s been positive. Yeah, there have been moments. The birth of my kids and watching them grow into incredible people. I’ve experienced some joy, (re. a little here; a little there), making music. But, by and large my life has been one bad decision after another. Shame, anger, frustration…these have all been my closest companions. Now, sitting at the cusp of another decade on this big, blue marble dancing in space, I’m not sure that I know who I am or what I’m doing here.

Some may simply blow this off as some kind of ‘mid-life crisis.’ Maybe it is; maybe not. I’ve been in the same industry, doing roughly the same thing, for 45 years. And, it was not my first choice for a career. I entered it as a convenience since my dad was in the same industry and opened some doors for me. My true love was making music. And, while my parents bought me my first guitar, they also made it very clear that playing would only ever a be a hobby. There was simply no future in music. So, it basically became a hobby. Because, you know, you’ve got to make everyone else happy.

As I entered into high school my interest in Christian ministry was piqued. I decided to go to Malone College in Canton, Ohio to begin walking the path to the pastorate. However, a month before I was to leave, I decided to go into the workforce. I had been working all that summer, had a new car and some money in my pocket. So, why bother with college? (Another bad decision.)

So, why am I sharing this? Well, I think that I’m not alone. I think that there are a lot of folks out there that experience depression, frustration, anger and regret because their lives have been something less than they expected. As teens and young adults we had great aspirations. I had the great fortune to grow up in one of the most idealistic times in history, the 1960’s. We witnessed, and were a part of, tectonic shifts in western culture. We were going to lead the world into a new reality that encompassed equality and justice. We fought against the horrific debacle that was Viet Nam. We pulled at the scaffolding that held up the political machines that oppressed African-Americans, women and other marginalized people. The so-called ‘establishment’ was vulnerable and we went after that vulnerability.

Since then, however, I’ve watched nearly all of those who stood with me for justice and equality join in the very establishment that we worked to get past. They have embraced the same white, privileged, patriarchal way of life that has placed it’s heel on the necks of the marginalized.

So, here I am. Looking back at lost purpose, missed opportunities and many, many bad decisions. I guess that I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel. Or else, I wouldn’t be writing things like this. Things to stir up shit. Things to make complacent people think about their own place in the cultural cosmos.

What do you think? Has your life been what you once dreamed it would be? What suggestions do you have for moving forward? Or, am I a total loon that has missed the point? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

It’s Been a Hard Summer

I met with my spiritual director on Monday for the first time since June. I was a bit self-conscious about the meeting. You see, I spent about 6 months in a spiritual formation intensive…the Ignatian Exercises. I’ve shared a bit about this before. The exercises require a lot of focus and energy. By the time I got to the end I was spent. I don’t think that I could have gone one week further.

Then…nothing.

I found myself in a dry and desolate place where the heavens were steel. I have lost all motivation to do anything. I was running. No more. I was writing. No more. My job has lost all appeal. I just don’t feel like doing anything.

When I went to meet with my director I felt like the high school kid who didn’t have his homework done. But, I couldn’t say that my dog ate my prayer time.

He told me that these kinds of feelings are not unusual for folks after they go through the exercises. They’re not expected. But, not unusual.

He was incredibly understanding and non-judgmental.

The encouragement he offered was helpful. Take time to breathe. Realize that God is not absent. I agreed with that. Even though I haven’t been actively spending time in so-called ‘prayer,’ I have experienced God’s presence. I realize that regardless of my condition, God is present.

So, this is kind of a response to his encouragement. Here I am….writing.

Blessings.

I’m Human. Things Have Been Hard.

I’ve got to share that the last 3 months have been rough. I don’t know why. Things were going great as I worked my way through the Ignatian Exercises. Then…Lent. The Exercises took on the texts of the last week of Jesus’ life. Then, the crucifixion. Everything went dark. All of my experiences prior to this had been wonderful. Then, the heavens became bronze.

That’s where I’ve been for the last few months.

I want to share a journal entry from 7/8/14. Please know that I am not usually very open with my feelings. I’ve been ‘bitten’ for this more than once. But, I don’t think that I’m alone.

“Still wish that this sojourn would end. I feel so much shame & anger that life suck.

Is this all there is?

Internal suffering that just won’t end?

I look for peace & solace in the written word & in drink.

Yet, both are selfish.

Or, so I’m told & told & told…

There’s no peace for me with people or stuff.

God seems far off & somewhat aloof.

I do wonder sometimes if there truly is a God.
But, then I can’t believe that this life is all that there is.

I remember past experiences where God seemed to be real.

Was the God? Or, just my mind?

The prophet Albus Dumbledore once said, “ Of course it’s all in your mind! That doesn’t mean it’s not real!”

In my mind I can travel to distant lands. Hell, I can travel to distant galaxies

I can imagine the multi-verse. Fairies, gnomes and other mythic creatures fill my senses with withes & sounds no other person can sense.

So, why am I held hostage by this life filled with “reality”? When will I actually believe & act on what I see as reality?

Whose Side are You On? No.

liberal-conservativeFor anyone who has been awake in the U.S. in recent years, the conflict between conservatives and liberals, right and left, has taken center stage, not only in the political arena, but in economics, religion and anywhere else that people can stand against one another. We have all witnessed the vitriol spewing all over broadcast and social media. And, I suppose that many of us simply cannot identify with everything being claimed and counter-claimed by pundits and so-called ‘experts’ who speak and write with self-proclaimed authority. I know that I can’t. In truth, I cannot align myself with either side in these arguments.

One of the problems is that we have allowed these people to define and shape the discussions. Regardless of the issue, there always seems to be someone willing to stand up and ask, ‘Who’s with me? Who’s against me?’ Immediately the line has been drawn and everyone is expected to stand on one side or the other. Then, we can all snarl and growl at each other. What if we were to say “no, I don’t feel like playing those games? Too many people get hurt.”

I used to play, though. For years I stood on the left of the line. Those were the days when I was a young, naïve idealist. I really thought that the folks of my generation were going to stand up and change the world. We watched as American apartheid was dismantled. We were front row witnesses to the downfall of a president and the end of, what was up until that time, the United States’ most unpopular war. People were being liberated from constructs and systems that had bound women, the poor and people of color for centuries. (Well, at least we thought so.) Then, as I grew older, got a job, married and had children, I heard a voice from the right, ‘red rover, red rover, let Mikie come over.’ And, I did. The idealism of my youth was slowly replaced by pragmatism. The reality of caring for hearth and home turned my gaze inward. It was more important to feed my family than to concern myself with feeding ‘those’ people. Yeah, we dipped our toes into the humanitarian pool by supporting organizations that helped others. But, by sending a check we didn’t need to really think about them.

Then, a funny thing happened, though. My inner idealist woke up. I began to see that the conservative blood that was coursing through my veins carried no nutrients to my soul. The polarizing effect that is inherent in so many of the discussions and decisions that I was party to simply drained me and left me with a conflicted identity. Seriously, I really didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. So, I moved back toward the left. This, too, was not satisfying. What we call liberalism today is empty. It has its roots in the enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries. At its core is the belief that human reason can lift humanity to higher self-realization and prosperity. Liberalism exalts individuality even as it strives for a sense of communal accountability. The modernist ideal that grew during that period brought about giant leaps in technology, science and medicine. It also was at the foundation of White privilege and Manifest Destiny. These caused unsurpassed damage to indigenous people worldwide and environmental destruction beyond reason. So, no…liberal doesn’t fit me.

I do lean to the left, however. I stand firmly with the 99%. I support LGBT people in their struggle for rights and identity. I think that the Affordable Care Act is a great step forward, albeit, not the final step. Food stamps and other tools that can help people who really need help are good. I also feel that infatuation with the military can only cause harm and hardship. Some people might say, “Yeah, looks like a liberal and smells like a liberal. Gotta be a liberal!” Well, let’s not jump there so quickly. Over at Homebrewed Christianity, Bo Sanders has written some good stuff on the differences between liberals and what has been termed Progressives here and here. While I don’t pretend to fully understand all that Sanders wrote, I do notice that the emphasis appears to be more on the community of believers rather than on the potential of human individualism. For me, then, the concept of a body that has a source outside of human achievement begins to come into focus.

Perhaps the most distinguishable difference, at least for me, is the reality of the transcendent. I embrace the mysteries of faith. Those things that human reason simply cannot grasp, but are real. I believe in miracles. I long for the transformative nature of God’s Holy Spirit. I embrace the relationships between humans and the Good Creation. Relationships that are more than simply utilitarian. We are more than organic mechanisms, yet less than divine. It’s because of this that I must support organizations and policies that are designed lift people out of misery. That’s why I cannot support Western arrogance and militarism. That’s why I give my hand and my heart to those deemed ‘less than’ or ‘other.’ No, I’m neither liberal nor conservative. I’m simply a human being.

Atheists are People…First

A couple of days ago I read a blog post by Fred Clark. I follow his blog, Slacktivist, and find much of what he writes compelling. This particular post was a rant about how many fundamentalist Christians confuse winning an apologetic debate with knowing actual truth. For those who are interested, the post is here. (Note: there are some pretty cool card tricks in this post, too.) Fred cited two blog posts for his inspiration. Both of these were testimonies of people who had been brought up in fairly strict Christian homes. They were both taught propositional truth about what the Bible “says.” And, they both walked away from the Church and have embraced atheism. Fred challenges those who think they know what God’s will is for everyone, in all places and at all times. He shows that winning the apologetic argument does not mean the same thing as knowing the truth. People that get these things confused raise children who grow up like Libby Anne and Rachael.

I read both posts. (Libby Anne’s is here. Rachael’s is here.) I shared them both on Facebook because I thought they might get some interesting responses from my friends. I was right. The responses, though, troubled me. You see, unlike Fred, I did not see these two people as evidence of how the fundamentalist right misrepresents Christ in American culture. I saw them as victims. These are two very intelligent young women who were injured by those who should have protected and nurtured them. I can relate to this, because I was part of that same culture. I have seen the fruit of this kind of one sided, us-against-them mentality that both of these people experienced. I thank God that my wife and I did not embrace the “Christian” school or home school paradigms. We allowed our children to be exposed to the culture that they would ultimately need to navigate as adults. However, in our zeal to promote evangelical orthodoxy I think we missed opportunities to embrace and train our children to live openly and honestly as Christ followers in the wider culture.

The responses I received on Facebook were indicative of the mindset that I’ve seen in the conservative evangelical culture. One person responded that Rachael had simply not had a true conversion experience. She would, one day, realize the error of her ways and the Holy Spirit would fix her. Ok, to him this woman is defective and in need of ‘fixing.’ This person, who I know and love like a brother, thinks that the environment in which the woman was raised was good. It gave her a solid foundation on which God the Holy Spirit can one day build. Maybe, maybe not. From the story she told, I learned that she is a person with fairly good critical thinking skills. She took the information that she had been taught at home and considered it in the light of knowledge she gained outside of the home. She found that her parents had been mistaken on many levels. Trust was damaged. Her worldview crumbled. She rebuilt herself in, what she feels, is a better way.

Another response I received stated that since the blog was an atheist one, of course atheists are going to read and respond to it. There wouldn’t be any contrasting view. Well, Christians will go to Christian sites. Conservatives and liberals will visit their own sites. It’s what we do. People tend to hang out with others who hold similar beliefs and interests. As we do, we reinforce our own beliefs against those of others. I think we can develop a kind of intellectual in-breeding. After time, defects can enter into our thinking and morph and mutate until we actually believe that ours is the only way to know truth. That’s one of the reasons I try to branch out into uncharted areas. Yeah, I’ll find a lot of junk, but I will also mine rich nuggets that I would not have found otherwise.

All of the responses I received contained a tone of dismissal. Not of me, so much. But, certainly of these women. Their stories were simply not taken seriously. Either they were a problem to be solved, or their particular worldview was not worth the time to listen to. To these I say “Shame!” Where is our empathy? Where is our affirmation of them as human beings cast in the image of God? I commented on Rachael’s story how I felt that my respondents just did not “seem to get that people are more important than propositions. Relationships are more important than religion.” Not only had those who responded to me, but the parents of these women and other leaders missed that point. Jesus was not like this. Jesus looked at people compassionately. Jesus was empathetic. Jesus embraced others as daughters and sons of God. If we truly desire to see the reign of God break out in this world, we must begin to see others through the eyes of Jesus. We must maintain a ‘human’ perspective rather than a proposition-based perspective.

On Keeping the Gates Closed

I was going to write more about relationships today. But, something else has been knocking on the inside of head trying to get out. So, I’m going to get back to the messiness of living with other, ugh, people some other time.

Every morning I take time to read something from the story of Jesus. I find this story intriguing. Not so much for what the writers state that Jesus said, but for their depictions of what he did. This is not to take away from reading the red, as some say. Whether Jesus actually spoke the words attributed to him or not is not as important as the fact that the early church ascribed those words to him. They are completely consonant with their view of Jesus’ actions.

This morning I read from Matthew’s take on Jesus. The part of the story that I read was the account of Jesus as he stood before a roomful of men who were desperately trying to find a reason to execute him. The particular text states, “Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled” (Mat. 26:57). I stopped to imagine that scene. Jesus’ hands were bound as he stood in the midst of a group of very angry men. These men were the leaders of the Jewish culture. They were the educated ones, the intelligentsia, and the gatekeepers. These were the men who decided what was orthodox and what was heresy. What I found striking in this scene was who was not present. There were none of the people that Jesus spent his time with. Where were his friends? Where were the people who were healed or fed? Could someone please bring in the character witnesses?!

Jesus self-stated mission, or purpose, was stated in Luke’s version of the story. He wrote that Jesus’ raison d’être was to give good news to the poor, proclaim release for those who were bound, let the blind see, free those who were oppressed and to proclaim that the time of God’s favor had arrived. If one reads the stories, paying close attention to the things Jesus did, it becomes clear that he fulfilled that mission. Jesus hung out with the outcasts and marginalized. He enjoyed having dinner and partying with lepers and women. He played with children and put up with 12 slow learners. And, ultimately, the gatekeepers couldn’t tolerate this kind of subversive behavior.

Jesus didn’t play by the rules that the leaders made. Please note that. “The rules that the leaders made.” That made him a threat to their world. A threat so serious that they had to conspire to kill him. Now, what’s key to this is that these leaders thought that their rules were God’s rules. They read their holy book as a users’ manual or rule book that had to be adhered to or God would get really ticked and maybe kick them out of their homes and take away their religious liberty. What they did was considered the only appropriate response to Jesus’ brand of unorthodoxy.

I have observed a similar mindset in many of the so-called ‘gatekeepers’ today. Men like Al Mohler, John Piper and Owen Strachan have set themselves up as experts in the law. They, like those who stood around Jesus that night, perceive Jesus as a threat. Of course, they would never say that. But, they really do. They read their holy book as a users’ manual or rule book that must be followed to the letter or God may get really ticked and punish everyone.

I’m sorry, (well, not really), but they are mistaken. If we are to take Jesus’ birth, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension seriously we must take Jesus’ mission seriously, also. That mission was directed to the people that the gatekeepers’ rules excluded. Jesus reinterpreted their sacred story to include everyone, especially it seems, the outcasts and marginalized. We should be willing to do the same.