Posts Tagged Religion and Spirituality
Last Thanksgiving was one to remember. Somewhere in-between the compliments on my mashed potatoes and questions about whether dessert should be both pumpkin and pecan pie, I was told by a fellow Christ follower that I was accursed and going to hell. The conversation had turned from culinary choices to Christian responsibility in discussion of things like same sex marriage, security at church, and evolution versus creation. I felt comfortable around my fellow believers to speak openly about the bible and how it is used in our modern churches. I think that may have been my mistake. Honestly it probably was one of the better thanksgiving meals I have had. It was enlightening.
The specifics of the conversation are less important but the overall context speaks volumes to how we understand God and how the world actually sees us. The modern church seems to have adopted a unique view of biblical understanding. We mash verses like James 1:5 explaining where we should seek wisdom together with Colossians 2:8 about reliance on Christ and not human acumen and we end up with the ability to blame the Holy Spirit for our willingness to argue with the world about what we don’t like. Do we really think that is honoring God?
It seems like our desire for expedience and frankly our fears that we might agree with something we shouldn’t causes us to jump to conclusions about things we probably should chew on and struggle with more. Paul preached in a town called Berea and their response in Acts 17 was to examine the scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true. The word used (anakrino) is one of active and diligent searching. We seem to have sacrificed that today with a rote memorization of lists of things we are suppose to oppose. One offers the ability to swim in the words of the Creator himself and see how they change us to be more like him. The other affords us the ability to regurgitate on command. How can this truly honor God?
This is not a dark plot to squelch the words of the Spirit or a plan to usurp the throne of God with a conservative agenda of monotone “churchspeak”, it is more realistically a direction adopted from society itself to ease the burden of actually performing anakrino. With the information superhighway linked to everyone’s phones and the focus of modern communication, we are inundated with so many factoids that the only possibility to absorb them is to respond with “like” or “dislike”. We have exchanged the idea of a well-rounded and thorough education with a strong web presence. This does not honor God.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is not to blame, it is just a tool. Our use of it though will determine our efficacy in preaching the true gospel. I met a young man who was pursuing an online theology degree through a major Christian University. He explained it was faster and would get him into ministry sooner with the same educational value. He had been studying for a while so I asked who his favorite theologians were and his answer was that he couldn’t remember the names but he was willing to let me review his textbooks. If the quality of theological education being pursued by ministers today reduces the need to understand the history that brought us where we are and replaces that need with the requirement to offer an opinion in a class discussion post then we are breeding future ministers that will have no real ability to speak for the God they serve. Frankly this dishonors God.
If the some total of biblical examination that we are fostering in our church bodies is to look at an abridged online commentary or for that matter listen to a person who has done that and accept their version of truth, than how are we actually pursuing the call that was given? We are no longer preaching the gospel. We are preaching modern “churchspeak”. One of the clearest directives given in the text is from the prophet Micah. He tells us to pursue justice and mercy and walk humbly before our God. Humility starts with recognizing that our words about God are steeped in the tension of the fact we are speaking about something we have no possibility of understanding fully. If we present it as if it is simple and can be verified through a checklist, if we address the world’s concerns as if they are either on that list or not and therefore some type of abomination, if we stop examining the scripture and just read it to find agreement with our preconceived notions, than our ability to honor God has left the building. I have a large concern that God will follow shortly.
The message of the modern church is being obscured by our own voice. We are reaching some people, but I have to wonder if we are doing justice to them or the ones we are not reaching if we are encouraging compliance instead of diligent scripture searching. This does open up doors for possible misunderstanding and even not addressing sins in peoples lives. I am just not certain that is a bad thing. If we are truly seeking to honor God, then the most important thing to remember is we cannot bind his power to work in people’s lives by the insecurities of our own beliefs. The alternative is simply not working and I fear is an offense to the one we serve.
Was it gay bashing or freedom of speech? Was it posturing or proclaiming the word? Was it clear and concise or was it not well thought out? And probably the most important question, did it deserve the backlash it received from either side. Phil Robertson made a series of bad choices that led him to a crossroads he may not have foreseen. The first was to be candidly interviewed by GQ magazine. As strange as that sounds, it has a strong resemblance to Jimmy Carter being interviewed by Playboy Magazine and expecting to be seen in a positive light when asked about impure thoughts. When walking through a mine field it is best not to tap dance.
Another bad choice was to discuss racial history and how another race did or did not act. How could his understanding in high school offer any value? At the very best he could have dealt with this topic by saying he was naïve at the time and was not aware of problems. But frankly why interact on the subject at all if he was that naïve? If he could not help the situation by offering true insight, why engage? What is the real point of asking any celebrity their view on things they are not experts on? And why would they answer? As confusing as this may sound, this wasn’t the real firestorm in his interview.
The next bad choice involved answering questions on homosexuality. One side is saying his statements are hate speak and another says it was freedom of speech. In reality, it was neither. Phil tried to make light of the concept by equating an anus to a vagina. This is ignorance. Diminishing the importance of sexuality in our culture to a choice of human orifices shows that he is unable to speak cogently on the subject. His next set of statements regarding sin and the slippery slope idea that homosexuality somehow leads to bestiality and multiple partners or group sex is no better. The only thing that Phil proved is that he should not speak on the subject. His attempt to use scripture to support his view showed only that his ability to communicate biblical truths in complicated areas is not a strong skill.
Why do we feel that truth is delivering every thought that is in our mind? I think plenty of things that make me incredibly smart. Not the thoughts themselves, but knowing when to keep them internal and not say them. The biochemical and neurological events that interact with our sensory organs cause information to enter our brains. Our ability to perceive that data properly is based upon a variety of factors ranging from education, experience, physical health, vitamin deficiency or excess, and amount of sleep. The ability to coherently formulate a complex argument depends on all of those things working together well so we can filter the data that our senses provide. Basically just because we think something, does not make it right, viable, worth saying, or even a good idea. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Popularity does not make this process easier.
This issue is not about free speech or about hate speak. It is about a man put into a situation where he made statements that should have been filtered better. And because of that, people are choosing to be very, very opportunistic and throw stones at each other. Both groups are saying in a way that the other side hates them. When are we going to get to a point where we can put aside our differences and realize that everything thought does not need to be said in order to be truthful. When can we start to bridge the communication gap and get past the intolerance, on both sides? When will be able to reach out and tell a person that God loves them and we do as well and truly mean it? When will we be able to talk openly, respect each other, and not claim hatred over petty words? When will we begin to see that God does not care so much what we think, but cares greatly what we do?
I sat and watched her fidget and do menial tasks when she was clearly upset about something. She was a fellow student in seminary who had dreams of pastoral leadership and quite frankly was far more gifted than I in several disciplines. But something had clearly rattled her. When I asked she told me about a man in one of her classes who made broad statements to her about how she would be unable to perform certain duties within the church because she was a woman. I told her that was interesting; I didn’t know we had had a clairvoyant in our school but realistically the only thing that would make him correct is if she believed he was.
I think she understood my point but the truth is that the problem here was far larger than my angled quip could solve. There is so much history and tradition infused in the interpretation of the actual text that sifting through it just to reach consensus seems arduous at best. It confuses and angers both genders and at times has even split churches. What I can’t figure out is why.
I guess that is not quite true. I understand the history and see how the pieces to the puzzle have built the labyrinth we now have, I just don’t understand why we don’t tear a few walls down to let the people trapped inside out. Should we blame the old boys club or the male dominated denominational structures? How about blaming women directly for accepting the roles? How about blaming society for adopting a model that the church echoed so easily? How about we blame the Apostle Paul for his misogyny and self centered directions? For that matter, why don’t we just blame God himself, after all it is his book we got it from? Or better yet, how about we take the blame off the table, we re-evaluate, re-vision, re-think, and somehow build a model that not only gives the people hope, but helps heal the evils of the past.
The first step is to understand what the scripture really says. I am not going to attempt a full commentary on Paul or even list out the parts in Ephesians, Galatians, or Corinthians that address this. I don’t think that is needed because there is a larger hermeneutical issue here. The biblical text was never intended to be used in the support of a categorical syllogism to limit the ability of a gender to fulfill their desire for service to God. We cannot take Paul’s statements in one book, add them to statements in another, and conclude that he was misogynistic and that the church should not allow women to lead. This process creates a philosophical and hermeneutical error before we even begin. There is no code in the text and it is not a puzzle to be solved. As clearly as I can put it, if you have to stand on an old chair facing north east while thinking of something angelic to get the meaning out of the text, you are doing it wrong. Instructions given to the church on how to administer the church were aimed at specific churches with specific problems. Whereas that may give information that should be used in modern churches to help administer them, it cannot be taken as a singular contextual statement aimed at the church model 2000 years later without understanding the individual churches in a holistic manner.
Paul’s work was aimed at the unification of believers around the gospel of Christ. He was not setting up a universal church structure. He traveled from town to town and delivered the gospel. That was his focus. He wrote to the churches he had been to with corrective action and support for the furthering of that gospel. He was almost annoyed with administrative items. His statements about those types of items were curt and simplistic. It was almost that he was trying to get past the arguments with the first idea that came into his head. If we take those as direct mandates from God as how women are to be viewed, then not only are we contradicting other scripture that clearly shows equality, but we are placing our own selfish desires in front of God’s and denying his overall requirement to seek justice and love mercy.
We have done such a disservice to God in this arena. I have heard so much heretical garbage proclaimed in the name of tradition that has caused people to accept the inexcusable as the norm. And when we do try to push against it we end up with solutions that are almost as offensive as the problem. I have heard pastors proclaim that Paul was actually elevating the status of women from their even lower place to where we claim he said they should be. That kind of reminds me of a support for slavery from the 1800’s. Sometimes I feel more passion against the church than for it.
We have got to stop defending our traditions and understand that God cares more about our actions. The person who should be leading the church is the best qualified person, regardless of gender. If a man says he cannot learn from a woman, then the problem is with him, not them. Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly different roles intended for men than women. I will never be a mother nor have the nurturing skills that mothers have. But that in no way says that a woman should be silent in church. Simply put, those that feel women should be silent in church should do so themselves before they ever consider speaking.
Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. If we are unable to see through our own walls we build, the image of God we want to show cannot be seen by those on the other side. Sometimes we need to tear down the walls to find truth.
A man stood on a street corner and waived a bible in the air as if a mug at Octoberfest proclaiming the “eternal truths” of that bible as he saw them. He was wearing the same clothes he had slept in and worn the last several days. He had a story that was full of sorrow about drugs and loss, pain and regret, and sin and consequence. He had given up a home, a wife, a family, and his health for moments of pleasure centered on small crystals and a small tube. He had changed all that but unfortunately it was a little too late for many of those broken things to be fixed. His name was Roger. I felt for him and offered him some food and water; he gratefully accepted and rewarded my kindness with a healthy dose of his beliefs. He said the world had taken so much away from him but couldn’t take away his beliefs.
Humans have an innate ability to hold onto their beliefs regardless of circumstances. They may be strong, they may be weak, they may be caustic or fluid, they may be centered on a god or an anti-god or a god in absentia or even no god at all, but they are held on to like they are the last breath in our lungs. Even when they are crushed, they are soon replaced with more beliefs. They serve as almost a personal accomplishment or validation of a job well done. Once we have secured them, they comfort us by their existence, whether right or wrong. We act as if the belief itself makes us knowledgeable whether or not we have ever studied the subject we believe something about. We present and defend our beliefs attempting to provide them as fact we have proven and at the same time reduce opposing beliefs to rubble offering the superiority of our own. It becomes almost a game. Walt Disney was a master at this. He caused a world of children to “believe” so Tinkerbelle would come back to life when the film already contained the conclusion whether children believed or not.
I used to take my mother to the doctor who was treating her for Parkinson’s and it was almost funny how he would relate to me. I have a 10,000 foot understanding of the neurochemistry involved in that disease so when he would describe how the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Dopamine are inhibited when neurons die or are impaired, I would understand. But it was almost like he was asking my opinion on his diagnosis and treatment. I am positive that was just his way of making patients and family members comfortable but it illustrates the point well. Just because I have a small amount of knowledge about that disease my beliefs about treatment and diagnosis are worthless.
Our understanding of belief redefines the word to agreement. We hear something, see something, or experience something that we cannot explain or rationalize in our current belief system and we either agree with it and import it into our system or we dismiss as not being valid enough to be agreed upon. Somehow we gain internal approval by filtering items through our belief system and filing them where appropriate. We do this with God most of all.
But does God really care what we believe?
God is not something we should believe in, he is something we should follow whether or not our experiences, systems, or beliefs tell us we are right. God is really not concerned whether or not we agree with his practice. An assessment of his instruction whether concluding for or against is similar to me telling my mother’s doctor I concurred with his diagnosis and treatment protocols. I could have gone to school, learned everything about medicine I needed, evaluated here test results myself and then offered my sign off but if I had done that, she would have passed away sooner and long before I completed medical school. With God, all lifetimes combined would not be enough time to draw in the education needed to offer a valid opinion.
God does not care if we believe in him; he cares if we follow him. I think I get that. If I am starving and in need of food, a person believing that God will take care of me is far less valuable at the moment than a person doing what God requires and offering food. Tangible action outweighs philosophical belief any and every day. Character is not affected by belief, it is defined by action. I for one prefer a strong character over a strong opinion.
There is an idea in modern pop culture that tolerance is a virtue and that anything that is not supportive of others actions is bigoted and judgmental. This sounds nice and leads rather seamlessly to Universalism. This concept involves a universal reconciliation between all of humanity and God and so the beliefs of all religions even anti religion are acceptable and included. This more inclusive approach is favored by many. It is certainly easier to say “go in peace, be warmed and filled” than to get involved difficult questions. But does that do anything to address the problems in our world today?
There are far too many pseudo philosopher/theologians using religion to try and get rich with half baked pithy arguments. I know that sounds harsh but the world does not need more Joel Osteens, we need to stop caring more about how we can best navigate the quagmire of mendacity and grime in our world to get rich and self satisfied and start finding ways to clean it up. In our desire to be politically correct, we venture down the path of blending all actions into the realm of acceptable in the sight of God. They become baptized in a sense and no longer something that we need to change, or at least change with any urgency. We downgrade evil from horrible to just not preferable. If we just say we are working on it that is enough. That is the problem, if the sum total of our philosophical journey is to claim that evil is not a real problem, we have not changed anything. We still are forced to swim in the sewer we have created. The toughest part is no matter how loud we scream, yell, call it something else, and try to spin doctor it into oblivion, the truth is simple. If we take God out of the picture or reformatted him into our own versions, the world is never a better place.
Good and evil are polar opposites in the spectrum. They are not contingent factors and therefore do not depend upon each other. If one is removed you are not left with the other. In other words the absence of evil does not create good. Good is only created by direct action, specifically direct good action. This may sound circular but it is foundational. Mankind’s actions are neither inherently good nor evil, they are neutral. Christian theology states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This sin is inherited through our genetic makeup basically and traces back to Adam. I understand the theology and where it comes from but it is an attempt to explain a concept as opposed to map the genome. In other words the figurative language is not a viable statement to explain how a newborn is evil or good. The Bible explains that only God is good and thereby good is preexisting to man. The only way to do good is to follow the guidelines that God has set forth such as seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before him. By following his teachings we are able to do good. By rebelling against his teachings we become evil.
If we try to take God out of the picture, we no longer have a framework to explain what good is. If we remove the concept of evil, the only thing we have done is put blinders on, turned the music up and yelled out “La, la, la, la, la, la” hoping to drown out the noise of our conscience. Advising others to tolerate is nothing more than seeking approval by consensus. It really doesn’t matter how many people want to do it, it will never be good and the rebellion will always be evil. If we want to make changes to the world, we need to start with ourselves and stop glossing over bumpy parts. We need to seek forgiveness where needed and change. Arguing we are not wrong will never make a bad situation better.
One of the largest foundational understandings of the Bible is that God created the world. Scientists and hardcore creationists can debate the “how” on that for years to come but from a purely faith perspective, God created it and throughout the prophetic books calls on it as witness to his majesty. He is first seen as Lord over creation and then allows humans to live in his domain through that creation. It would seem this subject should be very important in our daily lives, not the worship of creation but the respect for God’s creation. So why hasn’t the church historically been more concerned about that creation?
The claim that the polar ice caps are melting and that may cause torrential weather shifts is becoming less and less believable based upon scientific evidence. But it doesn’t take much to see that world is decaying on a dramatic scale. Air quality is getting worse, our natural resources are being drained, our landfills are overflowing, our ozone layer is reducing, and we spray toxic substances on our growing vegetables to decrease spoilage. We use nuclear reactors to power our world that even when run “safely” create a byproduct of spent uranium and thorium cells that remain wickedly radioactive for a thousand or so years. We currently have no manner of destroying them but we continue to produce them. As a people, we have learned to pollute and contaminate our world to an absurd level.
I am certain that the Christian church cannot stop this. I am certain it will only get worse and God’s creation will only take more and more abuse. But does that mean we do nothing to try? Do we think we are less culpable because the job is daunting? Do we think that God will hold us less accountable for our actions or lack thereof? Do we really think we are not to blame for the damage these actions have caused?
Think about this. We as consumers will not want to spend more money for fruits and vegetables. Stores will look for the lowest prices to ensure their profit margins. Farmers will do as much as they can to make as much of their crop sellable at the best cost possible, this includes toxic pesticides. The workers spraying these pesticides have statistically shown to have higher rates of disease, this includes their families though “take home” exposure. So in effect, simply because I want vegetables without spots at the cheapest price possible, I am affecting the health of other people. And somehow God will not care that I am unwilling to spend more because I want to save up money for a larger TV or Ipad?
I know it is not this simple and buying organic products solely is not possible for all and would not solve to overall issue. But is it not something to think about? I am not the one directly causing these problems, but do I have an indirect responsibility? Does the Church for not getting involved sooner? For myself, I would have to say yes, I do.
My concern is not that Churches are not picketing the local Ralphs or boycotting conventional products. That wouldn’t help and frankly Churches have done enough of that noise for a lifetime. I am more concerned they greatly ignore the question. As I stated, buying Organic will not solve the problem. But turning a blind eye will solve even less. If we are not willing to look at the problem, how can we claim we are acting morally? How can we claim we are treating God’s creation with respect? I don’t have a great answer for all the problems. But I do know that doing nothing is the worst possible answer.