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Faith

January 11, 2010 2 comments

Just a couple thoughts this morning.  I’ve let them stew for a while, so hopefully they don’t come out burnt and crispy.  Regardless of the final product, I feel like some things just ought to be addressed for the sake of avoiding stagnation and eventual spiritual decay.

Now, as I dig into the stew pot of thoughts, my wonderings this morning are as follows; what is faith?  And what does it mean to trust in God?

Here’s the premise by which I am asking these two questions.  I am convinced that as a follower of Christ, my life MUST be a life of action.  Thus, if I stand on that conviction, I find a disconnect within the language and behavior of the majority of the population that claims a Christian label.  Bear with me as I attempt to clean up the assertion a bit.

In addressing the first question, what is faith?  If this question was to be pointed anywhere near a child of the evangelical movement, most certainly, this verse would be quoted:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

Often, that’s how we define faith, yet we have great difficulty defining it in physical and active terms.  The following verses in Hebrews highlight the lives of a host of biblical personalities that “by faith” lived differently.  Here is the first disconnect: We don’t equate faith with action as did the saints in Hebrews.  Faith, in western Christianity is an irrefutable definition by which we believe the right things. Faith has no bearing on the way we live our lives from day to day.

I would also argue that the same is true when we throw around the etherial concept of “trusting in God.”  Quite often we assert that we are to trust God’s will.  Yet in our way of defining that trust, we load all responsibility for the condition of our lives on a God to whom we believe will intervene for poor me, taking away the duty I have as a follower of Christ, to ACT for good in this world.  Moreover, we often say things like, “we need to trust God and avoid distracting ourselves by trying to figure it out on our own.”  But, what does a statement like that really mean?  Are we to assume that making a conscious decision to believe differently is really going to smooth out all the wrinkles?

What if God is hidden within our struggle to figure things out?  Disengaging the critical thinking centers of our minds, whether trusting God or not, seems to be a step in the wrong direction.  Furthermore, if we step back and make an honest assessment of ourselves,  isn’t it true that we inevitably decide to heed certain things and avoid others, taking one path over another?  So, why is it that God isn’t allowed to work in our struggle?  There are so many instances in which our fixation on an intervening God freezes us in complacency.  The best we can do is sit and wait for him to do his stuff.  When, I would argue, there’s something sacred happening all the time and it’s a waste of time to sit and wait.

As I reflect on this post, it’s difficult for me to accept the fact that what is most likely happening is that as I work through all these difficulties, I am probably projecting my own insecurities onto people around me.  I’m upset with the way things are, and so I point the finger at someone else because it’s much easier to do that than to make the necessary change in my own life.

That being said, and unfortunately, as I’ve said many times before, I aim to live differently.  There’s a song that says something like, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin through.”  This world may not be my home, but I firmly believe that God, however we want to understand him/her/it, has a desire for us to join the sacred work that is already happening.  I believe I have been given the opportunity to make this world what it is intended to be.  No longer will I believe that is true, but I will LIVE like it’s true.

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Some needed change

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Well, it’s about that time of year again.  I’m not sure exactly what that specific time is, nor do I think it’s necessarily attached to a date or even a season of the year.  But, the time has come to change up the visuals of my blog.  I keep holding out, thinking wordpress will eventually add some new themes.  Unfortunately, all I have to choose from is the same 77 themes…

I’m also trying to figure out a new title of shorts.  I’m not really sure it matters all that much in the grand scheme of things, but I still feel like it’s missing something.  I’ve attached a short description under the title that seems to draw its meaning a little deeper down in my psyche.  Honestly, I’m not all that much opposed to the title, just thought I’d drum up a few ideas from my vast readership…

I think what I’m getting at is that I’m trying to tunnel deep into the meanings and purposes of life, spirituality, God (gender neutral, at the very least), compassion, social justice, among others, discover the life-lines connecting everything together, as well as tapping into new ways of living that challenge me to make peace, pour out compassion and make this world a better place, here and now, for as many people as possible.  And I just feel like I need a catchy, condensed version of all that as a title for my blog.

All this to say, this post is of no consequence, just some of the jumbled mess that’s clogging up my brain at the moment.  Hopefully something a little more coherent will boil to the surface here in the next couple days.

Sinless?

December 4, 2009 1 comment

I’ll try to keep this post short and concise and if there needs to be a bit of clarification, I’ll do what I can.

As my wife and I were discussing some fascinating assertions in a book (The Last Week – John Dominic Crosson, Marcus Borg) this morning, some very interesting notions began to bubble to the surface.  One of those was essentially this:

We (Christians) traditionally understand sin in terms of things we ARE NOT supposed to do.  For example, the 10 Commandments found in the Old Testament.  There are also several other passages contained in the New Testament that outline several activities and lifestyle choices we should steer clear of, or avoid, based upon traditional interpretations.  (By traditional, I mean, “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it,” not necessarily as the original writings were intended to be understood.)  So essentially, just as in the time of Jesus, the religious systems, or the religious laws of today, define sin.

Here’s what I understand about the person and purpose of Jesus.  In as short a description as I can muster, Jesus came to challenge his followers, his disciples, to transcend the current religious system as well as live subversively in regards to the ruling empire of the day, all for the sake of others (in direct contrast to the idea that everything we do is for covering my own hind end).

What I find absolutely fascinating is the fact that 1. Jesus was not bound by the religious system of his day, which in turn and by default, caused him to violate the Jewish laws and 2. he, repeatedly, spoke, lived and stood against the ruling empire and it’s oppressive, militant way of “establishing peace,” among other oppressive and unjust societal norms.

Thus, sin in Jesus’ day was defined by the marriage of religious and state (empirical) laws.  I would argue, the same is true today.  The obvious next question is then, can we assert that Jesus lived a sinless life?  And if we maintain that assumption, by what terms did he live a sinless life?

I would further suggest, since we cannot answer those two questions as we’ve traditionally done, what then, are the implications for the terms by which we define the notion of “being a reflection of Jesus?

Stories

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

This post will probably end up being a compilation of several thoughts, namely because I haven’t quite isolated all of my thoughts, consolidating them into a coherent whole.  That said, I aim to focus most of my energies on the idea of stories.  Or to use a biblical term, parables.  And finally, to expand it a little more, metaphors.

I want to start off by highlighting a few thoughts in a book that stuck out to me.  Then I’ll probably wander aimlessly for a few paragraphs and call it quits in favor of eating lunch.

From Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg (which I highly recommend), speaking of metaphors through which we see scripture, the author says this:

Buddhists often speak of the teaching of Buddha as “a finger pointing to the moon…”  As the metaphor implies, one is to see (and pay attention to) that to which the finger points.  …the Bible is like a finger pointing to the moon.  Christians sometimes make the mistake of thinking that being a Christian is about believing in the finger rather than seeing the Christian life as a relationship to that to which the finger points.  …Being a Christian is not about believing in Christianity.

This train of thought is stimulating on many levels.  To put Borg’s thoughts in context, he is speaking specifically about the Bible, the lenses through which we see it and the functions we’ve assigned it.  As I begin thinking about all the relative implications of his description of scripture, I can’t help but think about some of the stories, parables and metaphors contained within scripture itself.  I’m thinking more pointedly about Jesus and his use of story.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus speaks most often using stories or parables.  We know the obvious answer; stories are a way of expressing life in terms we can understand.  I would argue that the not so obvious answer is most often the one we either choose to ignore, or fail to immerse ourselves the story to find its true meaning.  Thus, in reference to the Bible as a whole, as it is most consistently metaphor (a discussion for another time), we glaze over the stuff we don’t necessarily like and/or we often refuse to enter into the story and discover it’s true message.  Yet, since our view of scripture more closely resembles a text book with ultimate power over us, rather than the ground supporting us, we pass over so much of the rich truths contained in the metaphor as a whole (Reading the Bible Again… p30).

So then, referring back to the end of the quote above, our energies are spent believing in Christianity or believing in the finger rather than focusing our attention on that which the finger, the Bible, metaphor or story points.  Ultimately, hidden within all this language is the notion that, for too long, we’ve cast our gaze on the lens, or the figure, and we’ve sometimes in hostility, defended those things, refusing to follow the line of sight, to enter into the story and discover that which we were originally intended to understand.  In short, we must, in humility, look deeper, and consider the implications for me and the life I am living, today, in this moment.

Closed

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Hopefully this doesn’t come across too negatively since I haven’t had someone to filter thoughts through for the last week or so.  Needless to say, this has become somewhat of a giant urn in which I am able to boil down and sift through things in a writing-things-out sort of way.

The question of the hour is this.  At what point along the journey (of following Christ) did we 1. center everything we do, think and say around arriving at a certain place (heaven) and 2. secure all of those reasons so tightly in a vault of complacency that to even suggest we are closed minded initiates a sort of “preemptive war” mentality that launches us into a state of, honestly, lunacy?

Now, there are countless times that, in the nearly 30 years I’ve been alive, I’ve been wrong.  And I’m not one to deny having thought and acted wrongly.  And I can’t help but wonder, what’s wrong with being wrong?  It’s difficult to admit, but I’ve been raised in a sub-culture that is never wrong, especially when it comes to issues of doctrine, justification for certain behaviors and yes, quite often, with scripture.  It is my assessment that churches are the only places in society that we tolerate and even accept a culture of mis-education and even lack of education, save (most) ministers, priests and clergy.  It’s only here that we are allowed to hold ungrounded and unsupported arguments claiming, that’s what the Bible says or doesn’t say.  End of conversation.  Now, I realize that is a broad sweeping stroke and it’s not my intention to start any debates, but ruffling feathers and peeling away the layers of ignorant comfort is something I’m interested in doing.

Now, some of us may be thinking, “Phew!  It’s a good thing I’m not closed minded.”  Here’s a clue that we may in fact have our beliefs locked so tightly away that we’ve almost completely forgotten upon what ground we were originally standing.  If we can look in the mirror and honestly tell ourselves that we do not need any other influence for Christian living, apart from scripture, we may be closed minded.  It’s awfully arrogant to think we can come to scripture able to flawlessly and correctly interpret scripture.  If you can look someone and tell them with complete conviction, if there’s no heaven, this whole Christian thing isn’t worth my time, we may be just a bit closed minded.  Are we really only in this if there something in it for me at the end?  If we can’t enter into the secular arena, have conversation (NOT debate) and allow our beliefs to be scrutinized, picked apart, mocked or simply discussed, it’s entirely possible that we are refusing to allow the very Spirit of God to penetrate to the deepest recesses of our being, and in turn, bring forth something new, fresh and most likely greater than that which we so desperately and childishly cling to.

I know this is erring on the negative side.  I also know that there are plenty of opportunities to poke holes in my logic.  And it isn’t my intention to ignite new flames of dissent and disagreement.  What I am working toward, as with the way in which I live my life, is to bring about a new life NOW.  There are so few places in scripture that even reference the notion of heaven being our ultimate purpose, or grasping with white knuckles the ignorance and denial that affords us the illusion of comfort and security.

What kind of people could we be if we opened the steel doors of our hearts?  What kind of people could we be if we allowed and even embraced the opportunities for new understandings?  What kind of people could we be if we came to know Jesus as ancient Israel understood the concept to know: as in sexual intercourse… (Borg.  Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time)  Does that change anything?

No Ammo?

October 30, 2009 2 comments

This is follow-up of sorts to a post I wrote a couple months ago entitled “Proof.”  I want to ask a couple questions and just see where my mind takes us.

Disclaimer.  Please keep an open mind, assume the best and engage in some honest, self reflection.  And as always, remember, this is a blog, of some of the stuff going through my head, and it’s not fact or set in stone.  I simply want to be true to myself and engage in the process of challenging myself to something higher on more than surface levels.

So, remember a couple weeks ago when I was talking about the idea of proof and how the typical behavior of a Christian is often defensive, trying to “prove their point?”  I will say, that’s true for the Christian and non-Christian.  We are all really good at proving our point, which I would argue is a waste of time.

Continuing on.  I want to speak to those of us who call ourselves Christians.  And I hope that this question penetrates to the core of the whole idea of “proving someone into belief” as well as cutting into our most common defense that, “the Bible says…”

What if we didn’t have the Bible? What if we could not longer use the argument, “because the Bible says so?”  And if we don’t have scripture as our proof text, what is it that we ground our arguments on, if in fact we were going to break my rule?  What I’m trying to say is, if we take away the Bible, if we remove it from the picture, there are way too many people who would crumble without scripture.  And my challenge here is, we’ve got to be people that have a foundation of a more sturdy stature than sola scriptura (scripture alone).

Now, please don’t hear me say I don’t think the Bible is important, that’s not what I’m arguing.  I believe as Brian McClaren that scripture is a piece of the foundation, not the foundation itself.  So, what I am arguing is that when it comes to “defending our faith,” honestly, we’ve got nothing when we enter into the secular arena and for several reasons.  One, we hold a certain truth so closely that we will not allow it to stand on it’s own in public debate.  If truth is truth, it should be able to stand without us building walls around it and guarding it with machine guns an verbal grenades (John Spong).  Also, there’s really not anyone who buys the authority of scripture apart from church folks.  And we can’t tell our unchurched friends that the Bible is true simply because it says so.  That’s like saying a circle is a circle because it’s a circle.

So we, as people of faith have to begin building a foundation of girth.  If our entire structure of faith is built on scripture, one small object, what happens when that one thing fails?  Instead, as Brian McClaren would argue, we’ve got to build a foundation that has a plethora of anchor points so that if one fails, our structures don’t crumble.

Anyone picking up what I’m putting down?  It seems to me that the ammo we thought we had, or the ammo we thought we should be using, is full of blanks.  Time to regroup.  Who’s in?

Wind

October 22, 2009 2 comments

This could possibly be the shortest post I’ve penned in quite a while.  But, there was something I recently read in a book that I thought was worth at least flushing out a few thoughts.

I was reading about some of the ancient Jewish traditions, specifically some of those that addressed their understanding of God.  As I scanned through the passage, I found it very interesting that, number one, the ancients would not pronounce the name of God, because in doing so it “somehow made God an object rather than a subject, an embraceable entity rather than an ultimate mystery.”  It’s also interesting to note that one of the ancient Jewish words for God was ruach. The literal meaning of that word is wind.  “And that wind or ruach was observed not as a being, but as a vitalizing force.”

The more I read about some of those ancient Jewish traditions and concepts of God, the more intrigued I become.  What would our world be like today if the function of God was transformed from a being to a concept that more closely resembled wind?  And interestingly enough, it was understood that wind and breathe were intimately connected.  How cool is that?  Our understanding then is shifted to embrace a concept of God that is living and moving, entering and exiting all life, all the time.  Not apart from life, rather an essential element to life itself…

Chew on that one for a while…

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