Monday, July 31, 2006

A Christian Perspective?

Last night, an old friend was in town, and a whole slew of us got together to hang out. The majority of us knew one another from N.H. Somehow our paths managed to converge at multiple points, and we've been enjoying somewhat of a journey together.

We all come from radically different backgrounds and experiences, which always makes for interesting conversation. After the gathering started to simmer down, some of us stragglers came upon the topic of the image of Christianity. i don't really remember what led us there, i just know that we started talking about the worlds perspective and our own perceptions of Christians. i've never been a big fan of Christianity or the Church. i know that's ironic, yet very true. i've often stereotyped Christians as being arrogant and judgmental. Many spout off their opinions like it's common knowledge and utterly unimaginable to come to any other conclusion. Some often do not recognize that our life experiences shape who we are and what we believe. A rejection of their presuppositions seems utterly preposterous and an obvious sign that one is intentionally hardening their heart against God.

i don't know how or why i came to perceive Christians this way, and my outlook has definitely changed over the years, though not completely. One friend suggested that all people hold as firmly to their beliefs, even those who don't claim any faith at all. Each person believes they are right and in some fashion assumes that those with a differing worldview or conclusion are wrong. Is this right? It may be, i'm not really sure. Still, it's been my experience that many of the non-christians i've come into contact with are usually much more gracious towards our differences of beliefs, than even some of my "fellow-believers" are toward our minor variations.

Earlier today i was talking to another friend, whom you might say is a quasi believer. There are aspects of Christianity and the Scriptures that she believes are divinely inspired, or at least true, while other parts are human alterations and fabrications. She said, "I live conservatively, but i believe liberally." In other words, while she tends to live according to what most would consider a conservative lifestyle, she believes that others ought to be given the freedom to live less conservatively. i actually resonate pretty emphatically with this, though i have even stronger convictions than she that, though i may not fully understand it, there is a way of living that is truly more creationally harmonal (not hormonal) than alternative ways. That is, there truly is a creational designer (a.k.a God), who is all wise, and created this world very intentionally. That he knows and understands the design and rhythm of creation in such a way as to be able to reveal to us a way of living which is most in harmony with his intended purpose. When we live out of synch with this rhythm and dance, it is like playing out of key in an otherwise perfect symphony.

i don't understand all of God's ways, but i choose to live according to them. Yet even this is too bold of a statement. Really, i only have a right to say that i live according to what i believe those ways to be. And this really cannot negate the notion that many others, who do not hold to my beliefs, also live according to what they believe.

So i guess i have to conclude that in many respects it is arrogant to say "I know". We can only legitimately say "I believe..." or "I accept...". Maybe we might even be so bold as to say, "I feel compelled to affirm..." In doing this we are admitting that we have limited knowledge and understanding. The greatest thing we can do is walk humbly in our attitude toward the differing worldviews of others, recognizing that what we have is nothing less or more than our strong convictions and sure beliefs.

i know this way of thinking is difficult for many Christians, who have been taught that the way we convince others of the truth of our faith is to proclaim it with the most resolute and resounding conviction of something which has been as scientifically and empirically proven and obvious as the law of gravity.

Yet consider this, even the absolutist scientist is becoming a dying breed. Quantum physics and mechanics, as well as string theory will be what our children grow up learning in the science lab. Every presupposition will be brought into question, and the fundamentalist Darwinian, big bang theorists will lay silently in their graves. We will all stand amazed before the complexity of creation.

Until then, don't say it. Words are falling like snowflakes and blending together, while they are often vague and hard to comprehend, the picture of a snowy landscape speaks volumes.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Moving towards Stagnation

i've got this secret fear, which makes me rebel against many forms of authority. Yeah, i rebel in a quiet way, but none-the-less... i heard once that by the time you're thirty years old (and i'm nearly there) you're pretty much set in your thinking. This scares the hell out of me, because i've seen the devastating effects of those trapped in their thinking, from hopelessness and alcohol to fundamentalism in theology. Honestly, i can take the hopeless addict before i can deal with the hopeless fundamentalist.

i don't want to ever come to the point where i think i know even most of what i think i need to know, or that i've somehow cornered the market on everything from politics to purgatory. i don't want to be that silver haired man, sitting at the conference desk, drilling some newly graduated seminarian on all the "acceptable" ways of thinking (which happen to be his ways of thinking).

Perhaps now you understand why i run such a really boring blog, that seems to irritate only certain clergy.

i recently began a book a friend mentioned she was reading. i not only wanted to be able to relate with her, but the book sounded like something i should just read.. because maybe it relates to me. It is called "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw. It was a quote in this book that brought my secret fears to the surface:

"...One of the major blocks to creativity is the feeling of knowing you are right. When we think we are absolutely right, we stop seeking new information. To be right is to be certain, and to be certain stops us from being curious. Curiosity and wonder are at the heart of all learning. Plato said that all philosophy begins in wonder. So the feeling of absolute certainty and righteousness causes us to stop seeking and to stop learning. Our healthy shame, which is a feeling of our core boundary and limitedness, never allows us to believe we know it all. Our healthy shame is nourishing in that it moves us to seek new information and to learn new things."

When conservative pastors talk about Christian thinkers such as Rob Bell, Len Sweet, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and those sailing in similar boats, i often hear lots of comments about questionable theology. i've read and listened to a lot of what this group of thinkers has to say, and there are bits that diverge from traditional thought, yes. But for the most part i don't see them as selling a new or divergent theology, and most of their thoughts are to be taken as just that; "Their thoughts."

i find myself to be highly conservative, actually. i refuse to grip too tightly to a theology that has been debated for centuries. Or to call black that which is clearly grey. i am an adamant free will theist and Armenian who thinks that just maybe the Calvinist's got it right. i flow in certain spiritual gifts and yet think, maybe the Pentecostals were wrong the whole time. i believe firmly in believers baptism, while i baptize two of my close relatives using sprinkling.

i hold tight only to this, my confession of Christ; not as empirical, undebatable knowledge, but as faith, with a strange type of certainty that no scientist would ever approve of, and with the sometimes wandering thought that when i close my eyes for the final time, i may never open them again.

It is not a desire to be cutting edge, or to shake the "Traditions & Teachings" of the Church that is motivating the seemingly "unorthodox" voices that are emerging in the Church. It is the refusal to draw solid lines in what ought to be the passing lane. It is the fear that by overly defining truth we may end up building walls that keep the truth out. It is the fear that by believing we've heard everything that God has to say, and have completely understood it already, that we will shut ourselves off from his voice. This is not something we can live with. We can live with being ostracized by the gatekeepers, but we ourselves cannot erect so many gates. To us, this is spiritual death and the equivalent of life apart from Christ and the Spirit.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Relational Theism

"In postmodern culture, there is now more power in relationships than we have seen in half a millennium. In the modern world, people sought meaningful relationships. In the postmodern world, meaning IS relationships."

Len Sweet

Check out my Wikipedia article on Relational Theism. Relational Theism is a theology i'm developing that will serve as a Christian worldview. i hope that it will one day become a driving worldview behind the Church (i realize that i'm dreaming big here). The article i posted on Wikipedia is still under development. You won't find anything too shocking or out of the ordinary. It is what many already believe, though i would like to see the relational aspect become the driving theology behind Christian thought and activity.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Nonlinear Communication: How?

"From the perspective of postmoderns, communication happens in the church, but nothing is communicated. There's a lot of clucking, but not many eggs are being laid. Why are religious leaders having such problems "connecting"--making the transition from literacy to graphicacy, from linear to looped, from writing sermons to creating experiences?

Because we are prisoners of the pulpit. The sermon is still a viable and dynamic communication form, as the success of Comedy Central and the stand-up comedian testifies. But the sermon has not always been held hostage by the pulpit. Some of the greatest spiritual awakenings in Christian history happened when preachers escaped from pulpit prisons and started preaching from the aisles, the fields, the streets, the airwaves."

Leonard Sweet: Aqua Church

i know we need to move the sermon from the pulpit to the family room; From a monologue to a dialogue. It is the "how" that challenges me. i can make this happen in a sunday morning class, but i don't get how it would work for a church service. Doug Pagitt makes a good start in his book "Preaching Re-imagined", but there is a long way to go. There is another book called "The Emerging Church" by Dan Kimball that gives some starter ideas for changing the worship setting to become more experiential, yet some of it seems a little trendy. Hmm...

Here's some questions Sweet asks on this topic...

"Would you agree that 'we are prisoners of the pulpit'"?

1. How has our lack of media literacy or "graphicacy" encouraged this?
2. What can you do to make the sermon a more dynamic communication form?
3. What can you do to make the transition from simply writing sermons to creating experiences?

Hey, Check out this article on Pastoral blogging.
Check out this interview with Len Sweet.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gospel as Relationship

Reading 1 Thess I am blown away by the relational emphasis. It is obvious that what was shared between Paul and the Thessalonians was a lot more than a new teaching. They entered into intimate relationship with one another.

“But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1:7-8).

This is the way to share the gospel. It is highly relational, and a sharing of our very lives and selves. It is eating and drinking together, and sharing our story. It is the type of relationship that can say, “As for us, when for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (2:17).

If we want to share our faith with another, it will have to come by sharing our very selves. What we have to share is a relationship, not simply a message.

“Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us—just as we long to see you…How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you” (3:6-13).