Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why Christianity Must Change Or Die- preamble

You might recognize that the title of this blog entry is the same as that of one of Bishop Spong's well known books. That is because I am forming my thought on this as I read his book, but I am also drawing from some very interesting conversations that I have been having with some "emergent" friends.

It strikes me as funny that the person who spent the last eight years of their life jumping through the extravagant hula-hoops of the UMC ordination process would dare utter such a "heretical" statement about the once beloved church, but I am beginning to believe there is a lot of truth to it. Christianity as I know it seems to be barking up the wrong tree. So much of our time and resources are being spent funding and protecting the organization itself and I often see little that pertains to living out faith as taught by Christ. In fact if Christ were to come back (whatever that actually means....) I do not think he would be very happy. I think the turning of the tables in the Jewish temple would be a controlled warm up for what we would see. I believe that God simply has to be weeping at what is and has been done in God's name in history and the present.

If you are able to view Christianity as simply the predominate way of following Jesus as is promoted by the institution we call church, then declaring that this, Christianity that is, is not so sacred that it cannot be challenged. I know I have previously thought that to challenge the prevailing view of Christianity would be heretical and nonsense, but now I am not so sure. After all what is the prevailing view of Christianity? Is it the Catholicism practiced by millions of Latin Americans, the tongues and clanging gongs of the charismatic Pentecostals, the let's not take a stance on anything controversial of the moderate Methodists, the bible thumpin' southern baptists, or one of the countless other variations that are readily available to us? In reality it becomes difficult to defend or critique Christianity when Christians themselves cannot agree on what is essential to Christianity.

As thinking people, it is my sincere belief that we should be scared of any institution or way of thinking that discourages honest questioning and debate. So Christianity beware my questions are coming....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Progressive Faith

Check out this interesting statement of belief that I have recently run across.

It is posted at and affirmed by a great church community I have visited in my spiritual wanderings

"If you understand that faith is a matter of mind as well as heart, and that taking the Bible seriously means it cannot always be taken literally...

If you know that God's love embraces all persons equally, no matter their gender, race, or sexual identity...

If, for you, diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity are strengths to be taught…

If you believe that the Christ calls us to be nothing less than global citizens, that the social expression of love is justice, and that spiritual concerns are inseparable from commitment to the natural world...

If you've wished for a more open and embracing community of faith to nurture your spirit and raise your children, and haven't yet found a place of belonging...

then we warmly invite you to any of the congregations listed on this
page. "

Deconstructing a Credal Faith

So as I proceed through my existential crisis I decided to stop and take stock of what I do and do not believe. I decided that the great litmus test of faith for the orthodox church, "The Apostles' Creed," would be an interesting place to start. To understand the enormous changes I have undergone in my faith journey you need to understand that three months ago I stood in a pulpit and not only recited these words with conviction but led others to make the same statements of faith. Incidentally, I completed this exercise just a few days before beginning Spong's Why Christianity Must Change Or Die" which has an excellent chapter which goes through a very similar deconstruction.

Note: these are my opinions and only my opinions and I claim the right to be wrong about everything I say and the right for these opinions to change as I continue my journey.

"I believe in God, "
Yes, I do believe in God. I do not know exactly what I believe about God, but I do believe that there is something larger than me. I believe there is something guiding the creative forces responsible for human existence.

"the Father Almighty,"
I think Father is a limiting way of understanding God. Father was the best term for people in the biblical and early Christian period, but we no longer live in a patriarchal word. God in many ways is also mother. I am not entirely comfortable with feminine language for God- because God is no more female than God is male. I think I prefer gender neutral language unless discussing the ways in which God is both like Father and Mother. However, God is not an it. Our current gender language falls woefully short of describing God.

Is God Almighty? I don't think the traditional understanding of this fits for me. If God is all powerful as understood to mean capable of doing anything- I have to wonder why God allows the world to exist in such chaos and is full of so much suffering. Insert my "cruel God" argument. I feel that there are some things that limit God, they may be self limited out of love for God's creation, but limited none the less.

"the Creator of heaven and earth,"
I believe that God was present in and responsible for the creation of our world and the solar systems beyond. Do I believe that this happened in six 24 hour days- that would be a no. Evolution is not contradictory to my belief in God. God seems to be the divine spark that set the evolutionary process into motion.

"and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:"
This is where stuff starts getting tough... I believe that there was a man named Jesus Christ who walked on the face of the earth, had revolutionary teachings and unique ethical and spiritual insights, and perhaps even had a special and significant connection to God. I am not so sure I believe that Jesus was the literal Son of God. The evidence that the term Son of God was much more widespread than the traditional trinitarian suggests seems compelling to me.
This makes the question of Lordship even more challenging. If Jesus was just an excellent teacher then Lordship does not seem to follow. If he was the actual Son of God then it does. On its own merits the language of Lord and servitude do not sit well with me right now. Lord is an archaic term which we don't understand very well anyway. In a modern democracy what does lordship mean?

"Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary"
No, I don't believe this. I suspect that Mary was the mother of Jesus, but I do not buy the divine parenting. I think Joseph was probably the conceiving agent. I do not think Mary was a virgin. I think that Jesus was a result of consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.

"suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried."
This seems very historically plausible.

"The third day He arose again from the dead."
Probably not. I won't say it couldn't happen, but it does not seem likely. What is wrong with accepting that Jesus lived and died? Why must death be skirted? If the events told in Resurrection account had truly happened (sky turning black in midday, dead people rising from their graves, etc.) I think someone would have noticed and commented on it in other historical texts.

"He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead."
If there is a heaven Jesus is there, but I do not think he necessarily had to rise bodily from the earth to get there. If resurrection were God's intended response to death why are there a billions of dead and rotting corpses?
As you can guess the idea of Jesus sitting in a chair beside God condemning people to hell or heaven is not up my alley. Are we as humanity judged for our actions? You bet, but it just may be summed up in the natural consequences that follow from our actions. We are judged today not at the end of life. Life is not a pass/fail course.

"I believe in the Holy Spirit, "
I am not sure what to make of the Trinity and especially the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the name for the presence of God on earth then I definitely believe in the Holy Spirit.

"the holy catholic church,"
Yes I believe that God mourns the broken nature of the Church and many violence's that have resulted from our attempts to make one manifestation of the church more right than any others.

"the communion of saints,"
Yes, I believe that all of humanity- past, present, and future are somehow linked.

"the forgiveness of sins,"
I believe that we need forgiveness for our sins. However I believe seeking out forgiveness from the ones that we have wronged is as important as receiving absolution from God.

"the resurrection of the body,"
Nope not real sure about this one. What happens to bodies that are mangled, decomposed, or drowned at sea etc.? If there is resurrection then it seems more plausible to speak of the soul continuing in existence than the body that houses it.

"and life everlasting."
I do not know. There are many reasons that I would want to be believe in this. No one wants to say that death is the end- but it just might be.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Emergent: First Thoughts


This is a term that I have recently run across in my theological wanderings. It is a term that both scares me and exhilerates me.

What scares me? It feels like it could too easily become a new mask for me to hide behind. It is too close to the worldview that has entrapped me for so many years. I am scared of falling whole heartedly in love with this movement and being shaped too much by it. Much of the language is so similar to the language I have been speaking that no longer has meaning for me- though certainly it exhists with different interpretation in the emergent context.

Having said that...

What exhilerates me?
The knowledge that there are people out there who are asking the same questions out there. There are people who are not only asking the same questions but are not satisfied with cut and dried traditional answers. There are people out there who are not looking for a specific set of answers but are instead more interested in the conversation that the questions demand. To me that is very exciting. The questions I have would be trivialized with easy answers. There are people out there who are more captivated by the journey than the destination.

There are people out there who understand that living into the teachings of Jesus is not a part timed job, but is instead something that takes our whole being. It mandates that we be different in every aspect of our life from our community to our conversations- but does not have a emposing moral agenda.

There are people out there who believe it is there responsability to make a difference in THIS world. To be offended by poverty, racial injustice, prejudice of all kinds, and who believe that we have a responsibility to be kind to the earth we live on.

The Mask

For years I hid behind a mask called- preacher. I did everything a preacher was supposed to do, I acted like a preacher, dressed like a preacher, preached like a preacher ought to preach, thought like a preacher. Then my world exploded and I can no longer be a preacher. This is not for any punitive reason, I made the choice to step out of my mask. But now that it is gone, I have no idea who the woman underneath is supposed to be.

That is one of my biggest problems...I am hung up on the word "supposed." I am all to eager to reach for a new mask. To begin to think and act like a new type of being. For some reason I am terrified at discovering not who I am supposed to be but who I actually am. Even the thought of filling out an online profile scares me. Simple questions like "What is your favorite movie?" terrify me. That is how completely unfamiliar with self I am. I could tell you what Pastor Amy's favorite movie and past times were without effort. But those were all choices groomed by the definition of self as pastor.

Do I think I am so radically different now? No, not really. But I haven't yet discovered what aspects of me are authentic to self and which are part of my mask, part of the role in the play of life that I have been playing so well- but no longer works for me.

So what am I doing to figure out my grandiose question? I am being completely and totally selfish. I hope not in the negative sense of the word. Instead I am focusing on self. What does it mean to be me? How am I going to react to my new set of circumstances? What do I value in life? What do I value about myself? What values do I want to become a part of my self?

So in other words I am doing a lot of exploring. I am looking at the world with a new set of eyes, ones that instead of saying what am I supposed to enjoy, look for what do I actually do enjoy. I am trying to expose myself to a wide variety of circumstances, authors, artists, political views, and activities to figure out which ones resonate with the self that has long been deprived of exposure.

Who am I?

This is both an incredible opportunity at hand and a terrifying reality. Very few people get to take time to redefine who they are. Very few people make that time. Instead we live in a go with the flow world where we wake up one day and wonder how we became the person that we are. However deconstructing a world view can be terrifying. It is in many ways like the death of a friend, a spouse, or a brother. My world view has incapsulated everything about me from the way I viewed the world around me, my values, to my likes and dislikes. To bury a worldview is very similar to grieving. It has created a whirlwind of emotions inside of me from anger and anxiety to opportunity, from sadness to hope. It is at once both a thrilling adventure and a lonely journey through a darkened land.

Damn it God, Why?

Damn it God, Why?

Damn it God, Why?

Why must I suffer like I do?
Why the constant pain in my body?
Why the constant fatigue?
Why the throbbing, constant ache in my bones and muscles?
Why must I feel like I got hit by a freight train after a normal days' work?
Why did you give me hopes and dreams, a body that cannot fulfill them?
Why the Crohn's?
Why the Fibromyalgia?
Why the depression?
Why must the world around me be draped in dark shadows?
Why must my life be framed by dark pits of despair where all the hope is sucked out of life?
Why must I be paralyzed by fear and anxiety?
Why did you give me a bright mind- just for it to self destruct and lead me to my ruin?
Why did you create such a fucked up being like me?
What purpose is there in the chaos that is my life?
Why do I exist? So I can hurt? So you can laugh?

God, they say that you can heal. But you don't. I am living proof of that (not to mention countless saints who have been devastated by disease or lost their fight). I can't count the number of times I have prayed for healing, the number of people who are praying on my behalf, the number of times that hands have been laid on me.
Yet...nothing from you.
If you really can heal, and you choose not to...what kind of God are you? So either you are impotent or cruel? Which is it? What kind of God chooses to heal some but not others? What kind of God tells you to pray and then ignores you? What kind of God gives you hope that there is a better reality and dangles it like a carrot in front of you without ever letting you reach it? Why God? Why would you create a paradise, tell us about it, and then forbid us to enter it until you say so- until you have had your fun jerking us around? Why would you do such a thing?
Are we your playtoys?
Are we the Barbie dolls of the Great God in the Sky?
What kind of God are you?
Masked man reveal yourself!
Better yet...God are you even there? Are you a construct of humanities imagination? Do we simply want to believe there is something bigger than us, someone who can heal our hurts, and give meaning to our lives? Have we created you in our own image- is that why you are such a lousy God?
God why did you create such a fucked up world? Are you that pathetic? I gotta tell you I don't buy this crap about you creating this wonderful perfect place, and because you are such a benevolent being gave your creation free will knowing full well that they would betray you so that you get to spend the rest of eternity punishing their descendents for something they had nothing to do with. How bogus! Where is my free will, God? Where is my choice to reject you....because I gotta tell you unless there is another side of you I can't see, I sure as hell don't want anything to do with you.

How did evil get into the world if you did not create it? Free will - is that your best answer. What a cop out. Some random angel gets free will enough to attempt a coup de ta and so the rest of us never get a chance to choose? I can't handle a God that allows a world to be filled with pain all because this mysterious cosmic force of evil has tainted everything? I can't handle a God that allows the innocent to suffer, who allows evil, viscous people to rule the world.

What was that? Oh, you are going to get around to that eventually. What crap! Why would you let even one innocent person suffer? Why should you even let one descipable person suffer if you have the power to stop it. If you have the power to right all the wrongs why in God's name have you not done it? You know what I think- I don't think you can! Or at least I hope you can't- because if you can and are cruel enough not to do it then there truly is no hope in the world.

I am not done with you yet. I have a lot more to throw at you. Can you take it? Are you big enough to handle a little criticism, or are you going to smite me with a bolt from heaven, with a whirlwind, or eternal damnation? If you are a loving and just God then you will take the jagged barbs I throw at you and you will respond.
Do you hear that?
I want to know if you are really there. I want to hear from you. I don't want to hear that crap about you are present in the people who love us or in rainbow after the storm. And don't you dare tell me to go read the fucking Bible. I want to know where you are right now, not what you may or may not have said to someone 2000 years ago. I want you to talk to me. I want you to reach out to me and help me to understand. I want to find you. I don't want to figure you out, I don't want to master you, I don't want to sell your secrets to the tabloids.
I just want to know if you are there? Is that to much to ask? I am on the ultimate quest, but you need to meet me half way. God you need to actually show up. That is what I am asking from you plain and simple-show up. Speak to me with words my finite brain can understand, in words that I can hear and know without a shadow of a doubt that you cared enough to bother to show up. Gideon put out his fleece. I am daring to do the same.
Are you there?