Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wrestling with Calvin

UPI Column

Recent conversations on this topic got me writing and thinking and rethinking. Thanks to all who contributed in the various by-ways of my Internet wanderings. You know who you are. (And I love each of you.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chapter One: Justice Part Two

I'd like to address a couple of the comments in two posts below: The Dogma Ate My Faith and Chapter One: Putting Things to Rights.

Dave said:
As to the relevance/value/significance of whether we retain the label "Christian" (or not) as a self-identifier, of course there are big implications to that. People will react in a lot of ways, but in any case, I don't think your decision is essentially "neutral." Do you agree with that or disagree? Is publicly saying "I'm simply not a Christian" a form of side-stepping or is it a repudiation (the latter choice IMO being more dramatic or conclusive)?

I'd say it's neither. What occurred to me (the postmodernist thinker that I should be by now) is that I do know the assumptions of my primary social context. It is naive of me to continue to expect them to make the adjustments to include me in their definition of Christianity when I don't line up with those definitions. I changed. They didn't.

By being more straight-forward, I hope to respect that difference (to honor it) rather than to be in the role of repudiator or correcter. In other words, I see that I put some of my friends on the defensive unnecessarily by expecting them to accept my definition of Christian. What if we start with theirs?

I'd like to see what happens. I agree that it is not a neutral decision.

What's prevented me in the past from giving up the name is two-fold: First, I do feel Christian and that my life is an expression of Christian faith. Second, my children in particular live in a decidedly Christian sub-culture for whom admission to the club is monitored by the declaration that one is, in fact, a Christian.

What's happened recently, though, is that by letting go of the label, I can explain or nuance who I am rather than attempting to forge a blend between who I am expected to be and who I am. That's created some static I'd rather get beyond.

Another question... Is there some other "label" that is worth adopting? The admittedly clunky-sounding "Jesus follower" (or variations thereof) is where some people are going.

I like the idea of being label-less for a bit. Grad student of theology is working currently. :)

Patrick said:
If our notion of justice doesn't come from an outside source, and if this notion at its best causes us to act in non-self-interested ways, where does it come from?

I think the need to definitively explain our inclination toward justice as being sourced in God is not because it is so, but because it's one explanation that we have come to accept due to the connection being made for us. And let me go on record as saying I don't mind that connection being made, necessarily. I don't think, however, that it accounts for all of humanity, therefore is not an exhaustive explanation.

Justice, in a western democracy, is not the same notion as justice in a Middle Eastern context, for instance. As one Muslim Professor put it, the west doesn't understand at all how deeply Muslims are committed to the value of "respect." They see their primary obligation to others as being the guardians of the sacred through ensuring respect, which may include violence. That's their version of justice. In Asia, the dominant inclination is to preserve face (to prevent shame). Historically, Japanese samurai killed themselves to protect a reputation. Is that justice? Is that inclination God-given?

I don't believe that if I experience it, it must be universally true or God-endowed. On the other hand, I'm perfectly fine suggesting that the drive for justice that I have is valuable and can be found in the trajectory set forth in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is one reason I continue to be fascinated by and drawn to it.

Why does Jesus resonate so much with you? To what does his self-sacrificing life appeal? Why do you follow him rather than Donald Trump? Just your own preferences?

What else? There are many for whom Donald Trump really is the man worthy of emulation. Is capitalist success God-endowed since so many find that aim a worthy use of their lives (more than the pursuit of justice)?

Jesus resonates with me because his stories have catalyzed the most introspection and satisfying work. I'm challenged by his Sermon on the Mount and the way he embraced those outside the status quo. As long as I can remember, that vision of living has inspired me.

Lastly, you mention the cross putting things to rights. This is one aspect of Wright's book I'd like to explore in another post. If you want the first shot at it though (or anyone else), please take it. How does the cross actually put things to rights when we see that the world is not substantially more or less just than it was at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Even when he's beatable, he's unbeatable

So read one headline referring to Tiger Woods' play-off World Championship triumph yesterday, marking the fourth-in-a-row win for Woods, on the tenth anniversary of his entry into professional golf. Uncanny.

Heart-stopping round, really, and yet he figures out how to come out on top... again.

ESPN has a nice week long tribute to Tiger here that recaps his ten years as a pro.

The fact that Woods managed to make a hole in one in his professional debut established early an aspect of Woods that remains to this day: He has the ability to be the news even when he is not the news. In that regard, he is on that short list of athletes who can succeed even in failure, a list that includes Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.

Gotta love his young face.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Chapter One: Putting the World to Rights

Chapter one by N.T. Wright of Simply Christian highlights our inner drive for justice. Wright calls it an echo of a voice... a voice that whispered to us to expect or at minimum, to hope for justice, or a world put to rights.

The basic thrust of this opening is that all of us hunger for a world where tears are wiped away and joy comes in the morning. We long to see injustice ammended and wrong doing eradicated. Why do we so long? Because, according to Wright,
...we find ourselves asking: Isn't it odd that it should be like that? Isn't it strange that we should all want things to be put to rights but can't seem to do it? And isn't it the oddest thing of all the fact that I, myself, know what I ought to do but often don't do it?

He continues:
...the reason we have these dreams, the reason we have a sense of a memory of the echo of a voice, is that there is someone speaking to us, whispering in our ear—someone who cares very much about this present world and our present selves, and who has made us and the world for a purpose which will indeed involve justice, things being put to rights, ourselves being put to rights, the world being rescued at last.

Do you agree?

Do we have an in-born hunger for justice?

What is the evidence that God shares that longing? If God, if GOD, then why the whispers and echoes? Where is the loud voice or the evidence of God's interest in putting things to rights?

Has God limited godself to human activity in dispensing justice? If so, do we have any reason to believe that justice will ever be done? If not, what is God waiting for?

The appeal to our subjective feelings of wanting justice as evidence of God's longing for justice is problematic for me. But before I express why, I thought I'd throw these questions out to you and see what you all think.

Simply Not

(Tiger Update: Did you hear? Back on top of the leaderboard with a 9- under. He would have been 10- under par had he not hit his golf ball with a nine iron OVER the clubhouse roof!! Even Tiger laughed about it. Today is day three of the tourney.)

The journey inward is illuminating.

Bilbo said in the comments on the post below:
I continue to call myself a christian because, I think I am, and I refuse to allow myself to be defined by others.

This is the line I've taken for the last seven years of deconstruction. I appreciate what he means here. It is frustrating to feel that others can define you and that you must justify your self-definition against theirs. In that sense, I do still feel Christian (not so much a Christian). In other words, how can I escape the powerful influence of 25 years of faith and community derived from Christianity? The values, stories, ideas, images, and hopes all created the person I am today and won't stop exerting influence just because I changed my name.

Reminds me of a friend. His given name was Christy. He's a guy. His entire life, he has received junk mail for women, was assumed to be a female student in all of his classes, was addressed as a woman in phone interviews, wasn't taken seriously when people asked his name and he told them honestly... people thought he was joking.

Why did his parents name him Christy? Because someone they admired had that name and they wanted to honor that man's memory in their child's name.

But by his thirties, "Christy" was sick of it. He felt like his name required one long explanation about what it really was, why he was named it, whether or not it bothered him, followed by discussions of whether or not his parents realized what a mistake that name would be!

So at 35 years old, he changed it... to Josiah. (Okay, I wouldn't have picked Josiah either...)

Now he could begin relationships based on who he was, not what his name meant.

I feel a bit like that. Whenever someone asks me if I'm a Christian, I've felt like I'm only revealing a half-truth. I know what they mean. I know what that question implies. So when I say "yes," I'm now creating an idea in their imaginations that is not congruent with what I know to be true about me. That means that I'm now required to tread even more carefully around these friends or online acquaintances because they think they know me. If I act or behave or speak in a way that violates that image, they are now puzzled at minimum or they feel betrayed at worst.

So this is what I imagine now:

"Are you a Christian?"

"No, but I'm very interested in Christianity. I've spent most of my life studying it, living it, and continue to be inspired by it. In fact, I love it."

"Really? And you aren't a Christian? What do you mean?"

Now I have the chance to say... something.

And that's what I feel like working on now. What is it about Christianity that keeps me interested, that keeps me related to it? That seems like a much better starting point for conversation and reflection than attempting to justify why my version of faith belongs in the same category as the rest of the Christians in my life.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Dogma Ate My Faith

Tiger update: -3 for the first round (shot a 67 on a par 70). Adam Scott -7 for the day! (I looked up Scott's scorecard: he birdied 9 times... bogied twice. But come on! 9 birdies on that course? That's pretty great.)

UPDATE: UPI column Now posted.

You can't believe what's happened to my soul in the last 19 hours. And I have Sir Tom Wright to thank.

Somehow reading Simply Christian has put everything into perspective. It's more like giving birth than being born again, though. I find myself wavering between throwing up on the book before hurling it against the wall or shredding it with my fanged teeth. Either one is about the measure of how I feel during transition (I should know - been there, done it five times) and that's where I've been living spiritually for seven, yes, the biblical number SEVEN, years.

THAT'S A FREAKING LONG TIME TO BE IN TRANSITION! (Which may be why I have been eating more chocolate of late, come to think of it.)

I realized late last night as I paced the halls, that if what Wright describes is "simply Christian," then I'm "simply not."

Once I said it outloud to myself, I instantly felt like I'd given the final push. It's painful to say it outloud, but not nearly as tough as fighting over it with other people, with the history in my head, with the entire world!

So there you have it.

I'm not a Christian. The keepers of the definition (whoever they are - fight amongst yourselves) win.

Now I can get back to reading the Bible, learning about Jesus and living the Kingdom. I'd rather work on being a decent human being who follows Jesus and who makes a difference wherever she goes than waste any more time justifying a label.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Simply Christian

by N.T. Wright

I'm reading it.

I admit to skepticism right out of the gates. So many of my friends who were struggling with some of the stuff I've read, suddenly felt relieved, vindicated, able to return to old beliefs after reading Wright. Why that bugs me, I'm still sorting out. I think it's that I feel shushed or swept back to the fold with their ringing endorsements and confidently nodding heads. Sometimes their very vocal repudiations of the books/works that have been meaningful to me make me want to put hands on my hips and stick out my tongue, oh so maturely.

My little bruised ego.

Back when I was struggling hard with what seemed illogical to me in Christianity, there were plenty of people who took offense at my questions (especially my formulation of those questions) and felt that their cherished beliefs were being trampled under my high heeled feet. I admit that I was not always aware that I was being so direct and had to learn how to ask my questions without being incredulous of others.

But it's been years since I felt I could express what I really think, fully. In fact, truth be known, most of the people in my life have a misimpression of what I actually believe because they think they already know.

I try to express my truth here on this blog and in my column, but even then, I tread pretty lightly. I don't think I feel the same freedom to effuse about my journey that I did once. I'm tired of being misunderstood or judged or pitied.

What would I really like? I want my friends to think I'm sane, not that I've somehow become a "deceived one," or that I'm on that slippery slope to debauchery or flabby thinking (a much greater sin than your average alcoholism or crack addiction). I want them to think that my journey is not one they have to validate or criticize. I simply want to be known.

So when I think of Simply Christian, I have to fight a tendency in myself to find fault with Tom Wright's arguments, because my inner blackbelt wants to stand up for me in the face of those who'd haul me back to where I cannot go.

My goal is to read this book, to experience it, to let Wright speak to me (without me shouting him down).

I'm slowly crafting (in my head) an explanation for how my way of deconstructing makes sense to me. I need to do this because I get seriously annoyed (like the feeling I get when someone keeps bumping the table while I'm typing on the laptop... STOP IT!) when people feel they can save me with this one better way of reading X. Spare me. Know me.

All that said, I know experience, personal reasoning and limited access to great thinking can all make me stupid and so I'm willing to rethink... continually... much to the detriment of my sex life, I assure you.

So for now, I will read this book and stay quiet about it...

And thanks to one friend whose refreshing lack of agenda gives me someone off of whom I can bounce Wright's ideas without being misunderstood or shuttled back to orthodoxy like a good girl.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Sorry, can't resist. I have to post while he's playing a perfect round of golf. Four ahead of the competition now.

Did you see the 8th hole putt? Come on. He's inhuman.

Detroying the field. :) Makes me happy.

UPDATE: And he wins. :)

12 for 12 wins in the majors when he is tied for or has the outright lead on the last day.

Only four three bogeys for the whole week.

18 under par and 5 under second place.

12th major win (on the road to demolishing Jack Nicklaus' 18 major wins).

And the most loved athlete of our time. It's so nice to have an athletic hero we can admire without shame.

UPDATE: My favorite sports writer pays tribute to Tiger.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Moral Relativism and Harry Potter

I am taking up where Scott (from Left of the Dial) left off in one of his posts on Harry Potter. He takes the line that the HP series is a ripping good yarn, but that Harry and Co. so regularly violate basic principles of integrity (lying, cheating, stealing) without any evidence of an afflicted conscience to go with it, that these books describe a moral relativism that we can't respect and that this kind of literature marketed to kids is troubling at least on that level (though he's read the books with his kids).

His very bright wife, Lissa, has her own blog and also writes children's literature. Together, they made a robust case for their perspective which you can read all about and the 39 comments that go with the original post here.

That said, I got to thinking about the idea that most readers of HP are not troubled by these character flaws or the evidence of a morally relativistic world. Why aren't we? (I confess, I am one of those who is not... not troubled, I mean.)

I posted the following [excerpted] comment and have added some thoughts at the end:
Lissa said: As Scott has pointed out, it really makes [Harry] an anti-hero (an established literary identity), and that's very unusual to see in a series aimed at children--and the fact that many otherwise bright people seem not to notice the moral relativism at play in these books suggests that moral relativism (or situational ethics) has become something of a cultural norm. Which is disturbing, don't you think?

What has been intriguing to me is to think about why more of us aren't easily swayed by "the mountain of evidence" that the two of you (Lissa and Scott) are so capable of producing for your perspective. (Reminds me a bit of the failed OJ trial wherein jurors disregarded Marsha Clark's case and found him innocent... but, but, how could they do that?)

You ask if perhaps the cultural climate is moral relativism and I think actually you've pegged it. It isn't that moral relativism has somehow snuck up on us or that it is so clearly wrong or dangerous either (hold on for a minute while I develop this point). It's that we are confronted with it every day in layers upon layers.

Who any more leads an integrous, unblemished life? What we look at are the big swatches of what a person achieves over time more than their daily decisions or habits. Think of the obsession with reality TV where we really do see moral relativity at work all the time and have to decide who to root for. We actually have to make decisions about how much lying or cheating we'll tolerate in our own willingness to back someone.

We do it with politicians (current administration or the last one - take your pick of moral relativists leading our nation), with celebrities (Bono or Mel Gibson?), with our churches (will you align with a church known for avarice and womanizing or one known for pedophilia), or sports stars (Kobe or OJ), or causes (PETA or Operation Rescue)?

We have been bombarded (in recent times) with complex, morally disappointing leaders, stars and what we wanted to believe were vanguards of integrity and have become adept at sorting through the "superficial" errors they make or even the intentional bad-choices-that-we-don't-approve-of-but-will-tolerate while judging the larger picture of what that person or group of people is about and overlooking the things that really don't detract (for us) from that larger picture.

So when we read HP, we already have developed the skills to say what we think is worth being offended by and what is not. We really aren't trying to determine whether Harry is moral, has a conscience or not. We are trying to discover whether on the whole, this boy's life's trajectory is one we admire and root for. We have been training for this moment since the dawn of postmodernism...

We earthlings seem to feel we've been left on our own to outwit, outplay and outlast the bad stuff that wants to come for us.

So what do you think? Is moral relativism a problem? Does media exposure ruin our heroes so that we can no longer imagine them as full of integrity? Do we overlook basic human decency (whatever we deem that to be) in favor of a larger picture accomplishment (whether it is in politics, great acting, NGOs, or athletic skill)? Are we justified in doing that?

Do we believe any more that anyone lives a meaningful, important life without moral failing? Do we expect moral ambiguity and failure? Are we bored by integrity?

Would the Harry Potter books be as entertaining without the lying, cheating and stealing? Are we entertained by the outwitting the system that lying, cheating and stealing imply? (Think of the Reality TV Series Survivor.)

Is it possible, in fact, that we've created a heirarchy of morality in this postmodern context wherein some previously obvious wrongs are now optional, depending on the perception of the participants and the spectators?

These are some of my questions on this quiet Saturday evening...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mel's Year of Living Dangerously

This week's UPI Column features a compare and contrast between fallen Christian celebrity Mel Gibson and Rock Star "we all want him to be our kind of Christian" Bono.


So Benji Can Dance!

Do you know his story? Mormon kid who goes on a mission. When he leaves the state of Utah to venture into worlds unknown (any city that doesn't have the word "Salt" in its name), he leaves behind a fiance (which means a virgin, Mormon bride-to-be). Benji gives up dance, sex for two years and serves God.

Meanwhile, the virgin couldn't keep her knees together that long, not another day. She goes forth and finds a new guy ready to get it on as well.

Benji comes home horny and frustrated from working in a mission field where bike riding had to substitute for dance and sex (and public transportation, as well... **scratching head*** what's up with that anyway? I digress).

In Benji's huge bucket of mail collected while he door-to-doored foreigners, the top white envelope (with his name written in that annoying wedding invitation caligraphy) contains a card that discloses an alarming fact: his "fiance" is actually to be wedded to some other Mormon virgin... one who not only didn't go on a mission, but doesn't dance, either.

Benji is heart-broken. Now without purpose or bicycle, Benji must scrounge around for a few scraps of dignity. He remembers that he dances. He reminds himself that he can dance. So he leaves Utah, a second time... He travels to Los Angeles where he will dance his broken-heart out for the "jedges" (as Cat Deely mispronounces far too many times each show).

It's not a sure thing. The scrutinizing, verbose jedges see his West Coast Swing skills (all Mormon and fundamentalist Christian kids know that swing is the only sexually pure dance form) as limiting. Could he hip hop? Would he be able to crump? Can he, in short, make any moves that show off his ass and hide his virginity? To turn up the juice, Benji grabs his kissin' cousin Heidi and tears up the floor, anyway. They show those jedges how it's done. And both make the top twenty.

Our jedges told Benji's tale of woe pretty frequently in the early weeks, building up Benji's reputation as jilted lover cum do-gooder. But he needed no such props. Benji's first dance with Donyelle was a hip hop routine called "Too Much Booty" and our little Mormon ex-missionary shook it like the dirty dancer he was not supposed to be!

Nigel (producer and requisite British critical jedge) watched in "all astonishment" as Benji bumped and grinded, contorted his boot-ay and put on one sexy mug. When Nigel asked him what the folks back home might think of all this sexual movement, Benji revealed **gasp** that he enjoyed this obvious departure from West Coast Swing and could get used to these "sexually charged" dances.

And that's when, in my mind anyway, Benji lost his virginity... and won the country. The rest is history. He danced, stepped, waltzed, swung, hip hopped, and Broadway starred his way into the hearts of everyone in America.

Take that, you Mormon hussy who dumped Benji! He rocks and now, he rules.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Living like the other half

Smug self-satisfaction pops up at the oddest times. For me, it usually rears its adorable head when I walk into the seedy side of town. It's not that I feel superior (though of course I do; I'm from southern California after all), but rather that I "know" that I'm supposed to be sympathetic and non-judgemental and I'm "oh so able" to muster the appropriate expression on my face, to say the things that put the less fortunate at ease, to "parlez the langue" with the best of 'em.

So when we went shopping for a Toyota Corolla from an ad, saw that it cost only $750 and had less than 150K miles, it was obvious we'd be entering that world of "lower class" citizenry. Time to shine up the compassionate face.

The car is a wreck on wheels with a strong engine, salvaged title and odometer discrepancy. It runs. It really does. Engine is strong. I think I've convinced myself. The owner of the vehicle had had it in his possession a week. Auction. Okay.

So we agreed to the price, took out money hand over fist from the ATM that only lets you pull out a couple hundred at a time. The owner called his buddy who can notorize the transfer of title on a Sunday.

Yes, the buddy was Muslim. I noticed the blue prayer beads on the wall immediately. God's 99 names hung in a poster frame. Arabic script in gold leaned over our heads above a doorway. The little office had dirty tile floors, the smell of stale smoke and state-of-the-art computers. Two teenaged boys (nice looking) clicked around on a mouse and one wore a t-shirt with "Les Miserables" featured on the back.

The notary smoked like a chimney and leered at me the whole time. His mother in long black robe and white head covering sat quietly as Jon and I dazzled them with our rusty Arabic. That's when it hit. The smug thing.

I felt like "I knew..." What did I know? I don't know, but it's that feeling that takes over when I'm around dirty floors and foreign accents. I get this little "high" and then I have to stop and think: WTF? This is this person's shabby little life, not some stop for the over-privileged on a "tour of the world." He works in this squalor... I glanced through the windows - steel bar gates with points on top, abandonned buildings across the street, desolation. Fugly! Poor slob trying to make a go of it in America.

I came back into the room mentally when the notary with the mustache and expanding paunch rightly guessed that our Arabic was from Morocco and launched the following description of his most recent visit to our adopted country.
Morocco is fantastic. The food is wonderful.

I am whore.

I go to Morocco because I am told there are women there. So I go.

But I never touch a woman. I never touch any woman the whole time I'm there.

And I have great time, anyway.

Great country.

Did he say "whore"? Is he staring at my boobs? Am I talking too much? That swooping feeling of "Shit, those damned Muslim men" overtakes my previous compassionate bonhomie. Gawd they always do that leering thing.

I glanced at his mother who understood not a word.

The title signed (wherein Jon was asked if he wanted a lower price put on the title and Jon said, "No" to the shock of the swarthy businessman), we left the stuffy room.

As we did, I noticed Mr. Letch's teenaged sons climb into, what was it?, a brand new BMW! They u-turned the sleek sedan right in front of our new little wreck bought for our over-privileged teenaged daughter.

As he turned, I saw his face. I recognized that smug expression right away.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More on the Creeds

Over on jesuscreed, I posted the following comment and wanted to share it here. Two of the men whose responses I mostly appreciated asserted that we should both assent to the creeds and have Christian practice if we were to be considered Christians. My question throughout has been "Of what benefit is it to define who is a Christian and who is not by using the creeds?" Can't a person's self-identification as Christian combined with practice that is modeled after the teachings of Christ be the means by which we are known as Christians? Can't creeds and belief statements simply offer us a way to understand our history and some of the debates without turning them into requirements for participation in Christian community?

So here's what I shared earlier today:

...Jesus also talks of the wheat and tares growing up together until the end of the age, not weeding them out prematurely.

I think what I am trying to wrap my brain around is the need to define what constitutes a “true” believer. What is gained by defining it? What is lost?

______ says that some people calling themselves Christians might be following Jesus as moral exemplar rather than assenting to his death and resurrection. My question is: why is that a problem? (for the church) Why must we draw a circle around the one and say “in” and make sure the other is “out”?

In other words, it is one thing to have the creeds as an expression of faith that many assent to and find meaningful. But I don’t see how they enhance or alter a person’s faithfulness to Christ, if a person is choosing to follow and live a Christian commitment.

Meanwhile, there are those who love God and follow Jesus who don’t see the meanings in the creeds that others see and suddenly those same Christians are challenged, excluded, insulted or labeled heretics. To what end?

None of this seemed to concern Jesus at all. He never writes a creed, never questions people’s beliefs as admittance to his inner circle.

If we look at Paul, his emphasis on the death and resurrection in his letters were as much an overflowing joy of discovery and encounter, describing them as the source of his powerful conversion and joy at forgiveness and grace, as they are anything near creedal requirements for Christian commitment. Why would we not simply offer the creeds as historical signposts for deep consideration and contemplation for all who are wanting to follow Jesus rather than as litmus tests for “true belief”?

Is it not possible that we are and always will be encountering these ideas in an ongoing process of discovery and responsiveness? If we make them a test for inclusion in Christianity, we stunt the process of inquiry and honesty related to the propositions. We assume that we are static creatures who never change our thinking or encounter ideas in new ways as we mature and change. And we assume God can’t handle those changes.

Otoh, if we feature the creeds prominently as a part of our collective history, we give each Christian the chance to explore and investigate the claims without fear of losing our relationships within the community or our cherished identity.

Statements of Faith and creeds (as dogmatic assertions, not as indicators of Christian historical self-definition and dialog) can act as weapons. Additionally, they can cause internal dishonesty when one has to choose between what she actually believes and what she is required to accept in order to participate in Christian community.

Christian practice, love for Jesus Christ and self-identification as a Christian leave room for everyone who claims Christ to discover and inquire together, working out the faith in community… much as was modeled in the communities represented in Paul’s letters.

At least, that’s how it looks to me today. :)


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Taking parental authority to a whole new level...

One of my son's friends revealed that he no longer believes in God. His parents told him that while he lives under their roof, belief in God is not optional.

That took care of things.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Creeds: Just how critical are they to faith?

Over on Jesus Creed (which I won't link because I don't like the trackback pings), Scot McKnight is taking Spencer Burke to task over his new book: A Heretic's Guide to Eternity. He asserts that the creeds must be respected and honored if one is to call oneself an orthodox Christian. He goes on to challenge Spencer's assertion that God is (for him) more valuably expressed as spirit than person. Quoting Spencer:
“I’m not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either…. The truth is that seeing God as spirit more than person doesn’t destroy my faith” (195).

What an honest statement! And in fact, he doesn't say that he doesn't see God as person. Only that he no longer sees God "exclusively" as a person.

So here's where Scot goes from this qualified hedging footstep toward spirit over person offered by Spencer:
[I will confess to you when I read that God is not a person, my blood boiled. To deny personhood to God, the hypostasis or “person”hood, denies the essence of Christian orthodoxy and the sole foundation for our personhood and the essence both of what the gospel is — restoring cracked (person-ed) Eikons to God, who is person — and what redemption is. This genuinely is what theologians have always called “heresy.” When he says he accepts the creedal view of Father, Son, and Spirit and then says he doesn’t believe God is “person” but “spirit” — frankly, this last statement completely undermines the former. What are the Father, Son, and Spirit but the persons of the Godhead?]

I am asking you: Did Spencer in that quote deny personhood to God? I haven't read the book, but now I want to.

Scot then rants forward:
Is Spencer a “heretic”? He says he is, and I see no reason to think he believes in the Trinity from reading this book. That’s what heresy means to me. Denial of God’s personhood flies in the face of everything orthodox. To say that you believe in the creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit and deny “person” is to deny the Trinitarian concept of God.

Is Spencer a “Christian”? He says he is. What is a Christian? Is it not one who finds redemption through faith in Christ, the one who died and who was raised? If so, I see nothing in this book that makes me think that God’s grace comes to us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Grace seems to be what each person is “born into” in Spencer’s theses in this book. That means that I see no reason in this book to think Spencer believes in the gospel as the NT defines gospel (grace as the gift of God through Christ by faith).

So there's one definition that the entire historical church agrees to? Amazing how I missed that in my history of doctrine class.

This is exactly why people like Spencer are sorely needed as bridges in today's quest for interpreting the faith in a global, not-exclusively western reality.

Why are the ancient creeds given more street cred than the deep thinking of sincere Christians today who interact with both the creeds (their history, the debates that generated them, their multiple layers of meaning depending on which denominational take you hold) and today's postmodern, globalized, multidenominational, mocha-java cappucino world which (one might guess) is still an expression of the reality of God? Why wouldn't we take our cosmology into account, our questions, our debates and re-examine the creeds in light of those realities rather than always harking backwards by warning and threatening that those who do risk heresy? Why do we assume that what was formulated in the 4th century addresses what we worry about in the 21st?

There is nothing inherently more godly about the creeds and those men who formed them than being a seeking, open, creative theologian today who engages the creeds, our postmodern world and our contemporary Christian scene.

I'm amazed at how the default (orthodox) position assumes it is in the position of power to critique, as though it holds the better hand of cards. That only works if everyone is playing with the same deck... and clearly we aren't any more. Just as the 16th century gave us Luther and Calvin who responded to their contemporary world and applied the Bible and theology to it, so we have the same responsibility to do likewise today. Which means change. Which means the Gospel is dynamic, not static.

Somehow, God - the spirit-person - does nothing to stop the humble attempts of sincere Christians throughout the ages to reimagine Christianity. Maybe creativity and heart and the willingness to risk reputation are still related to being Christian after all. Isn't that how Jesus did it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marriage Sabbatical Part Two

For those who come here often, you might want to check out the growing comments on the Marriage Sabbatical post below. Thanks for all the contributions.

One of the issues I've been thinking about is how much pressure there is to earn money for most husbands. I may have mentioned it before, but I have never really felt that my earning was key to making it in our finances. That is now the case and it is one of the strangest adjustments for me mentally (and logistically). I have always put a high priority on being a great mom with high involvement in our kids' lives. I also like to make good dinners, keep a relatively reasonable level of order to our stuff in the house (which multiplies at night when I'm not looking), and still have time for reality TV.

By working so much this year (especially these last several months), I'm suddenly struck with how little time there is for "me." I had more "me" time when I was homeschooling and mothering and nursing and carrying a baby than now when my kids are essentially big enough to get their own lunches or old enough to drive to their own jobs! I never would have guessed that possible.

Yet the burden of earning takes a very different toll. I can see why I am grouchy at times when I wouldn't have been in the past, I feel myself get depressed or stressed or distracted.... typical complaints many non-working women have toward their husbands. It is hitting me with force that one of the challenges in marriages where one works and the other does not is that the one not working may not be able to imagine the psychic energy that goes into carrying the responsibility for keeping the whole operation running.

If both work, it might be that the two are both suffering from that same burden which makes them both overwhelmed, tired and wishing someone could pick up the slack, yet there is no one to do it.

Marriage is supposed to be a support to the demands of living, of raising a family, or rocketing through the galaxy on this tiny planet called earth. If a sabbatical is not meant to help a hurting marriage, then I have to wonder how a break from marriage would be the real rest, real break. For me, a sabbatical would have to include a break from the burden of wage-earning.

If a marriage is hurting to the degree that being apart is a relief, then I am less sure that a sabbatical is the best idea. Women who don't work have the luxury of imagining a time away without also having to provide for the rest of the family... or perhaps even themselves.

All that to say... I am much more likely to suggest therapy to a hurting marriage than a sabbatical. I would be concerned that too much responsibility would be transferred to one party while the other sorted things out with more time and financial freedom to do so.

If what is being called a sabbatical is actually a separation, then it should be called such. Separation usually means that both parties are required to participate in provision as well as care for the children. Separation ought to occur when a marriage is dangerous or when two people are test-driving living apart longterm.

I didn't expect to feel strongly about this topic without even reading the book, but I'm very much aware today, this week, of how difficult it is to be a good spouse, parent and self-nurtured person when you feel responsible for the whole operation. Suddenly my work really matters and I can't just not want to do it.

As a result, I'm a less enjoyable wife. :( And now I'm thinking about how to do that differently so that I can balance these increasing demands. (I'd much rather go enter a Ph.D. program by myself on the east coast and study all day... That would be my dream of a sabbatical and totally unrealistic to the demands of the family I helped create.)

What sayest you all?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The New iPod

Did you know that this is the week that Apple has its big meeting to unveil its new products for the coming year? That means that the next generation iPod may be around the corner.

My 14 year old son is literally dreaming at night of the variations that Apple could apply to the new model. We had an ichat earlier tonight where he sent me prototypes created by other fanatics who want to get their "best guesses" out there. Thought you'd get a kick out of these:

This one is a touch sensitive screen:

This one makes use of the Front Row screen that you find on Apple Computers:

The idea that our iPods would work with our car stereos seems a no-brainer too, for the future:

The full screen look seems the most likely candidate for hot new feature:

Jacob thinks that there's the possiblity that the new iPod might also take photos! Have you thought about it at all? Do you have an iPod? Do you care? We own six different iPods in our house. :) Kind of fanantics for Apple here. I have an iBookG4 which now feels like a dinosaur compared to the Macbookpro that is on the market:

Off ot justify reasons to buy that Macbookpro computer...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Contemporary Issues of Justice: Fall 2006

Paul Knitter, me and James Buchanan

My fall course will look at models of justice in responding to current global issues. My professor is Dr. James Buchanan who team-taught my Comparative Religious Ethics course last fall with Dr. Paul Knitter (photo above... aren't they cute?).

Dr. Buchanan directs the Brueggeman Center which is a center promoting peace through dialog:
The Brueggeman Center seeks to foster dialogue that is
1) interreligious,
2) interdisciplinary,
3) intercultural, and
4) interinstitutional

It will be great to finally be able to talk with reasonable intelligence with the likes of Dave, master of the argument for pacifism.

I'm sure we'll get to talk about what I'm learning when I get into the fall semester. We start on the 28th. Do you realize I only have two classes left for my MA and one paper? I might be wearing a cap and gown next June. Wouldn't that be something?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The theology of giving a damn

UPI Column

Prompted by the blog I linked to in yesterday's column (Criticizing Bono), I wrote about the limitations of my worldview even as I encountered other cultures.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Criticizing Bono

A friend of mine has a daughter who is living in Kigali, Rwanda currently. She wrote a really thoughtful piece about the west's relationship to the problems in Africa. Here's a tid-bit:

To give Bono credit, he has done a wonderful job of putting this issue on the policy agenda and educating Americans about a lot of the problems in Africa. But the realization I've had since being here (a year ago I never would have said this) is that 'fixing' Africa is not up to us. We have been pouring foreign aid into the countries here for the last 50 years. And things have not gotten better. They have gotten worse. So that is obviously not the answer. I just really disliked how Bono kept talking about how it's our responsbility to 'fix' things here and help these people. It just assumes this sense of superiority as well as an assumption that we should be the ones to tell people here how to live. That's the wrong way to look at it. (A year ago, I would have screamed at someone who said this!)

I spent a summer in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) under Mobutu. Her comments are not exaggerated.

Thought you'd like getting a first-hand glimpse of some of these issues. We can discuss here or you can comment on her blog.

My Global Footprints

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Urban Outfitters in a Cathedral

Tonight, I discovered how the young adult half lives. Have you been to Urban Outfitters? This is not just your ordinary clothing store. In Cincinnati, they took over a cathedral. Inside, the book rack contained fare such as "Penis Poker" and "F*ck" and a coffee table book to read when you are stoned. There are lots of DIY books that show you how to take t-shirts and redesign them, how to use an old sweater to make a purse, how to use paper shopping bags to weave a "rug" and more.

In addition to clothing (funky, innovative, mass produced with panache), they offer the latest rage: flasks, journals, paper lanterns, cotton rugs, satin bedding, creatively woven fabrics, candles, incense, paper products, mini lights, tights and shoes.

It's an assault on more than the senses. I loved being inside of the store. Every corner revealed something else to consider, read, look at, admire. I do wonder about this next generation's sexual identity. Words and books that were strictly in the back of a book store (or featured in the Gay and Lesbian or erotica book sections) when I was in college are now up next to the cash register.

We bought two paper lanterns, a cotton rug and three t-shirts. Johannah's brand new bedroom is looking really colorful. I'll try to snap a digital photo when it's finished. We had a great time having coffee afterwards as we talked about young adults today. I really do wonder what it will be like for these kids as grown-ups.