Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Postmodernism 101 (according to moi)

I take my cues from postmodernism in the discussion of how to "hear" a viewpoint that contradicts your own. One thing I overlooked in this post that should be first is this:

Listen for a long time.
Spend time lurking around the viewpoint and resist the urge to comment. So that you can...

1. Get inside the point of view you find repugnant. Find out how that point of view makes sense to the individual holding it. That means setting aside your own presuppositions to adopt theirs temporarily. It means starting from the perspective that their view makes sense to them, is not irrational, is not merely a device to avoid reality or to justify evil or sin.

For instance, if I'm going to look at the pro-choice side of the abortion debate, I have to start by taking pro-choice assumptions: Women deserve the right to choose for themselves whether or not to carry a baby to term as a way to empower women who are at a disadvantage to men because they are the ones who carry babies (men don't), and the baby is not a person until born. These are the starting assumptions. In order to understand the arguments, I have to start there.

Do I have to agree with them? No. I only have to read their point of view with that filter on. Then I can discover how the idea of abortion functions for pro-choice people. I stop arguing and I discover that women have felt held hostage by their reproductive capacities for most centuries. I find out that fathers don't experience consequences for unintended pregnancies carried to term. I learn that the poor are more victimized by unwanted pregnancies than the middle class. I read statistics about women dying on abortion tables when it was illegal... and so on. In short, the presuppositions of the pro-choice side of the debate are the result of a view of history and women's place in it.

I can still not agree fundamentally with abortion (philosophically), but that doesn't prevent me from seeing how this other side, this other point of view coheres, aims to resolve problems my view is less interested in. In fact, I can go so far as to say that the problems the pro-choice view aims to address are important and deserve a deeper look. Simply arguing about whether the unborn are legally persons the way the born are doesn't even address the actual issues pro-choice advocates are concerned about.

Another example: Suicide bombers. To understand why this worldview functions successfully for Middle Eastern Muslim Extremists (note that that is our word for them, not theirs) means to enter and inhabit a world where westernism is seen as the enemy. This shouldn't even be a stretch for most conservative Christians seeing that we have our own culture war in America grounded in religious idealism.

What is a stretch is to understand how and why violence is perceived as a solution. There's no need to simply keep stating that they are crazy. Crazy people can't be changed. They need to be eliminated (hmmmm - sounds a bit like our foreign policy). Yet if we see the world through their eyes, we may come to the realization that what appears irrational from the outside is terrifyingly consistent and a satisfying means of addressing the crisis they perceive.

We might even see some parallels to our own worldview. There are plenty of leaders and pundits who argue that the only solution to the Middle Eastern crisis is the elimination of (fill in the blank) Muslims. We justify our violence as protecting our world, as being "civilized" because it is government endorsed. They justify theirs as defending their religion and culture against bullies.

To understand the worldview just means allowing yourself to get inside the sandals of the other long enough to see that they have successfully justified to themselves what they believe.

So that's step one.

2. Restating the other view using the vocabulary of advocates is a great place to start when attempting to understand a viewpoint you don't hold. This is how I've understood the benefits of reformed theology after listening to tapes, sermons, reading books, interacting online and sharing a mission field with reformed believers:
“The sovereignty of God leads to a place of yieldedness, gratitude and peace insofar as you let go of the burden to make all that is wrong with the world right. Salvation by election as a free gift feels like a mind-blowing, deeply satisfying, cleansing experience that goes beyond working for salvation. Reformed Christians see the glory of God manifested in their midst when people discover the gap that exists between themselves and the holiness of God, which moves them to awe, which leads them to humble worship. They then celebrate that holiness through creeds, through sacraments, through covenantal community, through the recitation of God’s greatness as contrasted with human frailty. This theological system makes sense of a chaotic world, puts God at the center and relieves human beings of the burden of their sinfulness.”
Even if I don't experience Calvinism this way, it doesn't prevent me from acknowledging that many, many people in fact do! And as Mariam said in a comment a few weeks ago, there is a zen-like detachment from the suffering of the world (because of trust in God) that leads to peace and acceptance which is deeply appealing to the human condition.

It is also possible to recognize that the idea of grace, for instance, is a revolutionary, universally powerful meme that has had profound consequences for good in the centuries since the reformation, without also believing in all five points of the TULIP. Restating has a way of revealing one's own agenda (if you can't do it without sneaking in sideways attacks, you haven't let go of your agenda yet). It also helps the other person to feel heard.

3. Agreeing to disagree is not satisfying. What feels better is to know that the other person has heard how what you value functions in your life and that you are honoring the truth as best as you currently understand it. The problem occurs when two different points of view must cooperate in a single context (a church, a marriage, a family, a business).

The scale of difference in point of view invariably leads to relational crisis. And it usually means changes of some kind. What is never helpful in any setting is pushing one set of presumptions/assumptions as normative for everyone when that is no longer the case for one or more. The more coercive the environment becomes, the harder it is to keep the relationships together.

We've managed to keep our marriage together when the big changes occurred, but I wasn't able to stay in our church. I've found a place in our homeschooling community, but I had to let my online community go. I've gotten closer to some of my old friends and lost some. It's always tough to face changes in relationship due to changes in beliefs. It's made me want to honor the centrality of others people's belief systems even when I don't agree with them... and I avoid intruding on contexts where my beliefs aren't welcome.

These are a few of the things that have worked for me.

Those pesky Calvinists (Jesus Creed)

Scot McKnight threw up a letter from a young pastor asking for advice about how to plant a church riddled with Calvinists who
...are relentless. Absolutely no discussion or compromise. I have had the life kicked out of me at my church this past year by some of these people. For them, it just isn’t good enough to be a solid evangelical who really loves Jesus and wants to serve him. It has to be all about reformed theology.
The ensuing discussion is lengthy (over 100 comments so far). I found myself drawn in.

Many posters are taking this chance to express their painful encounters with reformed Christians. Then there are parties who doubt that the encounters represented are actually talking about true Calvinists (natch), that Calvinists shouldn't be picked on more than other strident groups, that they have never seen this behavior in their own experiences (of course!), that it's not the theology, it's the misbehavior of sinners, and so on.

When this kind of back and forth didn't get too far, a third strain joined the discussion: "Well, we all think we're right, no matter what the topic. It's just that some people are more persistent than others and that offends them, but it shouldn't." There is a defense of "being right," "believing you are right," "having the right to assert your right-ness" and so on. It's almost as if the attitude is: "Well, we all think we're right so we're all meanies and not interested in listening to others."

But not so fast, Wile E. Coyote. One of the cultural factors in the reformed and fundamentalist camps that creates this stereotype of obnoxious argumentativeness is that it is believed that being right gives people the right to disregard other viewpoints while contending for their own. Lip service is paid to "Well I understand what you're saying BUT...." and then the "right" view is reasserted with new vigor. These debaters are tireless. Until agreement is reached, they assert they have not been properly understood (which makes sense if you actually do believe that you are leading people to the logical, spiritual, Holy Spirit inspired truth).

Here's the rub. Not everyone is up for arguing, not everyone feels compelled to win all points of view to one point of view. Moreover, some people have legitimately rejected the reformed point of view and aren't open to being shown its truth-value any more.

The justification that we all believe we are right therefore our conversations will be hostile, intractable, painful and at times downright unfriendly is a fallacy though. There is a way to interact over difference that allows dignity to all parties and leaves open the possibility of learning. I'll post my ideas in the next entry. What are some of yours? What has worked for you?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Enchanted: Enchanting

I cleansed the palette with Disney which always works. What a delightful movie! Go see it. Take a child. It's got it all: whimsy, self-deprecation without sardonic irony, good looking stars, the most adorable six year old on screen this year, and twists I didn't expect.

Women and men both learn stuff worth learning, children are valued, even rodents and insects see redemption! The songs don't "wow" me outside of the film, but in it, they are practically perfect in every way. Laughs and insight for all ages.

It's always more fun to write a movie review for a film I hate. :) This movie, though, deserves a well-written review by someone. It's wonderful.

Friday, November 23, 2007

August Rush: Should be called "Audience Rush"

As in rushing out the doors for air, coffee and the cold dissonant winds of reality. Seriously. I spent the middle portion of the film on the floor outside the theater's bathroom with my head in my hands trying to shake the suffocation of this film.

Jon and I made the mistake of ignoring critics' reviews for this one. I didn't read them. (Post-it note to self: ALWAYS read critics' reviews first.) It seemed that the other two choices for the holidays (Enchanted, Beowulf) left us with a split family decision whereas "August Rush" promised to "bring us together." So being modest fans of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Freddie Highmore, seven of us forked over full price (ouch!) for a "feel-good" fairytale. Only six managed to sit through it the whole way through. I was not one of them.

I knew air was leaving my lungs the moment Evan Taylor, orphan in a boys' home (Highmore), recited the voice-over narration in the opening scene of the film. Cliches like "The music is all around us, if we will just listen" marched out of his mouth on cue while the wind whipped tall grasses around his small body and he, ironically, without rhythm or fluidity of movement, attempted to move in time to their sounds as one who "hears the music" unlike all the other orphaned schlubs who -cut to winter- submitted to "hard labor" of digging frozen earth in the snow by "forces uncaring and cold" - as all boys' homes directors of the 21st century are). I was in for a painfully long, badly written, metaphor-laden slog.

I kept wondering how the writers got out of seventh grade English. "The music is all around us. If we'll only hear it." Are you kidding me?

That writing is the equivalent of the discovery that roses have both blooms (beauty, love, artistry) and thorns (pain, risk, hurt)... You know, the contrasts, the idea of love having both beauty and sorrow, the metaphorical idea of the rose equaling love... Oh I didn't need to spell that out for you? You've heard that one once or twice in your lifetime? How about I drag my teeth over a blackboard now to cleanse the palette? EEEAKEREEEREK.

How many times do you need to be told that "no one listens to the music of life" or "you can hear it if you listen"? Good God! Trust in the power of showing, not telling, Mahn! Quit smacking us upside the head with a 10 pound Honeybaked ham (though at least the brown sugary sweetness of the ham has flavor).

Even if we bracket the musical metaphors (where, incidentally, music reminds us that there is more out there than we ourselves know... by the way), the implausibility of the sequence of events, intended to be fairytale-like, instead induces Tourette's-like outbursts: "Fire!" and "Bomb!" —anything to get people safely out of the building.

Spoiler alert: After a one-night stand between a famous cellist and a rock musician without chemistry or dialog or much kissing, Evan is conceived. The cellist's father separates his compliant, scared-of-her-own-shadow daughter from her rock musician and later forges her signature to give up the baby to adoption (but tells his daughter the baby died). Evan Taylor is orphaned (inexplicably never adopted as a baby) and, so it turns out, is an undiscovered musical prodigy.

So here's how it plays out, all right? Cellist is pregnant with rock musician's kid for the full nine months but never thinks to contact the father? Father who was completely devastated that the best sex of his life (couldn't be love) has left him never seeks her out?

Child is raised in orphanage where he listens to the music of nature and is convinced (nutty as it appears to the other orphaned kids) that he will find his parents by following the music (how rational!). As one reviewer points out, he inherits their talent, and, amazingly, his father's accent!

Evan leaves the orphanage for the streets of New York with no money and a sweatshirt where he is never in danger. He joins a musical gang led by Robin Williams (a cross between Bono and Fagin) and in one night discovers that he can play guitar! (He plays in some banging fashion that Highmore never manages to imitate successfully or believably.) Evan exchanges his name for the stage name August Rush (horrid Bon Jovi era choice) at this point in the story.

Next, Evan/August impresses a churchman by learning musical theory and how to play a church organ in half a day, by himself. Yeah. Then he is admitted to Juilliard (of course!) for six months (without parents or legal guardians or money) where his first full symphony is referred to the NY Philharmonic for a performance in Central Park, that he will conduct (who else?).

Evan's parents waste a lot of film time doing a lot of nothing (with close-up head shots) that is meant to lead them to Central Park on the same day, at the same time... which, surprise, surprise, it does! And yet after all the cloying, follow-the-music reminders littered through the film pointing to the climax of reunion, we never get one. Instead, we see mom and dad walk trance-like right past the thousands gathered at the concert until they are in front. They see each other, hold hands without saying a word (it's been 12 years people!) watching their son (dad doesn't know he has a son and thinks mom is married - subplot that went nowhere) and son (Evan/August) finishes the piece, turns to face the audience, sees them and *knows*! Cue black screen. Credits scroll to sappy love song.

Yeah, didn't really like it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

DNA: It's who you are

This article blew my little unscientific mind. Apparently for a small (cough) fee, we're all going to be able to "read" our personal genomes the way fortune tellers read our palms... only this time, the results will have that added credibility and the fatalistic weight of science behind them.

The writer of the article, Amy Harmon, notes that both her dislike of brussels sprouts and her arthritis are genetically sourced. Breast milk really does increase intelligence (woo-hoo Bogart babies all of whom nursed for a combined total of 12 years and have the mental chops to show for it).
And although there is great controversy about the role that genes play in shaping intelligence, it was hard to resist looking up the SNPs that have been linked — however tenuously — to I.Q. Three went in my favor, three against. But I found hope in a study that appeared last week describing a SNP strongly linked with an increase in the I.Q. of breast-fed babies.
She raised the specter of how insurance companies might misuse the information once public.
I was not always so comfortable in my own genome. Before I spit into the vial, I called several major insurance companies to see if I was hurting my chances of getting coverage. They said no, but that is now, when almost no one has such information about their genetic make-up. In five years, if companies like 23andMe are at all successful, many more people presumably would. And isn’t an individual’s relative risk of disease precisely what insurance companies want to know?
Totally interesting!

The Ohio State University versus... little mich

12:00 p.m. abc

Apparently this is how Buckeye students prepare for the Big Game... they strip and dunk in Mirror Lake. (ht: Johannah's facebook photo album) Ahhh to be in college again!

With a win, Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) would:

- match its longest winning streak in the rivalry at four straight.

- win a third straight conference championship, including consecutive outright titles for the first time in a half-century.

- likely earn a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997.

For more pregame hype, see ESPN.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle) leaves CSI

Last night was the final episode. :( I wanted her to marry Grissom. Anyone else watch? Interestingly, I had a dream last night where "Cameron" from House was at a going away party for "Sara" from CSI. Supposedly they'd miss "working together." TMTV (Too much TV)

Here's a terrific interview if you are a weekly fan.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

De-centering the self: Michael Dyson

One of my favorite pomo expressions is: de-centering the self. It's one I've spent a lot of time contemplating. Most of us live in our own bubbles of comfort, culture and "correct" thinking. We interpret the world through the lens given to us by our parents, our race, our socio-economic backgrounds, our Englishes, our educations, our faith traditions (or lack of them), our gender, our topo-geographic localities, our relationships, our pains, our abuses, our joys... all of these wrapped together create us, shape how we understand the world and each other. As we become competent in our worlds, we gain speed at navigating the requirements (passing tests, earning degrees, getting jobs, managing money, initiating relationships, respecting the tax laws, obeying the rules of the road, shopping, dressing up and down and when, showing respect and disrespect including knowing when and how to do each, having sex, managing the level of technology your world affords and/or requires... and so on).

One of the reasons going to a foreign country is so often recommended as an "expanding" experience is that in deliberately leaving behind what we know, we are suddenly de-centered. The way we know the world is no longer "normative" but in many cases, an impediment to successful living. For instance, my history degree didn't help me bake bread or wash my clothes by hand in Morocco. I was seen as a flawed married woman without the necessary skills, not as a highly educated "prepared for adult life" individual.

What I took for granted (knowing the price of postage, counting change, finding a store open at hours you expect, locating the bus line, weighing vegetables, lighting a stove, hooking up a telephone, daylight hours, flavors, words, etiquette, smells, the shapes of buildings, toilet flushes) suddenly cost me energy. All day long I was bombarded by ineptitude... my own.

It's not uncommon to need naps when you move to a new country. It's also perfectly normal to develop irrational fears and judgments: What if I get lost downtown? How will I find the right bus? Why does that man look me in the eye? Didn't she just snub me? Why do they do it like *that* when it would be so much easier to do it like *this*?

The advice to people who face culture shock (or culture stress, as it is more commonly called now) is to let go of the old expectations. The quicker someone immerses self into this new reality, the faster she becomes happy. The more language a person has, the more fluency in all aspects of foreign living. Over time, the expatriate not only learns that there are other ways to successfully live on the planet, in some cases, the new ways become prized as more valuable than the formerly most comfortable ways.

What is really remarkable about living abroad is that you have no option but to recognize that your way is not the only way. Hearing about a foreign way of life is no approximation for how it actually feels to live it. When your senses are overwhelmed, you are obligated to either have a breakdown or figure it out. You must yield to the reality that there are multiple ways to live that give people the things we all crave: love, belonging and competence.

Last night, Jon and I attended a lecture given by Dr. Michael Dyson. We've heard him before. He's what is known as a "public intellectual, teacher and cultural critic." Dyson speaks from his personal space of being black, of interpreting and representing what are black issues today and he does so in an almost Robin Williams-esque style (freely flying between ebonics, black speak, white speak, intellectual-ese and rap).

We arrived at Xavier about five minutes before the start of the lecture. The hall was already filled with audience members... virtually all black. It hit me. I'm used to Xavier being white with a smattering of other ethnicities. Yet last night, Jon and I found two seats smooshed in the middle of the hall surrounded by blacks. I was not troubled. I was aware. This must be how it feels all the time in the suburbs for blacks. When a black family joins our homeschooling co-op, they know that their kids' friends will all be white, that they will be the only blacks in the room much of the time.

Last night, I felt it. Not just that I was white-skinned, but culturally white. When Dyson would talk about the way their "mammas and daddies" raised them, he talked about teaching kids that they have to rise up and overcome obstacles. He talked about two languages: the ebonics of the home and the standard English of the outside world. He quoted Marvin Gaye and the Temptations and found the audience finishing his sentences. He rapped like Jay-Z and the college kids rapped with him. Jon and I laughed our heads off with the crowd, but we were not a part of it. We had entered that other world where the assumptions I have mean little to the gathered.

It was a lot like visiting a foreign country.... only different in one important way. When I go abroad, I'm deliberately choosing to place myself in the mode of "learner." I know I will not "know" how to be, do, talk, live. I choose to be open to learning. When I'm in my country, I don't want that experience thrust on me. I expect to feel competent, at ease. Last night, I was reminded again of how important it is to deliberately seek to be out of my comfort zone, to listen to the points of view of those who even see me as a threat, an enemy or an impediment to their competence and success in the larger culture. In other words, I realized that for blacks, they spend a lot more energy than I do accommodating the largely white culture I come from... every day. I dipped into it for about three hours one night.

I don't know how else we ever get to that place where we know and honor each other's experiences unless we de-center the self regularly: like jogging, like eating right, like holding back bad words, like de-cluttering the house, like taking medicine or vitamins. Self-discipline to give up my right to be comfortable and right.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you knew me when...

In the last couple of weeks, a strange thing has happened. I've had dreams about people from my past - my best friend while I was in France, a pair of guys I knew during a summer project with Campus Crusade. Almost simultaneously, friends from my past have popped up on my phone, in my email. Apparently I'm one Google search away from being found by anyone who knows me. I tallied up the number of people I've heard from in the last two weeks who are from some earlier time in my life: six.

Suddenly I'm updating six different people on what has gone on in my life in the last 20 years. Has anyone else experienced this? It seems to be the combined impact of mid-forties and Internet search engines. Steve (who posts in the comments) and I met each other "again" through the Internet and as a result, I even went to visit him when I made my trip to LA. We hadn't talked or seen each other in 20 years.

One of the challenges of being "discovered" on the Internet is that my writings range from homeschool and writing advice to liberal theology and apostasy! Depending on when and how you knew me, the second set of writings might be a shock.

But so far, friendship has won out over orthodoxy in each of the recent six cases, and that is a gratifying experience.

Sometimes, though, it's hard for me to know where I left off in the retelling of my life. I get bored by my own story (I lived it and wrote so much about it as it was happening that I can't get up the enthusiasm to go back over and over it). Yet I know that when a person like me (radically committed to the point of inspiring others - so I'm told) makes a big change, it's one that creates that curiosity bug - what does it mean? How did it happen? (And the dark side: if it happened to her, could it happen to me?)

Remember those two guys I dreamed about last night? I Googled their names this morning. Both still work for Campus Crusade: one has his Th.D. from Dallas and the other is working with Human Resources in Asia. That makes a lot of sense based on my memory of them and what I knew about them before.

What would make sense to someone Googling my name who "knew me when" would be:

Jon and Julie Bogart are working for the Vineyard denomination, taking short term missions trips to North Africa, and writing articles about Muslim missions.

Instead, they stumble on my blog where I deconstruct prayer, explain the logical fallacies of soteriology and cap it off by saying that I'm totally sick of church. If pushed to say it, I even admit to being agnostic about God, believe theology is art, not the source of truth, and see Christianity more as cultural assumption than faith.

If you add Jon's journey, you wind up with two people who have abandoned all the trappings of our formerly committed Christian lives and we don't go to church (which is a Big Sin on the scale of homosexuality in the Midwest). What does it mean? What went wrong?

It's this. I suffer from spiritual exhaustion.

As I sat in evening meditation last night at yoga (our three minutes of silence), I realized that from the day I entered evangelical Christianity until several years past when I left it, I feel called upon to make commitments, to express conclusions, to participate in community, to work for good, to analyze and determine what version of faith would be "acceptable" to me in spite of my disenchantment with evangelicalism, to defend the process I'm in, to say nice things about my past and avoid saying critical ones, to find a church, to make use of my degree... in short, I feel called on to create and sustain a spiritual life that makes sense to others and can be classified as Christian on some level.

(I'm not aiming this post at any one of you. This is the collective sense of what I feel when I have had to interact about my faith (or serious lack of it) in the last five years.)

The truth is, though, I spent twenty years devoted, committed, seeking, open, worshipful, in a posture of prayer, relying on the Bible to convict me of sin, disciplined daily to share my faith, to pray for others, to seek to be used by God to heal, working to give to the poor as specified by my church...

I went on to give myself to equally devoted theological study over a five year period (four of which were in graduate school).

The "conclusion" (if you want to call it that) is that I must start over. There is no place for me in any of the current forms of Christian faith that I know about. As Spong says, I'm in exile. I live in midwestern exile from Southern California and I live in spiritual exile from Christianity. The interesting similarity between these two displacements is that I'm happy. I don't feel that I must rush back to Los Angeles to reclaim my identity, nor do I feel I must make sense of Christianity to include me in it.

Instead of passionate devotion and problem solving, I'm resting in the what "is" of my life. I wrote my first UPI column about the Freefall of Faith, something I still feel accurately describes me today:
My search for truth left me with something else instead: uncertainty — a total lack of confidence in any one theological position I had held previously, and as a result, a loss of confidence in God.

Still, though I lost faith, I never lost interest.

To exercise faith in the midst of so little clarity related to the things of God, I have discovered that I must leap into the unknown with humility, trusting that truth has less to do with propositions and more to do with dispositions. Interest has changed me. I am open to people and how they understand the world, rather than defending myself against them. I want to know why certain beliefs are meaningful in one context and not as meaningful in another.

In fact, without presuppositions and doctrines to support me, I feel a bit like I've jumped from a plane without any parachute at all. The view is gorgeous, though, as I look at the world from above, rather than defending one bit of turf as my own, as God's own. I don't know where I'll land. I don't know how fast I'm falling. But the air is chill and exhilarating, I sense the Spirit in the wind and I feel caught in a process of discovery that feels something like truth.

It's a freefall. I call it faith.
Seems I'm still living there, suspended in the air.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Home churching

We did a stint of home churching, that nutty scheme where one parent leads songs and the other gives sermons, and if you're a fundamentalist, it's always the man who talks and the woman who chirps.

In our case, I was fed up with weekly services in gymnasiums, converted warehouses, steeple-people brick buildings, theater in the round houses of worship, and build-to-suit auditoriums. After wandering in the Cincinnati ecclesiastic wilderness for over a year, I had no desire to meet in our living room. I had grad school (which was enough spiritual nourishment for me) and almost no desire to pray or sing or sermonize in a group. Jon, on the other hand, felt that the abrupt conclusion of our church quest would leave the middle kids especially feeling that we had abandoned all our beliefs. So for his sake and for the kids, I gave in.

Our first few weeks in the living room included a cassette player which pumped out Vineyard worship tunes. We stood, sang, raised our hands, closed our eyes, swayed... If you went to a Vineyard, you know what I mean. The middle kids stayed seated. It's a little weird when there are only seven of you.

We usually followed the singing with a Bible passage and discussion about what it meant, how we might apply it and I usually tacked on some historical criticism to make use of that degree I was earning. I mostly didn't pray. I was in the period of no prayer where any time I tried to pray, I felt like the biggest hypocrite. Jon prayed. I was grateful for that. But prayer and singing only lasted for about a year in our home church.

I mentioned in another post that Jon embarked on his own deconstruction process that was quite different than mine, though perhaps my process contributed to his on some level. He stumbled on a book by A.N. Wilson about Paul that he purchased and read for a Bible study we led about the book of Galatians. Wilson's book was followed by others, especially those that dealt with science and faith. Suddenly Jon found himself asking and answering his own questions which meant that our conversations became much less touchy.... for awhile.

A surprising side effect resulted from Jon's re-evaulation of his beliefs. I didn't like it. While I was the one asking the hard questions and discovering alternative answers, I had unwittingly relied on Jon to hold onto our original beliefs... for the kids, for me, just in case. It felt safe to play at the edges of doctrine when there was this anchor in the family who would still take the kids to church, who would still answer their hard questions with comfortable and familiar refrains.

Suddenly he was thinking thoughts and sharing new opinions... ones I didn't even hold. Worse, he drew what are known in the modern world as "conclusions." He moved into new positions, painted the walls and added a sectional. As a postmodern, I prided myself on sketches, architectural design schemes and flipping through magazines for new ideas. Ambiguity, reluctance to commit, openness to multiple positions, reserving judgment—these were my new cherished values. I imagined that anyone sincere in deconstruction would feel reluctant to switch allegiances too quickly or completely. Not so for Jon. He made changes faster than I asked questions.

But what did I know? This was his process, not mine. When he came to a new point of view, he shared it, with conviction, just like he'd always expressed himself. I had to regroup and allow for that difference between us. It was hard. Especially when I thought about the kids. What would the kids do with all this change so suddenly?

For a long while (over a three year period), we continued our weekly homechurch ritual, but it evolved. No more singing. Discussion of biblical passages now meant walking a tightrope - expressing our changing beliefs without overstating them or causing too much dissonance. Now the discussion of verses included Jon's ideas which were not identical with mine which were no longer identical with evangelical teachings. Johannah asked to be taken back to our old church (we accommodated). Noah opted out all together. And the younger kids stuck with us until we got sick of listening to ourselves.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Happy birthday to me!

Happy birthday, originally uploaded by juliecinci.

I've got lots to write and say but today is probably not the day to do it. Instead, I'm being "feted" by my kids and husband. 46! When did I drop to the backside of the forties? Aiyiyiyi! Time to get it done, whatever "it" is.

If we lived in Morocco, I'd be throwing you all a party and giving you gifts. That's how they do it there. But that's not how it's done here.... so I get to get the gifts. :D At least so my kids say.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Best Advice I Ever Received

My UPI column is now infrequent due to the demands of my business. However, this week I recycled an article I wrote for this blog for today's column. My kids were on my mind as the news broke about Andy Reid's two kids (Eagle's coach) going to prison for drug dealing.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mawwiage and family (phase two)

Jon quit his job at the Vineyard only 18 months after we came to Cincinnati. The reasons are fairly straight forward. His boss, the founding pastor, was asked to step down and he did. Jon worked in this pastor's chief department which became a dead end job quickly as it was no longer directly related to the rest of the church. We saw that Jon's future on the staff was insecure and perhaps even likely to be terminated. So Jon preempted that possible danger and found another job and then quit.

At that time we had to decide if we would stay in exile here in Cincinnati or run home to California's higher housing prices, traffic, the beach, the LA Times and our old church. We decided to stay, against all odds (even giving up Pac-10 sports on TV). We loved living in a house and our kids already loved their friends here.

So we continued to go to the church, even though Jon was no longer on staff. The next year that followed was the one - the most difficult year. My need to keep quiet about my eroding faith to protect Jon's job was gone. At the same time I watched my kids participate in Sunday school classes that curled my straight hair. For instance, Jacob reported that in his class, they played a miracle game. Kids were blindfolded while the teachers gave them things to drink saying, "Jesus turned the water into..." and then the guinea pig would be forced to sip Mountain Dew or grape juice or milk without knowing what it was and then guess what Jesus had turned the water into this week. When they got to Jake, they gave him yogurt on which he gagged. It traumatized him. It horrified me.

I had already gone through my phase of deconstructing the miracles (really thinking about what might have happened, what the stories were meant to convey more than how they could be scientifically proven, etc.). And at that time, I couldn't have told you that I believed in the accounts as "magic" or "miracle." But to have the Wedding at Cana account trivialized to such an extraordinary Nicklelodean degree offended me more than naive literalism. I could not believe that this game was supposed to be some kind of spiritual guidance for kids.

I shared my irritation with Jon who sympathized with me. We were both beginning to tire of the overly "seeker-friendly" orientation of the messages and the mood of the church.

Not long after that, we attended the Easter service. I kid you not—Easter egg hunt and a bunny for the Sunday school crowd. Worse, the pastors formed a faux boy band and performed as the opening act of the church service. That's when I knew I could not attend that church any more.

Never mind whether or not I thought the Bible was the inerrant word of God, whether the resurrection was a spiritual concept or a literal fact, whether people had souls and spent eternity somewhere or were simply endowed with consciences and spirits to be used for good in the here and now. All of these dilemmas paled when held up against the trivializing of faith in the form of pop culture celebration and emulation.

And don't get me wrong. I love pop culture. I watch Seinfeld and Friends reruns every night. I don't mind good speakers referencing pop culture to make points.

Naive literalism (beliefs taught and accepted without theological reflection) combined with a drive to be relevant (which looked like being hip and current, not truly connected to the pulse of what makes society tick) emptied Christianity of its power, meaning and truths. It was as though Christianity had become slogans and cliches around which a community gathered.

So we left. We spent the next six months checking out other churches. I was ready at that time to stop going to church all together. Jon was not. In fact, he was insistent that we continue to go to church somewhere. He shared my disappointment in the Vineyard, but he did not share my theological angst. Hence, church must continue. For the kids. For ourselves.

I don't mean to drag you church by church through that sojourn. I will mention one or two highlights:

--I asked if we could check out the Unitarian Univeralist Church downtown. We did. Jon has a great sense of humor and helped the kids adjust to the "weirdness" of it by coming up with a little catch phrase we could say to each other all day. I forget what it was now, but it helped. Jacob returned from Sunday school to report: "Mom, Dad - there's a witch in this church!" Apparently, one of the kids was from a family who practiced Wicca. Liam and Caitrin's teachers were amazed that they knew Bible stories. "It's rare that any of our children know what the Bible is, let alone the stories in it." Uh, okay. So yeah, that was a bizarre experience, even though the people were lovely.

--We attended another Vineyard up until 9/11. This church had 200 members and not one person said hello twice in the six months we attended. We tried to introduce ourselves, but... didn't go anywhere. I took to reading theology during the sermons when it became clear the pastor didn't know any. Predestination and free will choice littered the same sermons without any awareness of the conflict. The Sunday after 9/11, the pastor led his sermon with, "I'm not going to talk about 9/11. It would be too easy to talk about that event and pray about it and get preoccupied with it. Today, I'm going to give a usual sermon. We don't need to spend time in grief. We need to focus on the Gospel."

That was our last Sunday.

And thus began two years of church at home. Our conflicts over faith were about to begin in earnest.

This just in from Seattle

Jon called from the Off the Map conference.

He was in charge of "crowd warm-ups" this a.m.

Jon: Who's traveled the farthest to be here?

Crowd calls out Idaho, Illinois, Connecticut...

Crowd all astonishment at the distance some will travel just for a conference.

Jon: Who's the farthest from God?

Laughter! Totally unexpected.

A voice: Me. I head up the local Community Atheists Organization in our city.

Murmurs. Shuffling feet. Whispers. Can it be? An atheist at a Christian conference?

Jon deadpan
: Can't be you. You don't believe in God.



Said Jon to me on the phone: I think I'm good at this. :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On having a family still involved in evangelicalism

Living in between worlds is a great way to talk about this strange place of deconstruction. It's not like everyone in our family had the same insights and changes in belief at the same time. Johannah, for instance, was deeply troubled when we left the church when she was 13 and 14. Noah, on the other hand, felt liberated to truly be himself. The younger ones were, well, younger. They didn't grasp why we stopped going to church and had church at home for two years (more on that in another post).

Still, as the years have gone forward, each family member has maintained some tie to our evangelical roots and relationships. How could we not? Those years and relationships are still vital and precious to us. Leaving beliefs behind doesn't mean jettisoning friends and family. The Baby and Bath Water cliche works well here. We have kept as many babies as will have us!

Most of my friends and online connections and most of Jon's business and local relationships come from our 25 years as evangelicals. My business is in the homeschooling world and my clients are mostly Christians of some variety. Jon's email publishing business is more than fifty percent related to our relationships and networks through missions and the Vineyard. Nearly all of our friends (college, early adulthood, 10 years in California, current 8 years in Ohio and online) as well as half of our families are practicing Christians. And these are just our relationships. We're also involved in Christian communities all over the place.

This week Jon is speaking at the Off the Map conference in Seattle. His good friend Jim Henderson originated Off the Map with Jon here in Cincinnati at the local Vineyard about 7 years ago. They've remained good friends. Jon, who is even more disaffected with evangelical doctrine than I am (that story still yet to be told on the blog), was invited to speak about social intelligence. Despite not going to church, despite the fact that he no longer shares the same doctrinal outlook as evangelicals, Jon still thinks church has the potential to be a socially powerful tool in local communities. So he said yes. Of course. No animosity, but also no hypocrisy. He'll share what's on his heart and listen to what they say back. And he's rubbing elbows with lots of our old friends at the same time.

The rest of the family is also still a part of Christian gatherings and groups. Caitrin spent last weekend at the fall retreat with the Vineyard junior high group. I'm at our old church every Sunday while she's in Sunday school. When they teach about Satan as though he's real, I get a little cross-eyed. But that doesn't keep me from supporting her in her choice to go. She's also involved in outreaches and learning about things like being kind to people she might otherwise overlook.

Johannah attends a college Bible study sponsored by the Vineyard in Columbus. Jacob met the Christians at his high school on "See You At the Pole" during the first week of school. They all prayed for the school year together. I teach at a Christian homeschool co-op every week and speak to the local Christian homeschooling support groups. Jon and I have been homeschool camp counselors for years. Even Noah took New Testament Greek a couple years ago. Liam might be the only one who isn't actively related to any form of the faith.

As you can see, our lives are inextricably bound with our evangelical loved ones and friends. Despite my criticisms of the doctrines and culture, I in no way want to imply that we have disdain for Christians or what they are doing well. We feel deeply connected to that world despite living a different worldview. Sometimes I think it's harder for others to know what to do with us than it is for us to know how to interact with them.

What I'd like to do on this blog is to use this space to examine how evangelical (conservative Christian, orthodox Christian) culture and beliefs need a make over and why I think so. The reevaluation process doesn't have to end in disdainful or hostile scientific atheism. It doesn't have to end in confession of the Nicean Creed either. I really do think there is another way.

Continuing this intimate relationship with evangelicalism combined with my graduate studies and seven year deconstruction process means I feel I have a valid role in the redefinition of what it ought to mean to be Christian, or at least, what it ought not to be.

I'll write the second installment on marriage and falling away next. I just felt that this little overview was important since it keeps coming up - why do I care when I've walked away? Uh, that's the trouble. I haven't really walked all that far. It's like I moved next door, not across the country. So we're still in the neighborhood, related to it, care about it. And so I write.