My Obligatory Post about the “Evolution vs. Creatonism” Debate

…I didn’t watch it live.earth-space

We watched Dallas Buyers Club instead, starring a gaunt Matthew McConaughey and even more gaunt Jared Leto.  And ate pork tacos that I made myself from ingredients I cobbled together from the store.

It was a great movie, based on a true story.  And I make great tacos.

And, dare I say, the movie and the tacos had more to do with reality than the so-called debate.

I’m an evolutionist when it comes to how things have ended up the way they have; no mistake about that.  It’s the theory I think best explains the questions it sets out to explain (at least, so far). But to think that these two people were actually debating the same topic is naive (I watched the debate online this morning).

They weren’t debating the same topic.  It might have appeared like they were, but they weren’t.

It appeared like they were debating how the world came to be and why there is “something” rather than “nothing.”

But really, Ham was talking about a worldview, and Nye was talking about science as a way of discovering truth.

Those are not the same thing.

Science is a method of discovery.  A worldview is composed of convictions on what the person feels has already been discovered.

So it’s no wonder why, when asked what would change each of their minds on the supposed topic, Ham said “Nothing” and Nye said “Evidence.”

Science is a method of discovery based off of evidence. It changes because more, different, or better evidence is found (or previous evidence appears unfounded). We could say that the sum total of Nye’s thoughts, some of which are informed by science, comprise his worldview (so far).  Nye’s worldview includes science, but I wouldn’t say that science is his worldview.  Science probably answers the “how” questions for Nye, like it does for most of us, but it doesn’t answer every question.

A worldview, however, is the total sum of all conceptions in one place.  Ham was debating his worldview.

Changing a worldview doesn’t take evidence. It takes a life-changing encounter…or a series of life-changing encounters. And Ham was describing his worldview where everything (dare I even say even relationships and love?) are contained within what he considers to be Scripture.  Especially questions like “how.”  His worldview says that “how” questions are found in Scripture. He’d have to encounter something that would dramatically shift him out of that way of thinking for his worldview to change.

An encounter is not a discovery; it is the absolute disruption of a worldview regardless of the method of discovery used.

Suffice to say, anyone who makes a “Creationism Museum” (and I use”museum” here in the sense that “things are on display”…like a thimble museum…it is not, in my opinion, a museum in the same way as The Field Museum here in Chicago) is not open to many life-changing encounters, I would think.

That’s just my assumption, but I think there is evidence to support it.

I would venture to guess that Ham feels like he’s already had his life-changing encounter…and doesn’t need any other ones.

And that, by and large, is my biggest beef with that mindset.  It’s the idea that things are “settled.”  So Nye could have shown him anything, said anything, and Ham still wouldn’t budge.  Because his worldview doesn’t allow for that…doesn’t allow for more, better, or different evidence.  It’s not based on evidence.  It’s based on being, and remaining, settled.

And a worldview that is settled is static, not dynamic.

And I think that we, the church, should encourage dynamic worldviews. And we need to be encouraging dynamic faith, too.

Evolution is mysterious.  It’s amazing.  In fact, Nye used “mysterious” multiple times when speaking! It’s how a simple thing becomes complex in structure and, yet, retains some simplicity even amidst it all.  It’s so interesting!

Creationism is static.  “Boom,” it is said, “a fully developed tree with rings and everything.”

It’s…uninteresting to say the least.

One of the common critiques about accepting evolution as an answer to” how things are as they are” is that it erodes “God’s glory” (although I’m unclear of what the critics mean by that phrase).

God’s glory isn’t diminished because God might use a mechanism like evolution to create.  In fact, I think that enhances God’s glory (and by “glory” here I mean God’s “awe-inspiring traits”).

God’s glory is diminished, I think, when we assume God would take the road that we would take…the road of least resistance.

Because, let’s be honest, I often just want things to *poof* be as I’d want.  Creationism is what I would do.  Hopefully God is more inventive than me…more awe-inspiring than me.

This reluctant Christian hopes people don’t think last night was a real debate.  Real debates need to be on the same topic intending to influence people. I would be astounded to hear that anyone changed their mind about creationism or science by hearing it.

You want to know what I think would be a good debate?  The debate between static faith and dynamic worldviews; between static and dynamic faith.  What are the pros and cons between thinking you have it all figured out and continually searching?

Tag, NPR, you’re it.

“Relationship Issues” or “Jesus Doesn’t Want to be My Boyfriend.”

I know…the title.  images

I actually wanted to title this “Jesus Isn’t That Into You” as a play off of the movie…but that would have really brought the hate mail.

So let me start with a disclaimer.

Let me say, unequivocally, that I think Jesus is “into you” (although I think that sounds weird).

But maybe…maybe Jesus isn’t that into you.  Or, at least, not as solely about you as we’ve made it out to be.  Jesus doesn’t want to be my boyfriend.

Let me explain for a second.

In my blog on 5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say, I got a lot of push back for #2 on my list, “You just have to do God’s will…”  Specifically for my statement in the subsequent lines where I posit that I’m not convinced that God’s greatest wish is for us to be in relationship with God.

I should have put an asterisk next to that statement because, here’s what I really mean by that: I think that Christianity has adopted a “win souls for Jesus,” “you must invite Jesus into your heart,” “you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus” mentality at the sacrifice of every other type of relationship that God might desire for humanity.

We’ve given up our relationship as stewards of the Earth so that we can build monstrous mega-church compounds on open land to focus on the “Jesus-and-Me” relationship, adopting crazy ideas that perhaps global warming is fake and is God’s plan for the world.

We’ve given up our authentic relationships with others who, perhaps, don’t think the same things we do, because our singular focus is now to try and convert and “win souls for Christ.”

American evangelical Christianity has focused so much on fostering personal relationships with Jesus Christ, most other relationships are left in the dust…

Plus, speaking from a place of honesty, much of the agnostic/marginally Christian world (and a good number of us convicted Christians) finds the super-close-Jesus-is-my-boyfriend talk creepy.

I think we all want to be known; really known.  And I think God knows us; truly knows us.

But when we start talking about Jesus like he’s our lover in the modern sense we really are talking in ways that put people off.

Don’t think we do that?  Consider the song “In the Secret.”  Here are the lyrics:

In the secret, in the quiet place

in the stillness you are there.

In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait

only for you (this part is usually whispered)

Because I want to know you more.

I want to know you,

I want to hear your voice

I want to know you more.

I want to touch you

I want to see your face

I want to know you more.

Creepy, right?

Or what about Hillsong’s “I Surrender” where you sing “have your way in me, Lord”?  I’ve banned that song from my church because I can’t hear that without imagining how someone who has been sexually abused hears it…

I mean, c’mon folks, maybe Jesus isn’t that into us.

I’m all for the talk of having the “heart strangely warmed,” to use a Wesley phrase (and he was reading my boy, Luther, btw).  I’m all for the stirring of the spirit, for soul-stirring that you can’t explain.  I’m Lutheran, a spiritual descendant of the one who kept repeating over and over again, pro me, when it came to Jesus’ promises in Scripture.

“For me.”

It’s personal.  And the opposite can be true.  A lot of places talk so much about God in the abstract, that any sort of relational talk is totally absent.

But I hear less of the latter and more of the former.  It’s good to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but we’ve taken that and run right into the crazy bin.

If that’s all we focus on, the personal…and that’s a lot of what I hear…then, well, I think the boat has been missed, by and large.

When Jesus said “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t think he imagined we’d stop on the first part as much we have.  Remember, that second part is “like the first.”

I’m all for a relationship with God; the mystic in me can’t do without it. St. Julian spoke of her relationship with Jesus in the most intimate way possible (totally scandalous…everyone should read some St. Julian).  But even from Julian you get the sense that she’s speaking from a “remain in me” kind of way, echoing Jesus from the Gospel of John.

But if it stops there…

No, really…I think a lot of places talk as if it goes on from there, about helping the neighbor, loving people for who they are and where they are in life, but it’s really just about you and Jesus and what you gain from that.

If that’s the case, well, then I’d say you have relationship issues. Maybe it’s good to consider that Jesus might not be that into you…not your boyfriend.

And that singular focus that I hear so much really often makes me a reluctant Christian.

One Thought on God and Suffering

For some reason my entry “5where-is-god-suffering Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” is getting a lot of traffic again.

And I’m getting a lot of push back because of my thoughts on suffering and “God’s plan.”

So, in an attempt to clarify it all, let me say this:

I will not endorse the notion that it is God’s plan that people get cancer.  I will not endorse the notion that it is part of God’s plan, specific or otherwise, that children die by gunfire.  I will not endorse that Hiroshima was part of God’s big plan.

I cannot do any of these things because I have sat by too many bedsides and buried too many children, even in my short pastorate.

Now, have I seen beauty in death?  Absolutely.  But have I seen senselessness?  Senselessness that goes far beyond any sort of platitude like “God’s wisdom is foolishness” or any other attempt to bend the words of Scripture to make meaning out of the meaningless?

Damn right.

And that’s the thing.  Such theologies that try to put God at the helm of these tragedies or, even worse, try to say that God is a passive bystander, are attempts to make concrete meaning out of meaninglessness.

We all make meaning out of life.  We all do; there’s no escaping it.  I have heard and known people calling their disabilities beautiful tools they use to learn about life.  I have heard people say that the death of their child was instructive for them.

I do not deny that these things are true.

What I deny is that a particular truth was intended to be drawn from them.  What I deny is that a particular truth was in the Divine mind as those tragic events happened.

What I deny is that God is in the dirty pain business.

Now, I think that God has caused me pain; causes me pain. I experience the pain of being wrong all the time (perhaps in this instance, too?).  I experience the pain of having my ego subverted, my best-laid intentions crumbled, my pride blown away, my intellect shattered by a God who speaks a word of grace to me when my greatest desire is for retribution.

But I do not think that God has caused my car accident so that I learn to drive better.  I may thank God for an accident that taught me a life lesson, but I don’t think God was passively watching it.

I think God was in the pit of fear and hell that I was in while going through it.

And that is a theology of the cross that, I think, truly speaks to the crucifixion story and the Good News of God.

The crucifixion story is one that speaks of Jesus’ suffering not as something apart from humanity, but a part of humanity.  I am not one to believe that God caused the crucifixion for some atonement.  I think that when you act and talk like Jesus, you die for it because our power systems (even the power systems that try to make sense out of the senseless) don’t like it.

So, do I think that it is all part of God’s plan that your foot was amputated?  That your brother or sister died in the Iraq war?  That your father has prostate cancer?

No.  I don’t. And we can quibble about philosophical categories for God, and whether God knows all, can do all, is everywhere…all of that.  We can quibble until the end of time, and I don’t think we’ll be any closer to the truth than if we just allowed God to say, “I’m not going to make sense out of senselessness…I’m going to make resurrection.”

Then maybe we can learn to die to our need to make sense of it all, and be resurrected as people who can hold tension well…a tension taught to us by a life that includes suffering, joy, and all in between.

On Why I Will Allow (and Encourage) My Kid(s) to Believe in Santa Claus

Just like the perennial “Waimagesr on Christmas” creeps its Grinch-like head around this time of year, so do the calls for people to abandon Santa Claus, the “Elf on the Shelf,” and other child-pleasing myths that we’ve come to associate with this season.

Apparently because we celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year, everything else must come to a halt…lest we overshadow the “reason for the season.”

Well, to be honest, if we’re trying to get back to the “reason for the season” at its roots, we should probably leave Jesus out of the equation, too.  December 25th was not originally known as “Christmas,” and didn’t become so for many years after Christianity had been around.  “The Feast of the Undying Sun” was marked on December 25th, an acknowledgment of the solstice that would now ebb away into increasing daylight.  A nice pagan festival in the dead of winter.

We invited Jesus to the party late.  He wasn’t the original reason for celebrations at this time of year.

Christians now celebrate the “Feast of the Undying Son” (I should trademark that little monicker because I think it’s pretty darn clever), but we should be honest and recognize that it’s not our original festival to claim.  And it certainly wasn’t chosen because it was the date of Jesus’ birth.

Face it, we put the “Christ” in Christmas.  Any attempt to “keep” Christ there are done so because we cemented him there…

But back to Santa and the crazy Elf on the Shelf: I say “do it.”

As a pastor, as a father, as someone who thinks that life is more than water and trace elements forced to eek out an existence, I say “do it.”

As I preached this last Sunday, St. Nicholas can provide a real depth of meaning in this season where we celebrate Jesus’ birth (for Christians) by buying one another a Lexus adorned with a huge bow.

St. Nicholas was known for his giving…not for getting whatever he wanted.  And by keeping St. Nick in this season, we too, can focus our children on the giving of the season, rather than the receiving.

“Keep Christ in Christmas” the bumper sticker reads…on the gas guzzling car.  What about keeping Christ in consumerism? In fact, if you want to eliminate the real issue with this season, it has nothing to do with saying “Happy Holidays” or burning effigies of the jolly fat elf.  It has everything to do with buying and selling and how and why and where we do it.

But I digress.

Even more than the historical St. Nicholas, there is a bit of wonder and awe that is lost from this season if we don’t allow our children (and our adults) to play around in the great mystery that comes from things not being dark forever, from lights that shine out of a tree planted in the living room, from characters that point to good virtues and mischievous glee.

I encourage you to believe in Santa Claus, who is chief giver in a season where our natural inclination is to conserve and save-up to survive the winter.  Likewise, believe in the elf that creates havoc in the middle of the night.  Lord knows we all need another example to follow when our tendency to look out for ourselves butts up against the command to look out for our neighbor’s needs first.  Lord knows we all need a reminder that, though things seem to run havoc in the darkness, a little light can expose the havoc and encourage us to laugh at it all.

Santa and the Elf and the like can encourage our children, and even us, to live deeply in the season, look lightly at ourselves, and look wondrously at life.

The real trouble, I think, happens when we start teaching our children that believing in Santa Claus is analogous to belief in God.  That is the real fear behind inviting these characters into the season: belief and attention to them will point away from “true” belief and attention to Jesus.

But if we start holding Jesus and Santa at the same level, when we teach that belief in the Elf on the Shelf is like belief in God, and that you can’t hold both at the same time, then we do a real disservice.  Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing that wonderfully awful song, “I Believe in Santa Claus” where they also claim to believe in magic, in God, and in human destiny…as if it’s all on the same level…and we’ve bought into that perspective.  It doesn’t help the situation.

They are different types of belief.

I don’t trust Santa like I trust God.  Santa is a mental assent I allow myself at certain times with a wink and nod; hopefully a mental assent that points me toward a deeper truth in the world.

But God…I don’t allow myself to mentally assent to God’s existence.  I tried to do that and ended up an atheist for a while.  Rather, I trust God’s existence and lean on it (for more on this line of thinking, see what I wrote here).

Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, it all lends itself to wonder and awe and joy.  I say that you shouldn’t take that away from children.  But also don’t make belief in it all analogous to trust in God.  That’s the real problem with this whole season, I think.  We feel we’re in competition for “belief resources.”

In fact, the God who invites imagination, who inventively sung creation into being (and sung salvation into being through a lullaby), pulls out of me the desire to embrace these traditions.

They’re not harmless; they’re helpful.

And they’re only hurtful when we put them on par with faith.  And sometimes I’m a reluctant Christian because that’s exactly what Christians have done.

So, Findley will be finding some presents from Santa on Christmas morning (and we’ll probably address some from the cats as well even though they don’t have the opposable thumbs needed to wrap presents).  It won’t be the primary focus of our festival, but it’ll be there. And he’ll squeal with joy and, for a moment, feel the wonder in the magic of the season where a jolly fat guy fits down a non-working fireplace and cats wrap presents to give to their owners.

And while we don’t do the Elf on the Shelf thing (mostly because I find the elf’s proportions creepily elongated) if that’s your bag, go for it.

And if Christmas bells deliver your presents, or if Santa rides a donkey, or if gnomes put presents in stockings…all traditions from around the world…allow yourself the wonder and awe to believe that this world might just be a little bigger than we want to make it.

Perhaps you’ll find yourself caught up in joy that points to Joy greater than itself.  Perhaps you’ll figure out why the ancient church put Jesus’ natal day on December 25th.  In the time of darkness, the lightness that comes from such joy is a welcome guest.

Why I Dislike Mega-Churches (No, Really…)

willowcreek-megachurch_thumb

A colleague of mine wrote a blog post today entitled, “Why I Hate Mega-Churches.”

But it’s a bait-and-switch (which he admits halfway through).  He likes mega-churches and, by his writing (in this and other pieces I’ve read), would probably like to lead one or build one.

Fine, I guess.  But when I look around the world, one thing I don’t tend to say to myself is, “Gosh, this world needs another mega-church.”

Just saying.

A good thing about mega-churches?  They have a lot of resources to do a lot of good in the world (should they choose to).

The consolidation of people and money under one mega-roof creates mega-possiblities (a quick qualifier: if one does some math to subtract the ecological and sociological impact from a mega-building, mega-pastors, mega-salaries, mega-parking lots, and mega-messaging-machines that often tout a message that I’d consider more damaging than helpful, the possible good shrinks considerably).

A bad thing about mega-churches?

They’re mega.

No, seriously, I think that’s a bad thing.  The anonymity that’s possible by slipping into stadium seating creates this wonderful silo-effect for the participant.  It makes you feel like the mega-speaker in the mega-space is speaking directly to you…and yet you never actually interact.

And there’s no need to!  You have thousands of others around you who can take up their time.  Why should you?

Also, I imagine it’s a little difficult to talk about giving yourself up for your neighbor when you’re sitting on a building whose footprint is effectively the size of a neighborhood.  Can we talk about the God who empties for the sake of humanity if we’re looking to fill our lives with mega?  Is there no cognitive dissonance there?

And, from my office, another problem with mega-churches is that it’s mega-taxing as a pastor to care for so many people…so, often you don’t.  It doesn’t happen.  The voice of Sunday morning is not the voice of the hospital or home visit. That’s not always bad, mind you.  Lots of people can and should do such care.  But there’s something about knowing the people you’re serving, and knowing them well.

Listen, I feel taxed enough keeping 300 people’s issues, concerns, schedules, and needs clear in my head. The possibility of 10,000 people sends me into convulsions.

Another problem I have with mega-churches is that I think  mega-churches teach, implicitly or explicitly, that mega-blessings and mega-sized programs and mega-sized hopes and dreams are what fuels the world and counts for success in life.

And they’re not.

My colleague says in his opinion piece that mega-churches seem to understand that God is found amongst the poor and the lonely because of all the good work they do for the poor and the lonely with their mega-resources.

If I may be so blunt: bull.

Such romanticizing of mega-sized resources  and mega-sized programs for the poor is a mega-sized dream.

If it is true that mega-sized churches really did believe God is best found amongst the poor and the lonely, the pastors would lead the charge there by putting the mega-sized buildings up for auction or, as a little church here in Wrigleyville (Chicago) has done, take out the pews and allow the homeless to sleep on the floor during the week.

That’s mega-voice with a congregation of 40 on a Sunday morning.

Finally, I guess I’ll also say that I don’t like mega-churches because it just feeds the mega-monster in the American (not exclusively, but largely) personality that bigger is better, success is godly, and fancy is freeing.

Again, bull.

Jesus, who had a large following but just over a dozen main players, who had no job, no home, and by any modern measure of success was, well, not successful, gives me no indication that mega-churches are anything but mega.

They are no more church than any other size gathering, no matter how you spin it.  And despite my colleague’s parsing of “God in mystery” and “God that repels” as motivating factors for church size,  I don’t think the argument for building church empires lies in how people relate to God.

By and large I think the truth lies in how people relate to egos, to money, and to what typical “success” is supposed to look like.  This is why we have mega-churches: because we like mega for all the wrong reasons.

But, lets be honest, I don’t like many small churches, either.

Mostly because I usually find that they think they should be mega, and get depressed because they’re not.  Or because they say they don’t want to be mega, but secretly do.

I like churches who are honest about themselves, who they are, and confident that in God, they can do all they are called to do in this world.

Mega is so attractive on paper…

Funny.  Nothing about Jesus is attractive on paper.

“Obscenity” or “On Why I Discourage People from Writing Their Own Marriage Vows”

I do a lot of weddings. I have a young community that I serve; it comes with the territory.writing-wedding-vows

And marriage is certainly on the radar these days in the States as more and more parts of the Union have legalized the union of same-sex couples.

I support same-sex marriage.  I should just say that off the bat.  I support it because, despite what you might hear out there, the Bible doesn’t have a thing to say about marriage.  It has many things to say.  And many of those things run contrary to modern notions of marriage.

What I don’t support, though, is for couples to write their own vows.  Sometimes I allow it…with conditions.  But, by and large, I don’t support it.  I’ll just come out of the proverbial closet on this: I’m against crappy vows.

If you want me to use my special designation by the State to do marriages, I’m going to force you to do pre-marital counseling with me.  Each session focuses on a different aspect of life together (and life, in general): family, finances, friends, and intimacy.

(If you want to keep going with “f” words it become obscene).

Another “f” word, faith, is woven through all of those.  Faith as trust: trust in the Divine and one another.

The very first session, though, is where we plan out the ceremony itself.  We spend a little while talking about order and structure, and then we look at words.  I think words are important (as you may know from previous posts).

I think words are so important, in fact, that I don’t continue with my string of “f” words when describing the different pre-marital counseling sessions…even though it would fulfill my great delight in alliteration.  The “f” word we commonly associate with intimacy is anything but intimate.  And although it’s a curse word that spices up language (and I’ve been known to curse), let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t feel particularly intimate with the “f” word in a way that is lasting.

If we did, we wouldn’t use it so liberally.  It is an obscene word that we use to indicate that something is just that: obscene.

“Love” is by far a scarier word to say.   And intimacy is not obscene, it’s scary.

So, because words are important, I always take the couple through the various words that I can/will use in the service: the declaration of intention, the prayer of the day, the blessings.

And then we get to the vows. And at this point I usually say something like this, “Now, I’m going to give you some options for vows and I want us to talk about them.  I want you to use one of these options. If you want to write your own vows, that’s a possibility…but I need to see them before hand.  And we need to talk about them.”

In all honesty, most couples aren’t interested in writing their own vows.  They’d rather have someone write something for them on a day when they’re already more visible than they’d like to be.

But every so often a couple will want to write their own…and that’s when I do my damnedest to try to talk them out of it.

See, this is the thing: in marriage, you can’t just promise whatever you might want.  And because love is scary, we often don’t know exactly what we want…and so we just go with what we know.

And so much of what we know is just sentimental generalist crap.

A vow is something very specific.  I had one of my best couples consider writing their own vows because, as the future bride put it, they wanted to “publicly express their love for one another.”**   Of course they do.  But that’s what the marriage ceremony is in and of itself.

A vow is not an expression of love, and yet so many labor under the delusion that it is.

A vow is a sacred promise, a statement that you say in front of people who, if they are at their best, will hold you accountable to them.  A vow is you saying, “Hey everyone listen up! I’m going to pledge some very specific things to this person across from me, and I want you to hear them and hold me accountable to them.”

Expressions of love are not vows.  Expressions of love are emotionally based.  Vows are not emotionally based, no matter what popular culture tries to tell you.

Vows don’t come from your heart, nor do they come from your head.  Vows come from that place that exists somewhere between rationality and emotionality, because you keep them even when it doesn’t make sense, and even when you don’t feel like it.

So many couples want to write their vows in secret, apart from one another, and then surprise the other with them.  Such surprises are best left for other points in the service, or other times in the whole event of the marriage day.  If you write your vows in secret, how are you to ensure that you’re vowing the same things to one another?

One of you cannot vow to be with the other to the bitter end, while the other only mention staying together in sunny times.  That happens, you know.  I’ve heard self-stylized vows that had very little to say about “the worst that is to come.”

And that’s when the vow is so important!

In a day and age of choice, which is what we are in, I’m sorry…I’m not willing to provide you with this particular choice.  You cannot choose what you vow to one another in marriage; marriage cannot mean whatever you want it to mean.

And I know that may seem to trample on individuality, but I’m trying my hardest to impart one thing and one thing only on you two: this is important.  You will make of your journey together what you will, but I want to hear how you’re going to make the journey, and I’d prefer you use ancient words that people have leaned on throughout all of time.

Because for as much as this is about you and your love, it’s also about all of us who witness it.  Because you invited us to be there.  So I’m going to try to hold you accountable to these things to the best of my ability.

And I’m not one who believes a couple should “stay together at all costs.”  Sometimes an amicable divorce is healthier than an acrimonious marriage.  But, at the very least, can we not look at the vows you made and figure out where things went wrong?  Let’s not pretend that people divorce over irreconcilable differences.

We divorce because vows are difficult to keep and we have trouble living together in covenants.

And so, instead of vows, too often we just have statements of love and intention because other people are really really difficult to live with.

No one marries intending not to stay together; I know what you intend.  I want to know what you vow.  I want to know what you promise from that place between your head and heart, that place of deep yearning that leads people to come together in marriage in the first place.

I don’t think marriage is under threat because people of the same sex want to marry.  Any two people can make a vow; gender doesn’t have much to do with it.  Marriage is under threat because people, of any sex, want to marry on their own terms.

And so much of the church is missing the boat here, I think.  We shouldn’t stand against same sex marriage, we should stand against shoddy vows and a society unwilling to comment on them in a meaningful (read: not judgmental) way when they fall apart.

I think the Bible has many things to say about marriage, most of them absolutely foreign to our modern ears and notions about the institution.  The question for the church isn’t, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” It is rather, “What does our faith say about marriage?”

And our faith, the Christian faith, says vows and covenants are important.  This thread flows through both testaments.

I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, we’ve been silent on the vows…but have a heck of a lot to say about who should marry.

And to not see the difference?  That’s just obscene.

**The couple eventually decided to have some statements of love that they had written to one another read before the vows themselves.  This is a great option, I think.

“Jesus Wouldn’t Like That…” and “What Would Jesus Do” Shouldn’t Be Uttered Anymore

I once had a teaimagescher in High School tell me that Jesus wouldn’t like that I told a kid to kiss my ass.

He was probably right, I guess, if I thought Jesus had an opinion on my language when there are wars to be fought and bellies to be fed and slavery to be abolished and the kid in my theater class was getting picked on by another teacher because he had good hair and he liked  to shop more than he liked shop class, and nobody said anything about it.

Not to mention that the kid I had cursed at had been picking on me mercilessly for two years, and I finally had gotten the nerve to tell him that I wasn’t interested in being a chew toy for him to throw around to impress his friends anymore.

I wonder if Jesus has an opinion about that.

We talk about Jesus all the time as if Jesus is opining about our every move, and while part of me thinks this is a healthy response to a theology that reinforces the nearness of God, it can sometimes just be plain stupid.

As catch-22 as “What Would Jesus Do,” when we imagine that Jesus wouldn’t “like” a particular action, I wonder what kind of guilt we think we’re laying on the person.  I think that they’re “Rubik’s Cube” questions.  We puzzle them about, except that with these cubes, there’s no solution.

I think we ask these questions and make these statements because we’re trying to escape the fact that we don’t like it and we don’t know what to do (or we do, but we’d like to pretend we don’t so that we can justify our actions by saying we prayed on it).

When we’re held up a mirror and the truth about ourselves is exposed, we don’t like it.

Truth is, that teacher saw that kid pick on me about 10 times a week for two years.  I wonder if Jesus has an opinion on that.  Maybe that’s why he didn’t like me telling the kid to kiss my ass; I had gotten the guts that the teacher had lacked.

Or maybe the teacher didn’t care.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that we don’t like mirrors. We rebel against them.

Like when I read a little blog the other day where a pastor goes off on Hollywood for flaunting what he calls “anti-Christian propaganda.” It’s a preview about a kid’s movie that talks about how some families have a mom and a dad, while others have two mommies and two daddies, or one parent, or a whole bunch of relatives in one house. Movie looks cute.

Apparently this is propaganda and oppressive for this particular parent.

God forbid that his children hear that families come in all sorts of forms (as if the kid can’t look around and see that).  How dare Hollywood expose his children so such truth?!  The bubble of brainwashing is burst in such ways; that’s not what he wants as a parent, I guess.

I imagine he doesn’t think Jesus would like that.

So I wonder what he’ll do when his kids get invited over to a classmate’s house who has two mommies.  And I wonder if he’ll consider, before uttering “Jesus wouldn’t like that,”  how one of those mommies was forced by society into a loveless marriage at a young age because she had been told that Jesus wouldn’t like her acting on her attraction to women.  And she had broken free of those societal chains that were killing her insides, speaking up in a way that society couldn’t or wouldn’t and found a way to be more whole.

And then I wonder if he might consider that Jesus wouldn’t like his child turning down an invitation to celebrate another child’s birth just because the sight of two mommies might cause some cognitive dissonance for that young kid being raised in a bubble full of half-truths.

Because, as much as the father doesn’t want to believe it, the child will be living in a world where there are two mommy families and two daddy families and divorced families and all sorts of families.  And to pretend that they won’t, well, I wonder if Jesus would like that sort of ignorance…

See the kind of bind we get in when we think like this? We pretend to pit Jesus against these situations when really all we’re doing is crashing the mirror set up in front of us because we don’t like being shown truth and our own inabilities to deal with life situations.

Because my teacher didn’t like being confronted with the fact that I had been picked on in front of him for far too long without him saying a word, and I wasn’t having it from the bully or from the voiceless teacher anymore.  And this father doesn’t like the fact that love comes in a few different forms–even if he doesn’t approve of them–and his speaking out against same-sex couples, his flaunting of his “traditional, Biblical values,” is now being drowned out by other voices of love as he cries out that he is now the oppressed one.

Jesus wouldn’t like that, I think.

And I wonder what Jesus would do in that situation.

And as you sit with those unsolvable Rubik’s Cube questions, perhaps you’ll just come to see, as I see, that they are manipulative ways of trying to get around the fact that we’re sometimes confronted with our own shortsightedness and don’t like it.

Perhaps we shouldn’t get Jesus into the damning business like “Jesus wouldn’t like that” does.  And perhaps we should get Jesus out of the “choose your own Christian adventure” business like “What would Jesus do?” tries to press on us.

Instead, why don’t we live like Jesus lived. Or try to.  And I don’t think you have to ask WWJD in every situation to try to live like the Christ.  We have a pretty good understanding of what Jesus would do: love God and the neighbor as yourself.  Give of yourself for others. Get mad at injustice in the world and act on it, even if it kills you.  Be peaceful. Forgive.

I mean, I guess we can look at the rampant malnutrition in a world full of food and say, “Jesus wouldn’t like that…”  But we won’t, by and large.  Because there’s probably not enough guilt in the world to make us change our economic practices and allow the food insecure to eat well.  We’ll just save Jesus’ damnation for people who use the word ass…

I’m a reluctant Christian sometimes because we’ve confused trying to predict how Jesus would act in the 21st Century and what he’d opine on 21st Century problems without even mastering how to live like he did in ancient Palestine first, and we call it “Christian values” or “the Christian life.”

When you’ve mastered loving your God and your neighbor as yourself, then perhaps we can ponder what Jesus thinks about movie previews and what Jesus would do about it.

My hunch is he’d smile and mark his calendar to go see it.

God’s Will is Not an Algorithm (Looking At You Christian Mingle)

I’m prepping to preach on Psalm 25:1-10.  I think it’s timely.images

See, I have serious issues with people breaking the Second Commandment.

I think it’s a woefully misunderstood commandment, by and large.

Most of my Confirmation kids think it’s about cursing when we first come to it in our study of the Decalogue.  By the time they leave, though, I hope they have a broader view…they tell me they do.

I want to impart this much on them: as a preacher I am very (i.e., terribly) nervous about ever saying something from the voice of God.  Because I don’t want to use God’s name, or likeness, or voice, uselessly.  This is really what the Second Commandment is about, I think.

So that lovely billboard that says, “You know that ‘Love one another’ thing?  I mean that.-God”.  I think it’s in bad taste.  And poor form.

And I think it breaks the Second Commandment just as much as those signs that say, “God hates fags.”

I don’t think their impact is the same, of course.  The former is aimed toward a reminder of love, the latter is best used as firewood.  But I think they’re both wrongheaded.

In Psalm 25 we have a student (the Psalmist) entreating the teacher (God) to teach them and lead them on godly “pathways.”  “Show me how to live,” the Psalmist asks.

And if you go to the book store, you’ll see tons of books dedicated to just that.  There are so many in this world who are simply convinced of God’s will, pathway, for not only their life but also yours.

And I am suspicious of it all.  And it gives me the shakes to think that I am culpable at times of falling into that same trap.

It’s like Christian Mingle’s tagline, that online dating service marketed specifically for Christians: “Find God’s Match for You.”

Do we really think that God’s will is algorithmic in origin?  Do we really think that God wants you to choose from a pull-down menu “washboard abs” (an actual choice on that site), and that God’s match for you will appear based on that, your height, and your education level?

God, I hope not.

Why, then, do we think that other things pertaining to God’s will align like this?

Career changes, relationships, neighborhood locations, vacation destination…”where does God want me to go?  What is God’s will for my life?”

So often this is just a way for us to find ways of getting divine support for our own decisions and situations.  I would be the first to admit that I don’t think God wants you to harm yourself or others; I can say that this is not “the good” that God desires for humanity.  But between two career choices?  Or a neighborhood move? Or a relationship?

Can we not be honest about it all and say that to quickly know God’s will…perhaps to know it at all…is really just a way we try to placate ourselves into thinking we’re making good choices?

Leslie D. Weatherhead, that process theologian best known for his work The Will of God (a good, if dated, work), tells the story of the parson who is offered a high-paying job at a new parish in the next city over, twice the salary of his current position.  When a young parishioner asked the parson’s son what his father will do, the son replies, “Well, Dad is praying over it, but Mom is packing.”

I think Dad has made his choice.  Or maybe Mom has.  A humorous (and true) example of this in action.

The worst example of course, and I’ve mentioned this before, is assigning tragedy to being part of “God’s will.”

This is another placation of sorts.  It’s easy for us to deal with life situations if we believe they’re divinely ordained.

But I want to talk about honesty here; I don’t want to be careless just because it’s useful. And I don’t think God wanted your child to die, your mother to have cancer, you to be born with one arm, or that Asiana Airlines flight to crash.

Gravity happens.  Cells divide and mutate…sometimes in ways that are tragic for life.

But to call such things “God’s will” is sick and demented and wrong.  And it’s not any better to say, “Well, I’d never say it at the time because it’s not helpful, but it’s true that it is God’s will…”

In fact, that’s worse because it’s patronizing.

And I think it’s wrong to say that it must be God’s will that these things occur because in such situations people gain great insight, or muster great courage, and that those goods outweigh the tragic bad.

In this vein Weatherhead can again be enlightening.  He notes that tragic situations do not cause great courage or insight, they just uncover it.  And to suggest that such courage or knowledge couldn’t be gained in other, non-tragic ways, is shortsighted.

We either give lip service to seeking “God’s will” while just reinforcing our own, or we proclaim “God’s will” carelessly while not really knowing what we’re talking about.

Both are sad realities for the Christian world.  This is how I see it most often done, though.

To steal Kierkegaard’s famous title, the topic of God’s will should approached with “fear and trembling.”  And with a healthy dose of mystery.

This is why spiritual disciplines are very important.  They’re less than formulaic; anyone immersed in deep discernment can tell you that it often feels like three steps forward and two back when trying to suss out a path in the deep woods of doubt and indecision.

They invite us into mystery.

Finding the will of God is less like being the captain of a ship out at sea whose rudder turns it sharply as the stars realign and the course changes in the captain’s sight.  We want such swift movement…we desire it and love it when people tell us they have such clarity.

But I, by and large, don’t trust it…and don’t encourage you to, either.

I liken it more to being a laborer on an archeological dig where slowly we uncover the thing we are seeking. And even then we sometimes end up uncovering a broken pot when we were hoping for a dinosaur.

The fact that God’s will is difficult…impossible in the specifics?…to determine is clear by those who commit themselves to the monastic life.

It is, in essence, declaring that one might arrive at God’s will by the time the tomb calls us.  Maybe. Hence why it’s a life choice.  And a good bit of discernment goes into deciding to enter an order; it takes years and years.

And sometimes people discern wrongly.  God’s will is not algorithmic in nature.

Instead of always hastily proclaiming knowledge of God’s will, I’d much rather we all agree to stumble blindly (and be honest about it) while fervently praying, discerning, and sifting for goodness in this world as we go.  Seek God’s will; sure.  But let’s not pretend to be so certain or have such clarity.  Let’s not pretend to have quick answers and divine revelations when really all we want is wish reinforcement.

I don’t think Christian Mingle can find God’s match for you.  I think it can find you some good dates, and maybe even a partner (apparently only if you’re straight, though…you can’t seek for the same sex).

But I wouldn’t say that the person you find there is “God’s match” for you anymore than the person you pick up at the bar.  And I think they should be ashamed for using that tagline.  It breaks the Second Commandment.  And it’s a dumb tagline anyway.

Instead of waiting around for God’s will, do something (very Lutheran) and step out into the world.  Sift away at the sands of life as you go; look for the good.  But don’t imagine that you can be on the “wrong path” anymore than you are on the “right path.”

You are on the pathway.  At each step you sift a little more and slowly eek out the beautiful existence.

The Psalmist doesn’t wait for God to teach them the right path before beginning the journey, but instead prays for constant companionship and enlightenment and courage as they go.  I hope I can do that, too.  Hence why I practice spiritual disciplines (as best I can).

So throw away those books that proclaim God’s will for your life is only 200 pages away; you can be “purpose driven” without it, I think.

And if you write such books, do so with fear and trembling and not because you know it will sell in a world where people want quick answers, and literalism, and divine algorithms.  What we need is honesty.  And I’m often a reluctant Christian because honesty seems to be kind of rare in this particular arena.

A Question for the Boy Scouts

I wasrainbow scoutsn’t ever a Scout.

I’ve known straight Scouts.

I’ve known gay Scouts.

I’ve known good and bad examples of both gay and straight Scouts, I think.  Their sexual orientation had nothing to do with their failure or success.

But I was never a Scout.

So, I want to ask Scouts a question: which of the 12 Core Value is most important?

Citizenship, compassion, cooperation, courage, faith, health and fitness (inexplicably one value), honesty, perseverance, positive attitude, resourcefulness, respect, or responsibility?

I want to know because I’m trying to understand what the ruckus over gay Scouts and Scout leaders is.

Because, as far as I can tell, encouraging Scouts to stay in the closet through barring and banning threats violates courage, honesty, respect, and responsibility on the Scout’s part, and compassion and cooperation on the establishment’s part.

So I’m trying to figure out how this was ever an issue. It seems like an honest Scout is the best Scout.

And I’m trying to figure out how they can allow openly gay Scouts, but not openly gay Scout leaders.  Are leaders not expected to uphold these values as well?  If they are to teach and model them, I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

I’m just really at a loss as to how this is an issue.  And I’m also at a loss as to how churches are now banning the Scouts over their half-hearted policy change.

Do these churches imagine that everyone in their doors are straight?  If so, they are delusional.

Are they imagining that Jesus would not have dined in the houses of the Boy Scouts because they now allow gay Scouts (but not, for some unknown reason–that I can only imagine has to do with some unscientific and failed belief in sexuality and sexual practice–gay leaders)?  If so, they are not only delusional but also illiterate.

Read the Gospels.

Because just as much as I want to ask the Scouts which of the 12 Core Values is most important, I want to ask those churches now threatening to deny Scouts a home which of Jesus’ teachings are most important.  The one on love?  Peace? Blessing? Self-sacrifice? Compassion?

Or the (non-existent) one on sexual orientation?

I would like to know.

Because my understanding of honesty means being honest with yourself and others, which includes an understanding of your sexuality.  Some might say it’s a personal responsibility thing to be honest about your sexuality.  Some might say it’s a courageous thing.  Some might say such an admittance to yourself and the world takes the conscious decision to cooperate with your sexual orientation rather than deny it to the detriment of your sanity, your health, and your relationships, and shows perseverance to do so in the face of discrimination.  Some might say it takes resourcefulness to pull up the necessary faith in yourself and your abilities to be so honest.  Some might claim it takes respect for yourself and a positive attitude to approach the subject with such openness.  And such openness is indicative of a compassionate nature, and let’s be clear, honest citizens are the best citizens.

In my estimation, it seems honesty might be the key to upholding the 12 Core Values.

So, enlighten this reluctant Christian, made that much more reluctant because we’re represented on front-page headlines by these sorts of squabbles and these mind-boggling banning policies: why is this an issue?

Does it Matter that I Call Myself “Christian” if I Don’t Try to be Involved in a Faith Community?

I think about this question a lot.Lower_back_cross_tattoos_for_women_1

Because I hear a lot of people, celebrities and politicians, neighbors and acquaintances and friends, claiming that they are Christian but admitting that they’re not in a faith community and not really interested in being a part of one.

And I’m interested as to what the benefit is for them to claim a faith without practicing one in community.  I want to ask them if it really matters to have that label.

Now, I know people who really long to have a community of faith but can’t find one that resonates with them.  I have friends all across the globe with that reality…and that’s rough.

I don’t think that’s typical, though.  And this question isn’t pointed toward them.  I’m more asking this question with those who claim to be Christian but who don’t make attempts to act on their faith communally in mind.

And this comes with a clear conviction on my part that being Christian means being in a faith community of some sort.  Because you can’t be a Christian alone, I think.

I mean, in some ways I can see the confusion over this issue.  We’ve turned the term “Christian” into a moral identifier in many ways.  It’s a way we privately identify personal beliefs and morals.  And we’ve made it into a cultural identifier as well (and what a travesty that reality is).

The Christian community has given the impression that we can be Christian alone.

It’s like a tattoo we get to wear without needing any real connection.  It may have a back story…but does it mean something now?

But does that mark have a future impact on our lives?  Or is it just a remnant of what was that we still sort of like but don’t know why?

Or it’s kind of like, well, could I consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Green or Libertarian if I never voted?

I don’t want to make too much of a comparison here because it only goes so far, but it’s an interesting one.  Would it matter if I claimed a political party if I never voted?  Could I call myself by a party name if I never practiced?

Well, I guess I could.

But would it mean anything?  Would it do any good?

I want to lean on this a bit…because I think it’s a conversation to have.

In fact, I think churches have it all the time in implicit ways.

And we have it poorly.

We have it every time we baptize a child in a church and then never see that child again (and don’t expect to).  We have it when we mark people with ashes at the bus stop on Ash Wednesday, but don’t expect anything else.

And the result is…what?  A bus full of people who think that faith connection is a bus stop encounter once a year.

I think the result is that we end up reinforcing a cultural Christianity without any real meaning.

So, I want to ask: does it matter?

And I fully get that there are some who are in faith communities and call themselves Christian who don’t trust any of it.  I get that being active in a community of faith does not indicate a Christian faith (however you might define “faith”).  Many people in faith communities are really despicable and don’t act or behave like I think the Christ invites us to.

This is true.  I think this also a symptom of cultural Christianity.

And there are many people are in faith communities, churches, but wouldn’t call themselves Christian.

This is also true.  We have people in my community who struggle with faith, and we encourage that struggle and those questions.  I respect and honor that they’ve decided to struggle in community, that we’ve decided to struggle together, and I think that’s better than struggling alone or not struggling at all.

Or pretending.

And in many ways I’d consider them more authentic than those who call themselves Christian but don’t engage in a community of faith or show interest trying to practice their faith.

Because I don’t think being a Christian is cultural.  And I don’t think it’s an indicator of personal morality.  In fact, I’ve more often than not found the moniker “Christian” to be absolutely unhelpful when it comes to determining morality.

I’m a reluctant Christian because I want to call myself Christian, but often times find that it’s hard to do because we’ve reduced that term down to the lowest denominator as either a cultural indicator or personal morality moniker…and it doesn’t seem to mean much anymore.

And so it’s no wonder that people don’t involve themselves in a faith community.  Because…does it matter?

I think that it does.  The first thing Jesus did was call people around him.  You can’t be a Christian alone.  Even our desert mothers and fathers were part of a larger community in their solitude.

We can’t be Christian alone.  But with the way we use the term “Christian” and the way we have the conversation in churches, I have to ask the question.  Because I’m seriously curious.

What is the benefit?  Does it matter?