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Sometimes…

Sometimes it is the book you pick up on a whim at the library that grabs you more than the one you went there for. This is what I’m digesting today. It speaks to the US situation but has application in Canada as well.

Quote begins:

…once we begin to notice the new forms that mystical feeling has taken, we can see their impact almost everywhere.

As it happens, we often fail to recognize the effect as spiritual, because American history has led us to expect our national spirituality to be explicitly religious, tied to the nation’s churches. These new supernatural entities—or, at least, these new manifestations of the enduring human desire to perceive something supernatural in the world—have broken away from the theological understandings that would once have helped corral and tame them. We are like a people who dismiss ghosts as archaic, superstitious nonsense, even while we imagine that all around us are ectoplasmic projections of the dead we just happen not to call ghosts. Spirits and demons, angels and demigods, flitter through American public life, ferrying back and forth across our social and political interactions, the burdens of our spiritual anxieties.

Think of it this way: We live in what can only be called a spiritual age, swayed by its metaphysical fears and hungers, when we imagine that our ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken but actually evil. When we assume that past ages, and the people who lived in them, are defined by the systematic crimes of history. When we suppose that some vast ethical miasma—-racism, radicalism, cultural self-hatred, selfish blindness—determines the beliefs of classes other than our own. When we can make no rhetorical distinction between absolute wickedness and the people with whom we disagree: The Republican Congress is the Taliban! President Obama is a Communist.’ Wisconsin’s governor is a Nazi!

We live in a spiritual age, in other words, when we believe ourselves surrounded by social beings of occult and mystic power. When we live with titanic cultural forces contending across the sky, and our moral sense of ourselves—of whether or not we are good people, of whether or not we are saved—-takes its cues primarily from our relation to those forces. We live in a spiritual age when the political has been transformed into the soteriological. When how we vote is how our souls are saved.

Through the long centuries after the Middle Ages, the combination of liberal Protestantism and scientific materialism slowly drained Western civilization of its metaphysical density: devils, specters, elves, magic, all fading away. The disenchantment of the world, the sociologist Max Weber called it, and by the late 1800s, most educated Americans probably had no strong belief in any supernatural entities beyond the bare Christian minimum of the individual soul, below, and God, above.

The otherworldly genius of the nation, however, would not leave it so. Over the last hundred years, America’s metaphysical realm has been gradually repopulated with social and political ideas elevated to the status of strange divinities: a scientifically acceptable re-enchantment and supernatural thickening of reality—born of the ancient religious hunger to perceive more in the world than just the give and take of ordinary human beings, but adapted to an age that piously congratulates itself on its escape from many of the strictures of ancient religion.

Quote ends
Preface
“An Anxious Age; The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America” by Joseph Bottum
published in 2014.
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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The big reveal

Some of the stories I share are stories based on various real events from various places which are combined and told in a way to make a point, not to report exactly what happened.

* * *

In an amalgamations-of-memories church I’ll name “Amalgam Reformed,”1 on Lord’s Supper Sunday, on entering the worship space, any regular attender could visually tell something different was going to happen. One could see the normally near bare table at the front which was draped in a white cloth. Another sign came when the Elders came into church behind the pastor. They were dressed better than the Friday office-casual that was the standard Sunday wear, they were in suits & ties. Instead of sitting with their families as usual, they would march to the front and sit there.

The service would begin, and then it would come to the song before communion. At the end of the song, two of the Elders would come up to the table, and as the accompaniment faded to silence a hush would fall over the congregation as these Elders meticulously made the “Big Reveal” of what was under the cloth. Breathing was abated as the cloth would be folded in a manner similar to the way the military has a procedure for folding flags. A serious solemnity would hang over the actual sharing of the elements of communion. Such Reverence seemed fitting for those other events in the worship. “The Big Reveal” seemed to be unduly serious and sacred.

So the Elders were asked why this and some other things were done. “What is the theological and/or spiritual significance of the reveal?” The significance of of other parts of the service were more obvious, and some were even explained, such as the taking of a piece of bread and of a bit of the fruit-of-the-vine as symbols of Christs body and blood sacrifice. But what of the removal of the cloth? No one had an answer beyond “We do it because it adds to the special feeling of it all.”

So we dug back in history together. The question was asked: “when the first church building was built, what was the next building over?”

The answer was “The horse stable”P1000927.JPG

“What byproducts come with having horses nearby?”

“Manure, smells, and flies.” came the responses.

“Was the first church building tightly sealed?”

And as this question was asked some recognition begins to show on faces. A few begin to chuckle. “You mean this started out as a practical thing to keep the flies off and we’ve made it into a sacred moment?”

Yes.

* * *

This story is to me a very good example of why we need to make it a habit in the church to re-examine the meaning of most of the things we do and the way we do them from time to time, otherwise we leave for our children mere patterns of behaviour that they might simply repeat even when the purpose is lost. Seems a good thing to reflect on as Reformation Day approaches on the calendar.

1This story is an amalgamation of experiences from several different churches

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

I’ve been long wondering about the corelation between emotional maturity and spiritual maturity. This talks about that:

quoted from an electronic edition of

EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY

by Peter Scazerro

Chapter 9

Grow into an Emotionally Mature Adult

[People] need practical skills incorporated into their spiritual formation to grow out of emotional infancy into emotional adulthood. It is easy to grow physically into a chronological adult. It is quite another to grow into an emotional adult. Many people may be, chronologically, forty-five years old but remain an emotional infant, child, or adolescent.

The question then is: How do I distinguish between them? The following is a brief summary of each.

EMOTIONAL INFANTS

  • Look for others to take care of them

  • Have great difficulty entering into the world of others

  • Are driven by need for instant gratification

  • Use others as objects to meet their needs

EMOTIONAL CHILDREN

  • Are content and happy as long as they receive what they want

  • Unravel quickly from stress, disappointments, trials

  • Interpret disagreements as personal offenses

  • Are easily hurt

  • Complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge, become sarcastic when they don’t get their way

  • Have great difficulty calmly discussing their needs and wants in a mature, loving way

EMOTIONAL ADOLESCENTS

  • Tend to often be defensive

  • Are threatened and alarmed by criticism

  • Keep score of what tehy give so they can ask for something in return

  • Deal with conflict poorly, often blaming, appeasing, going to a third party, pouting, or ignoring the issue entirely

  • Become preoccupied with themselves

  • Have great difficulty truly listening to another person’s pain, disappointments, or needs

  • Are critical and judgemental

EMOTIONAL ADULTS

  • Are able to ask for what they need, want, or prefer—clearly, directly, honestly

  • Recognize, manage, and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings

  • Can, when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial

  • Respect others without having to change them

  • Give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect

  • Appreciate people for who they are—the good, bad, and ugly– not for what they give back

  • Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses and are able to freely discuss them with others

  • Are deeply in tune with their own emotional world and able to enter into the feelings, needs, and concerns of others without losing themselves

  • Have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others

… … … 

Emotional Maturity and conflict

Ignoring Conflict–False Peacemaking

A tragically misinterpreted verse in the New Testament is Jesus Proclamation: “blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Most people think that Jesus calls us in this verse to be pacifiers and appeasers who ensure that nobody gets upset. We are to keep the peace ignoring difficult issues and problems, making sure things remain stable and serene.

When, out of fear, we avoid conflict and appease people, we are false peacemakers.

… … … 

The problem … is that the way of true peace will never come through pretending what is wrong is right! True peacemakers love God, others, and themselves enough to disrupt false peace. Jesus models this for us.

Embracing Conflict–The Path to True Peace

Conflict and trouble were central to the mission of Jesus. He disrupted the false peace all around him–in the lives of his disciples, the crowds, the religious leaders, the Romans, those buying and selling in the temple. He taught that true peacemaking disrupts false peace even in families: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, daughter against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household'” (Matthew 10:34 – 36).

Why? You can’t have the true peace of Christ’s Kingdom with lies and pretense. They must be exposed to the light and replaced with the truth. This is the mature, loving thing to do.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus explains to us the characteristics we need to display if we are to engage in true peacemaking–poverty of spirit, meekness, purity of heart, mercy, etc. (Matthew 5:3-11). He also follows the call to true peacemaking by stating that persecution will follow for those of us who follow him in this.

None-the-less, unresolved conflicts are one of the greatest tensions in Christians’ lives today. Most of us hate them. We don’t know what to do with them. Instead of risking any more broken relationships, we prefer to ignore the difficult issues and settle for a “false peace,” hoping against hope they will somehow go away. They don’t. And we all learn, sooner or later, that you can’t build Christ’s Kingdom on lies and pretense. Only the truth will do.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

“There are some good things there ain’t no app for.”

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Theology of right/wrong better/worse – basis in Gen 3

In my intro post I quoted a piece in which Syd Hielema suggests a particular posture toward difficult questions and issues. He calls it “Holy Uncertainty.” Syd goes on to suggest the “better/worse” moral compass supercedes the “right/wrong” one in most cases.

I stated that behind this problem is the false belief that it is our job to identify right and wrong, white and black. That is my current “operating theory” and I want to test it out publicly.

My theory began to take form when I was in a time of personal reflection and healing, and was further shaped when I worked as a chaplain/spiritual director in an addiction treatment center. It is centered on the question of what “knowing good and evil” is.

I was introduced to the concept and behaviour of “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking in addicts. Addiction to a substance or activity changes the way the addict sees the world, and the way they think. They move to extremes in their thinking. They cannot understand shades and nuances. I saw that at my work there.

But I also have seen it in the church. I vividly remember the time in the early 80’s when an elder interrupted a council meeting by standing, throwing the King James Bible on the table, and as he marched out saying “If ve can’t all aggrree dat dit is de one en only trrue vord of Godt, den I can’t be wit you anymore!” Looking back with my new knowledge, I can see that this man saw only one version of the Bible as “white” or “good” and felt strongly and fearfully that the newly introduced NIV was moving toward “black” or “evil.” One illustration will have to suffice to illustrate this point. More are possible.

So where do we as humans and as Christians get this idea that we are to be arbiters and declarers of what is actually and ultimately good and what is ultimately evil?

Some years ago I did a quick study of the combination of the words “good and evil” in scripture. The first place you end up is in Genesis 2 verses 9 and 17 where the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil is mentioned. The next mention is this one, with the serpent speaking into Eve’s ear:

“God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5 NIV

To know good and evil, to eat the forbidden fruit, is to be reaching for something that is to be God’s alone: the knowing of what is ultimately good and what is actually evil. Mankind were exiled from God’s presence for doing this! They, to use 12 step language, made themselves their own highest power, thereby breaking relationship with the Creator.

To me now, whenever I displace God as my highest power, I am again partaking in fruit that is forbidden, and repeating what Eve and Adam did. All that works ok for me in my mind, but the next step is the challenge. Maybe we have no business at all trying to decide and discern what true good is. Maybe we are called to do our best with the Spirit’s help to keep moving toward the gate that Jesus opened, the path back to walking in the garden in the cool of the day in full fellowship with a God who we leave that kind of knowledge to. Meanwhile, on our journeys, we let better/worse be our compass, because ultimate right/wrong is not an area we were given dominion in. Nor should we. We are to acknowledge how veiled our certainty really is, and we are to hold sacred the space where our certainty ends and God’s knowledge begins.

Thats my operating theory at this time.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The theology of right/wrong better/worse – introduction

On June 28, Syd Hielema posted a reflection in the faith nurture section of the CRC Network in which he introduced, as his second point, the idea and practice of two different moral compasses. He was speaking into the context of a particular struggle, but I want to examine the theology and possible biblical source of this apart from that issue.

Here is the link to the original posting:

http://network.crcna.org/faith-nurture/homosexuality-and-holy-uncertainty

The comment thread is worth reading. For me what stood out is the absence of neutrality in the responses. As some imply in the comments, there are clearly deeper previous suppositions at play when we discuss moral compass in association with a hot potato topic. What I want to do is think “out loud” about a deeper (confessional?) aspect of that one idea.

Here is the key excerpt I am speaking of:

2. Every Christian I know uses two different moral compasses, both rooted in Scripture: the “right/wrong” moral compass and the “better/worse” moral compass.

Most moral decisions are guided by biblical teachings on right and wrong. But a number of times in Scripture we see a “better/worse” moral compass superseding the right/wrong one. It’s wrong to be a prostitute, but it was better for Tamar to become a prostitute than to allow her father-in-law Judah’s unjust behavior to continue (Gen. 38). Slavery is wrong, but it was so systemically entrenched in the Roman Empire that any community that tried to abolish it would be massacred. Thus, it was better strategically for Paul’s mission work that he not seek its abolition but instead encourage born-again masters and slaves to act as godly as they could within an evil societal institution while he focused on other social justice issues (Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1).

I could give many more examples from Scripture where the “better/worse” compass supersedes the “right/wrong” one. Might the 1829 elders of Third Presbyterian Charleston have confused a better/worse biblical teaching with a right/wrong one?

First, the way Syd makes uncertainty “Holy” does not sit well with me and feels dangerous. I am more comfortable with a posture I would call “Veiled Certainty” or “Sacred Uncertainty.” I have gone from “sure doctrines” more toward “operating theories.”

My current posture has grown in me as I have experienced life. It is largely a result of the dissolution of “certainties” I was taught. Pentecostals, I was taught, were severely misguided, yet I met one that was more serious about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit than I was. Me, in all my youthful certainty of his being misguided and “forced to fake” speaking in tongues to get respect in their churches. Catholics were certainly doomed to the place below the purgatory they had made up, yet I met some that were active in the Kingdom of God and body of Christ in ways that humbled me in all my sureness of their doom. And so on. It’s quite a list. Just so no one gets freaked out, some things have become more sure over time. I am more certain than ever about the theology of “calling” we used to articulate, for example. So, stay calm, not everything has crumbled. In fact, if you need to hear it to keep my words credible to you, I believe more than ever that Jesus lived and died and rose again. But I do believe it in a different way than the way I was taught.

Second, what Syd describes regarding a better/worse compass resonates with me, and I find myself baffled and unfortunately angry often with those who, to me, rigidly advocate for a strict right/wrong with nothing in between.

So, in my next post, I will share why I have come to think that at the core of the moral compass issue is the false belief that it is our job to identify right and wrong, white and black, and why I think we are mainly left with living on a towards better and towards worse continuum instead.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Remorphing Theology

My Theology has changed over time. I was recently thinking that through, and thought I’d document it here.

First, there is a sense, but one I can’t quite give clear evidence of, that most of the “issues” we argue about inside the church are smoke and mirrors for another deeper problem that we don’t want to talk about or don’t know how.

For a recent council meeting I made a presentation on how anxiety in a congregational system creates whack-a-mole issues popping up, and how leaders get fooled into thinking they are actually solving things by dealing only with the technical issue as it presents itself, rather than the adaptive issue of the systemic angst that drives the moles to the surface. (hey, my presentations are sometimes very plain yet highfalutin).
Anyway, I’m asking of our denominational situation: “What are we missing here?” “What is the deeper issue or struggle?”
Second, my thinking has changed on a lot of theology (and how to live out my faith) since I was a kid in catechism. I am convinced it is still solidly Reformed. The change is primarily explained by a shift to understanding everything related to God in relational terms. My starting point is “God is about relationship” and my theological rubric all falls into place below that tenet (or “yoke” to use an old Jewish term).

God’s actions in the OT after the fall were all about teaching or discipling a selected people into effective relationship with God. It didn’t work out on the people end. Repeatedly.

The actions of Jesus in the NT were all about opening a way back to relationship with the Triunity or godhead.

The parables of Jesus have shaped my fresh understanding the most. The Samaritan in the parable had a way of “being” in relation to other humans that imaged God’s compassion and caring to excess (eternity) well. Not so the religious leaders of the selected people. They were focused on “doing” as the original question to Jesus indicated. So there is one place I learned something new. Another is the Joy of Finding/Lost Son parable, where again the figure representing the God mankind is distant from is a compassionate and caring character but a wimp to those focused on “doing.” The wandering son comes to realize he is ‘out of bounds’ and far out of relationship, and his best hope is to become a ‘slave’ of the Father. So he returns, and the Father immediately and extravagantly restores the full relationship. All’s ready to be well, until the homeboy brother arrives. He is not willing to join the restoration of relationship. He reveals, in his rant, that he sees himself as a slave (all these years I’ve slaved for you!…). He might still be there, out standing in his field, arms crossed and a cross look in his face refusing to take up the cross of relationship…

There are two more parts to this change in perspective. One is reflecting on and learning about fruit of the spirit. They frustrate us, because they are hard to measure and possible to fake, for a time. Specific sins, well they are measurable! Christian schoolteacher spotted at a store on Sunday! – fired! That’s easy. I spent some time thinking about the difference between forbidden fruit and bidden (or encouraged) fruit. And a whole new vista unfolded that I won’t add to this explanation. The second key part to this journey has been reading about, practicing, and gaining appreciation for the timeless wisdom distilled into the 12 steps (couldn’t resist a pun). Again, I won’t elaborate, but it is huge!

So here is where I end up. My pinnacle illustration/sermon used to be the “dirty cup sermon” (in the way that J Eppinga’s signature was the blue marble). But now I have one that came to me when applying Practical Relational Theology to the ten commandments. It is called the “ten posts” sermon, and I preached it on Easter.

Here is a most succinct presentation, starting with a situation I ask you to imagine:

Imagine you are a parent in a multi-child family. You or your spouse are being moved by the employer to a home you’ve never seen. You arrive in the family van, and you go through the exploration process (imagine it for yourself – kids claiming rooms, you imagining where you will sit and read etc etc.). Eventually most of you move out the sliding glass doors to the backyard. You see a swingset, which a few of the kids head for right away, you see a garden patch, and a sandbox, and other things. And you appreciatively walk out further into the yard with the intent of looking back at the whole view. Suddenly, as you are walking, you realize the yard just drops off into a massive canyon!

My question is, as a parent, what are you going to do? In that moment?

Well, the short version is “you are going to set some boundaries, make some rules, immediately!” Again, you fill in the details.

Then, you call the lumberyard, and you order 10 posts and 613 boards to build a fence.

Phew. Everyone is safe.

(this is the point where most of our religious understanding stops and stays)

But wait!

Sometime later, as you are sitting in the yard, inside the fence, one of your children comes to you, and with a ‘you are really going to love me for this look on their face’ tell you that two of the others children are outside the fence! You immediately investigate, and sure enough they have pried some boards loose and gone out. You go out to seek your lost ones. But as you are seeking them, and feeling the pain of their not respecting the boundaries you created, you realize that your relationship with the child who told you about the lost ones is not what you want it to be either. That child thinks they are earning your love only by staying inside the bounds. That is not intimate, respectful relationship just as much as the out of bounds ones are not respecting relationship either.

(this is God’s dilemma with us)

How do you create a situation where the strength of the relationship is the main binding force?

Well, before you know it your carpenter son has come along and taken all the boards out from between the posts and built a cross out of them and died on it. Just the ten posts remain. He did that so that relationship could be chosen.

And all of us who believe in what that carpenter did to restore relationship with our heavenly parent, now live in a different world than we learn about a children. We are actually free to wander outside the posts. But as we wander further, we will feel the strain on the relationship with God. If we are paying attention, that is. And we will realize what is happening, and we will turn around (repent) and come back and be welcomed. Appreciating the love of the Father and Son for us, and loving being in unencumbered (naked) relationship because we have no need to hide, will keep us close, and will cause our lives to produce the fruit of the Spirit without much doing on our part. We just have to “be” in God’s presence.

So there you have it.

This is why I get concerned and troubled when people seem obsessed with declaring others “out of bounds.” I don’t see it as my role. In fact I’m too busy tracking and working on how I wander. I can tell people about having wandered and come back, I can tell people if I am in that kind of relationship with them that they are in dangerous territory, but the choice of remaining in the relationship is ultimate theirs.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Uncategorized