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Explore God: Is Christianity Too Narrow?

Christianity has too many rules. If I want to party all night long to loud music while my buddy boffs a hot chick, why not? I mean, it’s my life. Fuck off!

Let’s see . . . creepy fifty-something guy trying to relive his despicable twenties. That’s not a problem. No. It’s fine. Yeah. Totally fine.

Some two-year old’s discover a certain word and find it to the the most powerful spell they can utter. It’s one syllable. It’s total bad-ass magic. What’s the word? “No.” That child utters that word and suddenly the world stops. All the grownups perk up. Some of them freeze. It’s awesome.

Right around puberty we learn a word-storm that boils down to, “the grownups are stupid. I’m old enough. I should be able to do what I want.” Some of us do and get noticed by this space. Those that do make great copy. We love them.

The question for today in church was, “Is Christianity too Narrow?” I had a reflexive, “no” come out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop it. You can click away now because I’m going to say triggering and macro-aggressive things next. Gone yet? Go. Git. Seriously, this is not the blog post you should be reading. Go back to YouTube for more kitten videos.

The ones I want gone are the ones who will not listen to what’s next. According to them I am intolerant, racist, misogynist, lbgt hater, alt-right freak, etc. Because of my adjectives I am innately at odds with the orthodoxy of the day. Because of my history I cannot shed the scarlet letter that binds me to shame. Nothing I can say is sufficient. It is I who has to change, who has to behave in a way amenable to the haters of this blog. It is I that must continue to ask for supplication from my haters and fail to get it. So, I’m not talking to my haters.

I loved the word, “no” so much I kept saying it all the way to my grandma’s house in Albany, CA where I found someone who had me before I could say it. It wasn’t until I was fifty-something that I could sing, “I’m Trading My Sorrows” and feel it deep in my belly.

It was once I began to say, “Yes Lord” that a lifetime of Sunday’s in worship began to make an impact on my life. None of the altar-calls before the last one stuck. I’m alive today because of Jesus.

Tommy Nance gave the message last Sunday. He made a challenge to those present. He asked us if worship could be a sin. He asked us to wonder if all we do is warm a pew on Sunday whether our comfort in that pew could be used to coddle us into a dead reflection of God’s image birthed in us when sperm & egg became zygote. He challenged us to get out of the church and be the church in our communities. He accused us of brilliantly winning debates against unbelievers who challenge our exegesis. He described listening evangelism where we let people tell us about God.

You have met us before. You know us better than we know ourselves. You see us come down the street and go inside your homes to wait us out. We are the traveling sales people of the church. We door-knock, bibles at the ready, locked & loaded to capture more heathens. The only win is one where you give your life to Jesus right then. What we want is to close the sale, win the deal and bring home another buck for the church.

That isn’t me. I wasn’t asked to sell you so you become a Christian. I was asked to shut my pie hole and serve you. I am narrow in my beliefs. I do believe that a lot of the current orthodoxy about inclusion is the very opposite of inclusion. I don’t get what I want most of the time because my way of life as a Christian forces some difficult choices.

I’ve had it good. There is very little I can’t have or do if I set about to accomplish it. I’m almost 15 years into boot-strapping myself to where I am today. The devil’s buffet was a delight for some of my years. Until I pushed away from it and left my dirty plate and half-empty soda-pop at the table. To root myself in a 2,000 year tradition, to know that many have gone before me with similar questions, didn’t become a reason to reject my heritage. It has become a comfort.

When you have privilege, when the world is your oyster, your presence as a citizen of a first world nation gives you access to uncountable wealth. Oh stop. I know. The vast majority of the world lives on a few dollars a day. Our richest 1% controls an obscene percentage of the world’s wealth. I won’t hear a pitch that the answer is to take all that wealth and give it to the 99%. Go away.

Well, not yet. The wealth redistribution project that has been under way for almost a century has cost in the hundreds of trillions. We have sent boatloads of cash to that doe-eyed kid on TV who just wants a few cents a day from us to be able to eat a couple crumbs of leftover UNESCO rice. That kid is still in the late-night TV ads with a tear in his (?her?) cheek. Multi-trillions of dollars later and the claim is that we have not done enough. I’m in my mid-fifties. I first saw that ad as a teenager. That kid is old enough to be a grandparent. Somebody must not think I am very bright.

I need to stop at one paragraph of that. This is what I want to say. My privilege did not fix my major malfunctions. Quite the opposite. My privilege enabled me to have my major malfunctions. I could, to a great extent, use my position to insulate myself from misery. The idea that the answer for that doe-eyed kid is a first world life of privilege is an idea ripe for this space in its absurdity and folly. What I need is structure. It is miserable to choose a life which demands I wake at 4am for chapel and includes a reading schedule that will get me through the Psalms in a week. I count that misery as joy compared to having tasted the Devil’s buffet and pushed away from the table.

All of what the Devil has to offer has a short half-life. Early on it is grand. You want that early experience. Soon enough, though, his appetite for your soul begins to drain the euphoria out of his buffet and the bleed of your joy and spirit begins. Each attempt at recovering that early ecstasy diminishes the pleasure and increases the soul-sucking pain. These should be familiar outcomes: morgue, hospital, rehab and prison or jail. Some or all of those happen more than once except the morgue. If you are there then you have been eaten and there is nothing left to eat.

Jesus offers us an examined, disciplined life of self-sacrificing love. Those aspects of our lives that need to die are offered up to the cross in repentance. Christian life is a constant sacrifice of those aspects of ourselves which hinder a deeper relationship to Christ. It is narrow by design. And their lies the problem for anyone like myself that has a first-world life. We are asked to give up all the perks that come with being who we are in this time and place.

I part company with evangelists because they run right past this truth: this life isn’t for everyone. Christ died to live and to be his disciple we must also die to the world in order to live in Him. It is a high price to pay for a life that does not assure comfort. No, actually, being Christian has been and continues to be a miserable life for many. Saying the prayer and joining us isn’t ipso-facto, life-time warranty, 100% guarantee acquistion in 5 easy payments of a release from strife. Nope. I did both. I supped at the Devil’s buffet and realized he was eating me. Then I knocked on Heaven’s Door and Jesus let me in. That has made all the difference.

 

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Perfect!

First Posted 05-Nov-2014

This one had me going, “If God is perfect why is his book so full of flaws, mistakes and general mess?” God is perfect. His Word is perfect. Us, humans, however, not so much. The Bible is a perfect reflection of God’s resurrected kingdom and some of its history. If there is any common thread to human history it is that disagree far more than we agree. I am always suspicious of those who want a sanitized history that doesn’t reflect our ability to find conflict in the smallest of issues.

bibleIs it ethical to keep your face in your phone for the whole four hours of a date? Is it polite to make Google Hangouts the goto instead of f2f? What about Instagram? Is iOS more kosher than Android? Is Windows Phone halal? Is it too forward to buy Godiva chocolate instead of reliable old Hershey’s? Can you wear bright pink tights in Winter paired with a forest green wool skirt and a low-cut teal blouse? Push-up bra or regular t-shirt bra? Would stripper heels go with that? Maybe flats? I don’t know. (WTF, Alan!? Are you confessing something here?)

I know my Bible and it’s no help at all with any of this. Then, let’s say we wrote a bible that solved these conundrums. It was perfect for me. What about you? Would it be perfect for you? What if it wasn’t? After Moses, others wrote their own ten commandments. Two links to examples: Socialist Ten Commandments and Eleven Satanic Rules. I find these two examples to be evil. They have their followers, though.

Constantine got so tired of the bickering among various sects in the empire that he called everyone together and convened the Nicene Council to choose a canon as the collected books of the Bible. Even then, the canon given by the Catholic Church is different from the Eastern Orthodox church and yet again different from various Reformed traditions. We can’t even agree on which books belong in the canon and which books should be left out. Every bible in the English language is a translation by a committee of editors from the best available and oldest source material. It represents a set of choices by the editors of that translation.

This truth drove the Jehovah’s Witnesses to do their own translation. Most of the rest of the Reformed churches question their work and don’t consider the New World Translation to be orthodox. Every Bible, every list of books declared to be canonical will find it’s detractors, people who disagree with what was selected and what was left out. There are some who believe it was a mistake to leave out the Gospel of Thomas. Some Ethiopian churches include material on Jesus’ childhood. It’ll be perfect for those who like what was selected and flawed for those who wanted something included which was excluded. It is still a perfect reflection of God’s thick-necked people who persist in being fallen and needing grace.

I’m good with the bibles I use. I cleaned out my library a year ago. I kept my NIV and my copy of The Message because they were gifts. I mostly use an app on my phone which makes available most every version of the Bible I am interested in. Most of the time I read from the ESV because it is what N.T. Wright suggested. My church uses the NIV. Though we disagree more than we agree there are essentials we can rest on. The book of Leviticus is a good place to start. Then maybe Matthew and Acts 2. After that, the quote from Meldenius and Mother Theresa’s, “do small things with great love.”

If anything, God’s love of his thick-necked people is all the more remarkable because we have never been unified in our opinions. The Bible is perfect in its reflection of our nature as combative, loving, incredible creations in His image.

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Truth is Fungible

First Posted 23-Apr-2015

Yeah. Truth. Kind of a no brainer, right? I mean, truth is fact, yes? Isn’t natural law self-evident? For the guy that prompted this post, natural law is beyond debate. Heh. He said that to a story-teller. He said that to me, who spins tales of emperors who believe that they are the Imperial power in charge of the city of Berkeley, Ca. He said that to me, who believes in the Holy Trinity, in the resurrection and the life ever lasting. Tin hat stuff. I couldn’t resist turning that premise into a blog post.

truth1How much debate on truth can there be? Can you really argue about the color of the sky or the lunar calendar? It’s settled science that the dangerous climate changes are due to human malfeasance, you can’t debate that. As one of the malcontents and from personal experience, yes, you can. Sadly, truth is not just fungible, it is absurd.

For us Christians, the Bible is the word of God and is thus true in a deep way. End of argument, right? Uhm, no, sadly. Any quick study of church history will show that if there is any common theme to the church it is that we fight. Our founder, Jesus of Nazareth, started this out of a dispute with the church of his day. St. Paul’s letters are testimony to the disputes of the early church. The last serious debate over what to include in the canon was the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. The bickering did not stop there. Hear in the good old U.S. of A. we had the great awakening and all the utopian movements of the 19th Century. More recently has been the strife over the definition of marriage, abortion, and standards of ordination. I’d like to say the answer to, “what do we believe” was a settled question. I can’t.

I am a member of St. Giles Church. We are one of the churches that left PCUSA over conflict on abortion, ordination and marriage. I come from a family that has been in the thick of the debate over doctrine for a few hundred years. If I were to stay true to what my family believes I’d still be in a church that is part of PCUSA and cool with letting individual congregations decide some of these issues. I’d be more gay friendly. I’d not plant my flag on saying that abortion is murder. It’d not trouble me so much if my pastor had another bolt as a life-partner. I didn’t stay true to my family. My father is not pleased with me.

His truth and mine differ. Something is definitely wrong. Truth is self-evident, no? Sorry, no. Haven’t punched the monitor yet? Let me help you with that. Let’s mash up your definition of self-evident truths with the philosophical term solipsism. If nothing exists beyond the present moment and it is all just me, what is true? We do have a problem. What of my buddy who throws down the phrase “natural law” as a vicious roundhouse intended to deliver a debate ending knockout punch?Truth is annoyingly fungible even with the “natural law” punch thrown. I mean, “absurdism” is a thing.

The word “truth” in American English is another inadequate word to cover its multitude of meanings. A syllogism is true if it is constructed correctly. That truth held until the Kierkegaard in the 19th Century. Heads exploded. Challenging Aristotle was blasphemy. Yet we went there. You can get good replacement monitors at New Egg. Merriam Webster gives 9 definitions of the word truth. I don’t talk about truth in this space as a certainty. The truth here is that of the bard, of story and poetry. It defies being anchored in fact. The truth discussed in this space is the set of narratives and beliefs people use to inform their behavior. My grandma never bought chicken pieces. She always bought a whole chicken and cut it up herself. Her truth was that she felt it was cheaper to buy the whole chicken. That’s a small example. Whole books have been written trying to untie the Gordian knot within the question, “what is truth?” The definition isn’t static, either. It changes, has changed over the generations. We had a huge upheaval in our understanding of truth and philosophy over 300 years ago with the arrival of modernism. Then again with postmodernism. What my dissident denomination believes to be orthodox doctrine is distinct in important essentials from the Catholic Church and PCUSA. Each of the Great Awakenings within the church since the 1800’s has marked a changed understanding of what truth is.

I’m out of my league when it comes to theological or philosophical discussions of truth. I know a little. I know enough to get myself in trouble. I do know, though, as a storyteller, that the realm of truth held by fiction is distinct from that of the priests or secular philosophers. Ours is the truth of metaphor and parable. Absurdism lives here. The question then, is one I’ve spoken of elsewhere. What are the beliefs we hold that drive our choices and behavior? Are they working for you? What is your orthodoxy? How does that affect your orthopraxy? Mine start with this, “to love God with all my heart and soul, to love neighbors and enemies alike, to treat others as I wish to be treated and finally, to be the change I wish to see through small acts of kindness done with great love.” Matthew 7:12, 22:36-40, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa. My story has forced limits on my behavior such that I do better if I live an examined, intentional life.

I posted this the first time because I ran into a friend who was really bothered that I might not be on the same page with him when it comes to truth. For him, you can’t argue the tenets of natural law. He didn’t like it that I live behind the looking glass with Alice and Lewis Carol. I’m not alone. My current problem? I’ve written over a thousand words and I don’t have a way to end this. Let’s end it this way: truth may be absurdly fungible but the world seems to manage anyway.

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Remain True, Serve All

First Posted 12-23-2015

I was asked by someone I met through Tinder if I am “gay friendly”. Her daughter is going to marry her longtime girlfriend. I am not “gay friendly”. Homosexuality is a sin. Marriage is something between a hetero-cis-female and a hetero-cis-male. This puts me at odds with the majority mood of the country. It also gets me shunned by some. Outlier that I am, I’m good with that.

I wasn’t asked by God to go on annual mission trips to a nominally third-world country and put in a well or build a church or give a cinder-block home to a family that previously lived in a mud hut or be a prayer warrior against James P. Sullivan. I was asked to serve right here, in Richmond, VA, to people who live around me.

To serve those I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll encounter someone doing something I think is taboo. To serve as I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll be in places where the shiny teeth bunch believes I’ll be prey. I would be in good company if I reacted with horror and tried to make the folk in the scary places stop being so predatory and transgressive. Plenty do. My crowd isn’t the bunch that will quickly agree that they are doing something so macro-aggressive. More likely, we’ll punch you in the face and tell you to get the hell away from us. We don’t take kindly to being told what we already know–we are a hot mess and some of what we do causes problems for others. I’m not the one who feels fulfilled if I close another deal at the altar with another soul saved. I was asked to serve us, the problem children, the brats, the monsters under the bed. Thus, to do my job, to fulfill my call, I am going to be uncomfortable and perhaps afraid.

I also know from those I have served that my service is diminished if I bend my principles in order to be more palatable to those I serve. That’s the second part of my call. I am to remain true to Christ. He is my model. He is how I live. This means I’ll make some I serve uncomfortable because my faith conflicts with their values. So be it. If the tension created by my truth is strong enough to tempt you away from your lifestyle then maybe change is in the wind for you. It’s not what God asked me to do. I’m not the one who will hit you upside the head with a bible. I’m more subtle, more difficult. I’ll just do what I’m asked to do knowing that my service, my authenticity as a Christian may mess with you.

This too. In the places where everybody is chasing their tail trying to please everybody, offend no one, and increase freedom from distasteful rules, the strictures against what you can’t say or do are far more burdensome than places where people pretty much don’t care. These phrases are not new to those who live in these cultures: micro-aggressions, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These come from a crowd so wired for perceived threats that they self-incarcerate in safe-spaces that exclude everyone except those who fit a superficial profile of African-American traits–kinky hair, broad nose, thick lips, brown to dark-chocolate skin, fluent in Ebonics as a way to protect them from the dangers of those different from them. BOO!

For this crowd I am evil incarnate: WASP, from a bloodline that traces its origins to both Plymouth and Jamestown, over 30, hetero cis-male, conservative, Christian, convicted abuser and deemed racist. This is the crowd that by their choices creates the very oppression they claim to protest. The difference is the target of their discrimination, oppression and the unintended consequence of incarcerating themselves in their hate. This is why this space is the way it is. I am pugnacious because I am authentic. I am pugnacious because my values, my principles are at odds with those who claim to be for the peepul. And . . . if you can set aside all the crud you load on me without actually knowing me, you may find that my authenticity, my speaking truth to insanity, is more compassionate than locking oneself in a room to be only with those who don’t generate triggers.

My Christian brethren who obsess over darkness, who worry that it is Lucifer himself under their bed every night, and hide in the safe confines of a sanctuary doing the rosary and startling at every odd noise, these too need to calm down. They are a bit full of themselves. Too much of their prayer life is devoted to asking God for protection from him, from James P. Sullivan and his buddies. I have disappointing news for them. You are not that interesting. You taste bad to Lucifer. There are plenty of souls in his pantry far tastier. If these brethren really believe in Christ then Lucifer can’t really touch them. I’m wasting my breath, though. This paranoia over Lucifer and Sully is as pernicious a psychosis as believing that I, hot mess that I am, have an evil control over that hapless college student who happens to feel black and has yellow-brown skin and blue eyes. It takes more than a blog post for them to release their attachment to the monsters under their bed.

I’m not like that crowd huddled in a college library study room carefully allowing in only those who feel safe. I’m a lot more tolerant, patient, willing to work than that bunch. You don’t have to preface a joke with a trigger warning. You don’t have to go home and change to meet me if you are currently dressed in a pastiche of men’s & women’s clothing. Nor do you have to schedule your same-sex partner’s time around my schedule so that I don’t figure out that you mix nuts & bolts. Probably clean up the needles, pipes, bongs, roach clips & empties for me, though. Addiction is one on my naughty list. Otherwise, do you. Be you. We’ll be fine.

My core tasks are to serve all and be true. My service would be less meaningful if I back-peddled on my emulation of Christ. I can still serve you as you are. You can do the same. Here is the cool thing about this. It’s not something that requires you to be a member of my church or any church for that matter. You can come out of your safe space. You can be with us and learn that we are not micro-aggressive (more probably macro-aggressive and trigger-rich). You can drop the chains & shackles of your effort to avoid triggers. If you want to follow me, do as I do, just look around you for someone who needs a small act of kindness done with great love. Do that. Do the small act of kindness with great love. Having done it, be done with it. Don’t look over your shoulder, call the recipient, text them, poke them on FB, or Instagram or whatever. Do it and walk away with no hope of any return or influence on the outcome. Anybody can do this. Everybody should do it at least once and hopefully more than once, hopefully a lot.

I’m good with being uncomfortable. I’m in this for the long game. I don’t have to win today or even at all. I know that I am on the right side of God and eventually some I serve will turn in my direction. I know that there are plenty of my Christian brethren armed with bibles who are really good at that whack upside the head and cajole for the desired answer to the altar call. I don’t have to be comfortable. Our opposition is has no lack of brethren walking about with messenger bags holding copies of the Communist Manifesto or Mao’s Little Red Book at the ready for a similar whack upside the head and a cajole to come to a seminar on redistribution of wealth. I’ll leave the snake oil sales to those who feel that their service is through closing deals on heathens. I don’t have to sell Mao, Lenin or Cheezus to serve God. I’m no less of a Christian if you flip me off. I don’t have to be right. In the end, if it is meant to be, I’ll win anyway. If not, in the meantime.I’ve got plenty to do.

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