Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I am Deathly Ill, and loving it.

There is a lot of talk about what ails the church and how these things will eventually destroy the church as we know it.  In my denomination (PCUSA) there is a group that says we're "deathly ill."  They say this as if we have some form of cancer that needs to be cut out and then maybe by some miracle we'll be able to live on.  Well I might be able to agree we're deathly ill, but only in the sense that I'm deathly ill.  I have diabetes, it appeared randomly and without warning.  Doctors are still confused as to why and how I have this, I have no family history and no medical/lifestyle issues that would have logically led to this disease.  Yet here I am.  It will eventually directly or indirectly lead to my death if I live out my life to that point.  But that is what proves my point: I don't know what will kill me, I do very consciously know that I will die at some point and that I have an illness that will lead to death, but I don't know that it WILL kill me, I don't know if it does HOW it will happen, and I don't know WHEN I will stop existing physically on  this earth.

So if I am to argue that the church (like many of us) does have things that will eventually kill it within it, what does that mean?  Should we be changing everything?  Should we just hope for the best?  Or do we realize that we have a purpose regardless, and continue to aim at that purpose, recognizing our weaknesses, dealing with them within the larger picture.  So often we as people name ourselves after our weaknesses. I do it too.  I'm a diabetic, I'm an Aspie, I'm an Extrovert...I am I guess these things, but to state them this way is to say "this is the core of who I am" which is a very false statement.  I have diabetes, I live with Asperger's syndrome, I need people to be energized.  These statements are much more true, they acknowledge things that are part of me for better or for worse, but don't define me by these things. They also are all things I can control, they won't go away, but I can recognize issues that come up and deal with them rather than hiding behind the "illness."

So often when we look at the problems of the church we start defining the church by these problems.  This leads to a view that whatever issue is at the center is less of a process of change and growth and more of something that needs urgent attention.  There are times the church needs urgent care, but that really can only happen on the local level (like surgery on a tendon/dealing with individuals) when it comes to the systemic issues of the church, we need to be constantly living with the struggles and realizing that these problems are most often not the end, but part of our journey of faithfulness and discernment.  We do have some big issues in the church because we are diverse people struggling to understand who God is and what life is about.  These are things that no matter our personal experiences, are not complete certainties.  They are, in my opinion, the very reason for existence.  We are discovering what it means to be what we were created to be. Created in God's image and as stewards of creation.  It is our struggles to understand what those things mean that eventually tears the organizational church apart, but when and how, and even if this happens is not something we'll know until it occurs.  So to use a analogy from the world of diabetes: rather than reacting by throwing out all the sugar and carbs, why don't we see what our bodies can handle and what life looks like.  We may be surprised by how we can find balance and joy just by trying to faithfully live out who we really are...The Body of Christ.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Short Response to Albert Mohler

I just read Albert Mohler's recent article regarding sexuality orientation and Christianity.   If you want to see what this is look here:

I can't help but respond to it, I don't like to respond to things just to argue with them, especially when it comes to people who I know are not going to have a discussion with me on the topic (such as I expect Mohler wouldn't).  Yet, I have to because what is done in this article is so wrong.
I don't know much about Jay Bakker's theology.  I'm sure we wouldn't agree on every point.  Based on Mohler's article, I'm left to assume a changing God, which I would disagree with.  Of course based on other things Mohler has to say, I'm not sure I trust his understanding of that, but even if it is true, it's not a point that would cause me to side with or against Bakker.

What I can say though is that Mohler doesn't present an argument here regarding Christianity and Sexuality Orientation, rather it is a series of personal attacks and unsupported statements leading to a predetermined conclusion.   While Bakker's parents lives influence his theology, that influence, that history has very little to do with Mohler's stance.  It seems it is only brought up in order to remind people of "The Sins of the Parents."  While "biblical,"  I'm pretty sure not even Mohler would actually preach such a thing.  It is one of those things that everyone rejects (unless you're a group like Westboro Baptist) because it doesn't make sense with the overall narrative of scripture and of creation.  Of course without holding to this theology Mohler's next point would seem illogical.  Mohler then presents Bakker's view of the Old Testament what I assume is fairly decently, but with wording which, as one would expect, leaves one thinking Mohler doesn't completely agree.  This though is essential, otherwise Mohler would have to argue that Bakker is up a creak because of his parents (again, Mohler seems to try to walk a fine line here, setting up fences where they work best for him).

So having spent the majority of his space talking about Bakker's family and regarding things that protect him from being called a "fundamentalist" or other such attacking term, finally we get to the crux of Bakker and Mohler's disagreement.  We're in for some great exegetical and theological work here.  Or. . .not?

Mohler claims that arguments that texts mean something other than what Mohler has understood them to mean as "not faithful to the texts."  Why does he feel this way?  I HAVE NO IDEA!  He makes no statements to what makes a translation or interpretation faithful, nor does he do any work to show why his view is faithful.  WHAT?  Okay, well maybe I should already know these things if I'm reading his work, so lets move on.
Mohler also claims that it's wrong to doubt historical views of scripture. . .you mean like slavery?  relationship between races?  gender equality?  Hold on, so maybe he wasn't so okay with Bakker's OT theology, and we are suffering from the sins of our forefathers in very personal ways!!!  I have no idea how he's doing this little balancing act, maybe he'll help by explaining the difference here . . . OR NOT?!?

Instead he turns back on the attack.  Claiming that the term "clobber" is problematic.  I'm not sure I argue with that fact, but his why is off base.  He doesn't argue that clobber is a reactionary term, but rather, that what is being done is right and shouldn't be considered bad in any way.  That we are called to point out when others do something wrong, and thus we all should be "clobbered" by scripture for doing THINGS THAT ARE WRONG.  This is where my theology comes in:  It's not the WHAT that is sinful, but the WHY.  Anything we do can be sinful when we do it for the wrong reasons, of course we are really the only ones who know if we did something for our selves or for God/others.  That is something that takes discernment and reflection.  Both of these things seem so far to be missing from Mohler's article.  But there's still a bit more.

Mohler's final argument has strong? and weak points:
The Bible’s condemnation of same-sex behaviors is comprehensive and clear. Really is it?  I see no support for that out of this article.
It is interwoven with the Bible’s message concerning God’s plan for humanity, marriage, and society. Really?  God states plans for marriage and society?  I seem to miss these clear and comprehensive scriptures as well.  I see some guidence on the subjects: That they are to be full of love and focus on others and not about ourselves.  Maybe that's what Mohler means.
Human flourishing is found only by living in obedience to God’s revealed plan. Hold on, we're back to "The Sins of the Parents" here aren't we?  No? Maybe it's just a prosperity gospel?  No?  What is your point here?  Maybe you mean this the way I'd say it "We find our deepest joys when we live in a state of faithfulness, seeking and discerning God within the world, and joining in where God is working."  Okay, maybe if that's what Mohler meant I can go with him here.
Our rebellion against the Creator is never so insidious as when we declare that our own plan is superior to his. Avoiding the male only God language issue (I struggle at times there too), I wouldn't argue too much with this.  Of course, I would say that "Sin is when we think we choose to think we know all the answers."  Careful Albert Mohler, I think you may have just pointed out the plank in your own eye.

When the Bible, in part or in whole, is dismissed as “clobber Scriptures,” it is not only the Bible that is subverted, but also the Gospel. The Church must recognize that fact clearly - and fast. Speaking of planks, I see nothing in how Bakker or others interpret these scriptures as dismissing them, only working to discern more about the nature of God through them.  So I agree with you, if you are simplifying God and Scripture to just something you can dismiss. (kind of like the arguments made by Mohler regarding this subject) then we should be aware and work harder at understanding the God who we are created in the image of and who calls us to stewardship of creation.

Cranky Pants Post

I'm a little cranky today.  I've heard a couple of friends who are recent seminary grads complain about their debt and their difficulties in ministry.  I appreciate the reality of these issues, but when they move from discussing it as a personal issue to "don't you agree that these are problems for all those going into ministry" universals.  I want to throw them under a fundamentalist bus...or better yet ON ONE!

My experiences have hardships of their own, but through them I am the minister I am today.  Does that mean that I missed out on certain things at early ages?  Yes!  I rarely had the money to go out with friends in college because I was paying my own way through it, likewise in Seminary I had both an unpaid internship and a paying "secular" job so I could pay my way  through there as well.  These are not BAD THINGS that happened to me along my journey, but choices I made because I felt a call towards my passion daily. 

We all make choices, they all have consequences, and all choices I have ever made had a downside of some sort.  I don't though regret them, they made me who I am, and THAT is what is important.  This moment is what is important.  How we get somewhere influences things, and how we view the world beyond this moment is essential to consider, but what we do "at this moment" is all we can actually control.

It's an obvious concept, but also an odd one.  We've spent much of our lives thinking of time as this constant, this ticking of seconds.  Yet that is just how we relate to it, a construct created so we feel more in control.   Yet, we're not in control of anything but this moment, and even there all we really control is what we do.  We don't control what happens afterward, we don't know the effects of our actions.  Our understanding of time influences our decisions every day, but should it?

What if we just did the best we can for God in each moment, took the risks, put our own needs secondary?  What if we didn't worry so much about our futures, and focused on God's now?  I dunno what would happen.  I'm not completely sure if that's the call.  I do though know that the world happens much faster and much slower than we're able to experience it and that there is more to this world that what affects me. 

With that in mind I look at my choices for this moment, knowing that I continue to be influenced by past choices, knowing that what choice I make now will affect not just my future but all of time.  Yet, I am free to make that choice because God is still in control.  So the question is not a matter of past or present or how we got here or where we're going, but rather the question is: What does it look like to be faithful? Constantly discerning.