In the audience, the first attendee to raise his hand was an older middle-aged man:
"I want you to know I'm praying for you, Senator. I congratulate you on winning the senatorial race, and I am praying for you. I didn't vote for you, but I am a Judeo-Christian, and I am praying for you. This country was founded by Christian men who understood how important it was for us to be a Christian nation. And I am scared when I read the newspaper, because this country isn't a Christian nation anymore. President Obama said we are not a Christian nation. He are a Muslim nation. And so I pray for you, that you will help us lead this country back to God. Back to Judeo-Christian principles. Because no nation, no empire in the history of the world has ever survived once God has been rejected by its people."
He was angry. He sounded angry. And he sounded scared. Angry that the world he knew - the only world he's ever understood - is changed. And will keep changing. And that's scary. The unknown is always scary.
I have a hard time with that sort of public outrage. I don't think Christians have much right to be outraged these days. I think those in power should defer such a luxury. "Should." I'm not so naive.
It's occurring to me more and more lately that many of those "in power" so-to-speak (those individuals who are part of dominant, privileged groups in the world, whether or not their individual circumstances align) don't often realize they are in power. And it's understandable - as I've said before, exceptions to the rule don't consider the rule to be valid.
So a middle class white man is scared of the power he perceives around him, because he views it as a dominating force of ominous and malevolent change. He is the victim.
And if perception is reality, maybe he is a victim because he lives like one. But the rest of the country? Minorities in America? They're baffled that folks who have always held the cards are so terrified when a hand from the deck gets into the hands of the "other."
There’s a story we know, and some of us believe
And it changes with time, like a quilt that we weave
And I might call it truth but you might call it spin
And it might be the cause of the trouble we’re in.
There’s a man in the story, he’s young and he’s Jewish
You’ll know the name Jesus (the story’s not new-ish)
But the story we tell (well, the way that we tell it)
Has some folks believing, while others won’t smell it.
“How can one smell a story? A story is heard!”
Well that’s true, and it’s not – it depends on the Word.
A word that is good can be heard and be tasted,
Sniffed and then touched, not a thing ever wasted.
But a word badly spoken can stink like it’s sour,
Never word ever heard when it’s rotten and dour.
No good to hear when it’s written in grime,
Whatever was justice comes reeking with crime.
Then that’s how we begin with telling this story,
Since familiarity pales its own glory,
Assuming you’ve heard it can turn it to fluff
Which is why all my friends are so sick of this stuff!
“We’ve read all that before!”
They say, tired of the preaching,
“Your God is a bore
With his mean-hearted screeching!”
But what if the rhymes hadn’t come out just right?
Instead, what if Jesus got lost in the fight?
Maybe the message wasn’t boasting “I’m right!”
And what if today was the dawn after night?
I mean, what if living a whole different way
Meant something quite other from “not being gay,”
Or “not saying damnit” or “voting my way,”
What if “Kingdom” meant giving your whole life away?
That's all I've got for right now.
Wright doesn't sound like a person of faith, but he's found some things to be "optimistic" about, regarding monotheism.
God has mellowed. The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate.
Wright sees the progression of God's continual "enlightenment" (reflecting society's general moral progression) as a sign for hope. I hope he wouldn't argue that the 20th Century was a particular high point in the order of human morality. War, poverty, paranoia and genocide. But I suppose even during this time, we saw the Civil Rights Movement in America, powerfully bolstered by Mainline Protestants, rejecting old and often-religious conceptions of racial mores and gender roles. Great goodness is many times birthed alongside and in the midst of great evil.
In “The Evolution of God,” Wright... [proposes] that the increasing goodness of God reflects the increasing goodness of our species. “As the scope of social organization grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.” Wright argues that each of the major Abrahamic faiths has been forced toward moral growth as it found itself interacting with other faiths on a multinational level, and that this expansion of the moral imagination reflects “a higher purpose, a transcendent moral order.”
I hope he's right. And even as I believe in a God who is absolutely good (not progressively good) all of these concepts fit well with my own understanding of humanity's flawed, limited, and continually-expanding understanding of who God is, and has always been. As we understand more deeply what it means to be human beings in creation, we rethink, redefine and reapproach the God we thought we knew. And, in my own personal experience, we fall in love all over again with that God. IF we can manage to forgive the god of our past and be introduced to the God of our future. That's not meant to sound heretical. Many walk away from faith, and from God, when they feel their own moral compass can no longer tolerate their religion of origin. In these situations, it takes genuine forgiveness to forge ahead, even if the true God (the God beyond all of our conceptions and understandings) played no active part in our spiritual wounds.
Althought Wright is not a "believer" per se, he is by no means an atheist. The Times review begins its conclusion with a quotation from the book:
If history naturally pushes people toward moral improvement, toward moral truth, and their God, as they conceive their God, grows accordingly, becoming morally richer, then maybe this growth is evidence of some higher purpose, and maybe — conceivably — the source of that purpose is worthy of the name divinity.
He was a sad, strange man. An absolute genious.
My friend Joan Ball said...
I too believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and working to guide and counsel-as promised. I also believe that the Holy Spirit of God is not the only voice whispering in our ears. Leads to the question: How you test the Spirits? Said another way, how do you assure yourself that it is the Holy Spirit of God and not Screwtape you're listening to?
Let me start by saying that I don’t like the practice of “proof-texting” – grabbing carefully picked Bible verses that conveniently support one’s agenda – because the Bible has been used to justify all sorts of wrongs like slavery and misogyny. However, I do think that there are genuinely consistent messages that stream throughout Scripture (like “rivers of life,” Rev. 22:1) that cannot and should not be ignored. That’s what I’m would attempt to discern here, to Joan’s question, still recognizing that we all come to Scripture (and to God) with existing agendas.
To begin, Psalm 51:6 reads, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” God has always been intent on teaching us truth, and I have a hard time believe God would allow the voice of truth to be easily undermined without our own willful, intentional subversion.
In Zechariah 8:19, “truth and peace” go hand-in-hand, which necessarily conflicts with many contemporary concepts of “Christian truth” that sow heartache, resentment, conflict and oppression in the name of cultural or religious warfare.
In John, Jesus tells of the coming counselor: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17) “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”
The Spirit of God purposes to teach us what is true. These are general descriptions of what Jesus promised the Spirit would do. But Joan is right, without a doubt there are voices in the world – and in our lives – that threaten to confuse and deceive, to twist what is good and true into a lie that undermines itself. However, Jesus tells us we’re not alone in the struggle to perceive what is right. Jesus seems quite clear about what we should look for in ascertaining the truth: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
Jesus re-emphasizes this idea later in Matthew 12:33-34, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Even Paul (not one of my personal favorites) wisely supports Jesus’ conception of goodness in his description of fruits of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
“Against such things there is no law.” The law is not in opposition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. And yet the Christianity of my own upbringing was in suspicious opposition to “peace” in the world, because it gloried in rumors of End Times apocalypse. In fact, I was taught to assume “peace” to be a deception of the Anti-Christ and a precursor to the Beast’s one-world government. The direct result of that being distrust and suspicion over things identified by Jesus himself as good and true. Gentleness? Self-control? Not when there’s a holy war to be fought! Patience? Not when someone is articulating a different worldview from my own! Love? Not without limits – boundaries – exceptions – provisos – requirements – demands!
But in these clarifiers we undermine the ultimate definitive of Christ’s own agape: dying for one’s own enemies. Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) But Jesus did show an even greater love than to die for his friends by dying for his enemies. And in the verse preceding, he exhorted us to do the same:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
“He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law.”
For me, personally, I cannot keep trying to reconcile a Gospel that undermines love, grace and goodness for the sake of legal accuracy.
“If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.”
It is in this spirit, as a Christian, that I hope to perceive the Holy Spirit’s voice in my life and in the world around me.
And a couple of my online friends pushed back (always welcome!). What exactly do I mean? What are the implications? Well, I don't want to get too consumed with that question because there are books and books on the nature of reality, and every one of them is written by an author/scholar/philosopher more capable than I. I said to Nate:
Reality itself is sort of unknowable, isn't it? We only know what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell? Reality is simply the framework in which all of us, human and animal, perceive. So perception is the only reality beyond an empty objective universe beyond us. But then, we (I) don't believe in an empty universe beyond us. I believe the cosmos is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit of the Creator. But God's perspective is not the same as humanity's. And yes, perhaps God's is "righter," because it is whole-er, truer, bigger. But God's reality and perspective encompasses all of our individual perspectives... perhaps making them all true? Making them all an incomplete portion of truth? Not wrong. Not in gradation of truthfulness, one from the other, but "in partial truth." God's is the whole, because God's is all.
Humankind is limited, finite, and faulty. God is unlimited, infinite, and perfectly good. I think the quest for understanding the "TRUTH" of reality is an adventure in missing the point. What's important to me is understanding the "GOODNESS" in reality. Goodness is love. God is love. This is the absolute truth. Not necessarily in some frilly, "new-agey" way, but very specifically in the eternal personality of Jesus Christ.
Okay, enough talking in circles, I'm not convincing anyone who doesn't want to be convinced. I get that.
* * *
The next issue that stretched my worldview and spirituality was feminism. One of my favorite quotes: “feminism is the radical belief that women are people.” But I grew up with very narrow views of women’s roles: complementarian versus egalitarian ) which is what I have become.
I remember arguing in college with a good friend over whether women should be allowed to preach and lead in churches. I’m ashamed to say how vehemently I advocated for male dominance. But that was the only form of Christianity I had experienced. Just a few years later, I took a college course called The History of Women’s Rhetoric. The class was focused primarily on the first women of the American abolition movement, a brave and radical group of Quakers, Congregationalists, and other progressive Christians of their day.
I was so moved and convicted over what I read that I almost immediately chose to make a change. That was the first time I chose to change a theological belief because of personal conviction, rather than biblical or theological convincing. I know, it scared me too! None of that class reading offered strong religious arguments – it was primarily sociological. Later I would learn enough to validate those gut-feelings theologically, but it was important for me to experience spiritual (and moral) conviction apart from a “biblical safety net,” so to speak.
Have any of you experienced this? I had a friend "come out" and explain that he didn't seek to justify his decision theologically before coming out. He knew what was right and good for him and chose not to be yoked to something that did not resonate as true.
Is this a slippery slope? What happens if we're just picking and choosing what we want to believe?
But is that really worse than forcing ourselves to believe all sorts of nasty things that turn our guts sour (like God-directed genocide, misogyny, slavery, polygamy, war, infanticide, etc...)?
Big questions. The point being, I made a choice based on what I believed to be good, rather than what I believed to be biblically literal. I trust God to be good enough to understand that decision. More importantly (and this is SCARY) I ACTUALLY BELIEVE that the Holy Spirit led me to that decision. That's right, a liberal, relativist little heretic like me actually believes that the Spirit of the Living God is actively moving in us, speaking to us and through us, and leading us in truth (Truth) and righteousness. "How unprogressive!"
More decisions to come. I haven't made close to half of them...
Last night I started a series of posts on why (and how) I’ve come to believe the things I do. And how I came not to believe some of the things I used to.
This morning I found an article at www.CNN.com about a new Senate resolution to apologize to black Americans for slavery and Jim Crow laws. This is significant, because much of my own embrace of postmodern thought came out of my recognition of differing worldviews shaped by culture, experience and history (reality to me is not necessarily reality to you - Existentialism 101). As I’ve said before, this began unexpectedly, in part by listening to Tupac Shakur, who vividly painted images for me of realities I never saw in white, middle-class suburbia. I started to learn that reality is relative.
CNN: Senate to take up resolution apologizing for slavery The U.S. Senate on Thursday was scheduled to consider a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for the wrongs of slavery. The nonbinding resolution sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is similar to a House resolution adopted last year that acknowledged the wrongs of slavery but offered no reparations.
Harkin's resolution "acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery, and Jim Crow laws," and "apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws."
Some members of the African-American community have called on lawmakers to give cash payments or other financial benefits to descendants of slaves as compensation for the suffering caused by slavery.
I thought some of the comments attached to the CNN article reflected well the tension and discord surrounding issues of race.
- “The African American community has received more than enough hand-outs already…”
- “Well we also need to reach out to the Native Americans, Native Hawaiians as well. They are first in line for the apologies…”
- “Blacks in California as a race voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8 which denies the Civil Rights of Lesbians and Gays. Remember, is wasn't that long ago that a black could not marry a white and yet blacks seem to think Separate Is Equal…”
- “Where is my apology from the black people that have mugged me?
I agree that there are other people groups deserving of White America’s apology, repentance, and even reparation.
I do think it’s fascinating that the black community remains as conservative about Gay Marriage as it does, given its painful history. But conservative Christianity runs deep in many black communities.
It’s tragic that one of the respondents would equate being mugged by someone (even more than one person) as being mugged by a race of people. And this only highlights the problem of systemic crime resulting from multi-generational oppression. It’s like Palestinians in Israel, beaten and provoked year-after-year. Even when legitimate efforts are finally made toward peace or reconciliation, how do you ask a trauma victim to trust again?
The first comment, I have little use for: “handouts.” I think it’s a distraction, and assumes a level playing field. I can understand that a poor white person with little privilege may have a hard time reconciling with a broader conversation about racial inequity: after all, they haven’t felt any benefit from race. But corporate sin and suffering is so much bigger than individual stories. To move forward, there has to be a move on the part of the privileged majority to separate the overall discussion from individual exceptions.
Reality is relative. That’s at the core of all this. White poverty in America is a very separate issue from black poverty, and the sooner we name this the sooner corporate healing can take place.
More to come, thanks for hanging in with me...
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