Existential Punk said: "Tradition doesn't make it right!"

My friend Adele commented in a recent post:

IMHO, scripture is NOT clear on the issue of homosexuality, and traditions over the years do not make something right. Slavery and subjugation of women were once endorsed by scripture and scripture was used to uphold those unfortunate things. People FINALLY came to their senses as i hope they will over the issue of homosexuality. Sadly, they probably will not and i believe the church as a whole will render itself irrelevant and out of touch. I see churches focusing way too much on dogmas, beliefs, etc that have all man-made creations and interpretations. They have become idols above and beyond how human beings are treated, which i think brings tears to G-D's eyes. Churches like the Anglicans, Catholics, & Presbyterians care
WAY more about being what THEY think is right over how they treat people. VERY SAD INDEED. No wonder people like me want NOTHING to do with church and many of its people. Thank G-D i have Christ in my life and friends who love and embrace me.

Adele, this resonates with me because, as a newcomer to the United Methodist Church, I'm enjoying an increased emphasis on the importance of "tradition." In churches I grew up in, tradition was supposedly meaningless. But that was essentially lip-service, because the subcultural norms there were clearly a manifestation of informal tradition. But for the Methodist tribe, tradition is only one piece of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Tradition and Scripture are counterbalanced by experience and reason - interacting like thinking people in the world God has given us.

I'm also reminded of a recent comment made regarding Prop. 8 in California (can't remember who said it). Essentially, "the purpose of Democracy is NOT to allow the whims of majority dictate the freedoms of the minority." So even if "most" Americans did want to prevent gay marriage from being legal (or interracial marriage, or divorce, or oral sex for that matter) that doesn't mean the majority has the right - in a democracy - to deprive citizens of those freedoms.

A.D. Hunt said, "I myself, as a Covenant supporter, am not interested in controlling anyone," and I believe him. I think people can intelligently and respectfully disagree and even disapprove without that disapproval leading to forced mandates. Churches can hold to unpopular or controversial doctrines without asserting them cruelly or angrily.

Again and again, I've seen Adele's (Existential Punk) interactions with people she disagrees with to be respectful, gracious and tolerant.

I ask the same question she raises, though: "just because it's tradition, does that mean it's correct?"
Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

I want to be faithful to Jesus. I even want to be faithful to Scripture and Tradition, but I'm not willing to "bow" to Scripture and Tradition without maintaining tension with Experience and Reason.

Google: "was michael jackson a true christian"?


You're really still coming to my blog, trying to figure out whether "Michael Jackson was a 'TRUE Christian'"? That's still one of the top entries for arriving here (which probably doesn't say much for the success of this blog).

I have an assignment. Google: "making the world a better place."

Then Google: "the beatitudes."

Then Google: "the fruits of the spirit."

Then grab a pen and notebook pad, and journal about why you're obsessed about whether Michael Jackson was a "true Christian."

Oh. Good Lord. It's Christianity Today's fault... Is this really coming from Christian compassion? Concern for Mr. Jackson's afflicted soul? Or is it obsessive, religious voyeurism? I guess I can't say. I used to ask the same questions. Guilty-as-charged.

"Male Privilege"... a poem by D.A. Clarke

Hardly seems fair after something as lighthearted as the previous post about Jeremy Camp and Sasha Baron Cohen, but here's a poem that has been formative in my development for six or seven years now. It's been coming to mind a lot lately (not entirely sure why) and I thought I'd share...

by D. A. Clarke 1981

A poem for men who don't understand what we mean, when we say men
have "it."

Privilege is simple.
Going for a pleasant stroll after dark.
Not checking the back of your car as you get in,
sleeping soundly,
Speaking without interruption
and not remembering dreams of rape, that follow you all day,

that woke you crying,
and Privilege is not seeing your stripped, humiliated body

plastered in celebration
across every magazine rack.

is going to the movies and not seeing yourself terrorized,
battered, butchered
seeing something else.

Privilege is
Riding your bicycle across town without being screamed at

or run off the road,
not needing an abortion,
taking off your shirt on a hot day, in a crowd,
not wishing you could type better just in case,
not shaving your legs,
having a decent job and expecting to keep it,
not feeling the boss's hand up your crotch,
dozing off on late-night busses,

Privilege is being the hero in the TV show not the dumb broad,
living where your genitals are not denied
knowing your doctor won't rape you.

Privilege is
being smiled at all day by nice helpful women
it is the way you pass judgment on their appearance with magisterial
the way you face a judge of your own sex in court

and are over-represented in Congress
and are not strip searched for a traffic ticket or used as a dart

by your friendly mechanic,

Privilege is seeing your bearded face reflected through the history
not only of your high school days but all your life,
not being relegated to a paragraph every other chapter,
the way you occupy entire volumes of poetry
and more than your share of the couch unchallenged.
It is your mouthing smug, atrocious insults at women

who blink and change the subject politely

Privilege is how seldom the rapist's name appears in the papers
and the way you smirk over your PLAYBOY.

It's simple really,
Privilege means someone else's pain,
your wealth is my terror,
your uniform is a woman raped to death here, or in Cambodia or
wherever your obscene Privilege writes your name in my blood,
it's that simple,
you've always had it,
that's why it doesn't seem to make you sick to your stomach,
you have it,
we pay for it,
now do you understand?

Bruno: The Movie Inspiration?

Offensive as they may be, I've been entertained by all of the Bruno trailers for Sasha Baron Cohen's new movie, and eager to go see it...

Until I realized that Bruno was just a rip-off of Christian pop-singer Jeremy Camp!

Not cool Baron Cohen...
You should have asked Jeremy Camp before skeezing his style...

The least of These: 3rd World Perspective...

I remembered a wonderful short film nominated for an Oscar in 2007. Binta and the Great Idea is all about the compassion a poor fisherman in Senegal has for white children (Tubabs) cursed to grow up in the chaos and misery of Western wealth...

It's important to remember that WE may be someone's "Least of These."

The Least of These: Who Are YOURS?

This Sunday I'm giving a sermon (first time at our current church) on "The Least of These" from Matthew 25.

When we talk about “The Least of These,” what do you normally think of? Who are “the least?” as identified in Scripture? For a long time, I tended to think of the homeless. I visualize Jesus feeding 5,000 and loving children! But who doesn’t have compassion for children? For the poor? If you don’t, at least you’re probably smart enough to fake it, right?

But as a struggling narcissist, homeless people aren’t just easy for
me to love; because of the social capital placed on philanthropy, homeless people are socially profitable to love. Caring for the homeless, I'll look like a really good person! I'll feel like a really good person!

Jesus showed kindness to lepers, tax collectors, the crippled, the blind, beggars, Samaritans, women, even a Roman Centurion. It was the sort of compassion that got him killed. Jesus loved the wrong sorts of people. So there’s a risk involved in caring for the “Least of These.”

So who puts you at risk? What sorts of people compromise your safety, if you loved them? Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' And then, to the goats, Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

There are still people I am struggling to love. I have friends who have hurt me. I have family members who have betrayed me. And for all the years it took me to begin moving beyond my fundamentalism, now I’m trying to figure out how to love and care for my fellow Christians who represent all of the angry, judgmental things I used to be... And maybe still am... And still judge them for. These are the kinds of relationships I can’t avoid thinking about when I read the words in Matthew 25, because these are the people and groups I now have the hardest time loving. They’re the ones I am most at risk of being wounded by. In some instances, they’re the ones I’m most at risk of being judged for loving.

Who do you struggle to love?

From Nathan: "I like your liberalism, but your faith is cold..."

'Nathan' e-mailed me recently. In addition to referencing a GREAT link from dailyKOS.com, Nathan asks an important question...

I come from a fundamental background, and am also trying to figure my faith out. This amazing statement reflects what I've been thinking about lately: "Personal transformation is quite separate (in my experience) from corporate teaching. But I continue to resonate more with liberal teachings because - at least in ideology - it seeks more gracious roads."

I'd have to say in regard to personal transformation, I have found religious liberals and conservatives to be fairly similar. I'm sad to find both conservatives and liberals equally lacking in kindness. Initially, I thought liberals were so much kinder than conservatives, but that illusion was quickly corrected by reality. Here is a link.

Anyway, there's another unrelated topic I wanted to ask you about. I find so much of what religious liberalism stands for as personally appealing. (For example, the possibility of universalism, acceptance of "practicing" gays etc.) However, I sense a certain emptiness. Religion needs to provide concrete answers, yet those answers can't be found in liberal Christianity. I don't know if you can relate to that feeling or not?

I responded:

It sounds like you and I are wrestling with a lot of the same things. Well said - there's little difference between liberals and conservatives in the way of personal transformation. Both sides have strengths, weaknesses, and RAGING BLINDSPOTS! Eh? Yeah, the most welcoming churches in my experience have been conservative ones. BUT, that "welcome" only goes so far, because they have very little room for divergent opinions. And don't seem to recognize that disconnect.
I was REALLY captivated by your final comment: "I sense a certain emptiness. Religion needs to provide concrete answers, yet those answers can't be found in liberal Christianity. I don't know if you can relate to that feeling or not?"

Yes, I can absolutely relate; I have had similar observations. I'm actually not sure I agree that religion needs to provide concrete answers, but it DOES need to do something to fill the emptiness. A personal God, for me, is crucial. I need to know, to love, and to be in relationship with the God who created me and who I believe loves me. That's why I haven't let go of my personal context for approaching and viewing God. I have the same feelings, visualizations, and approaches to prayer and living "in Christ" because the liberal church hasn't provided an appealing alternative. I suppose there ARE concrete answers for me, then. I believe Jesus was and is God. I don't feel like dying on the hill of "literal or metaphorical resurrection." I believe in the literal resurrection, but that's less important to me than who Jesus is: God. And that means God is very active in this world, and very involved in our lives.

* * *
Have you had an experience like Nathan's? Attracted to an ideal, an ethos, or a worldview, but when it came down to the nitty gritty, it looked less appealing?

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

On Saturday night, we went to an outdoor Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert. There's nothing like live music on a hot summer night. It was lovely...

Ladysmith Black Mambazo represents the traditional culture of South Africa and is regarded as the country's cultural emissary at home and around the world. In 1993, at Nelson Mandela's request, Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future President to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Mambazo sang again at President Mandela's inauguration in May of 1994. They are a national treasure of the new South Africa in part because they embody the traditions suppressed in the old South Africa...

The traditional music sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo is called ISICATHAMIYA (Is-Cot-A-Me-Ya). It was born in the mines of South Africa. Black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, they would entertain themselves, after a six-day week, by singing songs into the wee hours every Sunday morning. Cothoza Mfana they called themselves, "tip toe guys", referring to the dance steps choreographed so as to not disturb the camp security guards. When miners returned to the homelands, the tradition returned with them. There began a fierce, but social, competition held regularly and a highlight of everyone's social calendar. The winners were awarded a goat for their efforts and, of course, the adoration of their fans. These competitions are held even today in YMCA assembly halls and church basements throughout Zululand South Africa. (from www.Mambazo.com)

What Matters More: Sexuality or Goodness?

If you follow the host of Emerging/Emergent Christian blogs, you've probably already stumbled on a number of them that link to this song. But I know a lot of my readers aren't diehard Emergers (not a bad thing, to be sure) so I thought you might enjoy this song from one of my favorites: Derek Webb, in his new album...

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
'Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak
'Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn't be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn't silently consent when the liars speak
Denyin' all the dyin' of the remedy
Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?
If I can tell what's in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it's about
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasin' the wind while the pendulum swings
'Cause we can talk and debate until we're blue in the face
About the language and tradition that he's comin' to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don't give a shit
About 50,000 people who are dyin' today
Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

Howard Pepper: Uniting Christians to Others...

Howard, I hope you don't mind me reposting some of your ideas here. Your post, "Seven Points to Unite Christians and Other Spiritual People" got me thinking.

Howard introduced seven ideas that he thinks have the ability of "leveling the playing field" so to speak (if I'm interpreting all right) between "believers" and "non-believers" - those labels themselves unhelpful, because there is so much overlap and ambiguity between and within those groups.

A few of this points include:

1. Biblical literalism is a stage of spiritual development that can be transcended with no spiritual or moral loss.

2. Visualized-result prayer, done with feeling and intention, is equally effective regardless of the worldview or theology of the pray-er.

5. The same motivations toward expansion and the same theology could have developed in early Christianity whether or not Jesus actually rose bodily from the dead.

6. Receiving the benefits of any atoning or transfoming work that may have been accomplished by the life or death of Christ does not require acceptance of any particular beliefs, including: 1) disputed history such as his bodily resurrection; 2) abstract theology such as the virgin birth or deity of Christ; 3) future expectations such as a rapture or second coming, Armageddon, or a millennium.

For the full list, click here!

Are these points that, first, most Christians can agree on? And if so, are they helpful in furthering respectful dialogue with non-Christians? One point in an introductory statement stands out to me: "The following are concepts that can be agreed upon by Christians of all but the most literalist or dogmatic type and, if taken seriously, will help unite Christians with many spiritually-oriented people not comfortable in the Christian fold."
I agree that opening our hands to broader understandings and interpretations of Jesus could allow folks burned or jaded by organized/corporate religion to approach the conversation and even the "body" of Christianity. But in my experience, in many - MANY - conservative, evangelical, pentecostal, non-denominational and fundamentalist churches, these are not concepts that would be agreed upon. And while I wish the larger body of Christians in America were more progressive, the Evangelical church does have numeric superiority over everyone else (except, perhaps, Roman Catholics? who have exclusionary ideological issues of their own...). I think the majority of Mainline Protestants could affirm much on this list, but to say "all but the most literalist or dogmatic" seems to suggest a very small number. The number is far from small, and it's the only one that seems to be GROWING in the US, as the Mainline dwindles.

Thoughts? Thanks again for the stimulating thoughts, Howard!

Rachel Held Evans is Weak Too!

A mutual friend of Adele and me on the blogosphere is upcoming author Rachel Held Evans.

A few days ago, Rachel joined our conversation about "Starting from our Weakness" with a post on "The Paralysis of Insecurity."

Rachel writes:

I feel insecure about my body, so instead of swimming, I stick my feet in the pool. I feel insecure about my dirty kitchen floor, so I avoid inviting people over. I feel insecure about my decision to put off starting a family, so I make self-depreciating jokes about how I lack motherly instincts. I feel insecure about some of my political positions, so I only start debates I know I can win. I feel insecure about my theological training, so I stick to topics I’ve read a lot about. I feel insecure about my doubts, so I criticize certainty as arrogant or na├»ve. I feel insecure about Arminianism, so I make Mark Driscoll the voice of Calvinism (making it easier to shoot down). I feel insecure about not going to church, so I spend a lot of time criticizing it. I feel insecure about my character, so I obsess over my career. I feel insecure about my career, so I obsess over my book. I feel insecure about my book, so I obsess over editor’s notes and blog entries and potential sales numbers. I feel insecure about my likability, so I hide behind my intelligence. I feel insecure about myself, so I criticize other people...or I keep them at a distance.
Click here to

Sorry I didn't catch this post right away. It's really beautifully written - I think I can speak for both Adele and myself when I say: welcome to the conversation! You said, "I only start debates I know I can win," and I LOVED the Mark Driscoll comment! Ha! I'm right there with you, on both counts, but Adele and I are intent on growing. Sometimes growing means shrinking. Being strong becomes being weak. Wisdom of God, foolishness, etc...

Thanks for joining the conversation. Thank you for being so transparent and vulnerable.

Wow, talk about counterintuitive advertising: "Christianity: We're the WEAKEST Way to Live!"

Shall we give it a try?

Re: "Starting with Our Weakness" - Howard Pepper said...

On Adele's blog, www.ExistentialPunk.com, Howard Pepper left this comment to my "Starting with Our Weakness" post...

* * *

...I've for some time been quite comfortable "outside the fold" as far as fellowship or people for support, joint worship, etc. But I am fascinated with (almost obsessively) several things from the interests and professional training/experiences of my whole life.... things like human development in relation to belief systems and stages of growth (cognitive, moral, spiritual, and the interaction of these, etc... incidentally, tho I don't go back and read a lot of his work, I'm very grateful for Ken Wilber's work). And I've come to love history, and particularly the history of ideas.

A big part of that, for the last several years, after all my extensive formal theological education (Bible Col, M.Div.--Biola/Talbot, and PhD work, ABD, at Claremont) has been pursuit of understanding Christian origins and the early development of Christianity and the milieu of 1st Cent. Palestine, including "Jesus Research" (building on the 2 phases of the "quest"). So, I'm historically curious, but equally so about the sociology and psychology, in a tumultous time, that drove the development of the NT and its noncanonical cousins, and the diverse branches of Jewish-Christian, Christian (quickly anti-Jewish, largely) and Gnostic/Gnostic-Christian groups... What a century the "first" was!

Since I have limited time, Peter, can you perhaps point me to where you've written up more of your pilgrimage, your current situation in seminary, etc.? (I am somewhat familiar w/ George Fox College [or Univ.?], and lived 8 yrs. in Eugene in the 80s, but don't recall if they had a sem. by that name attached... don't think so, last I knew.)
Along with what I described above, a direction I've begun to go is to identify and build relationships with particularly open Evangelicals as well as others to help keep me abreast of trends, etc., but also to build a consortium of writers, leaders, etc. who want to do important creative work in those areas I mentioned, and related ones. I do have a fairly detailed vision/mission, and am in early stages of moving into application, knowing that others will help form it as well.

* * *

One of my favorite aspects of the blogosphere is its ability to connect folks who would otherwise never meet. Howard, it's a PLEASURE to meet you. As an aside, I've enjoyed reading some from your nascent blog, "Natural Spirituality," and hope you'll continue to write there. You've been on quite a path! From conservative Bible College and Seminary, to doctoral work at Claremont. I hope we'll be able to stay in touch - I'm interested in where your vision/mission is taking you.

I would recommend this link for the clearest (if that's possible), most brief summation of my current beliefs:
This article, from back in 2005, is a good generalization of relationships, scenarios and attitudes that began my deconstruction:

Also, Howard - Eugene - fantastic town! My little sister-in-law goes to UofO, and we spend quite a bit of time down there.

George Fox Seminary is a part of George Fox University. GFU took over Western Evangelical Seminary in Portland about a decade ago. I'm not sure what that school was like at the time, but GFS has generally become more and more progressive (given its egalitarian Quaker roots), especially in comparison to its other Portland seminary neighbors, Multnomah Biblical Seminary and Western Seminary. I wouldn't call it "liberal" by any stretch, but certainly progressive for an evangelical institution.

Starting With Our Weakness: Peter

By Peter Walker
(Co-op Blog Post Part 2)

I have a lot of weaknesses. It’s amazing how “okay” you can think you are, until the relationships in your lives (like little mirrors) reveal the truth. I had no idea how selfish, impatient, emotionally needy, insecure and quick-to-react I was until I got married. For my friends who tried to tell me beforehand: sorry I wasn’t listening.

As Adele and I approach the subject of being transparent about our weaknesses, there are a lot (I mean a lot) of ways we could go and angles we could approach from. We’re human; there’s a lot to own up to!

* * *

Peter Rollins said:
“…What I really want to do is to enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument. and I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa.”

- from a Nick and Josh Podcast interview

* * *

An anonymous blog visitor recently commented:

You want to cherry pick what you want to believe and then mandate we trust our gut feelings for authority. And you really can't see the inconsistent notions you put forth in the midst of all this. But, I guess in a postmodern worldview you don't really have to worry about those little contradictions.”

Good timing Anonymous, because that’s just the sort of thing I want to own up to. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but I’m not sure I believe that… unless “useful for teaching” can mean showing some Scriptures as bad and even wrong examples of what God isn’t, and of what isn’t true – perhaps of how wrong well-intentioned, God-fearing people can be. But objectively true and correctly interpreted by the biblical writers? I don’t buy Paul’s assertion in 1 Timothy 2:15, that “Women will be saved through childbearing,” or that God would randomly strike folks dead for deceit, as in the Acts 5 story of Ananias and Sapphira. Just as I’m often accused of picking and choosing “convenient” Scriptures to make my point (oft-lamented proof-testing!) it seems a terrible abuse of Scripture to suggest that God really strikes people dead at random, for the sorts of sins all of us are guilty of, regularly. Shouldn’t we all be covering our heads and ducking low, every day? Yeah, probably…

So I don’t really believe a coherent, consistent narrative of God can be easily constructed utilizing the entirety of Scripture. To really do so, we have to extract what resonates as true, and sort of ignore or gloss over the inconvenient texts that don’t fit our theses. Proof-texting. I don’t like it. Neither should you. And we’re all guilty of it. To avoid proof-texting to validate our beliefs, we have to go to a different core/foundational source from the Bible. I would argue, we have to go to a superior source: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the helper sent from God, through Christ, who is God, who is Christ – each equal and co-existent in the Trinity. The weakness of this belief, is that we cannot prove the truth or validity of the Spirit’s work in us. I cannot convince you of what the Spirit has told me. And if I’m really honest, I can’t entirely convince myself. There will always be that spec of doubt. This is where faith is a necessity that carries me beyond certainty. This sort of ambiguity is terrifying for folks who are used to concrete answers. And I am ideologically and theologically weak, because I am ill equipped to answer many of the questions and protests from those who see such ambiguity and relativism in themselves as weakness, heresy, immaturity, rebelliousness, or foolishness.

I am weak because I have begun to open my hands from the fists they were clenched in. Those fists were clenched to certainty and “Evangelical orthodoxy.” By following what I believe to be the Holy Spirit, I am in danger of simply following my heart. And my heart may be wrong. And I understand the risk…

As I said before, I am selfish, impatient, emotionally needy, insecure and quick-to-react. I am also arrogant and sometimes angry. When people disagree with me, my first gut-response is anger: “How dare you question my opinions!” Then it’s insecurity: “What if people think I’m a fool?” Then it’s insolence: “I’ll SHOW them!” Then, hopefully, Christ breaks through all of the ego, and I can say: “I am sorry. I am weak.”

I want to grow. I want to be more like Jesus Christ. I’m less interested in thinking correctly. I want to be. I want my very instincts to be conformed to the selfless goodness, love, peace and faithfulness of Christ. I have to start this process by telling you all that I am weak. If I had a better argument, if I had a quicker wit, if I had a PhD, I might be able to convince you otherwise. Thank God I cannot. I am weak. Adele, I am weak.

Starting With Our Weakness: Adele Sakler

By Adele Sakler

Who's surprised when I say I have many weaknesses? If we’re really honest and recognize the frailty of our species, we see that all of us walk with deep-seated weaknesses. It’s very difficult to own up to these weaknesses; they darken the doorways of our homo sapien souls. I have had the privilege (though sometimes scary) of surrounding myself with honest people. This includes some talented therapists over the years, who have encouraged me to hold up the mirror and brave the process of looking at the woman in that mirror, warts and all.

As Peter and I broach the often-painful and difficult subject of transparency and weakness, there are numerous ways we could approach the topic. As human beings, there are a plethora of things we have to own up to!

* * *

Peter Rollins said:
“…What I really want to do is to enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument. and [sic] I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa.”

from a Nick and Josh Podcast interview

* * *

A commenter named “Christ” had this to say on my post: 'Reaching Greedily For The Kool-Aid'

‘"I agree that choosing DOGMA over doubt and experiment is like throwing out that ripening vintage and greedily reaching for a cheap and sugarcoated Kool-Aid."

Hitchens' point about "dogma" is a red herring. Christian beliefs are based on evidences, eyewitness testimony, history's siding with Jesus, and much more. It's true that your average Christian doesn't know how to articulate WHY Christianity is objectively credible and valid, but Christianity is nevertheless objectively credible and valid.

"Our lives are not certain in any form."

Is that a certainty?’

I think Christ makes some valid points, and calls me out on a few things. There is a lot of solid historical evidence for many biblical narratives, particularly for the life of Jesus. It’s easy to lump solid theological scholarship and even orthodoxy in with “dogma” and (even worse) fundamentalism. But that’s unfair. Even liberal scholars like Marcus Borg and Bishop Spong argue for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s not “Kool-Aid” to believe the Jesus of history may well be the Jesus of faith, redemption and even salvation. Unless we treat it like Kool-Aid, sugar it down, or pretend there is no other wine to be tasted and savored.

Is “our lives are not certain in any form” a certainty? No. I’m uncertain about that. I might be wrong. There may be absolute certainty. There may be absolute truth. I’m uncertain…

For years I ran from who I really was and put up many masks and walls. I found it easier to hide my pain in humor by being the prankster and clown. Sarcasm became my constant bedfellow. Making people laugh, often at their expense, made me feel better about myself, albeit only for a brief time. Sustaining my ego and self-esteem in these dishonest ways was not sustainable or healthy. I finally started the process to really look down deep at why I was unhappy and miserable. I think Michael Jackson's beautiful and poignant song, 'Man in The Mirror' sums up best how I began this long and often painful journey:

Man In The Mirror

I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

I've Been A Victim Of A Selfish Kind Of Love
It's Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No Home,
Not A Nickel To Loan
Could It Be Really Me,
Pretending That They're Not Alone?

A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody's Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of The Wind, Ya' See
Cause They Got No Place To Be
That's Why I'm Starting With Me...

I believe that to begin with our weakness we must admit that our humanity inevitably includes arrogance, pride, ego, defensiveness, selfishness, impatience, emotional neediness, insecurities, quick reactions, low self-esteem, self-hatred, et al. Recognizing that it is scary and painful and brings about gobs of anxieties is part in parcel as well. It’s important to surround ourselves with people who are willing to be open and honest about their own weaknesses and who are grace-filled and honest with us, while at the same time allowing us to be grace-filled and honest with them. This shows us that it is safe to let our guard down. THIS is how I can “enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument. and [sic] I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa.” The key here is HUMILITY, and that is often difficult to attain!

I don't often like to be humble. I find it much more interesting to boldly state my opinions, but I’m insecure enough (or honest enough) to know I might be wrong. It’s a Catch 22 situation. I, like Peter said, know that, “I am weak because I have begun to open my hands from the fists they were clenched in. Those fists were clenched to certainty and “Evangelical orthodoxy.” By following what I believe to be the Holy Spirit, I am in danger of simply following my heart. And my heart may be wrong. And I understand the risk…”

I recognize that I can be angry, impatient, selfish, insecure, arrogant, and overly quick to react in not-so-nice ways. I also react out of hurt, pain and wounding. I find it difficult when people disagree with me, and often my very first response is, 'How dare you question my thoughts, opinions and heart-motivations?' When insecurity rears its ugly head, I am plagued with thoughts that go like this: 'They must think I am stupid or that I am foolish.' Like Peter so honestly reveals, ' Then it’s insolence: “I’ll SHOW them!” Then, hopefully, Christ breaks through all of the ego, and I can say: “I am sorry. I am weak.” '

I have walked a long way since letting go of my black-and-white easy answers, my life of certainty, whether in my Christian walk or in the entirety of my life. I strive to walk more holistically in faith, rather then by thinking/believing what is correct. I want to live more like Christ and err on the side of love and acceptance rather than on being right all of the time. I think feeling like we belong and having a community to stumble through the often-confusing and painful journey we call life (where we can make mistakes without feeling like we will be lambasted) is what I think we as homo sapiens need so badly if we are to truly encounter and be transformed by the Divine.

I'd like to echo what Peter says at the end of his post (posted today at www.ExistentialPunk.com):

'I have to start this process by telling you all that I am weak. If I had a better argument, if I had a quicker wit, if I had a PhD, I might be able to convince you otherwise. Thank God I cannot. I am weak.'

Peter, I am weak! Thank you for your unending grace and love. Backatcha!

* * *

Adele Sakler currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with her wife, Katryna, and their two dogs, Mushu and Lady. She blogs as Existential Punk at www.ExistentialPunk.com and is the creator and site administrator of Queermergent at http://Queermergent.wordpress.com. She is currently going through long-term treatment for Chronic Lyme Disease, other tick-borne diseases, and heavy metal toxicity. Adele has been a Christ-follower for 20 years and an “out” queer woman for two and-a-half years.

Starting with Our WEAKNESS...

My good friend Adele (www.existentialpunk.com) and I are getting ready to write a cooperative series of posts on what it means to argue from a position of weakness. We’re inspired by this quotation from Adele’s friend, author/thinker/lecturer Peter Rollins:

* * *

What we tend to do is… whenever we are in an argument I will argue from the place of strength, the strongest part of my argument, and direct is at the weakest part of your argument. And you will in turn take the strongest part of your argument and attack the weakest part of my argument. And what I really want to do is to enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument. and I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa.

Peter Rollins, from a Nick and Josh Podcast Interview

* * *

Rollins is absolutely right! We naturally tend to focus on our own strengths and capitalize on others’ weaknesses. This is probably less about egotism, and more about the brokenness and insecurity of most people. We protect “our weak” by overemphasizing “our strong.” And in doing so, we’re not being entirely honest, are we?

There are weaknesses in me. Rather than hide them from you, I’d like to tell you about them. This demands a difficult level of vulnerability and transparency. It means you’ll have an opportunity to attack where I’m least “defended.”

In turn, you have strengths that may frustrate me, confound me, or directly refute something about my beliefs! But they are strengths, nonetheless. And by ignoring or underestimating them, I don’t just weaken my particular “position” (we must get beyond these adversarial identifiers) but I also underestimate and even undervalue your worth, and the complexity of your experiences that have led you to where you are.

Over the next couple of weeks, Adele and I will be co-op blogging on our own weaknesses, on the strengths we find in opposing - NO - DIFFERING viewpoints and belief systems, and we’ll be reflecting on why this is such a radically different way of dialoguing!

You are invited to join us at either…

::intermission:: some greetings while you wait...

Adele and I are working on our "Starting With Our Weakness" post series, and aren't quite ready to begin. Meanwhile, I was looking at some recent traffic stats. I'm continually amazed, thrilled, and humbled by web traffic that gets to EmergingChristian.com from literally all over the world! Here are some quick and shallow shoutouts to recent visitors!

  • Ardsley, New York -
    Ardsley, what's up, thanks for stopping by!
  • Houston, Texas -
    Houston, nice, thanks for coming.
  • Phoenix, Arizona -
    Hot down there, eh?
  • Sheboygan, Wisconsin -
    Such a great name, Sheboygan!
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina -
    There's a Myrtle Beach Oregon. Very nice.
  • Bloomington, Illinois -
    Thanks for coming Bloomington!
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana -
    Reminds me of the Garth Brooks song. Sweet!
  • Thorold, Ontario - Canada -
    Hello Ontario!
  • Louisville, Kentucky -
    I always forget how to pronounce that...
  • Corona, California -
    Like the beer... and the 70s Toyota. Sweet!
  • San Francisco, California -
    Great town! No place like it.
    Love Hitchcock's Vertigo!
  • Galion, Ohio -
    Galion, thanks for the visit!
  • Saint Paul, Minnesota -
    Must be Dr. James Dobson, one of my regular readers.
  • East Lansing, Michigan -
    Michigan, hang in there!
  • West Palm Beach, Florida -
    Sounds nice, very nice.
  • Toronto, Ontario - Canada -
    Another Canadian friend!
  • Mehoopany, Pennsylvania -
    Mehoopany, you win the name contest!
  • Oshawa, Ontario - Canada -
    Oshawa, fantastic!
  • Atlanta, Georgia -
    Rapper Ludacris came from Atlanta. And
    Designing Women!
  • Washington, DC -
    President Obama, I presume. Thanks for reading.
  • Odenville, Alabama -
    Shoutout to Alabama!
  • Sydney, New South Wales - Australia -
    G'day Australia!
  • Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur - Indonesia -
    Try saying that three times fast!
  • Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan - Malaysia -
    Thanks for the visit, wow! Malaysia, Indonesia, talk about long-distance!
  • Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul - Brazil -
    Brazil, thanks for reading!
  • Singapore -
    No hard feelings about that caning thing in the '90s, America loves you!
  • Auckland -
    New Zealand - Home of the
    Lord of the Rings! (you're probably sick of hearing that, eh?) Home of Flight of the Conchords! Beautiful!
  • Amersfoort, Utrecht - Netherlands -
    Ya'all behave over there! I
    know what goes on. Thanks for the visit!

Manners are important: you are welcome here. I appreciate the time you took to read this blog. I hope we can have some kind of community here. Whether you're excited, bored or horrified by what you find, I hope it made you think, and I hope you'll come back and visit!

Peter Walker
Oregon, USA

iPod Philosophy?

I had avoided owning an iPod up until recently.  With the new iMac, it just seemed a shame not to entirely sell my soul to Apple...

There are a lot of music singles I enjoy, but would never purchase the entire albums they come from.  Snoop Dogg has a few classics.  So does Lil' Kim.  I've never been a big fan of Jay-Z, but "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" is brilliant (clearly I have a genre-preference, judge me if you want).

Here's what concerns me: many of my favorite songs from my favorite bands and artists are not the singles, and definitely not the songs that appealed to me most at first listen.  It's the songs that took two, three, maybe five or six listens that really stick.  That's because there's a difference between brilliant music, and "ear candy."  The iTunes I downloaded one single at-a-time are ear candy.  My favorites from Depeche Mode, Erasure, Rufus Wainwright and others are the former.  Subtle, complex, and brilliant.

As a culture, are we living for "ear candy?"  Not just in music, and not just in entertainment, but in our day-to-day lives?  We pick and choose the bits and pieces that are the "tastiest."  The quickest sugar-high.  Or buzz.  From the books we read to the churches we attend, the friendships we cultivate to the romances we've sought.  It's convicting.  Where's your attention?  How do you spend your time?  Where does your money go?  Oh no!  Where is my money going?! 

Do we have any tolerance for delayed gratification?  Listening to an entire album without skipping ahead to the top-40 single?  Reading a whole book through instead of skipping to the one chapter with a title that captures our attention?  Going to a church with a pastor who isn't as dynamic or captivating as T.D. Jakes or Rick Warren or *gulp* Joel Osteen?  Where do you get tripped up?  

Maybe it's nothing new.  David Brooks' fabulous book On Paradise Drive argues that Americans have always been viewed (from the outside) as the "bimbos of the world."  But I think we're getting worse.  Or maybe I'm getting worse.

Getting bored now.  I'm going to "skip ahead" to the next post...

Independence Day & My Luck-of-the-Draw...

I have something to confess that may sound caustic: I don't feel "proud" to be an American.

I'm thankful for my freedoms.  I'm humbled by the sacrifice of brave men and women who gave their lives for this nation.  I'm grateful for so much blessing that so many in this world can't even conceive...   

But "proud?"  Of what?  Luck-of-the-draw?  How can I be proud of something I had absolutely no control over.  It would be like saying I'm "proud" of speaking fluent English.  What's my other option?

Women and men who have sacrificed by fighting for this country have something to be proud of.  Even in wars I vehemently disagree with, soldiers show the ultimate form of patriotism and they've earned "pride," in my opinion.

But for many of us today, "America" is little more than an entitlement - an excuse - a free ticket to live more easily and comfortably than most of our global neighbors.  I can't be proud for being lucky.

I had originally thought about posting something on the idea of "nationalism" in relation to the Gospel.  I think they're incompatible in many ways.  How do you fight for your country AND die out of love for your enemies?  You can't construct foreign policy or national security using Christ's example.  It's too much.  Admittedly, Christianity is full of contradictions, and even more so when juxtaposed with principalities and powers of the earth.  Christianity becomes so awkward and misshapen when forced into the form of a country or nation state.

Still, the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays: I love the summer, I love fireworks, I love being outdoors on warm evenings, and I am grateful for the sacrifice in my nation's history.

But there is still a little voice in the back of my head, whispering "manifest destiny" and reminding me that there are dozens of tribes in Oregon alone who see our "independence" as representative of something much darker.

Celebration becomes a tenuous endeavor.

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