"Enraged Weiner" - wish I'd said that...

I realized some time ago that it's the worst parts of my narcissism that have - on occasion - been attracted to the thought of entering politics.  If I did, it would be to give speeches and diatribes like THIS ONE!!!

My God, I'm ready to donate money or picket something or get born again, again!  It might be an act.  It might be political posturing.  But I'm always inspired by a little passion - a little righteous indignation.  Not sure it's the best parts of me that are inspired, but I'm inspired, nonetheless...

Anne Rice leaves Christianity - should we follow her?

Because it's a question I have asked myself more than once.  Many of my close friends and loved ones have asked the same, and they have come to different conclusions than I.

CNN's Marquee Blog reports:
Anne Rice leaves Christianity

Legendary author Anne Rice has announced that she’s quitting Christianity.

The “Interview with a Vampire” author, who wrote a book about her spirituality titled "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession" in 2008, said Wednesday that she refuses to be “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist," “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.”

Rice wrote, “For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian ... It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
Rice then added another post explaining her decision on Thursday:

“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me," Rice wrote. "But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.” 
Her words are so true, and her convictions so close to my own.  “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist," “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.”  I don't want to be those, either.  Rice's additional statement provides clarification that a LOT of us can relate to.  And I agree that following Christ does not mean following his followers.
For me, I'm not entirely sure it's any easier, or any better, outside of organized religion.  There are fundamentalists everywhere: atheist fundamentalists, liberal fundamentalists, green fundamentalists, home-schooling fundamentalists, patriot fundamentalists, and there are all sorts of conservative fundmentalists that don't need religion to justify their worldview. 
My greatest disappointment (and honestly, my greatest confusion) in life is that Christianity is not something better than it has been.  If Jesus was who I believe he was - if God is who I believe God is (you can find posts on these questions elsewhere on this site) - then Christianity should be so much further along after 2,000 years... shouldn't it?  I mean, we're all human, so there's nothing that should be surprising about the sad state of Christianity.  But don't we believe that our faith is fueled by more than human efforts?  There is a lot I am unsure of, but I at least believe God is active in the universe.
Well, at the very least, I don't believe constructs and institutions can be changed from the outside without violence.  So some of us have to keep praying and striving from within, in solidarity and relationship with the folks who frustrate us most (often ourselves). 
I'm not ready to follow Anne Rice out the door, but I sure understand where she's coming from.

Post 500: On Deconstruction - 'Welcome to EmergingChristian.com'

Well, I'm finally here: post 500.  I had thought there would be some master-plan to my lead-up, but frankly I've been distracted, and sort of stumbled to this point.  That sort of sums up the overall flow of this blog since I started it in late 2004.  There is little overarching theme, except my own cognitive and spiritual development.  Who I was in 2004 is not who I am today.  Conservative-to-Emerging-to-ex-Evangelical-to-Closet-Liberal-to-Liberal-Evangelical.  And I have no idea what's next.

I'm thankful.  I'm thankful that my faith has survived.  I'm thankful that my very Evangelical conception of a loving, personal, intimate God has survived.  I'm thankful for my friends who have been here along the way with encouragement, argument, rebuke and affirmation - all of it has made me better.  All of you have made my faith richer.

The header of my blog (currently) lists these characteristics: deconstructing, advocating, liberating, evolving, hoping, loving God.  I think they reveal a lot about the nature of a dynamic faith.  And I don't mean dynamic in some self-congratulatory term, like: "that Tony Robbins is such a dynamic speaker!"  I mean dynamic, as in "characterized by continuous change."  Dynamism also infers energy.  My faith is energetic (for better and for worse) and certainly characterized by continuous change.

Several friends have recently asked about my intentions with the word "deconstruction."  It carries certain implications, depending on one's background (art, philosophy, religion, etc...) and I'm afraid I'm not well-read enough to be aware of all those implications.  When I talk about deconstruction, I'm talking about digging through all of the de facto beliefs and assumptions of the cultural/religious landscape Evangelical Christianity has created.  Deconstruction does not necessarily require that I throw away all those things I have deconstructed.  Sometimes those things can be reconstructed in ways that are more helpful or meaningful (without the ideological baggage they started with) and sometimes they can simply be left as they were (since we're not deconstruction a physical construct, we can explore something, right down to its foundation, and then walk away, leaving it standing).  Admittedly, simply going through the steps of exploring what the thing is - at it's is-ness - changes it, because it changes our understanding of it.

A big critique of Christian deconstruction is that it's habit-forming.  Once you learn how to take something apart, it's hard to stop.  Moreover, once you learn that taking something apart won't precipitate the end of the world, it's not very scary, so "where does it end?"

I would argue that continual deconstruction is necessary, even as we reconstruct new paradigms.  In fact, as soon as we have constructed something new, the process of deconstruction is necessary, so that we don't begin to believe that the thing we've built is any different or any better than the thing we took apart.    Because, in the case of faith, the thing we've built isn't the thing.  It's about the thing.  The thing is Christ, or God, or truth, or reality (depending on your particular vantage) and the thing is perpetually elusive, no matter how hard we try to understand it.

I am reminded of something Brian McLaren has repeatedly cautioned or alluded to: that the "emerging church" needs to be wary not to become "emerged"; that the only way for emergence Christianity to remain helpful, vibrant, and true to itself, is to continue doing what Christianity has always done: evolve.  Stasis is not a part of Christianity's DNA.

My own deconstruction stops, not at God or salvation, or the person of Christ, but at relationship with Christ.  Not because I'm afraid to discover something about Jesus that I don't want to know, but because I don't treat my loved ones the way I treat a concept.  If I love my friends, or my family, or my wife, I don't subject them to the rigors of interrogation.  When I learn new things about them - things they reveal about themselves, or things that life naturally illuminates - I re-contextualize who they are.  And I choose to keep loving them.  So the only place I find deconstruction unhealthy and unhelpful is relationally.

In the next couple of days, I hope to continue exploring some of these descriptors of my blog:

But first: where has deconstruction led YOU?

Has it been scary, invigorating, discouraging, hopeful?

What would YOU (the present you) tell the YOU of yesterday (when you began your process of deconstruction) that you wish you'd known?  A word of warning?  Of encouragement?  Of comfort?

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me.  To 500 more posts!

Response to John MacArthur: You're Right About Theistic Evolution!

Don't worry, I haven't reverted to conservative fundamentalism.  I was over at www.EmergentVillage.com's weblog today and a comment referenced this link: The Achilles Heel of Theistic Evolution.

MacArthur argues:
The Genesis record is a beautiful picture of God’s creation. Order, purpose and harmony permeate His completed work. Man relates righteously to God; Adam and Eve relate lovingly to one another; and animals dwell peacefully among them. No sign of conflict, fear, violence or death appears, until the day Adam sinned against God.
That’s a problem for evolution—a big problem.
Christians who flirt with evolution have some serious explaining to do when it comes to the existence of death before Adam’s transgression. How can God pronounce a world filled with violence, disease, suffering and death “very good”? Answer: He can’t.  Since theistic evolutionists claim death reigned billions of years before Adam’s fall, what did sin do to the world that hadn't already been done? In what way was the “creation subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20)? How has the “whole creation…been groaning…until now” (v. 22)?
So it seems to me that MacArthur argues that for Christianity's assertion of a need for atonement (Christ's intervention in our evil natures that came directly as a result of the Genesis Fall) to be valid, there has to have been a time in which the world did not need atonement.  If the universe was created with flaws, chaos and death hardwired into its dna, then that undermines the Creation Story.

This is another wonderful example of Christian's readiness to throw everything out over nonessentials.  MacArthur seems to be saying two things here:
(A) The only way to read Genesis is literally.
(B) An atonement model is the only way to understand Jesus Christ.

I reject both of these conclusions.

First, the battle over the Creation Story is not only a sad, tired battle that's cost far too many casualties, but it's a disrespectful rejection of the complex, scholarly-addressed categories of premodern Hebrew narrative and more broadly, Mesopotamian origins narratives.  And God's inability to call something complex, paradoxical, and painful "good"?  Really?  What world - what Bible - can validate such oversimplification?

Second, why do we need to limit God's redemptive power in the world to humanity's need for some sort of legal defense?  Or monetary compensation, paid to Satan - landlord of our souls?  Jesus came to show us the things that God cares about and the things that God loves: compassion, gentleness, patience, self control, rejecting power and embodying weakness, humility, unconditional love, friendship, generosity, non-judgment, taking care of the sick, widows, orphans, and loving enemies.  Good God!  Are all those things about Jesus just circumstantial?!  Does NONE of how Jesus lived and what Jesus taught matter to our souls and the redemption of the world?!  Is it really just about his death, magically saving us from hell through some chess game played by YHWH and Lucifer?!

I mean: Why is is some esoteric “theory” of atonement necessary, when pragmatic reality seems so clear: humanity did with Christ what humanity does with anything pure – we are attracted to it, captivated by it, convicted by it, suspect of it, we come to fear it, and then we kill it. We don’t need a theory of atonement to explain why Jesus was good, and why Jesus died.  Human nature’s modus operandi is quite clear.  So is the truth of Jesus' life and death.

Thank God for evolution.  I pray we continue to do so.

Rachel Held Evans: Evolving in Monkey Town

First I have to confess to Rachel that I am getting through her book much more slowly than I anticipated: Rachel, it's not your book, I'm just not a good time-manager!

There are books that I enjoy, books I hate, books I tolerate, books I can appreciate because of an idea but don't really enjoy, books that are brilliant but very much beyond my capacity to fully comprehend or digest, and then there are books I (narcissistically) wish I HAD WRITTEN!  Ha!  Rachel's book is quickly turning out to be the latter.  Her wit, compassion, humor, transparency, and ability to turn-a-phrase without beating it to death (a subtly sometimes lost on me) is really admirable, and makes me want to write more (an inspirational element I  have only consistently found in great writers like Anne Lamott or Kurt Vonnegut).

I was fully hooked by the fourth page of Rachel's introduction.  Rachel, forgive the plagiarism but hopefully you won't mind another shoutout:
The problem with fundamentalism is that it can't adapt to change.  When you count each one of your beliefs as absolutely essential, change is never an option.  When change is never an option, you have to hope that the world stays exactly as it is so as not to mess with your view of it.  I think this explains why some of the preachers on TV look so frantic and angry.  For fundamentalists, Christianity sits perpetually on the precipice of doom, one scientific discovery or cultural shift or difficult theological question away from extinction  So fearful of losing their grip on faith, they squeeze the life out of it. (pg. 18)

Wonderfully insightful, Rachel!

Then, as she concludes the introduction, she offers one of the best word pictures of evolving faith I have read in years:
To survive in a new, volatile environment, I had to shed old convictions and grow new ones in their place.  I had to take a closer look at what I believed and figure out what was truly essential.  I went from the security of crawling on all fours through the muck and mire of my inherited beliefs to the vulnerability of standing, my head and heart exposed, in the truth of my own spiritual experience.  I evolved, not into a better creature than those around me, but into a better, more adapted me - a me who wasn't afraid of her own ideas and doubts and intuitions, a me whose faith could survive change. (pg. 23)

If only more of us were willing to stop fighting textbook battles, put away our picket signs and adopted battle cries, and simply allow the natural, beautiful process of evolution (not only biological, but spiritual as well) to change us.

There's a lot more here than a great introduction, and I'm still reading, so I hope you'll join me.

An Open Response to John Eldredge: "Really, Dude?"

Alfredo Garcia, The Washington Post writes:

In one Mexican drug cartel, the mandatory reading includes an American evangelical's bestseller.
Drawing from an unlikely source, La Familia Michoacana bases its ideology in part on the book "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Ransomed Heart Ministries.
And Eldredge sees the gang's use of his book in a positive light.
"At first, I was really mad that they hijacked my book for their purposes," he said. "But on second thought . . . maybe it will touch the hearts of the people who use [it]."
Click here to
Really, John Eldredge? You believe THAT strongly in the power of your writing?

When the Holy Bible falls into the hands of oppressors (as it often does) - when it becomes fodder for Nazism or for Manifest Destiny or for pouring acid down African children's throats to eliminate witchcraft - we don't celebrate that Scripture might have some "accidental" positive impact. We weep. We mourn. We grieve that light has been twisted into darkness. We ache for the atrocity done in the name of God, and for the way that abuse mutates in the hearts and flesh of victims, keeping them damaged, far from the light of life and hope and goodness and truth. 

How dare they pervert the Cosmic Christ by co-opting our sacred text!

But you want to claim thankfulness?

Wild at Heart Field Manual: A Personal Guide to Discover the Secret of Your Masculine SoulJohn Eldredge, when the cartels go down into the barrios to murder rivals and traitors, I'm afraid I'm not quite optimistic enough in the power of your writing to believe that your concept of conservative gender roles and masculine dominance will do much to redeem the violence, death and hopelessness there. 

Whether good or bad in and of itself, your book is a victim of hijacking. Now, so are you.  Sometimes, when victims feel most powerless, they tell people about something positive that came out of their victimization. It's not quite Stockholm Syndrome, it's more like simple justification, stemming from the dirty shame of feeling used.  You've been used, and suggesting your book will touch the hearts of the oppressors is telling us a story to wash away some of that shame.

Or maybe it's just nice to have such long-term solid book sales.

May we reject our own words when they are co-opted for evil!  May no loyalty or pride buffer and protect us from the truth!
And may I reject and recant everything I've just written here, if it falls into the hands or onto the lips of cartels, killers, misogynists, and other riffraff.

"Are the Voices of the Advantaged Less Significant?" - Maybe.

A new friend online, Bryan, recently e-mailed me asking:
I'm interested, do you think that what the 'advantaged class' have to say is less significant than some other class? Why? It's a subject I think about often and am interested to hear any thoughts that you might have.

In my response, I said that no, I don't think the advantaged class objectively have less significant things to say.   But we've already had our say, haven't we?  I believe the advantaged class have consistently - throughout history - said the vast majority of what has been said.  So much so, that their voices (our voices) leave little (if any) space for the voices of the marginalized to find resonance.  

And yet I continue speaking... but I actively try to listen and to understand voices from angles and positions I don't inhabit... does that justify me?

Meanwhile, as I have mentioned, I also put a lot of stock in Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez's "option for the poor."  Christ demonstrated firsthand God's preference for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and outcast.  That is where Jesus spent his time and self-identified.  It's where he blessed, and was blessed.  That would lead me to assume that God might care less about the voices of the privileged and powerful.  I'd guess that's not because their voices are unimportant, but because their voices are ubiquitous, and generally align with principalities and powers that oppress, rather than liberate.  

There is another voice, another vantage, that is free enough (not bought or owned) to speak the truth of God's Kingdom to a world that is inherently bought and owned.  

We need liberation from ourselves.  As a privileged class, that liberation comes through voices outside our own echo chamber.

Drew Tatusko: Thirteen Principles ('AA for the church')

I've had this link saved for the last two months and keep forgetting to give blogger Drew Tatusko a shoutout!

In his post, Drew lays out the need for emerging Christian communities and churches to adopt an Alcoholics Anonymous-esque ethos for approaching God and spirituality:

Thirteen Principles
  1. We can only understand God when we admit our powerlessness to become like God.
  2. We will never fully know God.
  3. No religion can ever therefore claim to have sole authority of the Truth of God's revelation.
  4. Religions that make these exclusive claims to Truth demand conformity.
  5. Religions that demand conformity tend to abuse non-conformists who do not assimilate.
  6. In history God is continually revealed among the religious non-conformists.
  7. We live in a world of religions where conformity is valued more than non-conformity.
  8. This situation has resulted in countless cases of spiritual and religious abuse, about which many we never hear.
  9. Abuse and conformity also by necessity squeeze out the revelation of God in favor of the human desire for social control.
  10. Yet God desires those who do not conform in order to reveal who God is.
  11. Even as Jesus, Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama, Moses, and others underwent persecution because their society challenged them, so those who do not conform to religious norms live today.
  12. Those who refuse to be assimilated into a religious structure lack a space to experience God's revelation in their midst and in community.
  13. This space is thus sorely needed and is what The Thirteenth Step is designed to be.
    We are:
  1. Powerless
  2. Incomplete
  3. Mindful
  4. Non-conformist
  5. Healing
  6. Loved
  7. Unique
  8. Compassionate
  9. Receptive
  10. Attentive
  11. Whole
  12. Together
  13. Safe
Click here to read the full post!

If only we were so (a) spiritually honest, and (b) theologically humble.

Really great stuff Drew, keep up the great work.

Independence Day: Pride vs. Humble Patriotism...

Make no mistake: I'm thankful for my freedoms. I am humbled by the sacrifice of brave women and men 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 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

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.  Whatever patriotism we hold must be moderated with humility, compassion and even repentance.  

Living In Peace & Thankfulness? Or Egomaniacal Fantasy?

In a follow up to the previous post on purchasing a home, buying into the American Dream or feeling self-congratulatory for rejecting a normative lifestyle, I've been digging deeper into the foundational motives in me: what makes me tick.  I want to live with a deeper sense of peacefulness and thankfulness, but all sorts of things in me keep getting in the way...

Are we telling ourselves the truth?  Or are we placating ourselves, congratulating ourselves, numbing ourselves, torturing ourselves, sabotaging ourselves... the truth sets us free, but it can take a lot of digging to uncover what that truth is.  Even that very personal, existential truth.  Our own motives - comfort and self preservation - tend to undermine our efforts at being authentic.  We all have stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves.  What's your story?

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