Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lack of Voter Responsibility

Yes, I'm joining the crowd of people commenting on the election. However, I want to do it a bit differently and in a way more relevant to this blog. One of the things I have particularly realized this election season is how much people vote (either direction) based on selfishness and a desire for others to take responsibility for themselves. We often vote for things or people that will benefit us, even if it's not the right thing. A non-election example was during my undergrad experience. Students were up in arms because of a tuition increase (it was a UC, so the increase really wasn't that much compared to private schools). Sure, none of us wanted to pay more. However, there hadn't been an increase in years. While I didn't want the increase, I also didn't find much reason to complain about it because it seemed fair.

How often do we vote for something we don't like but think is fair? Rarely, I believe, but I also believe it's important.

Similarly to faith, I get frustrated when people don't really think through their political beliefs. The current political system doesn't help. We get a soundbite argument, and we think the conclusion and solution is obvious. We want to help the environment? Obviously go with the Green Party or the Dems. Don't like abortion? Clearly the Reps should have our support. Don't like the war in Iraq? Obviously pull the troops out immediately. Think our economy is failing? The government clearly should bail us out. Support a free market? Then the Libertarians or Reps have it right.

The problem is we don't think about the ramifications of any of these actions and don't think about alternatives. Do the Greens or Dems have the best solution to environmental problems? Do the Reps have the best abortion policy? Is pulling troops and bailing out banks really the solution to these problems? Are the free market solutions proposed by Libertarians and Reps really the best support of a free market?

There is some talk about this, but honestly, it's lame talk. The debates are shallow and based on fear tactics and pulling at our selfish emotions than really making us consider what's right and wrong.

We don't want to take the time to think about it. And we also like the idea of the government coming in and solving all of our problems. Even if each party has good ideas, we also often fail to ask if their implementation through the government is the best option. I saw a great sign the other day, which stated something like, "Lacking of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on my part." We need to remember that when it comes to the government. It can feel good because it removes responsibility from ourselves, but I personally think, particularly based on the Bible, the buck stops with each of us individually. Shall we take that responsibility and hand it over to politicians and the government with a vote and some tax dollars, or are we willing to get a bit messy and get involved ourselves?

What I ask is that when you vote, you vote having really thought through your decisions, not simply believing what different campaigns tell you about different policies. The best solution is not always the obvious one...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stages of Faith

Recently, I went on a spiritual retreat, where Jon Paulien, Dean of Loma Linda University's Faculty of Religion, spoke. During this time, he discussed the stages of faith. I'd heard of them before, but this time something else deeper hit me with it. It also clarified some of the purpose of this blog.

Paulien explained his description of the stages of faith are based on Hagberg and Guelich's The Critical Journey, although he dicussed the stages a bit differently and made some adjustments. I like and agree with his changes. I'll give a summary of Paulien's version here with some of my thoughts and commentary, but if you want to know more about the original version (or even deeper into the stages), I found a diagram from Hagberg's website, a nice summary chart, and then a more detailed narrative description.

One of the keys to the stages is that people can get stuck in any one of the stages, which obviously prevents full spiritual development and a closer relationship with God. Another important element is that we can only really understand people one stage ahead of us. Get two or more stages ahead, and we don't understand others; or others don't understand us if we're ahead. But we can understand those behind us. A third element is that these stages can also describe organizations and churches. I think this is really important to understanding a lot of what's happening in the institutional church, as I'll describe more later. Finally, while I'll use language to apply this to Christianity, these stages have been observed in all faith traditions.

Stage 1: Encounter
This is the quintessential conversion experience. It's when we have our first deep, meaningful encounter with God. I think those who get stuck here are the ones who are people who have continual conversion experiences and never really grow. I think the fault of a lot of this falls with the Church for not helping develop these people.

Stage 2: Discipleship
This is the stage when we learn about our faith and theology. We learn about the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. Getting stuck in this stage often leads to fundamentalism.

Stage 3: Success
Things are going well in our development, and we are able to effectively lead a "good Christian life." We seem to be blessed by God, and we are experiencing "success."

Dark Night of the Soul 1
Just as things are going well, we experience a dark night of the soul. This generally happens between ages 30 and 50, which should give you an idea of the length of each of these stages. St. John of the Cross described the dark night of the soul, explaining it can be a time of purging sins and bringing us closer to God. It can be a time when we are tempted, feel disconnected from God, do not enjoy things we used to enjoy, lose hope, and, significantly, doubt a lot of our prior beliefs.

Paulien explained that Jesus' 40 days in the desert was His first dark night. I hadn't heard that interpreatation before, but it fits well and makes a lot of sense.

Paulien also explained that in his experience, when a dark night hits, about 50% of people try to go back to the success stage and just do whatever seemed to work before. We like the success stage, obviously, and the dark night can be very uncomfortable. However, this leads us to get stuck in the success stage and lead to a lot of problems. I personally think this is where a lot of evangelical churches have landed.

Another 25% of people facing a dark night come to the conclusion that the problem is just the institution of the church. So people leave the church and try to find their own way. I think a lot of the emerging church falls in here, although not all of it.

Finally, the last 25% push through the dark night and emerge into the fourth stage...

Stage 4: Inward Journey
As the dark night has deconstructed a lot of our beliefs and ideas about God, the world, and faith, we now take a journey inward, in a way that seems similar to much of the contemplative and mystical movements in Christianity. Through this journey, we rediscover God and our faith.

Stage 5: Outward Journey
As we have rediscovered our faith, we begin doing things for others again, taking outward actions that can look a lot like the success stage. However, we are doing things for different reasons. This is a stage where people in the success stage don't understand these new reasons. Things seem to be going well again, and then we again hit a...

Dark Night of the Soul 2
This dark night is one in which we realize good actions are never understood or supported by everyone. It is also a very rare dark night. Few people make it to this stage. While we can have mentors who have gone through the first dark night help us through that, we often have to rely on Scripture and other historical writings of great spiritual people to help us through this dark night because it is so rare to find someone who has gone through it. Paulien described Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as His second dark night. Once we move through this dark night, we emerge into the final stage.

Stage 6: Unconditional Love
Interesting, true unconditional love does not occur until this point. It takes a lifetime, and most people do not get here. Jesus moved into it after His second dark night and showed the quintessential example of unconditional love on the cross. This is a good reason we cannot fully understand or act in unconditional love because getting there takes a lifetime process.

Relevance to Jacob's Café
What I realized is that Jacob's Café is particularly aimed at people going through a dark night, especially the first dark night. So often in the church, we are condemned for doubts and struggles. Yet they are a gift from God. We need support as we go through it. It can be a very scary, but life-giving time. Gary Barkalow described something similar, I think in his October 1, 2008 e-letter. I pray this is a place where people can find some rest and comfort in normalizing their experiences while also having a safe place to struggle through their doubts and move into and through the inward journey.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bible Interpretation, Part 2

So I've been finding it's been a lot harder than I had expected to continue this blog while on internship. I get home, and I'm just too tired to write out my thoughts... :) But I'm going to attempt to write a few posts right now and schedule them to post over the next few days.

The first post is a follow-up to the Bible Interpretation post from a couple of weeks ago. Some of the reason that I think a new way of approaching the Bible than by using it as a manual of principles and a manual for life is because anyone can use the Bible as a proof text for just about anything. Do I think they are all valid uses and interpretations? No. But approaching the Bible from a proof text perspective will pretty much never lead to a consensus. There are just too many ways to argue about and interpret the texts.

Martin Luther discussed the "plain meaning" of the Bible, stating that a believer need just read the Bible, and it is obvious what the text means. Frankly, I just don't agree. It is a complicated text with a complicated history. The people who tend to use it as a proof text haven't really examined the Bible well in most of my experience. That goes for me, too. Once I started examining the Bible, I saw the futility of proof texting. We are often left with no clear absolute, unless we impose our own existing perspectives and ideologies onto the text rather than allowing God to shape our perspectives and ideologies from the text. That is why the principles/proof-texting approach to the Bible is rather ineffective.

That does NOT mean it is any less valid or useful. But perhaps we are just approaching the Bible in the wrong way. Seeing the Bible as a God-inspired text of stories of people walking with God to guide us in our quests from a journey perspective fits much more of the style and heart of the Bible. I also think it fits a more accurate theology. As John Eldredge says, we need to have the Holy Spirit in our hearts to know what to do. We need to know these stories well in order to internalize the heart and spirit of the Bible. Otherwise, we'll turn out like the Pharisees, who are more concerned with law than with life with God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Emerging Church & Politics

This is an interesting article discussing the relationship of emerging theology and liberal politics. One of my biggest pet peeves is the assumption many people have that people who ascribe to emerging theology also ascribe to liberal politics, but it's still an interesting article. Actually, this blog is somewhat devotes to breaking down just about any assumption... :)


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).