Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Unimportance of Belief

So I've been going through The Future of Faith slowly, as it's pretty dense, and Cox has so many excellent things to say. I don't mean "dense" in a negative way--one could easily skim over some of his words and still understand the whole context. However, I really like what he has to say. He writes it well, in a very clear fashion, and his conclusions make a big difference in understanding our faith.

For example, a central thesis for Cox's tome is that we are moving out of the Age of Belief into an emerging Age of the Spirit. To understand this, we have to know what the Age of Belief is and what preceded it (yes, something else came first).

Cox argues that beliefs were not central to Christianity until around the time of Christianity becoming an official state religion with Constantine. Cox states:
Creeds are clusters of beliefs. But the history of Christianity is not a history of creeds. It is the story of a people of faith who sometimes cobbled together creeds out of beliefs. It is also the history of equally faithful people who questioned, altered, and discarded those same creeds. p. 4
This time was what Cox called the "Age of Faith," when Christianity had more to do with living a life rather than believing certain things. The "Age of Belief," when particular beliefs became central to Christianity arose when Christianity essentially became owned by the State:
Christianity, at least in its official version, froze into a system of mandatory precepts that were codified into creed and strictly monitored by a powerful hierarchy and imperial decrees. Heresy became treason, and treason became heresy. p. 6
This makes a lot of sense to me, as I have discovered that a strict set of beliefs and proving them seems rather futile and unhelpful in my faith. It has become something that I have become rather frustrated by in hearing other people discuss.

I agree with a quote from the Science & the Sacred blog:
God does not leave an empirical bread crumb trail in order to demonstrate His existence. Rather, the only way we can really know God is through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates to us what God has revealed about Himself. It is only by the Spirit that we are able truly to hear the “speech” and “knowledge” poured out by the heavens God created (Ps. 19). Only by God’s gracious self-revelation can we understand that all of “nature” is in fact creation.

In this light, our apologetic task is not primarily to identify statistical anomalies and gaps in the created order that could be filled by some amorphous “designer.” Our task is boldly and joyously to point people to the God revealed in Jesus Christ as the only possible source of all of creation. Here, we can suggest that the deep structures of creation, including many of the remarkable coincidences and convergences of life’s development, cohere with our admittedly limited understanding of the God whom we proclaim is creator of everything.

While this quote deals with science explicitly, it is related to the idea of specific beliefs. If the system of unquestionable beliefs never arose, the whole debate over science versus religion, creationism versus evolution, may never have arisen in the first place. If we do not feel like we have to have absolute evidence for every belief, then we may be able to better deal with ambiguity and therefore also modify our beliefs when appropriate.

But is this understanding of the development of these so-called "Ages" important. It is. As Cox states, "It frees people who shape their faith in a wide spectrum of ways to understand themselves as authentically Christian, and it exposes fundamentalism for the distortion it is" (p. 14).

This is just a fabulous quote that so much could be said about. But ultimately, Cox asserts (and I completely agree) that understanding the history of Christianity really helps those of us who do not ascribe to fundamentalist traditions validate our experiences and our belief. And ironically, it helps provide evidence for our beliefs...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Purpose of a Sermon

What do you think is the purpose of a sermon?

Some pastors do create an exegesis. It's very cognitive, intellectual, and without heart. Sometimes heart is included to make it more contemplative. On the other side of the spectrum, we have pastors who make very applicable messages that help us apply our relationships with God to daily life.

I prefer the latter. I see the message as more focused on bonding us with Christ and encouraging our spiritual formation. I prefer to do Bible studies in small groups or individually.

The more ancient tradition of sermons centered the service around the Eucharist (AKA communion). So the sermon was to encourage contemplation and connection with Christ to prepare our hearts and minds to ingesting Christ. Many Protestant churches today, though, just include the cognitive piece without the heart piece. Others include only the heart piece without any grounding in good theory (biblical, psychological, theoretical, theological, or otherwise).

Perhaps there is no right or wrong, but rather what individuals need at a certain point in life and based on their traditions. What say you?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Love and War Tour

John and Stasi Eldredge have released their new book, Love and War, and will be doing a book tour starting next month. John is great in person (haven't seen Stasi). I haven't read their book, but it looks interesting. Let me know if you've read or go to the tour. Not sure if I'll be able to make it.

The Social Construction of Holidays

As we are in the end of the holiday season, I've been thinking about holidays a lot and wondering about their purpose. This year, they haven't felt that special: The days seem like any other day of the year, emphasizing the social construction of them.

I think holidays can be useful, but they are often over-emphasized as separate, wonderful, holy things. For me, one of the problems with holidays is people do things out of obligation than out of heart-felt desire.

And these things (thanksgiving, gratitude, giving, expressing love for each other, etc.) are things we should be doing every year. But if we miss the day, then we must not love our spouses, or appreciate our lives, or love Christ. One day set aside to emphasize the birth of Christ, for thanksgiving, for showing our love to our partners, etc. is not bad, but I think we also put too much emphasis on it.

I wonder what it would be like if we went a year without celebrating any holidays. Might we appreciate them more and approach them more appropriately? Maybe the Jehovah's Witness tradition of not celebrating holidays has some honest legitimacy...

What do you think?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gleaning Jellyfish from John Piper

This review of John Piper's A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God was made possible through receipt of a complimentary audiobook copy through christianaudio's Reviewers Program.

In having the opportunity to review, I thought it would be good to finally hear some of Piper's word directly since I have heard almost unilaterally negative things about him. It's much better to be informed about good or bad things about an author, speaker, etc. than just hearsay.

That said, this book met my expectations. And I have to say, Piper is not quite as bad as I had heard. It's an okay book, but one I would generally recommend not reading (or listening to).

First of all, christianaudio lists the audiobook as running 3.8 hours. All the files downloaded fine, but it only ran about 2.8. That was about 2.7 hours too long. I actually almost stopped listening a couple of times because I got so frustrated with Piper's writing and assumptions. He does not back up what he says, and he often repeats himself (not even phrasing his arguments in new ways). And then there's the metaphors. Random, non-applicable metaphors. Like Piper saying we should look to the snow instead of our statues in our Swedish home and that we should be dolphins in the ocean of culture instead of jellyfish. I still don't understand that one... However, I wanted to finish the book so I could give it an honest review.

I think the best way to break down the review is by breaking down the title.

First of the all, the title is misleading. It sounds like a bit of a devotional book: Seeing God's providence in one's own life. Piper states this is the purpose of the book. However, my wife, who listened to most of it with me, stated, "How does anyone actually get anything out of this? It sounds more like a linguistic, historical book." That's pretty accurate.

It really is an exegesis of the Book of Ruth that wants to be a devotional, but doesn't achieve either well. Each chapter starts with a chapter of the book of Ruth (Chapter 1 of Piper to Chapter 1 of Ruth, and so on), and then Piper analyzes it verse-by-verse. The problem is he does not explain his analysis well. He constantly cites Bible verses without explaining their relevance and his interpretation of them. This really distracts from the narration, particularly in an audiobook format. It would have been better to have the citations listed as footnotes. And even though he does not explain his analysis well, his citation of verses and absolute statements make it appear that he cannot deal with ambiguity well, but rather has to state that everything he believes is absolutely true with no possibility of error despite human frailties.

Piper also seems to base linguistic interpretations based on a modern English translation. I have not studied Ruth in depth, so I cannot speak to the original author's intent for sure, but I'm guessing Piper read into some phrases that were more figurative colloquialisms than literal declarations.

For a devotional text, whichever translation he used (not sure which) was not very friendly to associating with the text. For instance, my wife started counting the number of times the word glean (and its derivatives) was used in just a couple of minutes. While most of us know what it means, it's really an outdated term.

Piper focuses his analysis on three primary themes: sex, race, and God's sovereignty/providence. Let's look at each of these themes separately:

God's Sovereignty/Providence. I'm starting with this theme because it really is the predominant theme. Most of the book looks at this. I don't disagree with Piper that God is sovereign and makes all things work for good. However, Piper made me realize that I am not a strict or strong Calvinist. He seems to go out of his way to defend God's sovereignty and providence, again reading into the text things that really aren't there, or at least not meant to be as strong as he makes them out to be.

Also, he is clearly a strong Calvinist, advocating strict predestination to the point that everything is not only in God's control, but caused by God. He references a missionary whose wife and kid were killed by a single bullet. The missionary and Piper argued that God ordained the bullet to kill them. Piper argues if that's not the case, then God is not sovereign and everything would fall apart. God is sovereign (in complete control) and his providence is good (he works through all things to make them good) but that does not mean he causes everything bad. Sometimes he lets bad things happen because of our own sinfulness (or others' sinfulness) and because we are in a broken world. That does not mean he is not able to intervene; he just does not always. But that also does not mean he cannot or will not use the bad to create something good, which I think is what happens. John Eldredge would argue that a lot of the bad is not caused by God, but in fact by Satan. Piper has a de-facto belief in the absence of Satan by attributing all activities to God. It's a slippery slope (and that's not arguing for the existence of Satan as an actual entity).

Sex. This is the next largest theme for Piper. And it's a stretch. I agree with his value of saving sex for marriage, but he also promises that all will be blessed for doing so. A friend and I were talking recently that just because we may save our sexuality for marriage does not mean it all works out beautifully. And Piper goes into random tangential mini-sermons on sex, detracting from the overall narrative. Again, he just reads too much into things.

Race. This is the biggest stretch of all and the most minor part of the book. It should not be included in the title. Piper argues that the inclusion of a Moabite (Ruth) in the lineage of Jesus shows that we should not be racist. Okay, racism sucks. Agreed. But find a better way to argue against it. Seriously.

Finally, to the narration. Grover Gardner is the narrator and is an excellent narrator. He is easy to listen to, and he enunciates well. I've listened to plenty of audiobooks where it can actually be hard to understand the reader. However, the problem is that this books comes off in a very intellectual, lecture-like way. Piper says a main point of the book is to advocate for "radical, risk-taking love," but I did not hear any heart in the book. I don't know if that's because there was no heart in it or because Gardner read it more as an intellectual lecture than something from the heart. My preference is for authors to read their books themselves. John Eldredge is a good example of that. The author's intent and heart really comes through much better that way.

So if you're really into theology or are a strong Calvinist, you may like this book. Otherwise, don't bother.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reviewer Programs

I was recently accepted into both christianaudio's Reviewers Program and the Tyndale Blog Network. Through these programs, I will get complimentary copies of books and such in exchange for reviewing them.

I'm excited about this because not only do I get free stuff, but it gives me the opportunity to engage in more dialogue around critical issues, which is the focus of this blog. I already kind of review other articles and websites, so this just extends that. Please let me know your thoughts on my reviews and if you find them useful or not. My first official post from these programs will be on John Piper's A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, & the Sovereignty of God, and will be posted Monday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Redemption of Death

So often, we view death as the ultimate evil, the ultimate penalty for sin. This is a very interesting article that views death as actually a good thing, something showing sacrifice and leading to growth.

Rather than focusing on death as the end, the author argues separation from God is real problem. It puts a better emphasis on growth and sacrifice than on trying to avoid death, like we often do in society. Honestly, most of the medical field is focused on delaying death. I'm not so sure that's really always a good thing. But that's a discussion for another time... :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Big & Important

As many people know, my wife and I just completed a run of It's a Wonderful Life. One of my lines as George that has hit home for me is, "I want to do something big, something important." This is something I've thought many a time.

The point of the story is that the little things really are the important things in life. You can make a huge difference in "a business of nickels and dimes."

As a therapist, I know I have the opportunity to do important things. Big things for some people. Yet I still have a longing to do something "big."

Obviously "something big" is a very relative idea. Yet in my mind, being a therapist is not something "big." It is something small, but important.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, which is at the top of every page on this blog. It is from Mother Teresa, saying, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."

I'm finding that to be more and more true. In many ways, "big things" and "important things" are sometimes mutually exclusive. The big things I can think of are often considered important, but really aren't (take most of Hollywood for example). And most important things really aren't that big (like being a parent, a spouse, etc.).

Although this, too, depends on our definition of "important." For me, it's making a clear difference in someone's life--changing it. However, anything a person can do can be quite important (the world wouldn't operate if the "mundane" things weren't done).

I came into the field of psychology because it was more important for me to do something that would make an important difference in someone's life than do something "big." Yet the urge for the latter is still there. Perhaps because it seems as a society, we think big is important and small is unimportant. It's hard to challenge that idea.

Maybe what we need to do (me included) is challenge our definitions of both big and important...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Noticeable Intervention

As I've mentioned before, I follow a few science and religion blogs. Many of these focus on evolution (too much, in my opinion). Of course, there are a lot of debates, even among Christians, about how to reconcile scientific discoveries about origins of humanity with faith traditions.

One comment I saw stated that an explicitly Christian perspective states that for God to be involved, there must be a noticeable intervention.

I'm not convinced of this. Using the highly theologically accurate and academic source of Futurama, who quoted God as saying, "If you do everything right, they won't know you did anything at all."

While not the best source to ground one's faith, I think this is a very accurate description of how God often works. This fits with "the still small voice." God does not always work in overt, explicit, obvious ways. That's the need for faith. If everything were clear, I doubt we would have so many debates.

It's not that God couldn't work explicitly, but I think he more often works Incarnationally.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Advent in the Mosaic Bible

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the need, at least for me, to focus on the present in longing, not just the future. This was in reaction to the Advent devotionals in the awesome Mosaic Bible.

This week's meditation entitled A Theology of the Future, by Brad Harper, was excellent and somewhat tackles this issue. He really takes on an Incarnational perspective. This is something followers of this blog know I particularly like. But it's also quite appropriate with the upcoming celebration of THE Incarnation.

Anyway, here's a couple of quotes that are particularly good:
"But the church is not a fortress community waiting for a future kingdom. Rather, we realize the Kingdom of God has already arrive, in part."
"Indeed, the church is God's eschatological community, drawing the future into the present, living out Kingdom values and inviting the world to experience its power now."
"Imagine the church as a glimpse of the future living in the present."

These perspectives are just so important. When we only wait for the future, the present seems worthless. Yet it is not. The present is just as important as the future. But do we act like that? And how do we deal with it when the present includes suffering?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent and Waiting in the Mosaic Bible

Last week was the first week of Advent, and the focus in the Mosaic Bible is waiting. The theme of waiting is appropriate, but the way it was addressed brought up some questions and thoughts for me.

First, the Mosaic Bible's suggested Scripture readings and meditations did not just focus on the birth of Christ, like might be assumed. Rather, it included a smattering of perspectives of longing and waiting in a variety of contexts.

At first, I did not like this. I thought it would be most appropriate to focus on the reason for Advent--the birth of Jesus. Including other forms of waiting distracts from this focus. At the same time, as I kept reading through the week, I found I appreciated more and more the different perspectives of waiting and the way longing has appeared in many forms throughout the Bible.

I do like how the editors tried to focus the idea of waiting on excerpts that could be applicable to readers' current lives. Again, waiting on the Christ child (sorry, the event is past) is hard to relate to now. At least for me... And then there can be whole argument about Christ's Second Coming, but that gets into other theological debates. And that's still an abstract concept. It's not something I, at least, think about regularly.

At the same time, the various perspectives and contexts in this case made this week feel much more disconnected and disjointed than other weeks' meditations have been. Other weeks have been very well-organized and all excerpts clearly connected. This week had been bouncing between waiting for Christmas and waiting for everything else I long for in life. Maybe I haven't connected the two as much as I should, and that may be some of the point of this week, but in any case, that's some of my reaction.

The other big reaction I had was to the idea of waiting and longing itself. The introduction to this week's topic of Longing discussed how much of Christianity is centered around waiting for things to be better and restored later. I agree with that. The pain of the present and recognizing this is now how things were meant to be is important. Focusing on this for the season of Advent may be appropriate.

At the same time, I find myself longing and waiting most of the time. To the detriment of the present. While our culture may not advocate waiting, it also does not advocate for appreciating the present very well.

For me, my focus is always in the future: Everything I'm doing now is just so things will be better later. I'll work hard and sacrifice now so I can relax later. But later does not always come. And killing yourself now to enjoy later is not necessarily a good way to live. It can cause depression and anxiety, which are definitely not good ways to live. As Brother Lawrence described in The Practice of the Presence of God, it is particularly important to watch for and experience God now, in the moment, and not just expect him to show up later.

Practicing God's presence now and longing for restoration in the future are not necessarily mutually exclusive ideas. In many ways, they work nicely together. However, some of us probably spend more time in one of those areas than the other, and then should probably spend more of their devotional time in the opposite side to re-train themselves. For me, I think I need to spend more time seeing the blessings I have right now instead of just waiting for others to come later... What about you? What do you think?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Scientific Study of Religious Uncertainty

This is a very interesting study examining how uncertainty about one's faith can be intensified or lessened in the face of challenges.

It hits the core ideas of this blog and verifies some of my anecdotal experience and intuition that we need to create a solid, safe space for people to engage their doubts and questions. When the fundamental faith can be affirmed, then people are more willing to engage their doubts and thus grow. Now, that's me extrapolating a bit from the study, but it's interesting and nice to see some scientific work being done in the area.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another Definition of Religion

As I have argued before, we use really poor definitions of religion quite frequently, unfortunately often posing religion as quite different from and the enemy to authentic spirituality. This is a dichotomoy that should not exist, along the same lines as spirituality and psychology and religion and science.

In any case, this is an interesting article looking at the definition of religion in a way I haven't really considered it before. While I have advocated for broadening the definition of religion, this author argues broadening it in a different way. It echoes some observations about the more communal versus individualistic traditions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fundamental Attribution Error

I'm studying for the EPPP (Examination for the Practice of Professional Psychology--the national license exam). As I've been studying, I've been reminded of several concepts that are appropriate for this blog.

One such concept is the fundamental attribution error. This concept states that we often blame a person for problems instead of the environment, often saying the person is bad, sinful, etc.. I'm sure we can all think of examples, but here's a couple of examples I thought of:
The girl who got raped deserved it or was asking for it.
The homeless man is just lazy and evil.

There are clearly times when a person is responsible for their situation, but sometimes they're not. We have to remember that we live in fallen world, which is leads to a lot of problems for all of us that may not be due to any one individual's sin. We should remember this common error that most Americans usually make before we use guilt unfairly. And different cultures and traditions may also lead to greater or lesser use of this error.

Have you seen this error at work in your life?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Incarnational Interpretation

Here is the follow-up to last week's post from the BioLogos Foundation. It goes into much greater depth into an Incarnational view of Bible interpretation. I really resonate with it and think it's excellent. It really is an appropriate way of approaching the Bible.

And I think that's part of the reason I like the Mosaic Bible, which I reviewed yesterday. It emphasizes the Incarnational elements of Scripture and Christianity.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mosaic Bible Review

I recently picked up the Mosaic Bible. There's a nice review here, too, which goes into the history of Bible versions really nicely!

I really like this Bible for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's beautiful. I love the Celtic cross cover (on the imitation leather version). From my Religious Studies background, I particularly love and appreciate illuminated manuscripts, and this Bible is basically a modern illuminated manuscript. I really like how it includes meditations and thoughts from around the world, around the centuries, and around the Christian traditions. It truly is a Mosaic.

This Bible has gotten back into reading the Bible. I've been following the church year, and breaking up the weekly meditations each day, reading part of the meditations and one of the Bible readings. I really like how the meditation sections and the Bible sections cross-reference each other. I can turn to the page in Scripture, and there is a note in the margin of which verses were the recommended ones for that week. It makes remembering the readings easier!

As the week's meditations are all on one theme, I'm trying to consider that theme throughout the week and view life through that lens. You can imagine the ways that can make one more aware of spiritual realities and connect more to God.

One note: If you get the imitation leather, don't let it get moist. Some light condensation from a water bottle (in another section of a bag!) was absorbed by the back cover. It took hours to dry and still is a bit warped... :(

But it's still my favorite Bible to date (and I have a ton!).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suicide & Sin

SPOILER ALERT: If you're not familiar with It's a Wonderful Life or Miss Saigon, you may not want to read this! :)

Suicide is a very controversial area. Some people advocate for euthanasia (AKA suicide when you're sick), while we can involuntarily hospitalize someone who wants to kill themselves with they are mentally ill. I deal with suicidal people on a daily basis. And this is not a one-time thought of suicide, the people are often chronically and severely suicidal. Even the kids with whom I work.

Suicide is often described as sin. However, the more I understand and work with suicide, the more I have come to challenge that idea. From my experience, the idea of suicide as sin comes from the assumption that people suicide because they do not see the value in their lives and want to throw that away, thus rejecting a fundamental, valuable gift from God.

However, that is not always the reason for suicide. It often is not the case. It's a Wonderful Life and Miss Saigon are perfect examples of suicide for other reasons. In fact, I would argue that suicide in those shows occur out of love for others.

In It's a Wonderful Life, George considers suicide to save his family financially. Everyone in the film agrees this is a poor choice, but should we really condemn someone when they are willing to sacrifice their life to help the rest of their family? Now, there are other reasons he considered suicide, which was a loss of hope, but still that was not the only reason.

An even more potent example is in Miss Saigon, which I saw for the second time at CSUF this weekend. In it, Kim kills herself in order to give her son the life she believes he deserves. This suicide had nothing to do with selfishness, hatred of life, or anything we usually condemn with suicide. Rather, it was pure love.

These kinds of examples kind of challenge our assumptions about suicide, I think. What say you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Use of Guilt

Churches, Christians, and people in general often use guilt to motivate (or control) people. It's also used in the mental health field.

This is not always a bad thing. We often talk about using religious beliefs against suicide to guilt someone into not killing themselves. If that's what keeps someone alive, I'm all for it. (I'll be writing another post on suicide in the next day or two.)

However, often guilt just doesn't work too well. It turns people off, makes them angry, puts them on the defensive, and shuts them down. Now, I've heard the arguments of pointing out people's transgressions. Okay, fine.

But it doesn't always work. Frankly, guilting someone rarely works, I think. In fact, those who it affects are the ones who don't need it, in my experience.

For instance, as many know, I'm the therapist for a child inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital. A lot of the time, once I talk with the parents, I realize the kid doesn't have a problem: The parent does. Some parents feel guilty. I spoke with one mother last week for over an hour and she cried over her guilt. The kid has autism. It ain't the mother's fault at all. Yet she experiences it. She doesn't need to be guilted. She has done an amazing job trying to get him resources. In contrast, the parents who really did play a role virtually never feel guilt.

I've seen this in churches, too. The people who need to feel the remorse feel nothing, while those who are remorseful feel even worse about themselves, usually leading to more paralysis than motivation to action.

To me, this reinforces the idea that we should not use guilt to motivate. It rarely, if ever, works like it should and usually causes more problems than it sought to remedy. What are you experiences and observations?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More on Bible Approach

This is an interesting post from the BioLogos blog about the challenges science has posed to interpretation of the Bible and a suggestion on how to approach it differently due to newer scholarship from all fields. I'll be interested to see how this author details his Incarnational interpretations. What are your reactions?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ritual Purification

In many Protestant communities, we often don't think we have "ritual purification." However, I would argue prayers for forgiveness and such would be a type of ritual purification. So even those in the traditions that do not have bathing rituals and the like should probably still take note of this interesting article linking ritual purification to morality. Most specifically, people who are "clean" tend to be more willing to do morally dubious acts.

Interesting, huh? This could have all sorts of implications and could explain a lot of morally dubious behavior of leaders...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Politics and Hypocrisy

I recently saw a promo for a documentary accusing some politicians of hypocrisy because they vote against their group. I'm intentionally not going to say what documentary or issue it is addressing because it doesn't matter. I've heard this argument many times: Christians who vote for abortion or against prayer in schools, Latinos who vote against immigration, homosexuals who vote against gay marriage, and the list could go on and on.

There is an assumption that there is one unilateral opinion among a group. As we all should know by now, there isn't. Just because one person is part of a particular group does not mean that they may believe a certain thing or vote a certain way.

That does not mean they are hypocritical. They have found congruency in their beliefs and actions. It is when those two are incongruent that we delve into the realm of hypocrisy. The problem is many people have not found peace in discovering a congruency between struggling beliefs and values they may have. And then they attack others with whom they disagree. This does not help the spirit of dialogue and struggle.

While we may not always understand how a person can hold two values simultaneously (or even understand how we ourselves could do so), we need to have faith that this can occur and not condemn so easily, particularly in such a public setting as a documentary.

There are true-believing Christians who do not think abortion should be illegal or that prayer should occur in public schools. There are Latinos who believe in strict immigration laws and do not support amnesty. There are homosexuals who do not think gay marriage should be an option.

And I doubt any of them would consider themselves hypocritical. We may not always agree, but does that mean they are living incongruously and hypocritically? No, I don't think so. What say you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sola Scriptura Challenge

This is a nice post criticizing the theology of sola scriptura. I was once an advocate of this proposition, but I agree with this other writer now. While Scripture is wonderful, and we need to take it seriously, we cannot rely on it alone. There is so much more that God uses to speak to us and frankly to help us interpret Scripture that we cannot ignore it.

This is one theological area I strongly disagree with Luther on, as I have described earlier. We cannot simply look at the plain meaning of the Bible, and when we realize we interpret and look for the intended meaning, we are not only using scripture...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Liturgical v. Contemporary Church

As my wife and I moved a few months ago, we have begun looking for a new church community closer to us. In the places we have visited, we went to one that is a pretty traditional contemporary service (nice oxymoron, huh?) and one that is a pretty traditional high church, liturgical service. Both Laci and I have had much more experience in the former, so that feels more comfortable.

However, we noticed some key distinctions between the communities, which led me to think about differences between liturgical and contemporary communities in general. The thing I noticed (which is not an amazing or new insight) is that liturgical communities tend to be more liberal politically and theologically, focusing on communal issues and social justice at large. In contrast, contemporary communities tend to be more conservative politically and theologically, focusing on individual experience and personal responsibility. Now there are obvious exceptions to these rules, but often they do characterize churches as a pattern, I believe.

That got me to wondering why this is the case. And here's my conclusion:

Liturgical churches are by their nature communal. They focus on the whole community, not individual's reactions. Liturgy by its nature is participative. It is also not focused on creating a conversion experience or a deeply moving personal experience. Again, it is focused on the group coming together. As a result, it would make sense that these churches would focus more on the whole community and larger social justice issues.

In contrast, contemporary churches developed out of the Protestant Reformation and a focus on personal relationship with Christ, personal conversion, and personal conviction. The service is therefore focused on moving each individual. Hence, you can get a more performance-driven service that is non-participative, but leads to touching, emotional experiences. As the emerging movement has emphasized, these services have usually lost the participative quality. When that is lost, then it makes sense that politically and theologically they would ignore the social justice issues and instead focus on personal morality and responsibility.

Interestingly, I saw these two blog posts with similar ideas. Maybe I just had my eyes out for these concepts. What do you think about these patterns? Have you seen them? Have you seen a successful mix of the two? That's one of the strengths of the emerging church, I believe: It attempts to merge the strengths of both while cutting out the weaknesses of each.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Religion Definition

One of the things I advocate for is widening our use of the term religion, as we often use it in too narrow of a way (i.e. for only theistic perspectives).

Anyway, this is an interesting article looking at identifying science as a religion. I would agree with that assessment under certain circumstances.

Friday, October 30, 2009


So often in so many churches, we fight about little things. This post by Dan Kimball really emphasizes that we need to live out our priorities. What do you think the priorities of the church should be?

I am not always convinced we should pay attention to eternal lives while neglecting current lives, as I alluded to in an earlier post. However, life in any form is more important than carpet... :)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ambiguity and Faith

So I'm on a run of science-related posts. :) This is a fascinating discussion on stress and uncertainty leading to religiosity. It's quite relevant to this blog, as it empirically shows how ambiguity is not at all the enemy of faith. At least that's one of my interpretations...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

God of Gaps

Now, this is a really cool post explaining how a lot of our religious traditions are based on filling in our gaps of understanding with theology, sometimes inaccurately. Then scientific discoveries come and help elucidate these gaps, which challenge a lot of people's faith at the time, but later (when we get used to those ideas), do not challenge our faith at all today.

Perhaps this could address some of my own questions and struggles about recent scientific discoveries. What are your thoughts and reactions?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scientific Misunderstanding of Religion

I really like this blog post about how scientists misunderstand religious people. I particularly like and agree with the comment that the problems is that "scientists lack a spirit of dialogue." Now, many Christians do, too, but that can be particularly true and problematic in the scientific arena. In many ways, this is the case because the ultimate goal of objective findings is something that cannot be disputed. In other words, there's no dialogue. And based on the nature of this blog, I obviously think dialogue is really important. :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Self Love

Loving oneself is controversial in Christianity. It is usually condemned in any form. As one of my friends and I have discussed several times, many traditions in Christianity seek denial of various loves and desires rather than embracing our deep-seated motivations. That's one of the reasons we like a lot of John Eldredge's work.

Anyway, this is a very interesting post about self-love based on Church Father extraordinaire Bernard of Clairvoux. I like the framing of "The love of self for God's sake" as the highest degree of love, even above "The love of God for God's sake." It really does take a particular level of maturity (psychologically and spirituality) to appreciate oneself, not to compensate for narcissistic injuries, but because we are truly filled with God's love for everyone, including ourselves.

I can definitely say I'm not there. I don't always love myself, and when I do, it's more to compensate for various injuries. Most people I encounter, personally and professionally, would be in the same area. What do you think? Do you think self love is appropriate when it is "for God's sake"? Where do you think you are in those degrees?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Future of Faith, Part 1

The first post as part of my stop on the The Future of Faith blogging tour!

I personally am excited to see attention given to more incarnational elements of spirituality and recognizing this is a legitimate way to engage and experience God. Cox beautifully describes this by saying "But it would be more accurate to think of it as the rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within the secular. More people seem to recognize that it is our everyday world, not some other one, that, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'is charged with the grandeur of God'" (p. 2).

Cox also states that "people turn to religion more for support in their efforts to live in this world and make it better, and less to prepare for the next" (p. 2-3). Now this could be a controversial statement. He is making it not as a value judgment, but as an observation. Does this line up wiht what you've seen? And since this is a faith-based blog, do you think that's a good thing or not? I personally think it is valuable. We do so often ignore the present and bringing the Kingdom to Earth now...

Finally (for today), I think it's interesting how Cox differentiates the terms faith and belief. He states "faith is about deep-seated confidence... It is what theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) called 'ultimate concern,' a matter of what the Hebrews spoke of as the 'heart'" (p. 3). In contrast, he argues that "belief, on the other hand, is more like opinion" (p. 3).

I think it is important to separate those two terms, however I'm not sure I would completely agree with the definition of faith he gives. He describes it as "confidence," which indicates a lack of doubt or struggle. From the foundation of this blog, I am convinced that faith is always based on deep-seated confidence, but rather deep-seating conviction. I really like Tillich's definition, which focuses more on our concerns and priorities than being objectively and subjectives convinced of something.

Yes, these are subtle differences, but the implications are huge. Deep-seating confidence feeds into the positivist traditions of finding objective truth through scientific discovery and apologetics. On the other hand, deep-seated conviction is based on a more organic, human experience (in my opinion--you know where I land :) ). What say you to all of this? What do you think of the definitions? It's also interesting to see web definitions of faith.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Here's a comment I posted on an interesting blog on euthanasia. What say you?

I have to reinforce the "I don't know" comments. I've had two loved ones die through hospice and a third who was on hospice and then improved and got kicked out of hospice (he's still around and doing well). I've also worked with heart failure patients and ALS patients (I'm a therapist).

That's all to say I've totally seen the reasons for euthanasia and talked with people about it. I might pursue it myself if I were in their position.

However, I also value remembering the positive things in life. My wife and I are directing the play "It's a Wonderful Life," and one of the things that emphasizes is that there is still wonderfulness in life despite struggles and pain. Yes, the circumstances are different, but the process is similar.

At what point do we totally ignore the beauty in life? Or do we always need to remind ourselves and others of the beauty we sometimes do not see, ignore, or cannot see?

Blogging Tour

Philip Clayton and Harvey Cox both have new books out and they are taking them out on tour. One of the blog tour stops will be here, but as you can see below they will be making their rounds over the next month until they wrap things up in Montreal at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting. There they will be joined by an illustrious panel including Eric Gregory, Bruce Sanguin, Serene Jones, Frank Tupper, and Andrew Sung Park to share a 'Big Idea' for the future of the Church. These 'Big Ideas' will be video tapped and shared, so be on the look out for live footage from the last night of the tour.

Philip's new book is Transforming Christian Theology for Church & Society and Harvey's is The Future of Faith. Both are worth checking out at one of the many tour stops. If you can't wait you can listen to them interview each other. Enjoy the blogging!

I'll be reviewing Cox's book in exchange for a free copy of it. Since I can sometimes read slowly, I'll probably post on it as I go along.

Joseph Weethee , Jonathan Bartlett, The Church Geek, Jacob’s Cafe, Reverend Mommy, Steve Knight, Todd Littleton, Christina Accornero, John David Ryan, LeAnn Gunter Johns, Chase Andre, Matt Moorman, Gideon Addington, Ryan Dueck, Rachel Marszalek, Amy Moffitt, Josh Wallace, Jonathan Dodson, Stephen Barkley, Monty Galloway, Colin McEnroe, Tad DeLay, David Mullens, Kimberly Roth, Tripp Hudgins, Tripp Fuller, Greg Horton, Andrew Tatum, Drew Tatusko, Sam Andress, Susan Barnes, Jared Enyart, Jake Bouma, Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, Blake Huggins, Lance Green, Scott Lenger, Dan Rose, Thomas Turner, Les Chatwin, Joseph Carson, Brian Brandsmeier, J. D. Allen, Greg Bolt, Tim Snyder, Matthew L. Kelley, Carl McLendon, Carter McNeese, David R. Gillespie, Arthur Stewart, Tim Thompson, Joe Bumbulis, Bob Cornwall

This Tour is Sponsored by Transforming Theology DOT org!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Neurobiology or Something Transcendent?

Following up on my earlier post about the splits we assume exist and the challenges of science versus the humanities, this is an interesting article arguing that we are not our brains and our mind is not necessarily centered in our brains. Good stuff to mull over...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Role of Preaching

I've been questioning the role of preaching for a while. I really like this article detailing the usefulness and limitations of preaching. While I like good sermons, I also have been feeling that they are not terribly essential for church gatherings. What say you?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Things

One of my friends wrote a great post on the source of all bad things. He's right that we are quick to blame a lot of other people/things for the bad stuff. We need to challenge our assumptions on the causes of the evil that occurs in our lives.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I think this is a very good post emphasizing that we need to approach the Bible from much more than just a cognitive, intellectual perspective and recognize the poetry of it all.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I saw Fiddler on the Roof at the Orange County Performing Arts Center a few weeks ago. One of the classic songs is called Tradition, and as Tevye says, he doesn't know why they do a lot of what they do. It's just tradition.

As most of my close friends know, I am not a fan of tradition, particularly tradition for tradition's sake. I think actions need to be meaningful. Traditions can be very meaningful when you understand why they are there and when they still have relevant meaning. Yet so often in life (related to spirituality and not), we take actions simply based on tradition. And I think that is the cause of a lot of problems and crises in faith eventually.

What do you think? Is there value in tradition for tradition's sake. When is tradition useful/good?

Thursday, October 1, 2009


This blog is focused on trying to engage the struggles and questions we face throughout life, pursuing the answers, but not necessitating that we have firm answers. This article on recent films relating to homosexuality seems to do exactly that: Struggling with questions. So I thought it would be worth sharing it. Anyone seen any of these films?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biblical Witness to Peacemaking

As many of you know, my dissertation was on faith-based peacemaking, so this document, the Biblical Witness to Peacemaking, is quite interesting to me. I like how they break up so many elements to peace. That's one of the things I think is most important when "evangelizing" peace: It's not just nonviolence. That's a very limited perspective of peace. Rather, peace is better defined as human flourishing and prosocial actions. Anyway, I'll leave it at that for now. :)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Science and Religion

One of the things I've long been interested in is the interplay between science and religion. My perspective has always been that they mutually reinforce one another and that each should be taken very seriously. So a little while ago I subscribed to some science and religion blogs, and I have been shocked at how much time and energy is STILL being place on the creation-evolution debate.

Really?! I thought we had moved past that. To me, it does not make a difference which mechanism God used to create things, even if we cannot scientifically identify him. From an Incarnational perspective, we frequently cannot identify God beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that's not a problem because that's the purpose of faith and not always having all the right answers.

But I think that's where there's so much energy and time put into this debate on both sides: Those invested in creation or evolution get their faiths shaken by the other side. I think they get shaken because both have to be firm in their perspectives intellectually, with iron-clad arguments. We're not sophisticated enough in any field to have iron-clad arguments. Not that we should not seek that, but we also need to have grace for ourselves and for Truth and realize that the search for Truth is a journey.

Faith is found along the way and gives us confidence and a firm foundation when we do not know anything for sure.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Definition of Evangelical

I just took an interesting survey on the Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia, which in part looked into the definition of "evangelical" and how much the responder identifies with that label. It had some excellent questions about how we define it and associate with it.

Have you thought about how much you do or do not identify with that label and why? Labels are interesting things, especially as we use them for ourselves...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mind-Body-Spirit Splits

I have long been a proponent of holistic care and de-emphasizing the mind-body-soul/spirit split, particularly from Incarnational perspectives. However, I have been really realizing lately how much I really do believe in those splits and how rooted a lot of Christian theology is in asserting that the body is separate from the mind is separate from the spirit.

We can talk all day long about how we do not believe this, but we see it occur in practice. I have seen it in the mental health field. As our research improves, we see how much can be explain by neurobiology and neurochemistry. In many ways, it is an updated version of the Freedom of the Will/Bondage of the Will debate between Erasmus and Luther.

However, I was amazed at how uncomfortable I would start becoming when I realized how strong the biological components of mental health really are. I realized I had an implicit assumption that there still was a very distinct portion of ourselves that would be mind and a portion that was soul/spirit.

If we do not separate these, we often assume that our own responsibility or even the transcendent intervention from God may not be all that powerful. Frankly, most of our theology is grounded in those two points.

I'm still not sure how to reconcile these beliefs with a more holistic, non-split perspective of humans. Few people provide solutions. Any ideas?

Perhaps this is one of the struggles that may not have a clear answer, but in searching for it, other wisdom and insight is created...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fathered by God Event

I highly, highly, highly recommend this! I love John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart's (his ministry organization) stuff. I saw him last year on his Walking with God tour, and he was fabulous. Let me know if you go; I want to try to go (the only one in So Cal right now is at Mariner's in Irvine). For more info and tickets, visit

Fathered By God Tour 2009

Fathered by God

An Evening for Men and the Women Who Love Them

John is doing a 15 city Tour this April and May! He'll be speaking on the Six Stages of a man's journey, the essential path God has provided every boy and man to take in order to become a man in full. The evening with John will be ninety minutes in length, including a time of Q & A. Based on last year’s Walking with God Tour, we know this is going to be an incredible event! Tickets are available on line through Proceeds will benefit Ransomed Heart Ministries.

Saturday, April 18, 2009
Evangel Temple
5350 Veterans Pkwy
Columbus, GA 31904

Sunday, April 19, 2009
Stonecreek Church
13540 Highway 9 North
Milton, GA 30004

Monday, April 20, 2009
Southbrook Church
5607 Weddington Monroe Rd
Weddington, NC 28104

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Immanuel Bible Church
6911 Braddock Rd
Springfield, VA 22151

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Christ Community Church
1215 Hillsboro Rd
Franklin, TN 37069

Friday, May 8, 2009
Fellowship Bible
9330 N Central Expwy
Dallas, TX 75231

Saturday, May 9, 2009
Hope In The City
4407 Monterey Oaks Blvd
Austin, TX 78749

Sunday, May 10, 2009
(WorldView Comm. Church)
6941 Columbia Rd
Olmstead Falls, OH 44138

Monday, May 11, 2009
Kensington Community Church
1825 East Square Lake Rd
Troy, MI 48085

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Church of the Open Door
9060 Zanzibar Ln
Maple Grove, MN 55311

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Grace Chapel
9600 SW Boeckman Rd
Wilsonville, OR

Sunday, May 17, 2009
Eastside Foursquare Church
14520 100th Ave
Bothell, WA 98041

Monday, May 18, 2009
Calvary Bible Church
18621 N Highway 99
Acampo , CA 95220

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Mariners Church
5001 Newport Coast Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Central Christian Church
Of the East Valley
933 N Lindsay Rd
Mesa, AZ 85213

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scripture for Tithe & Offering

The tithe and offering is a fixture in the American church (I'm not sure about internationally). And it makes sense. The bills DO have to be paid. Although I have to be honest in that the biblical mandates used have never been terribly convincing. I've heard them and arguments for giving 10% (still seems rather arbitrary from a Scriptural perspective) hundreds, if not thousands of times.

I still remain a bit unmoved. I'm sure there's those who would argue that I'm just ignoring God. However, I wonder if there's another explanation. The Christian History article, Passing the Plate, is a great, concise history of tithes and offerings in the American church. Originally, churches were financially supported by the State through taxes and fees. Once that ended, church leaders needed to find another income. Fair enough.

But just as we so often do, they began looking to the Bible for support, finding a biblical mandate. Now I wonder if now-deeply-rooted belief in the biblical mandate of tithe and offering is an honest exegetical interpretation of Scripture or is actually proof texting. It's often felt like the latter to me, although I have to be honest in saying that I have not done an exegetical study of those verses.

Is this to say that tithes and offerings are bad or unwise? Absolutely not. They're absolutely necessary. But call them what they are: A practical need. The crossover into the spiritual realm (especially from an Incarnational perspective) comes quickly, as we want to support our communities. However, I have all-too-often heard these biblical mandates used in ways to create funding thought spiritual guilt and shame. That's quite unbiblical...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Finding Church

I highly recommend this blog post by John Eldredge of Ransomed Heart. Excellent, excellent, excellent stuff!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Church Footprints

I was reading an article in Church Executive magazine last night about special events churches host, particular with big name people. One church administrator said about her church, "The church always had a big footprint in [big name city]." She was referring to primarily the fact that the church always had a booth at community events and that their worship band went to car shows regularly, playing both sacred and secular music.

That's when I really understand the consumer nature of church. That's not leaving a footprint in a city. That's simply good advertising and making your presence known. A footprint would be making an impact, changing people's lives.

However, I have realized that many evangelical churches take the view of this church--we just need to reach the unchurched and unsaved. Meaning we just need to get them to accept Jesus.

Ultimately, this is selling God, not much more, and it doesn't change people's lives.

Discipleship and spiritual formation change people's lives. Connecting them with God is the first step, but simply selling someone God isn't the same thing as connecting them with God. As the devotional I copied below from John Eldredge and Ransomed Heart explains, we need to connect to the heart of God.

When we sell God, we are simply selling a principle. In many ways, that can separate others (and us) even farther from God's heart and therefore God Himself.

Contrast that with churches that may not do traditional explicit evangelism, but really touch people's lives deeply. Those people are introduced to the heart of God incarnationally. We are able to see God's love working through us AND experience God's love through others. When someone makes a commitment through that, my guess is it's a lot more lasting and much deeper.

THAT'S a footprint, not just well-placed salesmanship. How can you leave a footprint in your community?

With All Your Heart

The heart is the connecting point, the meeting place between any two persons. The kind of deep soul intimacy we crave with God and with others can be experienced only from the heart. I know a man who took his daughter to dinner; she was surprised, delighted. For years she had been hoping he would pursue her. When they had been seated, he pulled out his Day Timer and began to review the goals he had set for her that year. “I wanted to burst into tears and run out of the restaurant,” she said. We don’t want to be someone’s project; we want to be the desire of their heart. Gerald May laments, “By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest level of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?”

We’ve done the same to our relationship with God. Christians have spent their whole lives mastering all sorts of principles, done their duty, carried on the programs of their church . . . and never known God intimately, heart to heart. The point is not an efficient life of activity—the point is intimacy with God. “You will find me,” God says, “when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). As Oswald Chambers said, “So that is what faith is—God perceived by the heart.”

What more can be said, what greater case could be made than this: to find God, you must look with all your heart. To remain present to God, you must remain present to your heart. To hear his voice, you must listen with your heart. To love him, you must love with all your heart. You cannot be the person God meant you to be, and you cannot live the life he meant you to live, unless you live from the heart.

(Waking the Dead , 48–49)

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See also the Ransomed Heart Podcast at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Some of you might be interested in this presentation I am giving next week. It is entitled Trauma, Spirituality, and the Dark Night of the Soul.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hope for Another's Success

Continuing from yesterday, when we forgive another or have a conflict with another person, group, or organization, we often are told to pray for them and hope for their success. I believe that is biblical. However, I do not believe we often practice accurately.

When we refer to success, we usually mean that the person/group achieves their goals. I have to say that I do not believe that is biblical. People and groups do awful things. I truly doubt Jesus would have us pray for them to continue that.

Rather, I believe that when we hope and pray for another's success, we are to hope and pray that they become closer to Christ and succeed in his name.

Doing this in practice can be difficult. As one elder said, we should not criticize our brethren in Christ. I have been on the receiving end of unjustified attacks, and no good is produced from them. And such dissension and attacks have led to the fractured nature of the Church now. Yet evil is done, and it needs to be addressed. I posted a letter from John Eldredge a few months ago on this topic, in which he supports calling out incorrect practices.

However, this can be a slippery slope. What is the balance?

My current position is that one should not make public (or perhaps even private) criticisms (especially absolute condemnations) of groups and people they do not have enough information about and do not truly understand. This would account for most of the criticisms given in this world, I bet... :)

However, sometimes we are well enough informed to make an accurate and appropriate call about whether or not a wrong has occurred. How we handle that information is important, too. Name-calling is unhelpful. We should use that information constructively. A press release is rarely constructive in this area. Frankly, I am prone to saying that private comments are the most appropriate. In many ways, it can be a form of passive resistance. This can include stopping tithes, referring people away from an organization, providing education about a group's practices, etc. But this has to be done wisely and with the appropriate information and understanding. Again, we too often do this without sufficient and accurate information, in which case we likely sin (and you know how often I use that term...). We also need to be ready to provide reasons for our statements.

It's delicate, and I'm not sure there's a clear answer about how to deal with such situations. I don't know if my current conclusions are even remotely right, but it's where I've landed thus far in this struggle.

What do you think? How should we handle such circumstances?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Whenever there is conflict and an impending church split, there is also a lot of dialogue about forgiveness and praying for one's enemy. I'm not saying that there are enemies in our situation, but that's often the language used.

What I have observed is that forgiveness often takes on the form of the passive acceptance I discussed yesterday. I don't think that's healthy, and I definitely don't believe that's what God had in mind when he discussed forgiveness. It's much more active. As many people say, forgiveness is not a feeling, it's a decision. There is absolute truth to that.

However, as I said that Christian often simplify our psychological states, forgiveness is not as simple as a decision. There are intense emotions involved, positive and negative, and they need to be addressed. Ev Worthington is a specialist in forgiveness research, particularly within Christianity (he's a Christian himself). One of the things he mentioned is that it can be damaging to the person to forgive too soon... or too late. There is a delicate balance and timing.

I would also argue (and I believe Worthington does too) that forgiveness does not coincide with forgetting. We can forgive someone, but we often should remember. It relates to the boundaries we discussed before. Forgiveness is separate from the other person changing and from reconciliation. We may forgive Hitler, but would we let him lead anything? I sure hope not.

Anger and pain can still arise in us as we forgive. Sometimes a person may re-injure us, or that process of reconciliation is uncompleted (sometimes it will never be complete). That is painful. And angering. What was done is wrong. When we remember it, it is appropriate and acceptable to be anger, as long as it is not all-consuming. But we have to have grace for ourselves, as this is a process.

So what does this mean as we pray for those who have hurt us and are told to hope for their success? That's tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Passive Resistance or Passive Acceptance?

In discussions of wrongs, pain, and anger, the phrase "turn the other cheek" and other similar soundbites are often used to advocate for a passive approach to injustice. Passive methods of dealing with injustice can be very effective, as exemplified by MLK, Jr., and Gandhi.

However, what I have also seen and heard in the church is not a passive resistance, but more of a passive acceptance.

There's a fine line, but at the same time there's a huge difference. The goal is completely different. Passive acceptance is just deciding nothing can be done about a situation and so I will do nothing and just move along with the flow. No change is intended. Many people believe this is what many Germans did in Nazi Germany.

Passive resistance, on the other hand, takes the perspective than active resistance will not get the job done as well as a passive approach, which is ironically active in its own way. Often it is motivated by an inability to take active action. However, the goal of passive resistance to create change, to make waves.

When Jesus and other biblical writers discussed passive approaches to wrongs, I don't think they were advocating passive acceptance. I think they were advocating passive resistance, often because that was the only approach was possible (and it was often the most powerful). I truly do not believe Jesus wanted us to be used and abused by others. He wasn't, although people argue that. He just wasn't necessarily actively aggressively attacking. He attacked (look at the money changes in the temple and Jesus' teaching). He was aggressive (he has a vision and he followed it with all his heart, mind, body, and soul). He just often took a more passive approach.

But not always.

Boundaries are important to our lives. As I mentioned before, Cloud and Townsend in their excellent biblically-, theologically-, and psychologically-informed book Boundaries, argue this well. Sometimes passive approaches are appropriate. Sometimes active approaches are appropriate. Jesus did both. Yet we try to simplify it a lot and make a legalistic rule about always being passive or always active. It's not as clear as that.

We need to struggle with it a bit more. Where do you struggle with boundaries and the balance of passive versus active action?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Anger, Part II

Several months ago, I had a post on anger. I thought it was appropriate to do a follow-up because it's an issue that has been a part of the reactions to the Cathedral's decisions and was the topic of Bobby's message on Sunday.

As I said before, anger is a touchy subject in Christianity. We often assume it's bad. One of the things Bobby said that I appreciated on Sunday was separating the emotion of anger from the action of anger, the latter which tends to fester. I think it's an important distinction because we often confuse the complexities of emotions and our psychologies.

In fact, I realized today that I think, while psychologists often simplify spirituality, Christians often simplify our psychologies. Things aren't just as simple as anger can destroy. Can it? Absolutely. It also serves a very important, good function in our lives.

But where is the line?

That's something I've considered a lot of the last several months while the Cathedral has imploded. I have experienced a lot of anger. One thing Bobby mentioned was holding onto anger. One way we often try not to hold onto anger is by not feeling it. I argue that that is unhealthy and ironically is how we hold onto the anger. By ignoring it, we repress it, and it begins to fester inside of us until more builds up and it finally explodes. In contrast, if we can express it (in healthy ways) as we experience it, we can use the emotion of anger constructively and do not live by it.

So what if we express it and still feel anger? We often assume we are doing something wrong, like we haven't forgiven the other person well enough. That's not necessarily the case.

As wrongs continue, we continue to be angered. In the case of the Cathedral, wrongs were continually being committed (and still are). People were (and are) continuing to be hurt. That justifies continued anger. It wasn't just a one-time event to "get over." It was a continual assault. There was also a sense of betrayal on many levels, which causes even deeper pain and anger, which I believe is completely appropriate. We can deal with that anger by taking action, but most of us could do nothing but sit back and watch it all implode. That does not help the expression of the emotions. Sometimes we truly cannot right a wrong. It is not in our power. We have to find a way to resolve the issue in our psyche, then, sometimes with the help of a professional.

However, I maintain that continued anger is not necessarily bad, again, as long we don't live from it and make all of our decisions from it, as Bobby discussed during the message.

In the next couple of days, I'll also discuss forgiveness, boundaries, and praying for the success of an enemy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The have been a lot of changes of the last couple of months at The Gathering and the Crystal Cathedral. The biggest for our community was announced today as we plan to move off campus from the Cathedral by May. As Bobby mentioned during the Town Hall meeting, this move is not reactionary to poor decisions by the Cathedral leadership, but by a move toward a vision that the leadership of The Gathering believes can only be achieved by moving. Bobby stated that we have discussed such a decision numerous times over the past 2 years. In fact, I think it's been discussed much longer; almost since the beginning! :) We unanimously believe the timing now is right to make the move. The firing of Robert A. (okay, technically he resigned, but...) was a confirmation of that decision.

At the same time, there is pain, hurt, and anger about decisions made by the Cathedral leadership, and The Gathering's eldership has struggled with how to deal with these reactions. There is a pull to make this move be reactionary and hateful. I would even argue there is good, just reason for that. However, I also agree with our conclusion, led by Bobby, that that will not be a good reason to make a move. It is not what we want to be about nor how we want to define ourselves.

So what do we do with these feelings and emotions? Some say feed them. Others say forgive and ignore. I don't know the full answer, but I'm going to write a couple of posts delving into some of the aspects and have them post of the next couple of days. The point of this is not gossip, but rather to use a struggle we are having in order to explore struggles the Christian Church has every day in various ways. Please give me feedback as we go along!


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).