Friday, September 30, 2005

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”


The problem with pleasure is that it’s mostly about taking. We use people and things to find happiness, no matter how short-lived. And the problem with religious people is that they don’t offer anything better. They’ve defined themselves not by what they’re for but by what they’re against. So religious “pleasure” is supposed to come from taking away the taking. We don’t smoke. We don’t drink. We don’t have sex outside of marriage. We don’t get abortions or believe in evolution. We don’t buy stuff on Sundays. And we criticize people who do, trying to take away what little pleasure they have.

It’s a vicious circle that leaves the religious even emptier than the “worldly.”

Of course, my argument is simplistic. Everybody experiences true pleasure at least once in life — huddled around a warm campfire on a cold night, a first kiss, the thrill of accomplishment, a word of praise. But it is rare to find someone who knows the source of true pleasure. It doesn’t come from breaking the rules, and it doesn’t come from following the rules, either. True pleasure comes from discovering what you were created to be and being just that — nothing more, nothing less. True pleasure comes from finding a place of satisfaction, a place of belonging, a place of clear identity, a place that is true. When you find that place where you can just be yourself, then you are finally free to give (instead of just taking). And it is in the act of giving that we find everything we need.

Give away money, and you escape from financial need. Give of your time, and you escape from the rat-race mentality that rules American society. Give up control, and you escape from burdensome responsibilities. Give up on trying to maintain your reputation, and you find freedom to be yourself. Give away love, and the world responds.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Emperor’s New Clothes

But in the end, these religious games
are no better than the emperor’s new clothes. Even children can see right through them.

Have you ever been to a school pep assembly or a company sales rally centered on getting people hyped up for the big game or the big sale? Getting everyone on board?

Then you’ve been to church. We are guilty of playing on people’s emotions, of playing God in order to get everyone up on the bandwagon (where they belong). It’s for their own good.

Have you ever met a girl, emotionally dependent on boys, boy bands and imagined friendships — so dependent that she can break into tears when something happens to her idols, even if those people or groups have never been active in her life?

Then you’ve met your share of believers — people who claim a loving, intimate relationship with Jesus and live as if they’ve never met him.

Have you witnessed a hypnotist, helping someone to think and act like a chicken?

Then you’ve seen the way we use scripture and the promises of prayer, pretending that our “spiritual work” relieves us of the need to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those who are sick or in prison. “Don’t you fret,” we say to those in need. “God will take care of you.”

Have you played a sport, been told that winning comes to those that really want it?

Then you’ve heard the Christian message. You know that you just need faith, just have to really believe, just haven’t been praying hard enough.

Is faith a mind game? Is it all in your head? Have we created religion to give us a sense of direction, a purpose in life, a source of forgiveness?

No. God is real. We live in a world that is filled with evidence of his creative power and awesome presence. So let’s stop playing make-believe. Games may be safe and comfortable. But in the end, these religious games are no better than the emperor’s new clothes. Even children can see right through them.

Thanks to Trent Cutler for providing the idea (and much of the material) for this post.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Apparently, my faith is so
small that it needs
defending. Get your war on.

I noticed a stack of brochures on the entry table at church, yesterday morning. They were for a seminar coming up, titled Answers in Genesis. The first page has a bunch of intriguing questions: “Dinosaurs and evolution? Gay ‘marriage?’ (sic) Evolution in schools? Abortion and evolution? Racism and evolution?” The questions are followed by this statement: “Get answers from the Bible that connect to the real world.”

Why should I believe that all the important answers come from a single book in the Bible? If I can discover everything I need to know in Genesis, then I don’t need the rest of scripture, and God is irrelevant.

Bigger issue — who said these are the important questions? Is my faith really based on the truth or falsehood of evolution? And how did gay marriage and abortion get tied into this talk? I know the creation vs. evolution debates have gotten a bit worn since the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” but is this what we have to do to sell tickets?

“How to Defend the Christian Faith in Today’s World”

Apparently, my faith is so small that it needs defending. Get your war on.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Words Have Real Power

If it is true that words have
meanings, why don’t we throw out the words and keep the meanings?

What are words? Nothing more than symbols, metaphors, pointers.

Words aren’t real. But they restrict your experience of reality. Words can’t see. But they limit your vision. Words have no more power than that which you give them, which is just enough power to bind you. You are trapped by your words, hemmed in — even in your ability to perceive and think — by the words you have at your disposal.

Take, for instance, the common claim that Jesus died on a cross. What does it mean to die? I asked a few of my students, and they offered the following possibilities: 1) a ceasing of existence, 2) the end of life, 3) total absence of a previously existent living thing.

So what do you mean when you say that Jesus died? Fully God and fully man, did he cease to exist? Can God, omnipresent God, stop being present?

It’s just an issue of semantics, you may argue. But that’s not true. If words are what you know, then it can’t be “just” semantics (as if such issues of vocabulary are beneath you). Your entire theology — a collection of words — is at stake.

How do you escape this tyranny of words? Words were meant to serve, not rule. Throw out the dusty slogans, the tired metaphors, the lazy platitudes, the claims of convenience. Think about what you really mean, about what you believe. Try on some new words. But don’t be too quick to purchase what others are wearing, don’t settle for a single outfit and don’t be afraid to go without for awhile.