Monday, May 31, 2010

we commonly make
decisions of life and
death for others

Mankind is unique. For example, no other creature has the power to decide which species are and which are not valuable. In expanding our territory, we commonly make god-like decisions of life and death for others. And although we call ourselves stewards, in effect, we are at war with Creation. Can we win such a war?

I can fight gravity, but jumping off a cliff won't win me much of anything. I can argue against the law of force, but stepping in front of a fast-moving freight train fails to convince. What if there are already-existing laws of morality and of community and of truth? And what happens to humanity if we continue to fight against these laws?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What if?

What if truth (the way we ought to live) were a set of natural laws (just like gravity and thermodynamics and motion and stuff like that)? What if the only reason humans have trouble knowing what is true and what isn't is because we've decided that we aren't subject to these laws? What if humans have relegated all discussion of truth to religion because, as far as they are concerned, truth can only be found in the supernatural, not in the natural? What if all this time, humans have been dead wrong?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are Humans Evil?

we too often
decide that someone else's
dreams don't matter

A friend writes that "we are all essentially evil at the core." And I've heard this statement shared so many times in Sunday sermons, in the arguments used for a "just war" or in explanations as to why nobody can ever live a truly "holy" life.

But I disagree. If we're created by God and in God's image, then the core of our very being must be good. Even someone who doesn't know God (or believe in God's existence) has the ability to recognize truth, to give and receive love. Sin (or evil) must be more like an artificial covering, something we like to wear because of the false feelings of protection and power that it provides. The problem is that in trying to protect our interests, we selfishly cause harm to others (or short-sightedly cause harm to ourselves). And in trying to gain control over our destinies, we too often decide that someone else's dreams don't matter, giving ourselves permission to do whatever is necessary to "win."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Aren't these discussions
based on the premise that some
people are unnecessary?

The institutional church, as it grapples with cultural change, has a tendency to preserve the status quo. Members take actions that result in a stronger system — earthquake-proofing, putting on a new roof, remodeling the foyer to let in more light. But what if it's time to move to a new neighborhood? To leave the old building behind and start on a new journey?

People are afraid of the unknown. They would rather improve efficiency than try a new task.

I dropped a piece of doughnut on the floor, and it's covered with ants. Two ants are hauling off a section while a third crawls around on top. A fourth and fifth ant push and pull, stopping the portion's progress for a moment before letting it go again. In spite of this seeming chaos, the work gets done.

What's wrong with redundancy? Why do we need to streamline? To make processes more efficient? Aren't these kinds of discussions based on the premise that some people are unnecessary?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Christian Idolatry

Feed me.
Comfort me.
Entertain me.

Looking back in time, it seems the Church has passed through different stages, and in each stage, there has been a tendency to institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have. Unfortunately, these walls also limit future growth and tend to cut us off from direct relationship with God. Looking at the walls from the past can help us to think about our present walls and to consider what walls might become a danger in the future. Here are three examples:

1) The wall of hierarchy. As the Church grew, it became more and more difficult for those with a direct experience of Christ (in the flesh) to share their experiences with new believers. Because of this, we see a slow transition from gathering together in the temple courts to the sending of missionaries and later to the widespread practice of sharing epistles. Over hundreds of years, these practices — combined with systems of government (Constantine) — created a hierarchical system of authority that was meant to centralize issues of doctrine and organization. But it also took the focus of many away from God and put it on the Church, leaving us with what has been called "pope worship" (among other things) a form of idolatry.

2) The wall of literalism. Luther broke through the wall of hierarchy by claiming scripture as a common-ground connection for all Christians. Gutenberg strengthened Luther's claim by making the Bible more accessible. Individual believers were no longer dependent on the Church hierarchy for teaching, organization, and the filtering of God's message to his people. But even though this broke through the walls of institutional hierarchy, it also set up a new problem by simplifying faith, pulling us away from God's Word (Christ) in order to replace it with the much more tangible form of God's word (scripture). This created an artificial requirement that we defend the Bible at all costs, and whole institutions have been created to do just that. Could we have King James-only churches or a Creation Research Institute or people like the Bible Answer Man if this change hadn't taken place? We like to think that we're an informed and educated people, that we're better than those Dark Age Christians. But we just have a new form of idolatry, identifying the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.

3) The wall of individualism. George Fox's message broke through the wall of literalism (even though I'm not convinced he recognized the wall he was breaking). He taught a kind of progressive revelation, claiming that the Light of Christ is in all and accessible to all — men and women, English and Turk, slave and free. Because we are each made in God's image, each of us carries within the image of God, which allows us to recognize and speak Truth. We can hear God, and we can obey. But almost immediately, the freedom that Fox preached turned into a kind of license — wearing hats in worship, public nudity, claiming to be Christ — a kind of individualism that threatened to do more than break down a few walls. It looked as if there might be a chance that the entire structure would come crashing down, leaving every man to do whatever was right in his own eyes. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as many Christians are concerned), Fox and other Friends were ultimately unsuccessful in spreading this message very far. But in a postmodern age, this message of individualism is being preached — not by religious revolutionaries but by consumers. Feed me. Comfort me. Entertain me. And we have in this a new form of idolatry, the worship of self.

Friday, May 14, 2010

they leave their
bodies behind as they zoom
across the universe

Sometimes, Powells Books seems holy to me.

What is Powells? Imagine an entire city block devoted to books. A place where kilted, mohawked, multiple-pierced punks move quietly, side by side with slightly-hunched grandmothers, shaggy rpg enthusiasts, and bag ladies. A place with Jesus Action figures and nun-shaped lighters just 50 feet away from Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Down a flight of stairs and just around the corner stand rows and rows for railroad enthusiasts. Climb up three flights to an art gallery and rare book room. Cross through spaces devoted to classic literature, reference materials, religious studies, philosophy, education, the martial arts, cookbooks, quilting . . . And everywhere you go, there are people sitting, pacing, staring off into the distance, lounging on the floor with a book or a pile. It's like a microcosm of the world, like what you might find at an airport or a train station. Except in this place, there's less physical rush. These are travelers. But they leave their bodies behind as they zoom across the universe, back and forth in time, hitching rides as visitors in some hapless narrator's brain.

And they come back changed -- peaceful, thoughtful, calm -- whispering quiet excuses as they step over others who are still traveling, recognizing somehow that this is a holy place, a temple to human wisdom and beauty and truth. A place for searching. For inspiration. A place of peace in the midst of a busy city.

And they always come back.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Game

That night, we stumbled down
that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting,
of trusting, of being known.

Playing games opens up a world of possibilities in worlds that don't exist. Because that's what games are - alternate realities - and that's what games do. They do away with what is real and ask us to do the same. It follows, then, that in the perfect game, players perform foolish acts for no good reason. And in playing out these harmless fantasies, game players discover reality, what it is to live without inhibitions, what it means to finally be real.

The game is central to identity.

God made man in his image, and although we identify God as the source of love, joy, peace, and other virtues, what lies at the bottom of God's character is creative power. So it is in creative play that we discover God's image within us, waiting to break free from the oppressive propriety and maturity required in our day-to-day lives.

Imagine a 10-year-old boy teaching adults to wriggle around on their stomachs in a round of Snake-in-the-Grass. Imagine two friends on a road trip, reading billboard messages backwards, pretending to speak in a foreign tongue. Imagine a group of middle school students using dictionaries and a long cafeteria table to create a contemporary version of shuffleboard.

When we create and play new games, we discover God's creative power in our minds, his presence in our midst. We discover what God created us to do and be: fellow creators.

The game is central to community.

Jesus prayed that God might make us one with each other in heart and mind, unified with the Father so that we might truly worship him in spirit and in truth. But we live in a dog-eat-dog world where people are valued for what they accomplish, not for what they become. Our success-oriented culture pushes people apart, demands that each man and woman be an island, self-sufficient. Reliance is weakness. Need is next to sin.

But the game turns topsy-turvy the world as we live it. In British Bulldog, the strong and the fast become victims to the cooperative efforts of smaller and slower players. Tops and Bottoms - like Lemonade - is designed around the goal of getting everybody on the same team. And no game is complete without an after-opportunity for sharing stories.

When we play together, we create shared experiences that break down barriers to vulnerability and transparency in other areas of our lives. When we learn how to play all out - hard, fair and nobody hurt - then we cease to be islands. We tag shoulders in Elbow Tag, strip off socks in Knock Your Socks Off, wrestle each other to the ground in Whomp-Em or Bloody Wink Em. And every time we touch, we demonstrate that God is forming us into a living breathing body of believers.

The game is central to worship.

First, some background. Dualism is the ancient heresy that claims spirit is holy while the flesh harbors sin. In Western Christianity, we've given new life to this system in our practiced separation of sacred from secular. Why else would we believe (or live as if we believe) that worship is only worship if it occurs in a certain place (church) at a certain time (Sunday morning) with a certain group of people (other Christians)?

And what good does worship do as a shot in the arm, a kind of holy inoculation intended to keep us safe from the dangers of greed, sex and road rage? Shouldn't worship be central rather than tacked on? And must it always include music? Or a sermon?

Here is the problem. We cannot know God unless we know ourselves. We cannot celebrate God's goodness if we fail to recognize his beauty reflected in the lives of our fellow humans. In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must know ourselves, and we must have community. Everything else is false.

But our churches too often engage in little more than parallel play. We are in the same place and doing the same things as other believers. But we are alone.

Games bridge the gap.

I once took a group of youth and adults to a grassy hill on the edge of town where we spent hours speeding down the slopes on blocks of ice. As the sun set that evening, we gathered at the top of the hill, recounting stories of close calls and heroic deeds. We dreamed up new adventures. We marveled at the orange-topped buildings in the city below set off by deepening shadows and fiery clouds that shifted from red to pink to purple to blue. We spoke of secret longings and of God. That night, we stumbled down that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting, of trusting, of being known. That night, we experienced worship.

At Barclay Press

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I was stunned
at how relatively rare
such instances were.

Social researcher George Barna spent several years searching for evidence that attendance and involvement in a local church makes a difference in a person's life:

"While we certainly found some wonderful examples," he writes, "I was stunned and deeply disappointed at how relatively rare such instances were."

Reading this prompts further questions for me:

1) What is spiritual transformation? What does it look like? How does it feel? Why does it matter?

2) If the church supposedly provides a moral foundation for society, then what does it mean that this institution is failing? Isn't even making a difference?

3) Is this really a new problem?

I'd like to know.

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Words

A single word
cannot stand alone
in the cosmos.

Language follows its own law of relativity. Words prop up words and are, in turn, supported by other words. Take a tour through the dictionary — or any reference work — and you'll find that words define words (and not always definitively).

A single word cannot stand alone in the cosmos. It speeds through the space of consciousness, revolving around some words, pulling others to itself, exerting and being exerted upon.

So what is it that holds language together? How was this cosmic balance achieved? What keeps these various words from spinning out of control, crashing down, breaking apart? What is it that allows these combinations of symbols and sound to rise above animal grunts or the crash of water on rock?

What gives a word its meaning?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

the question of
excrement in heaven could point
to a deeper issue.

I recently stumbled upon a series of old theological treatises. One that caught my attention discussed whether two angels could occupy the same physical space. Another questioned whether excrement could exist in heaven.

At first, these issues strike me as superficial, even silly. And I'm amazed at the extent of human curiosity (as well as the sources of our conflict).

But I think the question of excrement in heaven could point to a deeper issue. For instance, are natural body functions — eating, defecating, flatulence, perspiration or having sex — unclean? Will we somehow lose the physical aspects of our existence when we enter eternity? The implications are huge.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Finding God

some of the mystics
claim that there is no truth
outside of paradox

Logic fails to explain anything beyond the technical, physical, visible. For instance, conscience. Science has no reasonable, logical, or even sensible explanation for human consciousness. Some claim it's just like parallel programming in computers, but that pales in comparison to actually being sentient and having the ability to interact, care for, have conflict with, or befriend other sentient beings.

I've been interested to find that in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, there is an emphasis on paradox (dynamic conflict). In fact, some of the mystics claim that there is no truth outside of paradox. So here's where I'm left:

Science can't prove God's existence or lack of existence. But neither can it explain morality, emotion, desire, consciousness.

Art, on the other hand, can't tell you much about a rocket's trajectory, the volume of the universe, or the energy contained in an atom. But what other language exists for exploring the soul? For expressing passion and pain? For finding God?

Maybe the real problem isn't with God. Maybe the problem is with the tools, the words, the kind of thinking we use to understand who or what God is.

Monday, May 03, 2010

We like to have a
resource for easy answers, quick fixes,
little pick-me-ups.

What if all this bad religion out there is a mistake of genre?

Doing-oriented American culture tends to think of scripture in terms of prose (especially technical prose). We like to have a resource for easy answers, quick fixes, little pick-me-ups.

But scripture is poetry.

Poetry doesn't give up its answers so easily. It has to be digested bite by bite. Slowly. Repeatedly.

And then there's the silence. Lots of silence. Poetry takes time to unfold, and silence — serious meditation — is required if we intend to unravel meaning, find the source of our searching.

People don't have time for this kind of thing. No patience. So they settle for the Sparknotes version. Never take a minute to think (let alone listen).

Enough of that. I probably need to offer an example. What about this one? What if God doesn't really exist?



Pull your fingers away from the keyboard.

Hold off on the hate mail.


For just a minute.

And consider that God is not a thing. How could the Creator be as small as creation? How dare we try to objectify, classify, quantify that which is beyond, that which transcends existence?

But we dare to do just that every single Sunday because we live in little worlds. That's what prose does. It offers answers, entertains, informs. There's no challenge beyond the superficial.

But poetry!

Poetry couches each truth in a conundrum, in conflict, in the paradox. In poetry, the challenge is impossible (at least initially) because it pushes past human understanding, asks that we conceive of conflicting ideas working together to create . . .

something deeper,

something more meaningful,

something beautiful, which otherwise, we might never conceive.

At Barclay Press