Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I am forced to answer yes. So I push on.
Loss of independence in the form of vehicular transportation in a sudden and violent manner. Loss of comfort in almost every way. Loss of control of my own emotions. Loss of ability to roll with what's going on, and seemingly loss of anyone actually listening as I trudge on, because I'm too stubborn to give up. Or do people listen and I just don't understand that in my state of mind?
I am forced to answer yes. Onward.
To come to the point before this gets too tedious, despite my faith crisis, I feel as though God is trying to get my attention. In fact this was pointed out to me by one of my good friends recently. About what, I have no idea. What I am supposed to do next, I have some vague intuition, sparked by dissatisfaction, rage, anger, frustration, and desire for change - all emotions that make people uncomfortable.
Because I have to always be doing well. I have to never have difficulty in this life, or I'm not spiritual enough, I'm not following their feel-good god well enough. It's funny that I haven't read the book that they claim to follow in over 4 years and I still remember the promise that in this reality I will have trouble.
In fact, I find myself welcoming more trouble. I become lazy and complacent far too easily, and my ego is far too large. Not that I ever take it from people when they attack me directly, in fact the more that happens the more stubborn I become. Even if they are right and I admit it openly, I'm still being stubborn. Because what I am supposed to do is battle them to the end, fight the good fight over pointless accusations instead of becoming better.
Perhaps that is the point of why I like trouble: every time something happens that really gets my attention, it's always an opportunity to do better. Or maybe I just enjoy hearing the derision I always expect from others. Perhaps I always expect to hear that I screwed up again, that I am the reason for all of the problems in the world and around me, and that I should be doing better, just so I can stare back in defiance.
Perhaps I enjoy a good fight, because I've been prescribed this uncritical, blind obedience based, saccharine lifestyle for so long that when I have problems and I'm pushed to the breaking point, I know that I'm alive. When someone looks at me like they hate my very existence or when they argue every point and call me an idiot, I know I'm saying something of substance. Because what a person argues with strikes a nerve, and when a nerve is struck, something true has just occurred.
I asked my God for more tonight. After having an awful day, after crying in the middle of my shift and coming home dissatisfied after another night of dealing with frustration, I asked for more. I'm tired of not being truly alive. So if a disaster is what it takes, bring it.
Monday, November 21, 2011
I have nothing solid to base what I feel at this moment on. No new direction, no proof, nothing but the knowledge that I am moving beyond anything that I used to be. A redefinition out of a crisis? Perhaps.
What is it about people that traps them away from uncertainty, confines them in a world where the next thing must always be accomplished? Is that truly a satisfying way to live? What is the purpose of it? Perhaps it is simply fear. Perhaps we constantly hold onto that which we fear to lose, to the point where it doesn't matter if it's already lost. It does not matter if the truth lies in a different direction than what we have chosen to do, because we made a choice, and we keep doing what is necessary to further that choice. But to what end?
At what point does this attitude begin getting imposed on others? When do people figure their lives out, and decide that others must have these habits, this set of rules to live by, and at what point does our compassion become so diluted by our conviction that neither truly exist anymore? Is what is functional in life all that matters? Are we really human doings?
I choose to never be complete. I choose to never have all of the things accomplished that I want to do, simply because there will always be something else, something new. I choose to always respect other paths, especially ones that would seek to bring down oppression on me. One cannot run from reality. It will crush you if you try. The only option is to stand your ground, and face it. Watch as your flaws and mistakes are all pointed out, watch as the trap is sprung, and then stand in defiance, no matter what you may lose from standing.
What is smart is not always what is right. Our intelligence, our logic, our decisions cannot account for all of life. Don't even try to think that it can, and use them as tools, not ultimatums. With logic you can enslave, and with logic you can free. It all comes down to the fact that when you talk to another person, you are aware of their soul, of their right to live, of their ability to make all of the wrong decisions and become a more or less complete person, as they see fit.
If our goal becomes to further actualize each other, further bring each other into the truth, then confrontation can take on a good tone, because truth by its' nature will confront us as well. However, if our goal is to remake others in our image, we will most certainly fail at showing the compassion we may intend.
Sometimes in life, we're shoved in one direction and we simply have to take a wildly different one. Because we realize that our life is slipping away from us, that we can't do it anymore, and that if we do, we will die. Not all at once, but little by little we become hollowed out versions of who we used to be. We stop caring, and we stop living. That is a crisis.
Sometimes, you simply have to persist in ways loathsome to others. Because it is your way, and the only other option is to cease living.
Live in freedom.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Five years ago, I nearly left my faith, and I'm at the same point again. I'm so hurt, so frustrated, and feel so rejected that I don't see any alternative. At the same time, my allegiance to the truth demands I not take any rash actions. At the same time as that, I'm forced to accept that everyone is just like me. No matter how much they want to say they care about what's true, they're also a cacophony of emotions and impulses and instincts and reactions and light and dark and grey, oh so much grey.
What's hilarious is that I didn't leave my faith because of a man who didn't make a logical argument, but he argued for truth in his very own way, the way that made no sense to those that were still stuck in the systems of power that they had so much invested in. So he was called a heretic, just as I was.
Regardless, I cannot keep being a Christian because I read a book five years ago. That's living in the past. I must move forward, and that requires research, thinking, living (the hardest part), and most of all, dissonance. I can't belong to a religion that requires me to violate the truth and the good that I know exists when we let go of power and control. I can't belong to any movement invested in any of those things.
Then I am reminded of the words of Jesus, when he describes the Kingdom of God as being the opposite of the systems of power. What a contrast to my experiences in the church. I can't help my nature, I can't help but be a threat to any power system that exists with people, and for that I've been rejected by most.
The most ironic part of all of this is that I resonate with newly proclaimed atheists and those that call themselves free thinkers the most, and I find in them something that my religion has lost, and something that I think of as being part of the character of God. Truth at any cost: personal, corporate, universal.
I'm not out to say Christianity is hypocritical and try to redefine it. Everyone does that. I can no longer make Christianity what I want it to be. I have to let it be what it is and move forward, and let the truth speak for itself.
Yes, I do still have faith. I have faith that something in Christianity is true. But to really seek truth, one must set aside their agenda, suspend their disbelief, and really consider things. Really talk to people about it, really become something new every day, really think about ideas and try to move beyond one's own framework. Attempt to be objective with other people.
Again, I always come back to what I believe the Kingdom of God is, and I think this is part of it. Others of my faith look at moral relativism, Evolution, other religions, atheism, philosophy and science and they see enemies of the faith. Some even turn it around and look at mainstream Christianity or the mainstream of any religion and call it the enemy. I'm much closer to that one.
The truth is, none of those things have a corner on the truth, because it's far, far too vast. We have to stop knee jerking and really think through things, really come to what we believe over and over again, if we're going to figure anything out at all.
My religion uses apologetics to defend the faith. I find apologetics to be useless. I think instead that they should tear down their presuppositions, and make a habit of doing it every day so there is no more pointless arguing, and we can sit at the table with angry people, people that think we're wrong, people that think we're right, people of conviction, and we can have an actual conversation instead of falling victim to our own confirmation biases constantly.
Do not fear deconstruction, even though it is a scary thing to who we are as humans. Embrace it, and remember that the fear you're feeling isn't conviction, it's dissonance. Embrace the chaos, deconstruct it all, and look at all of it laid out. Live in your crisis, in your sense of destruction, because you'll rise again stronger.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
"You know pain is something man must endure in his heart, and since the heart feels pain so easily some believe life is pain." -Kaworu Nagisa, Neon Genesis: Evangelion
I can't think of a single person that hasn't felt pain in some way. Not just stubbing your toe or accidentally cutting yourself, but feeling the loss of someone you love, circumstances not being ideal, broken dreams, disappointing situations.
Some would say that there are people with nothing at all, that I and many others I know are more fortunate than well over 90% of the world. They would be correct. This should be fixed, because it's not how it should be. Multi-millionaires, people struggling to make ends meet, those that live in poverty. Life isn't fair.
But what about people that feel alone, despite being fortunate in life? What about people that feel as though they're deeply isolated from others, and can't seem to understand why? What about those that seem to sacrifice everything because they won't accept the categories and fixes society is offering them? What about those that feel that something is deeply wrong with life as we know it, and it goes far beyond what everyone can agree on?
I tend to approach this blog with insights designed to make people think, but it seems like today I have only questions. What is it about this restlessness that can get under the skin so much? Could all of the unfairness be connected? Have we stopped being human beings and ended up sacrificing too much for more productivity, more money, more success, and more ambition? What is the point when as I write this post thousands have died when the contents of my refrigerator could have stopped that from happening?
And yet, people die. All the time. It's not right, but it's part of life. As for those that die because of the more fortunate's apathy and inaction, that is not the focus of this blog post. To be frank, I haven't figured that out yet.
Death is not the worst thing in the world. Nor is pain, for it's an indicator that something is wrong. Pain leading to desperation and desire for things to be better. Maybe all that's wrong in your life is that you don't get to see your friends as often as you want, or perhaps you feel that you've lost something deeper.
As for me, I feel like something I used to love about myself is gone. Like it has been taken and can't be retrieved, and I do not know what it is. I don't even know why I feel this way, but I know it tells me something. Something is broken, something is wrong, and I'm hurting because of it.
I only don't feel this pain when I am in a crisis situation. When I need to do something to fix someone's problem, or when much is demanded of me and I have to act. I suppose this is simply adrenaline, or does it mean something more? What kind of a life have I been living, and am I truly happy? Have I pursued things I truly value, and are my values good for me? Are they good for others? Am I doing something about suffering, and do I care?
When we hurt, the question should be why. What is it I am really feeling, what can I do about it, and what can I learn from it?
That's all I've got for now.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Friday, September 2, 2011
Politically speaking, there are notions in the U.S. of being a "Christian nation," typically vocalized by movements such as the Moral Majority, associated with people that some would call Evangelicals and some would call Fundamentalists. Regardless, of what you may think of this, nearly every U.S. President has to answer the question of whether they are an "Evangelical" or "Born-again" Christian. Christianity, as a term, has political implications, and markedly different ones in Europe, especially with terms like "Evangelical."
So, let's look at the evolution of the term. Historically speaking, Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism that began in the 1st Century A.D. It grew and became what it is today through many different periods, and the most notable distinctions in Christianity tend to come from its' splitting. 1054 A.D. saw a massive schism into the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, which schismed the Western Church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. There is also the Anglican Church and countless "denominations" of Protestantism. This, in broad strokes and extremely simplified, is the religion we are attempting to define by the term "Christianity."
To the modern Western mind, the easiest way to unite these is in terms of common beliefs. In other words, if you put Christians from all different sections of their faith in a room and tell them to talk about what they agree about, you'd come about several beliefs, which have been collectively referred to as "orthodoxy." This is not to be confused with Eastern Orthodoxy, which is the Eastern branch of Christianity. More on this later. For now though, it is helpful to understand that orthodoxy means "right belief."
The way historic orthodox Christianity is generally defined by a reading of several creeds from early church councils. Namely, the Nicene Creed is generally the most agreed upon creed of faith to understand what Christianity is. Some people, particularly early fundamentalists have seen fit to define orthodoxy in 5 points based on this creed, as follows:
1. Belief in the doctrine of the Word as applied to the Bible. That is, that it is divinely inspired and reliable. Some use the term "inerrant."
2. Belief in a Triune God. That is, he is one God in three manifestations, or persons. God the Father, seen mostly in the Old Testament through demonstrations of power, God the Son, seen in the figure of Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, present in a real sense in some fashion within believers in Christ's teachings.
3. Belief in the dual nature of Christ as fully God and fully man. That is, Jesus Christ, present on Earth, was completely human, and yet was simultaneously completely God. There are many theologies that explore how this is possible.
4. Belief in the Resurrection. That is, when Christ was killed, he bodily resurrected three days after he was buried, overcoming death. Resurrection can be seen as a metaphysical concept of God overcoming evil, personified in death, but the basics of this belief is that Christians believe in Christ's resurrection.
5. Belief in the Virgin Birth/miracles. I cite both of these together because there have been numerous lists of points made defining Christianity's core beliefs. Believing in a Virgin Birth (and indeed, in most of these points), is to believe in miracles. The Virgin Birth simply states that Christ was born of Mary (Mother of God, blessed among women, etc.) while she was still a Virgin.
As you can see from this list (and possibly from my discussion before it), there have been many attempts to define Christianity's essence, most recently by the Fundamentalists. Though this term is loaded today in more ways I can count, the original Fundamentalism movement within Christianity stated that all Christians should focus first on what they can agree on, and then move beyond it with generosity into discussion with regards to other beliefs (baptism, communion, sacraments, etc.), which became known as Adiaphora (Greek for "indifferent things," generally understood to mean the non-essentials).
There have been many other sets of beliefs that people have counted as essential, most notably the Reformation "Solas," which are extolled mainly by Protestants, and usually by Reformed Christians, who usually also believe in most of the 5-7 points of Calvinism. For more clarification on the Reformation Solas and Protestantism in general, you can read my earlier post, The Inadequacy of Labels, and Frustration. If you want to know more about Calvinism, I suggest you look up the acronym TULIP for a good start.
However, suffice it to say, there is a huge amount of variance as far as beliefs go within Christianity. As one of my favorite authors put it, there is a "wide stream" of Christian belief, and almost no one has the same set of beliefs as anyone else.
Those of you reading precisely will notice that I have yet to define just what Christianity IS. The problem with doing this may be self-evident by now, but to be as explicit as possible, I will explain. Even those 5 points above are inadequate to define a two millenia old religious movement based on an even older religious movement. They also happen to be dependent on a very specific type of culture, namely the modern Western culture, which is largely a result of the Enlightenment.
To a postmodern world, this type of defining of a movement appears largely restrictive. Other definitions have come about, defining Christianity as a lifestyle. In other words, being a Christian means being like Christ, going through life in such a way as to live the lifestyle that Christ did, in the way that he did and Christians believe he still does. This is usually explained as involving the "Fruit of the Spirit," love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In general, the most emphasized trait here seems to be love. There are advantages to seeing Christianity as a lifestyle as opposed to a set of beliefs, especially for action-oriented individuals. In general, this replaces "orthodox" (which they almost always still affirm) with another set of core beliefs, which are generally referred to as orthopraxis, or "right practice." The intention is to separate Christianity from its' religious nature, citing Christ's opposition of organized religion as an example. The problem with this comes when one has to confront hypocrisy in Christianity. After all, what is one supposed to believe about two millenia of history if the person in front of them is saying something different is the "true" nature of Christianity? Is most of Christian history a bunch of garbage brought about by misguided people then? Troubling, to say the least.
There are also movements to try to "recapture" what happened in the first century, viewing it as a "golden age" before Christianity became corrupt. Instead of moving forward, they look to understand the culture and happenings of the First Century, or sometimes use a radical form of "Sola Scriptura" (Reformation Sola, means Scripture Alone), to reject all historical tradition and instead "just use the Bible." The problem with this is the assumption that the first Century Christians had their beliefs correct in the first place. One read-through of Acts (the fifth book of the Old Testament) should cure this assumption, as the early Christians were already shown to be establishing systems or authority and dealing with disagreements. Sola Scriptura falls off to the wayside when one realizes that many church councils were convened to conclusively state the Church's position on things like the Trinity, to compose the Bible, and to set precedents for other Church beliefs before the Great Schism of 1054.
So, in the end of this survey of Christianity, we're left with a lot of questions, and we're left with people in different places. Some of you are asking questions like why I am still going on about this, why I would bother outlining any of this when I obviously know which one I believe and should just affirm it. Some of you are confused by this entire thing because Christianity is weird to you, and synonymous with negative or at the very least dissonant and confusing cultural, religious, and personal implications. Some of you are asking what Christianity is philosophically, and that is where I intend to go next.
You see, in the midst of this confusion and with so many branches of Christianity all screaming something different, some new and some old, and with many differing presuppositions about life and people and God and the universe, what I would propose is the question: what is a Christian?
Philosophically speaking, Christianity is nearly undefinable because of how many different cultures have their own take on what it is. Off the top of my head, there are the two sides of the coin of Modernism, Conservative and Liberal Christianity, the former with huge emphasis on right doctrine, and the latter with huge emphasis on right practice, there is Postmodern Christianity, which is a progressive lifestyle movement, there is Roman Catholicism which remains very rooted in tradition and Western theology, there is mainline Protestantism and Reformed Protestantism, which in general butt heads constantly over Free Will/Predestination and other theology, there is Eastern Orthodoxy, with emphasis on the culture that is perhaps the most alien to me, growing up in the Southern U.S., but tends to be much more metaphysical and with differing perspectives on some very key things that are emphasized by most of Western Christianity, such as the way Christ atoned for sin on the cross, the way in which Salvation works, and the way Church is practiced, and there are many other cultural movements present in Christianity that I will not even try to account for here.
So when someone tells you they're a Christian, what are you supposed to believe about them? Or perhaps more relevantly, what do you believe? Do you look at that person and think you've found a like-minded individual, are you suddenly wary of this person who seems to have admitted to being a religious nut, or do you simply not care altogether?
In my not-so-humble opinion, I will tell you what I believe a Christian is, and what I think a Christian should be.
A Christian is a person that finds solace in the religious movement of Christianity in some way, shape or form, whether it is the theology, the movement itself, the psychological satisfaction of being religious, the people they interact with every day in the religious community they've involved themselves in, the actions that they feel make them a good person, or the life they feel they are living, whether out of fear of punishment from a divine force, out of self-loathing, out of respect for the God they believe in, out of love, or out of many other motivations.
I think a Christian should be a person that seeks the truth in all matters and presupposes that that is through God, who is expressed in the figure of Jesus Christ, no matter what route one takes (reason, history, science, philosophy, religion, conversation, etc.). I don't believe this should be motivated by any other thing than what a person believes is correct, what a person believes is true. Because of this, I believe any person that is honestly seeking the truth about life is worthy of respect, and any person not seeking it and keeping others from seeking it should get out of the way of those that are. This, of course, diverts from what a Christian is to my beliefs about how people should act, so allow me to digress back to the original topic.
Christianity - What is it? It's a lot of people all trying to seek something they believe to be worthwhile through their belief in Christ, that have formed a fractured, imperfect, and multi-faceted religious movement with countless branches and unbelievable amounts of influence in worldwide culture.
I am satisfied to call myself a Christian because I seek truth in any form I can find it, and believe this all to be a seeking of Christ, the primal meaning of the universe, the Word, Truth.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I am experiencing something similar to what happened to me when I wrote a previous post, one that I just read over. Lately I have experienced loss, a sense of being divided and broken, frustration, anger, and genuine grieving. At the same time, I have also experienced freedom, the feeling that I am moving forward, contentment combined with ambition, and a sense of well-being through all of it. What a complex array of feelings and thoughts.
I've thought lately on all of the wills I have experienced. Wills of other people, their methods of imposing power on the world and other people, and of proving they exist. Some people don't even know they do it, and some people are aware and control it in ways that benefit themselves or others. Some people, like myself, tend to fool themselves into believing they have no power at all, and thus end up recklessly causing harm, or perhaps a lot of good at their own expense. I still have much to learn.
Some of my experiences with the will to power lately have reopened some old wounds, things I didn't even know still exist.
I'm not anti-traditional. I'm not hostile toward peoples' beliefs, nor am I of the belief that I am better than any other person. However, I am genuinely offended by intellectual, emotional, and religious bullying. It is an irresponsible and damaging use of the personal power that people possess, by virtue of being human.
I'm not anti-categorical because I think it's cool or because I enjoy it or want to justify my actions. Those that know me know I am harder on myself than anyone else can hope to be, and I reject notions of morality imposed upon me for what they are: yet another expression of the will to power. No, if I am to be convinced of something, I will be approached as an equal. Perhaps that is why I have been told I have a problem with authority.
I don't wish to hurt people, and I suppose I have every time I embrace an ideal instead of looking at things how they are. The notion that sometimes you must obscure the truth to spare someone's feelings is faulty at best, wantonly destructive at worst.
When I see a person embrace a category for themselves, I see them wielding a weapon, a lot of times with consequences they do not even realize. By nature of wielding a weapon involving other people, one must do damage control constantly. For example, if one embraces the label "Christian," they must constantly explain the incredible amount of sexism, racism, and genuine disregard for human life that comes with it. They must explain how they feel about how damaging religion is and they must explain why they don't necessarily participate in all of the good that goes with the label as well.
Categories are extraordinarily useful, but they make poor labels for people. A person's beliefs are much more than any category, their faith, whatever it may be, is much more than a creed or a set of beliefs they deem necessary. People are rarely so static as a solid set of beliefs unless they are afraid, tired, or simply the sort of person that hasn't met the challenges their beliefs will afford them. It does not matter what those beliefs are, everyone's deserve to be challenged because no one has the corner on truth.
I look at the authority that my companions I graduated with appeal to constantly, the scriptures of Christianity (AKA the Bible), and I don't see anything they do. In fact, I have barely read it for years because of my experiences at a Christian college. The idolization of the book did nothing short of drive me the other direction as fast as I could go. Perhaps this comes from my problem with authority, or perhaps it comes from more than that.
Such a deeply flawed book by modern standards, and yet such a beautiful book to the eye of someone looking for metaphor, story, and genuineness, deserves nothing short of its' proper category: mythology. Not mythology as in "this isn't true," mythology as in "this is more true than simple facts." What I mean is, if you read the Bible as a history book, as a set of moral imperatives, as a textbook, or as a end-all guide for truth, you are going to be disappointed, disillusioned, or you will fool yourself by the end because of your philosophical and emotional orientation. I've found beauty in thinking of it as more of a story regarding ultimate reality that is a fusion of the divine and the human. It is a story about how humanity is, how God is, how we relate, how it all fits together, and there are a lot of flaws, mistakes, and a lot of prejudice and other problematic things along the way.
That does not make it any less true of a mythology. I do believe in the historical Jesus, but I do not believe most of his ideas were brand new. I also do not believe there has ever been or ever will be a person like him. Because a person isn't their beliefs, and isn't their categories. They're more than anything we could say about them.
Jesus understood his own power, and used it wisely, even to the point of laying it down and refusing to use it when he could have, all to say "this is a little bit of how to be truly human."
In light of this, I see a lot of work I have to do to have a better life, to be more satisfied, more content, more of a benefit to those around me, and a better person. I'll not pretend to be happy right now, but I do have a purpose.
Perhaps if we can get over our use of power to impose ourselves on others we can stop misunderstanding each other but wishing people understood us, and we can let go of the belief that the only way to be understood is to be louder, faster, more forceful, and to obey the urge to use our power to acquire what we seek.
There is more than passion, more than logic, more than our past. There is a better us that exists in the future that we can run toward. The Will to Power can never succeed in the end, because it ignores part of who we are.
"What is your hand for? What is your heart for?"
"You're the weak one. You'll never know love or friendship, and I feel sorry for you."
Love. Think on it.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
I did mean what I said, and I meant it in the sense that I disagree with movements. However, here's where things get sticky: I have friends that are likeminded, philosophers, unaligned Christians, and we tend to talk very easily. Then I have friends that are radical Atheists, traditional Christians (Reformed, Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance), agnostics, and everything in between. Some find their sense of "religion" in politics, some in a particular Church branch, some in other religions.
But these are all people. A blog of views can lose sight of that, and being generous is a difficult task, especially when one must take everyone into account and disagree in an attitude of generosity and good-will.
Because sometimes, the disagreement is in the words used, but people get upset. People lose it when confronted because they take it personally, they think it's about them when it's not. I speak, of course, of myself. I must constantly work to not take things personally that people say about me, and it'd be much easier to cut all ties and hide away from everyone and everything.
Easier, and totally inhuman. Not correct. Because sometimes the fact that someone's mad about what I've said means they care. Maybe they care about me as a person or about something I've attacked or something I've done. And it is so, so human.
I'm not an easily offended person. If someone tells me my beliefs are wrong, I'm all for discussing them. Very few things will cause me to lose my generosity in person. However, in writing it seems, I am just as susceptible as others I've seen on forums to "hiding behind my keyboard" and saying things in too drastic of a manner. It comes from being a philosopher, one writes strongly. However, philosophy and generosity need not be mutually exclusive.
Just because I've been taken the wrong way does not mean that was my intent.
Just because you think people are stupid for believing in God does not mean that they are, or that you have less "faith" and more "reason" than they do.
Just because my words have failed does not mean I will stop saying them.
Let us not forget, friends, that people will do wrong to each other just by existing, we are not the center of the universe, and other perspectives exist apart from what we think of as truth. The trick is to keep a spirit of generosity, conversation, and a love for the truth in our dialogue.
Friends, I write this in a spirit of repentance. I only wish to make myself and my writing better, and I wish to ask forgiveness for the rashness I have taken toward the traditions I am familiar with that is all too common of my generation, and for being all-too-often a representative of the type of religion that makes those on the other side of the looking glass point and say "that is why I am not religious."
I also must ask forgiveness for all of the times where my perspective has been the only thing I've considered, and I've failed to show proper respect and honor in my pursuit of life. I ask forgiveness because I am human, and always trying to do better. Release me if you wish.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Let me explain why.
I live in the south, and have experienced religion in a very limited context. Evangelical Protestant Conservative Christianity. I can also never be part of this religious movement/branch/label because of my experiences with it. Not because I'm bitter, not because I've been hurt by some people that represent it, but because of what it is. So let's talk about this label a little bit.
It is defined firstly by the points of Evangelicalism, which are crucicentrism, biblicism, conversionism, and activism. In other words, the Cross is central, the Bible is the ultimate authority (whatever that means depends on the specific denomination/beliefs of the person), a desire to proselytize/"spread the good news", and being active in one's community. At least it's equal parts doctrine and practice.
To be Conservative in the Christian context is nebulous at best, but it generally refers to holding to certain doctrines of Christianity where Liberals supposedly do not. It has political implications, but in a strictly religious sense, it need not be political. In the South, it usually is. However, more to the point Conservativism accuses the Liberals of buying into the "Spirit of the Age" and allowing doctrine to suffer for it. Sadly, they bought into Modernity in a different sense than doctrine, as it now argues on the same playing field as the Liberal Modernist Christians. In other words, to be a Conservative is to hold to a Philosophical Orientation that argues in the mode of pure reason. Being an Evidentialist is a good example of this, and faith almost exists outside the realm of Conservativism, as a presuppositional and purely practical means. Liberals tend to embrace this more fully, becoming practical to the excess.
To be Protestant is to follow the tenants of the Protestant Reformation, and to have a "spirit of Protest" about your religious convictions. This explains why Protestantism has more branches than any other in Christianity...Protestants enjoy arguing. The Protestant Reformation was a Protest against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, and Reformed Christians are the most radical, and perhaps the most true, form of Protestants.
If you wanna get really ironic, this post is probably protestant in some form. *cringes in horror*
To be a Christian is to venerate and follow the teachings of Christ to the best of one's ability. That is, of course, to follow according to one's understanding of what that is. Christians come into disagreement because Christ was in many ways a mysterious and contrary figure, and we know about very little of his life, probably less than 5%. What is recorded in the Scriptures is enough to confuse, it seems. That is, if you read it according to a certain set of Philosophical Presuppositions and as an isolated work.
I can't be this set of labels because I disagree with over 90% of it and because of the abuses it naturally falls into, but moreso because the underlying Philosophy is one of categories, Foundationalism. Foundationalism starts with privileged premises, things above reproach in an argument, and argues to natural conclusions using rigorous logic from there. This is correct if one's logic is not flawed and if one's presuppositions are correct. If either of these things are broken or wrong, then the whole thing is monstrous. Furthermore, if you question a presupposition, you are a curse upon a community of Foundationalists, and they will be threatened and respond reasonably according to the way they are. Ostracization is a way of putting this lightly. Being called a heretic is not uncommon, even if one is asking questions or reframing. See: Rob Bell.
So, in comes Emergent Village, which came to be called the Emerging Church movement, which is now supposedly called Hipster Christianity. Unfortunately, this last label is all too fitting.
The Emerging Church in its' prime was a Postmodern form of Christianity. That is, it came to a much more Coherentist view of Truth, viewing it as multivalent and grand. It was also ambiguous to the logical Foundationalist, and hence it was jammed into categories. Postmodernism by itself is a category, though the closest definition one can come to is a suspicion and disdain of metanarratives, which are stories regarding Ultimate Reality. So Postmodern Christianity, depending on who you talk to, is a suspicion of the metanarratives told by people, usually the Conservative Evangelical Protestants in my area, and it tended to look to more ancient roots of Christianity, trying to find the "correct" metanarrative, and usually adding the qualification that one can never get there fully.
Unlike the Neo-Reformed and Reformed, who insist their 16th Century views are 1st Century originated, the Postmodern Christian looks at other Church fathers (or hip dudes that write about other Church fathers) and deconstructs and reconstructs continually according to one's Philosophical orientation, trying to get back to what Christianity "really" is and what it can be today in a form that is more true.
The problem is, of course, they gained more and more labels for themselves. Because labels are easy, and they communicate faster than explaining and leaving ambiguity where it should rightfully be. So we come to Hipster Christianity, which is another step in Emergent solidifying into another movement in Christianity, just like Evangelicalism, that will probably be called something that has a meaning by the end.
Because Emergent became hip, and the younger generation likes it. Their theologies became shaped by finding the obscure writing, the theology that no one gets, and that makes them hip and deep. The mystery became a fad instead of a given, and it became about what is cool rather than trying to find Christianity's roots.
Yeah, I'm getting old. Moving on.
Postmodernism, as a natural development out of the rational Modernism, is merely another thoughtform. The moment it took itself too seriously, began to solidify into something with coherent answers, it was no longer Postmodernism. It was another step in the Modern world. This is because people have not changed, and they still want answers. The problem is, Evangelicalism and "Emergentism" are both irrelevant.
Labels are irrelevant to people and the way they move, grow, think, question, believe, doubt, feel, and think. They are inadequate, and should be treated as such.
Don't get me wrong, labels are not evil. They are inadequate. I could not speak to you without labels, but I guarantee you you are not thinking the exact same thing I am from reading this post. This is why conversation is more important than labels. People are naturally disconnected, and this is not the state we long for. Hurt comes from the connection with others being disrupted, dissonance flowing down it, and something in us being broken or battered. To disconnect, and to make things easier, we create labels, systems, theologies, philosophies, where conversation, intrigue, Theology and Philosophy are more helpful.
Let me explain. Conversation as opposed to labels. Connection as opposed to disconnection. Intrigue as opposed to systems. Wonder as opposed to apathy. Theology as opposed to theologies. Philosophy as opposed to philosophies. A practice, a way of life, as opposed to jamming our souls into labels. Wielding labels as inadequate tools that lead to connection, as opposed to being defined by them.
Because no one likes it when someone defines them as "just an Evangelical."
"Just a conservative."
"Just a foundationalist."
"Just an adherent to [pick a system]."
"Just an Emergent."
"Just a heretic."
It hurts, because we're more. When we are told we don't care about something we desperately do care about just because our approach is different, our label is not the same as another's, and our Philosophy, our Theology, our way is a little different. It is at this point that people are refusing to understand and are disregarding us. People become irrelevant because their philosophy is the only thing relevant to them. Naturally, one wants to lash back out, but these people deserve pity. They isolate themselves from anyone not like them, and the more rigorous they are with their definition of themselves, the more alone they are.
No matter how in love a person insists they are with rejection, they do not want it. They simply convince themselves they do because it's easy. It's the way out of feeling weak and taken advantage of, of a hard life that is worth it for the chance of being understood, of being accepted despite one's blunders and faults.
I regret calling myself an "Emergent Christian" because I am more. People still think I don't believe in the Trinity, people still think I believe in the idolization of community, and I'm more than any of it. So are you.
Emergent was a movement of Frustration, and I fear that people have missed the point. I fear that with everyone mad and jamming public figures into old labels, we are simply. Missing it. We no longer interact with people, we interact with demons or angels, drastic moralizations of constructs of things that were once people, because we can't see past our prejudice.
When safety and understanding at any cost become an idol, it becomes prejudice. And prejudice means lack of seeing. Blind people cannot help but run into each other, not because they're stupid, but because they can't see. What's sad is, for some people to stop being blind, all they need to do is stop being stubborn and open their eyes. A scary thought, considering people can run from themselves much more easily with their eyes closed. Regardless of running into things, they can cast blame on themselves or on anyone but thesmselves, simply because they won't open their eyes to who they are, the power they have, the responsibility being a person implies, and the beauty of all of it.
There's a better way than this. There has to be.
Friday, April 1, 2011
I wrote a review recently for Rob Bell's book "Love Wins." This will be the third post inspired by that particular book. However, as you can see from the post, I'll also be talking about Universalism, which many other reviewers have decided to write about, and I have yet to.
So, Bell writes his fifth book, after being largely left alone aside from the occasional heretic or false teacher accusation since his first, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. People are mad before it even comes out, writing scathing reviews with many implications regarding him as a person, his church, etc. People are also raving and excited about it from before it comes out, and all of this craziness is still continuing. Some people are still writing scathing reviews and talking about how Christianity is in danger, and some people are still writing in defense of Bell's book. The funny thing is, the groups tend to talk past each other, and in the cases of direct engagement, they're passive aggressively, often condescendingly, hostile toward each other.
So, let's try to make sense out of one particular of this, shall we?
One of the things you'll hear in every negative review and almost no positive reviews is the accusation of Universalism. What's interesting (and ironic) is that this term itself is ambiguous, as it refers to many different movements and a whole array of theology.
In its' most basic form, Universalism is a Philosophy or Theology with implications for everyone. For example, most Christians tend to hold to a Universalist view on sin, that is all have sinned, universally.
So let's narrow this down then. Obviously, we have a book regarding Christianity, religion, God, spirituality, etc, and it talks about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person that has ever lived. Most criticism tends to come from the view presented of the afterlife, or of the existence of good and evil in a metaphysical/eternal form. So, the Universalist accusation most specifically refers to someone's fate in relation to God, usually after death.
The problem is, this is still simplistic. What does any of that mean? Does it mean that everyone will be in this realm called "Heaven," no matter what they do or what kind of a person they are? Does it mean that universally everyone will end up in the same place, whether that's heaven, hell, or neither one? If so, does that mean physically, spiritually, or in some other ambiguous form? Or does it perhaps refer to something besides the typical conception of Heaven and Hell being one of two destinations after death? Could it refer to a present reality? How would universalism fit that?
Here's the problem with this accusation.
The Reformed/Conservative/Negative reviewer states that "Love Wins" downplays God's Wrath by getting rid of Hell. They insist that God can only be brought full glory and honor by conscious, eternal torment of those that do not accept Jesus. They speak constantly of life after death, and they speak of this life as the only opportunity to make that decision.
The Emerging/Postmodern/Positive review states that "Love Wins" brings us back into focus with who God is, and states that God can only be brought full glory and honor by insisting on his power and Love, and speaks of Heaven and Hell in present terms, usually leaving ambiguity for what happens after we die, after the Eschaton (End of the Age), and such.
As you can see, both of these views not only have ambiguity, but they are talking past each other. This is classic because it speaks not only of two groups with two different ways of reading the Bible, but it speaks loudly of differing Philosophical Presuppositions.
The focus of present reality vs. future reality. Potentiality vs. Actuality. Love vs. Wrath (though both groups strongly emphasize that they take both into account). Most importantly, however, we are looking at an attack on the Western, Enlightenment spawned, mindset by a Postmodern/Eastern understanding of how things are.
The truth is, regardless of theological claims, both groups are well represented in the Church, and have been for a long time (many centuries at least). Both groups also had ancient predecessors that lead up to the Postmodern group, the Enlightenment group, the East and the West, and all of the other groups.
Obviously, I am simplifying something very complex for the purpose of discussion. There are not only two sides to this issue, there are as many sides as there are people. However, when a revolution happens, an old philosophy comes under scrutiny by a new one. That is the context of our discussion, and it's been happening for years.
The Enlightenment crowd need not be so shocked that a book like "Love Wins" came out. It's been a long time coming.
Now, in light of this, let's come back to Universalism.
To the Enlightenment thinker, Universalism means that nothing matters in this life, because everyone goes to Heaven. That is the emphasis, and that is dangerous to them.
To the Postmodern thinker, Universalism means that we're talking about an old category. That's why none of them mention it: it's simply not relevant to the discussion. To them, old thought patterns are what is dangerous, so of course Universalism is dangerous.
This is why Rob Bell is not writing Universalism. He is not speaking of the Classical Liberal movement, nor is he speaking of a life where nothing matters. His thoughts have come to shape and be shaped by many Postmodern Christians, because that is the way he speaks and writes.
Heaven and Hell do not mean what you may have heard them to mean in this work, they mean something different. Universalism cannot apply to that, and when it comes to life after death, things become very mysterious very fast. Bell speaks in definite terms regarding his theology, regarding what is happening right now in this world, regarding the clear and present Kingdom, and the present realities of Heaven and Hell.
Salvation is no longer defined intellectually, because it never has been. It's a matter of the whole person, and it's nearly impossible to define, and yet it is so simple. The Enlightenment definition, the Sinner's Prayer, the need to intellectually affirm certain points, those things are fading as a definition of Salvation.
It totally makes sense to me that a lot of people are threatened by the movement that "Love Wins" represents. However, to label it as Liberal or Universalist is to completely miss the point of what it is. If Bell wrote that everyone definitely comes to God, goes to Heaven, and the physical domain of Hell is emptied, then I think Universalist would be a good definition. Instead, he writes with hope, speaking from his understanding of God (an understanding coming from Scripture and the historical and cultural Jesus), and says what he believes about it (which people have been screaming for for a long time). Could it be wrong or unbalanced? Sure. But it is what it is, and no amount of swords desperately stabbing straw men of it will change that.
However, one thing is clear: Universalism, Liberalism, Conservativism, Evangelicalism...these words will all become memories or be redefined by necessity in the coming years, and Philosophically, we will move on, hopefully to a better place.
Opinion Section: I have believed for a long time in a Theology of Love. When I look at Jesus, it is the only thing that makes sense. To me, this book was a breath of fresh air, an affirmation that all of the years of being misunderstood/having to hide so I could get a break from accusations of heresy were worth it. Like Bell, I will say I believe in the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and I'd very much rather call it the "New Humanity," the way all humans can be what we were made to be. The Kingdom is Renewal, and I do my best to be a part of that. I'd like to think that even my Enlightenment brothers and sisters are trying to do that as well, and regardless of backlash, criticism, or anything else, I will continue to think the best of them. Love is not about who agrees with you, nor is it about how you are treated. It's an action, and a way of life, that I choose to call "Heaven," and I'm trying to figure out how to bring that around me as much as possible.
What's your story?
Friday, March 25, 2011
10 Books that have most influenced me and who I am today:
1. Rob Bell - Velvet Elvis - Hands down the largest influence on my theology and on the way I look at life. This book was a light to me in a dark time of frustration, anger, bitterness, and when I felt that the Christian tradition I had grown up with had abandoned me because of who I am. Had I not read this book with the timing I had, I would have renounced my faith and spent years running from something very important to me. A Godsend.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche - The Gay Science - Nietzsche's "God is Dead" paradigm is nothing short of Revolutionary, not to mention offensive to those who don't understand it, and even to some who do. Regardless, everyone knows something is wrong, and that's what this work is about, though it is one of the few of Nietzsche's books to not make a solid argument. I do my Philosophy the way this book is written: playing at an argument rather than making one.
3. Brian D. McLaren - More Ready Than You Realize - Showed me a different side of the dirty word "Evangelism." Made me realize that I didn't have to be obnoxious in order to tell people what I believe, and that evangelism hasn't always been what it is today, and doesn't have to be yelling on street-corners, turn or burn, or being obnoxiously relevant and condescending to those not in a social group.
4. Friedrich Nietzsche - The Antichrist - A searing critique of Christianity that remains relevant today, due to it being years ahead of its' time. Called me out and made me rethink a lot of things, including my commitment (or lack thereof) to Truth at any cost.
5. Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil - "Suppose truth is a woman - what then?" I recommend this to everyone that wants to read Nietzsche, because I find it to be his easiest read and the most relevant to what he's about. A redefinition of morality altogether, and forced me to rethink my own moral compass.
6. Bruce Ellis Benson - Graven Ideologies - All about Nietzsche, Derrida and Marion on the concept of idolatry. Made me realize my own idols (which I still have) and what an idol really is. Whether you're committed to a religious text as Absolute Truth or feel you cannot live without something, give this book a read for a bit of a shake-up.
7. Rob Bell - Love Wins - This may actually belong up at #2, but I'm still turning the concepts in it over in my head. However, it was such an affirmation of my own eschatology and soteriology and so terrifyingly freeing at the same time that I have to say it made me rethink my beliefs anyway. For more on this, go to almost any Pastor's blog, or read my post below this one, and then read the book.
8. Brennan Manning - The Ragamuffin Gospel - A book about the Furious Love of God. Brought me to tears at least once, and I never even finished it. If you know anything about my theology, you know it is Love-central, and this book is one of the reasons why.
9. Rob Bell - SexGod - I have read this book twice and all of it still hasn't sunk in for me. Most of the reasons this book has been an influence on me are too personal to post here, but its' portrayal of God and Humanity is beautiful. God does not run out of balloons. Everyone should read this book.
10. John MacArthur - The Truth War - I read the first 2 pages of this book in a bookstore and nearly started crying. If you want to know the reason I almost left my faith, give this book a cursory glance. Horrifying, and I do everything I can to not be this way. I am sure MacArthur has good intentions, but that cannot excuse the Ad Hominem and highly offensive language that give away that he is personally offended by something and wrote a book about it.
Friday, March 18, 2011
If there is one thing Bell excels at, it is sparking conversation.
I am not writing this to lay out Bell's theology and exegetically defend it or deconstruct it. There are many that could do that better than I. I am here to lay out for you what I think this book represents, and you can decide from there.
Despite the absurd amount of controversy sparked by "Velvet Elvis," Bell's first book, that was minor compared to what this book is now causing. The reason for this is because Bell finally laid his cards on the table. As he recently said when responding to the repeated accusation that he downplays Hell, he wrote an entire chapter on the subject in this book. He also wrote about Heaven, Eschatology (the study of what happens at the end of the age), Salvation and just what it is, and naturally, a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus.
If "Velvet Elvis" was Bell's theological introduction, "Love Wins" may be his theological masterpiece. Indeed, only time will tell. Since the release of his first book in 2005, Bell has written 3 other books, "SexGod," "Jesus Came to Save Christians," and what is likely his least controversial work ever, "Drops Like Stars." He has always written about theology, Jesus in his Jewish context, which is easy to forget about in the Western World where we get hung up on the particulars of language, and he's always had his own particular flavor of writing.
He write in questions, and they're questions that resonate deeply, in all cases. From repainting the Christian faith to Sexuality to Social Justice to Suffering and Art, and finally to what many would say is at the center of the Christian faith and what Jesus did and still does, Salvation.
That hasn't changed. However, what has changed is his tone. In this work, he is more confident than ever, more explicit than ever, and he machine guns the reader with Scripture. He's always referenced the Bible in his works, but in this book he quotes them in the chapters every single time, and he creates systematic coherent structures for his arguments.
One would almost think that Bell has gotten more Western, except that his book is profoundly Eastern in theological tone. However, one thing is clear: the past 5 years of people criticizing Bell's view of Hell and eternity without a clue what he is actually saying about it are over. That is of course assuming that people read the book before they criticize it, which one would think is common sense.
The cards are down on this topic, and Bell unapologetically and passionately argues his points with stories, scripture references, and question after question, which he proceeds to provide answers for. As he states in his book, this is not a book of questions, it is a book of answers to those questions.
Some of the answers, some of the theology, are different than what you typically find in Evangelical Christianity and indeed, in Western Christianity in general. Some of it is very much the same. He argues that his theology is within the wide stream of Christianity, full of differing perspectives and differing traditions and theologies. However, his Philosophy comes into direct conflict with one of those traditions in this book, and he makes a compelling and whole-hearted argument against it.
To be clear: this book represents a coherent laying out of a different kind of Christian. This is a Christian dissatisfied and even horrified with the answers given by contemporary Evangelicals, and under this argument lies a Philosophy. It is a Philosophy of Love, and it comes from the same place as what many of the Reformed and many Evangelicals will argue: the presuppositions the speaker brings to the discussion, and its constructive tools are Scripture and Church history.
So who's right? You'll have to decide that one.
To those of you that are angry or outraged at this work, I encourage you to carefully consider your words before using terms like "universalist," "liberal," and ESPECIALLY "heretic." By Bell's own proclamation, he is not a universalist (and he isn't in the traditional sense), and to call him a liberal is to jam him into a category that doesn't fit in a postmodern world. Don't oversimplify matters, and don't allow this situation to schism Christianity any further, please. If you disagree, state why and engage the man, engage his followers, engage whoever reads the book, and engage his theology. Do you really think any of this would've come about if Christianity wasn't broken and incomplete in some way in its' current state anyway?
To those of you that think this book is the best thing ever written: I entreat you to treat it critically. Do not return the name-calling, do not take this book as the truth and the last word on the matters written about, and remember what Bell entreats us to do in his first book: do not take it face value. Test it, turn it over and over in your mind, figure out if you agree on every point, every question and every answer. Bell's writings are not perfect, and he's not right about everything.
To everyone else that doesn't understand why this is such a big deal and think it's absurd that Christians are fighting again when they claim to "have the truth," I hear you. I assure you, I'm sick of it too. Let's have a beer and talk about it sometime.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
What kind of a life does one lead when they have so much money that expenses go beyond their perception? How satisfying is it to get to the "top" and have all of the power you have ever wanted? What happens when you finally get the respect you feel you deserve, you finally have everything go right for you, and you finally obtain that thing you've always wanted?
It's very easy to go through life dissatisfied. In fact, I am a master at this. My critical nature gives me the perspective to see weaknesses in almost anything, and it's very often my greatest weakness, as it leads to unnecessarily hurting others and mostly hurting myself.
We are our own worst critic, are we not?
However, it's also easy to live in a way that is solely focused on comfort. Pleasure seeking, living the good life, food for the stomach, because why deny ourselves something we want when it's easily attainable? Substance, sex, any food we want, endless entertainment options, constantly living in a world where we are comfortable.
And yet for some reason, this gets boring. We begin to feel run down, tired all the time, bored, and we need something else. Some kind of variety, some kind of change of routine. We need new entertainment, different substances, more crazy forms of sex, we eat more, find more TV shows, buy more DVDs from the store, get new pets, move for no reason, adventure restlessly, and keep looking for that elusive satisfaction that our existence is centered on.
It's part of who we are, we always want something new. This isn't a bad thing, it's human nature to be creative, and it's also our nature to find the thing that defines our existence, defines who we are.
The problem is, when we live in such a way that we look out for ourselves all the time, we miss out on a lot, and we miss what we're looking for.
I just finished watching the movie "The Social Network," which was thought-provoking for a variety of reasons. Firstly, and I'll come back to this point, my absolute favorite character was the protagonist, which is an oddity for me. Usually I hate the protagonist or at least have a profound lack of caring for them.
Secondly, the movie lacked any sort of moral lesson. It was about events that happened, and then it ended. There was no preachy character, no didactic message implicit in the film, it just was, and when it ended my response was "huh. that just happened." It felt very subdued, very real, as opposed to the drama movies tend to be (and rightly so in most cases).
All real, of course, except for the protagonist. He was the detached anti-hero, the one that came out on top, and he was so smart he silenced every person in the film, riddled with flaws as he was. I liked him precisely for this reason, he was a tragic character.
Brilliant, the youngest billionaire in the world, and his character in the movie was still so empty. It ended with him attempting, once again, to simply establish a connection with a person. He was so alone.
He had gotten everything he ever wanted, surrounded himself with people, was rich beyond his wildest dreams, was at the center of a brilliant creation, had defeated all of his enemies, and still, he had failed at his goal.
He was still alone.
When all of our efforts toward a thing gives us the opposite result, we begin to ask ourselves, "what kind of a screwed up world is this, and what am I doing wrong?"
"Does God hates me?"
"Is everyone really out to defeat me?"
"Is there a point to any of this?"
A point indeed.
A teacher that lived twenty centuries ago had some crazy ideas about life and what would fix this problem people have been having for many centuries before he showed up.
He seemed to think it would be a good idea to give everything we have away, to live as though everyone is more important than we are, to give without thought of reward, and to devote ourselves to loving other people so completely that we'd die for them.
Die for them, and live for them.
It makes a weird kind of sense, right? If all of our efforts to create a meaningful life for ourselves fails, why not just start creating lives for other people? Why not put all of our restless energy, all of our frustration and anger into giving things away, doing crazy, counter-intuitive things that make no sense but we know do in some backwards, weird, upside down way?
Why not get creative? Why not stop caring that you can't seem to get people to listen to you and start listening to them? Or start taking the initiative with people that just don't like you instead of avoiding them out of self-preservation? Why not seek out destructive elements to one's own ego if you're going to run into them anyway and choose to learn when it happens instead of becoming frustrated?
Why not make others more important than yourself?
Why not choose to die for something instead of live for nothing?
This teacher, named Jesus, seemed to think you'd find the meaning of life by giving a homeless person a cup of water. He chose to die instead of be silenced, and he died at the hands of a broken system motivated by religious appeasement and systems of power.
And he did not yield to it, he simply proclaimed that death would be defeated, and then showed up miraculously a few days after he'd been killed to prove it.
They were powerless before his counter-intuitive actions.
This story has a point. Miraculous things happen when we choose to die. Dying isn't just about ceasing to live this life, it's about allowing your ego to be killed, choosing to give your life away, to lose yourself in others, to listen to others instead of choosing to not care, to give your time, your energy, and your life all away. To hit rock bottom, to lose all of your caring for yourself and what benefits you, to die.
And maybe when we choose to live in death, we'll find what we're looking for.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
What's funny about this is how common it is to the human experience.
Some people are assuming things about Rob Bell's new book a month before it's even out, and they're hysterically proclaiming the same things they have been since his "Velvet Elvis" came out years ago. Some say he's a heretic, some say he's a universalist, some say he's a revolutionary. Regardless, people are reflecting who they are out into the world and awaiting a response.
They are proving they exist.
This blog is a method of proving that I exist, because I live in a world where comfort is valued over authenticity, loudness is valued over clarity, and speed is valued over truth. This may not be the case for the entirety of the world, but for my environment, it certainly is. So I feel out of step, and so I come here and I write. To express myself, to be authentic and say what I think is true as clearly as possible.
For a long time I wrote angrily and allowed my passions to guide my words. The problem with that was that I would come back to my posts 3 months later and want to wipe them off the internet, because I thought they were worthless. Furthermore, I didn't benefit anyone by doing that, I only created more of the wrong kind of dissonance, more of the chaos and the misunderstanding and the promotion of ignorance through emotion.
Some people are very liberal, some people are very conservative. Regardless, they all believe they are right, and they all are out to benefit the people they find to be worthy, and they are all trying to prove they exist. Their expression is their way of shining, of being alive, of being with people, of throwing themselves out there, saying "I'm here. I want to connect. Someone read. Someone respond. Someone pay attention, I have important things to say."
To express oneself well, to write or speak or create art so people will see and want to see more, one must rise above their own perspective. I am convinced, through my interactions with people, that some never will. This is not because they can not, but because they will not. Maybe they are too afraid, too broken, too angry, or maybe they just don't care. There is certainly no shortage of apathetic people anymore.
Being united by a common enemy is easy. It comes as naturally as breathing, because humans are meant to stand against something. We don't really know what, so we might try and figure out intellectually what is true and apply logic as our weapon, or we might simply react out of passion or whimsy to what we like and dislike. Maybe some are simply out for themselves, and it works for what they want to do. Maybe some hate themselves, and they've made that work, somehow. But regardless, we stand on something, even if it's in reaction.
The problem with declaring a person your enemy is that to truly oppose a person, you must make them a demon. They must no longer be human, but a force, a moustache twirling evilly intentioned monster out to do the world harm. To appear more reasonable, you can pay lip service and give the benefit of the doubt to them (and indeed, most charismatic leaders of militant forces do just that), but ultimately you oppose them because they are doing something evil.
So maybe some people are monsters. The problem is, to be human is to have some good and some evil in you at all times. To begin ignoring a person's intentions is to stop treating them like they're human, and it is ultimately a loss of perspective. No one is completely a monster, and no one is completely an angel.
I've kept writing here because I began the journey toward not allowing my personal feelings to dictate how and whether I write. I sat out on the driveway of my friends' house one day after realizing that my two biggest desires, marriage and writing, could not coexist, and I simply shut down. I swear to you, I was so overloaded with emotion and so unable to process what had happened that I simply left for a while.
Rebooted. Restarted myself. Dropped everything I could out of who I was and came back.
The spark was still there when I came back. I write because if I don't, I will lose myself. I try to gain perspective, listen to what people have to say, and write about universal human experiences because that is what matters. I admit to my faults at every turn because they are true, and no matter how frustrating they are, I cannot be who I am not.
The angry writers, the people with presuppositions that have no fact behind them, the people that use logic and faith and philosophy and a lot of other good things as weapons, those that can't stop fighting because they'll die without something to oppose, and everything else that gets in the way of perspective, of the truth that Is, regardless of anything else, are all a fact of life.
No one's got this game right, which is why criticism is at once so important and so completely irrelevant. One must walk the line between ego attack and ad hominem to be truly beneficial in the art of criticism, and unfortunately, everyone falls too far on one side or the other most of the time.
I am inspired by the right kind of dissonance, the kind that stands as a harmony with everyone that is yelling that they exist. The people that live this way do so out of choice, and their emotions and logic never quite align with the truth of the way they choose to live, because it's so contrary to our impulse to protect ourselves and to fight to survive. They are not threatened by criticism, by anger, by threats, or by death. They are who they are quietly, confidently, and their strength is usually not recognized because it's not obvious in any way. They find the truth in every person, in every philosophy, in every religion, in every position, because everyone's trying to make some sense out of life, and everyone has a piece of God in them.
This is such a weird way to live because it's upside down from the power seeking norm, and it can never fully align with any philosophy, any emotion, any lifestyle, because it's being in harmony with oneself, and what makes one human.
I am still a Christian because Christ is the only example I can find of a person that could have possibly done this perfectly, and I believe he did and still does, for completely unprovable reasons. The fusion of God with humanity saw completion in him, and in light of that, I simply cannot be the angry person I was anymore, nor can I sit around upset because of philosophies or theologians that spout rage and ignorance. I can no longer be completely offended by opposition and personal attack because I understand it, because it is unimportant in light of what is true about it, what I can learn, and mostly because I have lost the ability to care about it through many circumstances, which I am thankful for.
I am a poor example of the dissonant and objective person, as this post probably indicates, but it is what I aspire to be.
Friday, February 4, 2011
I had a conversation recently with two good friends about our time in Christian Institutions. Though many of those details must remain a mystery to most of my readers, suffice it to say we've all been hurt, we've all been attacked at the core of our being, repeatedly. The most damning part of it is that this attack was mercilessly carried out by people that genuinely think they are doing right, that they are acting for the benefit of those they have influence over.
There is a belief that is prevalent among Christians that we are somehow different from everyone else, better in some way, though we would probably never say better. The world is this clouded and dark place, and no one unsaved has any wisdom whatsoever, because they don't know God. Some would be more generous and say that their wisdom is accidental and they don't actually understand the core of their knowledge (God), or that they are allowed the knowledge by God, but only to a certain point, only gaining full knowledge when they "get saved."
The problem is, when you are used to having an enemy, you will always have one in some form or another. When you live to fight, you don't stop fighting just because no one else is around, and you probably have a legitimate reason for your need to fight, something that has never seen healing in who you are. I know I do. Sometimes, unfortunately, healing must come from being broken so entirely that you will finally give up your stubborn pride, your sense of superiority, and most of all, your fear that if you don't fight, you will lose.
When you defeat the atheists, you move onto agnostics. When you defeat them, you move onto other religions. When you defeat other religions, you must battle those that claim to be Christians and don't share your beliefs. It's all for Christ that you tear these people apart, you are a warrior for Truth, and you will point it out wherever you go, no matter what the cost, no matter how much you must humiliate and dishonor these people and yourself, they must know they are wrong so they can change.
Constant provocation, constant criticism, constant battling changes a person, no matter how they choose to participate. Even if it was never your intention to get involved in the war, you somehow end up in the middle, and no one involved gets out undamaged.
The result of this is a system wherein the superiors damage the ones they teach intentionally, to create this artificial character, this contrived spirituality and correct theology. Psychologically, you must agree not because it's true, but because of the consequences if you don't. The ultimate trump card here is the brand of heretic, the rejection from the institution, the social and intellectual ostracization of a person.
In other words, I am damaged and have come to the place where my life has been given meaning as a result. I will pass this on to you. We will be damaged, angry, and spiritual together, taking on the role of those that killed Christ, the persecutor, to each other. We will find truth through fear, violence, and fighting.
I am a problem solver. For the longest time, I've tried to fix this thing I love. The truth is, no matter how bitter or angry I've been, I love being a Christian. I'll identify myself as one readily so long as I know people understand what I mean, which is very difficult with the chaos Christianity has descended into screaming behind all of my words.
It's time to stop criticizing, stop being angry, stop allowing the destruction wrought upon us by others to determine how we act, and just be who we know we should be. When I think of Christ, he didn't spend his time trying to control people, trying to correct others' perceptions of him, trying to correct every single person about every single detail, and most of all, I don't see him spending his time damaged and angry because he was so misunderstood. When he was killed unfairly, treated horribly for no good reason, and subjected to the most intense kind of misunderstanding possible, he didn't resurrect and decide to destroy humanity.
And sometimes, when I get misunderstood, when I get cut off in traffic, when someone doesn't allow me to speak or assumes things and disregards me, I feel like he should have. Because I am fickle, I am angry, I am unreliable. It's pretty cool that Christ is not.
My contention is not over the existence of Christ, the validity of Scripture, the 5 points of Orthodoxy, or over any point of theology as we know it. We've screamed about that enough, and you have made up your mind about it. In conversation I will respect every view you have, and I ask the same from you.
My contention is that Christ is the most contrary, subversive, beautifully illogical, upside down, incredible figure I have ever seen. He literally still shines as an example of being the absolute opposite of every religion claiming to follow his name, because the way he lived and continues to exist is destructive to institutionalized religion, dogmatic theology, and to war itself.
Where I have been offered more anger, bitterness, movements, rules, conventions, theological imperatives, threats, and ugliness by the institution I've had to deal with for years, Christ offers honor, respect, love, and a lifestyle that transcends the holy war everyone seems to want to fight.
Instead of fighting fire with fire, we can become tranquility in the middle of war, light in the darkness, literally the opposite of the life that people keep telling us is the way to live.
Theology must be rebuilt again and again, and every time it is systematized, it must be destroyed because the center of the system is destructive to its' very existence. Because Christ didn't decide to unite with humanity to create Christianity, he walked with us to show us humanity as it is truly meant to be. He allowed for his own death not just for a metaphysical regenerative salvation, but because death is no longer the rule. Resurrection is. He disregarded religion because it was never meant to work from the beginning, it was a method that self-destructed under its' own inadequacy like everything else trying to show us what the divine is.
To those broken by religion, hurt by Christianity, embittered and angry and feeling like there is no other place to turn, you are offered the hope of Resurrection. The hope that when everything falls apart, there is always something new, something better, because you are a little closer to the truth, a little more knowledgeable, and you know things that no one else does.
You are someone that no one else can duplicate. You are truly human, in all of your broken glory.
Resurrection is not just a matter of becoming undying, it is becoming truly human, transcending the rules of life as we know them, with death being the ultimate rule.