Friday, November 29, 2013

Arguing God: Worth It?

What follows is one of my Grad school papers, so apologies up front if it comes across as highly academic; it is. :-)

            In theology, it is not uncommon to ask oneself why it is valuable to posit arguments for the existence of God. “Surely God can prove himself if he so chooses”, one might say. Still there is a long legacy of these arguments and it is their perpetuation which merits some attention by modern philosophizing believers.
How Do You Know God?
            In order to discover the value in arguments for God’s existence, it is first helpful to make some observations about how one comes to know of God. First, a distinction must be made in general: all ways that people claim to be able to know that there is a God eventually distil into one of two ways of knowing. Either knowledge of God is learned or else it is directly experienced.
            In regards to learning, we can see that there are many world religions and traditions within them that claim to yield belief in God. In Christianity, specific, there are formal arguments that have been handed down by theologians and philosophers throughout history. One such argument is the teleological argument which claims that there must be a God because all creation seems to be moving toward a designated end. Another is the cosmological argument which points to the idea that there must be a source for nature and that all matter and energy originated somewhere. Arguments such as these have been handed down throughout the years without abandon and seem to be very convincing for some[1].
            The second and arguably more controversial way we know of God is through experience. The trouble with pointing to experience as a way of knowing God is that it is logically irrefutable (that is, no one can say you did not experience what you claim to have indeed experienced) and it is highly subjective (specifically, the individual’s interpretation of perceived experiences play a huge, uncontrollable factor). Thankfully, there are recorded experiences that can be looked to for comparative purposes in order to discern what is normal and what is novel. Still, experience has been one of the main ways that people tend to claim to know God.
 One famous example of this is transmitted through literature to us from famed philosopher, Rene Descartes. In his mediations Descartes essentially proposes that we can know that God exists because we exist; thus, our mere pondering is proof enough[2]. Another well known example comes from the darling of Evangelicals, C.S. Lewis who pointed to our intrinsic awareness of morality as proof of a higher power; namely, God[3]. Both of these examples take the human observation of reality to be quite authoritative and, while one could argue their validity, it is undeniable that the tradition of looking inside oneself for an answer to the question of God’s existence is well established in human thought.
The Worth of an Argument
            In order to proceed and answer the question of whether or not it is a worthy venture to develop arguments that attempt to convince people of God’s existence, we must realize that apologetic reasoning of this kind falls in the category of “learned” means for knowing God. This is so because sophisticated reasons are unlikely to simply fall into a person’s experiential world without being planted there by some means of education. So, when we look at apologetics and question the validity, we need to look at the value of tradition.
            The passing down of knowledge and culture is essential in the human experience. As foundational as traditions can be, we must also understand that ideas that are rooted in identity are the kinds of ideas that people are willing to die for[4]. Christianity especially is guilty of this charge as it was founded on a martyr and has a lifestyle of martyrdom built into it. So when we ask about logical arguments, we cannot sell short their powerful application.
            Furthermore, it seems to be that if some people will resist belief in God on the grounds that there are logical problems, then it follows that some will embrace theism if said problems do not exist. Therefore, it is reasonable to attempt to dissolve cognitive dissonance for people as a means of transmitting belief in God. This logical truth provides some cause to continue to develop apologetics. Still, it must also be said that arguments for God’s existence do best when they take on an inductive form and when they have an additive effect; that is, it has not been necessarily proven that God exists and it is rare that someone is convinced by only one argument. Finally, a person must be willing to accept the premises necessary for logical arguments to gain ground and if they refuse on principal, then it is pointless to continue any form of argumentation[5].
            One final thing can be said about the value in arguing for God’s existence with non-believers and it is this: It is true that many people are driven away from a theistic stance because of professing believers and not because of Church doctrine. I personally have had long conversations with people in which I try to debunk misconceptions of theism. One such person is a childhood friend of mine whom I will call Todd.
            Todd was raised in a physically and emotionally abusive home by legalistic parents, one of which hailed from an atheistic background and the other from a fundamentalist background. What’s more is Todd’s long experience with his neighbors who are professing Mennonites – supposedly one of the most pious denominations of Christianity. Sadly, Todd not only had witnessed these Mennonites stealing from him but also wild parties and rumored orgies. All of these experiences totaled up a much distorted picture of the Christian God in Todd’s mind. When I decided that it was time for me to leverage my lifelong friendship with Todd against his disbelief it began in the form of me inquiring about his logical reasons for doubting Christianity.
            Not surprisingly, Todd’s biggest hindrances to belief were rooted in the duplicity and perceived inconsistency of the “Christians” in his life. Along with not wanting to associate with hypocrites, Todd struggled with theodicy; after all, if God was good, why was he allowed to be marginalized his whole life? My point in disclosing Todd’s case to the reader is not to merely point to the reality that people have logical issues with theism, but to also relate that I utilized my formal education in arguing on God’s behalf in concert with my own experiences in order to help Todd begin to traverse his swamp of cynicism and jadedness towards theism and Christianity.
            Had it not been for the apologetic arguments for free will and ecclesial doctrines that were settled by much philosophizing, I would have had little to point to during my conversations with Todd. The value of intellectual pursuits in regards to discovering God is immeasurable because of the pay out; namely, the soul of a lost brother or sister. To this end, we must use all means necessary and there are few means as powerful as that of human reasoning.
Concluding Thoughts
            It is part of a Christian’s duty to attempt to spread the Kingdom of God via the good news of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. To do this, we must understand that we will face opposition and it will rarely come in the form of people attempting to discredit our experiences. As previously stated, that is an impassible mountain to traverse because the slopes of it consist of subjective interpretation. Therefore we must be prepared for any and all logical conundrums that might exist for the sake of the gospel of Christ and the mission of the Ecclesia.
            Like the parable of the prodigal son, we must be aware that people who have ran from God, believing that it is reasonable to do so, need guidance to come to the realization of the mess and depravity to which they have run and the logical validity of returning to the Father. Utilizing the traditional arguments of the Church must never take a backseat to the experiences of Christians; instead, we should strive to open the eyes of the unbelieving heart to the reasonableness of God.

Baird, F. E. (2011). Rene Descartes: 1596-1650. In From Plato to Derrida (pp. 400-404). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Evans, C. S., & Manis, R. Z. (2009). Classical Arguments for God's Existence. InPhilosophy of religion: Thinking about faith (pp. 96-97). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Lewis, C. S. (2001). What Lies Behind the Law. In Mere Christianity (pp. 23-25). San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
McGrath, A. E. (2010). Science, Religion and Proofs for God's Existence. In Science and religion: An introduction (pp. 61-65). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Moreland, J. P., & Willard, D. (1997). Apologetic Reasoning and the Christian Mind. InLove your God with all your mind: The role of reason in the life of the soul (p. 154). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[1] (McGrath, 2010, pp. 61-65)
[2] (Baird, 2011, pp. 400-404)
[3] (Lewis, 2001, pp. 23-25)
[4] (Moreland & Willard, 1997, p. 154)
[5]  (Evans & Manis, 2009, pp. 96-97)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Gift to the Emergent People: A Book Review

Hello readers!

So, upfront warning, this is a book review. Not many people care to read those, so I figured I’d throw that out there in the beginning. I will say, though, that you want to read this book.

Those who know me know that I benefit from an incredible relationship with my older brother. Aside from being indirectly responsible for my passion for theology and study, he is an academic, a Bible scholar and a Kingdom of God servant. One of the many ways that we engender Koinonia between us is by suggesting and pointing at great books that help us to develop an intellectual life as a form of worship. This is how I came across Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God by Kyle Roberts. So, after reading it in its entirety in about three days, my brother asked me to write this review.

Here we go.

First, let me give some general thoughts about the book and point out some important features. This book was the product of a personal fascination with Kierkegaard on the part of Roberts and a deep need in the Emergent culture of Christianity for some structure. Roberts does a fine job of demonstrating throughout the book how Kierkegaard was, in many ways, a prophetic voice for the generation that is before us today. In his day, Kierkegaard was sorely out of place and anything but a follower of trends. As the intellectual world headed into modernism, Kierkegaard was laying the foundations for a healthy theology of sin and ecclesiology (among other things) through his titled and pseudonymous works. Roberts’ thesis is that Kierkegaard’s thought essentially anticipated what would come after what was developing before his eyes – prophetic indeed.

One of the most contributing factors of Robert’s work is how he thoughtfully crafts a parallel between Emergent cultural concerns and Kierkegaardian theological thought. One thing that can be rightly charged to Emergent Christians is an all-too-common aversion to critical thought and scrutiny in proclaiming and defending their beliefs. Specifically, we (yes, me too) can fall prey to the ease of not wrestling with the broader implications of the doctrine of the fall and human sin. Kierkegaard’s major gift is in the language and structure he gives to the innate convictions of post-modern thinkers and Roberts demonstrates this well in his writing.

I think that personally, this book was impactful in giving me the sense of a tradition. One of the most difficult things for those who identify themselves as part of the Emergent culture is the potential for a lost sense of tradition; especially when re-thinking ecclesiology in all of its complexity. Growing up in the modern-minded church with all of the cultural assumptions that goes along with that imparts a sense of identity. When one challenges the social norms (especially in the context of the church) and then bravely steps away from some of those traditions, it’s easy to feel like you might be alone or that there is no connection to history. This book allows those of us who are starting to look at the pragmatic application of our faith to be able to point back in history to a well respected philosopher and say with confidence that there are good grounds for believing what we believe and there is a tradition we can connect to.

Having said all of this, it is only fair to point out that not everything was totally agreeable to me (this is healthy, though). I feel that after reflection I had a cognitive issue with the strong language of Kierkegaard in his assertion that there are no objective truths and only subjective ones. This seems like an extreme claim based on what we experience in the world. An example: I can say with sufficient certainty that while it may be true that I, as a subject, experience my coffee, there is still actually and objectively coffee in this cup on this table. This is an objective truth with no reasonable reason to doubt it. So, I would personally take a more moderate approach and say that there are objective truths, but that they are only relevant to the extent that we experience them subjectively. This restrained claim seems to be more humble in that it leaves room for error and functionality. This point of contention aside, it is still true that Kierkegaard points out what many Emergent thinkers believe: an objective assent to a list of doctrine is insufficient to the Christian life; only subjective submission to the person, Jesus, is sufficient to impart life.

In conclusion, this book has far more gifts and spiritually forming ideas to give the Emergent generation than I could possibly espouse here. I can say from experience, however, that if you want an approachable book that will help you critically think about your faith, this is it. Also, if you want to better understand the Emergent culture, this is a great place to start (though it couldn’t be said accurately that this book contains all of the movement; that would be presumptuous). At the risk of sounding like a salesman, this book is worth the read. There is a reason I read it as quickly as I did and that reason was not to get it over with. ;-)


P.S. the ISBN number is 978-1-61097-222-2. I bought it from Amazon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stepping around Jesus to get at God

Okay, so I don't always do indicting think pieces, but this one has been rattling around in my head since Sunday.

I grew up in the Christian, main-stream, Evangelical, pop-Christianity, insert your label __(here)___ church. So I feel like it goes without saying that most of the things that I could be critical of about Christianity, I have probably held as my view point at one time or another. Now my ego would love to chalk it up to the fact that I was young and impressionable when I practiced my faith in a way that was less-than thoughtful, but the reality is that we should all take responsibility for the inconsistency between our beliefs and our practice.

The thing that has really bugged me in the last week is this sense that, a lot of times, Christians who are thinkers get wrapped up in thinking about God and how exactly God is and forget that we were given a clear picture of him in Jesus (John 14:7-11).

Now, some might like to debate the extent to which Jesus intended when he said "If you've seen me, then you've seen the Father" but I'd like to suggest that he meant it in a similar way that I would speak of myself in relation to my earthly father. That is, I am my father's son and while we are ontologically and really different persons, we are both of the same bloodline and hold the same values and believe the same thing (now this is a limited analogy since my father and I have some variance on beliefs; for Jesus, however, he and the Father have the same point of view; that is, they are both all-knowing. So we can trust that they in their wisdom have drawn the same conclusions about reality and act/believe the same things).

So if Jesus says more or less "I am the clearest picture that any of you ever have or ever will get of God", then I feel like we can trust him on this if we're believers in Christ. Now, being a philosopher/theologian myself, I know how easy it is to get caught up in my theories and debates about things regarding the nature of God (i.e. how exhaustive is God's foreknowledge? To what extent does he grant us free-will? How does salvation work? Does prayer work? etc.) without acknowledging the fact that Jesus is God. I feel like I should re-emphasize that last bit:

Jesus Is God

Now the point may seem moot among Christians, but so often we don't act like it. More specifically, we don't act like God is Jesus. We get this picture of an old man scowling in the sky when we think of God or the Father (some of this may be due to our experiences with our earthly fathers) and then we think of this buddy-Jesus, cuddly-Jesus or Jesus-my-homeboy. The reality is that Jesus was something of a rascal and, if not God, was no kind of good man. But we Christians proclaim him God incarnate. Let's give that some weight.

I'm all for people theorizing about how God functions in his relationship with humans, but I get nervous when people emphasize points that Jesus didn't. We lose our Christocentric faith in exchange for a well-thought out conclusion. 

I was recently at a small group meeting in which, in discussion, I said something to the effect of "well, lets remember that the way that Jesus did evangelism was through relationships, so we shouldn't be afraid to come close to atheists". Immediately, the response from the whole group was something to the effect of  "yes, but Jesus called people out about their sin!" (everyone phrased it in their own way, of course).

Now, my point isn't that I don't think Jesus "called people out", but that Jesus led with love. The fact that he has the authority of God aside, Jesus never asked people why they were demon possessed. He never ridiculed the Roman centurion for letting his child get sick. He just loved them. So why should we act like we have any kind of authority to hold people's beliefs or actions against them? Without going on a Scripture-slinging-frenzy, I feel like the Bible is pretty clear throughout that judgement is not our responsibility. Even more clearly, it states that love IS our responsibility. Can we ignore this?

I submit that the reason that we tend to ignore this is because we latch on to this idea of God that requires a perfect-behaving kind of righteousness instead of the kind of righteousness that comes from Jesus and is not sourced in our actions. The Kingdoms of this world are concerned with our behavior; the Kingdom of God is concerned with our hearts. Let's not try and understand God or behave in such a way that is essentially by-passing Jesus in order to get to some philosophical picture of God because it makes sense. Most of what Jesus did doesn't make sense; his Kingdom is upside down from our fallen understanding. It's hard, but it's the way of the cross; the way of Jesus.

Don't step around Jesus  

The Dread

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Unicorns, Rainbows, Germans and Inconsistent Living

I have decided to commit to my blog. In the past, I have been hit and miss with posts, sometimes going months without ever writing. Recently, I have been considering writing more seriously and so I feel this is a good way to practice that.

Today’s topic comes from a couple of college buddies who answered my posted request for topic material….I’ll try and do their suggestions justice. Here we go:

Inconsistent living
It has been brought up that many people go throughout their lives with a habit of philosophical compartmentalization. For simplicity sake, I’m going to call this “inconsistent living”; this is where people foster inconsistency between their proclaimed beliefs and their actual behavior. This idea can also be extended to include people who live inconsistently between their beliefs and their actions around different people. I would think that this latter kind of inconsistent living is more extreme as the person is split in multiple ways, both internally and externally.

I think that the issue is most prevalent among younger people because they are still trying to figure out “who they are”. By this, people generally mean that they are undecided what kind of values they want to devote their lives to. Most of our values are inherited from our parents or whoever raised us; as adolescents, people go through a period of bio-chemical and psychological fluxes in which we unavoidably evaluate those values and decide which we want to claim as our own and which we would prefer to discard. This is an important process because it moves societies forward. As more technology is developed and the world becomes a different place, socially speaking, dropping certain values can be important ( a good example would be the first few decades after slavery had been abolished). While there are intrinsic values that should not be discarded by any generation, that discussion is a bit beyond the scope of the present one.

While it is acceptable and even necessary to figure out “who you are” during your adolescence, it is important to do so with some consistency and to strive to be critical enough so as to not allow this period to influence your personal and professional life too much (though some effect is unavoidable). Unfortunately, adolescence can now be defined as late as a person’s 30’s due to the society we live in. Whereas it was common to be considered an adult by society and oneself at the age of 18, our college systems and other social factors have allowed people to remain in flux. Without spending too much time here, I’d just like to point out how several students go off to college being given all the freedoms of adulthood with few if any adult responsibilities.

So the fall-out is often a compartmentalization of personal philosophies; specifically, people act differently in front of certain people or people claim to believe one thing and then act contrary. A little of this is ok, but too much is, well, too much.

Unicorn living
In order to demonstrate, I will use the up-coming holiday, Halloween. My wife and I have been going round and round about what we will dress up as (and we’ve not gotten far). One thing she thought about doing was dressing as a unicorn. Now, I don’t think this is weird for the season, but it made me think about how people do not act this way in their daily lives. She is not weird for considering being a unicorn, but I wonder if she would dress up like a unicorn on just any day of the year. Please keep in mind that this is a limited analogy. So when we live inconsistently with our beliefs, we can parallel it with wanting to be a unicorn all year long, but only living it out one day a year or in private. Or (to flip the analogy), it could be like wanting and claiming to be a person who dresses normally all year long when you really just want to be a unicorn. The inconsistency between your internal life and your outward actions essentially leave you as a fragmented person; even when you do get one day a year of relief (which would be analogous to your private behavior).

German political sufferers
Another example can be seen in the Anabaptist tradition. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the Christian belief system of which traditions like Mennonite, Amish and Brethren in Christ are descendents of. During the Protestant reformation, this group was considered radical because they took the reform of the church farther than the Protestants. Specifically, they bravely took ALL church practice under scrutiny instead of just some secondary doctrine and procedural practices. Because of their “underdog” place in history and their basic doctrine of pacifism which they derived from Jesus’ explicit teaching, they were persecuted from all angles of the reformation. In Germany, where the movement took most solidified shape under Menno Simons, the tense political atmosphere allowed for Roman Catholics, Protestants and secular authorities to capture, torture and kill Anabaptists at will – needless to say, this was a dark period in the history of the church.

What I want to point out about the Anabaptists and the strained, inter-believer relations is that throughout it all – even when being tortured and killed – the Anabaptists generally lived consistently with their radical proclaimed beliefs such as their refusal to join the military or simply fall in line with commonly accepted church practice. This, to me, is a great example of maturity: to find faith in a belief – or rather a person – that you would give your life for the sake of letting that belief/person pervade every compartment of your life.

Rainbow consistency
So, to round this idea off, let’s look at how God goes about his interactions with us. I want to look to the rainbow. In the story of Noah’s Ark, God seals his promise to never destroy the world again with a rainbow. Now, without getting into exegetical arguments about whether or not we ought to take this story as literal or allegorical, I think we can learn one important truth from the story: God does it big. Now, I think that God also does signs and wonders in small ways, but one thing is certain that when he makes a promise or decides that things should be a certain way, there is no fudging. God doesn’t say “I’ll never destroy the world again…unless I’m having a bad day, in which case look out!” This was how the Greek gods behaved and they were more often projections of how humans act. The God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, doesn’t do this because he’s not human. He perfectly lives consistently with what he claims as truth – how could he do otherwise?

Concluding thoughts
From this assertion, we who are made in his image and striving to become more like him ought to lay aside the immature practice of philosophical compartmentalization and start living consistently. This is simply the honest way to go about life; no “hidden me”, no quiet fudging about what we believe, but the bold proclamation that we believe life is to be lived a certain way and a commitment to intentionally act accordingly. This isn’t easy, but it is necessary to a mature spiritual life.


The Dread.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Benefit of Dissonance

So earlier I tweeted this: “As one with Anabaptist colored beliefs, I benefit from never lacking in ppl who disagree with me... Blog post coming on?

Soooo I figured I’d follow up on it J

Here was my fully fleshed out thought and I shall call it “The benefit of dissonance”

Face the music
One of my favorite things in life is music. It has been a staple of my reality since I can remember. I grew up with my father playing in Tejano bands and as a young boy I’d go to his gigs. As soon as I could, I began playing percussion in school. This led me from concert band to jazz and rock in middle school and on to marching drum corps style percussion in high school. After roughly 9 years of playing drums, I decided to broaden my horizons and pick up guitar; this was mostly out of boredom. There is much more I could say about my musical past, but what I specifically want to say is that I was steeped in music as a child and have remained immersed ever since.

Through my more formal encounters with music, I have learned a lot about the mechanics of what usually sounds so organic. It is paradoxically beautiful. One of the most beautiful things that I have learned is that sometimes the most interesting, moving and absolutely incredible moments in music happen when there is dissonance. Yes. Dissonance.

What is dissonance, you say? Dissonance is that moment in music in which the tones seem to fight each other; almost as if they both want to occupy the same space and thus clash leaving both notes with less than all of the space. It is discord. It is harshness of sound. Chaos and longing. Unsettled.
Dissonance can be the most awkward and off-putting part of music when done accidentally. 

Fortunately, many brilliant minds throughout the history of man have harnessed the inspired power of dissonance and have learned how to position it in such a way that it communicates truth about our lives. This is doable because the truth about our lives is that it is unsettling. It is unruly. It is: dissonant.

What makes our lives dissonant?
Conflict. By and large, over and against all things, conflict is the one thing that creates tension in our lives. What is incredible about conflict is that, like music, it can lead to some of the most incredible revelations we have yet to experience.

Conflict pushes us; it drives us. It is the thing that necessitates evolving our world views and our societies. Conflict is of God because it is creative.

Tragically, conflict – thanks to man – is fallen. It is bent; twisted; perverse.

And so the conflict that we see ravage our world is one that reflects the brokenness of the Kingdom of Darkness as opposed to its intended reflection of God’s creative glory.

But, like our human condition and like the cleverest of lies, there is a nugget of truth; a fragment of God’s intended reality remains.

There is this funny thing that comes of conflict: resolution. It is the same with dissonant music, it resolves. It settles and somehow, on the other side, we’re changed. We’ve grown; we’ve evolved.

I submit that the beauty, the creativity and the nuanced divine purpose of conflict is the fact that we are stretched, pressed and molded into a different person in some way. That is why I welcome arguments. Now, I should be clear: I don’t mean fruitless squabbles over petty opinions – this is foolish. I mean well-informed, well-argued and well-reasoned positions being held up next to each other by mutually respectful people in order to examine wherein truth might lay.

This was the idea behind my tweet. As a person who has what I like to term as “Anabaptist-colored beliefs”, it never fails that I find myself surrounded by Evangelical Christians who see my world-view as ludicrous or out of touch with the realities of America (which I find ironic).
However, I call this a benefit; even a blessing. Because through these discussions, I find myself either more convinced of the beliefs I hold or (at the very least) I find a different perspective for examining issues that I have already hashed over in my mind.

What a trip
The reality is that we’re all on a journey – even if you don’t realize it. We’re all that devilish red loading bar that sits on your screen or the spinning blue wheel of frustration that mocks you while waiting for a YouTube video to load. We’re in process.

Once we grasp this concept, grace extended and grace received seems to make more sense.
That is, when I realize that I don’t have it all figured out, that my beliefs (though I am undoubtedly convinced of them) really could be completely shifted, I finally find the capacity to acknowledge people as also on the journey.

As such, we should be charitable to each other in all things and in all situations consider others as in process like ourselves.

What we should not do is avoid the conflict or dissonance that will happen when you spend time with people. This is where we develop. This is where we purge ourselves of biases and false pretenses. This is why we need each other – why the human animal is a social creature. It’s in our nature.

A hope
It is my hope and prayer that we embrace the dissonance. That we reach out to connect, rub shoulders with and wrestle with those who disagree with us. In these relationships we can find growth. We can find the true purpose of conflict. We can find beauty and music.

Let us conflict so that we may reconcile. Let us cause friction that we may be polished. Let us clash so that we may belong to each other.

Thanks for reading,

The Dread

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Do and Be Crossfit

Ok, so I haven’t blogged in a while and this is largely due to the fact that I’ve once again started my master’s classes in Theology which is mostly reading and writing…and I have to force time for that. Needless to say, my blog isn’t my top priority…so take that for what it’s worth.

I have, however been plagued with a couple of ideas on the Christian life that could easily be a year or more worth of sermons. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time to flesh these thoughts out into said sermons, so instead I’ll try and get the bare bones out here on my blog, so thank you in advanced for taking the time to read this.

Here goes…

For the last two months or so, I have been doing Crossfit or have been a Crossfitter or whatever you like. If you’re not familiar with Crossfit, feel free to watch this video. For me this is quite a spiritual experience and it's that idea that i'd like to really address here.

So, while I’m in no way, shape or form the strongest person alive, much less at my local gym (Cowley Fitness), I can definitely say that I am the fittest that I have ever been in my life; even more so than when I was a collegiate cheer leader or a Universal Cheerleading Association Staff Member and that is saying something.

So where am I going with this? Well, the name Crossfit (I believe) is about “cross fitness” or the idea that all aspects of fitness – agility, flexibility, strength, endurance, etc. –  find their intersection inside the kinds of work outs (known as “wod’s” or “work out of the day”) that are programmed for Crossfit. In short, every work out is a total body work out and improves every aspect of fitness simultaneously. For this reason, I’ve often found myself thinking throughout the day “wow, while doing Crossfit, EVERY physical task in life is easier”.

While I could stay here and plug Crossfit all day, that’s not really my main point...

So, while Crossfit is about being as fit as you can be (which I’ll get to a little later…perhaps in another blog) the name just rings in my ears as a theologian and I have come to the conclusion that, as Christians, we are called to be “Cross-fit”.

WOA! I’m not some fitness nut, but I love Jesus!

Hold on, I’m not saying everyone should do Crossfit (notice the hyphen/no-hyphen distinction).
As Christians, we are meant to be continually “fit for the Cross of Christ”. Jesus says in the synoptic gospels:

If you want to follow me, you must take up your cross daily and actually follow. If you try to hang on to your life, you’ll lose it, but if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?       – (my paraphrase of Mark 8:34 & Luke 9:23 and following).
So let’s chew on this a bit:

1.    “If you want to follow me” – this is clearly a conditional statement. Assuming you are truly looking to be a Christ follower, i.e. disciple, then here’s whats up…but only if you’re wanting more than just weekly attendance and your conscience cleared for the week.
2.      “You must take up your cross daily and actually follow” – bear in mind that this is pre-crucified-Jesus that’s speaking here, so there is no “redemptive” or “salvific” context for the original hearers. What they hear is essentially “if you want to follow me, you must be shamed to the point of being dehumanized and this is going to painful and gruesome”. You can imagine their confusion…Now this is also clearly a metaphor, so don’t freak out.
3.      “if you try to hang on to your life, you’ll lose it, but if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” – I’d like to put forth a slightly different interpretation of this passage than what you may be thinking. I think that this point is more about Christian living and less about salvation through Christ; that is, I don’t think that Jesus is giving some coded message for how to get to heaven, but is instead showing us that in order to live like Christ (i.e. follow), then you must order your life starting with Christ and his sake which is the good news that God loves and forgives.
4.      “and what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” – This question solidifies his point that following him is about lowering yourself and being prepared to look ridiculous in front of people (remember the crucified were often buck naked) but the alternative –  that is, trying to hang on to your pride and gain some sort of status, security, “the whole world”, you know, whatever – is a lost cause because in as much, you will not be able to “save your life” or “really live”.

Now that is the quickest breakdown of that passage that probably exists, so bear in mind you could get a book out of this one passage and I’m not trying to do that here.

My point is that if we’re to be disciples of Christ and not just disciples of the Christian church or religion, it means remaining “Cross-fit” daily. So what does that look like? Well, I could attempt an exhaustive list, but I don’t think Microsoft Word has enough pages to cover it, so instead we’ll go back to Scripture for a good answer.

In the book of Mark, Jesus sheds light on the “main thing”:

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen up, Israel, the Lord our God is the one and only God and you must love him with all your heart, all your soul all your mind and all your strength. ‘ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these. 
– (my paraphrase of Mark 12:30 and following).

So, let’s chew some more:

1.      The most important commandment – this means “listen up”
2.      Israel’s God is the only God – this means that we can trust that we’re talking about the real God as far as we can trust the Word’s of Jesus. This is a big idea, but I don’t have space to get into it here.
3.      Love God with all your heart – typically understood to mean your will and/or affections
4.      Love God with all your soul – I put forth that while we could theorize about what that soul is made of, we can generally agree that it is all the parts of you that are not the physical parts.
5.      Love God with all your mind – traditionally understood to mean your reason, logic, thoughts, etc.
6.      Love God with all your strength – contrasting with the “soul” part, this means all the parts of you that ARE physical.
7.      Second command: love people as yourself – pretty clear, but very hard to do
8.      No other command (including the big 10 from Moses) is greater than these – that is, these trump all others (though they are not mutually exclusive from all others).

Again, that was a quick run down, so I’ll zoom in on what is relevant to this blog post and we’ll do it in reverse order.

First, being Cross-fit (remember the hyphen distinction) means loving other people like I love myself. Now, you may hate yourself (and that’s a WHOLE other issue), but generally we all care about ourselves and to this extent, we should regard all others with the same care. This is vital, but not what I’m trying to get to – just know that there is much much more to be said on this point.

Second, being Cross-fit means loving God in four specific ways that all sum up to equal your entirety. I’ll make it into a neat package for you:

Love God with…
  • Your heart and mind – that is ALL of your will and affections and ALL of your intellect and reasoning. How do we do this? By continually working on lining our will, affections, intellect and reasoning up with the things of God; this means wanting and willing the things of God and it means spending time thinking and meditating on the things of God.
  • Your soul and strength – that is ALL of the parts of you that are intangible or non-physical and ALL of the parts of you that are physical. Now, typically we’re okay with the intangible – after all, no one but God and myself know exactly how much of my intangibles I have truly given to him, and this affords us the ability to maintain a superficial façade of piety and goodness. The trouble is the second half for most American Christians – leaders included, or rather leaders especially – because it’s convicting. We like our laz-E-boy recliners, our cans of soda, our chips and dip and our generally over chemicallized, over gmo’d diet. After all, “this is ‘merica”. The truth however, is that we are stewards of everything that God has given us (Matthew 25:14-30) which includes our bodies and according to Jesus, we are to love him with them by using them to do the things of God and keeping them in the best shape we can.

So, let’s conclude:

Being Cross-fit is the only way to truly follow Jesus and that looks like following his two greatest commands in their entirety. I can love people everywhere I go by showing compassion, not trying to change or judge them and simply being there with them (I know there are other ways, but these are some of the simplest). I can love God in practical ways as well by wanting the things he wants, meditating on him and his will for creation, by truly giving him all the non-measurable, non-physical parts of me and by loving him with my body by taking care of it as best I can and using it to do physical good in this physical world.

Again, I’d love to unpack all of this, but that would take a very long time….and I might yet do it. For now, however, suffice to know this:

If you want to be the fittest version of you that is possible, do Crossfit.
If you want to follow Jesus and live the only real life worth living, be Cross-fit.

Thank you all for reading.

The Dread.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Free will, choosing and sneezing

Blog. Right. Um, well…


So, I have a few spare moments while Atticus (oldest son) is playing with a new friend and Archer (youngest son) is “napping” or, rather whining in his bed...

At any rate, I thought I’d take this opportunity to vomit some of the philosophical nuggets that have been churning my stomach lately (you’re welcome for that picture). So, here goes:

Let’s start here à I feel like it is a plague in our generation to look back on the limitations of our childhood or the hardships that we’ve seen and simply be content to be in the place we are in life because of those events, circumstances, situations, etc.  I use the word “plague” because, like a plague, this sort of thinking seems to eat away at the fruit of people’s abilities and gifts (to develop the analogy a bit).

The fundamental issue with this line of thinking is that, while some of the consequences of said events (or whatever) may still be in effect, there are always opportunities for new circumstances. In fact, I’m a believer (as of now) in the idea that, to a large extent, we create our realities. We do this by way of our free will and choices. For example, I choose my friends, my job, my career, where I spend my time, where I spend my money and what I do in those places, with those people. If I choose or have chosen people who cause my life to be less than what I want out of life, then it is only my own choices that have brought those people to influence me. If I want to change it, I do. Now, in reality, this isn’t as easy as it sounds (feelings get hurt…or whatever :P), but the truth is that I hold the power to decide who influences me.

So, while I don’t choose how those people act, I choose who to be around.

This same principle holds true for other places in my life:

 If I constantly don’t have money because I go out a lot, I must stop going out. It may not be as fun, but it changes the reality that I am short on cash.

If I don’t like the job I have for whatever reason, I quit. It may be a struggle to find other work and there may be other struggles that go along with this, but it changes the reality that I don’t like my job.

There are seemingly endless examples of how the power of choice can shape your reality, but my point is not that we can choose, but that we must.

To simply offer up our past as an excuse to our present is essentially quitting on being the creator-of-your-reality that you were meant to be. I believe that God gives us genuine free will and I believe that he does so because, as creatures made in the image of the Creator, he wants us to create. Now, you may not feel creative, but odds are it’s because you haven’t flexed your creative muscles for some time and like physical muscles, if you don’t use them, they are weak. I’m not saying go paint a picture, I’m saying look around you and change what you don’t like about your life.

*** I feel the need to disclaimer here: if you love every aspect of your life, this blog post is obviously not for you J but you can share it with someone who needs to hear this if you want. ***

Now, this is not easy, so I don’t want you to read this and say “hey, he said it was cake!”

It is simple, not easy. The simple part is “1. Identify what you don’t like, 2. Find the first step to change it, 3. Take that step, 4. Repeat 2-3 until 1 is no longer true”. The hard part is that steps 2 & 3 may come at a cost. It is that cost that must be counted, weighed and decided upon.

For some, the cost may be friends. For others, it may be the respect of someone whose opinion you value (whether you should or shouldn’t). Whatever the cost, it’s not mature or relevant to blame your discontent with life on a reality that was or is when there are ways you can change it.

In short, if you don’t like something about your reality, then change it.

This is a good (not really) segue to my next topic: waiting.

I’m there. Right now. And it sucks.

Sometimes waiting for the next opportunity can be agonizingly slow. I think, for me, it’s because I am a “do-er”; I like the doing part. I like seeing a vision of a project or job completed and I want to do it and see it actualized. However, this is not always how things go down.

If you’ve kept up with my blog (I don’t know why you would have, but whatever), you know that I’ve been looking for a full time music ministry position of some type. This is my passion: music and ministry. So it seems logical that those two things are the two things I should be doing with my life, gifts, time, etc.

But! That means waiting for me right now.

I recently talked about this with a close friend of mine and (by way of incident) we came up with the great picture of how I feel AND how much of main line Christianity has portrayed the Christian life.

“It’s like waiting for a sneeze. It burns and is uncomfortable; sometimes you can’t talk or think or do much of anything until that sneeze comes.”

For me, some days I feel like this. Like there is a never ending list of things to do and I can’t do any of it because I’m “pre-sneeze”. Unfortunately, sometimes the church encourages this kind of thing; that is, the idea that “you just need to wait until God plops his plan in your lap in a nicely catalogued, 3-ring binder with color coated tabs and a table of contents so you can find where you are in his plan at your convenience”. …ok, that was kind of cheeky. I’ve never actually heard anyone say to do this, but that is the feeling that I get sometimes when people try and encourage me (pessimist much? I think so). Sometimes it just feels better to hear people identify with me; not try and convince me that the “pre-sneeze” is where I need to live.

Instead, I think it is important to realize that, when you’re “pre-sneeze”, you just have to keep doing what you can where you are. For me, that looks like serving faithfully at the awesome church that I find myself at and it looks like being Christ to those around me by way of service, love and encouraging. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s a lot better than JUST waiting for the sneeze. By doing this, I sneeze. (That came out funny) What I mean is, that by staying active, I make things happen. I stay active in the things that I feel called to do, I am much more fulfilled than just waiting around for the next step to happen. Make life happen by doing.

While I think I could probably prattle on and on, I think I’ll spare you since you graced me to read this far.

Take away points:

1.      Create your reality. Choose to.

2.      Sneeze while you’re waiting. Choose to.

I guess that’s it. Thanks for reading, sharing, “liking”, etc. If you have a minute, pray for me J



The Dread