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