Uncertainty vs Doubt and issues with ‘He’.

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I used to love this sort of thing. Love it. Boom, slam dunk, take that stupid Christians kind of loved it. Debate over.

But now I look at it and just shake my head and the sheer straw-man-ing. I believe in evolution. I don’t believe that a billion Indians are going to hell. I don’t think that people die young because God needs another angel.

I don’t believe in the God that is represented there at all. And I’m fairly sure that I’m not alone in that.

But this is the way that many people understand Christianity and I really can’t blame them. We do tend to understand the world in simplistic and unsophisticated sound bites because it’s easier, right? Why bother trying to understand something more deeply when you’ve already nailed it. That’s not meant to sound snarky at all even though it might sound like it. If you think that you understand something fully and you’re not particularly interested in it anyway, then why on earth would you seek further clarification?

Recently Stephen Fry (isn’t he fantastic? I was heart broken last month when he announced his marriage. He may be gay but I’ve long held out hope that he and I would end up together. Dreams shattered. I’ll content myself with memorising the script of Peter’s Friends instead) was asked what he would say to God and his resulting feelings about the problem of suffering apparently annihilated God, according to some corners of the internet. As if these problems have never been thought of and agonised over and dissected by people for hundreds of years. I’m not criticising him at all but the problem of evil= no God because we can’t conceptualise the answer is problematic for me.

I liked this article by John Dickson. This sentence sums up (for me, although I don’t think it was its aim) why arguing about these things is ultimately unproductive

“…if you find yourself stuck with the intellectual conviction that there must be a Powerful Mind, you will puzzle through both the beauty and the pain, unable to accept Dawkins’s universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication”

And vice-versa. You will find evidence to suit your world view.  I don’t do apologetics and have no interest in arguing the case for God, as such. When someone says that God is as real as Star Wars (which happened last week) then I go ‘OK, that’s fine, your choice’.

As I see it, ‘God’ isn’t a being, or a thing and most definitely isn’t a ‘he’. The personification that we all fall back on doesn’t help us understand the complexity. This book helped me enormously in understanding this, because a life time of stereotypical thoughts (as in the above meme) can be hugely hard to break away from, even if you’re consciously trying to do so.

I think that the use of the word ‘he’ when referring to god and the father imagery associated with it has done more harm than good, with many people finding this triggering rather than comforting and reassuring. I know that the writers of the Bible needed to make connections that we can relate to and it’s certainly easier to personify instead of trying to wrap our minds around what God may actually be, but I wonder how many people have been put off the whole thing because of their inability to conceptualise a ‘Father in heaven’ who is unconditional, all loving, non judgmental and who we aren’t constantly feeling disapproval from.

Meanwhile, I had an unproductive week last week dipping into some Hebrew to try and find out whether ‘father’ was what the Bible is actually referring to with all the God talk. Didn’t get far but I’m really good at pronouncing ‘ruach Elohim’ now so that’s a win.

I suppose that, given God’s concentration with helping the powerless, the needy and the at risk, it makes sense to have a ‘man’ in charge because patriarchy and all that but still. It’s not necessarily an intuitive bond for everyone.

So, no solutions here tonight! I’m learning that ‘doubt’ and ‘uncertainty’ can operate in very different spheres. I don’t doubt to any large degree that God exists now days; I suppose that you could say that I’m fairly firm in my faith. But within that there is still a huge amount of uncertainty and questioning and eyebrow furrowed puzzling.

And I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing. It’s just the way things are.

 

 

Kindness and Caring in Business

Eva:

A lovely Sunday morning post from Lee over at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.

Originally posted on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:

Business and industry has gotten a reputation in some quarters as being a heartless, soulless behemoth whose only interest is in racking up money and profits for the people at the top.

But even if that reputation may be partially deserved, there’s much more to commerce than that.

Yasir Moore being helped at Target Yasir Moore being helped at Target

Business and industry is also where many millions of ordinary people serve their communities day in and day out, stitching together with their mind, their hands, and yes, their hearts, the fabric of human society.

It would be impossible to list the billions of daily transactions and services we engage in for one another in the course of our daily work. The cashier ringing up your groceries, the mechanic fixing your car, the waiter or waitress bringing you your morning eggs and coffee at the diner, the pharmacist putting together your prescription . . . these…

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Tweaking the Examen

Last year was a really crap year.

I can’t say that it was the worst year of my life, but it was very, very ordinary. Kind of what I imagine a marathon to be like except with fewer people holding out cups of water along the way and clapping for you when you finish.

I didn’t feel that I was carrying out my roles with any degree of skill, grace or accomplishment. The competing responsibilities of mother, teacher and housewife were constantly banging up against each other, without enough hours in the day to do any of them properly. As for daughter, granddaughter, volunteer, friend and person with any hobbies, they totally fell by the way side.

I took a month off work at one stage, trying to get some balance, and things became lovely. I did all the extra parenting that I’d been neglecting; helping at school, baking bread, leaving little flowers on the pillows of freshly made beds and making sit-down dinners with discussion topics.

But after the month was up, it was back to work and more mismanaged jerry-built, cobbled together semi-coping.

When you look at advice about balancing competing responsibilities, you will get suggestions such as delegating, outsourcing or letting things go if they don’t matter.

None of that was going to work for me. I couldn’t see any ‘extras’ that needed pruning. The things that needed doing this year were going to be the same as the things that needed doing last year. Same places, same people, same number of hours in the day.

But something needed to change, obviously.

So knowing that I didn’t want another year where I was just getting by, and knowing that there was nothing that I could abandon or pass on to someone else, I wondered if there was something that I could add that might help me calibrate everything just enough to get some joy and contentment back in my life.

I’ve mentioned before that prayer has never really been an intuitive thing for me (unless saying ‘Oh for GOD’S SAKE!! counts. If so, then I’ve been nailing it for years). In the past, after stressing, yelling, over-thinking, crying and staring off into space, I may go, ‘Oh well I guess I could have a pray then’. A kind of fall back contingency plan for the times when everything else has failed. A last ditch effort to salvage something when, to be honest, the horses have usually bolted.

But I knew that I needed to have some structure and plan to my prayer otherwise I’d ramble on for five minutes, start a to-do list in my head and give it up after 3 days as a failed project.

But what about if my to-do list became part of my prayer?

Enter the Morning Examen. A way that I can talk to God, plan my day, reflect on how best to go about things and envisage ways to deal with issues that may come up along the way.

I don’t follow the model in the link exactly but my guess is that you’re not supposed to. I’ve been getting up a little earlier for the past few weeks (5 am instead of 5.20 am) and I think that I’ve tweaked it perfectly for now.

Gratitude
This tends to essentially be along the same lines all the time- thanking God for pursuing me so relentlessly and faithfully over the last few years despite some pretty obstinate and bad tempered opposition on my part. I think I’ll always be thankful for this.

Feelings
How am I feeling about the day ahead? Do I have some worries or nervousness that I need to let go? If I go into the day with baggage then it’s hard to really approach it with joy and anticipation. I’ll sit with these feelings until they disperse, realising their transient nature.

Planning
Here’s where I walk through what I’ll be doing today. What situations will be meeting me that I’ve dealt with less than ideally in the past? Where will I need to show extra grace or receive it myself? Where will I be challenged today or where can I help meet someone else’s needs?

Colloquy
What one sentence do I want to say to God now as I embrace the new day? What do I want, feel and anticipate?

So, that’s it and so far, so good. The year is still young but there seems to be less fixed-grin white knuckled winging it than previously so I’m chalking it up as a success at this stage.

Speaking of prayer, I’m also praying the Lord’s Prayer till Easter. It’s put together by some amazing Bible teachers so I’d encourage you to have a look.

Song Crosses Boundaries.

I’ve been wanting to share this clip for ages but I couldn’t manage to embed it here until now (because I’m essentially a Luddite with a wifi connection). I find it really hard to watch and quite confronting but it’s absolutely worth it.
God’s Love: Naomi Feil, a Jewish woman, sings Christian hymns for Gladys, who has Alzheimer’s and was unable to speak

The site that it’s taken from is http://www.memorybridge.org/index.php

A slightly ranty atonement post.

This post is one of those ones where I’m basically clarifying my stance on certain issues for my own elucidation. For me it’s important that I can clearly articulate my own take on certain key issues. I know that many people are fine with things just being all mysterious but I need to get things relatively clear in my own head from time to time.

It’s no secret that the whole idea of substitutionary atonement makes me very cranky and I find it completely incompatible with every thing I know to be true about a loving God.

When I was an atheist, the idea of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins was a prime example of the delusional thinking of Christians. As an almost- Christian the idea of substitutionary atonement was still a huge issue for me. But gradually I came to realise that substitutionary atonement wasn’t an absolute belief within the faith. There was also the moral influence theory of atonement- the belief that positive moral change is the ultimate goal of Christianity.

In fact, this theory is one of the oldest views of atonement and was the dominant one during the second and third centuriesThis is a pretty important point, hey? If the people who lived closest to the actual time of Jesus had firm beliefs regarding what his life was about, then it certainly bears a closer examination.

Jesus’ life was so fundamentally about social justice, yet his whole death was ultimately about our sins and a blood sacrifice to a vengeful god? (insert scornful swearword here). What a way to devalue everything that he stood for and everything that he tried to achieve. The Gospels are chock full of directives to us about how to live a righteous life, yet when it comes down to it we don’t have to actually do any of those things at all? He died just to absolve us of sins and that’s the message we should take away from his life?

Rubbish.

Although I shouldn’t dismiss the whole sin thing quite so off handedly. Absolutely we need saving, but it’s more about saving us from our acceptance of oppressive systems, from our complacency and from the fact that we seldom do nearly as much as we could to bring about real change, confronting injustice and taking on the responsibility of bringing about God’s Kingdom here and now. If we do sin, then we sin by ignoring the clear teachings of Jesus.

Look, God didn’t need his wrath assuaged to be replaced by mercy after Jesus’ execution on the cross. What kind of a vengeful prick does that make God? You don’t punish your other children by killing one of them to make yourself feel better.

Jesus advocated moral change. He spoke of the world that is to come; the world that we could bring about if people took his message seriously. His teachings and examples push us onward to try and live out his message. People, and then societies, can move towards this, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

For acting in the greater good, dismissing his own safety, and preaching a radical message of societal transformation, Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire (well, it was actually sedition) in an appalling and shameful way. The resurrection shows us that even death cannot separate us from God’s love.  That whatever you face and however you are challenged while striving for justice in the world is insignificant when it all comes down to it. Even if the worst happens to us, God will still be there to love us and lift us up.

One of God’s chief commandments is not to kill. While God didn’t ‘need’ Jesus to die, it served to demonstrate what was supposed to be the last example of religiously condoned violence. The end of the sacrificial system; the end of redemptive violence. Jesus’s death is part of a much wider picture and frame work than the penal substitution theory would have it. Jesus isn’t reduced to to sacrificed lamb. That darn Sermon on the Mount actually meant something after all.

While I’m not going to proof text and play Bible passage tennis to support my argument, there is absolutely a firm biblical foundation for this view. Many New Testament passages allude to a final judgement that concerns moral conduct. The Gospels are essentially chock full of how to be a moral person. Much of what Jesus said concerns this. Yes, Paul did talk about the fact that salvation is by faith and the fact that ‘works of the law’ are not what we would be striving for but if it’s a preach-off between Jesus and Paul, then I know which side I’ll be on. (As a side-note, Hebrews, the book in which much of the blood sacrifice talk can be seen, may not have been written by Paul at all which detracts from it’s importance if it is true).

Next up, universal salvation! It’s just party time here at the moment, isn’t it?

Lenten Aspirations and Really Deep Faith.

I found this list today, recommending several books that would be good for reading and reflection during Lent (well it advocates reading and discussing them but reading and engaging in a robust inner dialogue is just as good, right?).

I love Lent. It’s all about preparation and possibilities and refining. My previous Lenten practise of Veganism is now my normal, so I’ll have to branch out a bit this year. Maybe fasting? I did a three day fast last year and things got a bit profound, actually, in the ‘Whooa, I’m not blogging about this’ kind of way.

I particularly like the look of Sabbath as Resistance; Saying No the the Culture of Now. But the reviews on Amazon seem to indicate that I’ll be stirred to resist multi-tasking and consumerism and I’m not sure whether I want to be challenged in that way right now. Which I know is the whole point but I would like my comfort zone stretched on my own terms, thank you very much (yes, yes. I know).

A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience and The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith look interesting too, although they seem to be of the ‘faith is hard, embrace your doubts, it’s fine, questioning is good’ variety, which I’m a bit ambivalent about to be honest because doubt and I are fine. We’re good. I don’t need to be patted and told it’s OK, because doubt is one of my things.

Which brings me to this quote that I saw yesterday from Flannery O’Conner;
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

I wonder how much faith actually costs most people? I wonder if you are not being challenged and stretched then you’re not doing it properly? And I don’t mean ‘cost’ such as people giggling uncomfortably when they discover that you’re a Christian, or assuming that you’re slightly dim. I mean really going deep. Like this.

The Triumph of Evil

Yesterday was International Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the day that Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops and a day to reflect on those murdered in Europe during the dark days of the twentieth century.

My commemoration of important days such as these usually takes the form of a teaching opportunity, talking to my own children about the events that took place. Sadly, I had to draw parallels between what we see around the world today, and the events leading up to the murder of 6 million people in Europe.

The anti-Semitism that is still apparent.

The inhumane way that Australia treats its asylum seekers.

The ridiculous hate-mongering regarding Halal food in Australia at the moment which in turn is demonising Muslims and fostering hate in the community.

I told my boys that the actions of some don’t reflect the beliefs of many. That radical muslims no more reflect the ideas of the muslims that live in our town any more than the Westbro Baptists reflect my beliefs.

That when people are scared, when they feel threatened and when the don’t understand something, they lash out and feel powerful by disenfranchising other.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing*.

That standing by when others act unjustly, and by ignoring issues because they are too confronting is one of the things that helped the Holocaust gain momentum. The vast majority of people in Germany during the 30s and 40s were not explicitly evil. They were unquestioning, they were comfortable and they were deliberately blind.

May we pray for the wisdom not to fall into that trap.

*An interesting discussion on the origins of this quote can be found here

Why I’m not calling myself a Progressive Christian.

Progressive Christianity is basically a subset of Christianity which I think was probably established partly as a rebellion against the type of nasty and small minded fundamentalism that we see in certain pockets thought out the world today. The basis tenets of it are here but within it there is a lot of variation. Can you be a progressive and still believe in the virgin birth? The divinity of Jesus? Demonic possession? There’s a lot of wriggle room within it from what I’ve seen and you’re not going to get told that ‘YOU’RE NOT A REAL CHRISTIAN’ for asking questions and while you might get a slight dismissive sneer for accepting that exorcisms are an actual thing you’re not going to get voted off the island.

So am I a P C? Yeah, probably. Mostly. When I’m discussing my faith with people, will I be making sure that I clarify that I am a ‘Progressive Christian’? No.

See I’ve spent all my life being disdainful and mocking of Christians. When I’ve met a ‘good one’ I’ve assumed that they were funny/smart/ amusingly sarcastic in spite of their faith and admired the fact that they still retained a spark of their true self despite the awful truth of their religious beliefs. Since I’m going to take a shot at this Whole Christian Thing then I need to embrace it; the good and the bad. I think that if I start off by labelling myself as a ‘progressive’ I will be, still, distancing myself from Christianity. Not as absolutely as I did when I was an atheist of course, but I will still be keeping a mental wall between my own, super special and unique and groundbreaking way of being a Christian and the poor delusionals that aren’t as enlightened as me. It’s a broad church (boom boom) and I need to make peace with that and slot myself into that framework, not announce that I have to change the framework in order to embrace it.

I need to stress here that I absolutely don’t think that Progressive Christians are doing this. I do not think that Progressive Christians all feel this way and if I lived in a fundamentalist area of America and could only find a Baptist church to attend then things would be very different. But I’m lucky to live in an area with what I think is a fair amount of balance and the church that I (barely ever) attend isn’t one where I will feel alien. The fact that I’m not labelling myself a PC is a reflection of my awareness of my tendency towards arrogance and superiority. I often need to work on my own humility and starting off my Christian life by mentally setting myself apart from most other Christ followers is a really, really bad start.

Does that make sense? God I spend a lot of time describing my bad qualities. I think my next post should be ‘Why I am Fantastic’.

While writing this post I found this quiz which tells me that I’m a Brian McClaren Christian and probably subscribe to Sojourners and Relevant (yes) and place a large emphasis on social justice (yes) and while I might be progressive I’m probably post-evangelical. I don’t quite know what that is but I suspect I’m not going to like it.
Also, Joel wrote a post based on this quiz over on The Progressive Redneck if you want to check it out.

Re-defining Christianity.

My friend Eric recently wrote this article on the redefinition of the word ‘Christian’ and Progressive Christianity. It’s a great article and certainly worth the click over (come on, it’s 2 seconds. Unless you have my internet reception and then there’s a whole peddling monkey effort to be dealt with).

This paragraph, particularly, resonated with me;

If you have been sitting on the side lines trying to avoid the word Christian because of the stigma it carries, or because you can’t wrap your mind around many of the intellectual barriers, I bring you “good news” that the word is changing (in a way I believe Jesus would appreciate). I invite you to come on over and join the movement of “progressive” Christians who are swimming against the current, making space for education and reality within Christianity, and defining our own creeds on our own terms.

It would seem at this stage that I’m not going to be labelling myself as a ‘Progressive’ Christian even thought I think that I probably am one according to the definitions, but I’ll write more about this next week.