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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Simple church and the problem of scholarship

There will always be a need in the body of Christ for professional scholarship to aide in appreciating the implications of various interpretations of an ancient text. But this is only one small part of what being a church is all about.

The body of Christ can do most of what it needs to be doing by simply caring for one another in love and allowing each person a voice when we come together. Can love can be enhanced by knowledge? Sure, when you better understand what works and what does not work it helps you to choose what really works instead of what only seems as though it should work. But most of the time, the connection of love that all people need is not a connection that requires specialized knowledge. It just requires caring, and being present with someone.

Instead of simply loving each other we have gotten into the institutionalized habit of loving through preaching our life style at each other. This requires everyone be the theological expert as if we all can and must understand everything in the bible. Instead of loving each other we have been given the assignment to talk the talk and keep each person indoctrinated in the "true" faith.

The strategy in most bible believing fellowships has been to teach, teach and teach some more until everyone is up to speed on what every verse in the bible "really" means. It might seem like a good idea but the results have been disastrous. Using medicine as an analogy: caring for each other does not require we all become doctors of medicine who understand every pathology of the body.

Sure, we can encourage each other to take better care of ourselves, to exercise, to get rest, and drink plenty of water. But sometimes we need to say, "I don't know what will help, you need to see a doctor." The day will never come when most people know what a medical doctor knows, but fortunately we do not need to spread the expertise that far and wide.

Every one in the body of Christ has been trained to become a shibboleth tester. We judge each other by the things we have been taught Christians should believe. Although a large population can learn to be loving, it is not possible to turn a large population into theological experts. Christians these days have a love for talking about the things of God at a level that requires far more expertise than they actually have.

As a result most of what passes for biblical doctrine is over simplified narrow minded uneducated tradition that has been "naturally" selected by the fact that it is an easier way to control a non expert population with a superficial reading of the biblical text to find what merely feels as if it is the obvious. Add to this a good measure of what really used to be authentic scholarship centuries ago and then call it a denomination. As a result a pseudo scholarship has come about where Christian teaching and understanding is mere superstition eclipsing even common sense and paradigms that run woefully ignorant of reality.

This has made the body ill and filled it with useless fatty tumors. The body is in need of pharisectomies and physical rehabilitation. In the future, I am predicting that most Christians will get their theological expertise from a balance of various published authors, thinking things through for themselves and a good dose of awareness for what is going on in so called secular scholarship. The local pastor will become, more than anything else, a facilitator to keep the people engaged in the love of each other. Sure, whenever any one teaches or preaches it helps if they are as biblical as they know to be, but the goal is to meet hearts where they have need, not turn everyone into a dumbed down expert or to condemn the pastor because he botched the semiotic implications of an atypical use of the aorist tense. It is good enough that we pursue a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with each other. We are not all awesome theologians, medical doctors or psychiatrists. We are just people and that is even more awesome.

Complexity is a necessary part of understanding deep questions at a deep level. But most of the time I cry out for the simple life.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tipping a sacred cow - Finding the will of God

The sincere believer who looks for God's will is most to be pitied if they are honest enough to recognize they cannot find it. What adds to the discouragement is they fail to see that the reason they cannot find it is because it is rarely the kind of thing one needs to find, and most of the time it does not exist. Discouraged and feeling they are somehow not as spiritual as others, they slip into some self serving plan "B" because everyone knows you cannot serve God doing things He did not call you to do.

The idea that God has a will for your life is a hoax. God gave you the responsibility to manage your own life and a conscious experience with which to make your own decisions. God reserves the right to interject or possibly on rare occasions to call a person to a very specific task, but He will not and does not micromanage his people's decision making processes. Wisdom and knowledge cannot ever properly develop in a diminutive human robot, nor can genuine love.

A believer can learn to make their own decisions while conscious of living in the presence of God in a way that is accountable to the God who cares about outcomes. But even more importantly, you can learn to make decisions for yourself while nurtured and inspired by God's loving presence.

There are no examples in the Bible of any one who lives their entire life searching for what God wants them to do next. The closest to an exception is Jesus. But there are many examples in the Bible of people who make their own decisions and on occasion seek council from God and on occasion receive direction from God.

If God has something specific for you to do, that is His problem and He can figure out a way to let you know what it is He needs you to do. Finding God's will is impossible. Making your own decisions congruent to God's purposes is doable. And the more you mature as a Christian the better you get at it.

Philippians 1:9-11 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.

I do not usually quote scripture but when tipping sacred cows it can sometimes help

Luke 1:3 (This gospel was written because it seemed good to do so.)
Acts 15:24-29 (a plan was decided upon they thought seemed consistent with what God could work with. As it turns out what they thought would seem good to the Holy Spirit is actually contrary to other explicit teachings from the New Testament.)
Proverbs 10:32 (The righteous know what is fitting.)
1 Corinthians 14:40 (While planning what to do in an assembly of Christians you can base that decisions on what is proper and orderly.)
Mark 14:8 (Mary did what she decided to do and Jesus defended her right to decide for herself how to honor him.)
2 Corinthians 8:10 (Paul gives advice based on what he thinks is best.)
1 Thessalonians 3:1 (Paul manages problems in the gathering of believers by coming up with a plan that he thought was the best plan.)
Mark 3:4 (Jesus asks if it is lawful to do good or do evil on the sabbath.)
Romans 14:6 (What you consider good becomes your responsibility to keep from being spoken of as evil.)
Galatians 6:10 (Do the good things you have an opportunity to do.)
Philippians 2:13 (Do what fits God's purposes and you can be confident it is God working in you.)
Titus 3:8 & 3:14 (If you trust in God you can exercise your own care in deciding what good things to do.)
Hebrews 5:14 (mature Christians are already "trained" to distinguish good from evil.)
Hebrews 10:24 (you can encourage others to do what they see as good to do.)
1 Peter 4:19 (implies that you can be in God's will when all you know is that you are doing what you thought was good to do.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Shack is a book, by Wm Paul Young, loved by some and hated by others. It has a focus on God that cuts across the grain of typical traditional views. Consequently, those who feel the need to justify the past and avoid the future will probably dislike it. But for those who feel that Christianity is about where we seem to be headed rather than where we seem to have been or how we think we got to where we are now -- you are going to love it.

A word of warning: if you hate books that on one page say things you think are awesome but on another page say something that contradicts what you thought you were sure about, well then stay away from this book. It will make the pebbles inside your shell a bit more uncomfortable. On the other hand, if your heart longs for a faith that seeks intimacy and relationship as more important than sustaining tradition, then you will enjoy the entire book.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Can I trust my emotions?

Basically emotions help us be honest with ourselves about how our current perceptions are filtered by our history of perceptions. Emotions are an entirely internal event, they know nothing of the world outside you and everything about your perception of the world. If you think you see a monster, your emotions will reflect monster appropriate feelings even if there is no monster. For emotions, there is no reality, just perception.

For example, when I feel angry, it is never because I am in a situation that requires or justifies anger. And this is true even if anger is highly appropriate to the situation. My anger is never a response to the situation, it is instead a response to my perception of the situation. My perception is also significantly colored by my history with similar perceptions. Therefore when I am angry, the proper first response should not be directed at the circumstances but rather at my perception.

Sometimes I have found myself getting angry when I think I am hearing someone say something abusive, but upon paying closer attention I discover I have misunderstood what they were saying. When my perception authentically changes, then so does my emotional state. My anger was not a response to what they were saying but rather a reflection to what I perceived them to be communicating.

"Is this circumstance truly what I think it is? Am I being prompted by past conclusions or is this an opportunity to see this situation differently from how I have looked at it before. I am angry so obviously I am seeing this circumstance as one that is threatening or unjust, but am I being fair, or am seeing only what I've grown accustomed to paying attention to in what looks to me to be this sort of situation?"

Only after applying reality checks to my history and to my current perceptions can I decide what the most appropriate response might be. Being honest about what my perceptions really are is easier when I allow my feelings to be the first clue. Emotions are a reflection of learned (or mislearned) meaning that we have come to ascribe to perceptual moments over time. Without feelings we can live in denial of what we really think things mean. To grow toward more useful meaning I must start that journey from where I am. I can fully trust my emotions to keep me honest about where I am now in that journey to more useful meaning.

The person who learns to delay reaction to feeling in order to reassess perception is a person far more free to feel whatever they honestly feel. They can be intensely happy and keep a poker face in a card game and beyond angry while keeping their cool. Adding this additional step to the dynamic of "emotions motivating actions" can add room for wisdom.

Because emotions are based on perception and because I can only trust my perceptions to be potentially useful, I can therefore never trust that what I feel is based on reality. Nonetheless, I can fully trust my emotions to help me be honest about what my perceptions are doing with reality. And that eventually helps me develop better perceptions with which to make sense of the world and helps me experience emotions far easier to live with.

The Gospel

The message is good news about a relationship that changes our circumstance out of which meaning will be embraced over time, not a meaning that when embraced will change circumstances in order to over time create a relationship.

Ouch, that gave me a headache just trying to say it.