Losing Faith

I don’t know about you, but I have a faith problem. My faith problem is simply that I often lose my faith. It’s not a matter of maintaining appearances–I can do that awesomely; after all, I am a pastor’s son. I can look happy and spirit-filled at the drop of a hat.

No, this is far deeper, raw and honest; it’s a place where I find myself all too often.

Maybe it’s the books I read. People have said stuff to me like, “Don’t read (insert name here)’s books. Your faith can’t last if you expose yourself to such dangerous ideas.” Maybe its the blogs I visit and the topics they discuss like post-evangelicalism, post-modernism, post-Darwinian thought, post-Christian, post-colonialism, etc. Maybe its the stuff I put in my ears–words that tell me I need to think freely, have an open mind, be more inclusive, love more/hate less. . . .

Regardless, apart from the fact that there are certainly elements of danger every time I open my mind to entertain a new thought, I would say the greater danger remains in trying to maintain a status quo, an attachment to a system that just doesn’t work and is losing its credibility more each day. I can’t buy into the Evangelical culture any more than I can buy into consumerism, wanton capitalism, or corporate warmongering.

Ideals aside, it’s still Good Friday (and I digress).

Today we remember the cross, the sacrifice of Jesus, the rigged execution of the God-man who came to be revered as Lord,  King and Saviour.

It is a dark day and, perhaps, “Good” Friday is too sanitised a version of this story. This particular day was horrible, terrible, dark, depressing. It was a  time of pain, of loss, of an end to a promise. . . .

The disciples fled.

The women wept.

The soldiers mocked.

The earth kept spinning into night and the one who promised it all had died.

God had left the building.

There was no more promise, no more hope, no more kingdom.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living that day.

Sometimes my faith gives way to anger, pain, regret. Too often God is distant,  silent, unknowing and uncaring. This is my own personal Good Friday . . . or Monday,  or Thursday, or Sunday. . . .

How about you?

(To be continued)

Nobody Won

Bill-Nye-vs.-Ken-Ham-Debate_f_improf_645x254One would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the much-publicised debate in the U.S. between Bill Nye (can I not resist adding, “The Science Guy” after that?) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis) held February 4th in Kentucky. Well, OK. If you don’t live in North America and you’re not either an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian, or an atheist, you possibly don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

But, nonetheless, it happened. “Ham on Nye” as it has become known.

There are numerous clips on YouTube and well past hundreds of search results on Google that will show you anything you wish to know about this event.

But, for me, the sound bites say it all. The answer to the question, “What would it take to change your mind?” was, according to Nye: “A single piece of solid evidence.” According to Ham: Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Since the Bible is obviously literally (according to Ham’s interpretation of it) fully accurate in Science and History, he needs no other evidence. Nothing will change his mind that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created in 7 literal 24-hour days (albeit, several of those days did not have the time-telling benefit of the sun–go figure!).

How does he know the earth is less than 10,000 years old? He’s done his Math and added up the generations found in the Bible’s genealogies. This is what he calls the “historical science” method. Since his literal understanding of the Bible is correct in all matters historical, then so is his guess of the earth’s age.

And here’s where the debate is unwinnable: the basic underlying world-views of these two men couldn’t be further opposed to each other.

To those of fundamentalist ilk, Ham was the hero, standing for the truth, defending the faith, and holding fast to sound doctrine and a literal reading of Genesis 1 against the tide of the Satanic theory of evolution.

To atheists and more progressive Christians, Bill Nye won with his solid evidence and logic, his proven hypotheses and superior intellect. To the atheist, the foundation of Ken Ham’s argument was as shaky as that of a flooded beach: how could one trust a book written by men of an ancient tribal culture (see *Note) with the aim of proving their deity was superior to those in the lands around them? After all, every culture has its own creation myths.

To the more progressive Christian, while claiming the sacred text to be inspired by God, it is seen to be, still, as bearing the indelible imprint of humanity with all its tendencies to interpretation in the light of current culture and the desire to prove tribal superiority. Progressives care not so much about the “how” of the universe’s origin as much as the “why” and the “what does this mean for us now?” So, while this event aroused cursorily, it held no real sense of consequence.

In the days following, source after source declared Bill Nye as the hands-down winner (even Christianity Today’s poll showed a 9-1 lead). However, in my opinion, “Ham on Nye” proved to be a fizzer, a debate which was more of a publicity stunt to showcase Ham’s Creationist exhibit and the organisation he has created to promote his own views.

Surely the church has learned from its own dealings with scientists such as Galileo or Copernicus. Surely they cannot take as historical fact a creation account that was written from the perspective of a flat earth, a fixed ‘dome’ (or firmament) and a sun, moon and stars that orbited over and under this flat earth. But this variant of the Christian Religion still prefers to remain staunchly opposed to proven scientific theory and overwhelming evidence. Its adherents see no need for science and evidence except when it bolsters their own interpretations of the world. The simplistic answers to the complex questions of origins are comical and, as one blogger states, takes the Jesus Movement back ten steps in its respectability and relevance.

Unfortunately, the wide brush of dogmatism has splattered the rest of Christianity with its ignorance and stubborn refusal to consider the evidence thousands of earnest scientists have uncovered since the dark ages.

Nobody won. Unless, of course, we have learned that debating those who choose to remain in the dark ages is futile, in which case good sense has won the day.

____________

*Note: This is a huge flaw in reasoning that I see in many creationist writings: they assume the reader will accept “The Bible says” as authoritative evidence when, in fact, many would see ‘The Good Book’ as having no more authority than a Superman comic. Even when I accepted their teachings, I cringed every time I read their work because I knew it would carry absolutely no authority in the secular world. They are indeed preaching to the choir.

Merry Christmas, Seriously

holidaysYes, I’m writing a post on Christmas Day.

After enjoying a beautiful Christmas Day service with my Church family and a light lunch with my awesome wife, I’m watching some fantastic school kids performing on a repeat of the Schools’ Spectacular on TV.

Watching these kids sing and dance, and put all their heart and soul into their presentations, my heart is encouraged with hope that our nation’s future may be something that is positive, uplifting and bright. These young people are our future. They have the right perspective on the evil of warmongering, the importance of genuine reconciliation with and giving a voice to the indigenous peoples, and just plain enjoying life.

Um . . . what was that you said? Oh,  but they don’t have anything to say about Jesus and seem to fail mentioning or giving glory to God for their gifts?

Hm. . . . I guess that’s where this blog on Christmas Day is headed.

Like ‘Christmas,’ religious folks tend to take such things so seriously. No longer  can we be wished ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Greetings of the Season.’ If ‘Christ’ is not kept in Christmas (because ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’), then it is a sure sign the world is going down the tubes on a highway to hell.

It seems that one of the great heroes of the Christian faith,  St Paul, probably  wouldn’t agree with your take on the ‘war  on Christmas.’ In fact, he was one who would take a poem written by a Greek poet about Zeus and turn it on its head by saying it speaks of the Christian God. Yup. “In Him we live and move and have our being” was written about the god Zeus by Epimenedes. This didn’t seem to be an issue with the apostle. He didn’t flinch at all. He never told his listeners to ‘turn or burn’  and he definitely didn’t hold up any ‘John 3:16′ signs.

I don’t know about you, but if Paul was ready to take a pagan tome about a well-known Greek god and, essentially, say ‘He was speaking of  God, the father of Jesus the Christ,’ then we can surely take a well-intended ‘Happy Holidays’ or a song like ‘Jingle Bells’ sung by carollers to be a sincere wish for good health and happiness.

Hope, Joy, Peace, Love. We celebrate these through Advent arriving, as Christians, to the Christ-child on Christmas Day.

To the non-religious, these are found in family, in relationships, in fun times and social interaction. They may not know or recognise this, but these are gifts from a generous God.

Even something so blatantly non-religious like making the holidays a time to spend with family and friends can be that which brings the positive energy and happiness, memories of which will sustain us in future days of despair, absence or loss.

We may not know that, during these dry seasons of our life, we are being held by a loving, gracious God. God, through the families he gave us. The bonds we nurture and grow by God’s providence, often pulls  us through. Though we don’t always attribute this to God, it is through all our life and relationships that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Yes, those warm fuzzy feelings you get when you think of home–God put them there. That longing for relationship and intimacy–that too.

Looking back at the end of a life well-lived, we may well see that God has provided through well-intentioned people, funny song lyrics, and seemingly-God-absent-wishes of friends, all the encouragement,  love and grace we needed.

And,  seriously, a little white wine in the sun with family and friends on Christmas Day  won’t go astray either.

Happy Holidays everybody!

God got you a parking space? Really?

My mother provides me with a mountain of anecdotes about life, Christianity and growing up. As she ages gracefully, many of her idiosyncrasies seem to become more exaggerated (or maybe I just notice them more).

One such idea (which, it seems, is not at all unique to my mum) is the idea that God is so intimately concerned with every little incident in her life, even to the point of making sure she never has to walk any great distance into the supermarket because, “God always finds me a parking spot.”

Really?

God did that? For you?

Seriously?

parkingYou prayed, “Lord, please help me to get a parking space close to the entrance,” and God answers with a resounding, “Here you go, my beloved child, two steps from the door! It’s all yours”?*

Wow! You must be on God’s favourites list. I am impressed!

Children are dying of starvation in Ethiopia yet, somehow, God has decided your request for a shorter walk is more important than hearing their cries for enough food to keep them alive another day?

People are desperate for clean water after a typhoon, but what the Almighty really wants (even more than to quench the thirst of millions of God’s children) is to make sure your gas-guzzler finds easy access at the Mall?

(This is even funnier when I see how she now has a ‘Disabled’ sticker on her vehicle which allows her to park right next to the door. Obviously the faith-thing didn’t work as often as she would have liked.)

But I believe this is only a symptom of our creation of an individualistic faith in which God’s love and grace, God’s salvation, God’s blessing, God’s interest, God’s promises and God’s devotion is focused on me, my and mine.

Perhaps this is also a symptom of a consumerist mentality that sees God as another commodity or service to be used for our own purposes and desires. We have truly fashioned a God who not only supplies all our needs, but our wants as well.

Regardless of what the underlying problem is, seeing God as a magical genie who is waiting for your prayer so blessings may be released in your direction is exclusivist and self-centered at its core.

homeless_ethiopiaWe speak of community but think only of what we want. We talk together-speak but, in the end, we’re out for our own parking space–too bad for you if you were praying for one as well because I got a hold of God’s ear first!

And bad luck for you if you’re famished, homeless and alone on the streets of Addis Ababa because (funny how this happens!) my easy life as I stroll into Mega Mall to spend what I have so deservedly earned is so much more important to God than your shelter, food and sense of belonging.

Really?

(* Thanks to my pub group whose banter provided, once again, inspiration for a post.)

#Nasuli

I am still amazed at the wonders of technology.

You may say that statement dates me as one who is ‘older’ and perhaps not up-to-speed with the marvels of electronic gadgetry and the like.

Au contraire! I am well-known for my love of gadgets and my fascination with all things that buzz, whistle, flash and hum.

keyboardBut I still stand in wonder at how I can see something happening around the world instantly, how I can listen to a song streaming from a server thousands of miles away as if I’m sitting in a concert hall in front of a full orchestra, how I can communicate with friends and see their face on Skype any time of the day or night.

Technology shrinks our world and brings into our life places and people from across the span of our lives: memories, sounds, videos, pictures, smells . . .

Smells? Well, not exactly. But sometimes I can almost smell and feel as if I have been magically transported back to a prior time in my life. So powerful is the sense I perceive as I leaf through these memory-triggers.

Nasuli is one such place.

I have fond memories of holidaying here with my family when I was quite young. We stayed in a guesthouse which, from memory, was on the grounds of a MAF mission base in the city of my birth: Malaybulay in the province of Bukidnon in the Philippines.

Rambutan trees with ants crawling all over them. Once you peeled off the ants and then the spiny skin, the fruit was delicious.

Houses whose walls were made of some sort of woven bamboo.

The American church where they had a real choir and a pastor who wore robes ( and where I first heard the amazing hymn This is My Father’s World.)

King Roly Poly. (OK. It was a book I found in the toy box where we were staying. He was so fat they had to build special furniture for him and a special table with a cut out for his stomach. Talk about politically incorrect! But we were children of the 60s.)

And then there was the spring.

nasuliCool water. Deep. Calm. Surrounded by trees that smelled musty, like the flowers of what we call a mavis bush.

I loved the spring. In my tyre-tube I would happily float around for hours. I even would venture to the other side where there were reeds and where ( so I was told) they would find water snakes.

I didn’t care. The cool water around me and the safety of my tyre-tube flotation device was enough.

I still love floating in water. Pool, beach, river . . . don’t really care. I think I thrive in that sense of calm and flow.

“So what does Nasuli have to do with technology?”

I’m glad you ask.

I was on Instagram the other day and one of the folks I followed posted a photo of a bus on the way to #Malaybulay (those of you who get the hashtag know where this story is going).

So I went to ‘Discover’ and searched on #Malaybulay. I came across quite a few photos of #Nasuli, some of them geotagged ‘Nasuli Spring.’

I followed the links, found the photos, was redirected to Google Earth and discovered myself back in the late 60s under sunny skies, floating in the peaceful, cool spring water straight from the central Mindanao mountains.

How an iPad can bring to my mind the smell of a mavis bush, the feeling of cool, clear water on a hot day, and the security of my tyre-tube (that apparently protects me from even the snakes), amazes me.

braintechI would imagine this is another incredible element of my humanity that takes an image of a place and recalls instantly everything of my life–good or not so–that relates to that location. I would go so far as to say this is our natural technology, our created memory system that, miraculously, transports us in time and space to places that have come to define who we are.

I would suggest that this inbuilt, intuitive and infinitely capable technology is far superior to any gadget, gizmo or thingamajig I could ever get my hands on.

Post #350: Abundance

Milestone post. What shall I say that speaks of a milestone in my life? There are numerous ‘a-ha’ (or epiphany) moments along the way that have changed the way I think and who I am.

Here’s one.

eggplantMy parents never spoke of scarcity or lack in our home. This is not to say there weren’t times when we had no idea how we could make it through the month.

We were not by any measure of the phrase “the upper class.” We lived amongst common, salt-of-the-earth folks in a barrio in the Philippines. All our clothes came from missionary barrels (secondhand clothes sent from the home country). We had vegetables from our own garden, cheap non-branded food and my parents often bought in bulk and froze, canned, or preserved copious amounts of whatever was in season.

One month something happened with the bank transfers from the States upon which my missionary-parents relied. There was no money. I don’t ever remember them even telling us ‘We have no money.’ We survived on eggplant–our family and the three or four students we had living with us.

Somehow, there always seemed to be enough . . . enough for us and whoever happened to be living in our home at the time.

Regardless of our family’s financial status, we were never ever made to feel that we would go without. I heard often these words, spoken in confidence: ‘The Lord will provide.’

When we moved to Australia, mum started stashing away coins in an old cookie jar. We knew that, whenever there was a need, we would always have the cookie jar to fall back on.

We didn’t know it then but, often, there was only a few cents in that jar. I can see how my parents showed that trust in God is like having a spare change jar: you don’t know what’s in it, but, when a need arises, there always seems to be enough.

This reflection happens to be the daily reflection from StillSpeaking which appeared in my inbox one day recently:

So much of our scripture is a celebration of abundance.  The first chapters of Genesis are a song of praise for God’s generosity.  With each act of creation, the divine refrain is, “It is good, it is good, it is very good.”  And it pictures the Creator saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Many of the Psalms, including the one for today, survey creation and catalogue this abundance in loving detail and with joyful thanksgiving.

Then, in the Gospels, Jesus multiplies loaves and fishes so that there is more than enough for everyone.  At a wedding feast he turns water into wine, and more wine than could be consumed at a dozen weddings.  These highly symbolic stories speak of God’s abundance.  There is enough, there is more than enough.

That’s the biblical narrative.  But the narrative by which we are tempted to live is another story entirely, a story of scarcity, where there is never enough.  In fact, we are tempted to define enough as, “always something more than I have now.” . . .

. . . Do you live out of a sense of abundance or scarcity?  That may be an economic question, but certainly it is a faith question.

(Martin B. Copenhaver)

In a day when we are well aware of the misleading abundance-preaching of televangelists and the pitfalls of embracing a ‘prosperity gospel,’ we can still say with confidence, ‘The Lord will provide.’

It is, as the writer suggests, a ‘sense of abundance.’ This doesn’t mean we will have plenty, but we will see whatever we have as an expression of God’s abundance in our lives.God provides what we need and what he wants us to share with others who need. We learn the joy of contentment and the joy of giving, all the while trusting in the abundance of God.