Meanderings . . .

While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy  one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get  you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night. – Daniel H. Pink, quoted by MINEmergent

God is not going to help you cut your grass. He’s going to help you cut His grass. He’ll give you the lawnmower and the fertilizer and teach you to take care of His grass, not yours. - John Schneider

Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in our culture. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true. - Richard Rohr, adapted from a non-published talk at a conference in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

I guess I tend to associate the gospel with humanity relative to how people are acting more like “kingdom people,” regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. It seems to me that Christ wasn’t so fixated on whether other people loved him or not (though this was certainly mentioned, but not so much as a prerequisite of acceptance into what he was about). I think Jesus identified with those who were simply what he was about himself (making his god’s world a better place), not so much, if at  all, dependent upon whether someone loved and devoted themselves to him. – Chris Hill

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. – George Bernard Shaw

Why do we train ministers for 7 years, lay preachers for 2 years, but worship leaders…? Not at all (except, perhaps, as musicians). . . . Facilitating worship is not a musical job. It’s a theological job. . . . John van de Laar (from Twitter @Sacredise, www.sacredise.com)

Consumer society, by constantly making us aware of what we don’t have, instead of making us thankful for what we do have, has turned out to be the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacturing and distribution of unhappiness. -  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. (Laughter) She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals. – from Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story (TED Talk)

This world is enchanted
Lean closer to see it
This world is enchanted
Dare to breathe it in

O God. . .

Give us new eyes to see
Give us new skin to feel
Give us new lungs to breathe
The wonder underneath

Faith like a mustard seed
Holy naiveté
To swim in Your mystery
We need to be free
Free to breathe it in
Free to breathe it in
Born and born again

This world is transcendent
Lean closer to see it
This world is resplendent
Dare to breathe it in

Enchanted, by Aaron Niequist


Another Slippery Slope

Many people use the “slippery slope” argument when warning others about what they perceive to be the danger of a certain way of thinking or behaving.

When worship music took a turn toward contemporary styling back in the 60s and early 70s, I heard many pastors preach against “the devil’s music” (it was actually 20 years later in my church circle–that’s how behind the times we were). They claimed that this was the first step down a “slippery slope” that would lead to all sorts of sinful behaviour in churches including drugs, drunkenness and sex amongst the young people. (Obviously, such pastors weren’t aware what was already happening in their youth groups . . . but I digress.)

When the issue of women clergy began to be an issue (and some still believe it is), the slippery slope argument went something like this: “You permit a woman to be in the pulpit and women will get the idea that it’s OK to tell men what to do, they’ll start doing this at home, and the family will experience upheaval and possible disintegration.”

When the Emergent Movement started gaining momentum and receiving attention, preachers like John Piper (among a multitude of others) warned that those who accepted such a theological shift would find themselves on a “slippery slope” that would lead to ultimately denying the existence of God.

Which brings me to today.

The most prevalent argument in conservative circles today is that accepting homosexuality will inevitably lead to a breakdown of morals; legalising gay marriage will surely lead to the breakdown of the family unit. Some take it further and actually name the sins that will follow as we travel down this “slippery slope.”

Bruce Reyes-Chow has made a excellent point on the Patheos blog how that not promoting and legalising equality for LGBTQ people is also a slippery slope, as demonstrated by the recent exploits of now-infamous Pastor Charles L. Worley and his declaration that LGBTQ folk should be locked behind electric fences and kept there until they all die out.

. . . [I]t would be easy to dismiss him as some radical, fringe person that should be given little attention or thought. After all, no reasonable and faithful person would ever think these things, let alone say them.  My friend Eugene Cho, in his excellent post chastising Worley and others, says, “No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, there are some boundaries of human decency that should never be crossed.”

For the most part I agree, most people who think homosexuality is a sin, probably do not think that LGBTQ people should be rounded up until they die off. And then I think back to some meetings/debates among those whom I would consider “thoughtful and faithful” communities in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). When it came to homosexuality, the slippery slope argument was always busted out, “homosexuality will lead to … [insert perceived sexual 'deviance'].” After an awkward moment of “Whoa, did he just say what I think he said?” most of us would simply dismiss these folks as fringe, after all, the slippery slope argument is unwinnable — and what does it matter anyway?

And then you hear people like Worley and others who do in fact verbalize what we know already happens, people take anti-LGBTQ thought, theology and rhetoric and walk down that slippery slope to the point of killing people who are gay. I am generally not a slippery slope kind of person, but in this case, I will borrow a page from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe that the affirmation of of homosexuality, as choice or creation, will lead to the destruction of all that is good and holy and say this:

You can wrap your theological position in all the “speaking the truth in love” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric you want, but if you hold the idea that affirming homosexuality will lead to the destruction of societal “norms” then you had better claim the other side: anti-homosexuality rhetoric will lead to the death of human beings because they are gay.

He continues:

. . . [T]hose of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.

They do.

(Click here to read the rest of the post.)

I suppose the biggest problem I have with slippery slope arguments is that they tend to be mostly conjecture. We don’t really know where following a certain path will lead because we haven’t yet been down that path. All we have to go on is history.

Has contemporary music in church brought illegal drugs, booze and sex into the sanctuary?

Have women in leadership positions in our churches resulted in the breakdown of families?

Has the Emergent Church been the birthplace of increasing numbers of atheists?

Will granting equality to our LGBTQ family & friends bring about a rise in perversion and the destruction of the family unit?

Based on all information available–and the testimony of history–the answer is and must remain “NO.”

The Future of Christianity

Diana Butler-Bass has just posted on Huffington Post a post-Easter response to Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek story “Forget the Church, Folow Jesus.” Rather than go into the details of what he said/she said, you can read it following the links on her post here.

Part of her article sketches out the difference between what used to be taken for granted as the definitive way of being a Christian. She takes three key words–believing, behaving, and belonging–and looks at the way these have been approached, and then at how they are now being seen by the new generation of Christians:

Religion always entails the “3B’s” of believing, behaving, and belonging. Over the centuries, Christianity has engaged the 3B’s in different ways, with different interrogators and emphases. For the last 300 years or so, the questions were asked as follows:

1) What do I believe? (What does my church say I should think about God?)
2) How should I behave? (What are the rules my church asks me to follow?)
3) Who am I? (What does it mean to be a faithful church member?)

But the questions have changed. Contemporary people care less about what to believe than how they might believe; less about rules for behavior than in what they should do with their lives; and less about church membership than in whose company they find themselves. The questions have become:

1) How do I believe? (How do I understand faith that seems to conflict with science and pluralism?)
2) What should I do? (How do my actions make a difference in the world?)
3) Whose am I? (How do my relationships shape my self-understanding?)

Do we need a Church to effectively be a Christian (or follower of Jesus)? No. But a healthy, vibrant–and open-minded–community will go miles to encourage the outcast, the displaced, the seeker, and even the religious to embrace a faith that is truly relevant and sensitive to today’s world and its needs. Perhaps our churches could benefit greatly by reframing their communities around the three new questions and, in turn, reap the rewards of spiritually alive and growing congregations.