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Faith

Ladies: I found Henry Cavill first.  I realize you’ve all jumped on the bandwagon now, but if you haven’t watched all 4 seasons of The Tudors, well, we have nothing to talk about…

ANYWAY…

If you go here, you can download sermon notes based on the recent Man of Steel Superman movie.

No joke.

Although it’a little late now, there are even notes for Father’s Day.  Isn’t that great?

I’m not going to get into the content of the notes, because I really don’t care and you can download them yourself.  What I care about is why Warner Bros. went to this much trouble to market its movie.

Seems that Hollywood knows a cash cow when it sees one.  In 2007, the Christian entertainment industry was estimated to gross over $3 billion per year, and bookstores over $1 billion.

There’s money to be made, folks!

The problem?  Well…

It’s creating it’s own mainstream Christian culture, where entertainers, writers, etc. are beholden to a certain formula to make money.  If you offend the mainstream, they’re not going to buy the product.  And it’s alllllllll about the money.

Pastors are becoming shills for corporations rather than the Gospel. Glory be!

It’s starting to cost a hell of a lot to ‘be’ a ‘Christian:’ private schools/university, retreats, seminars, books, etc.

But all it really means is that Christians are suckers for capitalism just like everyone else.

For more, check out Jonathan Merritt’s take, which is anti-Hollywood, and Craig Detweiler’s, which is the opposite.

A couple of weeks ago, we were studying the book of Amos.  I’d never read the book in its entirety before; it’s pretty stark and depressing.  But one of the major themes of the book is justice.

I have to admit: I have a law degree and I can’t even begin to define what justice is.

The first word that comes to mind is fairness.  But fairness is relative, of course.  Another word is equality.  Justice must be available to all, and the rule of law must apply to everyone.  Other words I think of include rehabilitation, deterrence, punishment and restitution.

One of the biggest sins that Amos speaks out against is the exploitation of the poor:

Because of the three great sins of Israel
    —make that four—I’m not putting up with them any longer.
They buy and sell upstanding people.
    People for them are only things—ways of making money.
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.
    They’d sell their own grandmother!
They grind the penniless into the dirt,
    shove the luckless into the ditch.
Everyone and his brother sleeps with the ‘sacred whore’—
    a sacrilege against my Holy Name.
Stuff they’ve extorted from the poor
    is piled up at the shrine of their god,
While they sit around drinking wine
    they’ve conned from their victims.

Amos 2:6-8 (The Message)

Right now, these verses bring to mind the factory collapse in Bangladesh where over 1100 people needlessly died.  All for what – cheaply made clothes?  Injustice screams from the rubble of that building.

Later on, Amos writes:

I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Amos 5: 21-24 (The Message)

These verses hit me between the eyes.  How often have I ignored injustice yet felt like a ‘good Christian’ because I’ve towed the party line or fit the mold?  How often have I looked around the church on a Saturday morning and felt somewhat smug about my presence there?

I often think that as Christians, and therefore our churches, have forgotten that we are called to do justice.  Sitting in the pew on Saturday or Sunday morning does not make you a true follower of Christ.  While I think fellowship with other believers is important, doing justice is more important.  Look again at Amos 5: all God wants is justice.  That’s it.

Doing justice is hard.  It requires you to give up your pride, your comfort and your need for instant gratification.  But you don’t need to go to the other side of the world to do justice.  You can do justice everyday.  Ed Cyzewski hosted a series awhile back about the everyday ins and outs of doing justice.  It’s worth a read.

We all want justice in our own lives, yet we’re so loath to practice its principles and fight against the persistent injustices we see all around us.  I think the first step is to realize how unjust our world is and then take small steps to correct what we can in our immediate area, including in our own homes.

Justice is the theme of the Bible.  From the punishment of Adam and Eve in Genesis through to the ushering in of a new, just kingdom in Revelation, the Bible demonstrates God’s justice.  Our concept of justice obviously differs from God’s; the God of the Old Testament greatly differs from that of the New Testament.  But it’s the promise of the New Testament justice that keeps me going on the days where the world’s injustice knocks off of my feet; it’s the hope that someday the meek will truly inherit the earth.

There are many, many days where I wonder why in the world I believe what I do.  The first time I actually took these doubts seriously, I was terrified.  Questioning a world view that you’ve grown up with is always difficult, but for me, it felt like I was lost in a dark cave.

When I think about doubt, two conversations come to mind.  The first was with someone whom I’d expected would sympathize with my conundrum.  I asked them if doubt was bad, and they unequivocally answered ‘Yes.  You can’t doubt; you just have to believe.”  The second was with someone whom I’d expected wouldn’t be able to empathize.  Their answer was that if you haven’t doubted, you’ve never really ever contemplated your faith, and that’s not a good thing.

These conversations pretty much sum up the two camps about doubt.  The first sees doubt as completely incompatible with faith: if you doubt, you obviously don’t have enough faith.  The classic saying of this camp is “Where there is faith, there is no doubt.”  The second sees doubt as a part of one’s faith journey, a natural and necessary part of the growth process.

I’ve come to see doubt as a good thing.  Whereas before I found paralyzing, I now find it freeing.  

The biggest problem with those in the first camp is that they seem to see faith as something that can be perfected.  But it can’t be.  It can’t be because we’re human, which means we’re imperfect.  How can imperfect beings have perfect faith?  It’s simply not possible.

The other problem with the first camp is that it doesn’t allow any room for questions, which is troubling.  Where would Christianity be if Martin Luther hadn’t asked questions?  Then there’s poor Galileo, whose devout faith was questioned and then condemned by the Catholic church because he happened to believe that the earth revolved around the sun instead of vice versa.  Questions don’t necessarily lead to an end to faith.  But they may lead to an end to a certain belief, which can then lead to a new, deeper belief and faith.  I think the biggest reason why people fear doubt is because they conflate faith with belief.  Daniel Taylor puts it this way:

Faith is a “life-shaping acceptance of a claim.” That is, “Our creeds calls us to be-live something, not simply to believe something.”

For years I walked around believing in certain things because I felt I had to in order to be a person of faith.  I thought that my belief in and of itself was faith.  But it’s not.  It’s not even close.

Faith requires us to ask tough questions.  Faith demands that we search our hearts and souls for what rings true.  Faith asks us to cut through the noise, to be still and listen and feel.

I love this quote from Timothy Keller:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.

So don’t be afraid to doubt.  Embrace it.  Yes, it might lead you unexpected directions, but it may also lead you to a deeper, more resonant faith.  It’s worth the risk.

Yesterday, this beautiful poem was shared:

life is complicated

there are complexities that are difficult to identify

your experiences and perceptions are unique to you

disappointment, disillusionment and fatigue have all played their part

and you left the church

maybe you’re sick of fighting

maybe you can no longer believe

maybe the inconsistencies were too heavy

maybe you bought into something that no longer rings true

my friend, hear me when I say:

you are not disqualified

you are not forgotten

you are loved

you are needed

God is not limited to what you’ve experienced in church

God is not restrained by the immaturity of His people

and just because you left the church, does not necessarily mean that you left Him

your questions are valid

your doubts are real

let us walk in them together

because I know He calls for you

the thought of darkening those doors may be sickening

the judgmental looks and awkward conversations

do not be dismayed

prodigal or not, God welcomes you

where we go from here, I do not know

what church looks like in your life remains to be seen

but one of the most earnest prayers I know is:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

this journey is to be walked together

and you are not alone

let’s stumble along this path together, falling towards the light

I have left the church at various stages of my life.  There have been times where I’ve felt so disconnected I wondered how I might ever find my way back.

I’ve now realized that finding my way back is not the point; the point is to move forward.

I don’t want to go back to those days when I didn’t have questions, where I believed what I believed because I was supposed to, when I somehow felt better than others for going to church.

How arrogant was I?

Really, it was a means of protecting myself, because I felt that if I lost my beliefs, I’d lose my faith.  And as Kathy Escobar points out, the loss of one does not necessarily lead to losing the other; it’s not a slippery slope or a zero-sum game.

Honestly, I’ve never been happier faith-wise than I’ve been in the last year, even though I’ve wandered off the set path I was on, into the murky forest of unanswered questions and grey, foggy areas.

I’m forging a new path, a new way, a new ‘me,’ and a lot of that involves experimenting, trial and error.

I am lucky in that I’ve had a supportive church family which has aided my spiritual growth in a lot of ways.  But that doesn’t mean my church is perfect.  Churches can’t be perfect because they’re made of people, people who aren’t perfect.  And yes, churches often equate perfect religion with perfect faith, even though the two aren’t necessarily related.  Believe me, there have been times over this past year where I’ve sat in my pew, biting my tongue over what has been said.  And I’m sure people have done the same when I’ve said something.

But for me, my church family is really an extension of my family.  And I am blessed in that way.

Others, unfortunately, have not had the same mostly positive experiences I’ve had.  They’ve been part of churches that have hurt them so badly that they will bear scars for the rest of their lives.  Some people simply can’t get over the hypocrisy between what is practiced and what is preached.  Yet others just don’t have faith in anything anymore and would rather go it alone.

And that’s okay.

God does not live in a church, because a church is just that – a building.  Going to church every week does not make you better than anyone else.  Not believing exactly what your religion says you should believe is okay; you need to figure out your faith for yourself.  And if you have no idea what you believe, or if you even believe in anything at all, that’s okay, too.  The trick is to stop comparing your journey to others.  It’ll never be the same, and it shouldn’t be because you are different.

So whatever church means to you, live that.  Be true to what your heart and soul are telling you and you’ll find what you need.

Uh, yeah.

What a MASSIVE failure Lent was for me this year.

About two weeks into Lent, I gave up.  I was feeling oh so deprived.

At the time, it made sense.  It’s been a hard year, and I’d felt like I’d been deprived in a lot of ways in the fall when I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t do the stuff I normally enjoy doing and was just miserable.

I felt like I’d gone through my time of Lent for the year.

And I suppose I did.

So, I went back to doing whatever it was that I wanted and left Lent alone.

But then a funny thing happened last week.  I realized that by deliberately giving up on Lent, I somehow learned its lesson anyway.

You see, Lent is supposed to remind us of our faults and our failings, our selfishness and our corruptness, and that we need a Saviour.  We can’t do everything ourselves.  And in pushing Lent to the side, I somehow reminded myself of all of these things.

So while I thought I completely failed this Lent, I ended up not failing at all.  

What wonderful grace.

Image

So this month I’ve been leading a series at church on women and the Bible.  Notice it’s women *and* the Bible.

For centuries now, people have used the Bible to basically tell women that they’re inferior to men.

“Biblical language, biblical stories, and biblical ideas underlie high and low culture, political rhetoric, conceptions of self and community, of duty and justice, of denial and aspiration.  The Bible’s gender mythology provides ample raw material for popular culture.  Indeed it does.  For example: did you know that Apple’s corporate logo recalls Eve’s bite of the forbidden fruit (fruit from the tree of knowledge)?”

No, I did not.  But I do know that the interpretation of the Bible and the Bible itself has had a profound influence on gender inequality.

The first week, we looked at the story of Adam and Eve and how what was initially an equal partnership between a man and a woman was reinterpreted over the years to become a story of man’s dominion over women.  I demonstrated this through a look at the writings of various influential Christian theologians and philosophers, and what I found was enough to make me want to find their graves and spit on them (Martin Luther’s especially).  Luckily, there are a lot of feminist biblical scholars and researchers (both male and female) who’ve done a lot of work in this area over the last couple of decades who’ve pretty much dismantled all of the arguments the dominionists (my name for them) use.  Unfortunately, we still live with the consequences of these centuries of misinterpretation.

During the second week, we looked at those lovely passages in the New Testament that basically tell women to sit down and shut up.  I’d never sat down and actually studied the passages before; I simply ignored them, believing they were relics of a previous era.  Well, once again I learned the importance of context.  Those verses do not mean what they say.  In the context of the passages where they come from, they are specific instructions written to specific churches about specific problems within those specific churches, which means they aren’t universal instructions.  Those instructions did not mean that women couldn’t and shouldn’t participate in church and should instead submit to their husbands whenever and however.  Besides, if everything in the Bible was meant to be an instruction that we’re supposed to follow forever and ever, we’d all better stop wearing cotton blends and start stoning adulterers (Tiger Woods goes first).

Last week we looked at the issue of violence in the Bible.  Unfortunately some men use those lovely verses about submitting to your husband as a means of justifying abuse.  And there’s no doubt that a lot of the imagery about God’s relationship to the people of Israel is pretty misogynistic: Israel was portrayed as a whore on many occasions.  Then we looked at Judges 19, that horrific passage where a woman is pushed out into the street by her master and is gang-raped all night by a group of men, only to have her master possibly kill her and then dismember her and send parts of her body out to the 12 tribes of Israel, who then seek revenge for her death and end up slaughtering thousands of men and kidnapping hundreds of women.  The master conveniently leaves out his part in the woman’s death.  I came across some writing by Greg Boyd that gave me some hope in that others are struggling with synthesizing the violent images of God found in the Old Testament with the merciful and benevolent God found in the New Testament.  How can you reconcile divine love and divine wrath?  I don’t have a clue, but it’s an issue I want to continue exploring.

And that leads me to this week’s session, which is on leadership and valour.  Here’s a primer on female pastors in the Adventist church.

I LOVE this video.  And yeah, they’re ordaining women as pastors in CHINA of all places.

Some people think there’s a biblical basis for not ordaining women, based on those passages about women being silent and the supposed idea that there aren’t any female apostles in the Bible (Dear Catholic Church and other churches that won’t allow women to be pastors: let me introduce you to Junia).  I’m not convinced there’s anything in the Bible that outlaws women becoming pastors.

But Adventists are a little weird in this respect.  We allow female pastors, we just won’t ordain them.  And that means that they can’t officially represent the church nor aspire to church leadership.  I remember when I first realized this.  I was 7 or 8, I think, and I was PISSED.  The church and I just about broke up that day.

Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find this recent article: “WANTED! More Female Pastors.”

It’s about damn time.

If you look at the Bible, you see amazing examples of female leadership.  The first person who comes to mind for me is Deborah.  Deborah was a bad ass.  She was the only female judge found in the book of Judges, and Barak wouldn’t go into battle without her.  She was fierce and brave.

What about Esther?  She stood up to the King and risked her life for her people.

Ruth did not wait for a guy to ask her out; she went after what she wanted.

Huldah lived at the time of the mighty prophet Jeremiah (who has an entire book named after him in the Bible), yet she was the one that King Josiah trusted.

Mary of Nazareth carried a so-called illegitimate child and had a faith that we’ve admired throughout the ages.

Then there’s Phoebe, Priscilla, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Tabitha.

Don’t tell me that women aren’t capable of leading because aren’t any examples of women in leadership positions in the Bible.  There are TONS, and besides, leadership doesn’t always mean standing at the front of a group of people.  Leadership doesn’t mean yelling your own point of view at the top of your lungs.  True leadership involves understanding people, inspiring people, challenging people and pushing forward.

All of these women were leaders in their own right.  They challenged their circumstances and followed their hearts, all while inspiring those around them.  Churches need more women like them.  Churches need leading ladies.

This video demonstrates how politics is insidious, and not in a good way.

Last week, prominent Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman came out (pardon the pun) in favour of gay marriage after fighting against it for years.

Why the change of heart?

“I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I’ve had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay.”

Needless to say, there’s been a lot of push back against Portman’s position, mostly from those who find it troubling that Republican politicians only seem to grow hearts when their own family members are affected by their draconian policies.

I’ll admit that my favourite response was this one:

Matthew Yglesias wrote:

But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.

This really speaks to the heart of the tension between politics and citizenship, which I’ve talked about before: how do politicians represent the wide differences of opinion that exist in their districts, and how do their own beliefs fit into this?

I agree with Jonathan Chait:

Wanting your children to be happy is the most natural human impulse. But our responsibility as political beings — and the special responsibility of those who hold political power — is to consider issues from a societal perspective.

Unfortunately, we live in political systems that are designed to reflect the will of the majority, leaving minorities in the uncomfortable position of having to fight for their rights. This is further complicated by the party system which leaves MPs beholden to their party; in exchange for power and campaign funds, they agree to tow the party line. It’s a terrible conundrum.

On a human level, I think we ought to cut politicians such as Senator Portman a little slack. I know good, kind and decent people who don’t agree with gay marriage, and I’ve seen them struggle with it, mostly for faith reasons. When you’ve been taught all of your life that something is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, it’s difficult to admit that what you’ve been taught is what was actually wrong.

But as a politician, don’t people in Senator Portman’s position owe it to society to be a lot more compassionate than they are?  Yes, because

[p]ower is concentrated in the hands of people who routinely make policy on matters they have little experience or real stakes in. You don’t need any conscious malice in this setup to produce policy that has devastating effects on the communities these issues touch most directly (though there’s plenty of malice, too). All you need is a system run by people who can afford not to care that much about policies that mostly impact other people’s lives.

This is the problem with privilege. If you don’t identify as LGBTQ, you don’t have a clue about the discrimination, the hatred and the bullying that this group endures.  As Yglesias said, in the context of politicians being unable to identify with the circumstances of poor Americans,

Senators basically never have poor kids. That’s something members of Congress should think about. Especially members of Congress who know personally that realizing an issue affects their own children changes their thinking.

Yes, things get pretty complicated when life, faith and politics are pulling you in different directions. But our politicians are paid pretty well and have infinite resources to come to terms with these intersections and figure out the best way to proceed.  The problem is that our politicians, as well as us as citizens, have forgotten that they are paid to represent ALL of us – everyone in their districts.  They are not there to push their own personal views and biases.

My biggest problem with politicians of Senator Portman’s ilk is that while I’m happy they’ve come around on this issue, the hurt and pain they’ve caused by their past words and policy stances can’t be undone.  They never thought that their job was to represent the interests of all of their citizens, and that includes the ability to be free from discrimination and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Our politicians represent all of us.  Perhaps we should start demanding that they do so.  I think it’s time for me to write a letter to my own MP.

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