Decisons, decisions…

I absolutely hate being involved in making decisions that pull me (rip me) in different directions because the alternatives are in and of themselves very good! Lord, what does one do? To be more specific, “Lord, what do I do?”
Then, if I say, “Lord, what do I do,” is that an attempt to relinquish my responsibility and give over to someone else that privilege of decision making so that I don’t have to feel the pain/confusion/angst of it all (and in some situations have to bear the brunt of the outcome), or is it a recognition that in this circumstance I just don’t know what is the best thing to do? Then, am I truly willing to hear the answer when and if it comes? Am I open to any possibility? One more thing, how much does my own want – separate from other right and good considerations – come into play? Is it possible to separate oneself from more selfish thoughts/feelings? Yes, it is, of course, but how do we know the difference between inappropriate selfish feelings – even legitimate wants – and the “right thing to do” because the option really is the right thing to do?
While I may “absolutely hate” having to be involved in such processes, I also know that even the trouble, the angst, the sick gut feeling is for a good end and the process itself is good. There are good results when we give ourselves to allowing ourselves to be challenged and changed.
My problem is that I doubt myself so much. Some have said that one of my (many) problems is that I think too much. I know from past experiences that in the end I tend to make decisions from my gut (when I’m not being slapped in the face, hard, with what should be obvious demonstrations of what needs to be done). I’ve also learned that I can depend on my gut feeling – when I am to the best of my abilities in a place of, “Lord, thy will be done.” I’ve made decisions when everything in me pretty much says, “I DO NOT want to do that!” but my gut says I need to – and the outcome was good.
I drive people crazy because I process out loud concerning these kinds of decisions. I can’t stop myself from subjecting friends to all my angst and confusion.
So, I have a gut feeling. Is it a selfish, uninformed gut feeling or a gut feeling as in, “Lord give me the desires of my heart,” gut feeling because God is directing? I guess if I remove the whole God thing, I’m just the type of person that would still feel the angst – or be far more selfish and be finished with it all. What is worse is that the decision my gut feeling is leading me to make right now doesn’t really benefit me! As a matter of fact, it will make life more difficult and in the end, fail. AND, the other option seems to have so many positives, and will even be beneficial to me as a result.
What does it mean when a very good thing is not chosen?
Right now, I am in that liminal state.
How much are the good outcomes of the decisions we make and their outcomes are simply deciding that this is what I’m going to do and the good results come more from changing attitudes and shifting outlooks to see positively the place we find ourselves or put ourselves?
So my gut feeling will put me in a place that is not as “easy,” not as serene, not as sure, not as stable, not as good for the resume, not a business-ly prudent for my future. So, why am I even considering this alternative? That’s part of my quandary!
Now, I have to try to write a sermon. Lord, help them tomorrow morning because they may just be subjected to an angst inspired interpretation of the scriptures.
Were will I be most useful? Where can my personality, my interests, my sense-of-things be most helpful?

What is theology?

From a recent e-mail update for the Emergent Village (May 20, 2009):
What, Exactly, Is Theology?
By Tony Jones
an exclusive excerpt from the book
The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (now available in paperback)

Some readers might be tempted, at this point, to say, ”All this talk of philosophy and theology is really a waste of time. Why bother with it? The only important thing is that we love Jesus. That’s it.”
Well, I submit that ”only loving Jesus” is a theology. It’s a paper-thin theology, a reductionistic theology. It’s a theology that avoids many things; for instance, (1) two millennia of argumentation over the nature of God, (2) the great difficulties in reading the Bible, and (3) all of the grief in the world. The refrain ”Can’t we all just love Jesus?” uses that unseemly word just (a word that we Christians use altogether too often in prayer: ”Father, we just ask that you would just be here with us tonight …”). Just is a term of minimization, of diminution, when used in this way. (Ironically, just can also be used to denote justice, which is at the very heart of the gospel.) But Jesus, the gospel, the Bible, theology, they’re never ”just” anything. They’re always more, much more, than we might think. These items (Jesus, gospel, Bible) should not be qualified with the adverbs just or only. The gospel is always more than we imagine, the Bible always has something for us greater than we expect, and Jesus is always beyond what we can conceive.
So we must refigure our theology. Too much bad theology has engendered too many unhealthy churches and too many people who don’t quite get the whole ”following Christ” way of life. Too much thin theology is responsible for too many Christians who practice the faith in ways that are a mile wide and an inch deep. The hope of emergents, their ministry, their message is, more than anything, a call for a reinvigoration of Christian theology—not in the ivy towers, not even in pulpits and pews, but on the street. …
Most human activity is inherently theological, in that it reflects what we believe to be the case about God—who God is, what God wants from us, how involved God is in the world, and so forth. The house I buy—where it is, how big it is, how much it costs—is a theological decision. It reflects what I believe about the following questions and more: Does God care where I live? Does God care how I spend my money? Does God favor the city or the suburbs? Does God care about energy use? Does God favor public transportation? Maybe I believe that God cares about none of these things, in which case my decision to purchase the biggest house I can afford in the nicest part of town reflects my theological belief that God is not concerned with such things. Similarly, decisions that are much more mundane also reflect our beliefs about who God is and how God interacts with us. Some people pray for a good parking spot when they’re driving to the mall. Others ask, ”If God is allowing genocide in Darfur, why would he intervene in the traffic patterns at my shopping mall?!?”
So theology isn’t just talk, and it’s not even just great works of art like The Allegory of Peace and War. Actors act theology and businesspeople work theology and stay-at-home moms change diapers and make lunch theologically. So human life is theology. Virtually everything we do is inherently theological. Almost every choice we make reflects what we think about God. There’s no escaping it.

APA and Biological Determinates

Once again, it is evident that the anti-gay forces of the politicized Religious Right will cling to or glom onto anything that even remotely seems to suggest that their pet theories may have a shred of legitimacy. The APA (American Psychological Association) has published a pamphlet that discusses sexual orientation, and in it the Religious Right organizations are having a field day.
Now, these organizations tend to believe that homosexuality is a psycho-emotional “gender identity” disorder at best or at worst simply wanton and willful engagement in deviant sexual relations by men who are intentionally trying to destroy heterosexuality even if it kills their disease ridden carcasses in the process (that is a bit of exaggeration, but not much for some). Any time a study is released that might suggest a biological determinate, they are quick to condemn it and more often than not attempt to twist the comments of the study’s author(s) in order to support their agenda. They claim that most all pro-gay people or organizations demand a “gay-gene” theory be accepted as fact. This simply isn’t true. I am yet to hear any mainstream gay organization demand such a thing, even though individuals will say that they suspect that when all is said and done they believe a biological link will be found. (Of course, there are gay people who will say that it is all biological, but they are speaking not from fact but from emotion and play right into the hands of the anti-gay Religious Right.)
Here is the paragraph from the APA that is referenced by and commented on by the likes of Peter LaBarbera, Matt Barber, and their compadres:

What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

Interestingly, I don’t see links to the APA’s entire pamphlet on the anti-gay websites, “Answers to Your Questions
For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality
,” which presents much that is contrary to the Religious Right dogma. In the OneNewsNow article, Matt Barber states, “It’s irrefutable from a medical standpoint that people can leave the homosexual lifestyle…. Homosexuality is defined by behavior. Untold thousands of people have found freedom from that lifestyle through either reparative therapy or through — frankly, most effectively — a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
This is completely disingenuous. From the very same APA source that is used as a “knockout punch,” comes this:

What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his samesex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life. Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to selfdetermination; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors.

Barber’s statement has nothing to do with the orientation of homosexuality, but homosexuals who decide to forgo relationships of an intimate nature – loving or otherwise. To “leave the homosexual lifestyle” means to no longer self-identify as a homosexual (regardless of the feelings anyone may have), to burn bridges to all people or anything that may temp people to consider themselves to be homosexuals or to be sexual engaged, and to life-long celibacy. They declare that Jesus will heal people of their homosexuality and make them into heterosexuals, but again and again it is shown that beyond willful hopefulness at best and self-deception at worst, this “healing” just doesn’t happen.
From this paragraph, comes the OneNewsNow opening line: “The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch.” Now, a generally unbiased read of this paragraph will conclude that the intent is to simply say that we don’t know yet what causes sexual orientation, period. But, the Religious Right will use this as a slam against gay-rights organization and homosexuals who claim that they cannot change into heterosexuals.
I think both paragraphs are true, plainly and simply. What more can be said – we do not have enough information to determine what causes even heterosexuality, let alone other expressions of orientation. It is as equally wrong for a gay person to say that homosexuality is biologically determined, factually, as it is for anti-gay people to say that homosexuals can be changed into heterosexuals, factually.
This certainly is not a “knockout punch,” but because it says nothing about a biological determinate being the cause they consider it a victory for Jesus (or rather their manipulation of Jesus for their own ends). The APA states the truth. I wish these groups could do the same.
Why can’t people simply be forthright and truthful? Honestly, gay people or anti-gay people, just deal with the way things are and not they way you want them to be in the face of evidence otherwise.

“Waterboarding” and Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptist Convention’s leader for their Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Richard Land, has come out against waterboarding and declaring it torture.
He said, in part:

“It violates everything we believe in as a country,” Land said, reflecting on the words in the Declaration of Independence: that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
“There are some things you should never do to another human being, no matter how horrific the things they have done. If you do so, you demean yourself to their level,” he said.
“Civilized countries should err on the side of caution. It does cost us something to play by different rules than our enemies, but it would cost us far more if we played by their rules,” Land concluded.” [Source: ERLC]

I originally came across this announcement from a e-mail news summary update. OneNews is news aggregator with a intentional slant to American-Evangelicalism (really, more Fundamentalist in perspective). Here is their report. Within the article, they sponsored a poll as to whether the reader agreed with Mr. Land’s opinion. As of 7:11 AM Eastern, May 10, 2009, the results show that 85% of the nearly 18,000 respondents to the poll disagreed with Mr. Land that “waterboarding” is unethical and is torture. That is an amazingly high number, even knowing the kind of readers that regular this website. Only 9% agreed with Land, and I’m one of those respondents.
The comments to Mr. Land’s announcement are fairly typical, with some praising him and some condemning him. What I don’t understand is how those who condemn him do not realize the corrupting effect this kind of behavior has on our own national soul (let alone the individual souls of the 18 year-olds who are either commanded to or given permission to torture another person). Those who comdemn Mr. Land may not care about the soul or body of the individual being tortured, but they should be concerned about the damage done to us.
Here is one typical comment:

Jeff wrote:
Does Mr. Land not understand that we are dealing with pure evil straight from the depths of hell that is clothed in human skin? Why do I care if Satan’s own minion (aka your garden variety terrorist) has a problem with being tortured? Our responsibility to ourselves is far greater than whatever feelings of decency we have towards pure, unadulterated evil….

Jeff may be a “good” Southern Baptist, a “good” Christian family man, but Jeff doesn’t know Scripture or the elemental teachings and commands of Jesus Christ – the one to whom he would claim to have given his life.

What if…

Here’s the thing – too many of us come to this Christian thing, this faith thing, this religion thing, this church thing not with an intent to learn (really), not in humility believing that I (we) need to be instructed on things we know little about. Instead, we come with the perhaps insecure intent to justify, support, or confirm what we want to believe already. Our culture has come to the point where we believe we can think anything we want to be true and it is therefore true, for us, and it matters not whether anyone agrees or whether real-life counters what we want to believe.
The “learning process” has changed from one of acquiring new/more knowledge from people who know far more than I do that will change me and my perceptions of truth or reality, to a process of seeking out anywhere “facts” that support what I want to believe. Sadly, for many people the anti-culture anti-intellectualism of our time reigns and they would rather simply remain ignorant.
As such, instead of giving ourselves to a teaching that challenges our preconceptions and may well demand that we align our opinion or belief to an established “truth,” we instead try to overtly or subtly change the teaching of this “truth” so that it will match up with what we can only already conceive of. We rely upon our own understanding of what is possible or our own ability to correctly discern, rather than yield to a very old and established teaching that effectively extends to multiple cultures and languages and billions of people over two millennia.
I well understand the good and arduous process of wrestling with stuff, but that is different than asserting that what I want to be true therefore is, even if just for me. What happens if we say, “I don’t know” or “I am probably wrong,” and begin there? What would happen if we give ourselves to a process that will probably turn everything we rely upon upside down? What would happen if we looked back over these past 2,009 years and step aside our own hubris and considered that what has survived all these years of trial and persecution, this wisdom, just might have something to say to us of the Truth, of God, and of God’s ways for us – not just the limited and myopic vision that we cling to?

Another Third Way

I need to be able to explain this without offending a bunch of folks, which is just impossible I know, but I need to try anyway. I just don’t know how to lay out my thoughts in a way that is precise in order to convey what I am really thinking, because right now my thoughts are a jumble in my mind. It would be too easy to land too far on one side of the argument or the other and not meaning to. Perhaps, just a series of statements and for now and leave it at that. In addition, it will be way, way too easy for me to sound like a reactionary, and I don’t mean to sound like a reactionary of any side. We’ve had way too much of that these past 6 years, already.
I keep thinking of the statement by the Mennonite pastor of Washington Christian Fellowship in D.C. that I heard one Sunday many years ago. In the context of his whole sermon, he said, “Jesus’ way is always a third way.” Ever since then, for really most of my adult life, I have always tried to look at issues and controversies, arguments and fights, accusations and declarations within the Church by asking, “What might be the completely different way that could be the third way of Jesus?” I believe that the attitudes and actions of most all things that separate us are a two-way-street. There is fault and blame on both sides, within both perspectives, attitudes, theories, theologies, visions, etc. We are human – we never get it “right” because of our limitations. So, looking for a third way to help solve the conflict or dispute or schism is where my mind goes almost automatically, now. Even though any thought of mine will really be only just another way.
After working with data over the past couple of years, there can be little debate that The Episcopal Church has suffered a tremendous decline in numbers and influence within our culture and our national life.
We have been on a 30-40 year experiment to remake this Church, and for many adherents of the experiment Christianity itself – just to very pertinent examples: retired Bishop Shelby Spong of Newark, the recently deposed priest trying to merge Christianity and Islam and seeing no conflict, the recently elected bishop of a small diocese that believes in the conflation of Christianity and Buddhism and proceeded to write his own liturgies and creedal statements.
There are plenty of other examples of leadership (clergy and lay) that are now in leadership that in years past would have been called skeptics of the faith, traditionally rendered. The skeptics may have been respected and honorably engaged to hear the why of the skepticism, but they would not been made leader of a Christian Church. It wouldn’t have made sense. Now, it is almost a virtue for a leader in this Church to be a skeptic of the foundational and traditional beliefs/principles of the Church catholic.
It’s like putting a person in charge of an airline company who doesn’t believe that aeoplanes can really go wondering through the air. The new leader believes he is on a mission to save people from the dreadful notion that we can safely go from one place to another by hurtling through high altitudes in a metal tube. What would be the result of hiring such a leader, regardless of how sincere he may be? If this happened, people would lose confidence in the airline (they have a crack-pot for a CEO), the airline would lose its place within the industry, ridership would probably tumble down drastically, and the airline would be destroyed. Of course, the solution to such a situation would be to find another CEO that actually believed that aeroplane flight is possible and safe. But, the conditions of the corporate culture at the time would not allow for the CEO’s removal.
The 30-40 year experiment continuing on in the leaders of this Church (and as a priest I have to include myself in this group) believing that the 2,000 tradition of the Church Catholic and Apostolic is obviously wrong in this modern age, that people are damaged by believing such superstitions, and that a new belief must be forged in order to save the organization and the religion (I don’t go there, however). We can look at denominations that have already gone down this path to see what the result will be. The Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ can be examples for what will result if we continue with this experiment we are engaged in.
This path is also out of touch with the wantings and leanings of younger generations, so the hope that our path will divinely meet up with the rest of the people is false. The demographic data reveal this. We are beginning to see the results of the experiment and the results don’t look too good.
I’ll stop for now. I don’t know how well this has “come out.” I don’t know if this is how I really want to describe all this. But, I can say that the way the conservatives and the liberals within this Church have conducted themselves over the past 30-40 years has not worked and has resulted in schism, division, tremendous decline, and loss of good influence. A third way needs to be found.

Reflections on the God Debate

Stanley Fish in his New York Times blog gives a good review of a new book by Terry Eagleton, entitled: “Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.”

“…British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. ‘What other symbolic form,’ he queries, ‘has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?’
“…but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its ‘subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.’ And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to ‘a radical transformation of what we say and do.’
“The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: ‘A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.’
“The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.
“And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how the material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do. When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of ‘the telescope and the microscope’ religion ‘no longer offers an explanation of anything important,’ Eagleton replies, ‘But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.’”

Read the entire thing here.

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