Willing To Change….

Be Willing to Change:

I don’t expect to fully understand God by the time I’m done with middle school, high school, college, or when I retire—faith is a Pilgrim’s Progress, a journey of continual growth and maturity. God is too big and glorious to completely understand within a set amount of time, so my ideas, opinions, and understanding of God—my theology—will change.

But why do you remain static in your belief systems? Why do you spend all of your time and energy promoting your theology as being exclusively correct? In the real world, people change. We learn, we grow, and we meet new people, experience different cultures, and encounter transformational events— life happens.

So stop pretending you’re the exception to the rule and have everything figured out. If you’re a human, you don’t know it all, so quit claiming you do.

SOURCE:  Stephen Mattson: An Open Letter to All Christian Theologians | Red Letter Christians.

As the source title implies the quote above is from an open letter to Christian theologians. As the quote says, I too have grown immensely since my early years in a Catholic grade school. I believe I have matured as a Christian in my thoughts and deeds. It has indeed been a Pilgrim’s Progress for me.

My theology began to drastically change when I entered my middle years. As a person I have never shied away from asking “why”. That has gotten me into more trouble in the church than it probably has anywhere else in my life. So many Christian denomination just don’t like to be questioned about their beliefs or doctrine.

I have come to the conclusion that none of the current or past religious theologies are exclusively correct.  I’m sure I would never have come to this conclusion without asking questions. All religious institutions, and I mean all, are just man’s attempt to understand God. They all put their own spin on God; a spin that meets their current agenda.  I have come to understand that with our puny brains, God is just not totally understandable and he never will be. But that understanding does not mean that I will simply believe what I am told to believe about him.

I do believe that the Christian bible which was written by hundreds of very wise men throughout the ages teaches me about Jesus and his commands of us.  The most basic command is to love God and to love each other. Jesus told us that that the primary lesson that trumps all other messages in the bible. When I hear others either ignore that lesson or try to twist it into something else I approach their words with extreme caution. If they can’t get the simple “love” command right how can I trust that they can get any of it right.

I will never claim that I know it all. Those who make such claims are often building a house of cards that are most likely to fall with the smallest of questions.

Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty: An Interview with Greg Boyd

“The quest to feel certain becomes an idol when a person’s sense of significance to God and security before God is anchored not in their simple trust of God’s character, as revealed on the cross, but in how certain they feel about the rightness of their beliefs.” – Greg Boyd

SOURCE: Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty: An Interview with Greg Boyd.

Greg Boyd Book on DoubtI can say with some certainty (pun intended) that Greg Boyd is one of my favorite Christian authors.  I think I have read almost all of his twenty some books on the topic.  Greg was one of the first to let me know that it was alright to have doubts about how my then church dealt with various matters.  One of the most poignant quotes from the interview above follows. I would highly encourage you to read the entire interview and even pick up a copy of his new book about doubt. I just downloaded mine into my Kindle.

On top of this, those who embrace “certainty-seeking faith” tend to become narrow-minded, for honestly trying to see things from other peoples’ point of view might lead them to question their faith and thereby jeopardize their “salvation.“ In fact, this model can easily lead people to develop learning phobias, for if you dare to read broadly and learn to see things from other people’s point of view, you might uncovering facts that could shake your certainty and thus displease God. I’m convinced this explains why Christians, especially conservative Christians, have a well-deserved reputation in the broader culture for being narrow-minded. – Greg Boyd

I have indeed been directly exposed to many in this mode. They absolutely refuse to look at anything that might jeopardize their supposed certainly that their version of Christianity is the only true one.  At first this fact surprised me when my pastor basically refused to read a book by Shane Claiborne that I gave him. But later I realized that he by choice chooses to be narrow-minded in this and many other topics of the world.  Unlike my previous friends I have no doubt that God welcomes questions about him and what he expects of us. I pray that some day my “certainty-seeking” friends will open up their hearts and minds to the questions that other have about their beliefs.

An Emergent Witness for Friends…..

1.  As we often proclaim, Friends are, for the most part, non-creedal and non-hierarchical.  When we are at our best we’ve avoided creeds, and when we are at our worst we’ve just been bad at them.  One of the apparent features of the emerging church movement seems to be a general disinterest in formal creedal statements of belief that everyone is expected to conform to in order to be “in.”  Friends’ attempts to wait for the Spirit to lead rather than turning to a human leader is one of our historic precedents.  Our testimony on equality, so radical at the time of the early Friends, speaks to the cultural reality of the new Jesus People and the spiritual reality to which they aspire….

2.  Friends have long held an abiding faith in the continuing revelation of God.  We may disagree on what that revelation is, and our different branches may have different views on how that is revealed to us, but it is safe to say few Quakers believe that God went away when the canon was closed.  Popular evangelists like Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne draw large crowds of young Seekers precisely because they speak of meeting the Holy Spirit through experience, not concept.   For many of the speakers of this new Movement, and I can only assume for their aspiring listeners, the stories they want to hear are not about what God can do for us, but what God is doing in the world – and how can we be a part of it.  Isn’t that the continuing revelation of God?

3.  To these new Followers of Jesus, faith means an abiding trust in the non-violent and redemptive love of God for everyone regardless of race, religion, social status, sexual orientation, political beliefs, criminal occupation, or anything else we humans use to separate ourselves.  This new Awakening expends little energy on theological debate and like many Friends does not equate Christian life with questions of reward/heaven versus punishment/hell.  Sin and salvation are not so much ignored as trumped by Grace.  And in a world filled with poverty, violence, addiction, exploitation, hopelessness, fear, and suffering of all kinds, the emerging church is longing for a prophetic witness for peace and reconciliation.

Friends, let us learn from this movement of the Spirit in our day. Let us join with them and pray with them and grow with them, not that they may “become Quakers” (whatever that means), but that together and across traditions, we may see what Love can do in our world today.

SOURCE: An Emergent Witness for Friends? – QuakerQuaker.

I apologize for the length of the quote above but I didn’t want to edit anything out as I usually do.  I am currently a convinced non-engaging Quaker. That is I believe much of what they practice but don’t formally belong to a meeting.

As the words above say Emergents, like their Quaker brothers, have a rather strong aversion to creedal stands. Creeds, which are man-made statements of beliefs that are often used to qualify a person for membership into a particular religious sect. They are often also used to exclude instead of include. I know that the Nicene Creed was used to push me out of the church I once belonged to.  My case was somewhat typical I suppose.

I love the phrase  “For many of the speakers of this new Movement, and I can only assume for their aspiring listeners, the stories they want to hear are not about what God can do for us, but what God is doing in the world – and how can we be a part of it” That almost sums it up for me. It is all about “being” not “believing”.

When two organization that I hold dearly in my walk with Christ come together in whatever form I am ready to celebrate. Quakers don’t need to become emergents nor the other way around. Emergents are about living our faiths, not about further fracturing into yet smaller groups.

Hating the Poor but Loving Jesus?

“Americans react to the poor with disgust,” said Susan Fiske, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University and the originator of the neuroimaging tests. She has studied attitudes toward the poor for a dozen years. “It’s the most negative prejudice people report, greater even than racism,“ Fiske stated.
No doubt part of that response is aesthetic. Some of those who are very poor – especially those living on the streets – smell bad and are unkempt and shabbily dressed. But a deeper part of the response is moral. The poor are stripped of value in the eyes of many. They are seen as useless, and not just useless, but an actual drain on the more productive and affluent members of society. Not only do they fail to add anything positive to the world, they actually subtract value, like trash piled on a lawn.
How can we see God while despising the needy among us? Scripture declares that it is impossible. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Spiritual blindness is the inevitable consequence of hating the poor.
SOURCE:  Craig M. Watts: Hating the Poor but Loving Jesus? | Red Letter Christians.

How The Other Side Sees It….

 “Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man … living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.” ― George Carlin

 Sadly this is far too often the side of Christianity that many people see.  Sounds kind of foolish doesn’t it? If only we concentrated on the words and lessons of Jesus instead of so many of the fables of the Old Testament….

Shane Claiborne’s Statement on Syria – Red Letter Christians

SyriaRight after 9/11, I asked a kid in my neighborhood what we should do in response.  His answer: “Those people did something very wrong…”  He thought pensively and continued, “But two wrongs don’t make a right.”  As Martin Luther King taught us, you cannot fight fire with fire, you only get a bigger fire.  You fight fire with water.  You fight violence with nonviolence.  You fight hatred with love.  As a Christian, a follower of Jesus the Prince of Peace, I am deeply troubled about the possibility of a military response to the violence in Syria.  Jesus consistently teaches us another way to respond to evil, a third way – neither fight nor flight.  He teaches that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, oppressors resisted without being emulated, enemies neutralized without being destroyed.  I am praying that the nonviolent imagination of Jesus and MLK would move the leaders of our country and our world to find another way forward than violence.  When I heard US military leaders calculating the collateral damage of an attack on Syria (“classified” information), something feels terribly wrong.  Christ once scolded his own disciple who tried to use the sword to protect him.  After healing the wounded persecutor, he said to Peter, “If you pick up the sword you will die by the sword. Put your sword back.”  Over and over we have tried to use the sword – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, now possibly in Syria… and the sword has failed.  The cure becomes as bad as the disease.  When we fight fire with fire, we only get a bigger fire, and a bigger mess.   Two wrongs do not make a right.
Photo Credit: ValeStock / Shutterstock.com
SOURCE:  Shane Claiborne’s Statement on Syria – Red Letter Christians.