A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why God Is Not Dead For Me

The above title is a bit of false advertising.  I am not going to discuss the movie, “God's Not Dead.”  I haven’t seen it.  I can’t bear to see it.  I too often find “Christian” movies, books, music, etc. to be so full of sappy sentimentality, simplistic reasoning, and self-congratulatory nonsense, they actually make me nauseous.  I know, I know, you’re all thinking “Don’t hold back, Sheri, tell us how you really feel.”  But, I can’t.   I haven’t seen the movie and I don’t plan on it. 

Instead, I am shamelessly using the hubbub around that movie to draw attention to my blog.  For shame, I know. 

What I really want to talk about is exactly what the title says, why I have not given up on the idea of God.  And here it is, in picture form:

A tulip is the basis for my faith?  Not a tulip per se but rather what the tulip represents.  Beauty.  Soul-stirring, logic defying, hope imparting beauty.  There is that in this world which stirs us, which awakens something within us, which compels us toward life and hope beyond what the sum of its parts should do.  Such leads me to suspect there might be more to life than meets the eye. 

I am also a bit suspicious of thinking which says “the universe does not owe us justice.  Life is what it is.”  To accept such thinking seems almost elitist.  It is well and good to say “it is what it is” when life is full of mundane problems and struggles.  I just can’t quite fathom how I could look in the face of someone living in a place of violence, ravished by disease, or whose daily existence is an excruciating struggle to survive and say, “It is what it is.  The universe doesn’t owe you justice.”  Maybe it is true but it does not feel true to me.  Truth is more often beautiful at some level or at least freeing. 

Of course, whether it is true or not, whether you believe in some form of God or not, I hope we could look into the face of such suffering and join together in saying, “As long as we have power to stop it, such suffering should not exist in any world.  We will do what we can to help here and now.” 

The glimpses of beauty I see in this world feel like potential to me, like a taste of things to come.  I hope so anyway.  Such astonishing beauty exists in nature, in love, in art, in music, in hope and yet such horror exists as well.  It seems the potential for beauty to grow and horror to recede is so great it would be a shame not to fulfill it in some world.  

Yet, still, staring into the abyss of the possibility “this is it and then you die” makes more sense to me than turning one’s back on the abyss and whistling a happy tune or trying to weave a safety net out of a particular set of beliefs and a narrow definition of morality.

Yep, from what I’ve heard, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see the movie.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Listening To Atheists

People of Christain faith spend way too much time being afraid. We are too often afraid questioning will lead us to lose our faith.  We are too often afraid scriptures don’t all make sense.  We are too often afraid we will be unable to answer questions about our faith, respond to other people’s doubts, convince others to believe like we do. 

When we are afraid sometimes we latch on to any answer, even clichés, even things which don’t add up.  And sometimes we are afraid to listen.  We shut down people who have doubts as not faithful enough,  pretend those who have lost their faith never really had it at all, search for ulterior motives behind every question. 

Following Jesus is not about right beliefs but about love.  Doubt is an essential part of faith.  Believing people must think like us or end up in hell leads to all sorts of manipulation and craziness.  But, all of these things I have written about before.  Today I want to encourage us to set aside our fears and listen.  Listen to the voices of people who have lived a life of faith until it no longer rings true to them.  Listen to voices of those burned by the church.  Listen to those who have tried to believe in God but just couldn’t.  Listen to those who think faith in something without factual evidence is irresponsible.  Listen to those who are hurt and angry.  

Here are a few examples of some voices the church tends to want to ignore.  I invite you to practice listening without falling back on clichés, flimsy explanations, or victim blaming.  Just listen and really hear what these folks have to say

From A Preacherman's Secrets as he describes why he is angry:   
“First, I resent the promise that a holy spirit is present to guide and comfort me.  If it’s there, it has done a piss poor job.  I’ve spent most of my life with searing loneliness, as well as plenty of confusion and sadness. I’ve tried to pretend the spirit is there, and I’ve held onto faith, but after half a century of searching, I haven’t seen it or felt it or believed anyone who told me they did.  I’m angry because I would like for it to have been true.”  
Read several more thought provoking points from this blog here.

Now from Roll To Disbelieve on why she rejects Christianity:
“Way too high of a ratio of embarrassing members to sane members. I hate to say this, but I’ve got too much pride to throw in with a label shared with so many people I have to apologize for and argue with.... Every group has nutbars in it, of course, but when I’m dealing with untold millions of assholes and idiots, all gently tolerated if not encouraged by mainstream members and not reined in immediately (like the ludicrously disturbed Pat Robertson, who really should have been retired decades ago but who not only is tolerated but adored and given nationwide soapboxes by Christian groups), that’s where I draw the line. Given that I don’t see any reason to believe in Hell or Jesus’ sacrifice anyway, and given that I don’t think that Christianity is uniquely positioned to help me become a better person or help me better humanity in any way that another, less toxic viewpoint couldn’t manage just as well if not better, there just doesn’t seem to be much incentive to me to get involved with a group I would be fighting my entire life about issues like my bodily autonomy and rights as well as those of people I care about. “  
Read many more reasons here.

And just in case you think these are all people who didn’t try hard enough, here are some important words from Daniel Fincke of Cammels with Hammers
“I did love Jesus. I loved Jesus enough to commit every fibre of my being to Jesus. I loved Jesus enough to do everything I thought was necessary to express my love for Him and to grow closer to Him. I went to a devoutly Christian university to study about Jesus and live with fellow Jesus-lovers, I devoted my heart, soul, and mind to figuring out how he could be known and how to convince others of His existence so that they could believe in His love and come to be saved. I kept myself sexually chaste as best as I could because it was what I thought Jesus wanted. I risked alienating friends and families by constantly making Jesus the central issue in our conversations.
And yet, I still came to believe Jesus was a fraud. And it ripped my guts out and terrified me and alienated me from the people I loved most, including my very self. But I had to stand on my conscience and say, No, I know longer believe this is true. And I came to realize, by my conscience, that loving truth and loving my fellow human beings meant putting my intellectual conscience above the love of Jesus that had defined me as a person and animated my entire life up until that point”.   
Read more thoughtful arguments from Daniel Fincke here.

We need to listen to these voices without defensiveness and not for the purpose of improving our manipulation tactics so we might more successfully convert such people.  We listen so we can understand, learn, and better love our neighbors.  It is important to also resist responding with cliche, judgment, or convoluted and fragile answers.  Such responses are unconvincing, frustrating, and sound discordantly false (even to some of us in the church).  Like drumming on a rusty bucket of ...manure. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Church: A Garden Club Which Does Woodworking

A parable:
Once there was a gardening club.  The members loved The Garden Club so much that once a week they gathered together to do woodworking.  Amidst the hammering and sawing, someone would read from the Gardening Book.  Garden Club members loved to read the Gardening Book in order to learn more about woodworking. Sometimes they would notice the Gardening Book contained a lot about gardening and they would all nod sagely before continuing with their hammering and sawing.  
Sometimes outsiders would question why the club was called the Garden Club when really what they did was woodworking.  Then, the members would draw attention to portions of the Gardening Book which mention bird houses and fences.  How could one have such things if one did not engage in woodworking?  Furthermore, the members were quick to point out, some of them did some gardening during the rest of the week and they all liked the idea of gardening.   Occasionally a difficult member of the Gardening Club would mention the club might be more appealing to gardeners and more importantly might make the world a more beautiful place if they actually did some gardening.  The other members would then grumble about some gardeners having lousy priorities since they refused to set aside time for woodworking.  Often someone would yell out, “If we do gardening people will think we are nothing more than horticulturists!”  The hammering and sawing would quickly recommence.  And so The Garden Club remained a club centered around woodworking. 

Key to unlocking this fabulously mysterious parable:
The Garden Club=Christian Church
Gardening Book = the Bible
Woodworking=worship and right beliefs
Gardening=serving and standing with neighbors, the poor, the outcast/following Jesus

I have been reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book, “Pastrix” and when reading what she has to say about liturgy I was reminded how powerful and meaningful worship can be.  How can I be against something which is sometimes so beautiful?  Then it dawned on me: focusing on worship almost exclusively is like eating candy and calling yourself a vegetarian or…or... or…then the above parable began to take shape.  I am not against worship.  It can be beautiful.  But it should not define followers of Jesus.