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Authenticity

Tiger Woods. Very polarizing. Loved or hated. Judged or forgiven. Right or wrong. Probably most people are disgusted with him at this point, or at least dissapointed. But yesterday, Tiger looked like he was back. And he was back because he quit pretending, at least for a few hours.

Glimpses of the old Tiger were back yesterday, and it made for more golf excitement than we have seen in quite some time. And the reason why he was back is because he was authentic. He quit trying to please everybody. He quit trying to be a “role model” for humanity. He cussed. He spit. He threw clubs. He fist pumped. He was a jerk. He’ll probably be fined for his behavior. And that’s what makes Tiger, Tiger.

Superstars are not role models. They can’t be. To be a superstar at just about anything, it takes obssesion with yourself. It takes massaging your own ego. It takes narcicism. It takes out of balance focus. We should not point to superstars as role models for our kids. They are not the kind of people we should want our kids to become. There is a cost to being that good at something, a cost which oftens extends to those who happen to be close to that individual. Superstars are not role models, and we should not expect them to be.

And I for one appreciate Tiger finally return to being who he is. He quit trying to put on the nice face that everyone wants him to have. He let some of the real Tiger come back out. If he’d let a little more out, he would have won the Masters. And I predict that the more authentic he lets himself become, the more his winning dominance will return.

We can’t have it both ways. Ultra-superstars perform at the level they do because they are out of balance and narcicistic. They are not role models. I’ll be the role model that my sons need. I don’t want Tiger or Michael or Lance or Kobe or Peyton or Tom or Bobby doing it. I don’t need Tiger or Michael or Lance or Kobe or Peyton or Tom or Bobby doing it. I want them to be the superstars that they are. They can’t do both.

Rob Bell – Rockstar

I think that title is funny. I’ve seen it in countless articles (they all seem to copy one another) referring to Rob Bell with this terminology, and I doubt it’s a title he has sought. My experience of Rob Bell over the years through reading his books, watching his videos, listening to his podcasts, and searching the web is that he is a very genuine man. I believe he honeslty cares for people and is a “man after God’s own heart” to use what feels like a worn out phrase. My assessment is that it is this pursuit of God and a love of what God loves that drives Rob Bell to write a book like Love Wins.

Over the last few weeks I have read both this, the newest of his books, and what seems like countless posts and articles reviewing and assessing his work. There has been some support from people such as Brian McLaren, who has been through similar criticism, and the president of Fuller Theological Seminary where Rob Bell received his theology degree. This support has been very good. But there have been countless other opinions and reviews that are rather scathing (of course in the most “Christian” kind of way) condeming the work and describing Rob Bell as a heretic, misguided, and as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” So if I am to believe these critics, I am supposed to just throw out what I feel to be true about Rob Bell from my personal experience of studying him, reading him, and listening to him and believe that despite his theology degree, his genuineness, and his obvious care and concern for not just humanity but all of creation, that he is something evil bent on deceiving me just to sell a few books all because he is daring and bold enough to suggest that hell may not be as populated as we have been told it will be. Well, my assessment is that for me to do that, that would be dumb as hell.

I’m 42 years old which is pretty close to Rob Bell’s 40. We grew up in the same American climate and in similar evangelical circles. We were told that if you didn’t say the right prayer in the right way and with the right things in your heart, that you were doomed to exist in an eternal hell full of godlessness and torment. And I’d say for the first 35 years of my life, I was afraid enough to have any thoughts which challenged this belief. But as I matured and realized that my entire connection with God was based on a forced relationship which directly derived from a fear of hell, I began to wonder if this is what God really meant by loving me and having a relationship with me. It seemed rather shallow.

The whole systematic lattice of what one had to believe began to crumble a bit as I gained courage to challenge things that didn’t make sense and that I couldn’t reconcile with my experience in the world. Things like a literal 6 day creation; things like the fact that the bible authors must have had biases that they introduced into their writings; things like the fact that even when we believe we are holy and pure, we are still living in a system of capitalism that is as destructive as it is productive; things like American Indians who had no chance to know the name of Christ being in hell. I could go on and on. But as I challenged and questioned and prayed and read, the feeling that my faith ought to be able to make sense within me, that it ought to have some sort of coherence without having to tie it all together by making systematic leaps and somersaults to get it all to fit. And while I don’t know Rob Bell and haven’t ever had conversation with him about it, I suspect that he has felt at least some of what I describe. I feel I know from where he is coming.

While I’m not much of a slogan guy, I do love the slogan the United Church of Christ uses: “God is still speaking.” As a follower of Christ, I do believe that God resides in me and communicates to me through his Spirit. God did not quit communicating with his creation when the last bible author wrote that last word. And after years of searching and praying and talking with God and reading and conversing and considering, I have come to believe that this drive to understand my faith in a way that makes sense to me is God doing that very thing, communicating with me. Does Rob Bell feel this too? I have no idea. But I’ll bet we do want the same things. We do want to understand God in the way that God wants to be understood. And to do that I had to start over on some things. Things like treating the bible for what it is, words about God, rather than God itself. Things like the way the bible is read. Things like the way the bible is interpreted. I completely quit reading the bible for a few years in order to be able to get away from all that old baggage. And when you do that and then start back fresh, some interesting things jump out at you.

In much of the criticism I’ve read about Love Wins, the author of that criticism will say that the bible is “very clear.” This has usually been said in reference to what it says on hell. Well, that’s just dumb. The bible is not really “very clear” on any number of things and that includes hell. What those authors really mean is that their particular interpretation of the bible is “very clear,” or that their particular denomination’s systematic theology is “very clear.” But the bible itself actually is often far from clear. Very good evidence of this seems to me to come both from the hundreds of different translations of the bible and the thousands of denominations within “Christianity.” If it was all so “very clear,” why the need for all that? In the end the only thing that I can say that is really “very clear” from the bible is that God does in fact love us and that this love is manifested and modeled for us in the person of Christ.

And this begs the question, “Why isn’t it ‘very clear’? Why is there so much debate? Shouldn’t the God of the universe, if it is so critical that we get our interpretation of scripture and our theology just right, done a slighlty better of a job at making it a bit more clear?” My own answer to that question is this: “Exaclty. If it was important for us to get it all just right, I think God would have gone to much greater lengths to make sure that we got it right.” And that goes for whatever we happen to think about hell too. Again, I believe that the only thing that is really exceptionally clear and without much room for debate is that fact that God is about love and that God wants us to love him and to love ourselves and to love others. That’s it, that’s all. I think if all you do is live in this way, you’re going to know God and you’re going to have a pretty good life no matter what your particular belief about evolution/creation, atonement, virginity, etc, etc, etc. As my dad recently said, “I doubt that systematic theology will save many people.”

But Rob Bell’s critics think more dualistically than that. They are largely an either/or crowd it seems to me, as I would say is much of Christianity. I’d even include myself in that camp until recent months and years. And by that I mean that one is either in or out, included or excluded, bound for heaven or bound for hell, right or wrong, this or that. There is no middle ground. No tension. No unresolved issues. I’ll bet that many of the theologians/pastors/church leaders who are criticizing Bell would probably have an answer other than “I don’t know” for any theological question that could be asked. That’s the way their theologies fit together, like a puzzle with all pieces in place. Finding an answer is as simple as finding the right puzzle piece.

So it’s not at all surprising to me that they think Love Wins is about universalism; that Rob Bell is suggesting that everyone will eventually be in heaven and that hell will be empty when it’s not. He doesn’t do that at all. He doesn’t even come close. All he does is take what I think is a very honest look at scripture, the same look that I’ve seen in other more academic works that are intended for an academic audience, and make the assessment, which is really more like a reassessment since he is not saying anything that others such as NT Wright and Brian McLaren and others, even ancients,  haven’t already said, and suggest that God will most likely pursue us in love much more passionately that we have ever been taught or thought. And that, understanding what I have come to understand about God, makes a lot more sense than what I have previously been told I had to believe. A hell of a lot more sense.

In the end I feel sorry for dudes like Piper and Taylor and Driscoll and Deyoung, locked into their dualistic theologies and in positions of power. They don’t have any freedom change their beliefs even if they wanted to without it coming from some sort of demonination wide edict or vote at some sort of annual assembly. Their positions of power and authority and even their paychecks rest on their theology. I read an article today about a United Methodist pastor who Facebooked his support for Love Wins and was removed from his church. If a single little worker bee pastor can get axed, those big dudes up there have a lot more to lose. How can they do anything else than what they’ve done? I’m not at all surprised. Plus, they know the stats. They know that largely people in their 40’s and younger, us rebellious roudy Gen Xers, are rethinking their faiths and are shaking a lot of those traditional systematic necessities. That includes hell. And when your theology is largely based on a fear of hell, that leaves your denomination in a very weak position.

So, Rob Bell, thanks for your books, not only this one but all of them. You have helped affirm for me things that I have largely already come to understand by my own reading and prayer and study and inner toiling. I support you fully. And when I think about it, you are, in fact, a Rockstar.

Some Stuff I’m Just Kickin Around

God created and the whole thing from dirt to humans and it has the ability to go where it will go. There are a set of finely tuned physical laws that govern this creation, and into this, God injected his nature into the human form. This intimate act of love, which is what the Adam and Eve story I believe is meant to describe, brought something new to this place. That something new is consciousness, the ability to reflect on ourselves, and is what mainly differentiates us from the rest of creation. It gives us free will which necessitates the potential for opposite choices, good vs evil, without which, we do not have true free will, or at least not free will as we know it. Evil is here because we can choose it. There doesn’t have to be a physical satan or a literal hell. All there has to be is free will, and much if not most of human suffering is brought about by the choices of humanity. Sure, the physical laws in place bring about natural disasters, but that’s the risk of free will. The place has to run as it’s going to run.
 
If God was to step in and remove human suffering or stop natural disasters, this would have an effect on free will, altering it, changing it, eventually eradicating it if he were to intervene too much and too often. If creating us and giving us this gift is an act of love from God to us, then ultimately the cost is us not knowing God’s love for us. For creation to have free will, God has to let it run as it will. Anytime God steps in to alter it, we risk losing free will, the thing he gave us out of his love for us. And if that is true for God intervening in the bad, it would also be true for God intervening for the good.

I started thinking about this more and more as I have considered prayer, and more specifically, the fact that I don’t think I can say that prayer has ever seemed to do that much. You know, I hear people talk about how they pray for a close parking place at WalMart and God gives it. Or they pray for safe driving and when they get there safely, God did it. I’m just not sure I believe that. If I’m honest, I would say that I can’t name a single time in my life where I prayed for something and as a result, that thing happened. And what about all the times people pray for healing or safety or any number of things, and it never happens? The standard, “Sometimes God says ‘No,'” is just too empty to be of much help and really feels more like a spiritual noodle to replace doubt with false contentment. And what’s more, it’s a God-of-the-gaps approach which is always dangerous because when an answer is found for the unaswerable, where does that leave one’s faith if it’s placed there in the unanswerable?

So these considerations about free will and how it would be affected if God did step in goes a bit of the way down the road of helping me on this journey for my faith to make sense to me. I have a very strong inner compulsion that it should. And at this point, it helps me in my view of how it seems God relates to me. I’ve never had some blinding revelation. I’ve never had some miracle in my life. And as I’ve already stated, I’ve never experienced what I would say is something being done by God as a result of my praying. I have felt God’s presence I believe, but if I’m honest, it seems like God for the most part is in the background letting me know he is there but not really actively intervening despite my reqeusts for or against it.

And this seems like to me like what I would say what I am coming to understand as the value of prayer. The value is in us acknowledging that God is behind it all and supporting it. That’s the example Christ seemed to set for us in his prayer. I don’t think that it’s meant to be a laundry list of requests for some sort of magic trick to grant everything from money to parking places to healing to safety to revival to whatever else. I do think it’s meant to be something that humbles us before the vastness of the creator of this intricate universe as we acknowledge that being as the source of life and love.

There’s a lot more that could be said here, and I suspect some will want to talk about how the bible very clearly states that there is an evil being, Satan, and a literal hell. Those things are very debatable and no longer are the focus of me feeling forced into belief or else. Discuss them if you feel compelled. Maybe I’ll post in another 6 months after I’ve kicked that one around bit more too.

Full Maturity?

I was reading some more in Genesis and thinking on the traditional idea of ‘The Fall’ and had some new thoughts. Just to restate what I mean by the traditional idea: Adam and Eve decided to eat an apple after being tempted by Satan disguised as a snake. God had told them not to eat fruit from the particular tree from which this apple came so doing so was a directly disobedient, rebellious, sinful. Because of this, God punished them by removing them from Eden, made Adam do laborious work to survive, and greatly increased (a curious term to me as it indicates that there was already pain involved) childbearing pains for Eve. AND…the remainder of humanity from that point on was damned to hell unless they heard about and accepted Christ and were, therefore, “saved.”

But curious little verse 22 got me thinking: “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'” So I was wondering, what if this traditional Fall thing stops way short of the full message? When one reads Genesis literally, as the mainstream Christian tradition generally does with the entire Christian bible, I think it might lead to a short-sided interpretation. We get to the part where it looks to us like God is angry and handing out punishments, and we stop, agree that we are doomed, and then go about the saving. But I’m open to the idea that maybe there is more here.

I believe that the Genesis account merges well with the current scientific understanding of evolutionary theory and cosmology and quantum physics when we consider what God did in the final acts of creation to make man “in his image” was instilling human forms with consciousness. One could also refer to this as a soul or spirit or mind (as opposed to just a brain). Full consciousness seems to me to demand complete free will. If it doesn’t, then it seems to me we are not fully in God’s image and instead are just little robots doing what we are programmed to do. Complete free will would be the option to choose the extremes, good vs evil, love vs hate, wise vs foolish, and the list is endless of course. But if we don’t have that, we aren’t fully consciousness and not fully like God. God himself says what being like one of God is at least in part, and it’s “..knowing good and evil.”

God cautions Adam way back in 2:17 that if he eats from the particular forbidden tree, he will die. God doesn’t say that Adam will be damned to hell. God doesn’t say that God will be angry with Adam. God doesn’t say that Adam will then be a worthless worm and that all humanity coming behind will be worthless worms. God doesn’t even say that he will punish Adam. In fact, when Adam does decide to eat, God says that now Adam is “…like one of us.” So I wonder if this choice placed before Adam was the final act of maturity, Adam becoming fully in God’s image, and what comes thereafter are the plain and simple consequences of being a human fully in God’s image in the physical world God  created with the physical laws that God set up with the Big Bang. You know, I always thought God was angry when he said this, but now it seems to me that God is just being more matter of fact saying in essence, “Well, I warned you, and you did it anyway. So here’s what goes along with that.” Could this decision on Adam’s part have been the final piece of being in God’s image? I’m not sure, but it’s at least really interesting to consider. After they did it the account even reads that “…their eyes were opened.” That seems good to me. Not evil. That seems conscious.

It’s curious too how the snake really doesn’t deceive Eve. Sure, he encourages her to do what God warned against doing. But what the snake said would be the result of doing it was the truth, they would be like God knowing good and evil. And that’s what God said happened. Look up there at verse 22. It’s right there.

Now I’ve been going through this as if the Adam and Eve story is a literal story, and I don’t think it is. It’s an explanation that was useful to an ancient people for whom it was written way back there and then. But there are timeless truths in it. It’s a God inspired story after all. Trouble is when we think we’ve got that truth locked in and solid and literal because we don’t. And I think the trouble may start when we look at Christ on the cross solely in legal terms, as substitution for our punishment which we deserve because of something we didn’t do and had no part in doing.   think that stops way short of all the truth that is there in the crucifixion story too. But when that is where all the focus is, it reaches back to influence all that came before it in a way that maybe wasn’t intended. Because maybe all that happened way back there in Genesis was the final part of maturing into God’s full image. After all, when the only tool you carry is hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Just Heard Something…

I was at a noon lecture today and was at the periphery of a conversation which occurred prior to the lecture. A woman who describes herself as Christian comes from another culture where there is a belief that is handed down through the generations. This belief is that there is a certain clan of people who sold their souls to the devil “a million” (her words) years ago in order to avoid slavery. People from other clans will even today not allow their children to marry into this particular clan because the belief is that this particular clan is still held subject to that act of “a million” years ago. She spoke this with the tone and body language which said to me that she finds it hard to believe that these various clans would still think that they are bound by something which seems a bit crazy and which happened “a million” years ago . She finished by stating her dismay that people think they would be bound by something “that they didn’t even do.” At this moment, a light sort of clicked on for me as I thought that it looks like Christianity finds itself believing just about the same thing. A man and a woman listened to a talking snake and ate an apple because of it. Therefore, every single man and woman for all times, even though they had nothing to do with that initial event, is bound by it and in need of redemption even though they played no part in the original deal. Seems a bit crazy and certainly happened a long time ago and a whole ton of folks believe that we are all bound by it. Looks the same to me.  So if it doesn’t make sense in one story why do we insist that it does make sense in the other story?

In case people are wondering about the password protected post that precedes this one…it’s mainly a log of  my thoughts on various things for the last 6 months or more. Not well organized. Not all that coherent. Not really something for a lot of people to digest and much of it is kind of just honest crazy stuff and questions that I wonder about. If I don’t write them down I find I will forget them. So it’s mostly an organizational thing for me alone. I might give out the password on occasion to someone here and there when I am looking for an opinion, but it will mostly be just for me. So don’t be offended or hurt. It’s just stuff that I wanted to log for myself.

Protected: I’ve Been Thinking

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A New Question – Prayer

We’ve been receiving Christmas cards. They’re a bit fun, but I wonder how many people send them out, not because they just love to do so,  but because it’s an obligation. An obligation because if some certain person doesn’t get one, that person will be angry or hurt or feel excluded. An obligation because this is just what we have always done so we keep mindlessly doing it. An obligation because we have to keep up the facade that we are doing just fabulously fantastic, and we need to let all our even near acquaintances know that we are great, even if we aren’t. I’m not trying to be a downer on Christmas. I love Christmas. And I recognize that it certainly is completely possible to just love sending Christmas cards and to do it for pure and honest reasons. But I’m suspect what is behind the majority of card sending, especially when I get one that has some pretty picture, a machine printed message, and a signature. What’s the point of that? Anyway, this is a side issue and an introduction to my main question.

That question is about prayer. One of the cards we have already received (And maybe that is part of the message of this particular card that the senders are doing so very fabulously good that they sent their cards out before Thanksgiving even. But maybe they are just very organized and know they will be busy and not have time to do it after Thanksgiving.) told about a significant illness requiring hospitalization for a few days but that the end result was complete healing which is certainly a wonderful thing in my book. The card went on to describe how there were numerous prayer chains reaching up to the heavens and that if it wasn’t for those prayers, the result would not have been what it was. The author went so far as to imply that the prayers were THE REASON why this person got better. It felt a bit hollow as I read it initially, and as I read and re-read, I wondered what benefit there was in all that, hanging that entire thing on prayer. It just doesn’t seem to sit well inside me, like hoping in a pipe dream or a fairy tale of some sort, almost like falling for some dishonest propaganda or something. And knowing the person who wrote this like I do, I can’t help but wonder if there was a sense on their part that they must approach it in this fashion or else they wouldn’t meet the approval of others in their community of friends, family, and acquaintances. Let me try and clarify a bit.

I’m a physician and take care of gravely ill people in the ICU all the time. It’s a regular part of my existence. And I’m not trying to say that it is the physicians who cured this person and that they are the ones responsible for the healing. I don’t have a physicians-are-gods complex, and that’s not what I’m getting at here. I see people day after day get better and respond to proper medical treatments. It doesn’t take any prayer. You have an ear infection. You get an appropriate antibiotic. And you get better. Without prayer. It doesn’t take any prayer. Get as complicated as you want to get, and it still works the same way. It doesn’t take any prayer. So why add it in there? I don’t pray that God help me eat my dinner well. I don’t pray that God help me know when to go to the bathroom. I don’t pray that God help me remember how to get to WalMart. So why add prayer in here?

At this point some may say that studies have shown that people who are prayed for have better outcomes, and you’d be right. But you wouldn’t be fair unless in your statement you also acknowledge that there are at least an equal number of studies that show no difference between prayed for and non-prayed for and that there are also studies that show those who are prayed for actually do worse. Which means, to me, in the end that there is at least no scientific evidence that praying for others results in disease healing. It’s a wash. But prayer in this way seems to me to be something that we use as a tool to accomplish something for us. In this case, healing, and also maybe being able to talk about how much prayer you were doing and how it is more important to you than food and water. I think I remember Christ telling us to pray in secret, and in the model of prayer he gave us, I don’t see anything about asking God to accomplish things for us. That doesn’t then mean that it’s improper for us to do so. But too often it appears to me that we are praying selfishly and then liking to talk about how we rely so much on prayer. That kind of praying and placing faith and hope in a God who responds to that kind of praying seems to me to be completely useless.

Now this pessimism doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to prayer and that I think it’s worthless. In fact, I think it can be very valuable. For one, the act of praying forces us to slow down and self-reflect which is a good thing in this fast paced culture. Yoga does a lot of the same thing, and I think yoga could be prayer in action. I’ve even prayed some while doing yoga myself. But I think the main value in prayer is not at all that we can ask God for things like healing or wins or losses or parking places (Yes, I know someone who believes that God gives them parking places close to the door when they pray for them.), but in the humility that it brings the person who is doing the praying. Honest communication with God that is not focussed around bargaining or asking for this or that or that is not for the purpose of later on declaring how much you pray and how much you rely on prayer for your very existence, brings forth the acknowledgement within ourselves that there is something greater than ourselves responsible for our existence. And that kind of humility is something that is very obviously critically needed in a world where the powerful and seemingly invincible in sport, business, and government repeatedly fall victim to their money and their attitude and their lust for more power. If you don’t have something or someone or both in your life which do a good job of keeping you humble, of helping you realize that you do in fact need other people, you are heading for a painful decline. Prayer, when approached with an appropriate attitude and mindset, I think accomplishes just that.