thanks

I’ve heard a time or two that this blog is exceedingly negative. I have no idea where that notion comes from, but I wanted to share a post that I think may be a little more positive than anyone is used to reading from me.

I was thinking recently about all the changes that my life, beliefs, and theology have gone through over my lifetime and it is really wild. I think that the me of any previous time period would look at the me now and be extremely disappointed in how far I have strayed from what I always thought was the right path. I know the me now definitely looks back with embarrassment at all the previous versions of myself, but the truth is that in ten years I will most likely see who I am right now and not recognize that person anymore either. That’s how life is when you are growing I guess, so I hope I keep growing.

That wasn’t very positive! I know, but here is the cool part. Thinking back on my life I see growth, not just grabbing onto a passing fad here and there and getting tossed in the wind, but a real growth in a certain direction, and that means that, while I was not where I am now, that I was learning stuff ten years ago that was moving me in this direction, stuff that I would build on to get where I am. Even though I had a lot of terrible ideas about things, there were some seeds that were planted and growing even then, and I have a lot of people to thank for that, people that I may vehemently disagree with on many things, but people that, nonetheless, impacted my life and have played a part in me getting to where I am now, so without further ado, I want to thank some people that have been part of this journey:

The pastor at the fundamentalist church I grew up at: I remember a lot of the things you said were really crazy, but I first believed that God exists when I was going to your church. I remember, although I was very young, feeling the Holy Spirit working in me when you baptized me, so thanks!

The Bowies: I don’t know where you guys even are anymore, but working with you for that year cleaning disgusting apartments and old diner floors shifted my focus. I had spent most of my early teen years trying to be cool, and had totally forgotten to care about anything important, like what I believed about anything! You guys seemed really passionate about church and God and that got me thinking more seriously about what I believed about God, helped me forget about trying to be cool (a losing battle anyway!) and be passionate to learn about God.

LWCC: I am not a Pentecostal, but many of the best people I know are. The Bowies brought me here and I met a bunch of people that were super into following God. I specifically remember one night when Pastor Gary was preaching (about what, I can’t recall) and just knowing that my life was going to change forever, because I finally cared about God, and wanted to follow him.

Roger: I don’t remember your last name, but you said something that made my grandmother think I’d like you. She told me about you and what you were doing at her church, and I went with her and knew that I wanted to be part of what was going on. This led me to meet…

Jason and Erica: I know in many ways things have been less than awesome between us over these past five or six years, but honestly, I feel like you guys may have had a bigger impact on me than any of the previously mentioned people on this list. You were friends and mentors to me, and encouraged me greatly in a time where I kinda felt up in the air (after high school). Jason, you taught me how to study the Bible and think for myself, and that basically opened Pandora’s box in my head. I don’t know if you regret giving me the tools you did, but they have been the reason that I started questioning and seeking more meaningful answers. Also, you encouraged me to go to seminary where I met…

Alan, Lew, Gary, and Stan: These four guys taught me more in a semester than I learned the remaining three years of my education at Southeastern, and at the time none of them were even my professor! The time that we shared in that office is so significant to my journey and where I am now, I can’t begin to explain it. You guys were the first to get me thinking outside the box, to see things that I would never have even considered. The direct impact of that stuff shaped many of the views I hold now, and it allowed me to expand my thoughts in other areas of my theology later on.

Stephanie: Well, you, my wife, have shaped my beliefs in many ways you will never know. The way you act, the way you love, and the way you live your life is a demonstration of belief in action, which is a major thing that God is working on in my heart right now, and has been for the last couple years, taking my beliefs out of the theoretical and making them real. The kind of beliefs that shape my life, not that I just like talking about. That is you and that is how you live and it is very compelling. Additionally, your willingness to question things that you have believed forever and not be afraid to go down those roads, has seriously sparked much needed new life into my spirit.

Lastly, and most of this was chronological, but I feel this person has had an overarching impact on my spiritual journey, so she gets a special place on the list.

Grandma: You were very special to many people, and it is pretty obvious why that was. You cared for many of your grandkids, family friends, and outsiders of all kinds like they were all your own children. I know that we all felt like we had a special bond with you, and I think that is a tribute to what a great woman you were, because we did all, indeed, have a special bond with you, because you cared about each of us very deeply and personally. At almost every point in my spiritual walk you were there. You were a very wise woman, and always willing to give advice (whether requested or not!) but also willing to act out your beliefs and demonstrate your love through your actions. You encouraged me to grow in my faith and learn new things and care about people and care about the things that God wants. I miss you very much and am forever grateful for how you impacted my journey. I am sure there are many things I believe that you would not be super happy about, but I hope that you would be proud that I care and want to grow and want to listen to and follow God.

 

nothing matters

I’m not sure that I believe that Hell exists, that the Bible is inerrant, or even that there is anything wrong with homosexuality. What’s more is that where I am no longer sure about these things, I am becoming more and more sure that they really don’t even matter. This isn’t even the complete list of things that I am starting to have more and more doubts about either. I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot about abortion and creation and sovereignty and all kinds of other stuff too, and I’m just starting to think most of this stuff that we put such huge emphasis on as Christians and as people in general, it just really doesn’t amount to much at all.

It’s been quite some time since I had a major shift in my faith. The last big change that I can remember was when I was in seminary and started to doubt the popular concepts surrounding church and ministry. That was kind of a big deal because it resulted in me walking away from what I had always thought I was “called” to do. Since then my beliefs have been pretty consistent. Until last fall.

Last fall was when same-sex marriage was voted on and legalized in Maine. As a libertarian I had supported this for a while, also as a Christian I supported it, not because I thought homosexuals should marry, but because I don’t like government involvement in marriage in general. But, through all this I had still held pretty firmly to the idea that homosexuality is wrong, and then I started to question that belief, because it seemed really out of place to me when compared to many other things that are deemed sinful in Scripture.

My doubts about the supposed evils of homosexuality were super scary because this was, I feared, my first adventure into progressive or liberal Christianity, and, in spite of many of my unconventional beliefs, I still felt very strongly that I was a conservative Christian. I talked with Stephanie about this a bunch and finally I just decided, fuck it, I believe what I believe and I can’t worry about what label that puts me under. For a long time before that I thought I had already gotten to that point, but in reality I had a long list of beliefs that I was too afraid to challenge and consider because I felt like they were required beliefs for me to stay in this “conservative” camp that I (and probably no one else) considered myself in.

Above the fact that I was willing to start questioning these “core” beliefs, was this growing feeling that this stuff I had always felt was so central to my faith was really nothing more than tradition. Why are Christians so bent on telling all the homos how much God hates them (or hates their sin or whatever catchphrase we’re using now)? I’ve always heard it has to do with how important it is that people know they need Jesus. Seriously?! What person out there doesn’t know they are a complete fucking asshole? We know ourselves better than anyone else knows us, and we know we need help, even if we act like we’re all put together in front of other people. I don’t need to tell anyone that they do stuff wrong, they know. We say we’re free in Christ but we have our own modern day list of commandments which are largely based on traditional values more than following Christ. You want to tell someone they’re doing something wrong? How about telling the brainwashing, God-using, asshole pastors who steal people’s money and sell them lies every week, those are the guys Jesus was always giving shit to. Anyway, this was a huge rabbit trail, sorry!

The lid really blew off this whole thing when Stephanie started to voice her questions and doubts about inerrancy. Now, maybe homosexuality isn’t wrong, but if that is the case, we’re reading the Bible wrong, the Bible isn’t wrong itself. I mean, this was taking stuff to a whole other level, but I realized something, inerrancy doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because by the time I consume “the Bible” it is no longer inerrant, since we have no originals of the text, we use copies, and those copies are then translated into our language, and then (and this is where the Bible gets the MOST distorted) I read it and have to interpret what it means. Were the original writings inerrant? I don’t know and I really don’t care, because I don’t have them. Maybe we should just be more focused on listening to God, and less on studying every variant and every word choice?

These were just a couple examples of beliefs that I am starting to wonder about, but the point is that all this stuff, I’m not afraid to question anymore, first of all because if the questions are there they can’t be ignored if I am going to be intellectually honest with myself, and secondly they just aren’t as important as I once thought they were. The important stuff is pretty obvious. Love God and love people. If you don’t think that is what it all boils down to, take it up with Jesus since he said it way before I ever did.

As a sort of final note on this really weird and really unfocused post, I have to say that Stephanie has been this amazing influence in my life over the last year or so. Her willingness to be honest about her own doubts and questions has really helped me to confront mine and be willing to deal with this stuff and figure out where I stand. I think this stuff was kind of brewing for a long time, but I just left it all off to the side because it freaked me out, but I didn’t realize until I started digging into this stuff that pushing it off to the side was seriously holding me back from growing. I was driving around with a flat tire and kinda just hoping it wouldn’t affect my drive all that much, but obviously it needed to be changed. So yeah, Stephanie was like the one who looked at me and said, “I’m changing my flat tire, maybe you should consider doing the same.”

 

ducks and money

I came across a couple news stories this morning that I think demonstrate very clearly how backwards the priorities of Christians have become.

The first article I read was from Dave Ramsey where he shares some stats from another dude who explained all this stuff that rich people do that poor people don’t, things like listening to audio books in the car, working out, not eating junk food, and making your kids read non-fiction. The list is pretty offensive and ridiculous, but then Dave felt the need to clear things up and added an addendum to the post. Oh thank God, he’s going to explain why this wasn’t meant to imply that poor people are stupid and lazy. Oh wait, nope, he clarifies that this was EXACTLY the point. Dick. After explaining that all the people who disagree with him are ignorant, immature, and spiritually shallow he goes on to clarify his point:

There is a direct correlation between your habits, choices and character in Christ and your propensity to build wealth in non-third-world settings.

Really? Tell that to Paul, or maybe he was just screwed because he was a Roman citizen living during the days of the Roman Empire? That must have been the third world of the time. The crap that he says in his post is so ridiculously unbiblical and idiotic that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so evil and destructive.

I guess I was a little late to this post, maybe because I don’t read a ton of Christian blogs anymore, or maybe because Christians just didn’t appear to be very outraged over this horribly inaccurate, hateful misrepresentation of Christ. I only came across it because cracked.com, a humor website, wrote a pretty hilarious satirical article on it. Unfortunately, at this point about 100,000 other people, through this article, have learned about Ramsey’s dick move in the name of Christianity as well.

Then I learned about another story this morning. It appears that some redneck on some terrible redneck show has been suspended from said redneck show because he made some comments about how homosexuality is wrong. While the Ramsey story of misleading people into false guilt over their state of poverty went mostly unnoticed and uncriticized by all but the most “liberal” of Christians, this whole redneck story has blown up among mainstream Christians. The poor guy is being persecuted for his beliefs! He is being denied his rights under the first amendment. Here’s a news flash: The First Amendment right to free speech has nothing to do with employees and employers. If an employee, representing a company says or does something that reflects on that company in a way they don’t want, they can fire the dude. That isn’t unconstitutional, but furthermore that isn’t the point. The point is that poor Phil is oh so sadly being persecuted by the evil liberal public all for speaking out for his faith.

So, on one hand we have a story about a guy who is telling people, in the name of God, that they are poor because they make bad choices. That if they made good, biblical, Christian choices they would be wealthy, and the majority of Christians say, hey that’s no big deal, drag God’s name through the mud like that. Take people who already have to live a very difficult and stressful life wondering how they’ll eat and stay warm and dry and make them feel like they are idiots and sinful and that this is the reason they have to work two jobs and never get ahead. We, as the Christian populace have no problem with that, but when a super famous, super rich dude says something that the company he works for is unhappy with and is therefore suspended from his super famous, super popular, super money making show, then we go up in arms. Get the pitchforks and torches, we are tearing A&E to the ground!

Christians like to play victims. We like to think we are persecuted and that the world is so unfair to us. That’s why this went down the way it did. In one case you have a Christian doing something deplorable, hateful and unloving, perpetrating the offensive act so we’re not worried about it, but when the offensive act is committed against the Christian instead of by the Christian then we cry and bitch. I would venture to guess that Jesus doesn’t care as much about what the world does to us as he cares about what we do when we represent him. He cares how the world sees him through us, and in the case of Dave Ramsey Jesus is made to look a lot like the Monopoly Man. In the case of the redneck on the redneck show, it is to be expected that Christians will not always have popular opinions and may be outcast (although this guy is FAR from being outcast), it is, on the other hand, very sad and disappointing when Christians, charged to spread a message of love and service, instead look at those struggling and say “if you were just not so dumb and lazy, God would take care of you.”

Marriage doesn’t always suck

There is a blog post making the rounds on Facebook right now about how marriage isn’t about you. Marriage is about the other person, the person you are marrying, and wanting to make that person happy and her life good and all that warm and fuzzy stuff. I think this is a pretty solid statement, but I think that it’s something that we should be kinda careful about.

My opinions are not based on any kind of deep study or professional education. They’re just based on the little knowledge I have of what the Bible says about love and marriage and also on my experiences in two marriages. You may not care to hear the opinion of someone who failed at marriage. Don’t worry about it. I’ll survive if you stop reading.

I was married once before. It was really bad. It only lasted a few months and ended really nasty like. That failed marriage was a huge moment in my life that some see as the moment I became a crazy cynical bastard, and others (mostly just myself) see as the moment I started to think for myself and not let other people tell me what to do and how to live and what to believe. It was basically the moment I said “fuck all this.”

Before I married my first wife, I had taken this class in Bible College about marriage and family and that kind of stuff. A big point that was repeatedly drilled into our heads was that love should not depend on the other person at all. You can love anyone, no matter how shitty they are. I guess this is true, I’m not really here to figure that out. Now, whether I made this leap on my own, or it was implied, I got the idea that this meant it didn’t matter who you married, because you could love anyone, even if they were soul sucking devil spawn. So, I decided I was already attached to one of these, I might as well marry her. That sucked. I didn’t like being married to her and she wasn’t super into being married to me and our short marriage was just a big terrible suckfest.

I tried to love my ex-wife but I didn’t want to and it didn’t really make me happy to so it felt like I was in prison or like a labor camp where the boss is an evil devil woman who tells you that you are bald and stupid. I don’t blame her that I didn’t find it easy to love her. I blame myself. I mean, she didn’t help matters, but I was the idiot who thought it was a good idea to marry someone I didn’t even like.

This isn’t meant to be about how much I hated my ex-wife or our marriage. The point I am getting to is that, yeah, you should get married because you want to serve and care for your spouse, but that doesn’t mean it is not about you. The key in the above statement is that you WANT TO take care of that person. You find joy and pleasure and satisfaction in doing things for that person and it lifts you up to see that person happy. Yeah, marriage is kinda about you. It is about asking yourself the question of: do I (see that “I” there represents you) want to spend my life making this other person happy?

You may think that I’m being kinda ridiculous here. That this point isn’t really important, but it is. Maybe you think that this view is too selfish, but we ALL do it. That is why even the least selfish person picks a certain spouse and not someone else. This idea of a stoic love, where you get nothing from it is insane and bound to fail. The truly selfless person does not do things for others just for the sake of doing them, he does them because it brings him joy.

This is how we love our kids. It is not a calculation of what we want verse what they want. It is simply giving them what they want/need because that is the very thing that we want!

Fortunately, a beautiful and wonderful woman crossed my path and showed me that loving someone is really satisfying and wonderful and can fill you with so much happiness that you almost feel selfish in loving them. Obviously love takes sacrifice and sometimes can hurt and be difficult, but it is worth it, not because you don’t care about yourself so it doesn’t matter, but because you get so much happiness from loving that other person that their joys bring you more joy than anything you could ever do for yourself.

Stephanie and I just celebrated five years of marriage back in October and it has truly been amazing to be married to her. I have learned so much about love and caring about someone else that I could never put down in words. We argue, sure, but I like her and I want to make her happy, I want to make her life enjoyable and satisfying, and nothing brings me more happiness than to be responsible for doing something that brings her happiness. The idea that I could passively “love” this woman is absurd. That I could grit my teeth and do what she needs even though I would rather not is crazy! Everything I do for her, I do for me. Maybe that isn’t the way it is supposed to be, but I like it!

 

The Lone Rangers

10 points if you get the movie reference in the title, anyway…

Stephanie said something on Facebook earlier today about how there should be an island for us “misfit Christians,” to which the idea was added that cheap rum would abound there, so I’ve obviously already booked my ticket! She’s right though, and we find ourselves, along with many of you, kind of out in the cold, when it comes to our views and how those views impact the way we are understood by other people.

Most people think that I’m just a dick. They are about 98% right, but I think that part of my dissent of popular views, maybe 2% or even less, but at least a small part, has something to do with a true desire to follow Christ. That is me, there are lots of other people who have views that conflict with the norms of the modern church, and, unlike myself, lots of these other people, including my wife, are very nice, but still find themselves ostracized either openly or, in most cases, a little more quietly by just kinda getting left out of things and not being invited to things and not being talked to or responded to or taken seriously. It is unfortunate.

What I think can make this whole thing especially lonely is that you don’t really fit in anywhere. People have said to me that my views make it easy for me to fit in with everyone, but I find it quite the opposite in reality. It’s like people might think that atheists like me because I don’t agree with lots of mainstream Christian prejudices, and generally it is true that I get along with “casual” agnostics or those who have a general apathy for religious topics, but when the conversation turns to what we think about God, especially in the case of the more passionate atheist, things don’t go so well. I am passionate and I am passionate about God and what I understand of His truth, so we butt heads. An atheist may think, “oh yeah, there’s another Christian, go home to your Christian friends!” but, again, although I share many views with most Christians, many do not want to have much to do with me. Honestly, I try to avoid making big scenes talking about the things that we disagree about, but I have a reputation and these things come up and I am not shy to disagree with others when these topics come up. So, no friends in the Christian camp and no friends in the atheist camp.

Conservative Christians see me as a liberal. Liberal Christians see me as a Fundamentalist. Catholics see me as too Protestant, and Protestants see me as too Catholic. Some see my view of salvation as too open, others as too closed. Some see my views on alcohol too lose, and others too prudish. This list could go on forever, but you get the idea. Sometimes it feels like you just don’t fit with anybody, because everyone seems to want to focus on the things you don’t agree on, or lots of people can’t have a disagreement and not have it destroy a friendship. I can live with this, and I know that I like to argue and that can really turn people away. I am not offended by this or usually not even hurt by it. But, the thing is, on the island of misfits there are lots of great people with lots of love and good cooking and encouragement and ideas that would benefit everyone on the mainland and it makes me sad to see those people ignored on all sides.

God > Bible

I was talking with a friend the other day and that person was telling me that it had been difficult to get into the Bible lately but talking to God had become easier. I thought this was kinda weird at first, that old fundamentalist part of my brain was kinda pissed at the idea, and then I thought about it and stopped being an idiot.

There is this really interesting thing about books and writings and such. We think they tell us stuff, but really it isn’t the writing that tells us anything, it is our inner translation and interpretation of that writing that tells us something. Someone who doesn’t suck at writing can consider this and try his very best to communicate his ideas to the reader, recognizing that those ideas will be filtered through the reader’s own ideas.

You might think this is a small thing, but it isn’t. It’s actually a pretty huge thing. If you don’t believe me, just read about this super famous, super lame poem, called The Red Wheelbarrow. In spite of the fact that it is composed of only 16 pretty straightforward words, it still somehow is confusing as shit to anyone who reads it and there are lots of very different interpretations of what it means: from life depending on perception, to the importance of machinery. Seriously, look it up, it’s wicked dumb.

This is how, in the early days of America, they could say they followed a constitution that granted equal rights to all men, yet they still had slaves and beat their wives. It was all about how they understood what it was to be a human (which they thought meant being a white man or owning land or killing all the buffalo or something). It totally changed the way they understood the Constitution and rights and all that unimportant stuff. If you wonder how so many laws can be in place today that seem to go totally against the Constitution, then look no further than the power of interpretation. The Constitution has NO power. Power rests with the people who, by law, are set up to tell us what the Constitution means, and they basically have the power to say it means whatever they damn well please, and they do, and it changes depending on the culture of any given time.

So, back to the whole Bible thing. The Bible may be completely true and all that (I believe it is), but that does not mean that what we think it says is completely true. I said authors that don’t suck are better at thinking about how their writing will be understood and make considerations for that. Well, here’s the thing with the Bible, it was written a long damn time ago to some really different groups of people with some really different problems, in some really different languages, so we can excuse them if their writing might lose something when translated and interpreted by us.

“But,” I can already hear you saying, “the Holy Spirit tells us what the Bible means!” And there is the whole point. The Bible, without God speaking to us, is basically just a pile of paper and ink (or maybe pixels on a screen, if you’re into that stuff). This has lots of implications, at least to me it seems to. Maybe it says something about where we go for answers? Maybe it says something about Bible worship? Maybe it says something about talking to God? Maybe it says something about how strongly we hold our “Bible based” opinions? I don’t know, I just think that it might be alright to say, “I’m finding it difficult to get into the Bible but I’m finding it easier to hear from God.”

 

Come Save New England!

Did you know that Maine is extremely unchurched? Only 1 out of every 50 people is brainwashed on a weekly basis around here. It is so disheartening and sad. New England, once the playground of oppressive religious jackholes like the Puritans, has gone the way of the dogs. The dogs, of course, referring to those evil heathen devil-worshipping atheists.

Fortunately the good folks at the SBC have realized this horrible crisis and are reaching out to their northeastern neighbors to tell us all that we are a bunch of liberal scum in need of some good ol’ churchin’! There is a website called mainechurchplanting.com and everything (make sure to watch the video). From the site and video you can learn some great stuff like how we don’t visit church on Easter (God forbid!) and how people used to follow Jesus here a long time ago but don’t anymore and how we are highly secular and unbelievably liberal. You also learn some great ways to manipulate reach the locals by doing things like pretending to be interested in our lives and then steering the conversation toward Jesus, or by being helpful by doing things like stacking wood with us so we feel required to listen to your pitch.

Now, this post may seem a bit overly cynical, but seriously, this is a topic that really annoys the shit out of me. The misconceptions and generalizations about church, Christianity, New Englander culture, and Southern culture for that matter, are so numerous and the pompous, self-importance that these church planters exude is so absurd that I don’t know whether to laugh at these guys or want to punch them in their smug mouths.

Talking strictly from a statistical standpoint, southerners more than anyone should know that church attendance is not the same as following Christ. Between the time I have spent at southern revivals, southern church camps, and southern Bible colleges, I can personally attest to the fact that many many people in the south go to church, or as church planter folks like to call it: “are churched” and don’t know or care jack shit about following Jesus. I have seen so many backwoods Bible beaters get kids and adults to “get saved” every service over and over again. Clearly these people know nothing about following Jesus and they spend all their time at church.

You see, to me, the difference is simple: statistically (and this is not even remotely a universal truth) people from New England are living in the reality that the South is too afraid to deal with: Christian culture is dying and the popular ideas about church are dying with it. Less people in church does not mean less Christians, it means more people living in reality, and a culture that doesn’t give a crap if you go to the weekly cult meetings or not. I think that is good, I think that is damn good.

So, please, Southerners, come and save us. Come up here with your arrogant self-righteous cultural Christian garbage and tell us how to follow Jesus. Tell us how to give to the SBC and NAMB and how to sign a church covenant and walk the aisle and submit to our overlords pastors. Teach us how to be racially divided and how to confuse conservative politics with Christian belief. What will we do without you? Please restore us to the good ol’ days of the Salem Witch Trials and Hester Prynne. We’ve come so far from God and hatred and intolerance toward lowly sinners. We’ve forgotten how to follow the religious crowd and not think independently and be truthful with ourselves about what we believe. We definitely need that from you guys, so please come save us.

 

Red Sox Nation

The Sox are in the ALCS right now. I don’t like to give current events in my posts as that allows people to figure out that I only write once in a great while, but damn it, I’m doing it this time, because I’m proud of the bearded men! One of the cool things about the Red Sox is that they have a pretty respectable nationwide fan base. Did you know they call The Baltimore Orioles’ field Fenway South? That’s because when the Sox play the O’s about half the crowd are loyal to the Boston boys. When Papi hits a homerun in Tampa and you hear the crowd cheering you get the same impression. I say all this to lead up to a point, it may be somewhat belabored and forced just so I can give props to our “Worst to First” team, but I think it is a worthwhile point: Red Sox Nation is not defined by anything but their love of the Boston Red Sox. They can be from anywhere, they can be men, women, children, elderly, drunks, monks, drunk monks. Nothing restricts you from the club except a lack of interest in the Red Sox. You don’t get in because your parents are Sox fans, you don’t get booted because your kids like the Yankees (although your parenting skills may be questioned). To be part of Red Sox Nation you need only love the Red Sox.

Now lets talk about churches. Churches have rules, they have covenants, they have stuff you have to sign. I know at the churches I’ve been at you had to take classes and get voted in. You may say that all these things are necessary because being part of a church is of much greater importance than being a fan of a sport. Sure, I’ll give you that it is probably a bit more meaningful than rooting for your favorite team, but that isn’t really the point I’m addressing here. What I wonder about is how a group is defined. What makes a particular group a particular group and not another group. What makes a person a member of that group? Because those things, those defining regulations and rules and such, those are what the group holds to be central to who they are. This leads me, through a very badly constructed argument, to the big question: what is it that should define a church? What is it that you think should define the church you are a part of? What’s in these covenants and contracts and classes? If we say that just following Jesus is enough, then why is all that necessary? Is it because we think we know the right way to follow Jesus? How often you tithe and how often you take communion and what you think about sovereignty and soteriology and all that. Are you so convinced that you, or a group of you and your buddies knows the right way to follow Jesus? I wouldn’t be so bold. I am pretty arrogant, but that’s a little much, even for me.

The other element of this is what exactly makes one a member of a particular church? To be a member of Red Sox Nation you need simply love the Red Sox. When you go to a game at Camden Yards you are essentially a member of Red Sox Nation gathered at Camden Yards. When you go home to Boston later in the week and go to a game at Fenway you are gathered with Red Sox Nation there as well. Are you more officially a member of either gathering? Are you disloyal to either for going to the other? Of course not. The more places you go, the more games you gather at the more you show your love of the team, the defining trait of being a member. I mean, hell, when you go down to the local sports bar to put down a pitcher of Sam Adams Boston Lager and watch the Sox destroy the Rays, you are a member of the gathering of Red Sox Nation there too!

Churches don’t work exactly like this. You aren’t really allowed to just be part of the group that you are around. You may be allowed to be a guest if you visit family out of town and stop by their church, but if you don’t gather with one group consistantly week to week at the designated meeting place, you are considered a church hopper and somehow, unlike going to all the Red Sox games wherever you can making you a bigger fan, this somehow makes you a less mature, less serious Christian.

Obviously this isn’t a perfect comparison, but the point is no less legitimate for the illustration. Your church is defined by what they say makes them a seperate group. If it is the building they meet in, or the rules they follow, that is what that group is, and often what that group is, is not as simple as a bunch of people who follow Jesus.

gay

recent events have me thinking about the topic of homosexuality. Recently an active NBA player, Jason Collins, came out and told the world that he is gay. This is the first time an active player in any of the major American sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB) has done this, so it has caused a significant amount of discussion. An analyst at ESPN, Chris Broussard, stated the following:

I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin … that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.

This is what got me thinking about this subject. I have, for the most part, not had to nail down my opinions on the subject of homosexuality because I’m not gay and I don’t have any close friends who are gay, so it hasn’t really mattered to me. I did vote in favor of same sex marriage here in Maine, but that had more to do with me being a Libertarian than it did with my views of the moral issue of homosexuality, but now, with all the discussion going around and taking up sports radio airwaves, I have been somewhat forced into thinking about it.

What I walk away with is confusion. Honestly, this is something that is difficult for my faith, because, as I will explain, I come to two contradictory conclusions on the topic.

First of all, I think the Bible, even in the New Testament, makes it pretty clear that homosexuality is sinful. When Romans 1 talks about how we, as the human race, have generally walked away from the truth, it includes a somewhat substantial section on homosexuality exemplifying this. So, do I think homosexuality is a sin? Yes, I guess I have to, since I believe the Bible.

Second of all, I’ve kind of had this impression that the “Law” of the New Testament is based on love. Like Jesus explains, if you love God and love others more than yourself, you will fulfill the Law. That seems very consistent with Jesus’ life and ministry. He saves his most aggressive criticisms for those who use God for their own gain, and for those who oppress others. Additionally if you look at any other action or feeling that is considered a sin, it has a victim of sorts. Theft, murder, slander all have victims, all have the sinner putting himself before others. There are other sins where God is the “victim” so to speak. Fear represents a lack of trust in God, worshiping idols and false gods takes credit from the true Creator. I know that this is all kind of half-baked, but I hope you get the idea of what I’m saying.

So, where I can fit all “sin” into this framework, I cannot fit homosexuality into it, and that bothers me. I know, it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to me, and so on and so forth, but it does matter to me, so anyone who wants to say that I have no right to question, can stick a sock in it. I don’t really care about that.

Say that two men or women were to enter into a monogamous committed relationship. We won’t call it marriage because that’ll just open a whole can of worms, but basically that is what I’m talking about. Can those two people love each other? Put each other ahead of themselves? Be selfless with one another? I think they can. I see homosexuality as victimless. I guess you could make the case that God is the victim because it contradicts the way he created us, but he also created us to pair up, and we know that he allows some people to be single, according to Paul. Most other arguments that I can come up with are circular: God is the victim because he said not to do it. See, this doesn’t answer the question of why. Don’t do it, because don’t do it? Seems a little silly.

So, do I think homosexuality is a sin? Yes. Do I think that it makes sense that it is a sin? No. Should this matter to me? I don’t know, but it does.

I would be interested to hear if anyone has anything worthwhile to say on the subject.

jimmy carter hates god

So, I was directed to an interesting article by Jimmy Carter that covers a topic that I will fully admit I have very little knowledge on: biblical gender roles. The person who pointed it out to me mentioned that she would be interested in hearing my opinion, that is why I am giving it here. I will admit that it is an ignorant and not fully developed opinion, but that has never stopped me from sharing any of my other opinions on this blog, so screw it, here goes!

First of all, Jimmy (am I allowed to call him that?) explains that he left the SBC because of their views regarding women. The views that he takes issue with are “that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

He goes on to explain that these views are not specific to the SBC, or  even to Christianity, but that they are present across many religions throughout history.

Let me state a few things before going into my thoughts on all that. First, I am a Christian. I believe the Bible is true. Second, there are many many things in which I disagree with the mainstream of modern Christianity (feel free to peruse the blog a bit for an extended set of examples). Third, and as I previously stated, gender roles are not something that I have spent a significant amount of time studying or thinking about.

Having said all that, I think that there are some great points to what the article states. I think that many terrible things have been, and currently are being done, to women in the name of religion. I think that there are many underlying prejudices that drive the way modern American men and women interact, many of which can be tied to traditional Christian and religious views. I also think that it is tragic that Christians are not at the forefront of promoting equality for all people.

A couple things that I would point out that are particularly important are that religion is used to push the agenda of certain people and groups, and that interpretation of ancient documents, such as the Christian Scriptures, can easily be manipulated, both intentionally and unintentionally, to promote the views of the person doing the interpreting. I think the article hits on a lot of that, but I also worry that at points the roles are flipped around, implying that men mistreat and subjugate women because of their religious views, rather than stating that men build religious views to justify their mistreatment of women.

This has happened for all of human history. People have used various methods to force others to do what they want them to do. A big army helps make people do what you want, but if you don’t have that, the keys to Heaven and Hell can come in pretty handy as well. If you can get both, well, now you’re in a good spot. Fortunately this isn’t the Dark Ages. People know how to read. The Bible is translated into many languages and accessible to anybody who is interested in picking it up. For this reason, there is little reason to live under the thumb of religious leaders anymore. They try to cling to their last few shreds of authority by misusing Scripture to imply that they have some superiority over other believers, but more and more people are figuring out that this is a bunch of bullshit.

As far as women pastors and elders and deacons and all that. I don’t think women should hold these offices. I don’t think men should hold these offices. I don’t think these offices should exist, at least not in the way that we understand them today. God uses people to teach each other, I see no reason that women can’t do that teaching. See, we want to think that teaching is all about sermons and Bible studies and seminary and whatever. Teaching is about life, the lessons learned through observing one another. Teachers are those who demonstrate what they believe. So, if we say women are not to teach, are we to say that women should not demonstrate what they believe? That is nonsense. God also uses people to serve each other. Women should certainly serve men. And, men should serve women. Women should serve women, and men should serve men. Serving each other is the demonstration of love toward each other. We should all be serving others.

I don’t want to get into the details of the role of men and women in marriage or any of that silly Original Sin debate. The bottom line, as I see it, is that any time Christianity, the Bible, or any other religion or holy book, is used to suppress, manipulate, subjugate, or oppress others in any way is not only an offense to those being oppressed, but an offense to the book, religion, or god which is being distorted to promote the oppressor’s agenda.

Particularly as this relates to Christianity, it is in complete contradiction to the most important part of interacting with each other: to love and to serve the other above yourself. Instead you are using Christianity to force them to serve and obey you. When God commanded that we not take his name in vain, I believe this is what he meant. Do not use God’s name to promote your agenda. Do not attach God’s name to your hate and selfish ambitions. See, God is pretty big on people glorifying him. When his supposed “followers” use him to oppress others, they put a big skid mark on his name. If you do this kind of stuff, it may just piss him off, and I don’t think that’s a great idea.