390. language is fuzzy (part 1) – panic in DC

LanguageIs1
Let me begin with a story.

When I was in the 8th grade, I got to go on a week long class trip to Washington DC. On one of the stops, we got to see the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. We were told to meet back at a certain spot at a certain time to get on the bus back the hotel. Introvert that I am, I spent a lot of time wandering around by myself and I had a ball. But when I went to the designated spot at the designated time, no one was there – no friends, no teachers, no bus. I quickly realized that I had heard the time wrong and that the bus had left without me.
AirAndSpace

Photo by: Chris Devers

 
I tried not to panic. I knew we were staying at the Days Inn and so I figured I’d just ask someone for the phone number, get in touch with one of the teachers, and they’d send someone out to get me.

Being from Honolulu where we don’t have Days Inns, I thought that there would be just one Inn in the DC area, and so I figured if I asked someone for their number, I’d get a simple, straightforward answer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple. When I asked a customer service person for the number of the DC Days Inn, they asked, “which one?” And that’s when I learned that there were something like eight or nine Days Inn in the area.

And that’s when I started to panic.

I share that story because it illustrates something about how language works. Sometimes we think a particular word or phrase (“Days Inn in DC”) points to just one thing when in fact, it points to many things. In fact, through the course of this series, I’m going to argue that language always works this way because:

Language, it turns out, is fuzzy.

Sometimes the fuzziness of language isn’t a problem.

For example, let’s say you get a text message from your partner or roommate that reads “on your way home, can you stop by the store and pick up a dozen eggs?” you know it doesn’t matter which store you go to or what particular brand of eggs you pick up, as long as you get home with a dozen eggs.

Sometimes, the fuzziness of language can be a HUGE problem.

When your mechanic is replacing the brake pads on your car, you’d better hope that they’re not just phoning their supplier and saying, “on your way here, can you stop by the warehouse and pick up a few brake pads?” because, unlike eggs, it matters a great deal what kind of brake pads they get.
SONY DSC

Photo by: Morten Schwend

 
But even here, there’s wiggle room between what the mechanic asks for and what they can get. There are probably a number of different manufacturers who supply that part and each manufacturer might offer different performance/price options. Thus, choices still need to be made – out of the available options, which is the one that best fits the customer’s needs/budget?

This reveals something profound about language and words and how we use them:

Words have different meanings and thus are inherently in need of interpretation.

Now remember the panic I felt when I learned that there were a number of Days Inns in the DC area? I felt that because I expected a simple answer (one Days Inn) but received a complex one instead (many Inns). And then I felt lost and alone in a huge, unfamiliar world. And so I panicked.

I see that same sort of panic and anxiety in the evangelical church today (especially on the fundamentalist end) and I think a lot of it is rooted in the same sort of Days Inn disconnect that I felt in DC.

And I’ll have a lot more to say about that in my next post.

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384. tone and tempo

[PREFACE]

Last week I got to deliver a sermon at my church. A few things you’ll need to know in order to understand some of the things I talk about.

For about seven years now, my church has been trying to move into a new home. I don’t want to get into all the details of the numerous hopes, struggles, dreams, fears, and disappointments that have plagued this project, but I will say that it’s been pretty brutal.

In these past few months, it looks as if we’re finally at a place where we can actually move forward on this project. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.

[END PREFACE]

Texts for Sunday, April 7th:
John 20:19-31 (The story of Doubting Thomas)
Acts 5:27-32
By: Joseph Karl Stieler
I heard a story recently on NPR about the tempo of Beethoven’s music. The way the story goes, late in his career, a device gets invented called the metronome. This is something that keeps tempo by ticking out a precise number of beats per minute. For example, a setting of 120 would be two beats every second.

Initially, Beethoven resisted the use of the metronome, but after a while, he realized that through this device, he could ensure that for the rest of time, long after his death, that his musical pieces could be played, not just with the correct notes, but also at the correct speed. And so he took the time to go back to his previous scores and document the precise tempo at which he wanted his works to be performed.

Now here’s where things start to get interesting.

It turns out, that today, nobody ever performs his symphonies at the tempo he marked. Why? Because they’re insanely, some might say comically, fast.

Here’s an edited clip from the story:

Click here.

As you can hear, sometimes Beethoven’s tempo is so fast that performing the piece as marked presses up against the technical limits of even the best players in the world. Beethoven scholars and musicologists have puzzled over these tempo markings, trying to explain why they’re so fast. The most obvious explanation is that maybe the metronome that he was using was broken or maybe it had different markings than the ones we use today.

But here’s the crazy thing.

Someone actually found the very metronome (the exact one!) that Beethoven used and it works fine. 100 on Beethoven’s metronome is 100 on a modern metronome.

And there are other theories out there, some plausible, some highly speculative, but the fact is, we may never know what to make of Beethoven’s tempo markings – maybe all the recorded and performed works of his have been (and always will be) played slower than he intended.

This is actually rather odd, because the classical world is one where attention to detail is prized. And you would think that correct tempo would be a pretty important detail to attend to. But no conductor ever follows them. In addition, not a single classical music critic ever complains about that fact, which is even more surprising because they usually complain about everything.

And I think there’s something telling here. Somehow, even these sticklers for accuracy and authenticity understand that at the end of the day, beauty must prevail.
Metronome
Now what about the text we have before us – the story of doubting Thomas?

Here, we have, not musical notation, but narrative. And if there’s one thing that modern narrative has that this ancient writer did not include as much of, it’s the emotional tone of the story. And so just as we’ll never know precisely what Beethoven had in mind with his symphonies and their frenetic tempo markings, we may never know precisely what sort of emotional tone we should assign to Thomas and to Jesus here.

Of course, the history of interpretation and even translation has not been kind to Thomas.

The NIV has Jesus admonishing Thomas with the words, “Stop doubting and believe.” The NRSV is a bit softer with, “Do not doubt but believe.”

But let’s take a look at Thomas, for a moment. What’s his tone? How did he sound when he said, “unless I see the marks in his hand and in his side, I won’t believe.”

Well, what just happened? Jesus showed up to the disciples and Thomas wasn’t there. He shows up later and they tell him, “We have seen the Lord!” And the text moves from there, directly into Thomas’ statement of disbelief.

But things couldn’t have gone that fast.

One of my professors likes to talk about how we are always at war with hope. And when he talks about this war with hope, he’s not talking about, “oh I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” or “I hope the Mariners win this year.” He’s talking about “I hope the chemo treatments will work again; I hope he can stay clean and sober; I hope she can carry the baby to term this time.”

These are big, unwieldy, slippery hopes. We wage war with these hopes because these are hopes that fight back. On the one hand, we so desperately want to cling to the tiniest thread of hope that things will turn out well. But on the other hand, we want to shield ourselves from the possibility of deep disappointment and so we push it away.

And here we have Thomas, mourning his beloved, dead rabbi. I wonder if that’s why he wasn’t there with the others – maybe he wanted to be alone with his grief for a while. And then he meets up with the other disciples and they’re going on and on about this crazy story of Jesus alive.

I picture Thomas in that moment, at war with hope – a tiny piece of him wanting desperately to believe that what his friends were telling him was true, but the disbelief. How could he bring himself to believe something so utterly, impossibly…

I mean, can you imagine, can you feel the tears streaming down his face as he cries, “No. That’s too good to be true. It can’t be. No, stop it! Unless I can feel the wounds with my own fingers, I won’t believe. I just can’t!”

And then a whole week goes by.

I’ll bet it really sucked to be Thomas that week. I bet it sucked to be around Thomas that week. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time the next Sunday rolled around that Thomas got some of the other disciples wondering if they had actually seen what they had seen.
Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Findlay Family,1 we know what weeks like this are like, individually and corporately. In the course of our building projects, we’ve lived through years of these dark, despairing weeks. We know this war with hope. We know what it is to watch a beautiful dream wither away – even more so, a dream that we thought God had dared us to dream. And yet, there it went.

How and where do we find God again in moments like that?

Can I admit that when we started the process of redesigning the building, that I found it difficult to hold hope? And even now, as previously insurmountable barriers have been falling and continue to fall, as the path towards completion grows brighter and clearer week by week – I still reserve a part of myself out of fear of disappointment.

But.

But I need stories like Thomas’ to remind me that another Sunday does come. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Jesus came back specifically for Thomas. And what’s the first thing Jesus says? “Peace. Be at peace, Thomas. It really is me. See (gesturing to the holes in his hand)? See (to the wound in his side)? Thomas, your awful war with hope is over. You really can believe.”

And Thomas responds with rapturous awe, “My Lord and my God.”

What tone do we hear when we read the words of Jesus?

There are no tempo markings. It is we who have to decide, each time we read, how to stage this performance. And when we decide, I hope (like Beethoven’s conductors) that we always err on the side of beauty, of gospel, of relentless, redemptive love.

And speaking of choices, in the next year or so, there will be many other choices that will have to be made here at Findlay Street Christian Church.

See, there’s another sort of rebuilding and redesign that’s in the works, because the church isn’t the building. We (gesturing towards the congregation) are the church and if we are to be faithful witnesses of what God is on about in the world, if we want to move into a new neighborhood, if we desire to deeply integrate and invest ourselves into their community, their lives… Well then our community cannot stay the same.
East Elevation
And there are some of us who are longing for change. And there are some of us who are unsure. And there are some who don’t like change or who won’t like the changes after they happen.

In the passage from Acts that Jo read earlier, the apostles and other followers of Christ had just been freed from jail. And they had been jailed by the religious leaders of the day for preaching the resurrection of Christ – a message of life and forgiveness, a message that claims that a new world is possible, that peace and reconciliation can be the new norm.

I trust that we’ll be received into the Beacon Hill neighborhood better than Peter and the apostles were, but like them, we are called to be witnesses, to be an example of how the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives, in our congregation, in the neighborhood, and in the world.

These are challenging, exciting, yes, even hopeful times for our church. And it feels good, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but in these past few months, I’ve sensed a new sort of levity in the air on Sundays, a new sort of anticipation. The tone is shifting and the tempo is picking up.

Church, we have waited with Thomas long enough. Let us rejoice as we see dawn breaking in on this new, beautiful Sunday.

(Cont. below the image.)
Metronome2

Photo by: seiichi.nojima

So, um… That’s a message of good news for the church and for all who know and live in resurrection. I had initially ended my sermon there, but there’s one more thing I’d like to address.

The season of Easter is a lovely time of spring and new life, and thanks be to God for that.

But there are some out there (and can I admit that I include myself in this group), there are some who are still in that long, lonely week of waiting with Thomas, waiting with some sort of long unrequited prayer. There are some who are still waging the long, cold war with hope. And like Thomas among the other rejoicing apostles, we watch those around us, those who have seen resurrection in their lives, celebrating.

And we wonder when or if our turn will ever come.

Again, can you imagine that week with Thomas? Can you hear the other disciples telling him, “hey, cheer up – Jesus will probably stop by again on Monday.” And maybe Thomas allows himself that little bit of hope. And then Monday comes. And goes. And then Tuesday. And then Wednesday…

For those of us who are still waiting, who knows what part of the week we’re in. Maybe Sunday is just a few minutes away. Or maybe it’s still early Tuesday morning, and we’ve miles to go. And during that week, Thomas didn’t know – even the other disciples couldn’t have known – that Jesus would ever appear again.

In the second half of verse 29, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” And while the focus there is on belief, the idea of waiting is there just beneath the surface. The writer, John, may have included that phrase because the early church would also have been waiting and wondering – “will Jesus return again? How long will we have to wait?”

And we, the church, are still waiting with them.

So those of us who yet wait and wonder – we’re not alone.
Prague Metronome

Photo by: Frantisek Fuka – Sculpture by: Vratislav Novak

But look again. What does Jesus say to those in wait? He says that we are blessed.

And yeah, it’s often hard to feel blessed, especially during extended periods of waiting, but if I can pull in Matthew’s Gospel here, Jesus had this to say about want and waiting:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Waiting for resurrection sucks. But we don’t wait alone. The kingdom of heaven waits with us and promises that we will be comforted.

And I’ll end this time with these lyrics from a song by Sinead O’Connor, performed by The Opiate Mass:

All the pain that you have known
All the violence in your soul
All the “wrong” things you have done
I will take from you when I come

All mistakes made in distress
All of your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss
I will give you tenderness

For child I am so glad I found you
Although my arms have always been around you
Sweet bird although you did not see me
I saw you2

We may not see, but we are seen.

[FOOTNOTES]

  1. A few months after I delivered this sermon, the church changed its name from Findlay Street Christian Church to Welcome Table ↩︎
  2. Audio credit: The Opiate Mass ↩︎

383. best practices (a preview)

[PREFACE]

At The Seattle School, the MDiv program culminates in what they call the Integrative Project. It’s an opportunity for students to synthesize what they’ve been learning into a topic of their choosing – something related to what they hope to do with their degree after graduation.

I’ve chosen to talk about sex. Well, more specifically, singleness and sexuality in the church.

I’ll post up a lot more of what I’ve been working on after things are critiqued, edited, and finalized, but I am really excited about the direction this thing is taking and I wanted to offer up a teaser.

As always, thoughts, questions, rants and raves encouraged and appreciated.

[END PREFACE]
40-year-old_virgin_poster
For two years now, I’ve been working on a series of posts about how really poor church teachings in the area of singleness, sexuality, and dating have brought me to a place in life where I just turned 41 and I’m still a virgin who’s never been in a serious romantic relationship. Ever. And to be frank, it’s been a really awful ride.

Over these past two years I’ve been studying the issues surrounding the church’s teachings on singleness and sexuality, I’ve done a ton of writing on my blog about what I’ve been learning – both what I’ve been learning about my own story and about how the church can do better. On this second bit, I have to say that it hasn’t been easy. I’ve tried and jettisoned a number of proposals as friends have questioned and commented on them.

And now.

And now I’m finally at a place where I think I have something workable – a more helpful way of thinking and talking about singlenes and sexuality in the church that encourages healthy relationships – and here I mean intra-personal relationships (a healthy relationship within one’s self), interpersonal relationships (healthy relationships with others, more specifically, romantic interests), and our relationship with God.

But first I want to clarify a few things.

Intended Audience

These posts are meant primarily for post-high school, non-married adults in the Christian church who are wanting to know more about how to navigate their sexuality and their dating life. Now I like to think that what I’m proposing will work with any couples, whether they align themselves with the Christian faith or not, but I will be speaking from and to a Christian framework. That is to say, I will be writing with the assumption that my audience shares in the belief that, to some degree or another, the Bible is the revealed word of God and serves as a kind of centering document in the life of the church.

Preliminary Terms and Definitions

Singleness

Here I mean any unmarried person who may or may not be involved in a romantic relationship. Simple as that.

Sex

Sex is a biologically-based need which is oriented not only toward procreation but, indeed, toward pleasure and tension release. It aims at genital activity culminating in orgasm.1

Basically, when I use the word, “sex,” I mean the sex act, the bump and grind, making whoopee, the wild thing.

Sexuality

Sexuality… is a much more comprehensive term associated with more diffuse and symbolic meanings, psychological and cultural orientations. While it includes sex and relates to biological organ systems, sexuality goes beyond this… Sexuality is our self-understanding and way of being in the world as male and female… It involves our affectional orientation toward those of the opposite and/or the same sex.2

In other words, our sexuality is a much larger category than sex. It includes the sex act, but it also contains things like the way we think and feel about sex. It includes how and why we act (or choose not to act) on our sexual desires and whether we embrace them or shame and repress them. It also has to do with an awareness of how the culture we live and grow up in shapes how we think, feel, and act on our sexuality.
i-kissed-dating-goodbye

Purity Culture

This way of talking about singleness and sexuality goes under different names – the purity movement is a common one, abstinence-only education is another. Basically it is a way of talking about sexuality that focuses primarily on not having sex until one is married. A common idea in this culture is that all sexual thoughts, feelings, and desires are wrong and/or damaging outside the context of marriage. Because of this, some of these programs go as far as counseling people not to date at all until they have found someone they intend to marry.

(I’ll have a lot more to say about purity culture in a future post.)

Goals and Method

My goal is to outline a new framework for thinking about singleness and sexuality in the church. Much of the popular Christian literature around the topic of singleness and dating are highly problematic and while there are books that I’ve found to be tremendously helpful in laying out healthier, more life-affirming ways for singles to steward their sexuality, they tend to be written for a more academic audience. My hope is to take these academic works and restate their ideas in ways that are more accessible, relatable, and applicable.

I hope to accomplished this through a series of six posts, each no longer than 1,500 words.

Conversation Partners

Although I will be referencing a number of difference texts, most of my work centers around these three books:

Covers

Outline

  1. An Introduction (this post)
  2. My Story
  3. A Critique of Purity Culture
  4. Embodiment – Finding One’s Self
  5. Justice – Stewarding the Self in Relation to Others
  6. A Culture of Communication and Consent

Best Practices

The term “best practices” refers to a series of guidelines that, when followed, tend to lead to successful outcomes.

For example, in the computing world there can be a number of different ways to write a segment of computer code that will produce the same results. Think about this blog post that you’re reading right now. Underlying everything you see and read here are invisible lines of code that tell your computer browser where to put the text and the images, how to set up the columns that divide different parts of the page, and what color everything should be. Now there are lots of different ways to write those lines of code, but here’s the thing. Those lines of code should create web pages that look the same regardless of whether you’re using Chrome or Firefox or Safari on a Mac or a PC. In order to make sure web pages look the same across these different platforms, web designers work under a set of best practices that tend to bring about that consistency.

But here’s the thing.

An inexperienced web designer may write sloppy code that leads to a webpage that looks fine across different platforms. And sometimes even the most seasoned coder, operating well within best practices, will wind up with pages that don’t work as planned.

All that to say, what I propose to do with this series of blog posts is to offer some best practices when it comes to navigating singleness and sexuality in the church. Following these practices will not necessarily guarantee success and not following them does not necessarily mean that your relationships will end in failure. People are unique. Couples are unique. Because of that, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dating. Learning how to steward one’s sexuality in relation to/with another’s is something that takes practice.

One Last Thing

There are a lot of books about singleness, sexuality, and dating in the church. They generally tend to fall into two categories.

  1. Books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Choosing God’s Best, and the Every Man’s/Woman’s Battle Series have a very negative view of sexuality for single people. The basic message is, sexual arousal outside of marriage is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
  2. Though in the minority, there are books like Rescuing Sex From the Christians that make the case that the Bible never prohibits unmarried couples from having sex.3

I am unsatisfied with both extremes and am hoping to reframe this conversation in a way that does not lead to a wanton abandonment of all sexual norms on the one hand, nor a strict, life-sucking, shame-inducing, sexual asceticism, on the other.

The problem with abandoning rules altogether is that relationships can become self-seeking and exploitative. The problem with the rules-based approach is that the rules often get in the way of a couple’s relationship with one another. To give you a preview of where I hope to land, I want to replace the culture of purity (and the culture of complete license) with a culture of communication and consent – a culture where couples are committed to caring for themselves and the other (in that order) through open dialogue, a culture where couples are surrounded by a church community that helps people in relationship live into the fullness of what God has for them as well as living up to the boundaries that the couple decide upon together.

_______________
References:
1.James B. Nelson, Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburh Publishing House, 1978), 17.

2.Ibid., 17-18. I should state here that while I’ll be speaking primarily from a heterosexual perspective, I believe the principles and practices I outline will be applicable across the Hetero-LGBTQ spectrum. I will not take on the issue of biblical justifications for LGBTQ orientation, but I do operate from the viewpoint that God affirms (and I would even say, celebrates) sexuality in many (though not necessarily all) forms. My hope is that one need not agree with my theological stance to benefit from the practices I will be proposing, but I do want to be open and up front about where I am coming from and what I believe.

3.Clayton L. Sullivan, Rescuing Sex From the Christians (New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), 87-90.

382. what a guy wants

So a few days ago, I posted this status update on twitter and facebook:

tweet

This was quite a monumental shift and an unexpected one at that (even for me).

This big shift was really the result of a number of smaller shifts – shifts that I didn’t even realize were taking place until they spilled out of my mouth in various conversations (paging Dr. Freud).

See, up until I posted that statement on facebook, I had been planning on moving back to Hawaii to do some kind of church something after graduating from grad school and being ordained with the Disciples of Christ. And because I’m graduating and getting ordained this year, I was anticipating being back in Hawaii by late 2013 or early 2014 at the latest. My six year stay in Seattle was coming to a close and that prompted a number of conversations with people who wanted to know what was next for me.

So, in different conversations, as people would ask me about my future plans, I found myself saying things like:

  • So I know I’m supposed to initially go back to Hawaii, but I don’t know if I’ll be there for the rest of my life.
  • I’m thinking I’ll only be in Hawaii for ten years.
  • I’m thinking I’ll only be in Hawaii for five to ten years.
  • I’m thinking I’ll give it a year and see what happens.
  •  
    Each of those statements were given weeks apart and every time those words came out of my mouth, they came as a surprise to me. I mean, even as I was speaking them, it sounded as if that had been my plan along. I spoke with calm resolve, but internally I was stunned at what I was saying.

    (Me on the outside.)

    FiveToTenYears
     

    (Me on the inside.)

    WhatDidISay
     
    Fast forward to a week ago.

    I’m on a flight back to Hawaii to attend the Hawaiian Island Ministries 2013 Conference. As a result of my newfound desire to get back into the dating scene, and upon the recommendation of a friend, I downloaded the book, No More Mr. Nice Guy, by Robert Glover (the book is about dating and it’s not as bad as the title makes it seem). In one of the chapters, Glover talks about how a lot of nice guys never get what they want in relationships because they don’t know what they want in life – they only know how to provide other people with what they want. And I gotta say, I totally resonated with what he was saying. In fact, about two years ago, I put up a post where I recognized that pattern in my own life. I wrote that

    …I’ve been living for people. When I was hanging out with someone, I was hanging out for them. I was always thinking about what that person wanted out of the relationship. I kept trying to find ways that I could help this other person or somehow give them what they wanted from me.

    So I’m on the plane, reading about the need to recognize and admit what it is that I want in life, and that’s when it hit me.

    I don’t want to be a pastor. I want to be a writer.

    It was quite an epiphany.

    And the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me. I came to this realization as I’m on a plane back to Hawaii for a conference that I attend in order to prepare myself to plant a church there.

    So I made a decision. I decided to use the conference as a kind of discernment retreat. I would sit and listen to the speakers and basically, my approach was this: unless I hear something or make a connection with someone who somehow confirms that I really am supposed to come back to Hawaii as a pastor, I’m going to stay in Seattle for the foreseeable future.

    SpeakToMe2

    And I listened. And I met and talked with people. And while it was abundantly clear that there is a huge need for a more progressive theological voice in the pulpit in Hawaii – one that could speak to and resonate with the younger, local population – it was also clear to me that I was not the one to bring it.

    Well, let me be more specific. If I can speak with uncharacteristic candor about myself, I believe I could have had a successful church. I really enjoy writing sermons and I like delivering them. I’m also good at sitting with people and helping them work through their theological/personal issues. I have a relatively good grasp of media technology and understand how to use these tools to speak to today’s media-savvy culture. Of course none of these things (even in aggregate) guarantee a successful church plant, but I know I would have been able to give it a hell of a good go.

    But.

    But there’s a huge difference between what someone can do and what someone wants to do.

    And here’s what I came to see. If I were to do a church plant, I would be doing it for others – not for myself, and (this is a particularly haunting realization) maybe not even for God.

    So what am I going to do?

    Well, here I have to be a bit coy. I have a lot of ideas, but I’m not ready to reveal them quite yet. As a teaser, I can say that it’ll be related to a lot of the writing I’ve been doing on my blog and the research I’ve been doing for school. So, yeah, it’s going to likely have something to do with singleness and sexuality in the church. I’m super stoked about the possibilities and I can’t wait to get working on it.

    Seattle will be the perfect place to launch it. I’ll have access to various seminary libraries, I’ll be able to stay in contact with faculty to get their input and I’ll be able to audit/sit in on classes. I have lots of techy friends who can help me with the back end stuff, and more importantly, with monetizing my ideas.

    And the time is right. The Christian interwebs are abuzz with the topic of singleness and sexuality in the church these days (here are just a few examples) and I can’t wait to throw my own hat into the ring.

    NiceGuy

    378. and yet…

    [PREFACE]

    One of the classes I have this semester is called Celtic Spirituality. As a spiritual formation class, it focuses more on the practices of the early Celtic Christians than on their theology, which I’m a little bummed about since their theology is pretty fascinating.

    Anyway, this week in class, after talking about the features of Celtic prayer, our instructor asked us to try our hand at writing our own Celtic-style prayer.

    I hemmed and hawed for a while and I squirmed in my seat because my prayer life as of late has been pretty sparse. And the difficulty for me in this prayer writing exercise wasn’t about not being able to or not wanting to pray, it was that the prayer I wanted to write seemed wrong, heretical, maybe even unholy. But at the same time, I recognized that for prayer to truly be prayer, it had to be honest and from the heart.

    My spirituality isn’t in a very good place right now. I haven’t had a healthy spirituality in a long, long time. But if the Celts are right, then God’s presence can be found anywhere, even in the darkest, deepest, dingiest bog. I’m no expert on Celtic spirituality, but from what I’ve seen so far, their instruction manual for prayer seems to go something like this: be where you are, feel what you feel, say what you want to say, and trust that God will take care of the rest.

    And so finally, just before time was up for this exercise, I decided to throw caution to the wind and I wrote this prayer.

    [END PREFACE]
    Photo by: gnuckx

    Photo by: gnuckx

    God is dead,
    and yet I pray.

    I reach out
    into the void

    without
    anticipation

    and my hands
    return empty.

    And yet I pray.
    And yet, I pray.

    [AFTERWORD]

    For me, the prayer is simultaneously bleak and faintly hopeful, which is a good summary of my spirituality right now.

    And I know the “God is dead” phrase is provocative, but for me, it a phrase with tremendous depth. It means far more than what the words seem to say.

    And there’s something about that comma in the last couplet that seems to hold a ton of meaning, but I’m not sure what it means.

    As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    376. my take on John 14:6

    [PREFACE]

    About a month ago, a challenge went up on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast that asked listeners how they handle the verse in John 14:6 which says,

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (TNIV)

    More specifically, they were asking people to respond to the question, how do you have a conversation with another Christian who uses this verse to claim that Jesus here is saying that people who follow other religions will go to hell.

    The Homebrewed crew took all the responses, chose a few and put them in their latest podcast. People whose responses made it into the podcast got a free copy of Brian McLaren’s new book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?.


    I submitted my take on the verse but unfortunately, it didn’t make it in.

    After listening to the podcast, I think it’s clear that this challenge was above my pay grade as a theologian, but still, I had a good time crafting a response and thought I’d share it with you all.

    I encourage you to listen to the John 14:6 podcast – the people who contributed had some really fascinating things to say and the hosts’ engagement with the responses is fun and enlightening.

    http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2012/11/14/the-john-146-challenge-edition-tnt-39/

    And here’s what I contributed:

    [END PREFACE]

    I completely affirm John 14:6.
     
    I do believe that no one comes to God except through Jesus.
     
    But I read that verse as saying that when it comes to what happens to people in the afterlife, I don’t get to decide, my theology doesn’t get to decide, my denomination and its doctrines don’t get to decide. Jesus is the one who decides.
     
    Now some Christians claim this verse as an assurance of their own salvation. They read this verse and come to the understanding that if they confess faith in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, then Jesus will allow them through to God.
     
    But I don’t know if that’s exactly what Jesus is saying here.
     
    I think the idea that NO ONE comes to God except through Jesus should give everyone pause – even those in the church.
     
    The writer of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
     
    That seems to suggest that it’s not what one profess that saves, but how one lives within the will of God. And if that’s the case then if there are people of other faiths (or no faith) who live out an ethic that mirrors that of the kingdom of God – one that is in line with the way, truth, and life of Jesus (whether they profess Jesus or not) – then I don’t see why it’s necessary to claim that Jesus will exclude them on the basis of John 14:6.