Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sex and Food

February 26, 2009

I must confess that I enjoy reading George Will’s columns, which labels me a right-leaning archaism for some, I’m sure. Of course, he sends me to a dictionary on a regular basis, but I always come away feeling like I’ve learned something. He probably represents a dying breed of conservative, a kind of old-school intellectual who isn’t phased much by the turning of the tides. That makes him a contrary voice in the midst of an increasingly superficial world of commentary (that goes for the left AND the right, IMHO). Personally, I can’t say for sure whether his Jeffersonian ideals will really work in a global, urban, online society, but it’s food for thought, anyway.

Speaking of food, in his most recent article, he cites an essay by Mary Eberstadt which describes popular American culture as “puritanical about food, and licentious about sex.” She chronicles the shift in moral standards from the 50’s to now, comparing our attitudes towards food and sex. As she points out, the typical American housewife of the 1950’s had no problem serving red meat, with starchy, high carb sides (cooked with lots of butter and refined sugar), and relatively few fresh or organic items to her family. But she believed a man and woman should be married in order to have sex, and that outside of that context sex was wrong.

Compare that to today. The average young woman today has considerably stronger views about what kinds of foods she should and shouldn’t keep in her house, while her views on sexuality and marriage have probably become remarkably more permissive and open-ended. This gives us a fascinating window into what these two different cultures, separated by five decades, consider to be important in life.

I attribute this shift to our loss of a transcendental reference. In a world that is philosophically materialistic, this life is all you’ve got. Therefore your body’s needs become king. Today we will expend TONS of energy working on our bodies, watching what we eat, hitting the gym, going under the knife, trying to turn back the hands of the clock anyway we can. Repressing sexual urges, on the other hand, is seen as unnatural, and therefore prudish. Traditional family structures seem irrelevant in a world where there is no authoritative tradition, and authoritative tradition presupposes that Someone (other than you) has the right to be in charge.

George Will describes himself as an agnostic, so I don’t imagine he would see our problems the same way. But I believe we agree that the breakdown of the family structure has brought on such a smorgasbord of ailments (which our schools, prisons, and legislatures are supposed to somehow fix) that without a reversal in that trend we will not see our society get any better. We can learn to eat whole foods. But when will we learn to practice whole sex? Sex involves the whole person (well, human sex does anyway) and expresses an intimacy and trust that matches the commitment of a lifelong marital bond. Maybe after enough time has passed, or maybe enough research has been done, even the “materialists” will agree with us that some kinds of physical intimacy are better than others, just like with food. Maybe not.


Sad Songs (Say So Much)

February 20, 2009

Have you noticed how strong of an aversion we Christians have to expressing sadness? The same thing can be said for doubt, fear, and anger (well, certain groups of Christians seem to thrive on anger, so maybe that one deserves an asterisk). I think we feel that it’s wrong to express negative emotions, because what kind of message will that send about God’s children? We don’t want to discourage one another, and we don’t want to have a bad testimony in the world.

But we’re meant to feel. We’re meant to be affected by the things around us.

Jesus wept.

Pete Scazzero, in his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, points out that “Two-thirds of the psalms are laments, complaints to God”(p.143). Yet when I look at the songs that I have written for my church group (we write our own songs), I find that most of mine express the same tone. They’re not all that way, mind you. I wrote a couple that are prayerful and meditative. A couple are grandiose and declarative. A couple are just plain fun.

But what about the sad songs?

As Elton John once said, “Sad songs, they say so much.”

Indeed they do. Our lives with the Lord sometimes take us into the valley of the shadow of death. And when they do, He is there, too. We need songs that express that, because someday you’ll be back there again, and when that time comes it will be of tremendous help to you to have put expression to what you experienced the first time.

King David seems downright bipolar sometimes. Just read a Psalm. His emotions ranged the whole gamut of feelings from elation and exaltation to sorrow, grief, guilt, and despair. And yet those songs became the hymnody of a nation. Wow. Apparently nations need sad songs, too. Sad songs that take you through that valley and show you that there is life and light on the other side. Or maybe those songs just need to be there when you get there so that you won’t feel so alone. Maybe the Lord inhabits those songs in those moments when you need His presence most. Maybe in those dark hours, He will come to you in a song. A sad song.

So go on and write sad songs. Put words and music to every emotion that the Lord takes us through…we need them all. They’re all a part of His work in us, and we should treat them as such. Don’t hide your weakness, your failing, your sorrows. Hiding them is often an act of pride. We don’t want to appear like we don’t have it all together.

In a dark time in my life, I once wrote a song to the tune of “Uninvited,” a song in minor key by Alanis Morissette. I never sang it in a meeting. But maybe I should have. Maybe I’ll pull it out again someday. Maybe not ūüėČ

Don’t Become Ingrown

February 18, 2009

Everyone should have the opportunity to hear people with different viewpoints from time to time. I think it’s an essential part of a healthy thought life. I think it’s crucial to your mental well-being. And sure, I know that we all have to regularly rub elbows with co-workers or neighbors who may be worlds apart from us ideologically. But conversation at the end of the driveway or around the water cooler is easily turned off, and often too trivial to really impact the core things we care about.

We’ve all been busy for several years now, building online communities where birds of a feather can flock together. And I don’t want to knock it…I can’t think of a better, quicker way to find folks with interests similar to your own. I can think of a thousand benefits to virtual community. But I’m also noticing a down side: Becoming Ingrown.

Of course, the internet isn’t the only place this happens. Real-life, flesh-and-blood communities fall into this ditch, too. Churches, clubs, support groups, and even families reinforce their own way of looking at things–which isn’t entirely a bad thing. But I think it’s terribly important that someone within those communities stay interactive with the larger world outside…for the sake of everyone else within.

I feel like I’ve gained so much from interacting with people who don’t see things the same way as I do, and I wouldn’t trade their input for anything. It keeps me balanced. For example, years before I became a part of the church/community in which I live, I read up on their detractors. I collected critiques of what they were doing, and thought about those critiques a good bit. I wrestled with the arguments both for and against what I was headed into. In fact, I still do that today. Just in the past week, I’ve spent a good bit of time processing criticism from people who think differently from me on things I hold very dear. I do this, even now, because it keeps me from becoming too narrow-minded, too certain of what I know, too confident in my own knowledge. And I think that ultimately benefits those around me.

It’s mentally exhausting sometimes, I have to admit. I don’t think everyone can sustain this kind of thing at the same level. Maybe some folks are better suited to this kind of exercise than others. But it’s still a useful activity. Groups like the one I’m in can draw immense benefit from such a thing.

So if you see someone close to you asking scary questions, analyzing things you think shouldn’t even have to be analyzed, stop for a moment and consider that we need folks like these. We need people who can interact with the wider world, who can evaluate things that most of us simply take for granted. They’re a necessary part of a healthy community.

All Who Are Weary

February 4, 2009

The brother who started the church that I’m a part of always encouraged us to take breaks when we need them. Spiritual life grows in seasons, he taught us, and you cannot make Life flow when it is not in season. That would be like trying to make new leaves in the dead of winter. And because we are not under the delusion that a person has to be “on” all the time, we give each other permission to rest from time to time. Let the soil of our hearts lie fallow for a while until the Life returns and is ready to produce its fruit once again.

Everything in God’s creation works that way. Hardly ANYTHING in Man’s creation works that way. We like things to be available all the time. Switch on your lights. Crank up the heat. TiVo that show and watch it whenever you want. We hate waiting for anything, and seasons seem to have meaning only in sports and fashion. For most things, we expect constant performance. Not so with the Lord.

So I’m taking a few weeks off of church meetings. The saints I meet with give me no brow-beatings because they, too, understand that God works in seasons. Sometimes you need to rest. Regroup. Recharge. Recenter. Rediscover that you know the Lord whether you are with other believers or by your self. Everyone needs this once in a while. I wish preachers had this luxury. What a difference it would make in the quality of the ministry that they bring!

Since I won’t be flapping my gums much in front of the folks that live around me (my church lives close together by design), I guess I’ll be writing more! Just a couple short posts after saying that writing well and living well don’t always go together ūüôā

Groundhog Day

February 2, 2009

Love this movie. Probably my favorite of all time. I heard that when this movie came out, there were so many papers written about it that a French philosophical conference had to begin turning them away. The protagonist (Phil) undergoes a transformation through a series of attempts to find meaning in the midst of a ceaselessly repetitive life. First he tries hedonism (no tomorrow = no consequences), then he tries altruism (hedonism was empty so I’ll try to make my life count for something), and then he descends into nihilism (what’s the point, just end it all). Finally he pursues love (which fails at first, too) and breaks out of the cycle. In a way, it’s an allegory about the evolution of (Western) philosophy. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how that can be. It’s also a kind of Buddhist version of the book of Ecclesiastes. Bit of trivia: The director’s wife is a devout Buddhist.

Incidentally, I originally wrote a completely different blog, but decided that some things are too sensitive to share in the heat of the moment. You’ve got to let them cool a bit. Blogs are tempting things, but they scatter your thoughts to the four winds, and care has to be used. These little square letters under my finger tips are dangerous things. I want to write some about emotionally healthy spirituality. But like so many things I’d like to share right now, they have to wait their turn.

In the meantime, I’ll be plopping down on the couch once again this year to watch Groundhog Day. Can’t really explain why it means something to me on a personal level, but somehow it does. Maybe some day I’ll figure it out.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

January 26, 2009

I’ll be writing a bit on a couple of books in the coming weeks (I think). Sometimes putting your own thoughts into writing doesn’t work, at least not for mass consumption on this boundary-less blogosphere. So I’m going to comment some on stuff I’ve been reading. It’s been a while since I’ve come across any books that struck a chord inside of me. Thankfully, I’ve come across a couple in the last few weeks, and I intend to write about them.

The first one is entitled Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and it’s written by Pete Scazzero. I like this book because its basic premise encircles some issues I’m dealing with in my life right now. He states the premise one the front cover: “It is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” That kind of blanket statement almost forces you to disprove it as quickly as possible. But while I would have taken issue with it years ago, I’m coming around to accepting its basic point.

More on that soon.

Why I Like Obama

January 22, 2009

I didn’t vote for Obama (I didn’t vote for McCain, either, by the way). ¬†Obama has more optimism about the government’s ability to solve the problems of the world than I do. ¬†But I’m not terribly troubled about his political views reversing trends that have been in place for the last several years. ¬†On the contrary, I’ve been fairly displeased with the gradual increase of the power of the executive branch over the last eight years. ¬†I also feel that we could do a much better job of diplomacy among countries with ideologies that are different from ours.

But this article here touches on the real reason I’m actually quite pleased to have Obama in office. ¬†I teach high school, and three fourths of my students are African-American. ¬†By my lights, they and their families are perpetually struggling with life for a lack of positive male role models. ¬†They idolize people like Tupak, or Lil’ Wayne, or maybe the occasional NBA player. ¬†Nobody who would show a young man how to treat a woman, or hold down a steady, unglamorous job.
But now we have a man in office who clearly displays love for his wife and his children. ¬†He demonstrates a deep respect for thinking through things, listening to people whose views are different from your own, and shows a remarkable ability to articulate complex ideas with unusual clarity. ¬†He represents a new ideal for young black men who want to mean something to the world. ¬†And he didn’t get there by packing heat, wearing the right flag on his $500 jeans, or selling CD’s. ¬†He doesn’t boast about how many women he can objectify, or how free he is from the rule of law. ¬†He is in every way just the opposite.
So I’m pretty pleased. ¬†Not so much with socialized health care, or protectionist economic policy. ¬†But I’m pretty happy with the man. ¬†And maybe that means more than we think.

Takin’ Care of Business

December 3, 2008

I’m listening to a book on CD right now, entitled Next, by the late Michael Crichton. ¬†The characters are a little thin, but I always find his stuff entertaining. ¬†I also continue to be amazed at how consistently people are either good at writing about life, or else they are good at living it. ¬†It’s pretty unusual to find anyone good at both.

Crichton, who succumbed to throat cancer and passed away about a month ago, was a pretty intelligent writer.  He stayed up on his scientific thinking and did a good job spinning fantastic tales about the impending dangers of irresponsible scientific tinkering.  He also enjoyed taking pot shots at pet topics like environmenatlism, political correctness, religion, and anti-smoking activists (he smoked for years until the birth of his only child a few years ago).  Listening to this particular book, I have noticed a pretty strong tendency to objectify women, and discovered a pretty consistent portrayal of marriage as an inconvenient arrangement.  I mean nobody in this book is happily married.  I was not surprised to find that he went through FIVE wives in his lifetime. 
Which brings me to my point.  People are usually either good at living life, or writing about it, but seldom are they good at both.
I have written nothing for months. ¬†Guess why? ¬†I’m pretty busy living life. ¬†Being a dad. ¬†Being a husband. ¬†Being a brother, son, teacher, coach, etc. ¬†
You should only write when you’ve got something to say. ¬†The rest of the time is good for doing the things that are right in front of you, needing your faithfulness and care.
So now you know what I’m up to ¬†ūüôā

Out on a Limb

September 15, 2008

Did you hear the one about the Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Greek Orthodox, the Anglican, the Pentecostal, the Methodist, and the Anabaptist?
Sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke, doesn’t it?
Imagine for a moment that these seven folks walked into the same room to be confronted with a series of questions:
“Do you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God?
“YES!” they all reply in unison.
“Do you believe that he died on a cross for the sins of humanity?”
“YES!” they all shout together again.
“Do you believe that he rose again on the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father?”
“YES!” they shout, with at least one pump of the fist and a “Hallelujah!”
Then the inquistor asks, “What do you believe about church government?”
A brief silence, followed by a passionate shouting match.
What’s the moral to this story?
There are things that the church universal has affirmed for centuries, things about the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and the supremacy of the name of Jesus above all other names, on heaven and on earth. ¬†This is the “mere christanity” of C.S. Lewis, Richard Baxter, and St. Vincent of Lerins. ¬†These are central tenets of our faith.
But matters of praxis, like church goverment, ministry models, and worship style do NOT fall into that category.  Those are matters on which the historical church has held widely varying views. I am not comfortable straying from the majority of the Christian community when it comes to those things about which there has been essential agreement.  But matters of practice are a different story.  
Liturgy vs. Open, participatory meetings.  Episcopal government vs. Congregational.  Guitars vs. Organs.  House church vs. Steeple-topped sanctuary.  For these things, there is no clear and authoritative consensus.
So here will be, out on this limb, along with possibly millions of Anabaptists, Baptists, Waldensians, Moravians, Priscillianists, Bogomils, Cathars, Albigensians, and who knows how many others across the centuries. ¬†With (seriously) all due respect for the faith of our fathers, I’m pretty comfortable out on this limb. ¬†It’s a big, strong Tree.

Reimagining the Trinity

September 12, 2008

In my last blog I commented, “Sadly, my experience tells me that intellect and education often displace that simplicity in Christ which characterized His [Jesus’] earliest followers.” I must second that emotion one more time here, because so many of the disagreements I’m reading between Ben Witherington and Frank Viola remind me of old battles I fought in seminary. No one ever won those battles, and each party always went away convinced that its own view was the correct one at every turn.

One caveat for this current online conversation: I have to agree with Frank that Ben waaaay too often “uses the rhetoric of absolute certainty” when he offers his views on even the most non-settled interpretational issue. A scholar of his caliber should know better.
IMHO, I think Frank did a good job of responding to most of the key sticking points in Witherington’s review of Reimagining Church. I saw one or two smaller points where Frank and Ben were speaking such different languages, and using such different sources, that I don’t think the dialogue really moved one direction or the other. I’ll name them later. But first, I gotta agree with Frank on some things.
Hierarchy and the Trinity. I distinctly remember completing an assignment about this while I was at Reformed Theological Seminary. I was to read and critique an article by a Greek Orthodox theologian, demonstrating how the traditional Protestant and Reformed concept of God is the right one. But a funny thing happened on the way to the word processor–I decided that the Greek guy’s view made more sense. I don’t think my professor liked my conclusion.
His basic premise was that personhood is best defined by communion–being with another. It initially sounded to me like modern existentialism, but he demonstrated how Eastern theologians thought that way a very long time ago. Interacting with someone outside of my own theological world made me realize just how much my “Western” categories of thought are just that–Western. We think about everything–our selves, even God– ultimately in terms of substances. But even a brief glance into the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit will make us realize that our categories have their limitations.
Witherington has been teaching Methodists for the past 13 years, and has been an ordained minister for much longer than that. Frank is right in observing that Witherington peers into the New Testament through “clerical glasses” which cause him to see hierarchy everywhere. He sees it in every facet of the early Church’s story. He even sees hierarchy in the Trinity. But there’s another way of looking at the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Greeks called it perichoresis, or mutual enfolding. They spoke about it as a dance. I’ve written on that before, and I think it’s beautiful. Not only beautiful, but true to the tenor of Jesus’ words in the gospels.
I didn’t really mean to get off on this for very long… so I’ll move on to one other related thing, then close for today.
Union with Christ. Witherington’s comments about our union with Christ sound like echoes of what one of my professors at Reformed always said. My professor explained that our union with Christ is a spiritual union, and not a real union.
I thought he was smoking something. A couple of us raised our hands and asked him to explain what he meant by that. How could spiritual and real mean different things? He used a pretty lame river illustration, and then an even lamer Batman’s-grappling-hook simile to illustrate how we don’t really become one with Christ, we just become connected to Him in some vague way. Somehow all those arresting statements in the NT are meant to be read, he said, in a “sermonic genre.” We wondered if he made that phrase up on the spot. Frankly, it sounded like baloney. Still does.
Witherington actually says, “The body of Christ is not Christ.” He says that twice. Then again he says, “The body belongs to the Lord, but it is not the Lord.” If you’ll go ready 1 Corinthinans 12:12 you’ll see that Witherington has just dismissed one of the most important, fundamental truths of the New Testament: The church’s oneness with Christ.
If you punched me on the shoulder, would you think me strange for saying “Why did you punch me?” Would you reply that my body is not the same thing as me? Talk about being soaked in Western philosophy! This kind of dualism fits well within Platonism. But it’s pretty foreign to the Christian faith. This goes to show you how hard it is for “the wise and prudent” to grasp things that God seems to enjoy showing to “babes.”
Being truly ONE with Christ, so that He is both IN you and you are IN Him, certainly doesn’t make any rational sense. Heck, claiming that God is three and yet one doesn’t make sense either! But we believe it just the same. We can’t always explain it to everyone’s satisfaction. But that’s why they’re called mysteries. We won’t get very far trying to hammer out an intellectually satisfying vocabulary around these matters. We confess them along with the same Spirit who inspired their declaration in the first place. But no number of graduate degrees will make this stuff any easier to comprehend.
Brother Ben, it’s time to become like a little child again. It’s a freeing place to be ūüôā