Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

21 September 2007

harder than it looks...

I've got a quick thought to share...

It's easy to distance ourselves from people like Hitler and Stalin. We can't imagine such horrible evils. I mean really, what was the rest of the world doing, right? Why didn't someone stop him sooner? I guess they just stood by and said, 'Who are we to say otherwise?'

While I'm sure it's not a one-for-one analogy, many would say that the large number of modern abortions is comparable to the genocide of those days, and that the same thing is happening today, and still, the world stands by and says, 'Who are we to say otherwise?'

Now, abortion is a huge issue and I'm not going to take the time to offer a well-nuanced and carefully phrased view, but what if this was actually the case?

One of the small, behind the scenes things that helped bring an end to the regimes all those years ago was people using their voice to let the world know about what was really happening, not what they wanted you to think was happening. (go out right now and watch the movie 'Sophie Scholl' - it's incredible!)

My point is, they didn't start by physically going in with guns blazing. Some had to make the difficult but necessary decision to not act then and there, but to wait and tell others that could make a bigger, more permanent difference.

What if abortion is a modern-day genocide?

Well, if it is, I think something needs to be done. But what? Try and get the law changed? Use brute political force? Fund Christian political lobby groups?

I think that's not the wisest way. I think we've got to face the fact that the abortion issue, as horrible as it is, is only a part of a much more foundational issue - toxic and destructive human sexual values and practices...

Changing laws won't last. It won't help. We've got to do the difficult work of influencing people. Now. With grace and truth.

That's my quick thought...



15 September 2007

trusting the bible?

The other night, I went to a lecture by John Shelby Spong, an Anglican Bishop and popular author.

The title of Spong's lecture was this: 'The Bible is not the solution - it's the problem.'


In one point I agreed with, he criticised those that pick their most favourite verses here and there from the Bible; but then he did precisely that in his lecture - except the verses he picked here and there were his least favourite...

I would like to suggest what I see as a spectrum concerning views of the Bible. At one end, you have Spong's view on scripture, and at the other end you have various teachers of what I like to call 'biblianity'. It may not be a perfect analogy, because I think the issue is more complex and multi-faceted than a simple spectrum can show, but it may be helpful.

What I'm talking about here, has to do with what I think are false choices being presented everywhere you look. The obvious example being the false choice between worshiping the Bible (hailing it as pure, un-defiled and able to do your laundry) on one hand, and on the other hand treating it as a 'sinful' thing, perhaps useful for gleaning a few nice sentiments or putting under a short leg of a table.

I don't want to use the phrase, 'middle ground', as that conjures up images of compromise, but there is certainly a third option other than those two.

Directly or indirectly, we're talking about the Bible's trustworthiness. Can we trust the Bible? Spong would not hesitate to say, 'Not at all.' Most Christians would say, 'Yes.' Now, I agree with the latter, but I want to comment on what this 'trusting the Bible' might look like...

The problem is the vagueness of the question - 'Can we trust the Bible?' A better question is, 'What can we trust the Bible for?' To forgive my sins? As a flotation device? I certainly trust the Bible, but what do we mean by this?

-I don't trust the Bible to cook my food.
-I do trust the Bible to tell how to eat responsibly.
-I don't trust the Bible to teach me how to play guitar.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that music is a gift from God.
-I don't trust the Bible to explain dark matter in the universe.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that the heavens declare His glory.
-I don't trust the Bible to explain micro-evolution and macro-evolution.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that God is the creator of all things.
-I don't trust the Bible to make my website look cool.
-I do trust the Bible to say when to turn off the computer and sit face-to-face with others.
-I don't trust the Bible to fix my car.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us walking might often be a better option for many reasons.
-I don't trust the Bible to contain secret codes that the Bible itself says nothing at all about.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us about life.
-I don't trust the Bible to be a spooky magic trick kind of book.
-I do trust the Bible to be a down-to-earth real kind of book.
-I don't trust the Bible to provide convenient proof-texts to randomly affix to life.
-I do trust the Bible to provide wisdom and orientation to all of life.

The Bible that Spong hates is the same Bible of biblianity. It is a Bible that was handed down on a cloud, leather-bound and ready for quoting-battles. Ready to be chopped up into bits and stuck 'on billboards and backs of cars' (from the lyrics of Derek Webb). Ready to be defended by 'deep-sea-fishing' (term from Hank Hannegraaf) code-finding methods. Ready to be worshipped.

I don't love that Bible of biblianity. I love the actual Bible. I can trust it. Not to answer any silly question I wish to ask of it, but to answer the most important questions.


13 September 2007

mary elizabeth toalson cottingham

My grandma passed away early this morning.

She lived in Columbia, Missouri, with my aunt Mary Jane, which is about a 3 hours drive from where I grew up in Bolivar. We probably went up to see them a couple times a year, and I always enjoyed grandma.

There are two memories of her that I will always cherish:

1. She had this really... well... unique way of greeting you. (this was when I was young - and shorter than her!) She would hug you really tightly and press her teeth -- yes, her teeth! -- against the top of your head - hair and all! It was the strangest thing AND the most endearing at the same time! :)

2. Much later, after she had one of her strokes (and when she could still for the most part recognise who you were), I went up by myself to visit. I brought my guitar and we all sang some hymns together. My favourite song that we did was 'Trust and Obey.' The chorus goes: "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus - than to trust and obey."

The reason it was my favourite song was not the theology of the song or whatever. It was the experience of singing it with my grandma, and seeing the smile on her face. And most of all, the fact that it didn't matter at ALL that she wasn't articulating all of the words too well. I remember her sort of singing, "Trust and obey, for is no other way ...(mumbling)... Jesus - ...mm... trust and obey."

Priceless moment.

Where is my grandma now? That depends on how you define what a human being is, and how you interpret reality.

Some 'spiritual' religions would say that her 'soul' has finally been 'freed' from it's prison-like cage, and is now able to perhaps be re-incarnated into another body, or in other religions re-join the 'oneness' of the universe. I talked to a Hare Krishna guy the other week that said that the state that the soul is in when it leaves the body is the state it will stay in afterward. Therefore, the goal is to get your soul in a 'good' state before you die, I guess...

Some versions of Christianity (not completely unlike the 'spiritual' religions) would say that her 'soul' went either to 'heaven' or to 'hell', depending on whether she had signed on with the correct religious group. The goal for some of these people is first to ensure that they are in the correct group, and second to get everyone else in their group. Choose carefully, I guess...

The atheists/naturalists would say that my grandma, like all humans, was only made up of atoms, chemicals and elements, and that her body will simply decompose. They would say that the best thing to do is remember her. Well, lucky for me, I've got good memories! Unlucky for those whose deceased family weren't so nice... I guess you try to forget them...

I can't make sense of the 'spiritual' worldview where your 'immortal soul' floats around somewhere and perhaps does something interesting every once and a while for the rest of eternity. A soul without a body seems to me like software with no CPU (central processing unit) - a set of strings with no guitar - words with nobody to say them. I'm very nervous about this sharp distinction between soul and body.

I also can't make sense of the worldview that says reality is only material. I can't make the logic work that the universe of matter and ideas caused itself into being. I'm not interested in hiding from scientific discoveries or trying to prove God from what science has not discovered yet. I think every discovery science makes simply shows how interesting and bewildering God's universe is.

I also can't make sense of the obsession of some Christians with trying to ensure that you've got the right group, the right list of beliefs, the right day of the week, the right rules and regulations. It seems ironic how consistently each type of group assumes that their group is the right one. And wasn't this kind of assumption about being the right group precisely the kind of thing John the Baptist (not to mention Jesus) warned against when he said, "Don't say to yourselves 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!"

It does, however, make sense to me that the universe, reality - Life; is the result, intention and action of a Creator. It makes sense to me that a good Creator would create a creation that was not mechanistic, predictable and tied-down, but rather a creation that was alive, teeming with chance and possibility - a free creation full of danger, mystery, beauty and grandmas that press their teeth against your head.

It makes sense to me that human beings are just as dangerous and free as the rest of the universe. It makes sense to me that human beings are more than atoms and particles. It makes sense to me that a soul and a body would be so over-lapping and intertwined, you wouldn't know where one stopped and the other began.

It makes sense to me that these heart/soul/mind/body/spirit/strength interwoven realities called human beings would be God's primary means of caring for each other and creation. It makes sense to me that the Creator would have a plan to renew all things. It makes sense that a Creator would re-create things at the end of the story.

It makes sense to me that my grandma is not merely decomposed forever. It makes sense that her 'soul' is not flying laps around Jupiter. It makes sense that my grandma is somewhere between now and the end of the story. It makes sense that the finer details of the end of the story are not things I've got advanced information on. It makes sense that we'll all be surprised.

It makes sense, to me at least, that I'll be able to feel teeth on my head again some day.


10 September 2007

new look for by-default

OK, this has been due for a while now. I've finally put a little time/effort into the look of my blog.

It's not anything incredible, but hopefully gives my blog a bit more personality instead of looking like ump-teen trillion other blogs... :)