Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tolerance

There is an illusion prevailing in the West. According to many Westerners, it is "bad" to say that your take on spiritual reality is right and the take on spiritual reality that others have is wrong. All faiths, it is believed, should be appreciated for what they are and no one should ever "judge" one as superior or inferior, right or wrong. It is believed that this approach to spirituality is superior, progressive, and enlightened. This is, for many, the illusion of "tolerance."

There are some problems with this view. See, this view is, itself, a take on spiritual reality, and it exclusively claims the same kind of superiority that it says other takes on spiritual reality are wrong to do. Furthermore, proponents of this view can be just as vocal at "evangelizing" others to embrace it.  In other words, it doesn't live up to its own claim.  It can't.

The reality is that all takes on anything, not just spiritual reality, are exclusive by definition. And reality is that all of us are seeking to "evangelize" others with our take on reality. That doesn't make us mean. It is just the way it is.  It is the nature of the fact.

What is the true test of tolerance? I don't believe the true test of tolerance is to embrace an illusion of tolerance, which in reality only tolerates other views in so far as they agree with itself and labels views as "extreme" in so far as they do not. I believe the true test of tolerance is found in how you treat those with whom you disagree.

In other words, all people have a view under it all, and all people believe their view is right, whether that view is "Jesus is the only way to God" or that view is "All views have some truth and are purely personal. We shouldn't judge someone's view as right or wrong." But how do you treat those who disagree with you? Do you demonize them? Do you oppress them? Do you label them as "extremists" simply because their views are overtly exclusive, not acknowledging that your own view is by definition exclusive as well?

This is where I believe the Christian Gospel gives us the real basis for genuine tolerance because at the center of this "take" on spiritual reality is a man, the God-man, who dies for His enemies.  Jesus died for me when I was his enemy, when we were at odds, and when I was "wrong."  So, on what basis can I sit there and oppress those I am at odds with?

I think many people think there are only two options, in varying shades:  a) be mean and oppressive to those who you believe are wrong, or b) try to find a way to abandon saying anything is wrong so that you won't be like those mean, intolerant people.  The Christian faith, however, gives you a footing to do neither of those.  See, the cross of Christ is the greatest indictment there is of humanity, by telling us that we are in such dire straits that Jesus had to die for us.  But the cross of Christ is also the greatest move of love and acceptance toward humanity, by telling us that in spite of the gravity of our situation Jesus chose to die for us out of love. 

Because of that, with our footing on the Gospel of the cross of Christ, we can be entirely firm in what we believe is the truth, even telling someone else that we think they are dead wrong, all while loving and accepting them as people.  This approach is, I believe, more direct, more honest, and more gracious. 

Do all Christians exemplify this attitude toward those they are at odds with?  Certainly not, thus proving how badly they still need the Gospel.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Word Awakens

The longer I walk on this road with Christ, the more certain I am of something:  God's Word is much more than data.  I think many Christians and Christian persuasions and groups fall into the error of treating Scripture primarily as information to be learned and figured out (compare to Jesus' words to the Pharisees who treated Scripture like a roadmap of instructions rather than an instrument that pointed to Him).  We study it in the way archaeologists study buried bones or cellular biologists study cells under a microscope.  We collect data, we figure things out and put it together, and we study hard to learn the material so that we can get an "A" on the Bible test.  There is nothing wrong with learning, and doctrine is so clearly important, but if this is the main view of what the Bible is for, I think we are missing something.

This is where one of my heroes, Martin Luther, comes in.  Don't roll your eyes.  I know I have some kind of weird man-crush on the guy, but there are just so many major contributions that God brought to His people through this one man.  One massive contribution was in bringing our attention to the function of the Word of God.  Luther saw that there was a "function" or "use" to certain parts of the Bible that fell under a category he called "Law" and likewise a "function" or "use" to certain parts of the Bible that fell under a category he called "Gospel."  The essential thing to note is that there was a focus not only on the data of Scripture, which Luther was a true scholar of, but also to the impact of the Word of God.  In fact, what was truly important was the impact.

"Faith comes by hearing..." as it says.  Luther was big on the idea that hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments, such as the Lord's Supper, was the means through which God created and nourished faith in us.  It did something to us.  It effected us.  In other words, the Word and the promises and presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper are active.  The Word is, as the Bible says, "alive."  It isn't just some passive thing that we take in and cogitate, though it is at the least that.  It is a living means to grab us within and "hit" us.

What am I getting at?  To put it mildly, here's a suggestion: maybe the goal isn't to understand everything in the Bible and come up with great answers that fit neatly into systems.  Maybe the goal is to let God impact us, effect us through His Word.  Maybe the goal is to let the Word of God wake us up, to awaken "sleeping beauty" from her resistant slumber, to grab hold of and illicit a response from within us -even if that response is, "What the @#$! does that mean, God?!"

God wants to awaken us.  That is why He made us, right?  And that is why He came down, isn't it?  He wants us awake, alive to Him, so that we can enjoy Him.  In fact, that is about the only good reason to be awake, to be "alive".  There are plenty of reasons to hide... the world hurts.  There are plenty of reasons to hide under the sheltering coffin lid of religiosity or intellectualization or self-righteousness, for example.  So many things to be preoccupied with, to worry about, and to focus on, all providing an excuse for why being "alive" is such a bad idea.  But He is that one good reason to be awake, to cast off those things and stand alive before Him in this world.

I was reading a Psalm today... and you know what?  It pissed me off.  And then I felt discouraged about it.  Why?  Because the "Christian" way is that the Bible should always make us feel good and happy and joyful and thankful.  But you know what?  Sometimes I'm not thankful, not happy, and not joyful.  Sometimes I read a Psalm that talks about God being our help when we call to Him, and I think, "My help!?  Where the @#$! are you?!"  And finally I realize that, though that may technically not be a right reaction -and any "good Christian" would try to tell me how I should have more faith and trust Him more and feel this or that way instead- it is still a reaction, a sign of life.  I am being impacted by the Word, and that is what is important, even if it is only to bring me to meet God at the table with my frustrations.  At least I am alive, showing up, and meeting Him.  The Word had its impact.  It did not leave me hidden and brooding, isolating myself from God and others with what is already boiling within my heart.  It stirred life, it rose me up to meet Him, and that is what it is supposed to do! 

This is partly why I don't freak out when I listen to sermons that are not 100% theologically correct or don't fit within the system I believe is the most Biblically accurate.  See, I can listen to a guy preach, a guy who may even seem to be a very boring preacher to me, maybe a guy who misses so many dear and important things, but because of the simple fact that the Word of God is read aloud to me and talked about something will impact me.  God will ensure that something will stir and knock on my door, rousing me to life.  Something will, even if it had nothing to do with the preacher's main point.

And this is the ultimate goal, I believe -to be alive to God, who created me to be alive unto Him and to enjoy Him while He enjoys me enjoying Him.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Open-Minded

Open-minded: What people call themselves who believe that nobody should say they are right about anything, that no one should make any moral evaluations about anyone's choices, beliefs, or desires, and that exclusive beliefs are dangerous... unless of course we are talking about the "open-minded". Then it is perfectly permissible to believe you are right, condemn those 'bigots' who disagree with you, and exclude them for going against these aforementioned beliefs.

Closed-minded: What are you called if you disagree with the "open-minded."
This is a sad reality much of the time these days, is it not?  Bigotry goes both ways.  It can come from both the ultra-traditional religious racists with their "God hates fags" signs and the "open-minded" progressives who preach their "tolerance" while demonizing and condemning and sneering at the conservatives who disagree with them, accusing them of "hate".  What could be more like hate than either of these actions?

What do I think open-mindedness really is? Open-mindedness is not this illusion of "tolerance" I describe above. And open-mindedness is not having no opinion about anything. I believe real open-mindedness is when you can put aside all of the nonsense about being "too exclusive", own up to the fact that all beliefs and viewpoints are by definition exclusive of opposing viewpoints, listen to and seek to understand the viewpoints of others without sneering contempt, humbly try to be aware of your own biases and preconceptions and the possibility that you may have missed something, and yet still stick to your view if, in the end, you feel it is right, true, and best.

Real open-mindedness means that you humbly want the truth to master you rather than you mastering a viewpoint to try to make it "the truth." To be open-minded, you have to want to find the truth, regardless of if it means the "bad people" are right or if everything you invested yourself in and went through has deceived you. It means you want to know the truth even if it costs you your reputation.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Contact Page

Hi everyone,

This is just to let you know that I think my contact page is not working.  I noticed that a number of people lately have hit the "thank you" page, which you get sent to after submitting the Contact form, but I didn't receive any notifications in my email.

Please try again or just leave an anonymous comment to this post.

Thanks!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Forgiveness

In the world of Facebook, you will come across oodles and oodles of sage wisdom about relationships.  Some of it is sound, some of it is really cheesy, complete with ridiculous background images and sappy fonts, and some (maybe most) of it is just plain bad.  It is... hmm, what's the word I'm looking for... Actually, I can think of many words, and most of them I won't type here.  So, let's just call it "high-school relationship morality."  It's the kind of stuff spouted off in high-drama teenage school environments.

Much of it has a tirelessly common thread: belittle or somehow minimize the person who hurt you while building yourself up.  It may be masqueraded as "truth", but it is there, dripping with venom.  It is laden with a subtle whine of sour grapes and self-proclaimed victimhood that says, "I'm not really over it.  In fact, I may never be.  But just to beat you, I'm gonna prove to you how over it I am."

In fact, if there is one thing for certain in our claims to "beat" those people who called us "failures" by showing them "how we succeed over and over again," it is that the wound of whatever was done to us still hangs around our neck, to this day, like a millstone.  If feeling better about yourself and the situation depends upon the other person falling, suffering, failing, watching you win, or being half-retarded, then you are by no means free.  You are bound... and often while they have completely moved on.  Cruel irony, huh?  Your want to beat them, you want to put them beneath you, and it is keeping you beaten, not them.

That is the way it works, though.

No, the path to forgiveness is not through recognizing that "the other person is in fact an imbecile."  It is through realizing that you are essentially no different from them.  You may have details that make you different, but the more you try to distance yourself from their broken humanity, the harder it will be to finally forgive and let go of it.  You may not even see how, but it is still there.  Certainly, we must recognize our differences.  We don't all think the same.  We don't all have the same history, issues, viewpoints, wants, fears, and ways we destroy.  But we all have the same seeds within.  We all have issues.  We all are destroyers in our own ways.  We all bear the same image of God and the same stain and curse of sin that deforms us. 

If there is such a grave offense that you cannot simply let it go for the sake of love, the way out is not by differentiating yourself from them and building yourself up as better.  The way out is through the way in -by identifying with them, identifying with their brokenness, their blindness, their fears, their captivity to a distorted heart... just like you.  This is not easy.  In fact, it is harder than retreating behind the tactics of high-school drama-queens.  But you wind up free... and maybe a little sweeter.