Coming to Grips with Fundamentalism July 7, 2011Posted by Matt in religion.
Tags: evolution, freedom, fundamentalism, love, spiritual journey
In the world of science, the evolutionary process can take place in minute increments across vast expanses of time or in a giant genetic leap, and I think sometimes, on a more personal level, these same ideas can be seen to govern the very thoughts flitting back and forth and taking root in our minds. At least, I know this much is true for me.
I’ve written quite extensively in the past about my own spiritual journey, from the seeming straightjacket of fundamentalism, to the role of an embattled and lonely dissenter, to the freedom and joy of life today. It’s been a beautiful and much needed voyage, one that was slow in developing, but which ultimately proved to be unstoppable and life-changing. For some fifteen years, my personal philosophy underwent a series of modifications which ultimately changed its very structure, foreshadowing the creation of a wholly different organism than it was in the beginning. Over the past year, this evolutionary process has received jolt after jolt, leaping forward in a veritable Cambrian Explosion of the mind. Today I am a new and different and, I believe, better person, but the means to this end were not easy.
One of the most difficult things I have had to deal with in my new life is in the treatment of and thoughts directed to my fundamentalist past and those who choose that path in life. At first there was a great deal of anger and resentment, of bitterness and head shaking condescension, but as I became more ingrained in a loving, inclusive community, those destructive thoughts were quickly banished. Soon they were replaced by new ones of love and acceptance, of seeing the beauty in people despite their differences. It’s amazing what a change in environment can do for a person.
I learned that, thankfully, we do not all think alike and, though we may take different paths, whether it be the concrete highway of fundamentalism or my own meandering path through the religious wilderness, we have the same desire for an ultimate and universal divine love. In my little mind, that is what really matters.
On Abraham and Sacrifice June 27, 2011Posted by Matt in religion.
Tags: Abraham, faith, hyperbole, infinite resignation, Isaac, Kierkegaard, myth, sacrifice
Yesterday’s reading in church was a story that has long been a conundrum for thinking Christians and others who study the Bible. It has been debated and discussed, dissected and digested over and over again, yet still the tale remains a sticking point for many with no end in sight.
The passage in question is Genesis 22:1-18, the testing of Abraham, when God told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
It’s an interesting passage in that it opens up varied avenues of discussion. There are those who say that the story, in its most literal sense, is truly God testing Abraham. Then there are those who argue that this interpretation makes God seem petty and manipulative, a far cry from the idea of God as the personification of love. I’ve heard it said that perhaps Abraham was sacrificing his son to pagan gods, like those worshipped by the surrounding people, and that he had a sort of “Damascus moment,” and this story was then interpreted by writers centuries later. I have another friend, a former minister, who says that we shouldn’t discount the idea that Abraham was insane.
In class, I brought up for discussion the concept of “infinite resignation” as stated by Soren Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling. In his harrowing retelling of this story, Kierkegaard describes the final mindset of Abraham as one of infinite resignation, “the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.”
In my own view I see this story, when taken literally, as one contrary to the character of God that we see in much of the Bible, but that does not mean that the story itself is without merit. I see where it has value as a hyperbolic myth, one that takes the idea of faith and its value and blows it up to unfathomable proportions to make a point.
What do you think?
Going Jedi March 29, 2011Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, church, religion.
Tags: Brahman, Jedi, spirit, Sunday School, the Force
Our Sunday morning class at church is quite different and unorthodox compared to those I have been a part of in the past. We meet in the church library, where a wide variety of parishioners, both old and young, cradle Episcopalians and converts like us, come together with our priest, Patrick, for a discussion that usually revolves around the readings for the week. I don’t recall exactly what the reading was for this past Sunday, but at some point Patrick asked the question, “What is spirit?”
There were a variety of answers, most of which revolved around the idea of the Holy Spirit as the third part of the Trinity, but I had a feeling that this was not exactly the answer that best fit the situation. Usually I remain quiet and just listen in class, content to learn as much as I can about this still unfamiliar branch of the Christian tree, but on that day I had the urge to speak up so I quietly raised my hand.
Feeling surprisingly confident, I spoke up, “Spirit is the unseen force dwelling in all things.”
Patrick smiled and nodded, “Exactly. You have to go Jedi to understand spirit.” He then went on to talk about spirit as a sort of life force running through all living creatures.
I like that idea and it’s one that I’ve pondered for several years, especially since I became interested in Eastern philosophy and practices, and its emphasis on contemplation and meditation and the holiness of the universe. You could then say that, while The Force gives a good pop culture answer to the question, “What is spirit?” perhaps the Hindu concept of Brahman is even more applicable. When the universe becomes something holy, rather than something to be escaped, our lives must undergo a massive transformation.
I’ve been talking and writing for a long time about my belief in the divine nature of humankind, that we are imbued with a piece of divinity, one that differs from that dwelling in other creatures and living things but that connects us with all. Whether you call it spirit, the Force, or the Brahman is really immaterial. It is there and it is important that we recognize it, embrace it, and use our power wisely for the betterment of humankind and the world around us.
You’ve Been Left Behind February 28, 2011Posted by Matt in random, religion.
Tags: Central Arkansas, earthquakes, End Times, You missed the Rapture
If you are reading this blog today please accept my condolences.
Yes, that’s right, you missed the Rapture.
Sorry to have to break it to you like that, but it’s true. After I heard the news of last night’s earthquake in Central Arkansas, the latest in a series of terrestrial near-calamities to strike that area, I knew that it had come and gone. Look around today. Do things seem a bit quieter? Do you see abandoned vehicles with bumper stickers stating “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned?” (By the way, if you see someone driving a car displaying that sticker , rest assured they stole it and should be punished accordingly.) Have the K-Love airwaves gone silent?
We should have seen the signs: a sudden increase of earthquakes, dead birds falling from the sky and fish floating atop the waters, and who knows what else. We should have known that Central Arkansas, the Natural State’s own Holy Land, would be the epicenter. But, alas, the prophecies were fulfilled under our unobservant noses and now here we are, left behind to face the demonic forces of the End Times.
Soon we will be swept away in wave after wave of famine and pestilence. The Little Red River will no doubt live up to its name and a multitude of fish will die in the relentless torrent of blood. Stars will fall from the sky, the sun will turn to blood, a dragon will eat the moon. Yes, my friends, the good people at RaptureReady (who have no doubt gone to that heavenly paradise now) were correct when they placed the most recent Rapture Index at an incredibly high 177, meaning that the end was certainly nigh, yet we dismissed them as crackpot prognosticators. And now we must pay the price.
Soon the forces of good and evil will take up arms and converge on this new Holy Land for the final mile marker on the End Times trail, the Battle of Armageddon, and in our Jesus-emulating zeal the old earth will pass away in an explosion of violence and death, and a new earth will be reborn in the new Holy Land. Race Street will shine with its new golden sheen and Bull Creek will flow with milk and honey.
Yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and it’s headquartered in Arkansas.
A De-Conversion October 13, 2010Posted by Matt in personal stories, religion.
Tags: atheism, church of christ, Conservative Christianity, spiritual journey
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Everyone reaches a point in their lives when they severely question those beliefs that they hold dearest. Some choose to put their heads in the proverbial sand, finding that, as those great philosophers of times past The Beatles say, “Living is easy with eyes closed.” Some take a hard look at their belief system and, after much study and thought, decide that it is sustainable, though perhaps with a few tweaks here and there. Some go through an entire renovation, shaking the very foundation upon which they stand. Then there are others who discard the whole thing, starting completely anew.
I wrote an extensive series about my own “spiritual journey” last year that told of how I reached this point in my personal evolution. The process continues to this day as I continue to learn and experience more in our world and I hope the same is true for you. Maybe one of these days I will write about my own views on spirituality and go into more detail on where I am.
My online friend, and occasional commenter on this blog, David, posted a great piece today on his “De-Conversion,” and I would urge you all to read it and think about it. I would readily wager that his story is one that rings true for many in the constrictive and ultimately destructive environment of Conservative Christianity. Though we have come to differing conclusions in the end, I consider David to be a kindred spirit in this journey through life.
School on Christmas? August 10, 2010Posted by Matt in education, religion.
Tags: Christianity, Christmas, David Bristow, school
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I just read this interesting editorial on CNN.com by a Christian youth minister, David Bristow, who I think makes a very good argument for keeping public schools open on Christmas day. Read the article and let me know what you think.
On this day… November 13, 2008Posted by Matt in religion.
Tags: Eartern Orthodox, feast, liturgy, St. John of Chrysostom
I was thinking about what to write today and, after surfing the interwebs for a short time, I noticed that this is the Feast Day of St. John Chrysostom for those in the Eastern Orthodox Church. So, being somebody who is very interested in high church tradition and not having learned much about that in my Restoration Movement heritage, I decided to do a bit of research on this saint to see what I could learn about him.
St. John Chrysostom lived from 347-407 AD, serving as the Archbishop of Constantinople for seven of those years. He was well regarded for his great rhetorical abilities as a preacher, his contributions to church liturgy, his denouncements of those in positions of power who abused their authority, and for his strict asceticism. As a young man, he delved so far into self-deprivation that he spent two years living alone, continually standing, hardly sleeping, and memorizing the Bible, actions that left his stomach and kidneys permanently damaged. He continually spoke for charitable giving and was an untiring advocate for the poor, which many times set him against wealthier members of the church. You may be interested to see these two quotes from him, lambasting the rich for their neglect:
“It is not possible for one to be wealthy and just at the same time.”
“Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?”
The legacy of St. John is not all good, though. Years prior to becoming the archbishop, John preached a series of eight sermons entitled, “Against the Jews,” which spoke out against both the Jews (whom he held responsible for Jesus’ death) and Jewish Christians who continued to take part in Jewish observances and festivals. These writings have been circulated many times throughout the years with the intent to foster anti-Semitism, even being used by the Nazi Party during World War II to legitimize the Holocaust.
St. John’s many contributions to the Christian world and especially to the Eastern Orthodox Church were great, though, and his love for the poor and downtrodden, along with his refusal of the luxuries of life that easily could have been his, are exceedingly commendable.
To close out today’s entry, this is a short excerpt from the Prayer of Thanksgiving found in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
O Lord, Who bless those who bless You, and sanctify those who trust in You, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, preserve the fullness of Your Church, sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house; glorify them by Your divine power, and do not forsake us who hope in You. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the priests, to our civil authorities and to all Your people. For every good bestowal and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of lights, and we render glory, thanksgiving, and adoration to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.
Far East Gleanings June 10, 2008Posted by Matt in peace, religion.
Tags: peace, Tao Te Ching
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I’ve had a certain fascination with Eastern religions for the past several years, reading books about them as well as owning copies of some of their holy tomes. This evening while the girls were in the tub, I picked up the Tao Te Ching and opened it randomly to this page:
Weapons are the tools of violence
all decent men detest them
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t with them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
The Evangelical Manifesto – pt.2 May 20, 2008Posted by Matt in god, Jesus, religion, The Evangelical Manifesto.
Tags: beliefs, Christianity, Evangelical Manifesto, god, Jesus
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Yesterday, I introduced this recently composed document for your scrutiny and today I want to begin dissecting it and hopefully gathering your ideas and opinions on its different components.
The paper identifies three major mandates for those in the American Evangelical Movement, beginning with one of definition: We must reaffirm our identity.
The writers define the term thusly: Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. This definition is theological in nature, not political, social, or cultural, regardless of what many pushing certain agendas may imply. Again quoting the article: To be Evangelical, then, and to define our faith and our lives by the Good News of Jesus as taught in Scripture, is to submit our lives entirely to the lordship of Jesus and to the truths and the way of life that He requires of His followers, in order that they might become like Him, live the way He taught, and believe as He believed.
But in a world of competing ideas, including Christian ones that seem to oppose each other, how do we “believe as He believed?”
The writers have set apart seven beliefs that can be seen as foundational to the message of Jesus:
1. We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God become fully human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.
2. We believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is what Jesus did on the cross and what he is now doing through his risen life, whereby he exposed and reversed the course of human sin and violence, bore the penalty for our sins, credited us with his righteousness, redeemed us from the power of evil, reconciled us to God, and empowers us with his life “from above.” We therefore bring nothing to our salvation. Credited with the righteousness of Christ, we receive his redemption solely by grace through faith.
3. We believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus for us, the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. We believe that Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible, God’s inspired Word, make the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.
5. We believe that being disciples of Jesus means serving him as Lord in every sphere of our lives, secular as well as spiritual, public as well as private, in deeds as well as words, and in every moment of our days on earth, always reaching out as he did to those who are lost as well as to the poor, the sic, the hungry, the oppressed, the socially despised, and being faithful stewards of creation and our fellow-creatures.
6. We believe that the blessed hope of the personal return of Jesus provides both strength and substance to what we are doing, just as what we are doing becomes a sign of the hope of where we are going; both together leading to a consummation of history and the fulfillment of an undying kingdom that comes only by the power of God.
7. We believe all followers of Christ are called to know and love Christ through worship, love Christ’s family through fellowship, grow like Christ through discipleship, serve Christ by ministering to the needs of others in his name, and share Christ with those who do not yet know him, inviting people to the ends of the earth and to the end of time to join us as his disciples and followers of his way.
So, do you think this defines what it means to be Evangelical? Next we will look at the implications, as given by the authors, of these core beliefs. In the meantime, though, what do you think?