Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Initial Take on Homosexuality

I think (hope) we can all agree that sexual orientation is not a choice. While we have yet to determine any one cause (I personally doubt there is one), it has been proven that there are definitely biological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals. For example, studies have been able to prove that in nonhuman mammals sexual differentiation of behaviour is mostly determined by hormone exposure while in utero. It isn't so easy to replicate these studies in humans because subjects need to have their fetal hormone exposure levels measured and then be followed for several decades in order to determine their sexual orientation, however preliminary studies do indicate that lesbians have been exposed to higher levels of male sex hormones while in the womb when compared to straight women.

So, I have to ask, how can gay people be held responsible for "missing the mark" if God created them this way to begin with?

Now I know that the argument a lot of Christians give is that God expects us to "act" a certain way (heterosexual) despite our (homosexual) "feelings". This, in my honest assessment of the situation, is bullshit. God is truth and truth calls on us to look at ourselves honestly; not deny or repress that which He created in us. I think telling a gay person to act straight would be comparable to telling someone with a beautiful voice to sing off-key for the rest of their life. It is uncomfortable, unnatural and unnecesssary. Not only that, but it devalues that which God created. God made gay people gay. He literally knit them together in their mother's womb -all of their biology right down to the last gene and chemical is His doing.

I suppose the flip side to this is the idea that we are no longer created as God intended us to be. That we have inherited sin from Adam and Eve through The Fall. Therefore we are imperfect beings even before we leave our mother's womb. Okay, I don't think I believe that doctrine exactly as it is understood by most Christians today, but following that thought process through, do we tell someone who is born tone-deaf that they shouldn't sing because surely God wouldn't have intended such imperfection and they're offending us with their voice? Or how about people born with birth defects or chronic illness? Do we shun them because they are living evidence of our fallen world? No. We attach no shame or blame. We tell them that God created them this way and we encourage them to accept and love themselves just as they are.

I have many more ideas and questions swimming in my head on this topic. Any thoughts so far?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Many Paths to God

Path: Worship
Motto: God is a lover who hungers to be loved in return.

It's easy to recognize people who experience God through worship. They sing and smile (or cry) and sometimes lift their arms in the air. They are deeply moved by the spirit and it takes over their entire being. I'm not like that. Vibrant, exuberant expressions of worship make me a little uncomfortable. In fact, I don't even sing much during service. I'm tone-deaf and self-conscious about that so singing causes me to focus more on myself than God. If I just close my eyes and enjoy the music I connect with God much better.

Path: Preaching
Motto: To teach is to learn twice.

These passionate and charismatic teachers seem to channel something greater than themselves when they have an audience. Martin Luther King Jr. had the gift -so do most cult leaders. I'm a great teacher if you want to learn how to take better photographs or dress a wound, but I am not a good spiritual teacher. I'm far too open-minded to consider my religious practice and interpretation of scripture to be the final truth so I lack the conviction necessary to teach.

Path: Discipline
Motto: God is in the details.

These personalities love structure, law and order. Studying scripture and following the rules is extremely important to these people. Monks, ascetics and zealots follow the path of discipline to feel closer to God. I could use a little more discipline in my life that's for sure.

Path: Service
Motto: Serve the Christ in one another.

This is the path of action and charity. These folks go out of their way to help others. They aren't afraid of hard work and give generously. They may or may not not feel comfortable discussing theology, having a heart-to-heart or dealing with eccentric personalities but they will volunteer their resources, time and skills without hesitation when they have something to offer. I would like to start volunteering regularly and know that this is a path I could easily follow.

Path: Love
Motto: If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

It's easy to recognize lovers. They share loving kindness equally with friends and strangers. A rude cashier would probably elicit their empathy rather than anger; they respond quickly to those in distress and spend more time listening with an open heart than offering solutions. You won't hear a lover participating in idle gossip and if they have strong judgements or criticisms they hide them well. Lovers tend to be people-orientated rather than task-oriented and prefer small groups and meaningful conversation. Me? I'm much more task-oriented but I'm getting better at opening my heart and quieting my critical mind.

Path: Contemplation
Motto: Be still and know that I am God.

Those who do follow this path not only enjoy but require daily solitude for their peace of mind. Some people may go on weekend retreats, take periodic vows of silence or, like the Carmelites, devote their lives to contemplative prayer. There is a wonderful Russian Orthodox tradition in which a person retreats alone to a small, sparsely furnished cabin called a poustinia to be with God through fasting and prayer. This sounds delicious and transformative but is completely unrealistic for me today. I do feel ready to start a daily meditation practice though; perhaps just ten minutes daily.


If a spiritual practice requires a lot of effort and brings little satisfaction it probably isn't our primary path. I'm not saying that we shouldn't do things that require effort, or push ourselves outside the box, but maybe we could put most of our energy into doing those things that come most naturally. When we become aware of our talents we can dedicate ourselves to honing those skills. I know my life will become much richer when I start honoring my unique self rather than trying to be everything I admire in others.

I tried for a long time to fit into certain molds. I wanted to share the beliefs of the majority and be as charismatic, dedicated, contemplative and charitable as my role models. It is a completely overwhelming and unrealistic way to live. I no longer believe God wants or needs me to do everything well. God is telling me to be me, and that is enough. I'm eager to discover my gifts and develop them. I've recently experienced a series of meaningful coincidences that lead me to believe God thinks I'm hiding my light under a bushel. I'm also trying to admire the gifts others have to share with gratitude instead of coveting their abilities.

Do you use any of these paths to connect with God? What about art and nature? Do you use your gifts to serve God or are you hiding your light under a bushel?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Silence is Deafening

If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. We will never be anything, and in the end, when the time comes for us to declare who and what we are, we shall be found speechless at the moment of the crucial decision: for we shall have said everything and exhausted ourselves in speech before we had anything to say.
Those who do not know there is another life after this one, or who cannot bring themselves to live in time as if they were meant to spend their eternity in God, resist the fruitful silence of their own being by continual noise. Even when their own tongues are still, their minds chatter without end and without meaning, or they plunge themselves into the protective noise of machines, traffic, or radios. When their own noise is momentarily exhausted they rest in the noise of other men. How tragic it is that they who have nothing to express are continually expressing themselves, like nervous gunners, firing burst after burst of ammunition into the dark, where there is no enemy.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton shared these thoughts in 1955, before satellite TV, iPods, cell phones, and the internet. These words ring truer today than at any other point in the history of the world. Mulitmedia sources permeate the daily fabric of life and we are no longer even aware of the constant slew of propaganda that defiles the inner sanctuary. And yes, when the machines are absent the mind chatters on, afraid to be still it continues to produce an endless variety of useless information.

Why is it that we have such a strong aversion to silence? Merton went on to say that the dark (silence) into which we fire "burst after burst of ammunition" is nothing less than the fear of death:
The reason for their talk is: death. Death is the enemy who seems to confront them at every moment in the deep darkness and silence of their own being. So they keep shouting at death. They confound their lives with noise. They stun their own ears with meaningless words, never discovering that their hearts are rooted in a silence that is not death but life. They chatter themselves to death, fearing life as if it were death.
I hunger for silence and push it away when served. When I come to Christ I bring my thoughts, my fears, my questions and my gratitude but so rarely do I just sit with him in silence. 

I imagine a lush forest on the edge of a city, a sacred space where one can leave behind the hustle and bustle to meander among the trees and wind and little creatures. I come here to meet Christ and as he approaches I hastily start to tell him about all the things he already knows. I blabber on about who hurt my feelings and how sorry I am about the mess I made and what I'd like him to do for me but when I've finished my dizzying soliloquy I simply wave goodbye and head back to the city. Only occasionally do I continue to walk, waiting patiently for his quiet reply. Even more rarely do I come to the forest simply to enjoy his company and stroll along in silence together.

When we spend time with someone we don't know well silence can be very uncomfortable. We work hard to make conversation and distract ourselves. But in the company of our loved ones we can just be. Maybe I need to consider that the next time I visit the forest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New Language

Just a few of the words that have graced my Google search engine this past year: inerrant, infallible, emergent, postmodern, missional, relativism, pluralism, universalism, atonement theories (satisfaction, Christus Victor, moral government, penal substitution), original sin, the Fall, modalism, perichoresis, pantheism, cessationism, continuationism, dispensationalism, hermeneutics, eschatology, preterism, ecumenism, veneration, eschatology, predestination, ontology, epistemology, total depravity, reformed, evangelical, orthodoxy, ecclesiology, transubstantiation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Heavens to Betsy

With all the hell talk spreading like wildfire arcross the Christian landscape I can't help but wonder if we'll eventually get around to discussing that other otherworldly realm: heaven. Does this magical land of milk and honey really exist and if so what is it like?
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
What a powerful and comforting image. Yet beyond the simple beauty of this message I stumble on several large obstacles: how can heaven be a place without sorrow if it is reserved for a select few? Can mothers abandon their wayward children and mourn them no more? Will husbands forget their fallen wives? Is everyone so drunk on God's love that they can no longer hear the painful cries of those left behind?

I also wonder what becomes of our individual identities when we enter heaven. Are we made perfect? Do we receive a total makeover of body and soul? (Wouldn't that mean we lose all freewill when we enter the Kingdom of God?) Obviously heaven is not the kind of place one expects to find ordinary sinful creatures like ourselves. Will I still be me if God strips all that stuff away?

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Big 'Party of One' Bible Study

I feel like my tenuous connections to the Christian body are being chewed away. I belong to a wonderful community of believers and I participate wholeheartedly but I feel like something is missing. I'm hungry to go deeper, to study more, to challenge every last tenet of this religion but I'm hard-pressed to find anyone in real life who shares this hunger for truth. I'm not saying they aren't out there, but they certainly aren't very visible.

The community I belong to is filled with an amazingly diverse group of believers, our pastor is spiritually healthy (encourages questions, doesn't provide simple answers, continues to seek and grow himself) and I have formed many meaningful friendships yet I have a big spiritual need that remains untouched. I'm starting to think that if you want to research basic Christian principles or study the Bible you should avoid the church.

I want to tear open the text and rip into it like my life depends on it (and I'm told it does); I want to know not only what was said but also who it was addressed to and what their beliefs were; I want to avoid taking for granted that words like hell, salvation, grace, belief and resurrection mean what we've been taught. Instead let's study the people, consider the context, and research the original Greek or Hebrew words being used. But man, most Christians really don't want to talk about these things. Not only that, I'm feeling judged and discouraged as I travel this path. I can't begin to tell you how heartbroken I am about this. I'm hurt and I'm lonely.

I've asked these questions as an outsider and although I rarely found someone willing to seriously ponder the questions with me I at least felt it was okay to ask. But when I started calling myself a Christian and continued to ask questions the responses started to shift. I've been told I need to pray about these things, should trust the authority of the church, am on a slippery slope, etc. I've been reprimanded and unfriended. To tell you the truth I feel very unloved and unwanted if not completely ignored and irrelevant.

I've harboured deep doubts about sustitutionary atonement, questioned the teaching that homosexuality is sinful and been appalled at the blatant but seemingly ignored misogyny presented in scripture. When I call myself a Christian what am I telling the world about who I am? I have no idea anymore. In the few years that I've been on this path and expressed these concerns I've never once had a Christian say to me, 'let's get together and really explore this issue'.

I'm certain there are a wide variety of reasons people are disinterested. Perhaps they were raised by loving Christians and these beliefs have served them well; they trust the Bible as God's message to mankind and have never seriously considered an alternative perspective. (I'm guessing these people are usually younger and probably in the minority.) There are also those among us who do have concerns and questions but they trust that God (as revealed in scripture) knows best so they repress any doubts they may have. Maybe some of us believe that to question the Bible is a foothold for Satan or displays a lack of faith. Undoubtedly there are a few who have wrestled with their own questions long and hard and have now made peace with their beliefs; they feel no need to engage in the discussion any further.

I also think there are a lot of misconceptions about people like myself: that we are just trying to warp the Bible's message so it confirms our own (liberal) beliefs, that we want to have our cake and eat it too, that we are trying to eradicate our guilt or can't cope with the truth, that we think traditionalists are ignorant or dumb, that we are argumentative, that we have issues with authority.

Some of the above criticisms contain seeds of truth but they are not, independently or collectively, the driving force behind my questions. Let me ask you something which might better clarify my position: can a person be a Christian if they don't affirm the inspiration and authority of scripture? If your answer is no then you can strike me off your list of Christian friends. I can only speak from the truth of my experience and that is of a God who is so awesome and complex that no book can ever claim exclusive knowledge of or access to His divine presence.

The Bible does not define my relationship with God but that doesn't mean I throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have at our fingertips a collection of the most remarkable stories of man's encounters with the Supernatural dating back several thousand years. Is that not profound enough to make you want to cry? It's truly breathtaking. Not only that but in the New Testament we find what I consider to be the most incredible story to ever grace mankind: the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. This Prince of Peace came into the world to share God's love and surrender to His will. He showed us what it means to be fully human and in the process reconciled to the Divine. He bridged heaven and earth. He conquered the grave. And because of the gospels I can read all about the things He said and did.

So yes, I have a deep appreciation for the Bible but I don't believe God dictated or compiled it. What we read are God experiences as seen through the filters of the experiencer and/or author. This doesn't make it any less special but it certainly highlights the need to study the historical context and personal background of each author. This means we can't take every statement at face value; it requires study. This is especially true of the letters that compose most of the New Testament. This is the canon from which we base our beliefs and values as Christians yet we only have access to half the conversations.

If there is a prominent or relevent teaching in scripture that opposes the clear voice of God that speaks to me through His Holy Spirit, if I am told I must deny my intuition and suppress my love to submit to the authority of the church, if the God being presented to me requires emotional and mental gymnastics to reconcile all the contradictory messages then I want to challenge those teachings honestly. Not in a dismissive, that can't be right because I don't feel good about it kind of way, but in a way that looks at many sides of the issue with an open mind and good research.

And who knows, maybe one of these days I'll find someone who shares my enthusiasm.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fire the Architect

There is a truth that God has etched upon my soul; it is love.

It is the seed of freedom that grows when I return to the divine wellspring with my empty vessel.

But I am so rarely empty.

I build God in my image or borrow blueprints from others.

Then, somewhere in the middle of the night, I realize it is all theory. Every last word.

And I am alone.

The walls that provided me with a sense of security have been abolished.

Just. Like. That.


In my aloneness I am empty.

Yet somehow this site of deconstruction, this demolition, is God's favourite place to dwell.

I have no ideas, no pictures, no manual.

But I now have space.

Space to be filled with What Is.

And I am.