The Beauty of Equality

I made a quip on Facebook a few months ago that was born out of our frustration in trying to find a church home in our new area. It seems like every church around here is pretty much a carbon copy of all of the others. You can look at the staff page and guess who is what position just by the pictures. The pastor is always a male with facial hair in his late 30s to late 40s. The worship pastor is always the youngest, hippest looking guy. The oldest looking guy is always the Pastor of Education (or some variation of that). And any women in the mix are always, always children’s “leaders” of some kind (and never children’s “pastors”).

I said something to the effect of wishing that I could find a church with a dude for a children’s pastor, a female head pastor, and a horribly un-hip old guy for the worship pastor.

We visited one church near us that looked promising, but the pastor quoted Mark Driscoll and then started making fun of people for their reasons for why they leave church. Yeah, real compassion there.

But not more than a block away from that church, we found a church with a female head pastor. And several other women on staff – even one as the pastor of education. That one alone will make the blood of most evangelical fundamentalists boil.

I can’t say we will or won’t join this church, because the most important factor for us in a church is connecting with the people in a way that forms solid friendships. That doesn’t always happen no matter how good the Church is. And this is not a bad thing, its just a part of life. Some people connect well and others don’t. Its best to find relationship over theology.

But this is the first time that I have ever heard a female head pastor speak. And her husband was in the row next to us. So its not like this was some weird deal where this denomination was low on leaders and so the wife led a “sister congregation” under her “husband’s authority.”

This was not a woman that was allowed to speak because she had a special message for women that men wouldn’t mind hearing. This wasn’t a church that releases women to speak as a long a male is the main person in charge (no matter what title he gives himself).

This was honest-to-goodness, true, real equality in a church. It was very moving. Very beautiful. Anyone that really honestly thinks that women are in some way not designed to lead, to teach, to preach a sermon (and not just on “women’s topics”) – I challenge you to visit this church. Or any other church that has ordained a women as head pastor.

You will walk into a situation where you truly know that everyone is valued equally. That there are no rules or flowcharts for half the people there to figure out their place. That anyone can really learn from anyone, that everyone is a minister, that everyone is equally loved and accepted.

To reinforce the point, I was going down the list of staff on the bulletin. Right in the middle it had this entry:

Every Church Member – minister

Yeah, its a little cheesy, but it still makes a point on what they value. How do you become a member? Fill out a small slip of paper and bring it to the front at the end of the service. Your profession of faith is enough.

metamodern-faith-avatarOh,and for the doubters, the service wasn’t frilly, or girlie, or sissy, or any other word you might hear coming from your typical Driscoll/Piper SuperManlyMan Jesus®©™ type person. It was a just…. human. And holy. Which was a nice respite from the flood of testosterone-inducted mega-services we had been to lately.

The God That Slays

Much has been written recently about the trend in Christian circles to focus on the wrath and punishment of God. Probably the best the analysis so far is Matthew Paul Turner’s “Praise God From Whom All Evil and Suffering Flows?” I honestly don’t know much about Turner, but his nuanced examination of the issue (if you read to the end) really reflects the true difficulties that are present in scripture – nuances that many evangelicals frequently gloss over.

I am sure at some point some semi-Calvinist is going to come out in defense of the song saying that the critics are missing the meaning of the word “though”, because it is supposed to mean something more along the lines of “I know ___ will never ever happen, but if it somehow did I still would ____” Fair enough, but I would still direct those responses back to Turner’s post that also deals with the idea of thinking something could happen, even if you are convinced it won’t.

On the flip side, several people have come out and said that Jesus does not preach any kind of violence against humanity – whether slaying, smiting, or raping of any kind. We should be glad that God practices what Jesus preaches, as some say. But to be truthful, if God did practice what Jesus preached, the entire human race would have all of our eyeballs poked out and all of our hands and feet cut off. Jesus had his fair share of problematic, disturbing teachings that we can’t just gloss over so easily.

Ultimately, the Bible is not very clear on whether God causes hurricanes, violence, and strife, or allows them to happen, or just set the world in motion and bad things happen randomly. Different people find comfort in different possibilities because people are all different. I think we should be careful to tell people that they don’t serve a God worth loving if they believe in, say, an ultra-violent John Piper view of God. Personally, I don’t get why people like Piper find comfort in his own views, but he does. Calvinism’s big problem is not where it finds comfort (because we are all wired slightly differently in that respect), but that it does not allow room for others to have an equally valid source of comfort in a different view of God that is just as based on valid interpretations of difficult Biblical concepts as Calvinists feels theirs is.

But to those in the Calvinist persuasion that do want to focus on Job 13:15 and declare “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”… can I point out that God comes to the scene in Job chapters 38-39 and rebukes Job for this attitude? So even if you can put together a string of verse interpretations to prove that God causes disaster and violence, I can show you several places (not only Job) where God disagrees with those that try to prove this line of reasoning. That may not be a strong enough denial from God for some of you, but I think it at least speaks volumes to where our focus should be.

Look, God created death. We will all die. But God does not see death as this bleak ending or horrible separation. It is a transfer from one state of existence to another. And the specifics are vague. But ultimately we will all die. So in a way God is responsible for the largest genocide of all time – the death of the entire human race.

metamodern-faith-avatarOr does it sound “icky” to use genocide in that context? Good – it should. Its applying a human concept to the work of God. That’s part of the problem. Humans came along and invented disaster. We invented rape. We invented murder. We invented unjust systems that lead some to starve and others to murder. We moved to places were natural events like hurricanes could kill us. We made all of these decisions to put ourselves in harms way. As science advances, we even find out more and more about how our decisions lead to cancer. We make these bad decisions as human beings that not only harm ourselves but others, and then we try to figure out if God caused it to happen or allowed it or not? Our logic is seriously flawed.

My Random New Year Reflections

I always want to wait until January 1st to write any kind of “best of the year list” because I am convinced that the last week of the year just might hold something awesome to make my list. Once again, I am proven wrong. Come on 2014 don’t fail me!

– If you want site traffic, forget Facebook or Twitter or commenting on other blogs or any of the advice the experts give you. Just get someone on Reddit to use your post as a rebuttal in heated debate and watch your stats go from a handful of hits per day to hundreds per hour. Of course, half of those hits will be people looking to burn down your blog for daring to say something intelligible against their point, but all stats are good stats, right?

Related to that, it is amazing how many people will prove they are not a hateful person by posting a long, ranting hateful blog comment. You should see the comments I didn’t approve for this post because I really just don’t want to paint the evangelical church as that maniacal.

Oh, and final thought on that post. Make sure to be careful taking on people’s sacred cows before those sacred cows become national news. I don’t know if many people have gotten the point of that blog post yet. But if Reddit is to be believed, I have had at least one visit from Sarah Palin. I still would never vote for her, but at least I can say my post was used as a counter argument for her weird logic. That’s a win in my book.

– Some people mistake “love” for “lack of conflict.” Its not very loving to make someone bite their tongue about something that offends them. Love is genuine and real, and if you have to put on a mask and pretend everything is okay between you and someone else, that is not real or genuine and therefore is not love. True love means sometimes bumping heads and arguing for a while to make sure everything is out on the table so that you can work through the issues. Telling someone to not say anything and just love each other is a contradiction.

– Intolerance seems to be a vicious cycle that those who bring attention to it never want to step off of. Every time one person screams intolerance at one group, that group screams intolerance back and a huge back and forth battle ensues. At some point, it would be nice if people would just stop and say “even if this person is being just as intolerant back at me, it’s not very mature for me to scream ‘well, you did it too!'”. You know, step off of the intolerance merry-go-round and be the bigger person even if you are sure they are more intolerant than you.

– Or maybe even take it one step further and care about their issue even if you think you have a bigger issue that they should care about more. I made a Facebook post about how the conservative side seems to want to care about rich businessmen losing a side job as a reality star than the hundreds of gay suicides occurring every week due to people making fun of them. A conservative blogger decided to come in and diminish teen suicide to a minor problem of mere teen angst when compared to a suicide bombing in the Middle East. I guess dead from a car bomb is worse than dead from suicide? I would love to see this person go tell the parents of the 30,000 yearly suicide victims that their kid’s death was just mere teen angst when compared to a politically motivated tragedy in the Middle East. Of course, this person doesn’t realize that I have been to Middle East and worked with Christians and Non-Christians. And I still have friends there. Never mind that they all hate Americans using their news events to further political positions here. Never mind that they will tell you how every single story in the Western media about the Middle East is ignoring half the facts and nothing is ever as cut and dried as our news makes it seem. What really got me is what a pastor in Middle East told me a decade ago: “Why would we look up to the Church in America? You can’t even love gay people when they fight for laws you don’t like or even make fun of you a bit. We have to learn how to love people that imprison, torture, and kill us. We have to learn to love people that kill family members just for looking at a Bible, even if they don’t believe it.” He didn’t have to continue. The ,message was clear. The American church thinks it can teach the whole world how to be a mature church, when the reality is we haven’t even learned the basic commands of Jesus.

But, related to that, I have found that there is always someone worse off. Don’t come into an argument expecting a cookie because you found someone worse off that gays, or women, or non-white ethnicities, or transgendered people here in America. I can do some digging and find people worse off than anyone you can find. And then you can dig more and find people worse off than I found. And then tomorrow comes around and the news will be filled with people even worse than any of that. There is always someone that has it worse somewhere. Tragedy is tragedy. Getting in a pissing contest over who cares about the worse tragedy is not only stupid, it makes you look uncaring and egotistical. Especially when are a privileged white guy.

Any time you have to start off with “I don’t mean to ____, but…” Just stop. ‘Buts’ like that are for buttheads.

– Being a guest blogger is pretty cool. I need to take more time to submit more ideas when people open up their blogs like that. It really makes you stretch your writing focus to other things when your own blog gets a little too myopic 🙂 Plus, after dealing with bloggers like the one I mentioned in the rant above, it’s a good reminder that there are some bloggers that are just as nice of people behind the scenes as they are on their blog.

– 2013 was a great year for music, with The Ocean Blue, Dime Store Zombies, Daniel Amos, Lifesavers, Stryper (yes, Stryper), Megadeth, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pacifico, Aradhna, Soul-Junk, Bill Mallonee, Elephant Stone and the various Down The Line Collective artists all returning with great music. Radio and popular music still continues its downward slide as far my interests go.

– There are probably some good movies this year, but moving twice to different cities in one year and having to completely start over with babysitters each time makes date nights pretty scare. Of course, I did get to enjoy some kids classics like Cars 2, Ice Age 4, and Madagascar 3. We did manage to catch Iron Man 3, The Heat, Man of Steel, Star Trek Wrath of…. opppss… Into Darkness, and Thor 2. All of which were very good and I don’t get where people are griping about them.

– Television shows? Well, I am a bit of a geek. Um, yeah more than just a bit. So I was checking out shows like Defiance, H+, Arrow, Falling Skies, Sleepy Hollow, Glee, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, The Big Bang Theory, Continuum, and Almost Human. Defiance, Arrow, Falling Skies, Big Bang, Glee, and Continuum will be definite keepers for me. H+ seems to have vanished, and I’m not sure if I really ever followed it that well. Too confusing. Sleepy Hollow is just a weirdly cool mix of horror, police drama, fantasy, and historical fiction that I usually don’t like but somehow have gotten hooked. Revolution went from “why am I still watching this junk” to “when did this get so good?” at some point. Almost Human and SHIELD both need to get better soon or I might drop out. I am also trying to see what people are liking about The Tomorrow People… but… despite a few good ideas, the really, really bad ideas just bug me. The next evolution of humans can’t kill because they get a buzzing headache. Really? That not only flies in the face of Science and Reality… its just stupid. And inconsistent. Apparently they can’t hit someone with a stick if it might cause death, but kick an unconscious person in the water while acknowledging they will drown? No problem!

– Parenting continues to be a blast, but I’m starting to wonder how older parents face all the judgement and know-it-allness of some segments of society with out punching someone in the face. Every kid is different. What you do with your kids (or would do if you had them – since so many people without kids kike to criticize) would not always work with mine, and what I do with mine won’t always work with yours. I think several people are just upset with my egalitarian views and get uncomfortable with me taking such an active role in my child’s life. That’s woman’s work after all.

– Living with someone that has had unexplained medical problems for most of the year has given me greater appreciation for those that live with chronic illness every day. Of course, with my back spasms, I already had a little knowledge of that (PS – if you can still stand up after hurting your back, you did not throw your back OUT – the key word there is OUT, as in no longer working at all – please stop cheapening the word for the rest of us that have a real medical condition). But when my wife went through some crazy unexplained stuff that forced us to move twice in the span of a few months, our understanding went to a whole new level. Especially seeing how many people just either don’t want to understand or care about what you are going through. But of course, extremely thankful for those that did care and even pitched in and helped. My wife is starting a blog to chronicle those days and what she has learned, so I will let her tell her own story there.

– Spiritually its been odd to dig into the Bible more than ever before, learn more about the intricacies of certain scriptures, realize more and more how unclear certain issues are in the scriptures, express those discoveries, and then be accused of everything from not taking the Bible seriously to losing my faith. Kind of odd how I feel closer to God than ever, yet father apart from those that I have attended Church with at some point in life. Its not that I don’t think they are close to God – it just seems that they are unwilling to accept that I am also still on the same path seeking God just because I don’t tow an extreme right wing political agenda.

The funny thing is, I never really did lean that far right (or left for that matter). I have always been a moderate/progressive in political terms as well as spiritual. I don’t hide it as much as I used to for fear of judgement, but anyone that really knew me they would have noticed. So its kind of odd to get defriended by people on Facebook just because I have no problem with gay marriage or women as pastors or the Earth being billions of years old, when I technically felt the same way about those issues since I first joined Facebook. It just goes to show how certain mindsets have a very narrow view of what a “real” Christian looks like, and if you don’t match it they want nothing to do with you.

– Of course, I don’t want to paint my faith as perfect. There are still nights where I lie awake knowing for certain that God is not real. Eventually the same logic that led me to follow God in college comes back to me, but I still feel that Steve Taylor’s song “Harder to Believe Than Not To” is so true on so many levels.

metamodern-faith-avatarI saw a New Year’s resolution that simply said “Read the Bible. Do What It Says.” I’ve been trying that every year since college. Every year it seems to get harder. Read and Do: if only it was that easy. That’s the most overwhelming resolution I could ever think of. But one to still strive for nonetheless.