God Will Not Be Mocked

You have probably heard this statement (or one like it) end many a religious debate on social media, usually spoken by a conservative evangelical fundamentalist to a liberal or progressive Christian they have been disagreeing with: “God will not be mocked, and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”

Other versions of this statement also include people being accused of being everything from a heretic to a false convert.

The biggest problem with this statement is that is true for both conservatives and liberals. Both sides do not want to mock God by misrepresenting His Words with their felt desires. The difference is not is dedication to Truth or honesty, but in what counts as “felt desires” and what counts as “unchangeable Truth.”

Whether the topic is marriage or Science or modesty or guns or abortion or you name it, both sides are intensely concerned with accurately representing Truth on the matter in a way that does not make a mockery of God. However, both sides have reached different conclusions as to what that accurate representation is.

metamodern-faith-avatarAnd that is the crux of the problem. We are not Truth. God is Truth. Our words are not Truth. His words are Truth. And even when we are quoting the red letters of the Bible, we are often still quoting words that are translated imperfectly from older languages that are sometimes difficult to translate into modern languages. So the next time you pick up the stones of “false convert” or “heretic” or “mocking God” or “giving in to felt desires”…. try to remember God’s position on those that pick up stones to use against others that they don’t agree with. And then take a good dose of humbling reality when realizing that Jesus defended the theologically incorrect person in that story.

Lines, Labels, Signs, and Wonders

As an educator, I realize that we need labels. We can’t understand new ideas or concepts until we can label them and connect them with knowledge we already have. That’s kind of the basis for the idea of constructivism – a school of thought that examines how knowledge is constructed rather than downloaded.

The problem is, these labels are meant to be the beginning of knowledge, so you have a way to start organizing the chaos of the world around you.

The problem with our society is that we are creating a backwards culture that sees these labels as the end, final descriptor rather than the beginning. We ask questions not to further understand and refine, but to classify which predetermined box we want to put people in once and for all.

So these labels that we should use as a starting point for understanding become an ending point of division. We know this is wrong and that we should rage against these divisions, but we often don’t know why.

Maybe it is because we are devolving, walking backwards into something as if it should be a final destination, when it really should just be a beginning… cementing labels as facts when they really should be launch pads that are quickly discarded?

So really its not the labels that are wrong, but the backwards way we utilize them in society.

And I get how annoying these lines and labels can be, especially when used cruelly or with weird intentions. But to sit back and say “if you believe this, then you are different from me” just gives in and strengthens this backwards system. The more we point out how different or other we are from each other, the more we cause our world to shatter and divide. Labels are supposed to be a way to build bridges, not divide our selves into “my” camp and “another” camp.

metamodern-faith-avatarSo I guess what I am getting at is that there are ways to point out differences in ways that build bridges and understanding and community, and there are ways to label and draw battle lines and separate ourselves from those we call “another.” Left, right, conservative, progressive – we all do both and have a choice to stop doing one while focusing on the other. Which direction will you choose to go with your differences?

Why Are So Many Evangelical Leaders Clueless?

You might have noticed a post called “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins” by Jonathan Parnell making the rounds today. This post is the latest in what I call the “Piper Pattern” that almost all writers associated with Desiring God blog or the Gospel Coalition unfortunately fall in to: create false black and white sides to an issue, take down both of these straw-man arguments, and then argue that you have the first true “third way” (all the while ignoring that viable third, fourth, tenth, even twentieth and fiftieth ways already exist).

Parnell starts right off the bat by saying that “homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress.” Of course, ignoring all of the mountains of research that prove that people who are of any sort of LGBT persuasion face more bullying, more discrimination, and more rejection than any other group. Apparently, moderate displays of decent LGBT characters on a few semi-popular TV shows now counts as “larger society.”

Next, Parnell decides to speak for all Christians – a task that even Paul was not willing to do (see Romans 14) when the church was in its infancy and it might have been possible to do so: “As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God.” The problem is, there are many gay Christians that have been advancing the Kingdom of God, even leading many, many people back to Christianity (just read the comments section on anything associated with the Gay Christian Network).

Then Parnell says “The issue is sin. That’s what we’re against.” This is very true…. but it is also true of the Christians that believe that homosexuality is not a sin. Most of them are not walking around going “I know its a sin but I don’t care.” They believe so deeply in the problem of sin that they don’t want to call something a sin that isn’t. People like Parnell might not agree with that, but they at least need to be honest about what the issue really is.

So then Parnell starts to create his false black and white straw man sides. “There are the growing numbers, under great societal pressure, who praise homosexuality. We might call them the left.” Here’s the crazy thing about “societal pressure”: most people related to this issue don’t have to deal with it, if the numbers of people who are LGBT are true. Most people, like me, don’t really know that many people that are gay or transgendered or bisexual or anywhere else on the spectrum. Therefore, there is no one in our face trying to make us change our mind (and I am sorry, but intense media coverage or constant postings and arguments on Facebook do not qualify as societal pressure since most people don’t change their minds due to any of it). No one has ever pressured me on this issue. Most people I know who are LGBT never speak up about the issue. Those that do now live in states where they have marriage equality. No one has been in my face about the issue. I could easily just think “homosexuality is a sin” and keep it to myself and there would be no problems in my life. However, I have this nagging issue of respecting any written word enough to be completely honest with what it says, regardless of whether or not I agree with it or if it fits my personal outlook on life.

The current debate is plagued by this binary lens. Those on the left try to lump everyone who disagrees with them into that right side. If you don’t support, you hate.” Has Parnell actually been following the debate? Its never binary. What rock does this statement come from under? Technically, it is usually those on the “right” (as Parnell describes it) that bring the concept of “hate” into the conversation. Many times when they get accused of doing something “unloving”, they are the ones that say “how dare you accuse me of hate!” I see it happen all the time. For example, I could point out how it is not loving to mis-characterize and oversimplify the two sides in this debate. That is not saying it is hate. That is just saying that Parnell’s approach is not loving. If I were to say that exact statement, many of my right-side friends would scream :how dare you accuse me of hate!” How do I know this? Because it has happened many, many times. I’m not throwing out a theory here. I am recounting actual events.

Where is Parnell not being loving? With statements like this: “Distancing ourselves from both the left and the right, we don’t celebrate homosexual practice, we acknowledge God’s clear revealed word that it is sin; and we don’t hate those who embrace homosexuality, we love them enough to not just collapse under the societal pressure.”  You see, many of us have so much respect for the Bible that we are not collapsing under societal pressure, but rather investigating for ourselves and finding that it is in no way clear about this issue. There have been thousands of blog posts, comments, and books written about this very respect, yet Parnell chooses to either be ignorant of all of that or just wants to flat out misrepresent a side that he doesn’t agree with. That may or not be hate in your book, but it is not loving.

But Parnell is right in saying that homosexuality is not like other sins. Interesting tidbit about the word “homosexual” from Wikipedia:

“The first known appearance of homosexual in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, published anonymously,[29] arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law.[29][30] In 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Krafft-Ebing’s book was so popular among both laymen and doctors that the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” became the most widely accepted terms for sexual orientation.[31][32] As such, the current use of the term has its roots in the broader 19th-century tradition of personality taxonomy.”

So how did the word jump from the first century writings of Paul over 1800 years of society to never again be used until 1869? Well, that’s because it was never in the Bible in the first place. Where you see it used in the Bible currently is problematic. Paul was using some Greek words that are difficult to translate, with one even being a word he might have made up. The words that he does use are much more complex and sinister than our modern day word “homosexual”. You can read this post for a more detailed look at the difficulty many scholars have had in translating those words. Unfortunately, most translators caved to societal pressures themselves and used the word “homosexual” because they didn’t want to rock the boat in their own church circles. Either that, or their bias was so great that it blinded them to the inherent problems in the original Greek in the first place.

metamodern-faith-avatarNone of this necessarily has to change your views on what the Bible calls sin, but it should at least show you that those who use the word “clear” to describe this topic do not respect the Bible enough to be honest about the complexities of the issue and therefore should not be writing about the debate. And that those of us that say that a Christian can be gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual are not necessarily caving to social pressure in any way. We are just trying to take Romans 14 seriously.

The Privilege of Fitting In: A Tale of Two Churches

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are articles about why people shouldn’t leave church coming out every week? Most of them boil down to pretty much the same argument: quit being so narcissistic, get over yourself, and stop being so selfish. Suck it up and take it or get off your lazy rear and start doing something to change your church rather than just complain about it.

This kind of remind me of a scene from The Big Bang Theory, in an episode that deals with adults confronting their past with bullying. Penny seems to be convinced that she wasn’t a bully. The girls she picked on where just in on the joke and were having just as much fun as everyone else.

When you are the one that fits in, that is part of the main group, that never has to try and connect, your view of the group is usually vastly different from the outsider, the weirdo, the one that doesn’t fit in so well. It may be really easy to call someone a narcissist when you rarely have to consider your own needs because they are already being met. But you have friends, you have connections, you have community. The whole idea of “not being fed” seems weird to you, because you have rarely ever gone without spiritual nourishment.

Would you tell a starving beggar not to be a glutton? Because that is what you do when you call someone a narcissist when they leave a church for “not being fed.” Narcissism is usually defined as “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity,” or “pursuit of gratification from vanity, or egotistic admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes, that derive from arrogant pride.” Do you see the extreme words there? Narcissism is an extreme issue that is about as far away from “wanting to be fed” as starving is from gluttony.

Look, Jesus just said to “think of others before you think of yourself.” How did we turn that into “think of others and never think of yourself“? because we put the cool kids in charge of everything and left the weirdos on the fringes, silently hoping they will go away and leave us alone. And then calling them narcissists when they leave so they will feel guilty about leaving… but not guilty enough to come back.

Because, let’s face it – it is a lot easier to lob guilt bombs at those on the outside than it is to actually leave our comfort zones to draw them in.

Whether someone fits in with a church is not just a matter of whiny teenage angst. It is an emotional health issue that can severely affect physical health if not resolved. So if you are going to tell them to stay and tough it out, you also might as well just buy them a lifetime supply of Twinkies and eat those for the rest of their lives.

And telling them to stick around and change the church? Really? Have you ever tried to change a church? I mean, really affect change and not just enhance the direction it was already going? Probably not. Usually, those that benefit from the privilege of fitting in think that it is easy to change a church because they think were able to affect changes. But what they were really doing was just furthering their church in the direction it was already going. Those hairline changes they made seemed huge to them because they were so close to home to begin with. To those on the outside, the changes that need to happen are massive tectonic shifts that are impossible to affect outside of an “act of God.” I know, I have tried in many churches. It is impossible to do so as someone that doesn’t fit in, no matter how much time, effort, and love you put into it.

This is one of many “tale of two churches” in America, albeit one that is just now starting to come into focus. Its usually the tale of the same church, from two sides with different views. The one side with those that fit in, who think everything is great and people just need to quit being so narcissistic, and the other side that doesn’t fit in because it sees issues that makes them want to bail.

Pick a sport you don’t like – like say, golf. If you love golf, pick another sport that you hate. What if the church you went to suddenly became all about golf. Golf was mentioned in every sermon, every Facebook post, every thing the church did. It even started being a part of the music that they sung. Soon, the church starts meeting at a golf course. They may even rename their church meetings to have golf themes. To someone that loves golf, this all seems great, and they can’t see why people who don’t like golf can’t just get over it and ignore these “minor” issues and worship God. But for those that despise golf, it is everywhere. They can’t get away from it. It is everywhere they look and a part of every conversation. How can it be healthy to tell someone to even be in a situation like that?

Look, I’m not talking golf here – the real issue may be speaking in tongues, or gay rights issues, or political leanings, or the nature of Genesis, or the safety of vaccines, or a hundred other topics that divide us in the Church. Every church has certain topics that everyone has differing opinions on. So this is not just about differences that naturally occur. This is when a church creates a major focus on certain issues, big or small, and thinks that everyone in the church should get on board or get over it. For those that fit in with that stance, those who are “on board”, its no big deal. And they have a hard time seeing why others find it a big deal. Kind of in the same way people who aren’t allergic to peanuts don’t often seem to care much about those who are; even when they find out they still eat peanut M&Ms right next to them. Certain things may be small to you, but they could be a huge deal to others because we are all individuals that are wired differently.

Maybe instead of always pointing fingers at people for the “bad reasons” they use for leaving church, we could actually use it as a time for self-reflection to consider what we may be doing wrong as church? Maybe even make some compelling arguments for coming back? Or even yet, try to reach out  with no strings attached to the people that left? I have tried that before, and I was shocked to find very few people actually leave churches for any of the reasons anyone is writing about. Their reasons are usually pretty compounded and complex.

metamodern-faith-avatarLet’s face it – compounded and complex is more than most people want to deal with. And it won’t make you a popular writer by writing about it. Just lump everyone into five categories and bask in the glow of all the yes-people that will agree with your column without even really reading it. It is past time to get real about the reasons people leave church and stop with the :Sunday School” answers to everything

Representative Metaliteralism

One of the more well-known debates in the Church is the infamous “creationism vs. evolution” debate. I know that many people see this as a debate between Science and Religion, but the Truth is many Christians believe in Science and many Scientists have some kind of religious belief in a higher power. So the debate usually falls between those that feel that all words in the Bible should be translated literally and those that feel that certain passages were written metaphorically and not historically.

There are two issues here that cause problems for both sides. The first is that not all parts of the Bible are meant to be read literally as there are parts that are poetry and metaphor. Most people agree with that, but you still have to bring it up when people swing too much onto the literal side. The other is that even if a something is a metaphor, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be historical or real. As the scholar Jerry L. Walls once wrote: “a metaphor communicates because the reality it depicts is similar to the image that is used.” So the conundrum is that Genesis 1-3 are not historical chapters just because they are presenting events in a historical fashion (metaphor can also do that), but if they are metaphorical poetry that doesn’t mean that the Earth wasn’t created in seven days (since metaphors can still rely on historical facts).

But beyond this we are still faced with one larger issue in how to look at the Old Testament – the presentational style of the story (whether fiction or non-fiction) does not change radically from Genesis up through Acts (which skips for wisdom literature like proverbs and some of the writings of the Prophets that detailed Gods prophecies of the future and not chronicles of the past). In other words, if Genesis was not historical then where does the history start? Some also write off Moses, Judges, David, and a few of the Israelite kings as metaphorical, also. Some don’t even stop there and write off the whole Bible as complete morality tales based on fictional characters. We run into a problem that there is not a clear line where metaphor ends and history begins if we start grouping such large parts of the Bible in the metaphor category.

So am I trying to make a case for a literal interpretation of every line of the Bible? Not really. I believe there are many metaphors in the Bible. I also believe that most of them have fairly clear beginning and ending points. Some don’t, of course. But as I have stated, using a metaphor or poem does not necessarily mean that the events described did not occur. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

So I started searching for some kind of position that matches what I believe – that takes into account the possibility of metaphor and historical accounts both being in the Bible, and both often in the same passage. I came across the term “metaliteral” at Urban Dictionary: “when a statement is both metaphorical and literal at the same time.” I know that urban dictionary is not exactly the pinnacle of scholarship, but that just shows the concept of mixing metaphor and reality is out there.

But to be honest, my problem in the whole debate is with the literalist side taking a weird angle on the idea of literalism. I came across these two parts of the overall definition of “literal”:

  • (of a translation) representing the exact words of the original text.
  • free from exaggeration or distortion.

And right there is probably my problem with the literal creationist side of the debate: they have to add many things to the Bible to support their literal 7 day creation narrative. I have previously looked at how reading the Bible literally does not lead to a 7 day creation week unless you add ideas into the text that are not there. Other famous examples of this issue are things like Gap Creationism or the problem of dealing with Adam & Eve’s children marrying other people that were already there (I’ll look at these in the future). Ideas like this involve adding exaggeration or distortion to the story. It also doesn’t always represent the exact words of the original text. One could also argue that saying something is literal when it was written as metaphor does not “represent” the exact words, it “modifies” them into a different genre.

So all of this leaves me in a bind when it comes to how I view the scriptures, caught somewhere between literal and metaphorical. I couldn’t find a view that matched mine, so I just came up with my own term. Since my desire was to faithfully represent what the scriptures are meant to be, even if they could be both literal or metaphorical or either one, I just went for “representative metaliteralism.”

I know – I use a lot of “meta” around here. I need to stop that – its pretty cheesy. But at least the “meta” in metamodernism and metaliteralism mean different things 🙂

metamodern-faith-avatarI will keep going through various parts of the Bible to explain how I look at things from this “representative metaliteralist” position. I already started with “When Literal is Not Literal Enough: The Genesis of a Creation Myth.” I will continue on looking at other issues through out the Bible where I don’t feel like either the literal or metaphorical interpretation really fits fully.

Click here to see a list of posts in the category “Representative Metaliteralism

Was Jesus Really That Serious About The Whole “Plank in the Eye” Thing?

Seems like every week there is a new controversy breaking out on the Interwebs between different camps of angry Christians. I generally don’t fall into the mindset that thinks all anger should be buried and ignored. At times, I think our anger about an issue tells us that we have witnessed a huge injustice. But there are times when I wonder if we are still missing the lessons of Jesus about how to deal with and express our anger.

Just a thought… if you get mad or upset at some Christian that falls into judgement or stereotyping, and you decide to write a blog post blasting that person…. you might want to think long and hard about how you are judging and stereotyping those that you are upset with. Don’t talk a high and mighty line about loving all and accepting all and giving people the benefit of the doubt and then turn around and put stereotypical words in someone else’s mouth and blast them for the hypothetical thoughts they might have had. I see this so much around the Christian blogosphere, especially among the “emerging church” crowd. Too many blog posts and articles have overall points that I agree with, but choose to inject their otherwise good point with stereotypes and judgment on those they are upset with. And they are usually upset with someone else that got into judgement and stereotyping. Odd, I know. And I know I have been guilty of that. I just wish we were all a bit more sensitive to the plank in our own eyes.

The most recent controversy seems to be over an blog post called “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)“. You probably either love it or hate it. I find it extremely problematic. There have been many responses like “An ‘FYI’ to My Daughters“. I agree with the general idea of this response… but I cringe at the judgmental, stereotypical language used there. So how do you know that these parents will never find a perfect enough girl for their son? Sure, I have known a few parents like that… but most of them never said a word about the swimsuit bikini models plastered on their son’s bedroom walls. So there are at least a few people that don’t fit in that stereotype.

You see, the “horrendously hypocritical” and “disgustingly sexist” people out there are people, too. Jesus loves them, too. I have known more than a few people that would probably easily fit into those stereotypes. The surprising thing is that, once you get to know them, they are not as one-dimensional as our judgement and stereotypes makes them out to be. They might have been talking out of frustration and used words they regret later. They may think even worse things that they didn’t express. You never know either way.

But I think this is the main point Jesus was trying to get across when He told us to look at the plank in our own eye first. If I am upset at someone acting “horrendously hypocritical,” my first goal with my response would be to remove all hypocrisy from it. If I am upset at judgment and double standards, I need to first make sure I don’t respond with judgement and double standards. This is not to say I shouldn’t respond, but that I should only respond to what was said and not assume someone thinks something else just because of a particular statement they made.

Look, as human beings, we aren’t mind readers. But we are all poor communicators at one time or another – some of us more than others. The combination of the two really should scare the hell out of us and drive us to be more graceful in our responses. Or to at least respond to the issue and not drag the person into it and assume they are the poster child for their side of the debate.

metamodern-faith-avatarYes, I know I am horrible at this myself, so I will also try to commit myself all the more to dealing with my plank first. And looking more at the issue rather than the people that speak out about the issue. I am hopeful that those that read this will join me. Saying that we love and respect all has to extend to even those that we are most frustrated with or it means nothing at all.

Calling BS on Rick Warren’s Quote

Probably by now you have seen this Rick Warren quote floating around on Facebook:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

I know it is being examined more, meaning Warren’s context is becoming clear (and it is currently being used out of context by most people using it). With apologies to Rick Warren, I want to look at the current use of the quote by most people on Facebook and not his original intention for it.

Most people are currently using it to say that they are being unfairly labeled as bigoted or homophobic just because they disagree with marriage equality. They are innocently and lovingly standing beside their convictions and are getting demonized for doing so.

I have to call BS.

I have met very few Christians that just stop with “disagreeing with a person’s lifestyle.” Even if that were so, they don’t even understand how using the word “lifestyle” is offensive to, well… anyone you apply it to. Would you like to be referred to as someone living a “heterosexual lifestyle”? Would you like your whole life defined by what you do in the bedroom?  Because people so love being minimized to one aspect of their being.

Where else could this minimization come from? Fear and/or hate. Sorry to play the honest blunt card.

But if that was where most Christians stopped, I would still understand the use of the Warren quote out of sheer ignorance of how hurtful your words are. But they don’t stop there. They stay silent while gay students commit suicide because they don’t want to be seen as “affirming the gay lifestyle.” I even know a Christian that wouldn’t stand up for a heterosexual effeminate boy because they could still get “lumped in with gays.” They say they love all people but then mock “Liberals” about their “gay agendas” with words that would piss Jesus off. And I can’t count the number of times a Christian has told me privately how saddened or disgusted they are when they see a gay couple holding hands.

This is all just “disagreeing”?

BS I say. BS.

The church has bought into the lie that we can be complete buttwipes behind people’s backs as long as we say we love them in public… but don’t actually DO anything to show that we love. And then when we get busted we whine and post stuff like the Rick Warren quote out of context to blow a smokescreen over our own sin.

metamodern-faith-avatarIf Jesus was standing in the flesh in front of you right now and you told him “I don’t fear or hate people that are different that are gay” – would he agree with you or rebuke you? The New Testament is full of stories about people that tried to justify themselves as “good” to Jesus, only to find themselves the receiving end of a loving rebuke.