Friday, October 30, 2009

a year in london

When I got really depressed a few years ago, I figured out that I was a pretty disengaged person. Actually, I finally realized that when I started to get better. When I was really depressed, I was mostly worried about revving myself up for my daily routine of getting out of bed, eating, working, and sleeping.

Meaningful conversation didn't usually happen. I didn't usually get past navel lint or comparing baths to showers. I tried talking about historical theology with someone once. It wasn't pretty.

When I wasn't stumbling around doing these things, I was always worried. Worried I was going to make big mistakes, that people wouldn't like me, those kinds of things.

More than anything, I was worried I had lost God's presence forever. I felt nothing. There is nothing as depressing as feeling abandoned by God.

Now don't go quoting verses telling me God doesn't forsake His own and that sort of thing. I know those verses. They're little help to someone in the middle of depression. Don't try to get depressed people to snap out of it, especially with Bible verses.

Come to think of it, I think what did it was that I lost an awareness of God's presence. I had it once, but then I lost it. I know God never left, but my perception told me otherwise.

I know what Ron Burgundy was talking about when he was "in a glass case of emotion." I was there. Except it was dark, so either my case wasn't glass or it was nighttime. One of the two. Or maybe fog. It doesn't really matter.

So now I'm not depressed anymore. And I have mostly recovered my feeling of God's presence. Now, those verses about God not leaving or forsaking really mean something to me.

And I have to learn to engage with reality. I don't know exactly why I didn't before, but I imagine it had a lot to do with my living within my own critical and judgmental thoughts. This was my favorite place to be. That and Whataburger.

God can't really make an appearance until you get out of yourself and into reality. That's when the fog really starts to burn off.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

tales from the BGCT

So I was sitting in church this evening thinking about the disparity between Christ-like love and judgment when I thought of a great story from my teenage years that illustrates the substitute gospel of good behavior I grew up around.

My family was in a new church where I didn't know anybody. There was this guy who was really nice to me, especially when I was still really new. I'll call him...I don't know...Kurt. He wasn't particularly well-behaved like I was, but his being nice made up for it in my eyes. In any event, he was a guy the adults in the church loved to pass judgment on.

We were in this Sunday school class...think it was 11th grade...that was directed by this older couple who were well-meaning, but probably were better suited to be teaching 1st grade. I'll call them the Worthingtons. There was this one time they made a microphone out of an empty paper towel roll and pretended to be newscasters reporting on the death of Jesus. Pretty lame in a funny sort of way, but not the time I'm thinking of.

This particular Sunday we were playing this Bible trivia game, where we could answer these multiple choice questions and, if we got the question right, try to throw a ball into a trash can to score points for our team.

I don't remember the exact question, but there was some disagreement between the Worthingtons and Kurt regarding one of our team's answers. In disbelief, Kurt turned away and used a mild epithet, I think it was "bull crap."

When Mrs. Worthington heard this, her shallow smile turned to the tightest frown imaginable and her squinty eyes got as wide as the Red Sea. Kurt said, "what'd I do?" Mrs. Worthington replied, "When you say "bull crap" in church I don't like it. You might as well call it dirt, cause that's what you're acting like. When I was your age, we never would have used that language in God's house."

There you have it, folks, a pretty obvious example of someone separating and distancing herself from other people who didn't live up to her standard.

It was a pretty funny scene, but I'm pretty sure Kurt isn't seen around church much these days.

I can't say I really blame him.

Friday, October 16, 2009

the gospel according to Jerry Falwell

I'm sure it's a good thing when people are serious about their faith. I think people sometimes get kinda tied up in defending it, though. The more my grown and deep and rich my faith gets, the less I feel like I need to worry about it's defense.

The other day I was listening to this Christian radio station here in Houston. They have this short segment when a "Christian law expert," or maybe I Christian "law expert" (expert on our law, not God's, I mean) comes on and sounds the battle cry over Hebrew texts disappearing from courthouses or two men marrying each other or something else that threatens our God-given right as Christians to be comfortable and not get too close to any of the scary stuff we might otherwise have to see.

This day, the guy was talking about the right of landlords to deny applications of unmarried, cohabitating (hadn't heard that term for a while) couples. He talked about how terrible it was that so many Christian landlords were being forced to violate their faith by renting to such couples.

Here is the heart of judgmentalism. It's not just disagreeing, it's refusing to love people until they get their act together.

It's fine with me if they don't approve of that lifestyle choice. What's really disturbing is that people believe this is a violation of their faith to even rent them an apartment. It's like a manager at "The Golden Corral" deciding to turn away overweight people because gluttony violates his faith.

Or a pool owner who won't let women in because they might tempt the men. Sounds pretty funny, doesn't it?

Let's get real. Couples can get housing anywhere else. And if you turn them away, they will get it somewhere else. Why not with you?

We talk about wanting to change the world and reach people and all that, but when these people are delivered right to our doorstep, we judge them, deliver our lawful sentence and send these people further and further away from the gospel.

Robert Webber was an amazing theological scholar and teacher, and also, though an older gentleman, a man who was sensitive to the disconnection between American Christianity and the younger generation. In his book, The Younger Evangelicals, he tells the story of a woman who had been attending a pragmatic megachurch, earnestly seeking a deeper connection in her life.

This woman made contact with the Church, saying she wanted to become a Christian. Was she welcomed with open arms? Was she lovingly shown the deepness and wonder of the Christian faith?

No, she was told that, because she lived with her boyfriend, she needed to change her life before she could make a Christian commitment.

And all she wanted was a relationship with Jesus.

I wonder if it would be a shock for my church to realize I still struggled with sin, and that sometimes I struggle with it out in the open, for everyone to see. I've been a Christian for almost 20 years, but I can't say I've figured out how to avoid it.

God, help us understand how we can genuinely love people and how easy it is to get in your way. Help us finally learn to step back.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

yesterday's gone

The issue of truth is difficult.

The really difficult part is that, though there are a number of salient things of which we can grasp in faith, nobody can hold the whole of God's truth in our own hands. Our human finiteness coupled with the parasite of sin ensures this.

We can see this by looking at the landscape of Christian belief. There are a countless number of committed and humble Christians who take the Bible seriously and genuinely seek the Spirit's leading who cannot come to a consensus on the whole of truth.

Beyond this, the Bible is our source of truth regarding what we need to know about Christian belief and God's story of creation/redemption, but it does not contain all truth. There is truth revealed in Creation. There is truth revealed in the Spirit and human conscience. There is truth to be found everywhere - even non-Christian belief - but it all belongs to God. Paul understood this when he drew upon ancient Greek thought.

I don't know, man. I love the Church. That's why it's so grieving to see it in the state it's in.

I also love the Bible.

More to come about the Bible. Sometime after I get some sleep.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

where do I go from here

I've got a real problem.

Much of what is going on in the Church makes me want to vomit. Sometimes even literally. Like right now, my stomach is turning. I am so often repulsed by the Church in this country. I hate the substitute gospels of patriotism and moralism. I hate the judgmental undertones (and sometimes overtones). I hate the segmentation; the ghettos that are created at the expense of community.

I'm repulsed by the consumerism. Did you know you can rate churches on the internet now? No real surprise, I guess. The Church in this country is almost entirely driven by marketing. It's a business model. Meet people's felt needs and give them good entertainment, they'll buy your product. It's all pragmatics, really.

But it doesn't have anything to do with the gospel.

I hate the sexism, racism and fundamentalism.

Many people are being saved, you might say. Yes. I think it is obvious that God's sovereignty allows for the gross and obscene omissions and commissions of our sin-weighted souls. That is amazing grace.

It doesn't excuse us. It doesn't absolve us.

There is a deeper problem. I AM a part of the Church. I can't just opt out.

Beyond that, I love the Church. That's what makes all of this so difficult.

What can I do about all this? Especially when I'm so sick at my stomach.

Grace and peace.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

the gospel according to beer

Recently heard in a sermon: You might be surprised if you knew some of the sinful things I had in my past. I was mean. I closed many a bar down.

I have not recently heard this in a sermon: Beer is good.

There, I said it. I can hear my Southern Baptist heritage crying out with pain at that statement. But, long before prohibition, long before "thou shalt abstain from strong drink" became the eleventh commandment, long before secular became known as the opposite of sacred, Christians liked drinking beer. Billy Sunday and Adrian Rogers probably believed with all their hearts they were preaching the right thing, but they're up against some pretty big names in this department.

Don't take it from me. Take it from a guy named Martin Luther, who once said, "We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old." Of course, that is politely rendered from the original German quote, which may actually be closer to, "I like beer/it makes me a jolly, good fellow/I like beer/it helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow."

Baptists don't like beer. I'll take that back. Actually, Baptists in the south don't admit to liking beer. Even though I have long begun to distance myself from the Baptisty position on a lot of things, I was still surprised when I received my copy of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield from Thomas Nelson Publishing. It's just not everyday us Texans see Guinness and God in the same sentence, unless it's regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. They were big Guinness drinkers, you know.

This is the same guy that wrote The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. Because of his reputation for writing fair, engaging analysis of cultural snapshots, I was anxious to read his book.

But beer?

I have to say that, excepting Baptists in the south, of course, Guinness is well-known as the preferred beer of theologians, at least the English-speaking theologians. My guess is that if Luther were here, he might have something to say about Heineken, but that's hard to tell. Therefore, I learned to drink it on occasion during deep theological discussion with others. There's nothing quite like having Bible study and beer.

Trust me, folks, they fit together perfectly.

Mansfield realizes this. He also realizes that because of a good beer's ability to bring people together, along with the unique business model of Arthur Guinness's company, make the Guinness story an especially interesting one.

In a day when the bottom line is all that matters and when institutions and corporations have robbed, cheated and lied people out of their livelihood and future, the story of the old Irish brewers is a breath of fresh air. It also begs the question, "Can we see anything like this here in our culture?

I was especially struck with Mansfield's account of a corporation that functioned like community. In a culture when churches continue to run themselves according to a business model, especially an American business model, we have some things to learn. What people are hungering for is Christian community, not good preaching, not entertaining music, not ministries specific to demographics, but genuine community.

Maybe our churches should run more like an - GASP - Irish brewery.

Please don't throw stones. Not yet, at least.

Mansfield's retelling of this story is an inspired and fresh account, a sober analysis, and a motivating conclusion. It is worth the read.

It's also better with Guinness.