Tag Archives: God

love wins…shouldn’t that be a good thing?

Love wins. And apparently not everyone is happy about it.

I just finished listening to the new book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church, and author of another of my favorite books, Velvet Elvis. I had heard rumblings about the book on Twitter and Facebook, that before they had read it and before it had been released, there were those who were condemning it as ‘heresy.’

The heresy accusation, the reality that I had loved Bell’s thoughtful reflections in  Velvet Elvis and the ability to download it for free from audible.com (and if you use that link you can get a 14 day free trial and I can get another free book) was enough to get my attention. So I downloaded it. And I listened to it. And I loved it.

Being a ‘designated tentmaking evangelist’ (my official ordination designation in the Presbyterian Church, USA) and having no official congregation or church building or program, I spend most of my time amongst those who want little or nothing to do with ‘organized religion’ or ‘church’ as they have known it. Does that mean that all of ‘organized religion’ or ‘church’ are bad? Of course not. There is so much that is good and right and healthy and life giving about both church and religion. But there is also so much that is decayed and lifeless and stagnant. Both are true. Both co-exist.

One thing I have found, in spending time, as a minister, with people who want nothing of church, is that, for the most part, what they are rejecting I am rejecting as well. They are typically not rejecting the sense of community, meaning, service, and love that can often be found amongst groups of Jesus followers.

But they are often rejecting the institutional ‘stuckness’ which is often found garnished with a healthy dose of  exclusive narrowness. The rejection is not necessarily of God, but more of the tribal God of our own particular group or understanding. Is God the God of the entire world, all of humanity and all of creation, or just our particular mascot, buddy, bully or bodyguard? If God is the God of all of creation, and that God, as we claim, is a God of love, then what is so crazy about the idea that maybe, just maybe, that love wins?

theodicy…

Theodicy. It’s a fancy word, I know. I learned it in seminary. Got to get your money’s worth somehow, right?

But it’s actually a basic, and problematic, concept: If there is a God, and that God is good, and that God is also ‘able’ (some would use the terms ‘all good’ and ‘all powerful’), then how, or why, does evil (or pain, or suffering or brokenness) exist in the world?

Though we didn’t use the term, this conversation around issues of ‘theodicy’ came up last night amongst a few of us who had gathered together.

The thing is, any two out of the three would be fine. If God is good, but not able, then God would like to do something about evil or suffering in the world, but just can’t. Or, if God is able/powerful, but not good, then suffering or evil exist because of this lack of God’s goodness. Or, God could be both good and powerful, but then shouldn’t there be no evil, since God would be good enough to care about it, and powerful enough to do something about it?

It might seem like an esoteric discussion, only appropriate for the ivory towers of theological academia…except, of course, if you or someone you love is the one who is in the midst of the suffering. The question might not be ‘why me?’ but surely the question of ‘why?’ is bound to enter the picture at some point.

Some, of course, will say, “Well that’s easy, there is no God.” Others will say that it is our own free will, our own ability to choose, which has allowed evil to enter into the world. Others still might say, in order for there to be goodness, there must be evil, for how else would we know what goodness is if there weren’t its opposite? Don’t we need the dark to show us what the light is?

Does God cause disease? Warfare? Incest? Oppression? If God doesn’t cause them, does God allow them to occur? Is God powerless to do anything about them? Does God not care?

There is, it seems, no answer. Or, rather, there seem to be many answers, but none that are entirely satisfying. Maybe that’s the rationale behind the fancy word–it’s a cover for the tension that is left in the midst of so many unanswered questions.

Call and remembrance (next week is it…the big vote)

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”  -Parker Palmer

Somehow, the above quote seemed rather appropriate, no? 🙂

I’ve been wanting to post an update to my plea for ‘why Erin should be ordained’ responses earlier this summer, but I’ve also been waiting until I had something to say other than “we’re still meeting…”  We did meet. Multiple times. (How did you spend your summer vacation?) There is only one step left…

But here’s the amazing thing—the product of all that meeting is a ‘call’ that is solid in all the ways that it needs to be for Presbyterian stuff, and yet is also vibrant and creative and willing to engage in the unknown of trying something new. I’m so thankful for the partnership of churches within the Los Ranchos Presbytery that has come together to make this ‘legitimate’ but that is also willing to take a risk to (hopefully) ordain me to be more of a minister to the world, rather than a minister to one particular congregation.

There is still one step remaining in the process—next week, September 17, I will be going before the entire presbytery (pastors and elders from the 50+ churches) to be ‘examined’ for ordination. This is a time when they can ask me pretty much any question and then vote whether or not to ordain me to what is technically called a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Supposedly no one, if they have gotten this far, has ever been voted down at that point. People keep telling me that, I think as an encouragement. I remind them there’s always a first time for everything. 😉

Anyway, for those of you who are in the area (the meeting will be in Fullerton) and who would like to come to the presbytery meeting you are more than invited and I can give you the details. However, the bigger event, provided my ordination is approved, is a “Service for Ordination to Word and Sacrament.” Since I won’t know for sure until next week that this will happen, don’t book a plane ticket yet, but if you are able to keep the afternoon October 18 available, it is looking like that will be the date of the service. I would LOVE for you to come—some of you have been along for the ride on this journey since it began 9 years ago, others of you I’ve roped in along the way, and I am so thankful for all of you and appreciate the part that you’ve played in helping me ‘listen for what life intends to do with me.’

Today is also the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death. In some ways it seems like a very long time ago, and in some ways I wonder how five years could have already passed. My dad had hoped to live to see me ordained. This process clearly was not on that time schedule, nor on the one I would have chosen, had it been up to me—who wants to ‘languish’ in the process for so long? But at the same time, the call to ordination that will be voted on next week could never have happened in this way, five years ago—I just didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle then. Though the waiting was often frustrating, and felt as though there was no end in sight (I remember writing an email about Shasta Daisies taking two years to flower and thinking that was WAY to long to wait for something), I am amazed at how, out of that waiting and the not knowing, this has come to be.

Another quote from the book by Parker Palmer: “Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening.” Thank you for listening along with me, even in the midst of my sometimes willful journey.

scaffolding

 

The thing about scaffolding is, it is not meant to be long term.
 
On this particular summer vacation as a teenager with my parents we were doing somewhat of an American history tour. We had been to Washington DC, Monticello, and Mt Vernon, among other places of historic interest. As we traveled it became a joke, for all of the buildings and monuments seemed to be under scaffolding.  Needless to say, the pictures left something to be desired, as the beauty of the buildings themselves was hidden behind the temporary ugliness of the scaffolding which encased them.
 
The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me about her current crisis in faith, as she put it.  Things just don’t seem to make the easy sense that they once did. And somehow, in the midst of the conversation about faith, we got to talking about scaffolding.
 
As far as I can tell, scaffolding has two main purposes. At first, it exists in order to be able to build something.  I am thinking here about architectural wonders such as the  great cathedrals that were built throughout Europe.  The scaffolding was what allowed the builders of these cathedrals to create these magnificent structures. Without the scaffolding they would have been left with something only as high or as grand as the ordinary human being could reach. With the scaffolding they were able to create something far above and beyond their own limitations.
 
The second purpose of scaffolding was the one I encountered in Washington DC. All those buildings had long ago been built, but were in serious need of repair and refurbishment. So, the scaffolding was put in place so that they might be restored.
 
In neither instance was the scaffolding itself the end result. It was simply a means to an end, a supportive structure that would allow for the creation of something far beyond the scaffolding itself.
 
Back to my friend, the crisis of faith—enter the scaffolding. 
 
What if what we have taken to be faith is actually just the scaffolding?  Sure, it is important. Sure, it has its place. But what if it is really meant to be in service to something much bigger, much grander, much more beautiful?
 
Before you condemn me as a heretic, let me explain.
 
Growing up in the conservative evangelical church I feel as though I was given all the answers, taught how the Bible made sense, learned how to argue my faith, told the difference between right and wrong, and learned that being a Christian meant that you did not do many things that ‘the world’ did do, such as smoke, drink, and have sex before marriage. So, growing up in the church youth group, my faith looked a lot more like a list of things you weren’t supposed to do, than anything life-giving. For my friend, now grown up and married with children, she had experienced the same sort of faith. Faith was that you did do certain things, like go to church each week, try to be nice to people, and live a moral life and also that you did not do certain things, like get angry, lie, or commit adultery.
 
Her crisis of faith came in when she stopped to look around and wonder if that was all there was. Because though the easy answers and clear list of right and wrong had served her well, they had gotten to the point where they were no longer enough. If that was all there was, then really, what was the point? 
 
This, of course, caused her great alarm. Was she turning her back on all that she had believed? Was God not enough for her any more? Had she out grown her faith? She was nervous even to voice these things.
 
But what if the scaffolding of our narrowly defined Christianity was never meant to be the final point? What if this scaffolding of easy answers and lists of right and wrong was necessary for a time, in order for us to build a firm foundation and base, but was never meant to be long-term? What if in rejecting the scaffolding we are actually freeing the beautiful cathedral that longs to be exposed to the light of day and to the gaze of wonder?
 
On a trip to Florence, Italy, I saw some more scaffolding. This time it was on the Duomo, a beautifully ornate domed cathedral in the town center.  More impressive than the cathedral itself though, was the story of its creation.  When work started on the cathedral the technology to build a domed ceiling did not exist. But in what my guidebook described as the hubris of the time, they began construction anyway, figuring that by the time they got to the top they would know how to build the dome.
 
Hubris? Or faith?  For isn’t this what we are called to?
 
We begin with the scaffolding, building the walls, not knowing how it will all work out, but trusting that when we get there, we will know.
This essay was initially published on culture-voice.com

The thing about scaffolding is, it is not meant to be long term.

On this particular summer vacation as a teenager with my parents we were doing somewhat of an American history tour. We had been to Washington DC, Monticello, and Mt Vernon, among other places of historic interest. As we traveled it became a joke, for all of the buildings and monuments seemed to be under scaffolding.  Needless to say, the pictures left something to be desired, as the beauty of the buildings themselves was hidden behind the temporary ugliness of the scaffolding which encased them.

The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me about her current crisis in faith, as she put it.  Things just don’t seem to make the easy sense that they once did. And somehow, in the midst of the conversation about faith, we got to talking about scaffolding.

As far as I can tell, scaffolding has two main purposes. At first, it exists in order to be able to build something.  I am thinking here about architectural wonders such as the  great cathedrals that were built throughout Europe.  The scaffolding was what allowed the builders of these cathedrals to create these magnificent structures. Without the scaffolding they would have been left with something only as high or as grand as the ordinary human being could reach. With the scaffolding they were able to create something far above and beyond their own limitations.

The second purpose of scaffolding was the one I encountered in Washington DC. All those buildings had long ago been built, but were in serious need of repair and refurbishment. So, the scaffolding was put in place so that they might be restored.

In neither instance was the scaffolding itself the end result. It was simply a means to an end, a supportive structure that would allow for the creation of something far beyond the scaffolding itself.

Back to my friend, the crisis of faith—enter the scaffolding. 

What if what we have taken to be faith is actually just the scaffolding?  Sure, it is important. Sure, it has its place. But what if it is really meant to be in service to something much bigger, much grander, much more beautiful?

Before you condemn me as a heretic, let me explain.

Growing up in the conservative evangelical church I feel as though I was given all the answers, taught how the Bible made sense, learned how to argue my faith, told the difference between right and wrong, and learned that being a Christian meant that you did not do many things that ‘the world’ did do, such as smoke, drink, and have sex before marriage. So, growing up in the church youth group, my faith looked a lot more like a list of things you weren’t supposed to do, than anything life-giving. For my friend, now grown up and married with children, she had experienced the same sort of faith. Faith was that you did do certain things, like go to church each week, try to be nice to people, and live a moral life and also that you did not do certain things, like get angry, lie, or commit adultery.

Her crisis of faith came in when she stopped to look around and wonder if that was all there was. Because though the easy answers and clear list of right and wrong had served her well, they had gotten to the point where they were no longer enough. If that was all there was, then really, what was the point? 

This, of course, caused her great alarm. Was she turning her back on all that she had believed? Was God not enough for her any more? Had she out grown her faith? She was nervous even to voice these things.

But what if the scaffolding of our narrowly defined Christianity was never meant to be the final point? What if this scaffolding of easy answers and lists of right and wrong was necessary for a time, in order for us to build a firm foundation and base, but was never meant to be long-term? What if in rejecting the scaffolding we are actually freeing the beautiful cathedral that longs to be exposed to the light of day and to the gaze of wonder?

On a trip to Florence, Italy, I saw some more scaffolding. This time it was on the Duomo, a beautifully ornate domed cathedral in the town center.  More impressive than the cathedral itself though, was the story of its creation.  When work started on the cathedral the technology to build a domed ceiling did not exist. But in what my guidebook described as the hubris of the time, they began construction anyway, figuring that by the time they got to the top they would know how to build the dome.

Hubris? Or faith?  For isn’t this what we are called to?

We begin with the scaffolding, building the walls, not knowing how it will all work out, but trusting that when we get there, we will know.

This essay was initially published on culture-voice.com

don’t believe in God

belief“Tell me why I should believe in God,” he said to me. It was actually a conversation over facebook chat.

“Tell me why I should believe in God.”

I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I grew up going to church. I’ve been to seminary. I’m trained to be a Presbyterian minister. I read books about God, Jesus, faith—I’ve read and own hundreds of them. Literally. My understanding of who God is and therefore who that tells me I am is probably the most foundational piece of my life. It’s not an insignificant part of who I am.

He knows all that. Which is why it was somewhat surprising to him when my response was “I’m not sure that I want to tell you that you should believe in God…”

I worry because I’m sure there are those for whom my statement will seem the utmost in blasphemy. You are supposed to be fit for ministry and you are not willing or able to tell someone why he should believe in God?!

My hesitancy does make me worry that I’m a heretic. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Not because I’m trying to be risky or edgy or cool. Not because I think knowing God is insignificant. In fact, there’s nothing I’d like more than for my friend to be able to know God. I’m just not sure believing in God is the way to get there.

I think the problem, for me, with the idea of believing in God, is that it has gotten so much baggage built up around it over the years. It brings images of the street-corner preacher beating someone into submission. Perhaps it’s unfair to associate believing in God with these negative manifestations of how that has been skewed.

But aside from that, believing in God makes it sound like it is something that I do, that I will into reality, that I make happen. I’m just not so sure that is the case.

So, what would I prefer for my friend? I would prefer that he know God.

In Spanish there are two words for know—conocer and saber. It is saber that one uses when knowing facts, details, or information about something. It is conocer that one uses when knowing a person, when having a relationship, when being familiar with another.

I’m afraid our knowing of God in the church today has focused overly on the saber aspects of knowing God—which are not bad in and of themselves. But this is only knowing about God. I think what we lack is the conocer type of knowing—the knowing God. We are so full of the knowing about that perhaps we think that we do know God.

Perhaps we don’t even realize that there is a difference between knowing about and knowing. But anyone who has been in a dating relationship knows the distinction between gathering facts about the other, versus truly knowing the other as a human being.

Knowing about may be a good beginning, but if the relationship goes on for too long simply at the level of knowing about, it will lack the vulnerability and the intimacy that it needs in order to deepen and blossom. Knowing about leaves us cut off from the deeper connection that we seek.

“Tell me why I should believe in God” elicits images of a list of facts or details or characteristics that would then somehow add up to be enough to overcome doubt and disbelief and tip the scales in the direction of belief. Perhaps that works for some people. It does not work for me.

The thing is, it is much easier to come up with a list of facts to memorize, data to learn, than to begin to explain what it might mean to know God.

It is also easier to know when you’ve accomplished your goal. Did you commit to memory the entire list of data about God? Or, did you recite the formula that will assure you that you have performed the right steps to prove your belief in God? It is like a to-do list that you can check off after having performed the necessary steps.

But to know God, rather than to know about God, is both more complex but also much richer and ultimately more fulfilling.

So, then, how does one not just know about God, but truly learn to know God?

I wish that I could give you ten easy steps. I wish that I could tell my friend what he needs to do to know God. I’m not sure that I can do that. Actually, to be more accurate, I’m not sure that I want to do that.

Perhaps denying the temptation to convince is actually a part of the telling…