"Having a blog is like wandering around your house naked with the windows open; it's all very liberating until someone looks in the window. However, while being caught unawares is one thing, it is quite another to stroll up to the window and press your naked, flabby body against the coolness of the glass in a hideous form of vertical prostration for all the world to see..." These posts are the smudges that are left behind on the window.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Magic of Good Friday

It was sunny when you first joined the line in the Outer Court, but you've finally made it inside the temple just as it clouded over.  The crowds, the noise, the heat, dodging the endless processions of criminals going to Golgotha has made for a very long day. You've come to offer your sacrifice to the priest, and on the far side of the room you see The Curtain. The curtain is there for your benefit, it shields you from the holiness of your God who lives on the other side - the God who has chosen you and your people, set you apart, protected you, guided you, provided for your every need. The God who will one day set you free, vindicating you before all nations, and declaring you righteous. Then ... a vibration, ever so slight at first, felt only in the soles of your feet. It continues to strengthen until you need to reach out for something, anything, to maintain your balance. The noise builds with it. The sound of falling stones offends your ears. Panic sets in. Then you hear it: A sound you can't quite place. It starts off softly, quickly intensifying, until your sure it's going to violate your very soul. It's close.

Very close.

You first catch sight of it out of the corner of your eye. The Curtain. The curtain is torn wide open - from top to bottom. Instinctively you look away. You've been told your whole life that if you could see behind the curtain you'd be blinded, if not killed. But you can't help yourself. You steal a quick look, hoping it's fast enough you don't get caught. Before you know it you're on your knees in debilitating disbelief, and your stomach is trying to leave your body through your mouth. What you see behind the curtain is ... nothing: No searing light, no chorus of angels, no heavenly presence on a throne - nothing but a slightly raised section of floor and an incense burner. Like a magician pulls the curtain aside to reveal the empty box where his beautiful assistant once stood, your god is gone.

Or was he ever there?

The traditional explanation for the curtain tearing says it's God's way of showing there's no longer any separation between God and man; we are free to approach God without a mediator. But Peter Rollins and Jay Bakker have another take. Jay explains it like this. What if the point of tearing the curtain in two was to expose the fact that there's nothing there, and never was: that any illusion we've created about God is just that - an illusion. Once faced with the fallacy of this god, the question then becomes, which god are we going to believe in. Maybe destroying the curtain was to show the god of the good parking space, the miraculous healing, the lid for every pot, the hedge of protection - the god we've so carefully created in our image - doesn't exist. But the God of self sacrificing love does. He's the one hanging on the cross.

He's the one to follow.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Les Mis

I had heard, more than once, how spiritual Les Miserables was, but the only version I had ever seen was the one with Liam Neeson in it. Although there were a couple of scenes that could be seen as spiritual, that was about it. But the latest version with Hugh Jackman is much different. I now understand.

We watched the Hugh Jackman version the other night. Unlike some people I don't hate musicals, in fact I actually like some. But I must admit there was a bit too much singing in this one; it all became tiresome quite quickly. But don't let that ringing endorsement turn you off to this movie.

This is a story of Legalism and Grace.

Jean Valjean is an ex-con who's paroled, but goes on the lam, with his arch nemesis Javert trying ever after to recapture him. Early on in the movie Valjean experiences unmerited, radical grace and it colours everything he does after that. At one point Valjean even extends this grace to Javert who is, ultimately, incapable of accepting it.

What a picture of the religious community today. You have those who are either outside, or on the margins of religious acceptance. You have the unmerited, radical Grace of God practiced by a few. And you have the majority ready to defend their borders at all costs.

Which is better?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Eunuch

Lisa Salazar is a trans-gender Christian who was married for many years, but then made the agonizing choice to become the female she always felt she was. You can hear her story on the Drew Marshall archive from last week if you want. Drew had a one hour Round Table segment with 3 different guests; Lisa, Wendy Gritter from New Direction ministries, and Dr. Lawrence Brice author of "The Uncomfortable Church: Can Gays be Reconciled to the Body of Christ". After Lisa told most of her story Drew turned the mic over to Brice to explain what his book was all about. From that point forward the conversation was dominated by the Church's lack of acceptance when it comes to LGBTQ's.

Brice's book was, in a nutshell, the concept of "love the sinner, hate the sin". After hearing him talk I was left with the impression that if anyone could actually live out that concept it would be him. He says we do it all the time; we love certain people even though we don't agree with them: we love our family, people at work, people in our social groups, even though we may not agree with certain thoughts or aspects of their lives.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense; however, there's something visceral, even primal, when someone disagrees with our basic belief system - something that defines who we are - it's not like disagreeing with a cat person when you're a dog person. And from what I have seen, and experienced, 99.999% of people, especially the religious community, are incapable of truly loving someone whom they fundamentally disagree with.

While Lisa was very appreciative of Brice's attitude of acceptance, she felt it didn't go far enough. You see, in Brice's church, even though they foster an attitude of acceptance, they won't let an LGBTQ person serve in any capacity.

In Lisa's eyes, and I suspect in most LGBTQ's eyes, this isn't true acceptance. She told of a pivotal moment in her life when she read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in the book of Acts. Most Christians think a eunuch is someone who has chosen a life of celibacy, but this isn't accurate. I saw a TV show awhile ago about India where there is quite a large population of eunuchs. Eunuchs are people born with ambiguous gender - they are basically trans-gender people. Lisa then went on to make several points.

She wondered why the story even mentioned the person in Acts was a eunuch if it wasn't of some importance. If the story was simply about someone being baptized, or someone who comes to a sudden realization of the transcendence of the new Christian movement, or someone from the royal court, then there's no reason to even bring up their sexuality. Obviously it was significant.

She then brought up the part where the eunuch asks Philip, "What prevents me from being baptized?" The answer - nothing. The eunuch was fully accepted into the family of God, based completely on faith. There was no, "first you have to say the prayer", no "first you have to give up your lifestyle" - just complete and total acceptance.


What became extremely obvious throughout the interview, bolstered by comments from Wendy Gritter who works with LGBTQ people, was that anything less than complete acceptance by the church equals rejection. While they appreciate anyone who is truly capable of "love the sinner, hate the sin" it doesn't go far enough. It's not the radical Grace exemplified by Jesus.

I deeply respect Dr. Brice and his views - it can't be easy putting forth even the limited view of LGBTQ acceptance that he has within the conservative Christian community. The problem is that he and his church still view LGBTQ's as a mission, a project, a person or group to be consumed.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Neat, with a Splash of Water

I received a News Letter today from an acquaintance of mine who, in the past, had been very involved in the home-school / private Christian school movement. He felt he needed to address the anti-bullying legislation that has been raging in the media lately.

Let's just say I'm beginning to think that substance abuse is a gift from God to those of us trying to separate ourselves from our fundamentalist past.

Now...where did I put that bottle of Scotch??

Monday, 18 March 2013

Life of Pi

We watched the movie "Life of Pi" the other night. I had heard of the book, but had no idea what it was about, so I had no real expectations for the movie. The only thing I knew was that it either won, or was nominated for several Academy awards, which is good enough for me. It turns out that it has a very strong spiritual element to it.

This isn't really a spoiler, as the end is self evident right at the beginning of the movie. A writer comes to Pi's house and asks him to tell his story of being shipwrecked. Basically the entire movie is taken up with him telling this story. At the end he is telling the writer that he told this story to investigators right after it had happened but they didn't believe him, so they asked him to tell them a more plausible version, which he did. The writer then asks him which version is true. He responds by saying that in each story he is shipwrecked, he losses his family, he survives, and the rest no one can prove. He then asks the writer which story he prefers. The writer says the first one. To which he says, "so it goes with God".

To my mind there are two possible meanings to this (and maybe a third), although I suspect one of them is probably the one that was meant.

The first one concerns stories in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, such as the creation story and others. The Jews don't believe the creation story literally. To them it is a metaphorical myth they use to explain the origins of the earth and their people - more specifically how our relationship with God was disrupted. The important thing to them isn't whether or not it actually happened, but the lessons learned.

We have also been watching the mini series "The Bible" produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. The other week was the story of Jericho. You know the one where they march around the city each day for seven days and then on the seventh day they do it seven times, blow their horns, shout, and the walls come down. Lots of people religious people try to put a scientific spin on it, saying the constant marching somehow set up vibrations in the earth; that the trumpets and shouting created a harmonic resonance in the walls causing them to self destructed. However, this really doesn't explain why they had to go in and kill everyone.

Could it be that this story and others like it in the bible are also metaphorical? That their strength is not historical factuality, but in the personal - and perhaps corporate - lessons to be learned. Could it be that the lesson of Jericho is that God wants us to live in ways that, at the time, do not seem logical, but we need to do it anyway, because "his ways are not our ways"? That the walls are more symbolic of things in our life that are not in concert with God's ways? That once we see God's ways are righteous  we need to get rid of all vestiges of things in our life that are not in keeping with his ways? Is their constant march to the promised land really a march to the Kingdom of God as extolled in the New Testament?

The other possibility for Pi's statement has to do with the various religions in the world. Is it to say that in all religions the basic indisputable tenets are all the same, and the rest can't be proven anyway, so it's just a matter of which one you prefer? Tony Campolo says there are few non-negotiables in the Christian religion, and the rest is up for grabs. Is this similar?

Which one do you prefer?

Friday, 15 March 2013


I just started reading Daniel Taylor's book, "The Myth of Certainty". I was initially reluctant both to order it and to read it, because, quite frankly, I thought it would be a bit pedestrian. So I was pleasantly surprised after reading the first chapter to find it very intriguing. I hope the rest of the book is the same.

In the first chapter he talks about the phycology of belief: why we believe -  not as one might expect from such a book - what we believe. The other thing he talks about is what he calls the Reflective Christian.

Reflective Christians are those of us that wonder why we believe certain things, those that can see other points of view, those that think there's more than one way to skin a cat, those that probably - but not necessarily -  have a blog about such things ☺. It was good to read that chapter, because as a reflective christian you often feel like your crazy. You hear people talk and you have all these thoughts going through your head that don't agree with what everyone else is saying. You are often -  at least it feels that way - standing on the outside, looking in. Speaking of thoughts: it can also be exhausting, because your mind is constantly going, constantly analyzing the pros and cons of a particular concept or idea, constantly searching for answers. As mentioned in previous posts, it is probably why I watch too much TV sometimes; I just want something mindless to distract my brain for a bit to give it a rest. As discussed in the chapter, it's not that reflective people are more intelligent than others, it's just that some people are, and some aren't.
Why all this on the psychology of belief? Because it helps to discover that you may not be crazy. If you get out of step in a subculture you are often subtly made to feel if not crazy, then guilty, or stupid, or anything else that will pressure you back into the pack. And these feelings heighten if you assume that everyone else believes what they do for unimpeachable reasons, while your difficulties merely evidence your own weakness, recalcitrance, or bad manners. 
 Sometimes that may be the case, but often reflective people are out of step because they sense that something is not right. They may be confused themselves, but they should be listened to. God has often used those with troubled hearts to speak to their society and to call His people closer to himself.
So, whether you know yourself to be, or suspect you might be, or think you might have a bit of reflectiveness in you, this might be a good read.

I'll let you know.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Time for a Change

I think it might be time for me to change. Between this quote from Richard Rohr;
In the spiritual life, there aren’t too many absolutes I can make, but this is certainly one. On the spiritual journey, the message is always to you. The message s always telling you to change.
Now, what most people do is they use religion to try to change other people. It’s always someone else that needs changing. No. Stop it. Once and for all. Whatever happens to you in your life is a message to you
Oh the ego wants to avoid that. So we look for something out there to change–somebody not like me is always the problem.
And Paul Knitter's book "Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian" I'm starting to see that my caustic, sarcastic ways might not be appropriate. A lot of fun. But not appropriate.

The trouble is; how to do it? I've been doing this all my life. Hell, I've even justified it by telling myself that Jesus was the most critical of those who should have known better, so why not take a few shots at the fundamentalist. I realize it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but it needs to be done. Right?

Baby steps.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Driving God to Drink

The camera slowly pans the auditorium from left to right. It's jammed with people. The voice-over tells us it holds 900 people, and the crowd has even spilled over into another room. It then starts to cut in closer and we see there are nests of people in the chairs -  six to eight - some hunched over with their elbows on their knees. They seem to be examining the floor like it's going to start talking to them. Others are sitting upright with their arms outstretched slightly, their palms facing up ready to catch a baby being tossed from a burning tenement house. It looks like their eyeballs would escape if it weren't for their lids being closed so tight. Their lips move, but we can't hear what they're saying. The little groups are everywhere. All doing the same thing.

It turns out this is a school auditorium. The voice-over tells us this school is located in a small city known for it's plethora of car dealerships - and it's religious conservatism. And they are praying. But what has happened? Has there been another senseless slaying of innocent children? A hurricane swept through town leaving hundreds dead? An ax murderer from Hawaii prowling the streets looking for wayward fruit?

No. They are fervently petitioning the Almighty because of anti-bullying legislation. The government has said that if you are a public school, or a private one that gets money from them, you have to have certain anti-bullying policies in place. And what, exactly, are they so upset about? Two things. They have to allow anyone who wants to set up a group such as a gay-straight alliance to do so, and they think the definition of bullying is too broad.

What is a gay-straight alliance you ask? Here's a definition from Wiki.
Gay–straight alliances (GSAs) are student-led organizations, found primarily in North American high schools and universities, that are intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their straight allies.
Sounds horrible! How can you possibly expect people who worship a God that defines himself as Love to be so accepting? Impossible, I say. Next you'll be expecting them to love their neighbour as themself. Not gonna happen my friend.

And what about this broad definition? The issue is that the legislation includes a statement that defines one of the symptoms of bullying as hurting someone's feelings. Now, I admit, this one could go sideways.

What it says is, any behavior
"intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property.”
 I'm not exactly sure how you remove the word "feelings" from that statement and still have anything worthwhile left over to work with.

Are we seriously fighting over the protection of vulnerable people because we don't want our religious sensibilities offended? Is this what conservative fundamentalism has come to? Besides, do you honestly expect someone who attends one of these conservative private schools to put up their hand in class and announce they are gay - even if there is a gay-straight alliance? This is why people send their children to a private christian school in the first place: so they won't be sullied by the world; so they won't have to deal with what the rest of us call... life. You'd be better off wandering into the polar bear pit at the zoo with your pockets full of hamburger. It would be worse than hell. You'd have half of them ostracizing you, and the other half trying to convert you. I don't know which would be worse. Maybe the bureaucrats in these private schools are actually doing the gay community a favour by classifying them as sub-human.  Now I realize there are other people that are bullied, but by far the largest group is the LGBTQ's, and the religious community has made it quite clear that these people are the problem.

It's at times like this that I imagine God walking to the front of his mansion, drawing the blinds, locking the front door, going up stairs and packing a small bag. He then sneaks out the back door for an extended vacation in the eastern Uzbekistan so the reporters can't find him. Perhaps drinking himself into a stupor on the flight over.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel... ...you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."