Sunday, December 13, 2015

"The Christian Agnostic"

"A man cannot be bludgeoned by vulgar threats of damnation, into accepting that which other people say is true" ~ Leslie D. Weatherhead

Monday, December 7, 2015

"My Emancipation From American Christianity" from blogger John Pavlovitz (posted 12/01/15)

I used to think that it was just me, that it was my problem, my deficiency, my moral defect.
It had to be.
All those times when I felt like an outsider in this American Jesus thing; the ever-more frequent moments when my throat constricted and my heart raced and my stomach turned.
Maybe it came in the middle of a crowded worship service or during a small group conversation. Maybe while watching the news or when scanning a blog post, or while resting in a silent, solitary moment of prayer. Maybe it was all of these times and more, when something rose up from the deepest places within me and shouted, “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t be part of this!”
These moments once overwhelmed me with panic and filled me with guilt, but lately I am stepping mercifully clear of such things.
What I’ve come to realize is that it certainly is me, but not in the way I used to believe.
I am not losing my mind.
I’m not losing my faith.
I’m not failing or falling or backsliding.
I have simply outgrown American Christianity.
I’ve outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.
I’ve outgrown the snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.
I’ve outgrown the vile war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.
I’ve outgrown the expectation that my faith is the sole property of a political party.
I’ve outgrown violent bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.
I’ve outgrown God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.
I’ve outgrown the incessant attacks on the Gay, Muslim, and Atheist communities.
I’ve outgrown theology as a hammer always looking for a nail.
I’ve outgrown the cramped, creaky, rusting box that God never belonged in anyway.
Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.
If religion it is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place where the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge.
It should be the place where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show.
That is not what this thing is. This is FoxNews and red cup protests and persecution complexes. It’s opulent, big box megachurches and coddled, untouchable celebrity pastors. It’s pop culture boycotts and manufactured outrage. It’s just wars and justified shootings. It’s all manner of bullying and intolerance in the name of Jesus.
Feeling estrangement from these things is a good thing.
For the past two decades I’ve lived within the tension of trying to be in the thing and not be altered by the thing, but that tension has become too great. Ultimately it’s a spiritual compatibility issue.
It’s getting harder and harder to love all people and still fit into what has become American Christianity, so rather than becoming less loving and staying—I’m leaving.
I’m breaking free from religion for the sake of my soul.
I’m not sure practically what that looks like, but I can feel myself consciously and forcefully pulling away; creating distance between me and a system that can no longer accommodate the scale of my God and the scope of my aspirations.
Jesus said that the Spirit moves where it pleases, and with it go those in its glorious grip. In my heart and in the hearts of so many like me, that Spirit is boldly declaring its emancipation from the small, heavily guarded space that wants to contain it, and taking us out into the wide, breathtaking expanses of unfettered faith.
Every day people tell me that this great releasing is happening within them too; that they are finding freedom beyond the building and the box, and rediscovering a God right sized.
I am a Christian and an American, but I refuse to settle for this American Christianity any longer or be defined by it.
I know that there is something much greater beyond it worth heading toward; something that looks more like God and feels more like love. 
Maybe you see it in the distance too. Maybe we can go there together.
Fear is in the rear view, freedom in the windshield.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Christian Agnostic: Chapter 1 "Dissatisfaction and Disappointment"

"Further, where in the Gospels are we ever told that Christ demanded belief in some theological proposition before he would admit a seeker into discipleship? The answer is that he never did. Belief in a person, yes."

"Peter--as I see it--was a Christian the moment he accepted the invitation of Christ, "Follow me." "A Christian is someone who responds to the call of Christ. First and always Christianity is a relationship with a Person." Peter knew nothing of, far less did he believe in, the Virgin Birth, the Trinity and many theological improbabilities which some men have demanded from they fellows before they allowed them the label, "Christian." This is far indeed from the attitude of Christ."

"When people said to me, "I should like to be a member of the City Temple, what must I believe?" I used to say, "Only those things which appear to you to be true. These may increase or decrease as your discipleship deepens, but only loyalty to the Truth as it authenticates itself in your mind is asked from you. For one thing, believing theological dogmas was not Christ's test of those who sought to be his disciples, and for another very important and fundamental facet, you cannot believe a thing because you are told to believe it." Let me recall a favorite quotation from Alice in Wonderland. The Queen asserts that she is a hundred and one years, five months and one day old. "I can't believe that," said Alice. "Can't you?" said the Queen. "Try again. Draw a long breath and shut your eyes." Only by such a method can many a Christian accept the improbabilities of his religion. You can assent, because yo are afraid, or want to please, or haven't the energy or skill to think a thing out, but belief is a triumph of one's own mind. When I really believe a thing, I mean that its truth possesses me."

"Truth is self-authenticating, and when it possesses me, nothing can shake it from its enthronement until some greater truth displaces it or gives it less prominence."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Christian Agnostic

A few weeks ago I came across a quote from a book written in 1965 by Leslie D. Weatherhead entitled "The Christian Agnostic". I found the quote quite fascinating and ordered a used copy of the book from Amazon. I don't think there are any new copies available that I could find. Anyway, I am currently reading this book and am finding it pretty amazing knowing that it was written 50 years ago. I began to think that it would have been nice to have read it 25 or 30 years ago...but then I realized that I probably wouldn't have been ready for it then.

So here is what I am thinking of doing...mostly for my own thought clarification: As I read and highlight the book, I am going to post quotations from it...sometimes as stand-alone quotes, but other times I may make comments to help with my own percolation of the thoughts.

I will start with the quote from the Preface that got my attention a few weeks ago.

"I believe passionately that Christianity is a way of life, not a theological system with which one must be in intellectual agreement. I feel that Christ would admit into fellowship anyone who sincerely desired to follow him, and allow that disciple to make his creed out of his experience; to listen, to consider, to pray...and ultimately to believe only those convictions about which the experience of fellowship made him sure." ~Leslie D. Weatherhead

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976) was an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition. Weatherhead was noted for his preaching ministry at City Temple in London and for his books. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015


     Each of our lives is a story. The ending hasn’t been written yet…even if we have breathed our last of this earthly atmosphere. And our stories are a distillation of the stories we have been told during our lives by those we know, by those we don’t know, and especially by ourselves. It can be no other way. From the time we take our first breath…and maybe even before, if our mothers played music to influence us in utero…we are influenced by the stories of our families, cultures and environments. At a very young age, we don’t know enough to reject certain stories that are put upon us by those we love and into the homes where we grow up. But as we grow up, we begin to realize that there are other stories that are believed by others which differ greatly from the stories we have agreed to believe. In fact, we soon find out that stories are intentionally thrust upon us for the purpose of someone else's gains. This is the whole purpose of marketing and can be inclusive of politics and religion. In the end, we choose which stories we are going to agree with and use to write our own personal story. There really is much truth in the saying that “Each of us believes what we want to believe”. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. None of us will change our beliefs unless something happens that motivates us in that direction. For many, this is a life altering event, or some kind of near death experience. The same principle holds true for the Alcoholics Anonymous program when they say that a person isn’t ready to change and become sober unless he hits “rock bottom”. Basically coming to a point in life where everything is lost because of a persistent belief (i.e. “I can handle alcohol”), and agreeing with another story line: “I can’t handle alcohol…it has caused me the loss of all things in life that matter…and, I need help to beat this thing”. These changes in life beliefs do not come easy or without great price. How silly it is of us to think that we can argue and debate with someone to change the very core of their being which is what our agreed upon stories really are in the end. 

     If we are living our lives in a perception of equilibrium, there will be no reason for us to change. It is only when some force, whether external or internal…or a combination of both, causes a disequilibrium and discomfort in our lives that we will begin to be open to changing our agreements with certain stories. There is nothing magical about this, nor is this particularly insightful. But it is something worth remembering when we see how others live, and even to understand  the reason why we do what we do, and to realize that we are seeing the world through the lenses of our own agreed upon stories. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

We Will Be Landing Shortly: Now What? spiritual musings of Mike Hamel

On October 11, 1970, Mike Hamel started a journal...his first entry states:

"I am starting this journal to find out about myself and through myself to find God. I hope that I can one day share this with someone. Maybe through my search for inner contentment and holiness others may find a clue in their own search."

And this remains the theme throughout the book. It isn't simply a collection of journal entries like the one above, but rather stories that explore the inner workings of Hamel's heart and mind. In an earlier autobiographical work entitled: "Stumbling Toward Heaven" he includes both spiritual musings as well detailed documentation of his battle with cancer. Since that book was written, much has happened in his life and so this revision...if it can even be called purely about his spiritual pilgrimage.

He describes himself as "a storyteller around the campfire, a minstrel in the company of pilgrims, a jester in the sanctuary." And that is what he is throughout this book. For me, one of the characteristics of a good writer is the ability to take some of the thoughts that are floating around I n my head (but are there in vagueness and obscured by cobwebs of preconditions) and articulate them in such a way as to give me an "Ah-Ha!" moment.

Mike Hamel is a pioneer rather than a settler in the sense that he is always willing to explore new thoughts, ideas, scientific findings and psychological concepts even at the expense of threatening long held beliefs of the past. Because of this he has endured...maybe with some glimmer of delight...being considered an "outsider" by those groups to which he once was considered a respected leader.

If one has a heart to always learn "how to think" rather than "being told what to think", then throw open the doors and windows of your heart and let this book be a fresh breeze of clean air blowing through the inner rooms of your soul.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review: Why I am an Athiest Who Believes in GOD

I grew up in a fundamental evangelical environment in the 1960s and 1970s, and continued on in that paradigm for years afterwards, doing various types of Christian service and missionary work in many parts of the world. I think that it would be safe to say, that for most evangelical Christians during that time…and even today, the name Francis Schaeffer (along with his wife Edith) conjured up images of some sort of Evangelical Super Hero.  The “liberals and unbelievers” might have their intellectuals, but none of them could stand up to our hero, Francis Schaeffer. He had established a community, called L’Abri,  of like-minded deep thinkers who lived in Switzerland. It was into this socio-religious environment that Frank Schaeffer was born, raised and marinated. 
In the last number of years, my journey has taken me away from much of the evangelical dogma that I held to for so long, and so it was with interest that I read this book by the son of our Super Hero. 
Much of the book is autobiographical in nature with Frank sharing personal glimpses into what it was like to be living as a growing boy with the great Francis and Edith Schaeffer. But it is much more than that…he shows the tenderness he feels for his two young grandchildren that he spends much time with each day. And then there is the thread of the ragged, messy journey that he has been on and how his life has been enriched by the freedom of mystery and paradox.  I will simply leave with some things I highlighted when reading this wonderful book. I doubt that the audience for this book will be mainline evangelicals who are “certain they are correct”, but for anybody who is willing to be honest and ask questions, it is a great read.
“My dogmatic declarations of faith once provided status, ego-stroking power over others and a much better income than I’ve ever earned since fleeing the evangelical machine. Certainty make things simple, gave me an answer to every questions and paid the bills.”
“Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure.”
“Apophatic theology teaches that the divine is ineffable and recognized only when it’s felt. In contrast to the literalistic evangelicals and Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims and Orthodox Jews, some of the earliest Church Fathers were closer in their thinking to Wettstein.They said that scripture was to be read through an apophatic approach.”
“Science can’t predict what stories my children’s great grandchildren will tell. The ultimate story about the experience of our journey into consciousness is a closed book to theologians and scientists alike, but it is not a book without promise. At this point we’ve barely cracked the introduction, and already smartass scientists and theologians pretend they know not just how the story started but how it ends—and worse—what it means or doesn’t mean.”
“How we treat others is the only proof of truth we have. That proof is not found in any book. It is only found in the expression of unconditional trust we may sometimes see in the eyes of the people who know us best.”
And one more that I am sure will cause the hair on the back of many necks to bristle….
“Those of us raised in the Christian tradition need to choose to either see God in Jesus or to continue to let the Bible define God.”