Easterish thoughts

Many of you who know me understand that I am deeply and firmly Christian, but not very religious at all. This tends to bother a lot of Christians who, frankly, have a bit of superstition and/or legalism mixed in to their theology. I try not to have either.

This is not to say that I don’t love liturgy, because I do (within reason). I am particularly fond of the Book of Common Prayer. I also enjoy a good Episcopal Easter service (or Lutheran), because I really like the classic Easter hymns such as “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” and the only time you sing those is one Sunday a year. Honestly, that’s the main reason I would choose to attend church on Easter as opposed to any other day.

Honestly, Easter as a holiday does nothing for me, faith wise. Certainly, it’s meant to be a marker, a time for focusing thoughts, etc. For many in the evangelical and Roman Catholic worlds, it’s a time to be saddled with guilt and so on, to finally be set free on Easter Sunday (if you can get over the PTS).

A [very] little theology

I see Easter only as part of a larger story, and to isolate it loses some of the meaning. The same is true for Christmas, Good Friday, etc. You can’t truly celebrate Easter without considering the Incarnation. God becoming man, living as a human, diving headlong into death in order to blow its doors off, rising from the dead a new kind of man, and then ascending into heaven, are all components of one huge salvific act.

This awareness–this reality–is a part of me 356-1/4 days a year; it’s a lease through which I view people, nature, and myself.

So, Easter Sunday has no more meaning for me than next Thursday. But I still love the old Easter hymns.

This I Know

About 10 years ago I wrote a little post about a little revelation I had about my faith that has really impacted me. Somehow, the original post was deleted–I have no idea how or why. But, as chance would have it, I discovered the following, which appears to be an updated version of that post. So, here it is.

This I Know

Over my nearly 60 years of life, I have had only a handful of revelations that have had a lasting impact on me. I can recall specific details about each experience and by and large they were fairly mundane, but the specific epiphanies would change how I saw things from that point on. I mention this only to provide a little background on one I had perhaps 5 years ago.

As with the other, it was not a Damascus Road experience; rather, it was more of an Emmaus Road revelation, like having a mist lifted so that you see more clearly where you are already walking. And, as much of my brilliant thoughts do, it came while I was thinking about something entirely unrelated.

My revelation was simply this: I still believed in the same God I believed in as a child.

That’s it.

It may seem underwhelming to you, but 5 years or so later, I am still aware of this reality. It is now foundational to who I am.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I have simply maintained my death-grip on my childhood beliefs, because that’s not true. My theology has changed over the years – several times, in fact. I have been around the block, so to speak, more laps than most. While I, out of youth and ignorance, was impacted by various pop theologies and trends over the years, I have maintained my simple belief in God, and that Jesus loves me, this I know. I have rejected more doctrines and beliefs throughout my life than many people have ever encountered. Many were illogical in some form or other, some were stupid, and a few were just bat-shit crazy (that’s a common theological term).

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and often boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from moderate to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through a morass of theological trends, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

I’ve had many, many people try to talk me out of it. I’ve been dispensationalized, fundamentalated, legalized, charismatized, jeopardized, and tribulated. I’ve gutted my library of trash theology more than once. And in the end, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

Now, smart atheists will tell me this proves that religion is a product of our environment, that if I grew up believing in Some Other God, that’s who I’d believe in today. Granted, exposure is an obvious factor in belief. Paul says this himself in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” However, I know many, many people who believe differently today than they did as children. Tons. So, I’d have to say that while I truly appreciate the fact that I was raised a Christian, I’d have to say that what I believe today is not because of what I believed as a child (I believed in Santa Claus then, too).

Now, I have heard and read many testimonies of people who have rejected the beliefs they were raised with, and as a result they have concluded that they don’t believe in God. Some of them even have blogs where they love to talk about what they no longer believe. This unbelief in God is an understandable leap of logic, I guess, but generally I find that it’s lazy as well as illogical. I hear these stories and think, So what? I reject those things, too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. You don’t reject all pizza because you don’t like anchovies.

So back to the profundity of my revelation, specifically related to current belief and unbelief trends. When people are leaving the church and faith in droves, is it perhaps because they were never taught the truth about God in the first place? When the illogic and absurdity and hype and the control-freakism of religious traditions come crashing down, is there anything left to believe in?

For me, there was. I rejected dispensationalism and God was the same. I rejected legalism and God was the same. I rejected penal substitutionary atonement and God was the same. I rejected literalism and God was the same. I rejected wacko-ism and God was the same. And in fact, not only was God the same, but it was specifically because God was the same that I rejected these errant beliefs.

If I had to pick a theme song, I think it would be Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith. My faith is not in science or progress, or in a church, or theology, or, as odd as it sounds, even in the Bible. My faith is not in a political system or the definition of marriage. I don’t care if evolution is true or if there’s life on other planets. My faith is in God and the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus loves me, this I know. The same God, and same Gospel, I was taught as a child.

Why Me? A Thanksgiving Meditation

Why me, Lord? ~Kris Kristofferson

“Why me?” is an interesting question. For many, it’s wondering why bad things happen, and I’ve been there, wondering why people close to me die, why I was “chosen” to suffer with diabetes, etc. It’s easy to look around at people living seemingly wonderful lives, and feeling less than blessed.

But for me, “Why Me?” has taken on a different twist. I am profoundly aware that I have been “blessed” more than I deserve. In spite of health issues, job stress, etc., I am aware that I am a very happy man, and I continue to ask, “Why me?”

On a global scale, why was I born a white male in the most powerful white male country in America? Why wasn’t I born a minority, or homeless, or in a country plagues by war and disease? I don’t know; it wasn’t my choice.

Why was I allowed to survive major health battles, and live long enough to see my grandchildren (my father didn’t). Why do I have a job I enjoy, a great wife, and wonderful children?

Nothing I have done merits me having good things in my life. I’ve done nothing to earn a better place in life than the millions of refugees. I’ve done nothing to earn any special blessings from God.

And, I definitely don’t believe that God loves more more than anyone else.

So, I still think, “Why me?”

It makes me incredibly thankful for what I have, no more so today than any other day. But, today I’m especially thankful for turnkey and stuffing. It doesn’t get much better than this.

This I Know 2.01

I probably should point out that this series of posts is not intentionally autobiographical. (If you haven’t read my last post, I suggest you read that and then come back here.)

That is, my point is not to talk about me or my life, nor do I believe that you particularly care what it is that I believe and why. My point, rather, is to talk about the Christianity I learned as a child, in contrast to the Christianity I typically see in the news, on Facebook, etc. To do that, I have to talk somewhat autobiographically, so you’ll just have to get past that my own story is just a reference point to address the broader issues of the theology and morality of the Bible.

Things that informed my early beliefs

I think it was quite advantageous that I was raised in a liturgical church. Of course every church has some kind of liturgy whether they recognize it or not (it’s simply “what is done” when you’re together as a church). However, many liturgies are essentially devoid of any consistent theology. Lutherans, like Episcopalians/Anglicans, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, have liturgies which are based on those coming from the earliest church practices. 

There are essentially two aspects of liturgical worship that important differences to recognize. The first is that the Liturgy is a corporate experience of theology. One of the ancient creeds are recited, the Lord’s Prayer is recited, there are prescribed Bible readings from the Old and New Testaments (and specifically the Gospels),  and hymns are sung that relate to the church season (lent, advent, etc.) or the prescribed Scripture readings.

The 2nd aspect is the Lectionary, which is a book of prescribed Bible readings for the specific Sunday or event. Not only does this provide a wide variety of Bible readings, but these texts are also used as the basis for the weekly sermon. This does away with the random topic sermons or the “what’s bugging me this week” sermons so common in non-liturgical churches. It also makes the Bible the focus of the message, rather than being used as out of context proof texts to support the Pastor’s ideas. You know what I’m talking about. 

A third important aspect (yes, I’m aware I said there were 2) that differs from non-liturgical churches is the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, which is celebrated regularly, and which is the focus of liturgical worship, not the sermon. However, this is more of a theological difference and while I think it’s one of the most important differences, it isn’t really my point of this series, at least not yet.

The result is that every week I learned theology. I heard it, I recited it, and I sang it. I heard complete Bible passages read with reverence, especially the Gospel reading. And, I heard countless sermons based on those Gospel readings. And, that’s the subject of my next post.