Hearty Heresy

Speaking of God
April 26, 2007, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

A couple posts back I complained that Brand Xians bring a “preunderstanding” of the nature of God which (for them) naturally leads to the need for Jesus to sacrifice Himself, etc., etc., etc. I noted that not everyone (yours truly, for example) shares their concept of God, so getting us to buy the whole “Christ died for your sins” thing just doesn’t fly. I think I mentioned Rabbi Michael Lerner in that post, and I just read in Tikkun (the magazine Rabbi Lerner publishes–kind of a Jewish Sojourners) an interview with Bernard Haisch, author of The God Theory.

Haisch’s vision of God is, for me, kind of an invitation to try and imagine a being/presence/intelligence much, much larger than anything our minds can grasp (rather than a God who’s “plan” is rather confusingly told in a patchwork quilt of a book). And even though the interview is in a Jewish magazine, the last word goes out to all you Brand Xians:

TIKKUN: What message would you have for Christians who see God as Jesus?
BH: I have one single quote out of John, where Jesus says, “In all truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works that I do myself, and will perform even greater works.” To me this implies that Jesus was God incarnate, but so are we all. He may have been a very advanced incarnation of God, but he says it here himself, we can do greater things still. To me this implies that we can be as great as Jesus and greater still. Therefore, Christians, nothing I’m saying in this book contradicts Christianity.

How’s that for interpreting Scripture? You can read more by and about Haisch at his blog, Maverick Cosmos, and I’ve added a video about The God Theory to my Vodpod below and to the left. I have to say that after reading the interview, I could easily imagine a God that Jesus might experience as a loving father. And I could just as easily imagine Jesus turning over his life to that God so that others could know “Him,” too.


Suddenly, I’m Very Offended…
April 24, 2007, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

Here’s a chain of thought that suddenly and surprisingly left me very offended by the language Brand Xians use. The precipitating event was reading through the “Go for the Guys Sunday” handbook from ChurchForMen.com (a group founded by David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church) and stumbling on this piece of advice under the heading “A few things to avoid”: “Use ‘churchy’ language, such as: Let’s just praise the holy name of Jesus, amen? Hallelujah, isn’t this a special day to be in the presence of the Lord? Talk like regular a man, and regular men will respond.” That got me thinking of the kind of language used by church-planting pastors who blog about what’s happening in their congregations, stuff like, “The Lord is doing wonderful things for God’s people here at the Fumblebuck County Community Church,” and so forth. And that got me thinking of what a Lutheran pastor friend of mine says before she offers communion: “The gifts of God for the people of God!”

And that’s when I suddenly got very offended. I got offended because even the most inclusive sounding words for Brand Xians (“we’re all God’s people”) are extremely exclusive sounding for the rest of us. I mean, I’m sure the Lutherans know that they’re not the only “people of God,” but you can be sure they draw a line somewhere, most likely between those they consider orthodox and those who aren’t. And that implies that only the orthodox are God’s people. I can’t even begin to tell you how disgusted that makes me feel–although I think “icky” may be the right word. Now I have to say I love my Lutheran pastor friend and I know for a fact she is extremely inclusive in her vision of who is part of God’s creation. But labeling some people as God’s people implies that others aren’t. And that, I believe, is antithetical to the message of Jesus.

So how’s this: we’re all God’s people, everyone of us. And we’re always in the presence of the Lord, every single moment of every single day of our lives. As the poet Rumi put it, “Lo, I am with you always, means when you look for God, God is in the look of your eyes.” Stephen Mitchell says the same thing when he sums up The Gospel According to Jesus as “Simply this: that the love we all long for in our innermost heart is already present, beyond longing.”

I Arrived at My Heresy the Old-Fashioned Way
April 23, 2007, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

It feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about why I believe the things I believe–about God, about Jesus, about Brand Xianity, etc. So I thought I’d just dig in and offer a few stray thoughts that I hope to develop further in the next week or so. First, about God. As I’ve mentioned before, the thing that really gets me about Brand Xians is their rather quaint notion that everyone has the same idea about who or what God is. Seems to me that what may very well be the largest concept in the Universe, God, would most likely have a lot of subtlety to it. And, indeed, it does. Which is why there are lots and lots of books about theology. Are these books in agreement about this concept we call “God”? No, not really. In fact, many of the books I’ve read lately seem to offer two distinct points of view when it comes to God.

Here’s just a few: Matthew Fox contrasts a God of Original Blessing as opposed to a God of Original Sin (see “Original Blessing, Not Original Sin“); Marcus Borg contrasts a God who works through Conventional Wisdom versus a God who works through Subversive Wisdom (See Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time); Michael Lerner contrasts the Right Hand of God with the Left Hand of God (see The Left Hand of God); and George Lakoff contrast a Strict Father God as opposed to a Nurturant Parent God (see “The Nation as Family” and “Two Models of Christianity“).

Now, when people assume that there’s only one way of looking at God and the only way to get close to that God is through accepting the blood sacrifice of His only Son our Lord Jesus Christ, I have to wonder, “Mightn’t there be just a little bit more to the story?” Take, for example, the GodSpeaks.com folks (their motto, by the way, is “Simple, Relevant, Life-Changing” [italics mine]). They’re the ones who promote those inane billboards I mentioned in my previous post. On their website they ask this question for the visitor: “How can I have a personal relationship with God?” And if you click on it, you get this answer:

“I stand at the door and knock.” Do you know who said that? It was Jesus. What door, you might be wondering. Well, that happens to be the door to your heart. Then Jesus said, “If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in.” Jesus is such a gentleman, such a compassionate Creator, that He will not force His way into your life. You have to want Him in your life, and if you don’t want Him in your life, you’ll keep the door to your heart closed. But before you make that decision, you should really ask yourself why you would close the door of your heart to Jesus Christ?

What? Jesus, the gentleman caller, is a compassionate Creator? But I thought we were talking about God. I mean, doesn’t one of those creeds start with “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?” Jesus comes after that, “begotten not made,” right? Come on, gang, get your story straight! Truth is, there are a whole lot of us who think that Jesus’ teachings were less about accepting him as God–please show me in the Gospels were Jesus actually says to the disciples, “Hey, guys, guess what…I’m God!”–and more about helping others have a personal relationship with God, now, today, on this earth.

At any rate, there’s two sides to this story. But the purveyors of Brand Xianity seem to think there’s only one. For my part, I arrived at my faith (heretical though it may be) the old-fashioned way…I studied, reflected, and prayed about how I might best discern the way of Jesus (as opposed to signing the last page of a Chick Tract).

Two New Mr. Deity Episodes
April 20, 2007, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Religion, Theology

I’ve added the two newest episodes of Mr. Deity to my vodpod (below on the left). You can view them here, or check out the Mr. Deity site for yourself. As always, they’re very funny, bordering on blasphemy, and hard to resist (at least for heretics). I really enjoyed the parody of those stupid billboards (specifically the “Feeling Lost? My Book is your map”). You know the ones, the Bad Dad God. I can just hear a drunken, abusive father saying this as he’s loosening his belt: “What part of ‘Thou shalt not…’ didn’t you understand?” Or a late night phone call to a spouse who’s about to get a restraining order: “We need to talk… Let’s meet at My house Sunday, before the game… C’mon over and bring the kids… Tell the kids I love them… I love you…I love you…I love you….” And when the he can’t get his way, he starts to threaten: “You think it’s hot here?” and “My way is the highway.” Not much of a role model if you ask me. No wonder that “wives in traditional marriages ‘where the husband was dominant’ are three times more likely to be beaten than wives in egalitarian marriages.” (That’s according to Ronald J. Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.)

Two Quotes about God
April 18, 2007, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Christianity, Religion, Theology

Sorry I haven’t blogged in awhile. I’ve been pretty busy for the last seven days doing the heretical things my job requires me to do. But I’m back, and I’d like offer a couple of quotes that have been sharing quarters in the theological corner of my brain. One is from St. Augustine, as quoted in Borg’s and Crossan’s The Last Week. The other is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted in Bishop Spongs A New Christianity for a New World.

We without God cannot, and God without us will not.

Our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continuously. Before God and with God we live without God.

I don’t know about you, but I find these quotes very exciting, even empowering. Rather than accepting a prescripted faith (the old story of Brand Xianity), Augustine and Bonhoeffer both hint at a faith that requires much, much more of us. And I can’t think of a faith more demanding (and more enlivening) than the one Bonhoeffer describes.

Keep It Simple Stupid…I Mean, God
April 11, 2007, 11:40 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Religion, Theology

The other day while I was searching the web looking for references to my all time favorite orthodox statement of faith (“God said it. I believe it. That settles it!”), I ran across this entry at DefCon Blog. It contains a link to a clip from Friends of God, an HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi about evangelicals in America. As DefCon says, “The clip focuses on the creation movement and highlights yet again the aggressive tactics creationists employ when it comes to ‘teaching’ (a.k.a. indoctrinating) children.” It’s about six minutes long, but it’s certainly worth watching, especially to see the slogan “God said it. I believe it. That settles it!” used in context. (Question: Who ya gonna believe, kids? God or a scientist? Answer: God! Yaaaaay!)

If you take a look at the clip, you’ll see the problem of dinosaurs is a big part of what these evangelical anti-evolutionists are dealing with. And that reminded me of an audio clip from a comedy routine by the late, great Saint Bill Hicks I heard a couple of years ago (I was sitting in my car waiting to go through an automated car wash when this routine was played on a college radio station…I imagine that someone got in trouble because of Bill’s liberal use of the earthly equivalent of Battlestar Galactica‘s “frack“). So here’s the deal. If you took a look at the Friends of God clip and find it as creepy as I do, do yourself a favor and listen to “Dinosaurs in the Bible,” available at Past Peak.

One more note on Bill Hicks. I call him Saint Bill because, well, because of this:

I had a vision of a way we could have no enemies ever again if you’re interested in this. Anybody interested in hearing this? It’s kind of an interesting theory and all we have to do is make one decisive act and we could rid the world of all our enemies at once. Here’s what we do: You know all that money that we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year? Trillions of dollars. Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, not ONE; We could as one race explore outer space together in peace, for ever.

Feeding and clothing the poor so that not one human being would be excluded. Hmmm. Sounds like something I heard before. Could it be the Kingdom of God?

Happy Dyngus Day! And A Last Word on Last Week
April 9, 2007, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

I was raised in northern Indiana and lived for quite a while in South Bend–which calls itself the Dyngus Day Capitol of the World (although Buffalo, N.Y may have a better claim)–so I know what Dyngus Day is all about. If you don’t, check out this quiz published last year in the South Bend Tribune. If I lived in South Bend still, I’d probably be too busy partying to blog today. But I don’t, so here I am, with one last word on Borg’s and Crossan’s The Last Week.

First, let me say that it’s an terrific book to read during Lent, no matter what your beliefs about Jesus may be. As Borg and Crossan put it, “Believe whatever you want about whether the stories happened this way–now let’s talk about what they mean.”

If you believe the tomb was empty, fine; now, what does this story mean? If you believe that Jesus’s appearances could have been videotaped, fine; now, what do these stories mean? And if you’re not sure about that, or even if you are quite sure it didn’t happen this way, fine; now, what do these stories mean?

If that isn’t an open invitation to a wider conversation about Jesus and the meaning of the crucifixion and the stories about the resurrection, I don’t know what is. It’s definitely an attitude I’d like to see more Christians taking, rather than: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

At any rate, Borg and Crossan see Easter as God’s vindication of Jesus. “God has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who executed him. Easter is God’s ‘yes’ to Jesus against the powers who killed him.” As someone who’s trying to comprehend and appreciate the teachings of the living Jesus, I find this a good way to look at the Easter story–God has vindicated what Jesus stood for, what he was passionate about (to use Borg’s and Crossan’s language). And what was Jesus passionate about? Bringing about the Kingdom of God, “to incarnate the justice of God by demanding for all a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel.”