You just might be an annoying Christian!
Friday, December 9, 2016
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Monday, October 17, 2016
Thursday, October 6, 2016
My Life as a Pharisee
After Judas Iscariot, the Pharisees are probably the people in the Bible we most love to hate. They represent the status quo (which wasn't all that bad for them, but was for most of the Jews living under the Roman empire). They nit-picked over silly laws: you could give your cattle food and water on the Sabbath, but you couldn't heal people. And don't forget to tithe your spices! They liked to dress up and get the best seats at religious services and banquets.
Even things that seem good take on a bad tone in the hands of the Pharisees. You would think that it's admirable to be grateful for your life and the opportunities you've had, like the Pharisee in Luke (Luke 18:9-14), but never thank God that you are better (less sinful) than a crooked tax collector. Even if the Pharisees say the right things, they don't practice them. Matthew said they were “like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men's bones.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
And today, don't thank God that you are better than the Pharisees! We practice or are afflicted with Churchianity, which is to Christianity what the Pharisees' Templeism was to Judaism, obsession with trappings and status and non-spiritual church problems, as anyone who has ever been asked to move from someone's pew or who has witnessed a vestry meeting can tell you. (I have had both of these experiences.) And even if we know how we're supposed to behave, we don't always. This is putting it kindly. A less kindly way to put it is that we're hypocrites.
Naturally, no one wants to admit to being a Pharisee. But there are plenty of people eager to point your Churchianity out to you, Why aren't you having homeless people over for dinner? Why don't you see that Ann Coulter or Bernie Sanders or the bitch or son of one who stole your significant other is as much a beloved child of God as you are and deserves to be treated as such? Why do you always try to get a front row seat at Christian rock concerts? (That all the other Christians are doing it is not a valid defense.)
This is hard enough to take, even when we know deep down it's true. But even worse is the criticism from the “spiritual but not religious” people, who find God in places other than church. They can't understand why anyone would want to sit in a building that either freezes or roasts them, be bored at best or guilt tripped at worst and be asked for money to pay for it all. If you need a Coffee Hour donut that badly, the bakery is probably closer than the church.
Obviously, if you need organized religion, there is something wrong with you and you need counseling or maybe just a life. They, on the other hand, don't need anything.
I admit that I am a sinner. (And a big“You're welcome” to everyone who just said, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”) And I know that in God's eyes my sins are as bad as those of a drug dealer or hit person, but I am very thankful that they are easier to commit.
And, I admit that I like the fact that I know what “substitutional atonement,” “undercroft,” and “narthex” mean. There has to be some upside to being a church geek or, like me, a very much in progress one. I'm aware that this pride is one of my convenient-to-commit sins.
And I admit . . . no, I declare that for me, church is one of the best places to find God. I love the music, the stained glass, the candles, the liturgy, even the sermon. I'd love the incense, too, if my priest would let us use it. And I love the socializing and the“feeling of community.”
Maybe the Pharisees felt the same way. Maybe they too were trying to find God. Maybe they were beloved children of God who were really messing up. (Maybe?)
The point of this post (Or is it a rant?) is not to defend the Pharisees. The point – at least the one I want to make, which may not be the point you get, which is fine – is that “church people” are going to get flack for being church people. Maybe our critics find us frightening.(Again, maybe?) Maybe they think we are ruining Christianity. But that's OK. We are not conducting our spiritual lives to get other people's approval, just as they are not trying to get our approval.
So serve on the committees, eat the donuts, make your special chili for the potluck (or bring your favorite “store cookies”), sing the hymns, and have your Kleenex ready for the parts of the service that always get you. Hang out with the church geeks and enjoy some so-bad-they're-good puns. Just remember, these are details that you can use to get closer to God, not ends in themselves, and that this is not the only way to do it.
God may think, “For a Christian, you are really messing up.” And then He (or She) will say, “But I love you anyway.”
As your first step on the path to church geekism, dazzle your friends by knowing the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees!
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
In case you're tired of Pokemon Go or haven't had the energy for all that walking, there are, thanks to the various tragic shootings in Dallas, New Orleans, Orlando and so many other places, two old favorites you might want to dust off: The Blame Game and Defensive Offense.
Who or what is responsible for these tragedies? The victims and perpetrators seem to have been lost in the battles to assign guilt. Poor gun laws? The NRA? Wimpy legislators? Capitalist society? The moral bankruptcy of the country? The racism that lurks in everyone's heart to a greater or lesser degree? The general feeling that we have fallen down the political rabbit hole to the Wildest, Wackiest, Maddest Tripartisan Teaparty Ever?
The Blame Game has been going on since the Creation. Who's the biggest sinner – Eve, who disobeyed God; the Serpent, who gave her the idea; Adam, who could have just said no; God, who set humankind up to fail and then was angry when they did?
There never seems to be a winner in the Blame Game, but there's never a loser, either. Or maybe everybody is a winner; there's plenty of blame to go around and if any falls on you, you can dump it on someone else.
Defensive Offense is newer. Back in the Olden Days, if a group or individual was accused of something, he (like Henry VIII), she (Queen Mary I of England, AKA Bloody Mary), or it (the Inquisition) just continued about their business, knocking off their accusers along the way. But today, people are more aware or more sensitive or more touchy, as can be seen in the Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter controversy. In response to BLM's accusations of racism as seen in the recent shootings of unarmed black civilians by white law enforcement officers, a new movement, “All Lives Matter” is accusing BLM of racism.
It's not clear yet which side is going to win. Both have advantages. BLM has centuries of oppression (continuing to this day) and the “microaggressions” of white privilege. But ALM has more options: Asian Lives Matter! LGBT Lives Matter! Hispanic Lives Matter! Police Lives Matter! Women's Lives Matter! Unborn Lives Matter! Jewish Lives Matter! Even White Lives Matter! And, of course, Black Lives Matter! And they all do.
But the problem is that in spite of all the editorials, blog posts, demonstrations, signs, and T shirts, the people who need the messages are not paying attention. Those who are paying attention are asking what can be done and are often answering “Not much.”
A second problem is that the movements are seen as divisive and hostile. Even if they are not meant that way, appearances can't be explained or discussed away and may turn into reality.
So what can one do as a Christian, a liberal, or a person of good will?
Maybe we can stop playing the games or stop listening to others play them. While they have noble goals – to save lives or show the basic unity of people – they aren't helping.
These things may not help the situation, but they may help you.
Rodney King was right when he asked, “Can't we all just get along?”
Sunday, June 5, 2016
When nineteenth century journalist Finlay Peter Dunne (1867-1936) handed down this dictum, he was speaking to newspapers, but it has been embraced by politicians, social activists, and The Church (lots of "The Churches"). Besides the traditional buttons and bumper stickers, you'll find it on coffee mugs, tee shirts, even clerical stoles.
You might think that as a declared liberal, I would love it, but I don't. I'm tired of being told what to do, particularly in the guise of begging. I am deluged with letters from organizations -- for peace, economic justice, the planet, abused animals, sick children. They are all worthy causes, but I can only do so much and I can only take so much. (I can't listen to Sarah McLaughlin's "In the Arms of the Angels" ever since it was used in a commercial for the American Humane Association, with pictures of abused or simply sad cats and dogs. When they switched to "In the Bleak Midwinter" just in time for Christmas, I posted a warning on Facebook,)
I realize that I am one of the comfortable people who are supposed to be made uncomfortable. But then I'm one of the afflicted, so who is going to comfort me?
I don't think this occurs to potential afflicters, who are probably thinking in terms of social action. (Make enough people feel guilty enough and you can save the world! Or at least a part of it.) But I tell myself that they mean well.
And if liberal guilt doesn't bring enough suffering, there is always religion.
The most familiar affliction method is the Damnation Doctrine, "Refuse to believe the correct interpretation of the Bible and you're going to Hell, where the fires burn but never consume and the wailing of the tortured never ceases!" If you believe you are too intelligent or too educated to be taken in, try reading Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", and see if you feel a twinge of unease. "What if they're right?" Done in the right spirit, it's kind of fun, like watching scary movies, but I wonder how much time professors of early American literature have spent reassuring students that the Puritans and theologians of the Great Awakening like Jonathan Edwards weren't necessarily right. (My early American literature professor told the story of a student who asked, "But how do we know we're saved?" in the middle of a lecture on predestination.)
Old Time Religion is bad enough, but New Time Progressive Religion does its share of afflicting too. Even in mainstream denominations we hear stories about miracles, the virgin birth, and the Resurrection starting in Sunday School. But nobody ever told me that these were only legends. Teachers and preachers talked as if it was no problem to believe because we've learned that "God can do anything," and is one smells a logical rat or serpent, "You just have to have faith."
Even those who see the creation stories and Revelation as allegories and metaphors may think that everything else is historically, if not literally, true. And it may be a bit of a shock (in Episcopalianspeak) when we come across the New Theology, kind of like finding out about Santa Claus. I'd like to say to the Progressives, "I hope you understand that a lot of us, in spite of years of education, are not going to get this. And a lot of us are going to give up trying."
Literature and real life are full of former Catholics and Fundamentalists who have lost their faith. They all deserve sympathy and the real ones need any help we can give. But what about the rest of us? Our fall isn't nearly as dramatic; now we can sleep or play golf or go to brunch on Sunday. It's not worth becoming a tortured antihero. Really? Holes in one, Sunday Morning on CBS, quiches and mimosas can't do much for a crisis of faith.
So how are we to deal with this? Can we trust ourselves to choose who to believe or to even come to our own conclusions?
My spirituality is at the corner of Whatever and You Tell Me and Then We'll Both Know. This works. Usually. Fortunately, The Episcopal Church is "a big tent" with room for everyone. But sometimes . . .
You needn't bother to afflict me if I'm too comfortable. I can afflict myself, thank you very much.