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Finding Faith: A Search For What Makes Sense September 26, 2013

search

“Many people crave certainty.
They want dogma.
They want guaranteed answers.
This book is not for them.”
– Steve Chalke


This book may not be for “them,” but it is for pretty much everyone else.  So many people think they must abandon intellectual integrity in order to exercise faith.  Mr. McLaren shows, once again, that the two are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, good faith will make sense.
Brian, as a Christian, has a definite point of view, but he doesn’t discount other views, or disrespect those who differ.   He offers insights on various avenues of thought, and the logical conclusions (as he understands them) to which those avenues will lead.

Here is a book that is intentionally made so as not to be a cover-to-cover reading experience.  Brian sets up each chapter by giving a brief description of the material, and then telling us who would benefit from reading that particular chapter.  Very different.

Some of the questions addressed are, “Does it really matter what I believe?” “Can I believe in Atheism?” “Why are there so many religions?” “Aren’t all religions equally true?” “What is the relationship between faith and knowledge?” and, one of my favorites, “Don’t all paths lead to the same God?”

Early on we look at the strong difference between good faith and bad faith.  Here, McLaren states “I would rather have a wrong faith that is good than a right faith that is bad.”  So, yes, we are discussing again the importance of how you believe vs. what you believe.

In Chapter 3 (my second favorite in the book) there is an absolutely wonderful chart of “The Four Stages of Doubt.”  These can simultaneously be refereed to as “The Four Stages of Faith.”  Sadly, people often get stuck in an early stage, and never move forward.  The refusal to move forward gives rise to dangerous fundamentalism.  This includes not only Christian fundamentalism, but also that of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists, et al.  (Brian gives reasons to consider that believing there is no God is, itself, a “faith” position.)

Chapter six looks at polytheism, pantheism, dualism, good monotheism, bad monotheism, and (briefly) panentheism. We also examine the role of creation in revealing God, and how that relates to an “art gallery” experience.
In the seventh chapter, Brian “addresses a number of common objections or frustrations that people have with monotheism, regarding God’s personality, gender, subtlety, and the like.”  Is God personal or impersonal?  Relational or non-relational?  Male or female (Beyond semantics / Maternal imagery)? There’s a nice bit that addresses the fallacy of a question like “Don’t you think the Creator of the Universe has bigger fish to fry than answering the prayers of children and old women?”

Chapter 8 (my personal favorite) is “Don’t All Paths Lead to the Same God?”  I would actually suggest beginning with this chapter.  Brian has clearly (as have I) made belief in Christ his faith-choice.  But he does so, as I hope I also do, with true respect for those of other faith traditions.  
No religion
owns God or has a corner on the “truth market.”  There is a simple, yet great graphic in this chapter that addresses the subject of truth.

We’ve all heard it said “It doesn’t really matter what you believe.”
The thing is, what we believe can have world-altering consequences. What we believe does matter.
If you believe your God tells you it’s OK to fly planes into towers full of people, that matters.  If you believe your God tells you it’s OK to own people because of their skin color (or any other reason), that matters.  If you believe your God tells you it’s OK to withhold rights from a group of people because they don’t love who you think they should love, that matters. If, on a positive note, you believe your God tells you to love and care for others, be respectful, and take care of the planet, well, that also matters.
We’re told that , concerning the beliefs we consider, “We need open windows, but good screens.”
We’re given 4 guiding principles, and four screening principles. These 8 principles are more than worth the book price. This chapter should be required reading for… well, for everyone.  Really, the simple approach of this section, taken seriously, would go a l-o-n-g way in creating a more peaceful world.

There are, I think, some statements and sections that could initially appear as somewhat arrogant.  But if you give Brian the benefit of the doubt in those moments, there’s a clear overall picture of a man who holds his beliefs and strong convictions with sincere humility.  It’s like Rob Bell said, “You can hold something with so much conviction that you’d die for that belief, and yet, in the exact same moment say, ‘I could be wrong.'”

So, click one of the links, buy the book, pick a chapter, and dig in.
This book really is a buffet.  You can nibble, fully dine, or pig-out.
Be sure to allow time to digest, and get the full benefit of the nutrients.
Of course, you can always go back for more.

– df

Buy the book: Click Here.

[NOTE:  This is one of a pair of books.  The second (which I’ve not yet read) is “Finding Faith: The Search For What Is Real.”]

QUOTES:

* We are on a level playing field; none of us lives with absolute, unassailable certainty about anything; we all live by faith.

* The finding of faith and the growing of faith… ironically can feel like losing faith.

* [We see] Jesus’ consistent refusal to do things that would force people into believing in him.  Instead, he always allowed room for doubt and presented people with the opportunity to explore their questions.

* If you are born in India, you are probably going to “know” Hinduism is the true religion; if in America or Guatemala, it will probably be Christianity; if in an intellectual family in France, agnosticism or atheism; if in Iran, Islam; if in Israel, Judaism.  There are exceptions, but it appears clear that the majority of people choose their beliefs based on social acceptance, peer pressure, and other factors rather than on a sober independent investigation of the objective evidence.

Buy the book: Click Here.

* If a professed belief is not sufficient to promote action, then it would better be called an opinion or an idea or concept.

* As someone who deeply respects the Bible, I think we do it a disservice by implying that it can do something that no book can do.

* Isn’t conceit – the sense of certainty that I am already so right and superior that I don’t need to learn or listen –  the greatest possible barrier to faith?

* There are strong reasons for making a faith commitment to the atheist position.

* Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. [Thomas Jefferson]

* Monotheism has apparent downsides too… crusades, holy wars, jihads, division, controversy, bigotry, confusion, contradiction, overwhelming complexity.

* We aren’t proving anything here; we are simply suggesting that if human beings have a seemingly incurable, innate, cor hunger and thirst for spiritual meaning, that that is at least evidence – though certainly not proof – that there may be a reality corresponding to the desire.

* It is wise not the close the door too fast on theism.


Buy the book: Click Here.

—————-


the four stages

For a better understanding of the chart, and an overall great read,
buy “Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense.” Click HERE.

 

The Sacredness Of Questioning Everything May 30, 2013

sacred cover

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
– David Dark


         “This book is for everyone who quietly suspects that God is
         a whole lot bigger than the church would have us believe.”
         – Jana Riess


This is a powerful read.  Just powerful.
I’m often challenged.  I’m often stretched.  This book did both, but it did something else as well.  It “convicted” me.  I don’t much care for that word in the religious sense, but I can’t think of a better way to put it.  It made me more deeply consider the ramifications of some of my actions and attitudes.  That’s pretty much always a good thing.

So, yes, this is a book about questions.  It’s a book of questions.  Mostly, it’s a book about the very act of questioning.  We know that, according to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus very frequently answered a question with a question.  He could have always given simple, straight-forward answers, but he knew that “words in tablets of stone” (the preferred method of Pharisees) was not the way to go.  He knew the question itself, was sacred.

David Dark takes us on a wonderful journey as we sacredly question things that many would consider unquestionable.

In chapter one, we dive right into the thick of it with “Questioning God.”
We start with a fictional story of “a tiny town with a tight-knit community,” as we’re introduced to a patriarch, of sorts, named “Uncle Ben.”  Everyone talks about how wonderful Uncle Ben is, but beyond their words, something is definitely off-kilter.
Of course, what we’re really questioning in this chapter is our perception of God, and how that affects everything in our lives.  We see that “any God who is nervous, defensive, or angry in the face of questions is a false god.”  “We mus resist, in word and deed, this God (Nobodaddy) who is no God at all.”

From questioning God, we move to questioning religion.  We gain information from a variety of sources, including REM, C.S. Lewis, Michael Scott, and the children of South Park.  Chapter two helps us understand that “when religion won’t tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion and all it can do is threaten excommunication, violence, and hellfire, it has an unfortunate habit of producing some of the most hateful people to ever walk the earth.”

Chapter three questions our offendedness.
Thomas Aquinas, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Stephen Colbert are some of the voices adding to this section.
I remember “back in the day” as they say, how we would frequently use verses from I Corinthians 8, and Romans 14 “against” each other. “You shouldn’t do that, because that offends me!”  Talk about a misuse of scripture.  Of course, we’d give a passing glance to the passages telling us NOT to be easily offended.  But the focus was on controlling the behavior of others.  “If you’re more opposed, for instance, to what we take to be ‘bad language’ and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of life-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack.  We have yet to understand the nature of real perversion.”

Questioning our passions in chapter 4, there’s talk of wasting our emotions, and how our affections can become “merely theoretical.”  We look at what real perversion is, and how most of us engage in it.  There’s a nice section on “Antichrist Television Blues,” that tackles “Christian” TV, and “the bad news that sells itself as the good news of escaping the weakness of the failure of your fellow humans by believing the right things and grabbing your copy of hell insurance.”  And we get some advise on how to “discern the difference between the voice in my head and the voice of God.”

Chico Marx helps kick off “Questioning Media” in chapter 5.  The author speaks of “manufactured realities,” and how, “fundamentally, you control the media.”  Very interesting.

The sixth chapter has up questioning language.  “Words fail to do justice to the irreducible complexity of whatever it is we think we’re talking about.”  “There’s nothing that you can say that will mean the same thing once it’s repeated.”

Close on the heals of Questioning Language, is Questioning Interpretations.  “I want to break through the mind-forged manacles that render us incapable of seeing truthfully for fear we might let in the wrong information.”  If someone can’t admit that everything(?) they see, read, hear, etc. is automatically interpreted by them, there’s not much chance of having a real, fruitful conversation.  “Jesus often refused what was in his time the reigning interpretation of scripture.”

Chapter 8: Questioning History.  I’m amazed at how much our history was “sanitized” and “Americanized” when I went to school.  I’ve heard it said that history is written by the winners.  That, itself, helps explain much of the perspective in the Old Testament.  In this chapter we read about, among other things, “Crimes against humanity undertaken in the name of Christ and Manifest Destiny.”  It truly is overwhelming “to try to want to know what I don’t want to know,” rather than being “blissfully ignorant.”  This, of course, isn’t just true of Christians.  It’s true of the “Islamic, Buddhist, Native American, African or Confucian.”

As we, in chapter 9, question governments we discuss faith, violence, civil disobedience, infinite justice, self-justification, war, bloodshed, illegals, enemy combatants, and power structures.  Jesus, Leonard Cohen, Ziggy Marley, Ghandhi, Tolstoy, MLK, and U2 help us open our eyes to the realities of our “allegiance.”  I really like the quote, “Iraqi Christians… publicly pray that American Christians might consider more deeply their understanding of the body of Christ.”

Finally, we question the future.  We look at patriotism, Shakespeare, “No Country for Old Men,” Bono, and (obligatorily) the Biblical book of Revelation.
We come full-circle and again consider the one referred to early in the book as “Nobodaddy.”  “The false god who authorized and underwrites environmental devastation, antipersonnel weapons, and cutthroat economies.

“The Sacredness of Questioning Everything” is packed solid, cover to cover, with valid and, dare I say, vital information.  There’s a lot to think about here.  Not in a scratch-your-head, stare-into-space, let me figure this out kind of way that a book by, oh… say Peter Rollins has.  (A comparison like that is really an “apples to oranges” kind of thing anyway.)  David Dark’s work here is more of a “stare-into-your-own-heart” thing.  This book will help put you on a track deep into your own soul.
All aboard!

– df

Buy The Book. Click HERE.

Quotes:

– People sometimes try to make the Bible seem like a book full of easy answers, but it isn’t.  It’s a bunch of voices from the past that ask us a lot of questions.

– What the pundits call wishy-washiness, the Bible calls repentance.

– We’re mad to think we’ve got hold of truth like nobody else or that we want it more or that our relationship to the Almighty trumps everyone else’s.

– Proclaiming the kingdom of God does not include shouting down anyone who finds your proclamation unconvincing.

Buy The Book. Click HERE.

– When we think of a person primarily as a problem… we’re reducing them to the tiny sphere of our stunted attention span.  There’s always more to a person than we know.”

– Of absolute truth, none of us are knowers.  And we often aren’t especially good with the truth we do know.

– God is not made angry and insecure by an archaeological dig, a scientific discovery, an ancient manuscript, or a good film about homosexual cowboys.

– To label entire populations — or even sections of the globe — as “enemy” is bad theology, and no government that does so can claim to be operating in any mindful way “under” God.

– Your eschatology is what you’re waiting for and where you’re headed or think you’re headed. It cuts to the heart of politics, your religion, your sense of what matters.

– The word of the living God is never less than an ethical summons, a call to take care, to gather up and strengthen the life that remains, to reorder, redeem and remember.

Buy The Book. Click HERE.



 

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? November 16, 2012

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
– Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World –

Brian D. McLaren


This is a very important and timely book.  Many are so tired of how Christianity has been co-opted, they’ve opted out of Christianity all together.
Others have  “watered down” their identity to the point of making it meaningless.   Brian believes we do not have to choose between a “Strong, hostile” Christianity and a “Weak, benign” Christianity.
There is a third way, he proposes, of a “Strong, benevolent” Christian identity;  one that can love, respect, and walk along side those of other faiths without needing to convert them, or be converted by them.  
He proposes that we can find common ground, since no one religion has a monopoly on God.  And we better understand the “kingdom of God,” as the commonwealth of God.”

The suggestions written here are not all theory or conjecture.  Brian has put this walking-with-the-other into practice.


Early on we look at “Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome (CRIS).”  This is where we know “there is something good and real in [our] faith,” and yet we can no longer abide the “hostility toward the cherished religions of [our] non-Christian neighbors.”  This, in part, is what caused Anne Rice to proclaim “In the name of Christ…I quit Christianity.”
We look in detail at the “Us – Them” mentality that has caused such horrors throughout history.  We see that the histories that are told, who tells them, and where they start the story, shapes our worldview.  We look at the historical realities of Christopher Columbus to illustrate the point.  Of course, in this type of discussion, there’s also no way around talking about the almost unimaginable influence of Emperor Constantine on Christianity, from which we’ve still not escaped.

In another section, an amazing section,  we imagine new ways to interpret and practice the beloved doctrines of Christianity; ways that are, in fact, more in line with the life and teachings of Jesus.
The chapter in the section on baptism was awe-inspiring.  It makes me want to get baptized again, with this new, fuller, and better understanding.

The chapters of the next section cover our liturgical practices.  We see how our liturgies can camouflage injustice, usually without our even being conscience of it.  But we also discover how we can participate in holy celebrations in ways that are loving and inclusive without giving up our own identity and convictions.
McLaren gives many good suggestions for transforming Lent, Easter, Christmas, and other Christian traditions.
And, of immense importance, we are challenged to “read and teach the Bible responsibly and ethically, following the strong and benevolent examples of Paul and Jesus.
We will pick all passages that advocate hostility, vengeance, exclusion, elitism, and superiority to remind us of where we would be if not for Christ.
And we will choose all passages that advocate reconciliation, empathy, inclusion, solidarity, and equality to remind us of where we are going and who we are called to be in Christ.”

“The Missional Challenge” portion looks at what “missions” has meant, versus the actual missions to which we are called. There is a huge, grave difference between trying to convert others to your religion, and doing the hard work of love, healing, and justice that Jesus actually taught.

Let me say, although this book is primarily directed to Christians, the principles apply to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and, well pretty much everybody.  (One of the “recommendations” listed is from a Rabbi.)

I know many seem to think that a benevolent approach is all about compromising beliefs, being wishy-washy, etc. etc.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,”
“All roads lead to God,” and so on.
I must admit, at one time I also thought that way.  Hey, that’s what I was taught.   This new book from Brian McLaren goes a long way toward showing that nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s like Papa said in The Shack:  “Most roads don’t lead anywhere, [but] I will travel any road to find you.”

Not everyone is comfortable with lack-of-conflict.  As Brian states, “There are few actions better guaranteed to engender conflict than proposing love and understanding for those identified as outsiders and enemies.”
But for those willing to take the chance, they will find a better Christian identity.  A truer Christian identity.  One rooted in Christ-likeness, expressing “Christ-like character, Christ-like vision, and Christ-like virtues and values,” treating others with “understanding, respect, human-kindness, [and] benevolence.”


Buy the book.  Click HERE.

Quotes:

– The stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view.

– I have no doubt that Jesus would actually practice the neighborliness he preached rather than follow our example of religious supremacy, hostility, fear, isolation, misinformation, exclusion, or demonization.

– Jesus himself spoke pithily and often about religious absurdity.  He surely elicited some laughs when he portrayed religious leaders as straining at gnats and swallowing camels, whitewashing tombs, scrubbing only the outside of a filthy bowl, and so on.  His whole ministry was a kind of guerrilla theatre.

– God is not a doctrine to be mastered but a mystery to be mastered by.

– We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– [A] gracious space of solidarity…is what Jesus called “The kingdom of God.”

– There is nothing that hurts any religion today more than it’s own establishment.

– The tensions between our conflicted religions arise not from out differences, but from one thing we all hold in common: an oppositional religious identity that derives strength from hostility.

– [We must] go through a profound rethinking of our history.

– A distorted doctrine of chosen-ness tells many sincere but misguided Christian Zionists that the Jews have been chosen by God to own certain land without concern for the well-being of their non-Jewish neighbors.  Sadly, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, for all their differences, have imitated each other again and again in misunderstanding and misapplying this doctrine of chosen-ness.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– Jesus has often been presented as a weapon and a threat, more wolf of God than lamb of God, filled more with the spirit of a hawk than a dove, more avenger of heretics than friend of sinners.

– [We must be] willing to challenge violent and exclusive conceptions of God in light of the nonviolent and inclusive way of Christ.

– When this benevolent logos comes, full of grace and truth, we do not welcome him.  We reject him.  We kill him, in the name of our preferred and familiar logos of hostility and violence.

– We can understand human religions — all human religions, including our own — as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation.

– [In the story we call “The Prodigal Son,”] The lost son is the older son.  He’s the one who doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or what he’s doing.  He’s the only outsider – – placed there by his own refusal to love.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

– A baptism of repentance means a radical, far-reaching rethinking of everything.

– To be truly “in Christ” does not mean embracing “yet another identity,” but rather “lay(ing) down the various identities that would otherwise define us.” [McLaren with Peter Rollins]

– For Jesus, the rich man’s appathy about the poor man’s poverty was a damnable offense.

– Interpretation will always to some degree manifest the character of the interpreter.

Liberation is the best one-word synonym for salvation.

– Charity will also lead to advocacy — speaking and working on behalf of the voiceless and powerless, using the tools of local, national, and global citizenship to work for the common good.

Buy the book.  Click HERE.

 

A Quote From C.S. Lewis January 2, 2010

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass.” — C.S. Lewis

That sounds rather unorthodox from the teaching of most churches today, but I never hear anyone criticize Lewis as a heretic, or any other cynical label.

People today would also have problems with Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth for what they say on religionless Christianity and bibliolatry (the Bible as idolatry). If people have problems with your theology, there’s a good chance you’re in Divine company.

(Passed on from Nathan Mahlum)

 

 
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