Sunday, January 27, 2013

Faith and Certitude

I went to a reading last night, by Kelly Barth, of her hilarious–tragic–inspiring–thought-provoking memoir, My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus (published by Arktoi press — see my previous review of the book here). As much as I enjoyed reading the book initially, it became more vividly real as I listened to the author read her own words in the sanctuary of a church that had been one of her previous faith communities. At times, it was like being a welcome guest at a family reunion as she laughed with audience members who had shared many of the memories of the birth of this congregation of which they were all an integral part. As she neared the end of the reading, she commented that the book had been a ten-year project, that she had morphed spiritually throughout its writing, with a huge spiritual morph just as she completed the book. But (and I hope I capture the essence of what she said even though I can't quote her precisely) the Christian faith in which she was raised is still deeply rooted in her marrow—she is still "genetically" Christian, even though her current faith practice has evolved into more of a contemporary cosmology.

Earlier this week I spent fifteen wonderful minutes listening to Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Kansas City's Methodist Church of the Resurrection, give the sermon at the Inaugural Prayer Service (see it for yourself here). As he reflected on the Inaugural theme—Faith in America's Future—he summarized that "It is this faith that calls and compels us to humility, and compassion and concern for the nobodies. It is this faith that helps us to discover the kinds of visions that are worthy of our great nation and worthy of the sacrifices we can make. It is this faith that sustains us when we feel like giving up."

So, Cindy, this is all well and good, but what is your point exactly in sharing these two experiences? I do have one. Really.

In my previous post I raised some pretty pointed and serious questions by my dear friend, Robert. We have been having dialogues like this since we were in fifth grade, and it is one of the great gifts of my life that we continue to be dear friends and continue to challenge one another to think "deep thoughts." I still don't have answers for him, but I am so very glad that he has challenged me to continue to question "why."

Listening to both Adam and Kelly this week have at least sparked some "reasons"—if not clear cut answers—to some of those questions.

As Kelly pointed out, there is so much about the cosmos that we just don't know. That comforts me. People who combine faith and certitude frighten me. There are many things of which I cannot be certain, but my faith is so deeply intertwined in my DNA, that it does continue to sustain me, even if I can't ever explain why.

Adam retold the story of Martin Luther King in a moment of great despair, ready to give up and feeling wholly unable to continue on. Then King described "experiencing the presence of the Divine," and he found the strength to carry on. I have had similar moments in my own life—weeping in a dark attic apartment in the weeks and months after my youngest sister died, wondering why God sent angels to people in the Bible to comfort them in their despair, while I was left to wallow alone in my grief and depression. Then, like "knocking a hole in the darkness" the phone would ring and an old friend would say, "I just wanted to call and see how you were doing."  

There are many things I don't know. Many questions I can't answer. Many circumstances I can't explain. But I have experienced the presence of something Divine—and continue to—and hear the voice of something much greater than myself in the voice of others. Rejection is just not an option for me. And yes, the Church is full of human people who often get it wrong—really wrong and cause a lot of pain and scars. But with the faith that is an inherent part of me, I am compelled to do what I am able to "knock holes in the darkness" where I may, to wrestle, alongside others, who are brave enough to ask the tough questions, and to show compassion for the nobodies—whoever they might be. 

God help me. 
But if I ever become one of those certain, unquestioning Christians, 
God help me more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

God & Gays: Questions, Questions

One of my oldest and closest friends and I have an ongoing dialogue about God, the gay community, and we invariably find ourselves with far more questions than answers.  To be fair, my primo tends to raise most of the questions, while I blog about trying to find the answers :-) 

So for today, this historic Martin Luther King Day which also marks the 2nd inauguration of our first black President who is the first President to ever come close to acknowledging in an important public forum that gays might deserve the same rights as white men, I'm just going to post the questions and comments from my friend that raise more questions.  They deserve some time and thought.

"I'll remind you that I believe that man created god in his own image.  The men who created our brand of god were highly homophobic, so naturally they created the necessary god and sin to support their way of thinking. So, why do you want to believe in that god and want to form part of his church? This god that was invented by homophobic men has rejected you for over 5000 years."

"The same god whom LGBT Christians tout as being a god of love and compassion is the same god who sits around twiddling his thumbs while his congregation apparently misrepresents his intentions.  In the meantime, people like ****** died a tortured, agonizing death in solitude because their parents cannot find  the love and compassion to share his suffering with their friends."

". . . I wish every LGBT who is out now could have lived in any major city in the USA in the mid to late 80's as those of us who were out then did, watching all of our friends die (of AIDS) in a world of no support.  The Church had a unique moment in history to put its love and compassion into practice and chose not to.  F*** them and the god they believe in - I'll create my own god."

"I watched so many men die alone in hospital corridors.  I held hands with men who were too weak to even tell me what their names were - like it really mattered moments before death.  When someone clutches you and you hear the death rattle in their throat and they expire, well, you just have to wonder where God was in all of that."

"But where is God in all this?  His followers are human and therefore imperfect.  God, however, is God and supposedly perfect.  What perfect parent sits around for thousands of years watching his people become more and more oblivious to his message?  A parent seeing a child about to harm himself does something to prevent it at some point.  Oh, but wait, thankfully, we have a story in Genesis to explain all that - right. Tree of Knowledge, free will, okay, check, got it.  All clear now."

Lots of folks out there with these questions, and I don't think pat answers and "pretty phrases" are going cut it.  Time for some serious thinking.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

God Love Wendell Berry - Intolerance and/OR Compassion

God love Wendell Berry and other heterosexuals who don't see gay marriage as a threat or an abomination - or, for that matter, as a "right" to be granted.  In a recent article put out by abpnews, Berry asserts that liberals and conservatives have invented "a politics of sexuality" that establishes marriage as a "right" to be granted or withheld by whichever side prevails.  He said both viewpoints contravene principles of democracy that rights are self-evident and inalienable and not determined and granted or withheld by the government.

I shared another article on Facebook from the Huffington Post the other day and found myself in an interesting dialogue/commentary with two former students - one on the far left, and one on the far right of the discussion. The HP article suggested that it is time for conservative Christians to "evolve" on the subject of LGBT equality.  My far right friend patently disagreed, quoting scripture and verse to support his stance. I pointed out that God is love, and Jesus was compassionate to the point of choosing not to observe Biblical and Pharasaic law and heal folks (usually presumed to be in need of healing because of some "sin") on the Sabbath (a law deemed punishable by death). Further "discussion" ensued, my far left friend adding his two cents in support of my assertions, with neither side giving much ground to the other - but kindly and civilly, of course.

And then, I politely stopped "discussing." There comes a point where one realizes there is no common ground to be had, and the dialogue becomes a volleying of monologues.  I have to admit I was saddened to have to accept that my former student was "compassionately" pointing out that he was intolerant of my "sin."

No matter how intolerant of me or the truth of Jesus our society becomes . . . I won't "evolve" into a mentality that equates sin with truth.  But that doesn't mean I am not compassionate, either.  Jesus dined with prostitutes and thieves, yet he was intolerant of sin.  I'm not a hate monger or bigot because I'm intolerant of the LGBT lifestyle: I just don't believe it is right by God's standard expressed in the Bible. Compassion does not mean tolerance of sin. . . .  Therefore, followers of Jesus cannot simply "evolve" to accept as truth a concept that would betray their faith.

My sadness came from wondering what he really knows about the "LGBT lifestyle" - and whether, as a part of his "compassion," he even wants to understand it.  Nor do I, as a follower of Jesus, find my "lifestyle" a betrayal of my faith.  My "lifestyle" is pretty normal and even boring by most people's standards - heterosexuals included.  In fact, the only thing that distinguishes my life from my heterosexual counterparts is who I choose to sleep with.  And, like most of my middle aged, straight friends, there is generally a lot more sleeping than "sinning" occurring. I'm frankly not sure that my "lifestyle" is worthy of the time and energy involved in being "intolerant."

I find myself saying this often, so forgive the broken record if you've heard this before, but . . . When homosexuals become a face and a family, rather than an abstraction and an arbitrary group, I think we all begin to wrestle with our understanding of how Jesus would interact with, and love, this person. We all have to come to a decision about whether the Bible should be interpreted in light of the cultural context, or if they are God's overarching literal intent for all eternity.

As my far left friend and I continued our discussion privately, he pointed out that Wendell Berry perhaps said it best in the following:

"Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred," Berry said.  "Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness - as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves."

May we all, myself included, avoid a betrayal of our faith through categorical condemnation.