Big Changes Ahead!

As I’ve shared here before, this last year has been one of much change. And in a few weeks, one of the biggest changes of all will be happening in my life.

I have been accepted into the Master of Theological Studies program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, in Evanston, Illinois, beginning this fall semester. Obviously, this means I am leaving Phillips Theological Seminary here in Tulsa, where I have been enrolled for the last two years. A variety of factors have played into this decision, and I am excited to get up to Chicago and finish my Masters work so I can begin working on my Ph.D! I will miss Phillips and all the wonderful colleagues I had there, but I am also excited for a whole new cohort of peers and teachers at GETS!

At Garrett, I will be doing my thesis work in Constructive Theology, with specific areas of focus on suffering, death and dying, liberation theology, and the work of Moltmann. (Or at least that’s the plan for now.) I  look forward to sharing here how my thoughts are being shaped and growing, and some of my work as well. And of course, I look forward to your feedback on that work!

Leaving Tulsa is not an easy choice, especially because my kids will still be there. I am making this choice fully knowing I am going to have to be a long-distance parent for a while. It’s hard and really sad to be away from them, but I still intend to be an active presence in their lives, and to be in Tulsa as often as I can to be with them.

This also means I am leaving the wonderful community at All Souls Unitarian Church, where I have been employed for the last year and a half, and the campus ministry at the University of Tulsa where I also worked. I hate to leave both of these places, and all the wonderful people I have met there.

I look forward to sharing my Chicago/Garrett adventures here, especially all the exciting/interesting/challenging things I will come upon in my studies. Classes start September 5th, and I am relocating in just three short weeks. Thanks to you all for your support, and if you are in Chicago, give me a shout!

Doubting Our Faith Like Jesus and the Disciples

Doubt is viewed by many American Christians as one of the worst of all sins. To doubt a tenant of the faith, or something found in the Bible, or something one has been told growing up in church, is to reject God’s trust, or at least so it seems to the doubter.

This is a sad state of being. Doubt is one of the most beautiful – and most crucial! – elements of any vibrant faith. Doubt is the critical attitude taken towards any asserted system of belief or knowledge that works to refine and strengthen that system by cutting away the fat.

Yet, that is the problem for many Christians. Their faith is built on shaky moral and intellectual foundations, and the distrust of doubt is a subconscious acknowledgement of that fact. To know that doubting even one small tenant of faith would bring your entire worldview crashing down is to admit the weakness of that worldview; if it can’t stand up to scrutiny, it must be a faith “built on sand and shifting stones.”

The fear of doubt, for many Christians, is the fear that God will cast them out for doubting God’s truth. It is a fear preyed upon by those who tell them “The End is Near,” and those who want to use that fear to get in their wallets. What is Jesus came back just in that moment of doubt, and I miss my chance to be taken into heaven forever, because right at that moment I wasn’t so sure about something? Leaving aside the inherent problematic, and non-Biblical nature of such an apocalyptic worldview, the use of fear to coerce people into faith is surely one of the greatest sins one can engage in. “Fear not,” Jesus commanded. “There is no fear in love,” the author of 1 John writes. To cause others to fear, intentionally, is to go against God. To strike fear into the hearts of good people because they might have doubts is spiritual malpractice.

Especially because, doubt is Biblical!

For instance, in the very last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we find the resurrected Jesus issuing his Great Commission to the gathered disciples, exhorting them to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Yet, just one verse before this, we read that, upon seeing the Risen Christ, some disciples worshipped, “but some doubted.”

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Carvaggio

And that’s it. That’s all it says. It doesn’t say that that doubt was resolved. Jesus doesn’t preach a sermon, or rebuke them, or tell them they have to get it together before they can make disciples.

No, all it says is “they doubted” and then they are commissioned and then they head out. Think about that: even with their doubts, Jesus still sends them out to make disciples. He doesn’t see doubt as an impediment to their ability to carry the Gospel. In being followers of the Way, those who doubt are just as valid as those who don’t.

(But, really, who doesn’t feel doubt, right? Even those who worshipped probably held some doubts.)

But really, think about it this way: those who doubted were probably better evangelizers than those who claimed not to! Remember, doubt is a refining fire. Questioning strengthens one’s beliefs in the long term. They person who engages in self-criticism, questioning and self-doubt can more clearly and firmly answer the questions – and speak to the doubts – of others. The disciple who speaks honestly of their own doubts and questions can more fully relate to other doubters, whereas the person who claims to have all the answers and none of the doubts is often off-putting and demoralizing by comparison.

And really, what was Jesus doing other than doubting the religious assertions and dogmas of his times. Asking questions, challenging, doubting that the religious really did have all the answers to peoples questions. The Way of Jesus is a way of doubts and questions and skepticism.

Don’t be afraid of your doubts. Don’t reject questions. Don’t be afraid to reformulate and reject and rethink. Bring your faith through the fires of doubt, and know you are standing in the tradition of Christ. Know you are participating in the great creating and animating spirit we call God.

Week in Review: 7/22/17

This week’s blog posts:

The Heresy of Make America Great Again

The “Make America Great Again” song – and really, the whole MAGA concept – is about as anti-Christian as one can get. The fact that a major church in America can really build an entire brand around MAGA just shows the theological bankruptcy of much of American Christianity. Most Christians, it seems, regard no more than a few verses of the Bible – those having to do with “gnashing of teeth” and Jesus being the only choice and those allegedly about sexual orientation – and discard the rest, especially those places about justice and compassion and mercy and caring for the least, the lost, and the alien.

The Way exemplified by Jesus, as we read it in the Gospels, is anti-empire. Jesus consistently stood against the coercive use of power – economic, political, military – in pursuit of human achievement. Jesus understood that so often power is used by one tribe or group against another, and that as a result, people suffered.

Instead of wielding power and promoting an “us-against-them” ideology, Jesus showed that abundant life comes through love of neighbor, through spreading a big tent over all humanity, and welcoming everyone in, especially those on the margins of society. Jesus stood against empire, showing its moral bankruptcy through his use of the power of love for its own sake.

“Theology Needs Periodical Rejuvenation”

Theology needs periodical rejuvenation. Its greatest danger is not mutilation but senility. It is strong and vital when it expresses in large reasoning what youthful religion feels and thinks. When people have to be indoctrinated laboriously in order to understand theology at all, it become a dead burden.”

 

 

Blog Update: I’m Gonna Write About Trump! (And other things too)

So I wrote a few months back about the intense writers block I’ve been experiencing. You can read about all the details here.

I’m working on getting back in the writing space by forcing myself to write daily. Usually, that has meant handwriting whatever has been going on in my days in this big black unlined sketch book. I force myself almost daily to do this just to exercise the writing muscle. I figure most of it is crap, but 1 out of 100 times something good will come and that, over time, I’ll get back in the swing of things.

So I’m now trying to work blogging daily back into the mix too. This is a much heavier lift, but I want to do it. And I’ve realized something that I think will help.

The Theological Bankruptcy of American Evangelicals (as explained by Tony Perkins)

Perkins himself reinforces a point I make often about so much of American Christianity: it can be boiled down to exactly two facets: opposition to abortion, and opposition to LGBT equality. For the court evangelicals, and for the millions of people who follow them, this is the sum total of what being a Christian in America looks like in 2017. As long as you oppose abortion and oppose gay marriage, you can brag about sexually assaulting women, show a profound lack of knowledge about Scripture, and govern in a way that not just neglects the needy, but goes out of its way to actively do harm to them. Actual beliefs about God or Jesus are beside the point; hence the growing evangelical-Catholic alliance.

Members of the clergy lay hands and pray over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on September 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Public practice of Christianity doesn’t include any theological grounding, nor does it include traditional forms of Christian social action, such as missions, or care for the indigent. The only public form of Christian action that matters is woman shaming in front of Planned Parenthood, and protests at the Supreme Court anytime they hear a case concerning the LGBT community.

The proof is in the numbers: on Election Day 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, despite his clear indifference to faith, his hateful and disgusting comments about just about every group in America outside of straight, white men, and his overwhelming greed and hunger for power. This from the same group of Christians who had a collective aneurysm over the moral shortcomings of Bill Clinton just 20 short years ago.