Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why I call myself Post-Conservative

This is hard post for me to write, because I can't do it justice without writing pages and pages. I've already written and then deleted somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 words trying to get this thing right. The reason wording is so important in this case is that I don't want to misrepresent my younger self as being too legalistic and unloving. Likewise, I don't want to represent my current self as if I have either a.) arrived (I haven't), or b.) have completely rejected all evangelical ideals (I haven't). I guess I'll just take a stab at it and sort it all out later.

The short version of my younger Christian story is that while I wanted to be as loving and compassionate as the Christ I read about in the gospels, I just wasn't. Being raised in a conservative and reformed tradition, I believed in the classical definitions of inerrency of scripture, of the incarnation, of the immutable nature of God, of salvation only through Christ, of utter corruption of man. I believed that loving God meant you did this certain thing and didn't do that certain thing. When I encountered non-christians or "liberal" christians, I didn't find myself hating them for disagreeing with me, but rather I found myself secretly looking forward to the punishment they would recieve for being such blasphemers.

But, as I mentioned before, I was conflicted about this. I wanted to feel love and not the longing for revenge, but I just didn't. And with this realization, my real Christian journey began.

The ups and downs of the journey I'll skip for now, but one day not too long ago I was talking to a non-christian about life, death, and spirituality. We disagreed strongly, but when we walked away from each other, I mourned for him. Instead of being indifferent as to his direction in life, I felt the pangs of despair like Christ did when he looked down over Jerusalem and said,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matt 23:37)

Though upon reflection I had felt this way many times before, it wasn't until this particular time when I realized my faith had created a change in me that was so Christlike that his very words of mourning were my words. And truth be know, at that point in time, when the mourning was the freshest, I would have paid any price to have that non-christian understand the real point of life, death, and spirituality - I would have even given my life.

After this realization, as I looked back on my Christian journey it occurred to me that I couldn't have experienced this Christlike change without partially abandoning my hyperconserative tradition. Instead, as I asked hard, hard, questions about my faith, about the bible, about theology, and about God, I realized I had to get far off the beaten path to find answers that satisfy. This does NOT mean answers that foward some personal agenda or deep seated need to feel good about myself. It means answers that truly satisfy - answers that are living water to my soul, that cause me to live a life of love because I'm full of love that springs from within; answers that cause me to become more Christlike without even knowing it.

All this would take thousands of words to unpack, but fundamentally this journey through hard questions and hard times caused me to become more centered in the Spirit. My evangelical heritage is so burdened by the fear of the unknown that it replaced the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. But the fact of the matter is that scripture testifies about Christ (John 5:39-40), who gave us a Spirit to teach us all things (John 14:26). When I finally moved my Bible over six inches, and gave more room for the Spirit, I finally found the narrow way. It is a way that's full of ambiguity and uncertainty and hard questions. It's a way that tears you down, and makes you humble and contrite. It's a way that makes you angry and want to kick over tables when the Church gets it wrong, but also makes you compassionate and loving when the downtrodden are in need. It's a way of messiness and tension, but also a way of hope and life.

When conservatives approach real life in the Spirit, it freaks them out. They think that as Christians they should have the answers about life, but the Spirit teaches them that life is messy and ambiguous. They think that life in the Spirit leads to anarchy and heresy, so they cling to the Bible as if it is a book has any power to save on its own. But the Spirit teaches otherwise - that individuals work out their salvation not through the Roman road, but through fear and trembling. So, conservatives insulate themselves, they cling to theological categories that are no longer relevant, and they worry their lives away about how to protect themselves from Hollywood, or political agendas, or liberal theologians.

It is because of this life in the Spirit that I call myself post-conservative. Because I would rather have a conversation about full life with the dirtiest politician in America, or the most salatious porn star, or the most relativistic philosopher than spend time in a church with its gleaming walls and squeeky clean people. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather risk being a heretic by throwing out all our old theology and making new stuff than let more of my generation get caught in the mire of despair. I call myself post-conservative because I would rather get my hands dirty helping the poor than argue with anyone over whether or not scripture is inerrant. I call myself post-conservative because I believe what the Spirit has revealed is that real life is found outside the bounds of Church and the Bible, and is found instead as we look into the face of the suffering in love, and see not the face of a man or woman, but the face of Christ.

So, as my friend Jessica blogs about what authentic biblical community looks like, I find myself formulating it more as I live in the Spirit, and not as much as I read my Bible, and even less as I look at my tradition. Maybe the key for us evangelicals to create authentic biblical community is, ironically, to move the Bible over six inches, and let in a little more of the Spirit.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Work is work

For the entire population of 4 people who read my blog, I should apologize for not blogging lately. As the title of this post suggests, I've been working.

About once a year at work something urgent comes up. And, like a jungle cat, I spring into action, designing stuff, and eating a lot of potatoe chips. I've spent many an hour the past week and a half or so staring at my computer screen. I'm not really doing anything, I'm just staring at the screen until the wee hours of the morning. I figure that will look good to the higher-ups. Too bad I don't get paid for overtime.

Despite all my sarcasm, I really like what I do. Plus, I actually use calculus in my job, which simultaneously makes me feel cool and look like a dork. I don't think you really ever know that feeling until you solve an incredible Taylor Series on a dry erase board while standing in the hall of a Dilbert-esque cube world. Dang, I rock! (And suck!)

Speaking of how people look and feel, I got a chuckle out of my MD friend's last blog, which can be found here. I especially liked the way she contrasted "TV" attendings and "real-life" attendings. It made me think of the engineering world. Except the difference between the engineering world and TV world is the opposite. For instance, here is the TV version of an engineer:
Reality Engineer:

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey, that's not an engineer, that's Bono, and he seems to be in some sort of pain." To which I will respond, "You're right, but I can't find a picture of myself at work." Make of that what you will.

On another note, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of blogging, and terrorizing the blog of others with my comments. See you around.

(Let me know if I get TOO obnoxious...)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Evil and the problem of good.

Lately, I've been thinking and reading a lot about the classic question of God and the problem of evil. In essence, the question goes, "How can a good God allow evil and suffering to exist?" Attempts to answer this question result in what is called a 'theodicy'. (That's my seminary training paying off, right there!)

There are lost of answers spanning the centuries, falling into categories such as solution by universal order, solution by autonomous freedom, solution by dialectical reasoning, and on and on. I find them all to be unsatisfying, however, because they all just don't seem develop a robust enough way of justifying God in the face of evil. As a result, my mind has been working overtime to bend around this issue and come up with better way of thinking about it.

As I've been mulling it over, it occurs to me that my default state is selfish. My default state is to eat the last donut, or zip through the yellow light even though I know it is going to turn red before I get through. My default state is to despise people who hurt me, punish people who wrong me. My default state is to be lazy and just do whatever the heck I want. And if that bothers you, well, that's just your problem.

Here is where evolution can help us. While I have no intent to debate evolution on my blog (and truthfully, I don't care about it one way or the other), it seems to get us out of a jam in this case. In evolution, there is no good or evil, just, as Richard Dawkins puts it, "blind, pitiless indifference." So, when a cat eats a mouse, it's not that the cat is evil, it's just being a cat; it's indifferent to the suffering of the mouse. Or, when a new alpha male gorilla takes over a harem and kills all of the nursing offspring of the previous alpha male, it's not that the gorilla is evil, it's just being a gorilla; it's indifferent to the suffering of the baby and mother gorillas. Ultimately, evolution says that nature is selfish and indifferent. Just like my default mode.

If we follow my proposal here, it seems that humans should be selfish, pitiless, and indifferent. Our motto should be "if it feels good, do it." We shouldn't feel bad when we cut people off in traffic or people we aren't related to die of cancer. That's not our problem because it doesn't affect us. Here's the kicker, though. Humans, for the most part, are NOT that way. Humans, for the most part, break from the cycle of selfishness and pitiless indifference. In this way, it isn't evil that's a problem, because evil is easily explained as inherited indifference; instead, the problem is why good keeps breaking in on our selfishness. How can we explain good?

For those who believe, God is the explanation for good. Despite our selfish attitutes and tendancies, the goodness of God keeps breaking into our lives and causing us to care, to take pity, to not turn a blind eye, but look and listen and change in response to the suffering of others. When God breaks in, the selfish gene no longer holds the sway it logically should, but instead our capacity to love is invoked. And if we follow "God with us" all the way to the cross, we find that the good life happens when so many of our selfish tendancies get turned on their head. Good breaks in, it interrupts our pitiless indifference, it convicts us to care by way of the pangs of guilt that defy selfish logic.

For me, this is the way God seduces me. He whispers the good that could be in my ear when I want to be selfish, or I want to ignore the pain of others. He causes me to have a bold vision of the future in which people put aside selfish behaviors of petty things like singleness vs couplehood, or rich vs poor, or evolution vs creation and instead engage each other as equal partners in pursuit of a common vision of good. Wouldn't such a future essentially be the kingdom of God, in which people love each other, take care of each other, and get their needs fulfilled not because they selfishly take what they need, but because others see their need and want to fulfill that need in love, by freely giving of themselves. In such a place, God's will would constantly be done not by decree, but by desire.

Call me crazy, or idealistic, or naive, or even selfish, but if the problem of good can make a future like that, then I want to be seduced.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dreamland: OTC

I don't know about most of you, but I have really intense, bizzare dreams. I dream about stuff like cosmology and God. I sometimes dream about getting stuck in a video game. I dreamt once about piloting the space shuttle and having to do an emergency landing on one of the main streets in my home town. Strange stuff.

I also dream about the people I care about that I've lost contact with. I dream about friends from college, about people who have broken my heart, about people from high school that I haven't seen in years. Once, I had a dream about a girl from high school that was so real, so tangible that I can still feel the texture of her hair as I hugged her goodbye, and the feel of the sand beneath my feet as I walked away. I wasn't quite the same for several days after that dream. I felt like I was in mourning for a person I hadn't seen, talked to, or thought about for at least 10 years.

Many of my dreams are that way - so real, tangible, and visceral that they affect me in my waking life. Occasionally, they make me happy, but most of the time they make me sad, and keep me from sleeping for weeks on end.

It gets worse when I take drugs, though, even over the counter stuff. Being that it is spring, and being that I get allergies, I end up taking stuff like Claritin or Suphedrine or whatever in order to be functional. They don't come without side effects, though, and lately, my dreams have been doozies.

I had one the other night about a friend that recently got married. She told me that her husband had been working a lot of overtime, and she decided he was cheating on her, so she had an affair to get back at him. Turns out, he wasn't cheating, but now they're getting a divorce. Now, this might not seem like something to ruin your week, but for me, dreams like this are earth shattering. I knew the dream wasn't true, but I was disturbed for many sleepless nights afterwards, talking through with God this irrational feeling about my dream.

A couple of nights later I had a dream that a little dog bit my face and wouldn't let go. So, I went about my daily tasks with a dog on my face. When the dog finally let go, he hadn't punctured the skin, but had left teeth marks all up and down my face. This one didn't really keep me up at night.

The larger problem with dreams is that they are my addiction. I don't take any drugs to make them happen more often (I rarely take any drugs at all), but they are the thing I simultaneously love and hate. When I can finally go to sleep at night, I long for one to come. Sometimes it takes months. But after I've had one, I'm disturbed in my spirit, lost in thought for days trying to think through my dream. After many sleepless nights, I'm exhausted, and I finally enjoy the dreamless sleep of the, uh, dreamless. (What has good, dreamless, sleep? I have no idea. Idiots, maybe?)

So, in my existential weirdness, I wonder about my dreams. Why do I have them? What do they tell me about myself or about God? How do they affect me?

Mostly, I think they make me more reflective. They make me think harder and longer than I otherwise would. They make me pensive and a little withdrawn. Sadly, I think that my disturbing dreams make me, me.

Sometimes I think everyone should have disturbing dreams, so that we can understand the haunted looks in each others' eyes. Other days, I envy those who can sleep soundly and focus their mind on the day.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, having disturbing dreams and sleepless nights isn't too bad. It even makes me wonder what other things we're afflicted with aren't really afflictions at all, but simply conditions of who we are.