Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where Evangelicalism Shoots Itself in the Foot

In homage to the born-again experience and in search of a deeply personal savior, evangelicals and fundamentalists (hereby referred to as fundagelicals) make Christianity a very personal thing. It must happen within the person at the point of conversion and the experience must continue within the person through a personal relationship with God.
Fundagelicals also insist upon the authority of the Scriptures. This authority is presumed to have direct import on the fundagelical's life. However, the nature of doctrine within fundagelical circles removes the determination and application of Scriptural mandates from the individual's purview. Hence such things as statements of faith, church covenants, etc. The body of doctrine espoused by any fundagelical sect forms a creed, whether it is considered a creed or not. The nature of church and church membership holds the fundagelical to whatever such creeds are delivered by the church leadership (either local or denominational).
The battleground of what is up to personal determination versus what is important to establish as a matter of communal creed is akin to the fight over what doctrines are fundamental or not. This and the discussion of heretics in the New Testament inform us that doctrinal stringency is oftentimes less a matter of unity and more an issue of power. The Apostle Paul specifically speaks of heretics as divisive persons who use disputed issues as wedges to draw people after themselves. One is justified to think that the oft-used justification of unity for doctrinal stringency is normally a cover for what is at least a benign attempt to consolidate power.
This relates back to our topic of the individual nature of the fundagelical faith in that the very authenticity of the individual Christian experience is judged on the basis of communal creeds that may or may not reflect the actual experience and mindset of the believer. Attempts by individual believers at living authentically in any manner inconsistent with communal creeds invite swift condemnation of that person's individual Christian experience.
The importance of the individual Christian experience within fundagelicalism is seen then as less of a call to authenticity and more of a tool to prod followers into internalizing the creeds espoused by the church community. It is a form of take-home catechism realized through the type of endless self-comparison with others that the Apostle Paul so roundly condemned as unwise.
Indoctrination and catechism must happen in any religion but to do it in a system and through means that pretend to exalt the importance of individual religious experience is inconsistent. In any case, fundagelicals are left church hopping in search of authenticity, endlessly looking for some community with a creed that validates their personal experience and understanding.
Perhaps some may complain that I am confusing the importance of a personal relationship with God with some notion of personal authenticity and understanding that doesn't really exist within fundagelicalism. If that is the case, then perhaps the whole situation is best understood as fundagelicalism completely missing the connection between relationship and authenticity. In the pursuit of holiness is common to compensate for the difficulty of such an endeavor by pretending to succeed even when one is not, or by keeping the externals polished even when one is seething with vile feelings on the inside. Yet we should not confuse the maintenance of a facade with evidence of the real thing. The fundagelicals' God is (supposedly) still one that looks inside the hearts of men.
The more consistent route is to centralize catechism through formalization (think Catholics and liberal Protestants). But this is anathema to fundagelicals. Also anathema is alternate solution of a thoroughgoing ecumenicalism. Both solutions together--a formalized catechism and a thoroughgoing ecumenicalism--provide a strong measure of both objective clarity and love. It also allows one to be searching spiritually without the imminent threat of rejection or the existential dilemma that occurs when the uncertain Christian is forced to look at their own personal spirituality as the ultimate barometer for whether they are in the faith or not.
One's personal spirituality is an extension of faith, not the measure of it. Believers are first and foremost in Christ and of His body, and the necessary grace for life flows through both.
Spiritual narcissism is dangerous...

Saturday, August 04, 2012

An Update

Sorry if my blog has been slow loading lately. I had to rip out some third-party scripts that were holding up page loads. It all seems better now.

In other news, I have been avoiding Christianity for several months, except to go to church with my family. As this blog has been about my spiritual reflections, mostly, I have had no new content. So until I start paying attention to this stuff again, or have something else to report, I don't foresee having anything to say.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SORT Out Your Marriage

I am no marriage expert. I can only be thankful for the 4+ years of marriage to my wonderful wife. The following list came to me the other day as I considered what is important in marriage:

Stability
Openness
Respect
Time

The first letters form the word "SORT." Now what do I mean by these things?

STABILITY

This factor involves the situational and financial aspect of your marriage. Stable living arrangements and finances provide security. Without this basic stability it is hard to focus on more advanced issues in your relationship. Without this basic stability it is easy to lose respect for your spouse or even yourself. Lack of basic stability brings life into question in profound ways.
It doesn't matter your living conditions, be they humble or grand. What is important is that you are secure and stable in what you do have. Money is required for stability and more of it can make things easier but it can also destabilize you as well.
Stability also has a geographical dimension. Our surroundings are a huge part of our feeling of stability. If you keep hopping from one city to the next, or one house or apartment to the next, you lose emotional stability as regards your day-to-day life and your friendships.
Setting down good roots and keeping finances in order is very important for marriage.

OPENNESS

This one could just as well be labeled transparency. Emotional and personal intimacy is just as important and physical intimacy. You can't have a relationship without understanding each other and you can't understand each other if you don't know each other.
One major barrier to openness is fear of what the other will think. If one spouse tends to condemn or control this will almost always put the brakes on openness. If a spouse feels condemned or controlled then that needs to be worked out so that both spouses can feel free to be open again. Sometimes the fear of condemnation or control is imaginary; the spouse has never really exhibited such tendencies; in such cases the fearful spouse perhaps is transferring the experience of another friend or relative onto their partner. Ultimately, any barrier to openness needs to be carefully analyzed and dealt with.
If you aren't fully open, you will drift apart, because your closeness, such as it will be, will only be with fake versions of yourselves. This is a road to divorce.
Insignificant secrets tend to snowball to include important facts. Being honest with yourself, and then honest about yourself with your partner, is very important to marriage.

RESPECT

Respect is holding someone in high esteem despite their differences. In many ways, respect is also "unity in diversity." Your spouse is royalty; each spouse should honor and serve the other not as VIPs (Very Important Persons) but MIPs (Most Important Persons). This treatment should not change if you disagree about things. If there is disagreement, respect means you approach the other with the intention of conciliation and compromise and NOT getting your way. You cannot have freedom without respect in much the same way that control or condemnation cannot exist alongside of respect. There is always a way. Love will find a way, as your love is manifested in admiration and ultimately, as true respect even when you don't feel particularly loving.
So then, respect means holding your spouse to be your equal, regardless of differences. You may have different strengths and weaknesses, but you are equal. If you do not believe this, you should not be married. Since you are equal, your decisions should be shared, instead of unilateral. Your openness and time together along with respect should result in you discussing nearly every decision (and ALL serious decisions) with your spouse.
Respect is a significant factor in a successful marriage.

TIME

Spending time together is essential. Relationships don't thrive on autopilot. Yet couples get themselves so involved in other things and assume everything will be okay. However, doing that is basically taking each other for granted.
An hour a day, an afternoon together each week--carve out daily and weekly time with your spouse. You don't have to do anything except snuggle or watch a TV show or eat or just lay in bed and talk. Your togetherness will foster personal and emotional intimacy which will often lead to intimacy of another kind!
This time you spend with each other will result in you connecting on all kinds of levels, sometimes talking out important issues, sometimes just laughing, sometimes just being together.
Time together is like a service station for your marriage. All kinds of repairs and preventative maintenance happen here. It is a very important part of marriage that you can't overlook.

Abe's of Maine Review: The Real Deal

Your order will not be shipped until you have been called with upsells.
I denied all upsells the first time. I declined the memory upsell because I already had memory. Then he offered the warranty. I hadn't planned on purchasing the warranty so I declined. He made me feel bad for declining without finding out the price. I let him tell me the price, but still declined. He ended by saying that my order would be shipped and the tracking number would be sent to me.
The second time, another guy started down the same upsell path, acting like my package was ready to go. I told him I didn't need the memory. Since I was 1) on the fence about the warranty and 2) felt like I might get better service/faster processing if I caved to an upsell, I specifically asked about 3-yr laptop warranty with ADH, and bought it after negotiating down the pricing, which ended up being the same price as if I had bought it on my own from SquareTrade.
I then went to lunch and started second guessing the additional money I spent on the warranty. I have succeeded in mostly justifying it to myself, as the average laptop out-off-warranty hardware repair is usually at least $100-120. It's just that I wasn't prepared to spend that money right now.
I imagine that their low prices are subsidized through these types of upsells. If you intend to decline all upsells, you should expect multiple calls, and for your order to be held up until they give up. A coworker of mine made the observation that such upsell calls are a potential misuse of my personal information. I think they are operating in a gray area in this matter.
All this was on a Friday. On Monday, the order status said "Sent to Warehouse". Tuesday morning, the order status said "Shipped" with Monday's date, but no tracking number. After lunch Tuesday, I received a UPS Quantum Ship notification with the tracking number. The link said that the label was created but UPS hadn't received the package yet. So it was obviously being shipped on Tuesday, not Monday as the order status indicated. Since my package is being tendered to UPS on Tuesday, I wouldn’t receive it until the next Monday. The kicker is that the two upsell calls I received on Friday gave the impression that my order was ready to ship.
In contrast to this, I placed an order for memory on TigerDirect on Friday about 15 minutes prior to placing my order on Abe's, and it was scheduled to show up on Thursday.
Between the time I placed my order and the time it arrived I received NINE advertisement emails trying to get me to buy more stuff.
The sad part about this is that Abe's really failed to build a relationship with me. They were too focused on upselling me to process my order quickly. Then they keep trying to sell me stuff while I wait. I was too uncomfortable with that to use them again.
The package arrived in good shape. The box was reused, and the printing on the box indicated that it was originally used to ship meat. This seemed a bit unprofessional. Inside the box, was the laptop in the manufacturer's box with the manufacturer's seal intact, a packing slip, and the extended warranty paperwork.
If you review Abe's of Maine reviews online, they tend to fall toward extremes... great experience or challenging experience. Given my experience with Abe's matches the negative reviewers, and the fact that the positive reviews mostly are 5-star one-liners, I suspect Abe's of posting their own positive reviews.
For this reason, I am posting my review on my blog, or else it will just lost in an avalanche of positive reviews that result in an overall higher rating that I do not feel appropriately represents the company.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Kingdom of God Blather

Well if you read my two previous posts, I have to add, they are fine pieces of imagination. Because the Christian church doesn't work that way. It is a way that is consistent with the message of Christ but it isn't reality.
It is frustrating to solve a problem and then realise that the intrinsic nature of the reality of things is pretty much against it.
I can sit and read and think (and even pray if I think it will help) and figure things out. But it has to work on the ground.
The church is supposed to be the pillar and ground of truth and when it is not, it calls into question many things.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Participating in the Kingdom of God

It is not necessary to be in a missional church to be missional. It is not necessary to participate in the emergent church to emerge from the deadness of evangelicalism. It is not necessary to wait for the kingdom of God or even understand the kingdom of God in order to live the kingdom of God. We are promised, Christ in us, the hope of glory!
It is only necessary to submit to Him as Lord as bear His cross. Living or dying we seek to emulate Him in the crucified life, giving up ourselves in favor of the other, especially our enemies.
You do not need to change the government or pass new laws to bring in the kingdom of God. You do not need to convince large denominations or even particular church assemblies of your understanding of the kingdom of God to bring about the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ Himself inaugurated the kingdom of God through His own death and resurrection! He has done it! We are now called to participate with Christ in the administration of that kingdom.
As Christ offered Himself for all both in His life and upon the cross, so we are to participate with Him and offer ourselves as one slain for the world. This is the high and lofty goal which none of us has achieved or will achieve. The greatest saints in history have but provided a mere glimpse at this type of sacrifice which is only fully seen in Christ Himself. Christ may not call you to great suffering for His kingdom, but you are called to those around you. Look around you at the saints in your local assembly. They are your mother, and brothers.
Christ has set each one of us a place within the church and woe be unto us if we do not give ourselves in that capacity. I do not speak of church programs which may or may not serve your fellow believer. Church programs are often born of an agenda rooted in an organizational ideology directly contradictory to the kingdom of God. Too often, corporate service is used as a fulfillment of a feeling of obligation, a guilt assuager, keeping us at a distance from those who need us most. I am speaking of what you can do personally. Is your heart and life invested in others? If what you call "church" evaporated tomorrow would you still have a ministry to others?
Our ministry in this regard should be executed to the level that we effortlessly identify to the world that we are followers of Christ and participants in the kingdom of God. Our efforts should then bleed out into the world as we serve those outside the church and Christ begins to draw all men through human vessels--our lives crucified in Christ. It isn't supposed to take "Four Spiritual Laws" and an apologetic program to build the kingdom. We LIVE the kingdom first, speak of the kingdom SECOND, then God in Christ through the Spirit ADDS to the kingdom among the church.
Christ said plainly, go and make disciples, baptizing them, and teach them to do according to My will. We LIVE the kingdom, and we SPEAK the kingdom, and people are drawn to believe, then they are baptized to do the same.

The Incarnational Kingdom of God

"Identifying with the incarnation [of Christ] as the motivation and the power of Christian obedience changes our very [attitude toward others] so that we are always identifying [with our] enemies." -David Fitch, "The End of Evangelicalism", p.164
No longer is it us vs. them, but us in the place of Christ for them. This is incarnational ministry that transcends all labels, republican and democrat, saved and lost, gay and straight, conservative and liberal, and whatever antipathy this world has set up in contravention to the kingdom of God which calls all to Christ so that Christ may be all in all.
If Christ be lifted up, He'll draw all men to Himself. As we take on the mind of Christ, giving up our privilege and place in the service of others, we display the cross of Christ as we bear it in our bodies.
The us vs. them, in-group/out-group dynamic is a power struggle in the pattern of Gentile ruler ship which Christ disavowed. It dehumanizes us into servants of empty ideologies that are manipulated by principalities and powers in the service of evil. The kingdom of God, alternatively, calls us into a true shared humanity that places love ahead of fear and acceptance ahead of condemnation. The kingdom of God cares for the soul as well as the body, bringing the oppressed into a communion that the world can only pretend to create.
For the humanitarianism espoused by the world, while providing material provision for the body, sets at a distance the disadvantaged so as to maintain its own privilege and place. The kingdom of God offers bodily provision and relational integration into the community of believers as it calls the outcast its own in the spirit of Christ who was cast out and crucified for all.
The peace espoused by the world is a detached tolerance that leaves the oppressed marginalized by those greater than them. The peace espoused by the kingdom of God is an involved love that embraces as Christ embraced, making the least of us the greatest of us, the first last and the last first.
To the extent that we have not experienced the kingdom of God is to the extent that our Christianity has morphed into an empty ideology that deals in antipathies, delineating friends and foes, casting out some while privileging others. But our God is no respecter of persons, and His kingdom is not either. We are an empty body politic dealing in ideology, or we are the manifestation of the eternal kingdom of light shining upon the darkness and contradictions of the pretensions of this world.