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Saturday, February 27, 2010

You believe what? Give me a break.

Caution: The following is a rant.

Don't you just love it when someone "proclaims their beliefs" to you, as if this is going to have some sort of redeeming, transforming affect upon you? By their speaking "The Truth", I suppose their expectation is that the hand of God is going to come down from heaven, grab you by the heart, and instantly transform your life (in a way that they want). By uttering the words, I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to leap into action on their command, descend into their targeted convert and act.

There's a problem. Perhaps this works from time to time when someone just shows-up on the doorstep, or sits in the seat next to someone on an airplane - the right person in the right place at the right time. But unless the speaker has made some deposit into the life of the other, the likelihood that they'll really be heard is very low. More often, a negative reaction is experienced: "Who is this person to speak to me about such personal things?" Why would you or anyone else listen? More likely, if you're having this sort of conversation, you probably know this person. You know something about them; the way they behave, the types of relationships they have, something about their family, etc. If you're a rational person, I would expect you to ask a key question: How has this person's "beliefs" been transformational in their life?

Human nature has always been self-seeking. To break this natural tendency, something transformational must occur. All of the enduring faith traditions seek to break us away from selfishness and seek the transformational peace and presence of God. Yet most followers of all of these faith traditions do not actively work to grow in their faith and follow the teachings of their tradition. I've spent decades of my own life in this mode.

Jesus understood human nature when he said “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?" (Luke 6:46) Jesus expressed frustration with both the disciples and the townees, often. He was trying to break them free of their selfish nature, legalism, and their lack of faith in God, their creator and provider.

But Jesus saved his strongest criticism for the self-righteous. The Pharisees were the keepers of the law and O how they loved to drop truth-bombs on Jesus. Imagine the arrogance. You don't have to look very far to see Pharisee-esque behavior alive and well with us today. Our churches are full of them. Most of them can recite chapter and verse and hit you with truth-bombs for every situation that your fallen, miserable life need to ask, they'll serve it right up. They exist among "evangelical conservatives", eager to tell you that if you don't raise your right hand and ascribe to the literal truth of every syllable of the King James version of the Bible and every element of the Apostles Creed then you're going to hell (a creed probably developed in the fifth-century or so). They exist in the "progressive left", proclaiming all evangelicals idiots, the entire Bible metaphorical, and God, who may have created the universe, incapable of interaction with us today.

I recently had a conversation with a person who asserted "You have to believe in the historical, physical resurrection of Christ!" I continue to dwell upon this notion, the virgin birth, and other elements of Christianity and I keep coming back to the same place. What I want to ask this person and people like him is this: Has Christ been resurrected in your life? Does Christ live in you, in your life, today? Do you dwell on His teachings and want to love others as He loves you? If not, then the historical event has no bearing on you, and as far as your life is concerned, never happened. Apparently, there is no filmed recording of the resurrection; It's only evidence remains in the movement it spawned and the lives it transformed.

Regardless of the theology of any given group, my question remains: How has your belief transformed you? How has it called you to serve others? How do you treat others who are different from you (Gay and lesbian community, minorities, political differences)? Who do you judge and why? If there is no discernible difference in the fruit we bear, there has been no transformation and our beliefs are a dead.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Who you are is speaking so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying." This quote hits me right between the eyes every time I read it. It's a daily thing, to set ourselves aside and choose to live out our beliefs. The truth is, we do live out our real beliefs every day and our actions speak louder than our words.

I'll end this rant with my favorite Bible reading:

Matthew 22: 34-40
The Most Important Commandment
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Blessings my friends,



  1. Thank you ... second and third generation descendants of the Reformation, especially on the Reformed side of things (and I R 1) boiled "faith" down to a set of theological propositions, if believed, took one to heaven, and if denied, took one to hell. So, rather than looking to Jesus for transformation, they looked to their own documents and dogma, and arguing about the commas and the periods, they condemned one another. If Roman Catholicism has encouraged acquiescence to The Church, Protestantism has encouraged acquiescence to theological propositions. And in both cases, since going to heaven and avoiding hell is the biggie, folks never quite get off themselves, and thus love really suffers.

    Hope this makes some sense ... blessings on your work.

  2. Thank you for your comments Castaway. Your post does make sense and I completely agree.


  3. You're right that that's a rant. There's a fair degree of misrepresentation there. If you find yourself observing self-righteousness with distate; realising that creation and resurrection are ongoing "in your life"-things; if you ponder about the nature of God (what's all this "he" business? Is God a separate identity from a person I might meet and what are the ramifications for being inside or outside the universe and/or interventionist?); if you try to be more gracious to evangelicals than to regard them merely as idiots; then perhaps you are a progressive leftie yourself.

  4. Thank you for your comments Tim! I am finding myself becoming a "progressive leftie" these days. Having come from a more conservative / evangelical construct, I know better than to identify all evangelicals as idiots. Although, with all honesty, so many of us struggle not to deem any faith perspective dissimilar to our own, idiocy. While I observe self-righteousness in some evangelicals, I find myself judging it, and therefore, becoming self-righteous's a vicious circle ;-)

    My desire is to learn how to serve alongside people of all faith traditions and understandings in the service of God and mankind and to set aside the judgment. Work in progress.

    Blessings to you.

  5. Thanks. Yes, there's a lot to be said for "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one".

    I also had an exclusive fundamentalist kind of upbringing - not that the people were bad, but they had (still have, actually) odd introverted ideas.

    I had originally written a huge comment on the sentence about idiots, pulling every word apart in quite some reductive theological discussion, but blogspot ate it - probably for the best. But I would like to re-tackle the evangelical sentence again:

    There's also a lot to be said for looking to find problems. If we, as Christians, don't exercise some thought critical of both our beliefs and actions, then some atheist will be quite right to prod uncomfortably and embarrassingly.
    Based on my evangelical background (as distinct from the fundamentalist one.. sheesh), the potential problems I see with evangelicalism are a tendency toward hypocrisy[0], unrealism[1] and cliqueishness[2].

    [0] don't go to a church preaching a strong traditionalist moral stance on sexual issues and then go out hiring rent-boys.

    [1] Creationism: this rock tells me the Earth is around 4e9 yr old. Anyone who tells me a book says different is wrong.

    [2] Unawareness of the bigger political picture: the overwhelming attitude I sense in evangelical churches is "we are right Christians, we are everyone" when actually it's "we are the middle-class caucasian power-block who meet at 6.30pm to wave our arms around and sing self-centred songs about power, our god, battle, and victory".

    The point is that there is a story of my faith journey and all the chain of reasoning (dealing with points 0-2 and more) has led me to a place some call liberal/progressive. I'm glad there are more folks in the vicinity; you might find TCPC a welcoming relevance too.