Sunday, November 30, 2008

Faith, Life, and Leadership

Yesterday, I wrote about faith and how people come to faith differently. In that blog entry, I said that people understand their faith differently, therefore, it is hard to distinguish what faith means to someone.

In another entry, a couple of days ago, I stated that the purpose of the Jews was to represent God to others. God's representatives are human beings that are not defined by ethnicity, cultural identifiers, or other outward forms, but a heart that represents character.

Character is not defined by any "commitment" of life, such as religious conviction, cultural identification, job commitment, or any other outward performance of "duty", but an attitude of heart and focus of life.

Christians have debated how one understood faith and works, but it doesn't matter what one does, or what one believes, but an attitude and motivation of life and heart. Leaders make plans for their ideas to be implemented, but that does not necessarily mean that another is obligated to perform the task, unless leaders have respected those who are to work under them. This is what character is about, social contract. And America's government allows the freedom of opportunity for social contract, as our country's laws have defined this as justice.

A social contract maintains equalitbility, and negotiation. In Jewish/Christian terms it is the covenant. But, how is the covenant to be understood? Some have argued that men have no choice, they must obey, or they believe that one will obey, as election has chosen. This is a deterministic view, while other Christians believe that men are called and can choose one way or another. Some in scientific/philosophical circles, argue that one is determined by social construction. This way of thinking is nothing other than belief in determinism through social structures.

I don't believe that men are determined by social structures ( unless leadership had so limited another), although social structures will impact one's life. Determination would limit the individual's developmental potentialities in opportunities, education, counselling, mentoring, etc. The academy's disciplines are the arena of development of potential. The religious realm is limited in scope, but can be the focus of what one does, but such is the case with any job. there is no separation between the sacred and the secular, in fact, there is no distinction between the two, as the world works on pragmatic goals of leadership.

It behooves all of us to take care what kind of leaders one follows.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Quadralateral and Faith

I have often used the Quadralateral in understanding or categorizing my thinking. Today, I was reflecting on my journey of faith and how it differed from my husband's, which led me to think abuot faith in general.

My husband came to Christian faith through understanding reason's limitation in religion and experiencing Christian commitment and character. I, on the other hand, came to faith through personal encounter with Christian character, and began to understand Christian understanding as a limited view through reason. We came to faith differently and now, understand faith differently (although, I may still be behind to my husband'ss development of faith).

I, then, started thinking that faith is understood differently depending on how we have been raised, understood and experienced our faith. Maybe this seems self-evident to most people, but to me it is a fascinating thought, that each person's faith is so uniquely defined. Of course, that does not negate certain universals of, say, a specified religious understanding, but nevertheless, faith is truely a unique and personal understanding.

Faith in these terms certainly will look different, depending on how one has understood what faith means. Personal faith comes to fruition in our lives through commitments, values and desires.

I think faith is a fascinating topic for understanding people.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Law's Intent

Ken Schenck has been writing on Romans lately. His last entry was on a "theology of Romans". If theology is understood in leadership terms, how does "that" look, according to Romans?

The Jews were to represent God to other nations. They exemplified what God was like, which illustrated his character. At least, this is the bilblical understanding. The Jews understood the "law" as that which perfected man, because the "law" represented "God". But, along comes Paul, who, as a Jew persecuted Christians stoning them because they did not "do" the requirements of the "law" (according to his understanding). Christians were following in Christ's footsteps in meeting the needs of others, and theologizing about Christ. Even though Paul was a Jew and educated as a leader (Greek) under Gamiel, he did not "do the works of the "law"", according to Paul's own self-judgment.

There are two ideas that run together concerning the understanding of the Law. One is a personal dimension of grace and mercy to others, which was understood and exemplified by Christ in his earthly life. The other side of the 'law is justice" where all were equally 'sold under sin" as Paul would term it. What does this mean?

Life is understood by the Christian as sacred because it is a gift, so all men are equal under the 'law's protection of justice". Social justice is what the law demands and human rights are to be protected and sought by all religions. This is the ethical demension to the law, which is not about morality, as defined by a text, culture, or moral model, so much as it is about treating others with respect and dignity.

Morality is about specific human behavior. One can be moral, but ethically perverse. That is, one can meet the legal demensions of the law requirements, without really giving equality under and by the law. Many times taking advantage of another is done by those who know better about the law's "ins and outs". The law can give a check to our human nature, in helping us to understand and question ourselves and motivations and at the same time protect the rights of those who aren't 'in the know". Whenever there is a flagrant disregard of the law, because of arrogance, self-satisfaction, self-indulgence, or selfishness there is also a payment that must be made by someone.

Just today it was reported that a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death because shoppers trampled him underfoot in the name of a bargain. People were seeking after their own interests at the expense of this Wal-Mart employee. Did they intend to trample him? I'm sure not . All they had in mind was their own agenda, to get that bargain before another got it. Paul would say that these shoppers who had the "law" in its allowing freedom to shop, were not "doing the law" because they were focused on something other than self reflective moderation of life. The Gentiles did not have the law, and yet were obeying its requirements. In an honor/shame culture, this would either humble or infuriate the Jewish believer by accentuating their heart.

I think Paul was using the legal language of the Jew, who boasted in its "civility" to cause a humbling attitude toward those who did not have that civilizing law. It does behoove the American to understand what this might mean to us as a culture of indulgence. I do not believe nor think that sacrifice is the "gospel", but I do think that a self-reflective look at what America is about is needed. We are a great nation. But, do we boast in our greatness, and disregard another? Is our attempt at diplomacy only in "word" and not in deed? In seeking freedom for individuals, which is the 'ideal" how much do we question our pursuit of "ends" that justify means that are only self-interested goals for advancement? We became great becasue we believed in a government for and by the people, with representatives that showed a concern for the common good.

Paul's Romans is a good dose of medicine for us all, but especially in light of America's goal-oriented, market-driven, money-making, business-protective environment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leadership and Representation

Fortunately, the presidential campaign is over. It was a bloody battle that divided our country.

Politics has come to be known as a competitive, dog-eat-dog world of survival of the fittest. The fittest being those who have great rhetorical skills, can make friends with the right people to gain support and momentum for their agenda and choose the right campaign managers, so that their campaigns are productive, as well as lucrative. Politics, which was supposed be the realm of the practical representation of "real people", has become the world of selfishness, greed and dishonesty. And this is good leadership?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Albert Einstein on Research

"If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research." A. Einstein.

Politics, Tradition, Reason and Thankfulness for Faith

The political realm is the "real world", the world in which we do our jobs, love our families, share our concerns, live our lives and understand our faith. Faith is whatever defines our lives.

Human beings must understand their faith as secular, political and/or transcendental. Each aspect of faith is understood within a frame of what is important. Tradition develops how the transcendental realm understands faith for it is about "God". Reason develops the realm of the secular as sacred, as all of life is understood as a blessing, while experience understands our faith within the political realm of relationship. Each part, reason, experience and tradition is important in developing a full understanding of one's faith. Tradition has history, reason has a philosophy and experience has the political realm; all involve the person's understanding of themselves in thier situatedness.

A full grown faith is not understood as dependent on any certain way of understanding for each person understands their place in this world in a different way. Faith is about being itself, for no one understands all about life, God or relationships with others. We live our lives in the best understanding we have at the time and trust that life is good and blessed because we have it.

Conservative Evangelicals Call for Concern

I just read a friend's forwarded e-mail about a concern over the UN's passage of "Defamation of Religions" resolution. It is driven by th 57 Islamic states to protect themselves from "persecution" of practicing their religion. It calls for tolerance.

Of course, evangelical Christians are concerned because their faith is the "right one" and those who risk their lives by converting Muslims are in danger of death, as well as the converted. The question remains, can we be tolerant to intolerance? Certainly international law would promote tolerance in general, but it should protect the human rights of the individual and not give Islam the right to kill in the name of their religion (god). It is outrageous that the West cannot take a stand against intolerance such as this. It combines law and religion over conscience and demands obedience under fear of death. This type of culture is a culture of death indeed, for it leaves no room for creativity or difference and it impedes the full development and flourishing of man. Human rights have no "rights" within Islam's tight frame of identity.

There is much discussion concerning what it means to be a human being. Islam doesn't care about what it means to be a human being because their view of God is more important than man and being a human being.

The Church, The State, Progressives and Conservatives

The Church has been understood as a universal community, at least by the apostle Paul. Perhaps a better terminology is the household of God, as Ken Schenck uses in Quadralateral Thoughts.

But, how is this universality understood today? Conservatives of course point to Scriptures, while the Progressives point to science. Conservatives believe that God made one humanity in Christ, while progressives believe that we are one humanity.

Conservatives do things for the glory of God, while progressive do things for the "common good", the betterment of mankind. Conservatives tend to understand their identity in specified and special terms. Progressives understand this tendency as group identification. Group identification distinctifies one group from another, as this was what has transpired throughout the course of history with any kind of group; religious, political, cultural, etc. Humans love to create an identity by maintaining their distinct boundary markers. But, progressives question whether some boundary markers are healthy to maintain.

The question of mental health and "the common good" is the question of one's reason for boundary markers. What is a healthy boundary marker? Both conservative and progressives would agree that a good boundary marker would be the personal convictions, or commitments of a person, or the laws that define a nation's culture. Laws define what is deviant. While deviancy is an important value to uphold in a civilized society, what defines unhealthy reasons for boundary maintainence?

When one describes an individual commitment or conviction, or a nation's laws, both conservative and progressives agree that these should be respected. But, religious identifiers or boundary markers are harder to rally full agreement. Religion defines itself upon the "rules of faith", but progressives question the "rules" as being "right" in describing faith, as faith is a personal commitment to value. Religion, on the other hand, has many ways of maintaining its group identity.

Religion bases its claims of identification of beliefs, a divine figure, a culture, group "rules". Religion delights in coformity and thinks of itself in conservative circles, as exclusivist. Relgion colors one's perception and perspective and breeds prejuidice, and the prejuidice is reinforced by sacred texts, or sacred persons. Progressives are more open to define religion in objectified terms.

With many distinctions between the conservative and progressive, there has been an attempt to unify both through "purpose" or "teleos". In Chrisiian circles, this attempt has been based on "the Kingdom of God" and the "common good". The public square meets the Church on the Church's "terminology' , while using the Church's gifts for "the common good" of humanity. There is nothing wrong with this unity of purpose, as long as all individuals that are affected are informed of the specific requirements upon their life. If a "purpose" is useful for the "common good" (pragmatism), especially if it is underwritten in the conservative's mind, by "God", then the State can bring about its plans in a peaceful and unified way.

True progressives, though, would question the wisdom of combining Church and State in this way, as it brings about an intrusion of government into private lives. Privacy is a value in American culture for it repects the individual. But, both conservative and progressive moralists bring "the rule of law" upon others in the "name of God" (reconstruction, restoration, or social gospel), to teach others about God's rule. I question how this is anything other than Shai ria Law, or Constiantine's Empire...

Although I am not clear as to how I view Church and State, I question the ways in which moralists understand themselves as a "superior" breed of humanity. Whether one rules as the Taliban, or "legislating the Pentateuch", both do not breed tolerance for difference, or an openness to intepretation of that law. Laws define a nation's values, and America was founded on freedom of religion and a separation of Church and State. This separation was not to be a "wall", as a Founding Father claimed, but was to maintain the boundary of public/private, so that individuals could come to their own convictions, values, and faith, which is found within the culture's social structures of family, church and comminity. Objectifying morals transgresses the universal ethic of "doing unto others", "the categorical imperative", even when the moralists is convinced of their "rightness" of conviction. The battle of morality should be for the conservative in love from a pure heart, while the progressive should use reason to explore morality's reasonableness in scienctific discovery and philosophical discussion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Culture and Chrstian Faith

In First Things today, it was asserted that Christian faith cannot live without culture. This is true, but the question is, what kind of culture, if there is one, or is there a diversity of culture.

Culture represents the values we hold most dearly and those values are the things that we will live and die for. I think that question needs to be asked and answered, "is Christian faith about belief, belonging, or behavior"? Is there a "Christian culture"? And is Christian faith an exclusivist faith or it is just a reflection of culture itself?

I think that tradition is part of culture, which also adheres to religon and religon's "values". Muslims adhere to a strict culture that is defined by their law, which impacts their culture, in dress, and behavior. On the other hand, the West for the most part, has freedom of conviction and conscience in form of worship, which leads to diversity within culture. Is Christian faith about conformity to the Law, as in Muslim culture, or is Christian faith about diversity and freedom of expression?

The Laws that we hold to are the laws that define our identity as they are things that protect our values. Values cannot be uniform, unless one wants to limit a liberal society. A liberal society is based on reason and not "revelational texts", like theocracys are. I think that whenever a government is defined by "god", we have problems, because it lends itself to justify predjuidice and exclusivity, which undermines universal ethical decision-making. Humans, not "god" are the creators of governments, and the humans who lead the government are responsible as to the type of government that exists and how it governs. Therefore, good government is most important and good governement is only as good as it is limited.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Circumcision, Christianity, and Common Sense

I was told tonight by a scholar of "Lost Christianities" that Christian faith was rooted in Muslim faith and that someone from this time period would have felt more comfortable in a Mosque than a Western Church and that some of the practices, such as how they pray were much closer to Christian roots. While I understand that Jewish, Islamic and Christian roots are rooted in the Hebrew text, I do not adhere to this tradition's understanding of ethics...

In "Infidel", a Somalian woman talks about how she is circumcised and sewn up to prevent premarital intercourse. She has no pleasure within her marital sexual experience as she is torn and scared by the procedure! She cannot go outside without a male accompanying her. She recites all of her geneology for generations back, as this is her identity and tribal culture.

Phillip Jenkins, a religious studies professor, as well as historian of 20th century America, etc. from PennState, spoke on his new book, "Lost Christianities". His approach was solely a religious one and I was curious as he did not talk about colonialism or politics in general. Religious studies, of course, does not necessarily cover other subjects, but I find it very limiting and narrow to view a tradition even within its own history without expanding that udnerstanding beyond the tradition. Traditions do create a "world", but a limited one....

Christianity is rooted in Judiasm and was a peasant movement. In understanding group identity and how these identities form, Christianity became a separate identity under the writers of Pauls letters and was furthered through the testimony of the scribes who wrote the Gospels. It was an attempt to create a special identity within a God framework, as Judiasm had in the past. Those who have been discriminated, the "outsider", are those who are likely to create their own story, rather than identify with those who persecute or oppose them. Was this what Dr. Jenkins purposes happened to these people under the persecution of Constantine and the Crusades? The empire persecutes the underdogs and the underdogs create a way to survive under persecution. It is an interesting thought/theory. I don't know enough about the history and have not read Dr. Jenkins book.

I do know that Hirshi Ayraan Ali is an atheist because of her abuse. Her identity is not found within a God framework, but a political one. I don't find that this is wrong, as we all desire to survive in the best environment possible, which is one that is free of oppression, whether it be religious, or political. Common sense tells us that we choose freedom for our own self-interest, as well as the interests of others! What better framework than our American identity?

Being Human, as an ART

I read an a blog entry on "Christian art" today. The argument that I think is more palatable when it comes to art, is that any art is a representation of the human who "made it", just as the natural world testifies to God. The meaning is there and by it's very proximity to the human being, it is sacred, as it is communication.

In the Reformation, early Reformers destroyed many works of art, thinking that they were being obedient to the commandment to have no images of God. However, all images are representative, so, it is not reasonable to say that we must do away with images. And since man is made in God's image, we cannot destroy man, can we?

The argument in Christian circles centers around cultural values and virtue. All of us would agree that pornography is not appropriate for anyone. However, there are variations in our abilities to tolerate certain art forms. Some Christians have forbidden dance, as sexually titilating or T.V. as "worldly". All of these convictions are based on a false fear of the "world" and a hyper vigilence to not be associated with the things of the world. The things of the world are not "sinful" in and of themselves, it is what we do with those things, and what those things do to us. Virtue is not just about what we don't do, but what we do do. Are we tolerant towards those who have differences of opinion, Do we allow them freedom to worship as they deem fit? Is there a proper form of worship? And how do we determine these things? Scripture, when scirpture was written before certain "modern inventions"? Church authority, when Church authority are falliable human beings? or science?

Modern psychology has proven that certain art forms have an effect on people. Is this wrong, and is it understood as "sin"? If so, why? Where are the "lines" of a tolerant attitude to those who differ? Of do we only define virtue as conformity to a certain way of life?

Certainly, society's best interest, as well as the individual's good is in view when discussion is made about these issues. And as I mentioned earlier, pornography would certainly not be beneficial to either society or the individual. But, what about nude art forms? Is the body seen as beautiful as a form, or is the body seen as evil and suggestive in and of itself? I find it hard to argue from reason that the body is evil in and of itself.

Back in 1990, when my husband was attending a conference in southern Germany, the spouses were touring all of the churches in the area. There was a particular Jewish lady that asked me a question that I will never forget. She asked why the Church would spend all the money on the extravagence to embellish the churches, when there were people starving. I told her that if someone has the gift of painting as Rafael, or Micheangelo, should they be stewards of their gift in worshipping God through it, or should they feed the poor? She agreed that it would be a terrible loss to culture if they had inhibited their gift for what she had understood to be virtuous.

Virtue is seen in many forms and should not be limited by religious understandings, but is most understood and experienced in our government's unity in diversity.

A Critique of Spirituality

I have yet to meet or know a "spiritual person" that I want to emulate. But, there are many who do not claim to a superior spirituality that I would like to emulate.

"Spiritual people" always have to keep their appearances up. Who knows who might think they were "unspiritual"? Spiritual people have to perform things they don't like or care (really) about doing, because, well, they are "supposed" to be spiritual. Spiritual people like for you to know Scripture and verse to support their understanding of spirituality. Spiritual people are more than human; they are "like God". Spiritual people like to be followed, as they are exempliers of the faith sent down from the saints. Spiritual people like to make distinctions, so they can preen over their spirituality. Spiritual people always have an agenda for you and your life, for they think that they are to take Paul's admonition to Timothy as theirs, be "imitators of me". Spiritual people don't like to show their faults, questions, doubts, struggles, or failures, as that would be admitting their human-ness, which is unspiritual. Spiritual people are focused on their spirituality, first and foremost and the more radical their spiritualty, the more committed they gauge themselves. Spritual people like to set "standards" for others to follow which are curious to other humans. But, spiritual people believe that these 'boundary marker' make them "set apart", so that others know that they are believers.

I find that whenever someone has character, (which is a "common virtue" in man, although certain attributes must be developed), humans are naturally attracted. Take my husband, for instance. He can be critical, this is true, as he is a perfectionist. But, he tempers his perfection, with gentleness and meekness. My husband is kind and forbearing and tender. I love to see him play with our grandkids. It reminds me of when our kids were young. His eyes twinkle with delight, as he tickles them or plays "ride a little horsey". He is direct, but he can be direct with humor and grace. He can compromise, though he is firm when he thinks that I am trying to "play him for a fool". He loves me, and this I know, for his life tells me so!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Truth and Values

I came upon an article that discussed the interface of truth claims based on history and value claims based on personal conviction. The article sounded as if there was no interface, but two distinct realms, vying for affirmation. One starts with history's historical analysis and lays a foundation of True or False. The other lays claims to relativity of personal choice, conviction, and commitment. Which is true?

Is there really to be a separation in the two realms of "truth"? I don't think so. The Academy believes, and rightfully so, that the disciplines are the way to truth. This is the objective realm.

But, what about personal truth? These truth claims are also true, as this truth becomes a personal value system,. The individual develops within certain frameworks and his/her identity is formed by those "truths" of experience. While these personal identification factors are important, as they are tradition's values held within "culture", the academic understanding of "truth" is more important for humanity's sake, or the greater good.

The greater good is the public's good, which is the arena of political discourse, which should involve diversity of opinion. Opinions should be open to change, where evidence shows that it is better to "see" things another way. Change is hard for traditional understandings that maintain personal values. But, if these traditions are challenged along lines of objectivity or rationale, then there should be an openness to discussion and a tolerance for change, while at the same time, allowing others the right to choose another path. Cooperation with/in change can only be brought about with full disclosure to everyone involved, otherwise, there will always be "outsiders and insiders", which troubles the waters of change and hinders growth of understanding and acceptance.

In America's climate of diversity and tolerance, we do not have tradition tightly defined around cultural norms or values, as we value freedom of individual conscience. While conscience is formed within the frameworks of traditional social structures, America's government has protected civil rights at the expense of traditional values. Therein lies our cultural conflict, but, also our greatness. Because we value the individual conscience, even while the traditional social structures have undergone great stress and change, we, Americans are open to be educated. Education was what our Bill of Rights is about in allowing the Freedom of the Press, the Freedom of Assembly, the Freedom of Speech, ETC. We are a free nation, which should value civil discourse, which should include religious freedom and expression as well!

I think that American ideals are the great future for the Globe!

The Jesus Seminar Meets the Atheist's Inquiry

I was glad to see that the Center for Inquiry Transnational was hosting the Jesus Seminar and Jesus Project for a conference (of types)....

The inter-disciplinary approach to religious claims is an important discussion topic in today's religiously impacted culture. What one believes becomes an identification factor and identification factors, while not "wrong" in and of themselves, can lead to horrendous inhumane crimes. A culture of cruelty is cultivated in climates of identification, whether they are ethnic, religious or political. Religious identification can be extremely dangerous as God sanctioned prejuidice and is above reason's reasonableness! We cannot live in a globalized culture without addressing the "claims of truth", especially exclusivistic understandings.

I applaud these religious scholars and their hosts, the scientists. There must be an addressing of how humans come to understand themselves within their cultural, national and religious boundaries before a real unification of diversity can transpire. How important an issue is it? All of our future depends on it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Scripture, Theology and Ethics

Christian faith has been defined by theological reflection uponScripture. Although theologians use Scripture as a guide or framework to develop their theology, theologians differ in what themes they use in Scripture to develop their theology. While some theologians develop their theology grounded in the historical realities of their time or situatededness, all theologians seek to explain God. While this has been a commendable excercise in past times, today's cultural climate challenges theology's connection to reality.

Today's cultural climates has stretched all areas of expertise because of globalization. We are no longer islands of culture separated by miles of distance, but are interacting on a large scale through economic exchange and global networking through the internet. This cultural climate is a unification of all cultures' in many areas, but it challenges how we go about allowing diversity of cultural expression.

Radical Muslims do not adhere to a tolerant attitude or behavior when it comes to difference. A lack of tolerance challenges all of us globally, if we do not learn to get along in our differences. I believe Han Kung has attempted to bring unity through a Global Ethic. I think this is a commenable goal.

While I agree that a Global ethic is necessary to affirm to bring unity, our diversity is no less important to affirm. How do we affirm difference, and yet, remained unified? Is this the challenge of civil discourse? Exclusivist claims to truth in culture is a danger in our climate of globalization. Therefore, it behooves all of us to develop our convictions and reasons for those convictions, while we engage others who differ with graciousness, openness, and tolerance.

I believe that the ideal of unity in diversity is also the American ideal. And I couldn't be happier, than to see democracy extend around the world!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ethics, Values and (Christian) Faith

I have been thinking about several things that have impressed me the past few days.
One was the attitude of two totally different people towards those who were questioning their convictions and commitments.

I wrote about Mike Huckabee's response to an atheist in this blog not long ago. I was impressed with how he responded with respect, instead of reacting in defensiveness or hostility. I also was impressed with Bart Ehrman's response to an interview and his moderate and deferiential attitude toward the interviewer. Two very different people, but similar in their attitudes. It has something to do with character, values, and civil discourse.

The civility toward those who were different in values, conviction and commitment was something to respect and desire to emulate. Some Christians believe that unless you hold to uniformity of commitment, you are not fully commited, may not love God, Etc. Etc. These types of believers think that their understanding and interpretation of Scripture, behavior and way of life is the eptiome of truth and should be the standard for all believers. Their example is to followed and this, they think, is "making disciples". I find this attitude the height of arrogance, as no one should decide or determine another's way of life, as to the values, commitments and convictions. True love does not seek to uphold one's own life, but seeks to understand the difference of the other person and how that difference can best be developed, or challenged. The individual is known and loved in the process. Otherwise, it is only an assembly line, where the individual is fine-tuned to mimic the "group's tune" without thought or reason. This is not leadership, but cultish behavior.

Virtues are epitomized in a human life when character has developed. Character is still based on virtues that are exemplified by the values that are most important, which may look different depending of how the value manifests itself. These values are individual specific and should not be defined by anyone else. The question for Christian faith is; is Christian faith about culture, such as dress, behavior, food, music, etc. or is Christian faith about ethics, which is about how we hold to those convictions and values before others. Obviously, those that think Christianity is mostly about cultural issues will be more apt to have difficulties understanding those who hold to a more inward understanding of God's Kingdom. Interestingly, enough, I saw two diverse kinds of believers that exemplified the Kingdom within; Bart Ehrman, an agnostic is a Biblical scholar, while Mike Huckabee is a conservative Baptist minister turned political pundit. While both have different types of jobs, lifestyles, and values, both showed a tolerance of difference and a graciousness that is hard to miss. And both of them did not, nor would not demand that their way of understanding how to live a virtuous life was a universal one!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Group Identity and Prejuidice

Yesterday, in a class discussion on Wiesel's "Night", I asked the class what constituted "group identity". They listed many identifiers such as; clothing, food, beliefs, music, etc. It is in effect, culture. We talked about how we identified, if we did, with each of these identifiers. Then, I asked them how they 'judged" others based upon the differences in these identifiers.

We talked about authority , i.e., parenting, good government and what transpires when there is not good government. What responses should we take when a government is not a good one.

We then discussed how Nazi Germany saw the Jew. Did they know or have the experience of seeing some with "eyes of prejuidice". On what basis did they 'judge' the other and if that judgment was reasonable. We talked of the principle of scapegoating others, as a psychological response, instead of owning our own behavior and opinion. Prejuidice is not necessarily "bad", if their are reasonable reasons why one holds to a certain view, as we are all biased.

I asked them how they would "counsel" those who were going through suffering, as we had talked about what was important to do when someone suffered in our last class. When we talked about the reasons for suffering, I used Bart Ehrman's divisions in how Scripture understood suffering; prophetic (sin of the past, that results in present suffering), apocalytic (belief in God's sovereignty, and purpose for the future), and wisdom( cyclic view of history and an acceptance of "no reason"). I then, asked them how each of these views would be understood or felt by Wiesel, if they were "counselling" him. It was a good discussion.

I write all of this because I think it is an important discussion when the West is in crisis with understanding where proper boundaries must be defined and defended. We, in the West, have brought about our own demise in the political and philosophical arena where we have become so tolerant, that we undermine or devalue reason itself. As Christian faith has been based on personal commitment and conviction, the West can no longer hold any resistance to Islam's claim to equal "tolerance" and representation. Certain convictions cannot be tolerated when it comes to human rights. Human rights are undermined in Islam's claim on knowing "Allah's will". Allah becomes an all powerful "EGO" that over-rides rationality and demands obedience and the sacrifice of life to his "glory".

As a nation that believes in the individual's conscience and right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, we must also stand for rationality when it comes to faith and faith claims...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wanting to Be Somebody

I think everyone has dreams as children. But, dreams sometimes are not realistic but idealized self-worship. I think that many, not all, of the Christians I have come in contact with are desirous of making a name for themselves, which I wondered in the past, why they were Christian and wanting to be somebody.

Historically, Christians were nobodies, and even Paul acknowledged this when he said that "not many noble, not many wise, after the flesh" were called, but "he called the vain and foolish to confound the wise". I thought back then that being a nobody, meant that I was a somebody to God and to those in the family of God. I thought that all Christians would also have a "nobody complex" and not be seeking to be "somebody". In fact, ambition was a sure sign of selfishness.

But, then I learned more through experience and education and found out that I had sold out for a "myth", a "self-imagined and desired reality". I had longed to mean something to somebody all my life. I wanted to not be invisible. And I thought I had found out that I "mattered", even when I was unimportant.

Life has a way of maturing us out of our imaginings, whether they be my self deluded specialness, or another's self-grandiose "becoming a somebody".

I got tired of hearing about Leadership and wondered why everyone seemed to be interested and talking about it. I had understood my faith as one to take the low seat, to be humble, be a servant, and turn the other cheek. Every time I practiced my faith, I was bewildered by another's choice of action. It confounded and confused me, as I really thought I knew the "truth". And secretly I judged them as being hypocritical.

I think everyone, whether they had a "nobody complex" like me, or whether they were brought up to "know who they were" and were trained to actualize their potential, wants to be special and somebody. A special somebody are those in you immediate family, your extended family and your friends. And it takes a special somebody to be a special somebody to another special somebody. Take the time to be that special somebody for those you love.

Atheist, Agnostic or What?

Yesterday, I listened to Dr. Bart Ehrman, professor of religion at UNC/Chapel Hill, speak on suffering. He had been an evangelical at one time, but is now agnostic. His views were interesting and freeing.

In June, when I started this blog, I had suggested that those who base their authority mainly on reason, but have not denied tradition are agnostics. Otherwise, reason alone will lead to atheism, as it rejects religion's role in human life. I believe this describes Dr. Ehrman. The atheist's agenda is to undermine any value in religion and undo all religious conviction and commitment. Even though Dr. Ehrman does not believe that religion's purpose serves as the only moral compass for man, he does say that the "new atheists" do not seem to have understanding of religion's "good".

Just recently, I read the summarization of a book "Border Lines" (Quadralateral Thoughts' side-bar recommended books). This author's theory is Jewish montheism leaves room for the development of Christian expression, as one of many expressions of faith.

I find this is an interesting concept, as I do believe that this is how man is made. Difference and uniqueness imprint us from our DNA to our fingerprints. This fact alone should underwrite the need for diversity of understanding and functioning of one's faith. Faith should wear no labels, really.

I think that if "Border Lines' is correct in its analysis, then, it also would underwrtie scholarship's understanding of religion and the different ways of understanding in the history of traditions, philosophy of religions, and the psychology of religion. These divisions represent different approaches from experience, tradition, and reason. I find that fascinating and liberating!

So, what would be the "correct" term for one that bases their faith on reason (philosophy of religion), agnostic mysticism; one who bases their understanding on experience (psychology of religion), an existentialist humanitarian; one who bases their understanding on tradition (history of religion), a social/political/cultural reformer....I know I am indentified with agnostic mysticism, but am grappling with the implications of the others...

Each one defines their faith on faith (agnostic mysticism), hope (existential humanitarian), and love (reformer)....and all are connected to the "real world" of the here and now....and is not defined by creed (religion's d0gmatics), or religion (labels of definitions based on dogmatics). it is an undefined faith in life itself, not a system, a culture, or group identity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Question of Christian Faith

Most Christians have a story, whether they came to faith through an personal experience, or were brought up in Church. These Christian stories are what bring meaning and/or understanding of what is of value and why. Different denominations, as well as the Catholic or Orthodox faith would understand these meanings differently and thereby would impact one's life differently.'

I do not believe that a person's faith commitment is defined in childhood, as understanding one's faith is a lifelong process. And life's commitments, contingencies and questions all impact how one evaluates their faith and how they continue or discontinue that faith.

In coming to faith, I had understood an unconditionality to love that I had never known and desparately needed to believe. But, as understanding changes due to many variables, I have chosen to distance myself from such a simplistic understanding, as God is not "active" in the way I had understood in my earlier experience and understanding. God is the great unknown mystery of life. He is not confined within any text, or within nature itself, but is seen in many ways through the human capacity for love, inspiration, creativity, hope and rationality. These are the ways in which I long to worship, not in a particular form, but a particular thrust.

I am glad that my Christian faith has been impacted by American ideals of justice before law, liberty to pursue goals or values that mean the most to me.

I am fortunate to be in a free nation, which allows freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Americans need to understand their faith as one that represents a God that allows individual difference and values individual uniqueness.

I'm hoping that my faith journey will not be defined by what I do not believe, as that has been of major importance in throwing off what is unvaluable to me, but what I choose to be committed to and why those commitments are of importance. Faith, then, becomes a flexible, but defining choice.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Church and Discrimination

Historically, the traditional Church becomes discriminatory. Discrimination among Christians is based on many authorities. These authorities are limiting factors in understanding the universal principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Many Christians would say that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were misguided goals of an individual's life. I would like to take them one by one and discuss what I believe is the wisdom of our Founding Fathers.

Life. Life is a human universal. Without life, we can not pursue any other opportunity. Life is experienced by the individual. Therefore, individual life must be protected, first and foremost. But, how is life defined? Life can be defined by it's physicality, as well as it's "abundance". If life is limited to the physical aspects, without supporting its abundance, life seems futile. The futility of life is found when man ceases to have "rewards" for his labor, or hope for his goals. While life's rewards and goals are aspects of a flourishing life, life cannot be realized apart from proper government that recognizes the individual's right to pursue his own ends.

Liberty. Government, such as we have in America, encourages engagement and recognizes everyone's right to pursue life's abundance as they deem fit, within the boundaries of law. This is how liberty is defined. But, traditional Christians do not support an individual's right to pursue his own ends, as Christians define life as a commitment to the "cause of the Kingdom of God" (how is the Kingdom defined?), or as a self abenagtion of life, itself. Life cannot be enjoyed for its own sake. It must have a purpose (or function of the church?)! Liberty is not the message of traditional Christian faith, as it is always about God's will and not the individual's will.

Happiness. As Christian faith is about "loving God first", Christians do not affirm seeking "happiness". Happiness is based on circumstances in the material realm, which undermines "faith" in a trascendent reality. The transcendent reality is more important than the real world and life of the individual. Acesticism has been understood as a form of "sanctification" by some, just as it did in Judiasm and other religious faiths. Ascesticism does not affirm the life of the material, but the spiritual. In fact, asceticism denies affirming life's "here and now".

Christian faith has been defined by tradition's doctrine, by Scriptural texts, and by Church authorities, but has never affirmed tolerance of individual difference. This is the reason why so many churches split over how they understand their faith and its commitments. This has happened historically and is still occurring. Churches are defined by their definitions of right (and wrong), while individuals seek after what is true for themselves. What are the values that are most important to uphold and seek?And Why? These are important questions for the young adult to evaluate in coming to terms with what his own passion is and what he wants to commit to.

Progressive Christians are more open to change than the traditional ones. The dilemma for progressives is where to draw the line to maintain a "group identity", where the traditional Christian has all of the elements of his faith defined for him. Progressive Christians base their faith on reason. Traditional Christians base their authority outside of themselves. The question for the Church is whether the Church should see itself as an institution established by God that is not to be questioned, or as a social structure that needs to challenge itself often in its understanding of faith, reason and what that means....otherwise, Christians will be discriminating and not even recognize it, until much too late....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Applause for America

John McCain lost last night and he, in characteristic fashion, graciously applauded Obama's presidency. In like matter, I would like to applaud our form of government and the ideals that our government represents.

Many across the world have watched to see if how America's ideals would play out in our presidental decision. The American ideal of equality has won the day with the election of the first African American. And I am proud that this ideal has won. It seemed to me that many African Americans were emotionally touched by this outcome. One does not have to question why this may be. Slavery is not representative of the American conviction of individual freedom or equality and choice. African Americans have lived with the stigma of slavery and discrimination, whether self-imposed or not, and it has affected their self-perception.

Now, the world knows that we mean business when it comes to our ideals of freedom and justice for all, at least within our own borders. Let's see how Obama and his cabinet envision these ideals on a global scale.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Friends, Foes and Fables

Today's "First Things" entry was about 'God on Trial". The usual questions about suffering, innocence, and a personal Almighty God. How men can bear anything as long as they believe that there is "purpose".

This article is really written to Christians, because it assumes that the person still believes that there is 1.)original sin 2.)the Jews were God's chosen people 3.)God has a purpose in suffering...he acts in history, if not in the "now", then in the future 4.) and that God spoke in/through texts. Such assumptions do not speak to the agnostic or atheistic rationalist, because it appeals to faith.

Suffering happens as a consequence of others choices that impinge upon our life as well as, just "life" itself. There are no reasons for some things. Friends do not bring suffering into their friend's life, but seek to bless and identify with it. Scripture says that Jesus calls us "no longer servants" but friends. Friends bear with you and are there for you in suffering. Friends do not seek to "test" you, as "First Things" claimed that God does. Friends remove obstacles in your way and help lift your burdens.

Foes, on the other hand, judge you as "a Jew", or other derogatory labels. While labels serve to help us understand where an individual "commits" or how an individual "understands", it should not be used to describe individuals, themselves. Individuals may identify with a group, but are much more than the group. Prejuidice is blindness to the commonality of humanity's "needs".

Fables, or myths, help groups to define themselves, or help the group to maintain certain values that are meaningful. These myths are not true in the historical sense, necessarily, but help give vision to a people. Myths can "grow up" around a historical figure, which is what transpired around the historical Jesus, Buddha, or the Pope or any other authority .

The ideals that America stands for: equality, liberty, justice for all people, are values that include every people group. We believe in the individual and the individual's right to choose his own way of life. American values "ideally" respect all people and their "way of life". American history has not realized the "all" in its history, but has grown in its embrace of all. But, the quandary lies in "traditional cultures", where the individual is not valued, but only the 'tradition". The individual only exists as the tradition defines him/her and conformity is mandated 'under law". These cultures are oppressive regimes under tribal 'elders" that terrorize anyone challenging its views. Not only religious or traditional cultures are challenging today, but political oppression is also a challenge to America.

We Americans have challenges today with those who would undertake to undermine our values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and it is done in the name of God or in the name of the "common good". Americans are open and somewhat naive about the world and life, because of our freedom to puruse our own lives. This very "freedom" has bred ambivalence on the part of many Americans about the larger world. Even our major news networks inform us of our own "news", while for the most part, leaving us in ignorance as to the rest of the world. While these are drawbacks to our "maturity", our values have been ones that others have jealously desired by those who do not have our freedoms. Many have come to our shores to seek the freedoms, that we so often take for granted. Our immigration policy must allow those "others" the equality, liberty, and justice that we Americans enjoy all the time. While embracing others into our country, we should not negate the need to qualify citizens in regards to loyalty to our culture's values of tolerance. Tolerance cannot embrace the intolerant, whether in religious or political ideologies. If we do, we are doing so at the demise of our society at large.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Huckabee's Tolerance of Atheists

I watched Huckabee last night interview Richard Dreyfuss. He was very cordial and respectful. He spoke about civil discourse. He practiced respecting those with whom he disagrees. I appreciate this as the differences in ideology could not be more stark in this election.

There is much that pokes fun at faith these days. And I really agree with many of the convictions of those who are atheists. Religion is dangerous, as we really do not know about God. We can only assume based on our culture's understanding. There is no supernatural revelation, nor is there any sacred/secular distinction. There are only variances of commitment based on what seems to bring about the most good. And the practical philosophy plays out in politics. This is where the game is played and won. One's commitment to a religious tradition is really irrelavant to how one thinks about what is best in a particular situation. One may justify one's posiiton based on a particular text or understanding of God, but reason is really the basis of a certain commitment.

So, convince me based not on God, but on why a certain position is best and why.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Education My Daughter Gave Me On YouTube!

This afternoon my oldest son, his girlfriend, and my daughter sat around our table discussing the political decisions that are facing us on Tuesday. The coversation came around to Obama and what he stood for. My daughter had happened upon two YouTube videos of Obama at campaign rallies and was relaying the information to us at the table. I could not believe my ears, so I asked her to inform me through my eyes!

She immediately got our computor and pulled up a YouTube video of Obama making fun of a heckler and cutting his question of by saying "Blah, Blah Blah...""You can vote for someone else", etc. This was on the heels of my learning last week about Obama dismissing some of the media travelling with his campaign, as they were pro-McCain!!! And this is America?

Obama wants a civilian military police. And he is portraying what our America may become under his "dictatorship"(especially, if the Democrats hold the reigns of power in Congress). He has investigated Joe the Plumber, one newswoman's husband, and some others. No doubt there are those that we don't (and won't) know about. This is quite disturbing that the Democrats who were outraged over Guantanomo Bay situation, are looking the other way when it comes to the abuse of power on the campaign trail. Are they so afraid of Obama's power that they fear speaking out? Do none of them care enough about our freedoms? Do none have the courage to go against their party when principle is of primary importance?

John McCain took the high road when he could have gotten out of prison, by denying some of his basic commitments to his country. But, he did not. Which candidate do we really think has the country's best interest at heart? Obama certainly wants change, but it is systemic change of our cultural values of freedom. We must not be so blind and focused on temporary promises that we forget the future of American ideals!