Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wither mine postage?

Okay -- I'm recuperating from a kayaking accident -and- I just found out that a friend of the family died last night.

Life. Welcome to the interruptions.

Postings will continue as soon as I can sit down and gather my thoughts.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN: update #2

Would you agree that pastors are not, to quote Neo, "regular people?" Why or why not? Does this tension contribute to the difficulty Dan has with self-disclosure? What risks are involved when a person cannot be honest?

Well, ignoring the obvious pun in my mind about NO pastor I've ever met being normal...I'd say that we, as the lay people, make them abnormal.

Let me explain: whether consciously or not, we place them on a pedestal. We look to our leaders to be strong moral guides, which is what they should be. Those who lead ARE held to a higher standard, but that does not mean that they should be or can be super-human and unable to be real.

As a lay leader (please SOMEONE invent a new term; I'll give you $5), I find that I am placed on a pedestal by many people. Its very, very, very difficult to be open at first with people who look up to you. I could site examples from the junior/senior high school kids I work with and/or the college and singles there are some people, who -- developmentally speaking, cognitively, emotionally and/or spiritually -- are not in a place where they can accept their leaders as human.

And we who are the leaders (God help me if I ever worked full-time in a church; I'd either be loved or burned as a heretic) do this to ourselves as well. Think about it, those of you with me or who are like me, those of us who serve as leaders: can you honestly say that you put on your true face when dealing with your peers? I know that sometimes I don't. To be certain, I don't lie or put on a false face, but do I at times put on a lovely veneer of everything is alright in Sonnyland JUST because I find it hard to say, "I'm hurting about this today" or "I haven't felt as close to God as I think I should," or something similar?

When you can't be honest with your peers, your friends, colleagues and FAMILY in this struggle of life -- you can't be honest with yourself. You wind up believing the lie that everything is alright, and as someone whose degree is based in Counseling: that's a load'a crap that will hurt and potentially destroy you further down the road. It almost did me.

Why? Why can I not just look at a friend and say I feel like crying today? Why? Why can I not just feel comfortable enough with a brother or sister whose opinions and advice I routinely seek about comparatively trivial matters...why can I not just open up to the...to show the wounds, struggles, fears, pain and love that I have inside?

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What kind of posture do friends take towards one another? What postures do we normally assume when we talk about matters of faith? What do you think it means to use a term like posture when talking about how people engage each other relationally?

Ha. Posture. Good one -- this is almost a no-brainer: think about how when you're talking to someone that you care about and you feel comfortable with. Duh. Your posture is eased, relaxed -- you don't sit or stand there with folded arms, or with any other kind of overt body language that might make you come across as guarded. But -- and this just occurred to me -- I think one of MY problems is that I presume that many of my friends will assume my same posture/stance on an issue (if not physical stance), and I think I come into these discussions a little more unguarded than I normally would.

This translates especially into my discussions about faith with my friends. We all tend to gravitate and hang out with people like us, people that we feel comfortable with. Our posture and stance again, both literal and physical, tends to be one of a more "chill" 'tude than anything else.

You know, I almost blew this question off as being too simplistic, until the idea of a stance as a position on an issue AND literal stance -- as in how we physically manifest our body language to one another -- crossed my mind. Guess this means I'm not too big of an idiot if I can get multiple meanings from one word.

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What is the role of a leader in the church? Do we pay pastors to be the answer-men and -women? What is the cost of such an approach? How might the way we train such leaders dictate the kind of leaders we produce?

...and here is where my academic snobbery will burn brightly through...

I. Hate. The. Way. Modern. Churches. Exist.

Maybe I've been in academia too long. Maybe I enjoy the way I debated/argued as an undergraduate and as a graduate student a little too much. But I personally can not STAND the way we exalt preachers and even lay leaders to be THE answer to-go-to people. Yes, there are some very easy faith-based answers that pastors SHOULD be able to rattle off with ease and are for Christians not open to debate (salvation; Christs death and resurrection; etc.). But we have placed a human in a state of authority as one point, one person, one lens to focus all answers through -- and you know what? THEY CAN BE WRONG. They can even be right on answers, but they give the correct answer through their point of view, and their answer is not exhaustive, complete, or potentially even reflective of MY point of view.

To be sure, thats why we have connection or small groups some would argue. That's why we do life together with other people.

Bull.

That's one of the reasons, yes, and potentially one of the healthiest reasons. We tend to feel safer in a smaller environment, where we feel we can let down our guard and be real. But what does that say about the man or woman up on the stage? Do we force them to be LESS real because they have to be all things to everyone, but not in a way that is reflective of what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 when he stated that he was all to all -- but his was for a case of inclusion, and less political correctedness.

We, the Western culture, are so accustomed to everyone -- from Ms. Lyons, or whoever your first-grade-teacher might've been, on to your high school teachers -- we place so many of these people in a position of yes/no, right/wrong, black/white authority and answer people that we fail miserably to understand and appreciate the complexities and beauty of discussion and hammering issues out rather than just accepting facts, and sadly more often than not, just sheer opinion from these in authority.

We pay leaders in a church to hold the course. To speak the truth in love. To teach. In a totally Socratic method. Or, to give out a major old-school shout-out to mah boyz in geekdom: GIGO.

You know what? I want someone one time to one to tell me they dont know the answer to something. Or at least not act like they know what they're talking about as they tell me that they don't know.

Leaders lead. They guide. To me, the best leaders point out the path, stay on the path with you as you walk down it, but they do not tell you what steps to take, how many steps to take, or even where the steps lie. You find your own path, with them as a guide. G-U-I-D-E. Faith is not paint-by-numbers, nor is it a one-size-fits-all idea or mentality. By perpetuating the idea of leaders who tell us what to do ("Just pray this simple prayer and God will give you the blessings of [fill in the blank]"), what to read, how to pray, when to pray, to adhere to bumper sticker theology (oh, I'll talk more about that later), and to follow them

They hurt the children: us. The children of God. The ones Jesus warned about damaging, or else they've have -- I believe it was a "millstone" placed around their neck and thrown out into the water or something like that. They're the ones who burn people out of faith, and from God. They're why people turn from the church, and run to people and/or ideologies what will embrace them, and accept their thoughts and questions.

...but you know what? Look at a question mark. It looks like this: ? Doesn't that resemble half of a heart to you? And, appropriately enough, don't our questions cut to the heart of who and what we really are?

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Friday, June 02, 2006

Let's try this little experiment...

Okay. So. One of my oldest friends -- like, we're talking we met back when I was in the ninth grade in 1985 -- has recently come back into my life, and it looks like the circles that our lives move in are starting to converge once more after having moved to the outer regions for...the better part of a decade ('sup, Pittman?).

He -- along with one other person whose opinion I trust (hi, Ryan) have both recommended a book to me. Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. So, being the easily-swayed spineless jellyfish that I am (-ha-), I bought a copy.

Yeah. Three chapters into this thing, I can tell it's going to rock my world. In a good way.

The printing of the book I bought has this keen little Reader's Guide in the back. Now, ordinarily, what I'd do is I would write out the responses to these questions into one of the multiple journals in my house, where no one can find them and where one day my phantom children will discover them read them,. and then bbe in need of therapy. LOTS of therapy. But, before that, if I felt that I'd written anythign particulary note-worthy 9or just plain dumb), then I'd transpose the "Best Of" here -- sharing my filtered thoughts with all a'ya.

Not so much this time.

What I will do is type my reponses to each question separately, updating daily/almost-daily (due to travels in the sumer), with ym unfiltered, and oft-times rambling, responses.

Read on at your own peril. Here there be honesty...

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CHAPTER ONE:
1. Have you had relationships that felt safe enough to talk about your struggles and doubts regarding your faith? What made them so?


Not until recently -- most of my history with faith and belief has been with a lot of my friends closed off to the idea of doubt. I remember in my freshman year of college -- back in my "Dark Poet" days, where I wrote some great stuff, but MAN, was it morose -- I wrote the phrase "Doubt is a badge of victory for a saint" or something to that effect. Even then, I was struggling with problems of doubt, of questions -- and the judgmental looks and responses I got from so many people...looking back, I now understand that developmentally speaking (emotionally and cognitively), they weren't in the place I was in, where doubts were okay.

I think I've mastered most of my doubts, although they do creep back up every now and again. It's not just the bad days that make me doubt; I think that doubt and challenging oneself is a natural part of growth -- I used to get so pissed off at people I called sheep, the ones who'd blindly follow anything any one preacher said...until God reminded me that everyone needs guidance at points in their lives. That there may be circumstances in that person's life where they just NEED to sit, listen and be fed...and that with hope, they'll grow and walk on their own, not straying from the sight of the shepherd they have in their life. It might not be THAT shepherd they're listening to at the time -- they may grow beyond that and move on to another field.

But now -- now, I feel like I can question, but, sadly, I still have friends who might not understand the context f the question, who might say it's okay to question INSIDE of Christianity and the established rules (or non-rules), but to question outside of it? To say that all we need might not be answered or found wrapped up in a neat package, all the answers are to be discovered might not be in scripture, or the fact that life effing sucks sometimes and that there are times when we question and rage against the sky with no answers to come immediately?

There's the struggle -- the struggle that, as someone in a minor position of leadership in my local church -- what would the kids I mentor and interact with on an almost-daily- basis say if they knew that I was...human? That my feet of clay are more like feet of clay on rollerskates, that I flow freely from one extreme to the next in the realm of doubt, questions...I love each and every one of them more than I can express (why else the crap would I allow one of them to smear Cheetos in my hair?!?!?), but can we all accept the fact that we are ALL going to have doubts, fears...and can we all just accept each other -- TRULY accept each other -- as flawed? Faulty?

Why do we cheer when Christ called the Pharisees white-washed graves when all we do sometimes is put on white-washed masks of who we are with our family in the blood? Not so much so that we'll look perfect, but at least so that we'll look together? When did authentic spiritually go from carrying one another's burden's to a game of one-upmanship?

(to be continued...)