Friday, September 30, 2011

Looking For Forgiveness

There is a phenomenon of human behavior which is not limited by faith or culture which can be summed up by the pithy “We are a diverse group who reach positions based on due consideration, they are a bunch of clones that do whatever they are told.” This is clearly a particular expression of the phenomenon by which we as humans are prone to give more attention, and thus more depth of detail, to elements which impact us most directly, giving less detail as items recede from our immediate concerns. Most often, people think of this in the ways it manifests negatively, such as a willingness to demonize a rival political movement, or the inability to muster outrage for human rights violations in a county ethnically and religiously unlike our own. But it does work both ways. The same behavior leads to the odd reality that it is easier for people to donate cash to charities at a distance, such as famine in Africa, than to cause at home such as homeless children, for the very reason that the lack of detail in their mind makes it easier to feel like the money will do more good. Most of us don’t ascribe the same issues of corruption, personal accountability, and long term impact on the problem that we apply to a local issue when considering issues far away. It is this inverse of the common view of this vagueness I want to focus on today, at the extreme level; how our detailed view of ourselves can make it hardest of all to extend charity to ourselves.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cast Upon the Rocks

I enjoy going to the beach, unlike many I prefer the rocky coast to the sandy shore. Watching the waves spray against the stone, and the often dramatic changes in the contour of the coastline as the tide rolls in and out is a great way for me to spend a few hours, especially if the weather is not too hot. As I am not drawn to the popular commercial beaches, it is not uncommon for me to have a stretch to myself and I either get around to pondering, or just open my mind and let ideas come to me. I haven’t gotten to spend at day at the beach in a while, but thinking about doing so suddenly filled me with a new thought. If you’ll follow along with me as I describe the nature of the rocky shore, I promise I’ll share my idea with you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Which Trinity?

This weekend, I had two unrelated experiences which have mingled in my head as a new idea. First, in browsing blogs I ran across the phrase the ‘The Bible is not the fourth member of the Trinity’ for the first time. Sadly, I did not note which blog I was on at the time and the idea appears on many blogs preventing me from giving proper credit. Second, I attended a lecture by Luke Timothy Johnson, a former Benedictine monk and active Catholic with some serious research and authorial chops, who spoke among other things on the reality of a living Christ. His lectures are likely to give inspiration, credited or not, for many posts yet to come from this blog. I’d like to explore these two ideas briefly to outline them, and then bring them together to show the mingling they have been up to in my thoughts.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Selling God Short

I have nearly finished reading a book which is as interesting as it is terrible. Shopping for God by James B. Twitchell is an interesting peak behind the curtain at what the Church would be without God. Reporting from the perspective of the jaded atheist (while putting on the mantle of “apathiest,” one who does not care about his own or others' faith, so as to be less jarring), our narrator weaves us a tale of the Church as a free market enterprise, and writes the narrative of faith as a commodity to be sold, with churches as brands in competition. I do still have a chapter to go, so I may be surprised by a late twist, but overall the book has left me often shaking my head, feeling sorry for the narrator so blind he will not see, and yearning to give comfort to the confused and lost masses which he counts no more than shoppers at market day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Science and Faith

As you may have guessed by the many uses of science based examples and ideas in my prior posts, I do not subscribe to the camp which feels that science and faith are two opposite poles, and the gain of one is the loss of the other. I believe in a God who is lord of creation, and as such any gain in knowledge is a deeper understanding of Him. While I do not feel that I embrace the adage that Science teaches us What and Faith tells us Why, I do think that there is usefulness in the idea it expresses.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On Marriage And Civil Rights

Well, it may be time to upset some of my friends and loyal readers. I’ve started this post twice, and put it back on the shelf with such considerations as “I don’t need to get in the middle of a hot topic,” and “I don’t want to drive away readers who might find value in my other thoughts,” however, I’ve decided that these are the excuses of a certain moral cowardice and if I allow them to guide me, I begin to build fences around what I am free to mull over here. The usefulness of this tool as a place for me to explore my own thoughts would be diminished, and I would risk presenting myself as something other than who I am. That said I am now going to wade into my stand on the divisive issue of gay marriage. Readers are welcome to skip this post if they wish to avoid the topic and the frequent divisions that come with it; this will be a long post.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Christ by Any Other Name Would Love as Deep

Advocate, Almighty, Beloved Son, Bread of Life, Chief Cornerstone, Christ Jesus, Deliverer, Door, Elect of God, First and Last, Just One, King of Kings, Lamb of God, Mediator…. and numerous more. I know that many lists claim 100 or more names and titles by which the Savior is known. Not to mention the issue of Yahshua, Iesous, Jesu, Jesus, Joshua and other academic and theological revisions to the name the Christ was given at birth. I’ll get back to this list later; trust me it is not just a non sequitur introduction.

I like to read other blogs which jog my noggin and inspire thought, which means reading blogs I wish I could aspire to, blogs which say things I am deeply touched by, blogs which provoke frustration and make me want to shout at the author… but force me to confront what I believe, blogs which educate on areas far beyond my interests but do so in ways which provoke me to think and acknowledge the vast world beyond the limits of my thoughts. In this browsing, I was reading Anglican Curmudgeon, and dipped my toe in more or less at random to his archives. In doing so, I found a post which has led me to much thought, and I wanted to share that and put it down on paper. These ideas were stirred up in my mind, and have yet to form any solid pattern, they are still motes in the sunlight, jumbled and seeking form, I know not if the final pattern will reveal something amazing, or something I knew all along, but had not seen in this light. I may even find that I reject where the thoughts go, but in exploring I will learn more.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

A man has a daughter whom he loves very much. As a small child she is bright and inquisitive, but she is often mean to other children who are not as clever as she is, mocking them for her amusement. She asks her father; “Do you love me?” and he replies; “Yes, with all my heart, but I could teach you so much more if you would stop being so mean.” As she grows older, she gets bored in school and encourages other kids to act out in class and say things to embarrass or shock the teachers. She is often given detention and gets poor marks. She asks her father; “Do you love me?” and he replies; “Yes, with all my heart, but I could help you learn more and help your friends if you would stop encouraging them to break the rules.” When she moves out of the house she falls in with a bohemian crowd, given to recreational drug use, abuse of alcohol, and mocking of older cultural traditions and institutions, as well as a casual attitude towards physical intimacy. She asks her father; “Do you love me?” and he replies; “Yes, with all my heart, but I could share so much more with you if you would respect the things I raised you to know.” After a few years of hard living, she ends up in the hospital in serious condition, and looks back on her life and the choices she made, wishing she had taken chances she did not, wishing she had heeded advice she scorned, and her father comes to her bedside and weeps over her. She asks her father; “Do you love me?” and he replies; “Yes, with all my heart, as I have told you all your life, and now that you are ready to listen, I can tell you so much more about my love for you.”

I’m happy to concede that that is a fairly elementary and somewhat over-sweet allegory of the love of God for each of us wretched sinners. But as simple and contrived as it may be, it does serve to illustrate a very important point I see overlooked all too often. There is not a conflict between a God of love and a God who calls us to repent. Further, there is not a conflict between a call to know God through a relationship of love, and to know him as a sinner in need of grace. When we seek to place a binary tree on our relationship to God as either based in Love or based in Repentance, we create an artificial and worldly restriction on our knowledge and relationship with God, and to my understanding, we limit our closeness to him, and thus compound our sins.

The Power of Not Being Correct

This post is going to reveal part of the reason for this blog’s name. It is tied up in something that to me is very cool; that sometimes, being wrong can be more helpful to us than being right. Let us consider drawing a lake shore. At first, I may simply draw an oval-ish shape where I know the lake is. I go back later, and add some bulges and some notches, showing some inlets or arms of note. Later, I wonder exactly where a dock is, and so I go back and try to redraw the shore to follow the far less regular shape it actually follows. If, for some reason, I really wanted to know where a specific rock was, I would likely go back and redraw the shore there adding an even greater depth of detail. But if I were to insist upon drawing the entire lake shore perfect and exact in every way, it would not benefit me, for I would spend so long in the effort that I would never be able to make use of my map. Some of you may be recognizing where this is going… I am describing a rough analogy of the evolution of a fractal pattern in mathematics, a shape of bounded area, but limitless perimeter. If I have a fractal contained within a circle two feet across, I could take a paint roller a foot wide and paint the whole object in two strokes. But if I took a hypothetically perfect brush and tried to paint a line around the edge, I would never finish.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kindness That Can Kill

Let’s take the time to at least dip our toes into the deep waters of understanding kindness, which is woven tightly into the ideas of mercy and love. I think that it is under the cover of kindness that many of us are able to justify a variety of un-Christ like behaviors, and excuse moral weakness as the exercise of virtue. I know for a certainty that I am guilty of this myself, and that it is a work which still requires conscious effort on my part to avoid, I have not managed to make the avoidance of false kindness an automatic spiritual reflex in my life, and so must guard against it with rigors of logic and ethical thought.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Pack of Well Meaning Lies.

This post is a follow up, or perhaps a continuation, of my comments yesterday on truth. If you have not read that post, I strongly suggest doing so before delving deeper into this essay. I want to look at and clearly enumerate some of society’s quirks and behaviors on the opposite side of the coin. Whereas before I considered our comment claims of devotion to the truth and a handful of the reasons that no matter our intent in the end it will elude us, today I wish to look at our aversion to lies, and how we have constructed elaborate social rules to permit the many lies we cannot live without, to prevent us from confronting the truth that perhaps lies are not as innately bad as we like to think, and the evil comes from a source external to the lie itself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Few Half-truths.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) is often credited with the observation: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Of note, Mr. Clemens claimed he was quoting Benjamin Disraeli, although this appears to be a false attribution as well, and the phrase seems to be a reworking of another unsourced (or, rather, over sourced) quote popular in the early 1890s that there are three kinds of liars: liars, damned liars, and experts. All of this confusion over a statement about how one might be misled, it is a source of amusement to me, and I feel a fitting point of departure for me to ruminate upon truth, Truth, and the efforts to which we sometimes go to avoid confronting how limited what we can really know is.

A (not so) Brief Post About My Posts.

Let me make a quick aside to provide a few disclaimers and qualifiers, so that potential future readers might have a fair understanding of what to expect from my writings.

In my writings here, I am providing myself an outlet for thoughts, ideas, confusions, and quandaries which occur to me. It is an outlet to help me better reach an understanding of what I think and feel, and hopefully promote a deeper harmony between them, and perhaps even strip away some of my delusions and aid me to grow nearer to my God in heart and deed. As such, I will often venture into what is, for me, “the deep end” of thought, philosophy, theology, semantics, semiotics, soteriology, and other topics which are remote to many people or viewed as of little direct consequence to their lives. That is fine; in fact I think that one can be an amazing Christian and exemplar of a Christ-centered life without ever giving these topics active and dedicated consideration… but I am drawn to such ideas, the root Doctrines and deep Mysteries of the limit (or lack thereof) between our material and spiritual beings. If these musings seem frivolous to you, or if you feel I am worrying over matters which are not material to salvation, I respect your view but would simply ask that you respect my curiosity and not take pains to point out what I am already aware of.

This is a personal journal made public, and a point of embarkation for voyages of curiosity, it is not a scholarly journal or pulpit of official pronouncements. As such, I may often mention in passing ideas, philosophers, theologians, books, or studies without providing a proper academic citation, or providing clear information to follow up for those who wish to know more. In these cases, feel free to ask me for more information in the comments or by email. On the reverse, I may incorporate by reference ideas and schools of thought which are well known by me, and proceed to build points on content derived from them without restating them. This may be poor form, but this is a place of ideas, a second cousin of stream of thought, if you will. It would disrupt and undermine the outlet of these musings for me to pause to find citations or restate ideas well known to me. I apologize for any opacity this gives my writing to those unfamiliar with the same sources, and again ask that if you desire clarity, I am happy to provide it in comments or private emails, but am unlikely to insert it into my ramblings.

In the event, which I do not consider unlikely, that I make a factual error (not merely an alternate interpretation or opinion) in my reference to others’ thoughts and works, I will try and make it my habit to provide an in-line edit which provides the correction parenthetically next to the error, so that later readers may see the same post as those readers which caught the error, but the corrected information will be clear.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Limits of Sola Scriptura

Allow me to go ahead and express a few of my thoughts and convictions which may annoy potential future readers now, and get them out of the way. I do not oppose the concept at the root of the Sola Scriptura doctrine, which is to say that I agree with John Wesley that “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.” That said I do not accept the expansion of this idea that has taken root, especially in many churches which self identify as Evangelical or Fundamentalist, such as the notion that God’s Word is easy to grasp for anyone of typical intelligence, with no special knowledge or education beyond the pages of Scripture itself.

I don’t mean for the above to sound elitist, and it is not my intention to claim that a typical member of the church requires a trained agent to guide him in bible study for it to be of value. I will lay out a few reasons for my objection in the hopes of dispelling the whiff of self aggrandizement.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

I was reading a book, and found myself speculating on the lives of these fictional characters beyond the end of the page, and suddenly they had, however incompletely, new lives behind my eyes. I found myself thinking on the creative powers of authors and the worlds without end that drip from their pens.

This led naturally to my thinking about God as Author, writing the world in which we all move, being engaged and entertained by the twists and turns of these characters and the setting that enfolds them.

Then it struck me, I was making God in my own image, as a lover of literature, and I had a moment of clarity in which I realized... we all make God in our own image anytime we seek to understand Him, it is the only way for us to open a channel narrow enough and understandable enough for His limitlessness to approach us in a way we can accept; so how could it be anything but true that we are each made in God's image, not once at our birth but in a continuing and ongoing manner every time we look for Him in our lives, we reflect that which is like unto Him, and see perhaps some small part of what is not in His nature. The reflection of a mirror which has never been. Where does the dust return to?

We Are Spiritual Beings Having a Material Experience.

To begin somewhere in the middle, as is usual whatever protests or affectations an author may adopt, I think that it is a critical piece to any understanding of my religious ideas and contemplations that I approach them from a perspective that our souls are transcendental, and our experience here on earth is an inherently limited portion of our full existence.

Let me share some musings on the limits of our knowledge and our proper attitude towards life beyond this mortal coil, which inform my general beliefs and inform many conclusions likely to be put forward in future thoughts.

Does the Ministry of Christ speak to the topic of life beyond the mortal life? Most certainly it does, I do not seek to deny this. However, I assert that as in so many other things, the context of audience is as important as the content of speech in understanding. Christ needed to inform the children of Israel that in electing to follow him, they fate of their soul was placed into his sure keeping, so that they could have assurance to allow them to live fully the New Life without the burdens of worry for their souls.