No Room for Me in Heaven

So awhile back I posted a conversation between me and an atheist acquaintance. In the turnabout is fair play department, I’m posting a recent gchat exchange I had with one of my Christian brethren . To be fair, I find conversations with fundamentalists of any stripe particularly taxing, because I don’t think there’s much traction for conversation to start with. There’s just their side of view and you being wrong until you agree with them. That said, we should be able to talk to one another even when we disagree theologically. As I see it, the formula’s pretty simple:

-listen to each other’s opinions
-ask questions for clarification when we don’t understand (rather than assume)
-respect one another
-realize that you might actually not be right
-value the relationship over your certainty

(Check out this Jay Lake post for further clarity)

Anyway, the discussion began over this tweet (and we’ll see if I ever re-tweet alanfadling ever again!) The stuff in italics is the side conversation I was having with my youngest as he was reading over my shoulder.

MauriceBroaddus: RT @alanfadling: “We have a finite number of ways to sin; God has an infinite number of ways to forgive” (Peterson) http://bit.ly/8s21zf

MP – Jesus said : I am the Way, The Truth, and The Life, No one comes to the father but by me. Sounds like God only has ONE way to forgive via repentance and trust in Christ, Not infinite ways…that’s universalism.

#2Son: Daddy, do you know him?
Me: Not really. We know who each other are, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation before. I think this is his way of introducing himself.

Maurice Broaddus – yeah … i’m probably not in your heaven.

#2Son: Daddy, why aren’t you going to heaven.
Me: Daddy’s just joking. I’m probably too quick to make a joke out of something.

MP – Sounds like you’re not going to be in Heaven. Do you really believe everyone goes to Heaven? Even Hitler?

#2Son: Daddy, are you sure you’re going to be in heaven? He doesn’t seem to think so.
Me: I swear, I don’t think he’s in charge of the list.

Maurice Broaddus – actually, i have no idea who is going to be in heaven.

MP – So by that last statement, can I imply that not everyone goes to Heaven?

#2Son: You’re sighing again.
Me: I know. I’ve had this conversation before.
#2Son: I thought you said you’d never talked to him before?
Me: I haven’t. But I know when someone’s building a head of steam spoiling for an argument. He’s building up to his “gotcha” moment. I used to be like that.
#2Son: What happened?
Me: I realized that people quit listening to me. And that I didn’t really care about them, but the IDEA of them.
#2Son: I don’t get it.
Me: I was more concerned with getting “notches in my belt”. I mean, I was more concerned with my number of wins rather than getting to know the person themselves. He actually means well. He sees himself as saving me from myself and my “bad theology” because he doesn’t want to see me go to hell. Kind of like how you might run into a burning building to save a stranger.

Maurice Broaddus – you could imply that. you could also imply that heaven and hell might be the same place experienced differently by different people. you could also imply that i, given my finite knowledge and perceptions, can’t presume to speak of the love of God and who does or does not get in. you could even imply that i have no idea what heaven is. and you could even imply that i don’t think the point of our lives is to just “get into heaven”. actually, you might be able to imply that i’m not a Christian. probably the only thing you could definitely conclude is that i’m probably not the Christian you are looking for.

#2Son: I like that.
Me: What?
#2Son: “I’m probably not the Christian you are looking for.” It sounds like something from Star Wars.
Me: I’ve never been more proud of you than I am right now.

MP – I think the Bible gave us more than enough information to understand the things that God desires us to understand. You can’t make your own form of Christianity. It has to line up with Scripture which is authoritative and absolute apart from the imaginations of men. Hate to break this to you. But the Emergent Church is dead. You and Doug Pagitt need to come back to orthodox Christianity…it never left and it still prevails against all false ideas that die away.

Maurice Broaddus – i’m afraid it’s not orthodox christianity that i turned my back on. what i did turn my back on what the brand of christianity more concerned with being “right” than being loving. that reduces the gospel to some individualistic pact between a person and God (which actually DOES lead to people forming their own “christianity”). and people more concerned with arguing than getting to know people.

EH – I hate to break it to Marcus, but Superman is dead. There is no “movement” that God endorses. He had one group singled out for only a sliver of history. Being rejected by that group, He opened it up for all. Whether we love or accept Him on His terms is for Him to decide. He chose us, and at that point a large amount of uncertainty begins. It should not be a goal for a Christian to get to heaven, but to strive for an eternal loving relationship with Him. It does no good to say this movement or this philosophy is better. If you don’t have love you are dead in your sins. God resists the proud. The best we can do as Christians is immerse ourselves in the word and seek His truth and don’t get into the scriptural Bloods and Crips. Orthodoxy? I am interested in a road with no turns or bumps…

#2Son: Don’t we know EH?
Me: Yeah, teh interwebz are a big place and a lot of people can see this stuff.
#2Son: Is Superman dead?
Me: Not anymore. He was in an overdrawn storyline in the comics a few years ago. I think I have the animated version of it. Want to go watch it?
#2Son: Yeah. Are you done arguing?
Me: Sometimes you just have to back away from your keyboard.

Why Do You People Still Need All that Black Stuff?

I don’t know why I let Chesya Burke direct me to RaceFail on teh Interwebz.  There’s plenty enough out there without me having to seek it out.  Yet, when she calls in that “I ain’t playing.  I’m about to choke somebody” voice, I have to check it out.  Let this be a lesson to you:  quit winding her up, cause she winds me up, and I got deadlines.

The cause of the umbrage is the fact that this month’s BET Awards will be a royal affair: Prince is getting a lifetime achievement honor.  The 51-year-old joins the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Al Green in being honored by the BET Awards, which will celebrate its 10th year in Los Angeles on June 27.

The thread in question involved this old chestnut:  “One would think that since we’ve come so far as to have a black president we wouldn’t need award programs where the winners have to be of a particular ethnicity. Imagine the hate and protest that would come if there was a White Entertainment Television channel and awards ceremony, or a White Miss America Pageant. Are these ethnic-centered events still needed? Are they racist? What are your thoughts?”

My first thoughts:  this will mark the first time I’ve wanted to tune into BET since A.J. and Free were the hosts of 106th and Park.

Now to parse the fail.  I’m not going to cast this person as racist.  It’s a question that on the surface is a gut reaction to what one might see as unfair.  I’ll accept that premise at its word.  However, as I’ve said before, just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things.

Fail #1:  I was right there in the elation of electing President Obama, believing that I’d never see that day in my lifetime.  Of course, the fact that so many still had that sentiment ought to put this whole conversation in check, but I’ll continue anyway.  I know the temptation is to believe that now that we have a black president, the sins of racism have now been erased and we can move forward.  I guess this ignores the entirety of history as I double check to see where someone breaks the color barrier, say Jackie Robinson, all of the racism just goes away.  Just like with Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl, the first black head coaches to do so. It doesn’t, and the backwash of latent racism his election has churned up should be evidence that we haven’t come as far and aren’t as sophisticated as we’d like to believe ourselves to be.  Plus, I don’t look to politics and politicians to cure what is a heart issue.

Fail #2:  The old “White Entertainment Television”, “White Miss America Pageant”, and because I’m in a generous mood, I’ll toss in one for free, “White Expo” argument.  Now, I’ll spare you my standard quips (“WET?  Yeah, we’ve always just called it ABC, CBS, or NBC.” “White Miss America Pageant?  It was only recently the pageant even realized there were beautiful women of color in this country to begin with.”  “White Expo?  Really, cause we let you have NASCAR.”).  Just like you can spare me conveniently overlooking the fact that BET, Black Miss America Pageants, and Black Expos (and I’ll throw in Historically Black Colleges since it won’t be but 30 seconds before someone throws in their tale of woe about not getting a scholarship because they aren’t black) wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if black people hadn’t been shut out of institutions.

Now, horror has had its own legacy of RaceFail, so I turn to it to answer the question “What would the protest look like?”  It would look something like when Brandon Massey was doing the anthology series, Dark Dreams.  All of a sudden, many white “recognized racism when they saw it.”  They thumped their chests loudly at this “brand of segregation” and “affirmative action writing” … when we’re not even a year out of yet another “best of” anthology series having a table of contents featuring only white men.  So again, it’d be nice to declare us in a post-racial era, but let’s actually live like we’re in one first before we declare us there.
Fail #3:  Privilege and the “need for such things”.  Being a majority in a society, holding the bulk of the power, with the weight of history and social institution behind you, it’s easy to see any inroad/erosion of that as unfair.  In your quest for colorblindness, you don’t realize how much that negates people of color.  As I said at the conclusion of my blog on white privilege (and, yeah, for the sake of continued conversation, I no longer refer to “white privilege” as “crackernomics”):  I know, I know, you gentle white souls, this means you rage against the gods of political correctness as your slice of the American Dream pie continues to get cut into. The conversations are tough, exposing your possible denial, defensiveness, guilt, and shame of benefiting from systemic injustice. Be strong white people.

As for the need for such things, I look to institutions such as the “black church”.   It was a miracle that it came about in the first place and it still serves a vital function in the black community.  Would I like to see a post-racial church?  Absolutely.  Just as I recognize that it will take continued serious work and conversations to make it happen.  Until then, you can’t keep complaining that all the black kids sit with each other in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, we just need to.

Asking those questions isn’t racist.  It’s ignorance and there’s nothing wrong with ignorance as long as we’re willing to listen and learn.  I want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” as much as the next person, but we aren’t there yet.  Hopefully we can keep having conversations until we get to this post-racial Nirvana we all are so ready to skip ahead to.

Post-Racial Church: The Myth and the Hope Part II: So what can we do?

[click here for Part I]

David Mills directs us to Larry Auster’s comments regarding “The only hope for the betterment of the black race (and the white race)”:

“The solution cannot be in the ‘horizontal’ dimension, that is, in the relationship between blacks and non-blacks, because blacks will always be behind on the level of earthly functioning, leading to unjust racial resentment on the part of blacks and undeserved racial guilt on the part of whites.

“The solution can only be found in the ‘vertical’ dimension,” he continues, “… in the relationship between each black person and God through Jesus Christ, who will put each person’s self in true order and true freedom and remove the focus on the ‘horizontal’ differences and inequalities.

“Each black person will then live and perform and fulfill himself as a human being according to his own aspirations and abilities, without comparing himself to whites.”

Um, yeah, so the solution is for us to pray for us to forgive white folks and leave our resentment behind. I do believe we need to keep having conversations across the racial divide, and I’m as “We Are the World” as the next brother, but this would be considered a conversation fail. Note, while there is some truth in the statement, the onus was in what black people need to do. We can get sidetracked and bogged down by so many conversations that dance around the true issues at hand, and still manage to enflame all the old passions and lingering resentments. Conversation does not mean confess your guilt to a Negro. Don’t confuse institutions of black survival (the black family, black church, and black schools) with institutional or reverse racism.

Sociologically speaking, I’ve learned that we can have the language of sorry, but we don’t have the practice of sorry. My two boys, Reese and Malcolm, have been known to on occasion fight. We, the parental figures and ruling authority in their lives, have been known to make them apologize to one another. Without fail, the initial apology is done through gritted teeth and is essentially worthless. But it is a start. If I’ve learned nothing over the last few months, I’ve at least learned that “sorry”, or rather, repentance, needs to be lived out. And racism needs to be repented of.

Institutionally speaking, the church doesn’t need to program diversity, it needs to be diverse. One of the myths about the Great Commission is that Crossing cultures is a step beyond the general mandate. This myth is that only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples. The rest of us should only focus on people like us, in our culture. The problem with this myth is that the actual Great Commission commands otherwise. Incredibly, Jesus gave a commandment to his mostly Jewish audience to go to a mostly Gentile people and make disciples! Jesus commanded his Jewish followers to go to all people groups (all ethnos, the Greek word for “nations”). In other words, the Great Commission itself is a mandate to cross cultures!

So we start with the individuals. Church folks concerned about multi-cultural church or the state of race relations, looking at your FaceBook friends list is a natural moment to examine the demographics of your life. If the diversity is my sister and I, you may need to color up your lives. I’m not saying take out ads looking for black friends, I’m saying take some steps to break out of the comfortable routine of your life.

At the same time, diversity isn’t the goal. Diversity isn’t the mission. We’re to be missional, advance God’s kingdom here on earth. Strive to carve out a foretaste of what heaven’s supposed to be. In my experience, most times conversations about race in the context of church devolve into spiritual circle jerk. Churches may talk about wanting diversity, even making token statements about wanting to see it reflected from the top down, yet their leadership remains a white, sausage fest. We hear plenty of talk and have attended many conventions, now we need more.

Too many people’s idea of being post-black (post-racial group of choice) means leaving their heritage behind. As we move forward, no one should have to leave their culture for the the sake of coming together. I mentioned in my previous post about how my formative years were spent in another (the dominant) culture. It is part of a journey I’ve spoken about before. As a result, I was a perpetual other: never a part of the dominant culture and often looked at askance by my own. In order to navigate my circumstance, and keep some measure of cultural sanity, I developed a third culture mentality.

Church should be a third culture experience. Countercultural. Church needs to serve everyone: hungry is hungry, widowed is widowed, orphaned is orphaned, the least of these are the least of these. Pain knows no color. Diversity can be a measurement of how well we’re doing our job. Not something expressly sought after, but a by-product of how well you are serving your community. Your whole community.

Are we really living out our core values, the things we say we’re about or do we once again have to learn to be patient and give the church another chance to get things right (and forgive it its slowness)?

Church is a bigger place than one building or one community. I’ve come to realize that one particular body might not meet all of our needs and may fail us on occasion. And we’re quick to measure our experience with the church by a particular body. But it is all of the Christians who make up the church. Our mission is to be about loving, learning, worshiping, and serving together and one another. But we can’t be that until we’re willing to enter the discomfort. In any culture, despite pain and discomfort that may come. We have to risk our safety and taking on pain. We need truth tellers, bridge builders, and risk takers. We need to be the church.

Post-Racial Church: The Myth and the Hope Part I: Coming to You

It would be cool for someone to do a documentary called “Being Black In Evangelicalism” the sub-title would be “The Only Black Person In The Room” (or vice-versa). Evangelicals, as members of the dominant culture, have no idea what it’s like for a black person (esp. a black female) to be the only black dude in a room full of whites. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been in that position but it’s always a bit uncomfortable no matter how nice and welcoming people are. I’ve been at evangelical stuff where the room had a few hundred whites and I’m the only black guy. And no one ever really seems to notice.

In light of the Jim Crow still being alive poolside incident, I’ve been thinking about race and wondering if things are any better in the church. With some of the talk about the new post-racial era that we’re entering, the question has come up about whether the church can become post-racial. That’s the hope, but I’ve been coming to terms with church being as fallen as the people who make it up.

Too many about race inside and outside of the church begin (and end) with “I don’t see race” as if that’s a triumph of societal acceptance. While I understand what the sentiment attempts to get at, what my ears often hear and how my heart reacts is “No, you see people (culturally) like you.” The bulk of our interchange of life, most of our interactions, is largely within the same race of people. So of course there’s no need to talk about race. You don’t see race if you’re fully emerged in one story. And we’ve lived with our comfortable situations for so long we’ve become inured to it and don’t want to change things. We’re content with life as it is and don’t want to do or say anything which may make waves in our lives.

Color blindness is not a virtue, it’s a disservice. Color effects how I experience the world. Color effects how I’m perceived by the world. So your “color blindness” negates my identity. I look back on my history whenever I have attended a majority white church. Most times, me and my family were the entire black experience for a lot of folks. And we made it easy for “them” to get to know us because we go to “them”. Here’s what I mean: we grew up in mostly the white/dominant culture. It’s where we went to school, it’s where we went to church, it’s where we go to work. Minorities in the dominant culture have swum in those waters all of our lives, so it’s easy for us to be “safe” because we’re used to adapting to that culture.

I can always tell when friendships with me reach a new level of depth. Those friends come to me. They go where we go, do what we do, be it Black Expo, step shows, or Kwanzaa festivals. They take an interest in us and our culture, wanting to get to know us and understand us better. Without wanting to co-opt it. Without condescension of “wanting to relate” or “have a black experience.” Without the denigration of calling it “weird”. (I’m reminded of when a group of “friends” asked me to take them to a rough area of the city. They were thrill seeking and wanted a ghetto tour guide. I took them to Carmel, a suburb north of me. I told them that me driving through there at night was all the thrill I needed.)

So no, white church, you don’t know me. You haven’t taken the time to get to know me. You’ve invited me in with your “Negroes Wanted” signs and hoped that I wasn’t too different from you so that I wouldn’t make you uncomfortable. So that you wouldn’t have to come face-to-face with the everyday consequences of a history of humiliation suffered by a black male, the powerlessness–without even the power to keep our own names, being exploited, the dreams shattered, the justice denied, and of being dehumanized.

So the anger builds. I’ve absorbed the humiliations as part of the cost of the “privilege” of being with whites. And the hatred builds. The hatred of myself. The hate I’ve been taught, the hate I’ve learned, the hate I’ve internalized. We all have walls and race and culture is simply another wall we have to navigate. So I guess we’re wondering what can we do?

[continued tomorrow …]

Mo*Con IV: A New Hope – Updated 5/12/09

“The Love and Business of Writing”

May 15th – 17th , 2009

What is Mo*Con?

Brought to you by the Indiana Horror Writers, Mo*Con is a friendly convention focused on conversations revolving around horror literature and spirituality (two great tastes that taste great together!). If you enjoy writing, horror, fantasy, poetry, and food, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at this convention

Who Will Be There?

Tom Piccirilli
Tom Piccirilli is the Edgar nominated author of twenty novels including THE COLDEST MILE, THE COLD SPOT, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, HELLBOY: EMERALD HELL, THE DEAD LETTERS, HEADSTONE CITY, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, and NOVEMBER MOURNS.

Gary Braunbeck
Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific author who writes mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream literature. He is the author of 19 books; his fiction has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Russian and German. Nearly 200 of his short stories have appeared in various publications.

Lucy Synder
The author the author of a trilogy of novels that are set be published by Del Rey starting in 2009; the first book in the series is entitled Spellbent. Also the author of Sparks and Shadows, a cross-genre short story collection from HW Press, Lucy A. Snyder may be most known for her humor collection Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (And Other Oddities). With over 70 short fiction sales and over 20 poetry sales, her fiction goes all over the road, although she does tend to write genre stories (science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, etc.) more often than straightforward mainstream fiction. She also writes a column for Horror World on science and technology for writers.

Linda Addison
Linda D. Addison grew up in Philadelphia and began weaving stories at an early age. She moved to New York after college and has published over 200 poems, stories and articles. Ms Addison is the author of “Being Full of Light, Insubstantial” (Space & Time Books) and the first African-American recipient of the world renowned Bram Stoker Award. She was honored with her second win in April 2008 for her latest collection.

Gerard Houarner
Gerard Houarner is a product of the NYC school system who lives in the Bronx, was married at a New Orleans Voodoo Temple, and works at a psychiatric institution. He’s had over 250 short stories, a four novels and four story collections, as well as a few anthologies published, all dark. To find out about the latest, visit www.gerardhouarner.com, or drop by and say hi at www.myspace.com/gerardhouarner or his board at www.horrorworld.org

Wrath James White
Succulent Prey marks his first mass-market release from Leisure Books. If you have a taste for extreme fiction with socio-political and philosophical messages that push boundaries, break taboos, and leave you thinking long after the book has ended then check out Teratologist co-written with Edward Lee, Poisoning Eros co written with Monica O-Rourke, The Book of A thousand Sins collection, His Pain novella, Orgy of Souls with Maurice Broaddus, Hero novella with J.F. Gonzalez, and Population Zero. If you have a weak stomach, a closed mind, rigid morals, and Victorian sexual ethics, than avoid his writing like the plague.

ARTIST GUEST OF HONOR:

Steven C. Gilberts
Steven and his lovely wife Becky now live in a spooky Queen Ann cottage within a small Dunwich-esk village of southern Indiana, near the now abandoned ammo plant of his youth. While hiding from the townsfolk, Steven concocts odd illustrations for the small press industry. His work has graced magazines from Apex Digest to Cemetery Dance, Dark Wisdom to Shroud Magazine.

***NOTE: Due to an unexpected schedule conflict, Gary and Lucy won’t be able to make it.***

When/Where is it?

May 15, 16, and 17th

Trinity Church
6151 N. Central Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220

There are plenty of nearby hotels MicroTel has served well in the past:

Microtel Inn and Suites Indianapolis
9140 North Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268 US
Phone: 317-870-7765

There is also the Indy Hostel. This page will be updated as more guests and details are confirmed, though we’re capping the guests we can accommodate at 200. [We can also make special arrangements and point you in the direction of other nearby hotels, just drop me a line at MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com]

Programming

Friday
6:00 p.m. Doors open
7:00 p.m. Guest Dinner/Reception
9:00 p.m. Poetry Slam

Saturday
10:00 a.m. Doors open
11:00 a.m. Panels on spirituality, writing, horror, and readings. Lunch.
5:00 p.m. The Dwelling Place Gathering, featuring sermon by Wrath James White. Dinner afterwards.
[After party to be announced]

Sunday
11:00 a.m. Farewell Brunch

Cost: $35 per Person
Money will be accepted at the door or it can be sent to my paypal account [Maurice Broaddus – MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com memo: Mo*Con IV]

There will be several debut projects, so this blog will be updated accordingly. More details to come (as will a re-vamping of my web site to feature a Mo*Con page to include footage of previous Mo*Cons).

Keep up with all details on either Facebook or on MySpace.

*Hosted by The Dwelling Place and Trinity faith communities, both of whom desire to be a refuge or sanctuary, a place of rest and freedom for people to be themselves and be a place where people can connect with God and one another by joining Jesus’ mission to bless the world.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

God Supports My Football Team!

Okay, no He doesn’t or else the Colts would have brought home another Super Bowl trophy. He couldn’t even throw me a bone and give me an Eagles/Steelers Bowl. Now, right before the Super Bowl, Mike Pereira, the N.F.L.’s outgoing head of officials , came out with a ruling related to end zone demonstrations:

The whole issue is, you can’t go to the ground on your knees or with your hand or anything. There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that. We will allow that.

Santonio Holmes’ use of the football as a prop after his spectacular catch aside, one can’t help but think of how many players point to the sky or drop to their knee after scoring a touchdown or making a spectacular play. For some reason, it always brings to mind hip hop artists who thank God when they win an award. It’s the cynical me: I wonder how much of that praise is more about the praiser rather than the praisee, giving lip service to image-control rather than a profession of faith.

I think part of our natural jadedness with such professions comes from the stench of hypocrisy that usually accompanies them. After all, it’s easy to wear a cross necklass, sport a bumper sticker, of have a catchy T-shirt … none of which matters when you’re caught drunk at a strip club. With Kurt Warner and Tim Tebow, we have the tale of two football players who are professing Christians. Both of whom have come under some fire under the auspices of what’s appropriate for declarations of faith while at work.

Kurt Warner, embraced by Evangelicals, celebrates his faith by helping others through charities. He gives freely of his time, started the Sunshine Foundation which serves the seriously ill and physically challenged and abused children. Interestingly enough, even he’s aware of how he comes across, as he’s been known to say “you know it’s coming” right before he thanks God.
Our other case study is Tim Tebow, the son of Christian missionaries. He drew tons of criticism for putting Bible verse references in his eye black (although, part of me suspects that some people were mad they didn’t think of how to sell that space as advertising first). Proselytizing is part of the faith tradition, the interpretation of what it means to “go forth and make disciples”. Tony Dungy, another man of faith, as been very conscious about using the NFL to build a bigger pulpit from which to spread his message and better do God’s kingdom work.

Sure, we could have the discussion about what constitutes appropriate displays of faith at your workplace. [Sometimes I think people expect some sort of bait and switch out of my stories (sample plot: imperiled teens are cornered by a serial killer. Luckily, one teen stops and prays and leads the killer to salvation.)] I’m more interested in the way they choose to go about their brands of proclaiming the faith. Personally, I’ve always leaned toward the non-intrusive, least-offensive (because, let’s face it, the gospel message alone is offensive to some) and, most importantly, develops from the natural course of the relationship brand of evangelism.

Regardless, I believe the true offense is when folks are being inauthentic and hypocritical about their faith. If it’s an extension of who they are, honestly, I have no problem with it. I just keep in mind this quote from the movie The Big Kahuna:

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep. “

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part V

[Bringing you up to speed, here’s Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV]

To say that the conversation went off the rails would be a mild understatement. Something got under B’s skin.

Sorry, Maurice. But I think we may need to take a break. I’m not enjoying this. And neither are you, it appears.

[“To be compatible with secularism, we would have to remove any sense of mystery, any sense of the transcendent, and to do so would remove the essence of faith.”] – Faith is not an end unto itself. Faith is not its own justification. Faith does not justify faith. Faith does not justify ignoring and dismissing relevant information that shows the faith isn’t justified.

Yes, “faith” sounds romantic and at times like a “beautiful” thing (ministers are great at making “faith” sound like a wonderful thing), but using “faith” as a justification in promoting a “lie” makes “faith” dishonest. It makes “faith” ugly.

“Good works” don’t change that. “Good works” don’t make God and Jesus *Christ* realities.

For myself, when I went looking for “answers,” I decided that I had to embrace all the relevant information, from both sides. What I wanted, first and foremost, was to know the truth. All those things that you talk about with regard to personal experiences may provide motivation, but they don’t determine what is really true. I decided for myself that I was going to put knowing and speaking the truth first. All that other stuff you talk about serves only to blur the lens and it’s morally impure to use those things as justifications for promoting a lie.

I didn’t dismiss all the historical, cultural, and environmental information that shows Christianity’s roots in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture and pre-1st century religion. Some of what I’m talking about are the Egyptian gods and religious beliefs as well as Greek/Roman gods and beliefs – where they intersect with Christianity and where they diverge…how these things influenced Christianity. What about the pre- 1st century Essenes and their documents? I’m also talking about the relationships of the non-canonical gospels and their relationship to the 4 gospels of the canonical new testament. I’m talking about making an honest attempt to know the truth – instead of sitting contently with a popular and comforting lie.

The Jesus you think you know didn’t exist. Was there a Jesus of some sort, yes. Are the gospels his story? No. You don’t do apologetics. Fine, do you want to know what there is to know? To ignore the historical and cultural environment that Christianity grew out of is no honest attempt to learn the truth.

That my “message” rubs you the wrong way isn’t a surprise. I consider it a normal consequence of my message. I’m bascially saying “you’re wrong.” And no, it’s not acceptable for me to simply keep this to myself and leave you unchallenged. There are too many negative consequences of Christian “faith” for the non-believer. I know you don’t want to “own” any of those consequences. You don’t feel you’re promoting discrimination and mistreatment of others – but it’s the message of Christianity that those that don’t believe are inferior. You’re promoting “faith” in Christianity. You’re promoting the “lie.” You don’t have the power to cut that message out of the Bible. You don’t have the power to cut that message out of popular Christianity. You don’t have the power to stop those that discriminate because they feel justified by “faith.”

I’ll place my “faith” in telling the truth based on the whole of the information, not just looking at the slice of information that appeals to me.

-B

If it sounds like I don’t “respect” your beliefs, it’s because I don’t respect your beliefs. I respect you as a person who wants to be a good person and wants to do what is good and right. But your “beliefs” support the promotion of a lie. Your “beliefs” are unjustified and hurtful to people like me. Your “beliefs” I will NOT tolerate.

Again, I don’t know if B was engaging “me”, per se, or generic Christian/religious guy. I get disrespected from many of my fellow Christians, so getting an e-mail where I’m told how wrong I am, well, it’s like the sun greeting me in the morning. To be honest, all I was interested in was B, the person. What he believed didn’t concern me as much as me wanting to know how he believed intersected with his life. I wanted to know and understand HIS story. I sense a lot of (probably justified) anger at Christianity, but I don’t think that I got to the “why?”s of it.

Still, I think he had some interesting points for me to think about. I’ll hopefully re-visit some of them before too long.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part IV

[Bringing you up to speed, here’s Part I, Part II, and Part III – I now respond to B]

Sadly, I’m quite used to the tone.

Atheists constantly try to convert me and whether they realize it or not, usually with a chip on their shoulder. I know (or at least try to remember) where it comes from. Many of their stories follow similar trajectories. Many were burned by the church. We have burned a lot of people, literally and figuratively; and frankly, as much as one person can apologize for other’s history of mistakes, I’m sorry. If for nothing else, my participation in that history of mistakes. We, as the church, fall short of who we ought to be and what we ought to be doing.

Many have been burned (or enlightened) by their own faith, as in they asked questions and didn’t get answers that made sense to them and it led to them becoming disconnected with the historic Christian faith and led them down other paths.

Overlapping those two trajectories of stories are those who, due to their re-experience with members of the Christian faith, walk into conversations with Christians anticipating certain reactions. In other words, it takes a while for their guard to drop.

However, the tone does rub me the wrong way when it’s not just enough for you to not believe, but you want to spread the “truth” or, more on point, when anyone who doesn’t believe like you is stupid. It smacks of not respecting the beliefs of others and, in truth, you become everything you don’t like about religion and/or Christian folks.

So let’s just be careful that the tone doesn’t end the conversation.

Let me tell you where I’m coming from. Whenever anyone is trying to convert me (or even engage me in an agenda driven conversation), their message is only as good as the messenger. It forces me to constantly be evaluating my life and faith. If my life isn’t marked by me loving others and taking care of the poor, my faith (or whatever I profess to believe) is meaningless. If I’m not being formed into the kind of person my faith claims to make, then all of the logical arguments in the world is not going to convince anyone of anything.

Of course what I believe is foolishness. Faith often is. Look, I’m basically saying I believe there was a guy running around 2000 years ago claiming to be God (a claim which would get folks committed these days). Whose life impacted those around him. Who was crucified, like so many others were, but then folks said he rose from the dead. And that’s before the 3-in-1 God I believe in or even the idea of God incarnating and becoming a man.

There are days when I’m not feeling it. Days when I wake up and go wtf? Days when my prayer feels like me talking to my imaginary friend. So folks wanting to convince me of “the truth” probably aren’t going to share anything I haven’t thought about.

Is there a God isn’t necessarily a good question. A better question would be if He does exist, has He revealed himself in a way we understand but not exhaust? After all, if He hasn’t revealed Himself, He might as well not exist. (In my faith paradigm, He has revealed Himself truly and fully in Christ). To be compatible with secularism, we would have to remove any sense of mystery, any sense of the transcendent, and to do so would remove the essence of faith.

Faith isn’t an epistemology, but it is how you know what you know. It’s meant to shape you, to create a relationship, what could be described as a mystical knowing of God or the supernatural. Which is what I would describe as the role of the Bible in my life.

The Bible is a collection of stories. Not a history book, not a science text, not even a series of dogmatic propositions. To treat it as such is a failed proposition, reducing and misusing the canon. It’s a collection of stories I’ve chosen to let shape my life. It is a tool for spiritual transformation and formation, not necessarily given as a “Christian epistemology.” In short, I use it to affect my life. The idea of the Bible as a story especially appeals to me as a writer as I firmly believe that stories convey truths propositions can’t, or rather, fall short in being able to do it. Stories can be grasped in any age, by any culture. And a story doesn’t have to be totally true in its details for it to be true.

The only thing analogous to faith that I can think of is the act of “falling in love”. Falling in love isn’t rational. We can pretty it up to where “the practical information outweighs the romantic notions to the point where the romantic notions are meaningless.” Is love an evolved response to protect our genes being passing on? A biological imperative dressed up, given more meaning that it has? That kind of answer is sure to crimp ones dating life.

Since it can’t be quantified, I measure my faith experientially. Though there are days when it doesn’t make sense, there are many more days when it does. If only to me. And when all is said and done, all faith is personal and experienced individually.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a “Pastor” Go Into a Convention Part III

Click here for Part I and Part II. At this point in our conversation, I got the feeling B was talking at me or rather at the person he expected me to be. It was like he was engaging the Christian response he was used to getting rather than engaging me. But maybe that’s just my reading of his response:

I apologize for the “tone”. I’m continually criticized for having an attacking style of writing…but my primary goal is simply to be honest.

[“Cold embrace”] – yes, the laws of nature are indifferent to our feelings and emotions. However, people are not. I still have feelings. I have family I care about and who care about me. I spend a lot of time with friends. We grow, we learn. I develop attachments and affections. I continue to experience joy and sorrow because of life events. My life isn’t lifeless, very much the opposite.

[Are you left with only becoming a humanist or a nihilist?] I certainly don’t agree with nihilist attitudes. My life has meaning to me. My life has the purpose I recognize and that I choose to give it. There are things that are worth doing. There are still goals and challenges. There is satisfaction. I still empathize with others. I still want to lessen pain and increase satisfaction and happiness for myself and for others. I recognize the patterns of life. Doing things with friends is fun and is a good thing. Our lives are better because of our caring for each other and accepting each other. I don’t struggle with the meaning of life. I accept life.

[Humanism:] I don’t feel constrained by Humanism which seems to be what you’re inferring. Humanism is about having positive values and a positive outlook. Humanism recognizes the things I’ve been talking about in the proceeding paragraphs. But by itself, humanism isn’t limiting.

Non-belief is not inherently negative or sub-standard to belief which your “tone” of questions suggests. Non-belief does not preclude happiness or satisfaction or love…we’re all still human. But even if non-belief were less “joyful,” Are you going to choose to promote fictions because accepting the truth appears to be unattractive? How does integrity apply?

[Is telling the truth about reality just a “different precept?”] Consistently in your writings, you attempt to equate faith and belief as being equally dependable as the known truths of our reality. They are not on equal footing. As I have said before, no one can produce any practical evidence for the existence of the Christian God. I have plenty of evidence for the existence of natural law. The Christian God and Jesus as “Christ” easily fall in the category of human invention. Gravity is not a human invention. The Earth, the solar system and the Universe are not a human invention. Subatomic particles are not a human invention. The laws of probability are not a human invention. And there is solid evidence for all these things. The Christian God, by definition is “super-natural.” Yet, no practical evidence of a “super-natural” being, active and participating is shown. Human feelings, human desires, and human emotions don’t make the Christian God a reality – a truth.

[although i’m curious, i would think that being an atheist would be enough. everyone’s beliefs are their own and folks tend to get prickly with religious/social movements when they seek to convert. how is your “spread the message” about “what the truth is” make you any different from any other evangelistic religion except with differing precepts.]

“everyone’s beliefs are their own.” Really? That’s not the approach I see the typical Christian taking. How many atheists have come knocking at your door to preach atheism? I get Christians knocking pretty regularly. I find their leaflets in my front door. In my personal experience, dealing with Christian family and Christian friends, my non-belief is NOT considered acceptable, nor is it respected. For me to discuss anything that seems to contradict Christian teachings is “unseemly” and “distasteful” in these Christian dominated groups. And yet, all I’m presenting is presenting something that is part of our reality…the only reason it’s “unseemly” or “distasteful” is because of Christian teachings…which are based on what? Certainly not the hard evidence that shows evolution to be true…and by the way, when I talk about evolution, I’m talking about Common Descent. Christians like to argue about “survival of the fittest” and the relative merits of what steers evolution…but the key issue is really Common Descent. Common Descent has been shown to be a truth. We share common ancestry with other animals…to this point, no living entity can be ruled out as not sharing common descent with humans…maybe there is something, but to this point, we either find that a living entity does share common descent or it’s inconclusive. My point being that common descent is simply the way it is. Why does (public) school stop for an hour on Wednesday’s in my county for Weekday Religious Education? And why are children of non-believers separated out and sent to the library? Is it ok for the majority to isolate the minority socially? What ways are acceptable and what ways are unacceptable?

I was at the Brickyard 400 last Sunday. There was an invocation prayer given before the race that prayed to the Christian God and referred to Jesus Christ, lord and savior. Now, understanding my “take” on Christianity, it would be hypocritical for me to take off my hat and bow. Yet, that is what is expected of me by the Christian majority. We are on opposite sides of a gap…what is there to bridge that gap? I would say God if there were any chance that God were real. But God isn’t real. What’s left? The information that describes the truth of reality is what is left. Those things that show how nature and natural law really work…and they consistently show no involvement by the Christian God.

The reality is that people, in groups, discriminate against others outside that group. Are they justified? My interpretation of Christian teachings, and I think this is more than fair, is that if you’re a “believer” you’re acceptable to the Christian group and a “non believer” is unacceptable as a full and complete participant in society. The “non believer” is marginalized. As an atheist, if Christians on the whole were truly accepting of me and respected me, then I wouldn’t have any (meaningful) problem with Christians. I wouldn’t focus my attention on them. But that’s not the way it is. So I am fighting back and I’m fighting back with the truth of our reality.

Because, eventually, in the end, the truth of reality shows itself for what it is and, in my opinion, it’s the best possible common denominator for us to share. I’m trying to help that process along to what I hope is its inevitable conclusion. It’s very sad for me to think that humanity ultimately allows fiction to win out over the truth of reality. Humans don’t always put telling the truth as their highest priority.

-B

Any takers on responding to B’s points?

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

An Atheist and a Pastor Go Into a Convention Part II

Okay, to catch us up from last time, I started this e-mail exchange with a gentleman (named for the purposes of this blog, B) who attended a panel I was on at InConjunction about whether science and religion can peacefully coexist. My answer, in short, was I hope so since I’m both a scientist and a hack theologian. Both need to give the other room to do what they do as well as allow one to inform the other as needed. There will be times when science will clarify matters of faith just like there will be times when faith can temper our sometimes irrational admiration for the rational.

And yes, I realize that as the constant skeptic and the black guy, we’d be the first two people killed in a horror movie.

Anyway, here was my response to the initial e-mail. I basically try to get at where the person is coming from and see if there is any common ground that we might share:

there are “word games” i may seem to play. for example, i know you are probably going to react poorly when i use faith and certainty, but i truly don’t mean them in a strictly supernatural/spiritual sense. for example, i truly believe all quest journeys begin with a leap of faith, that is, what we choose to put our trust in. for some, it is ourselves (the individual or humanity). for some, it is science (the determination of our senses). for some, it is the spiritual (under the assumption that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the spiritual and in terms of after this life). and there is/can be some overlap.

the other is with certainty. i know we seemed to cross swords on that one. i think there are things that we can know for certain (eg, how photosynthesis works) but that’s different from having an attitude of certainty. when i say that true spirituality and true science abhor certainty, it is because an attitude of certainty stops you from questioning. once you’re certain, you “know” and not only do you close your mind to further conversations, but there is no point in further investigation.

ceding to the cold embrace of science as our epistemology, i guess that would only leave me with a couple of choices in terms of my world view: become a humanist or become a nihilist (if i were to remove God from the equation of my life, i’m pretty much left with these options if i am being intellectually honest). would that be a fair assessment?

although i’m curious, i would think that being an atheist would be enough. everyone’s beliefs are their own and folks tend to get prickly with religious/social movements when they seek to convert. how is your need to “spread the message” about “what the truth is” make you any different from any other evangelistic religion except with differing precepts?

Actually, B’s e-mail also led to more thoughts about why and how Wrath and I manage to get along. We have a mutual respect for one another. I also have come to believe that we’re more alike than not or at least cut from similar cloth. We actually want similar end results in people. We want them living up to their full potential, and see the lack of it—not living up to what we were created to be—as a “sin”. That might be either me couching my faith as a form of Christian humanism or me couching humanism in spiritual language. Either way, I see it as a logical extension of my faith to move outward and be a blessing to others. I believe that faith or any truth claim is only as real as I see it lived out in the proclaimers life. In other words, is how you are anything that I’m interested in being? Because if it’s not, and if my life isn’t anything anyone else would be interested in, all of the words in the dictionary isn’t going to convince anyone of the truth of your faith.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.