Saturday, March 27, 2010

Balancing Acts

This past week I was given the opportunity to attend the Rock & Worship Roadshow at the Tacoma Dome. Here are some pics.

The most interesting part about the show was how much it clearly tried to emulate what a secular rock concert is like. As someone who seems quite a few shows of all sorts, I am comfortable admitting that they did a good job of it. Which may or may not have been a good thing; that's the rub.

My writing clearly places me in that liberal section of the theological idealists. I cling white-knuckled and often too tightly the mandate that we are to live in this world and still not be of it. So when it comes to finding a balance I appreciate the difficulty and the challenge.
"Sometimes I think the environment in which we operate is entirely too secular.  The fact that we have freedom of religion does not mean we need to try to have freedom from religion, doesn't mean that those of us who have faith shouldn't frankly admit that we are animated by faith, that we try to live by it, and that it does affect what we feel, what we think, and what we do."
-- former President Bill Clinton, 24 September 1994, Morning Edition
We should be striving to keep ourselves separate, but does that mean we can't dance? Can't sing? Not by my estimation. And frankly, the mixture and the environment at the show was really conducive to me for both and more. So I applaud the willingness to spice it up and bring a little rock to the worship.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Magic Ten Percent

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about tithing. He was ruminating on the origins of the magic ten percent number.

As if often the case, I leveraged this into a larger discussion about how we shouldn't be tithing to a number from our cash, but simply living unconstrained by a desire for wealth.

This is one of those easy ideas to get backwards. For much of my life, I had it wrong too. In some ways, I'm sure I still do. But I'm working on it.

I used to be a person who had a lot. Money, homes, cars, family. You know. . .stuff. And I thought I'd earned all that stuff. That I'd worked and saved and accumulated these things and now I was the one to decide how and when to give it to God. Uh huh.

When I consider how utterly and completely backwards I had it, it both amazes and disgusts me. But even now I hear this often in discussion when it comes to meeting the magic ten percent. We forget so quickly that it is more than the money that God allows us to acquire. It is the skills and talents and time that he graciously extends to us from His bounty. We have nothing except by His grace.

My life these days is focused on service. Or at least as much as this old fool can manage. A servant heart was the blessing I received in being humbled. So now when some new resources comes into my life I seek out how I can use it for His service. I sponsor missions, donate my time where there are needs, and give to those doing His work when opportunity arises. I say this only to illustrate that even in a humbled place, we all can find something to give. By worldly measures I am a shadow of my former self, but even so I find a way to give.

The best part of this giving? No matter how much I give for Him, there is always enough to meet my needs as well. Sure life is different when you are constrained in what you spend or constrained in how you spend your time. But somehow He always makes it work out. There is always enough to help those around me, always enough to meet my needs. It's that funny math that only He can do.
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
-- Philippians 4:19
More than just having my needs met, my heart is lifted as well. I don't walk in fear of not having enough because I know He will provide. My walk is without temptation because I'm not driven to accumulate. All my skills are still in use as a wise investor and I do my best to be a good manager of the resources and time He allows me. Knowing that everything I have, my every breath, my every cent, my every thought comes from Him and means nothing if not for His service, only brings me clarity of purpose.

And often I get to watch that funny math He does when it turns my meager means into amazing things. And that is a reward I claim in the here and now and not just in the sweet tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Theological Liberalism

Someone was giving me a run for my money lately on a particular aspect of religious dogma. It was an exceedingly rousing conversation that was suddenly drawn to a ponderous silence when I happened to mention in seriousness my distaste for religion.

Surely the love of a thing and the study of it must not go hand in hand?

The quizzical looks I received when contemplating that I was clearly studied and indeed arguing from a position of distinct and deliberate faith, were both amusing and predictable. This just goes to show how closed-minded even the more liberal and logical of us can trend. I enjoy the use of profiling myself quite frequently so I count myself in this number as well.
Wherefore religion generally can be nothing but an empty pretence which, like a murky and oppressive atmosphere, has enshrouded part of the truth.

. . .

But the immortality that most men imagine and their longing for it, seem to me irreligious, nay quite opposed to the spirit of piety. Dislike to the very aim of religion is the ground of their wish to be immortal.

-- On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (circa 1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher

These old dudes always had such deep and insightful things to say on weighty subjects like this one.

As the silence faded, the question arose: "Is this form of Theological Liberalism healthy?"

You might imagine that my gentle friend argued for a more structured conservative theology. Whilst my heretical self argued the more liberal of positions. (Me arguing a liberal viewpoint? Shock and awe!) The reasoning for my position is interwoven with the sentiments from Schleiermacher throughout his writings. Not to be dissuaded, he asked very insightful questions: If we are believers, shouldn't we be transformed? Aren't we to be "different"?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
-- Romans 12:2

While indeed a point of merit, it fails to incur a demand for religion, while making the case for community.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
-- 1 Corinthians 12:27

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-- Hebrews 10:25
Again we see the call to serve, to participate in the body (that which I call community). This still does not to my mind settle the case for religion, but rather only for community.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
-- Hebrews 13:17
Now this seemed to make a compelling case at the start because of the introduction of accountability. It clearly calls for a submission to leadership. However, the concept in question was not about submission to leadership or accountability, but rather the nature of religion and it's intrinsic place. Submission to leadership does not equate to religion. Neither does religion imply leadership in and of itself, only in how man thus far considers it.

In practical terms it is totally possible to contrive a religion without God, or even immortality. One can consider the universe (the Infinite of Schleiermachers writing) without defining or recognizing that which you term God. Of course, this would be quite the bleak and ultimately chaotic world-life view. In fact, running from this mayhem is what buttresses the need for leadership when applying morality and legalism to derive dogma. In short, it is a primary reason we have and support religions today.

Simply because one can conceive of a thing does not make it proper or right. My world-life view most certainly encompasses God but places the burden of necessity to my personal accountability above conformance to interpretations and doctrine espoused by others. This setting aside the dogmatic aspects that are derived from religion is what sets my world-view apart from the typical. However I am in good company.
Every man, a few choice souls excepted, does, to be sure, require a guide to lead and stimulate, to wake his religious sense from its first slumber, and to give it its first direction. But this you accord to all powers and functions of the human soul, and why not to this one ? For your satisfaction, be it said, that here, if anywhere, this tutelage is only a passing state. Hereafter, shall each man see with his own eyes, and shall produce some contribution to the treasures of religion ; otherwise, he deserves no place in its kingdom, and receives none. You are right in despising the wretched echoes who derive their religion entirely from another, or depend on a dead writing, swearing by it and proving out of it.
-- On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (circa 1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher

In the end, we agreed there is benefit to him in his religion and benefit to me in the lack.

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
-- Romans 10:9-10

So it's settled then.