Praying from Privilege

I’ve always loved this scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I often repeat the line, “Did you see what God just did to us?” after something relatively minor happens that didn’t quite go my way, even if (*especially if) whatever happened was my own fault. Just the other day I channeled my inner Benicio Del Torro and tweeted that God hated me because my Macbook power supply stopped working. It’s my subtle attempt to mock the way we approach God, assuming she is out there, worrying about the problems resulting from a life a privilege and decadence. For instance, we have lost the keys and we’re late for an important meeting……”God, where are my keys. Help me find them, PLEASE….GOD!!!” Not stopping for a minute to think that having a car at all is massive privilege that the vast majority of human beings on planet earth could only dream about. Or let’s say you’re on your way to Vegas in a convertible and the bag of cocaine on your lap somehow opens as your stash blows away in the wind. Just think of all the cocaine you have left in your stash and be grateful, right?

Richard Beck, one of my favorite bloggers and theologians, points to a great article that deals with this very dilemma. The article, written by Stephen Weathers, can be found at the Examiner.com – “The Predicaments of Praying from Privilege,”

“In the grand scheme of history, I have never confronted the magnitude of difficulty that befell the vast majority our human ancestors. Pestilence, famine, tribal warfare, drought, sytematic persecution, discrimination, religious violence and hunger are alien concepts to me. I confront them only as newspaper headlines. If I even look around the globe today, the global nexus of journalism opens my western mind to distant moral epidemics that I cannot even contemplate. Oppression of women, the poor and racial minorities around the world is simply staggering.
I set up this rather general backdrop because therein lies my spiritual conundrum. How do I pray before God, taking into account the rather miniscule weight of my problems?”

For me, this hits the nail on the head. I often find myself just ending prayers abruptly in mid-sentence as I hear myself saying things and can only imagine God rolling her eyes at my petty petitions. God doesn’t give a shit about my career or my Macbook power supply. If that’s the case I might as well pray to God that she sees to it that Sam Adams brews their Octoberfest beer all year long.

When I’ve confessed this with those close to me, I often get the push back that I’m limiting God and that may very well be true. But if God gave me this brain and this is the brain where things have to make sense, then I can’t really take seriously the thought that God is concerned with the vast majority of whatever personal problems I might experience from day to day.

This is why contemplative prayer appeals to me. It leaves petitions at the door and creates the space to open ourselves to what God petitions for us. Our circumference problems, our ego, our bags of cocaine dissipate into the wind. Only then can we sit silently, allowing the noise of our desires to slowly fade while we wait for God’s voice to fill the void.

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When Belief Has Begun to Slip

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“There’s a symptom apparent in America right now. It’s evident in political talk shows, in entertainment coverage, in artistic criticism of every kind, in religious discussion…

We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment and of verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? Maybe it’s because, deep down under the chatter, we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know … anything. But nobody’s willing to say that…

What is Doubt? Each of us is like a planet. There’s the crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask, we can readily describe our current state. I know my answers to so many questions, as do you. What was your father like? Do you believe in God? Who’s your best friend? What do you want? Your answers are your current topography, seemingly permanent, but deceptively so. Because under that face of easy response, there is another You. And this wordless Being moves just as the instant moves; it presses upward without explanation, fluid and wordless, until the resisting consciousness has no choice but to give way.

It is Doubt, so often experienced initially as weakness, that changes things. When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth. The subtle or violent reconciliation of the outer person and the inner core often seems at first like a mistake. Like you’ve gone the wrong way and you’re lost. But this is just emotion longing for the familiar. Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the Present…

There is an uneasy time when belief has begun to slip, but hypocrisy has yet to take hold, when the consciousness is disturbed but not yet altered. It is the most dangerous, important and ongoing experience of life. The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.

Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite; it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.”

— John Patrick Shanley in an introduction to his play, Doubt.

(HT: Experimental Theology)

Movies in 2008

There are a good amount movies that I wasn’t able to get to this year due to added baby wrangling duties, so there are some very obvious choices of great movies this year not on my list (didn’t see The Wrestler, Benjamin Button, Snow Angels, Man on Wire, Milk, Doubt). So with that said, here were my favorites, in no particular order:

Wall-E
Frost/Nixon
Role Models
Dark Knight
In Bruges
Burn After Reading
Then She Found Me

Happy New Year!

Ted Haggard Documentary

The Huffington Post has an article on an upcoming HBO documentary on Ted Haggard’s rise and fall.

This Haggard quote really jumped out:

“The reason I kept my personal struggle a secret is because I feared that my friends would reject me, abandon me and kick me out, and the church would exile and excommunicate me. And that happened and more.”

The truth is, and there’s YouTube evidence to back this up, that Ted Haggard rejected himself, abandoned himself and helped create a culture that would send anyone like him into exile. The saddest part of this whole thing is that Ted Haggard has not been free to be who he is. His wife has suffered, his kids, his church. When we are not free to be who God has made us and we are shamed by our culture for what drives us sexually, our sexuality becomes a pathology. Our sexuality is exiled into the dark shadows of our lives, and the beautiful gift of sex and intimacy withers and dies. This is why promoting monogamy in either homosexual or heterosexual relationships is so important. To make room in the tent for monogamous, same-sex relationships will help to prevent these kinds of familial tragedies from happening. Instead of doing meth and hiring a prostitute, Haggard’s sexuality, if allowed by his cultural surrounding, could have been communicated in the way of committed, faithful relationship.

The true hero in this story is Gayle Haggard who has accepted her husband for who he is and remains faithful despite their difficult predicament. I pray that the Haggards will know grace and peace and that somehow Ted Haggard can break free from his fundamentalist cocoon in order to reconcile his sexuality and spirituality. Yes, it’s true, they can live side by side in harmony.

Greg Boyd on Religulous

Check out Greg Boyd’s thoughtful take on Bill Maher’s new film Religulous. Here’s a snippet:

Maher could have given his documentary a little more credibility had he nuanced his slam on religion a little and at least tipped his hat in the direction of fairness. Along the same lines, Maher seems to equate “faith” and “religion.” If a person believes in God, Jesus, life after death or (it seems) anything beyond the physical world, they fall under his category of “religious” and are therefore ridiculous (= “religulous”). It’s at this point that I’m afraid Maher comes close to making himself look ridiculous, for he seems to be completely unaware of how much faith permeates his own life as well as this documentary.

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I suspect Maher can’t see that he exercises faith simply because he’s so convinced his beliefs are true. He thinks he’s simply “being rational” in believing the Gospels are myth and that the Jesus story is a variation of the Horus myth. But, quite frankly, this simply demonstrates his naiveté. Maher’s myopia is, in principle, no different from the myopia of Christian or Muslim fundamentalists who are so certain their views are true that they lack the capacity to see how intelligent and sincere people could honestly disagree with them.

I haven’t seen the film yet so I haven’t been able to comment, but I am generally familiar with Maher’s critique of all things faith-based. Like I’ve written in previous posts, I’m a big fan of Maher and regularly watch his show on HBO, but I find his efforts in discrediting all things religious to be completely devoid of any nuance and thoughtfulness. If he did make an effort to be a bit less one-sided, he may be taken more seriously but, in the end, he probably wouldn’t be as funny.

Wall-E

Go see it. I have a hard time imagining another movie this year eclipsing this gem. It’s bizarre that Pixar is so mainstream, yet so incredibly creative and moving. It gives you hope.