“Third Way” Thoughts

Tony wrote this: Why There’s No “Third Way” on Gay Marriage

Al Mohler agreed

Zach Hoag disagreed with them both and wrote this: Yes, Al Mohler (and Tony Jones), There IS a Third Way

Pete Rollins wrote this: Gay people? North Korea, Hillsong and the Denial of Denial 

Ultimately, I think I resonate most with Tony’s conclusion, 

What I’m saying is that a church or an organization can study the issue in theory, and they can even do so for years. But this isn’t really a “third way” or a “middle ground.” Instead, it is a process. And at some point, that process has to end and practices have to be implemented. At that point, there’s no third way. You either affirm marriage equality in your practices, or you do not.

The distinction between a “third way” and a “process” is an important one. Calling what your doing a “way” indicates permanence while identifying that you’re in a process indicates a temporary arrangement. At some point, the official policies of a church need to be the markers for what kind of community it claims to be. To suggest a possible third way is to welcome gay brothers and sisters while not ever getting to a place where they can get married in the church or become church leaders….that’s not a sustainable, healthy way forward, in my opinion. It is just a conservative position dressed up as “welcoming” and “inclusive.”

One other troubling item from these posts is where Zach Hoag suggest that “genuine” inclusion can take place in churches and denominations that deem homosexuality a sin:

Beyond the theological/ethical position a church or denomination may take on gay relationships, there must be an affirmation of the existence of LGBT Christians and a loving support of both equal rights under law and genuine inclusion in the church. That is, a church or denomination may choose not to perform gay weddings. A church or denomination may even conclude that being in a gay relationship is sinful. But what a church or denomination must not do is conclude that LGBT Christians who disagree with that position are not genuine Christians. They must not do what Al Mohler (and Neo-Fundamentalists in general, like TGC, etc.) are aiming to do: close the gate of evangelicalism (really, “true Christianity”) to all open LGBT people, absolutely. 

 This, in my opinion, is a major stretch. What Hoag is asking for here is a baby step for fundamentalist church groups while branding it as “genuine” inclusion. Imagine belonging to a community of people who think your marriage is a sinful arrangement and see if in any way that would feel like real, authentic, genuine inclusion of you and your family. This might work for folks who insist on being celibate or straight regardless of orientation and that’s fine….but it’s not genuine inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters by any stretch of the imagination. 

 

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The Best Song We Never Released

In my mind, even though we never released this tune, I think it’s one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time. We recorded this song during the Futures session but took it off the album because it just didn’t really fit the vibe with the other tunes and after that, the timing never really felt that good to release it. Maybe because the song had already leaked and we never felt that motivated to officially release the tune.

But looking back on this song, we busted our ass getting it to the point of where it ended up. It sounds like a simple song but we recorded it many different times with several different arrangements, tempos, keys, etc… It was nuts. Gil Norton was the producer and we were having the album mixed by Rich Costey at Cello Studios in Hollywood. While Rich was mixing, we were tracking Jen in studio 3 at Cello which was famous for recording Pet Sounds and some Mammas and Pappas albums. We didn’t have any of our gear in town so I rented a kit and ended up using a ludwig acrolite that Chris Testa (grammy winning engineer who ended up engineering Chase This Light) had in studio A when he was tracking the band Gratitude (who coincidentally were friends of ours and ended up opening up for us on tour). While we were tracking Jen, Brian Wilson was in studio 2 working on a project and at one point, poked his head into the door of the control room of studio 3. “Holy shit!! Brian Wilson just walked into our control room!” That was incredible.

Anyway, that’s the basic story of Jen. We nearly killed ourselves recording a song we never released.

God

Tony Jones has issued a challenge to liberal/progressive folks to write a substantive statement about God. I’m really glad Tony has pushed the issue here. I say a lot about what I think God is not without declaring much about what I DO believe about God. So here it goes:

For whatever reason, I’ve been given a capacity to experience life. I have a physical body and inside my body there exists a consciousness, an observer, that experiences the universe. When I dwell on this ability to inhale, exhale, watch the birds, kiss my wife, go on hikes, give my kids hugs, swim in the ocean, look at the stars……I feel an overwhelming gratefulness to whatever force or energy that gave me this capacity, this gift of life. It is also in these moments (unfortunately rare moments) when I realize that the difference between existence and non-existence seems so razor thin, the gift seems all the more precious and fleeting.

For various reasons I’ve ended up naming this force God. There’s a lot about God that I’m unsure of but by virtue of my ability to write this sentence and conceptualize these ideas, I feel a deep appreciation for what God has done. Before any discussion about the nature of God could be had, it might be helpful to realize that it could very easily be the case that we would have not existed to have any discussion at all. This maybe overly vague or lacks substance but it’s all I got. Thanks Tony!

Freedom and Stuff, Part 1

As westerners, especially as Americans, we listen to this song as it the DJ plays it at our friends 90s party and nod our heads. We generally believe that we are free to do whatever we want, any old time with the exception that whatever we choose to do doesn’t infringe on the freedoms of anyone else. We’re free to choose our occupation, our hobbies, our sports teams, the music we listen to, the political candidates we support, etc.. I woke up today in Boise, Idaho and decided that I wanted to eat a bagel for breakfast. I left my hotel, walked a few blocks and proceeded to enjoy a very tasty everything bagel. The freedom to choose our preferences is so deeply ingrained into our society that it is simply unfathomable for us to see it any other way. It’s second nature.

This sense of freedom also bleeds into our religious preferences. The predominant religion in America is Christianity and the predominant form of Christianity in America is predicated on “right belief”. Basically, we get to God by arranging our thoughts about God in just the right way. If someone comes along, say a guy named “Rob,” and suggests that right belief might not be all it’s cracked up to be, people get really upset.

The reason I bring all this up is that underpinning this sense of right belief is the deeply held assumption embedded in our freedom-loving phsyces is that all human beings are completely free to choose what they want to believe. If you are a Christian it is because you objectively chose Christianity over all other religious options available to you. Or if you are a Muslim, it is simply because you’ve chosen to be one.

Absent from this assumption are the other factors that help determine our conclusions such as place of birth, cultural influences, familial influences, economic circumstances, and life experience just to name a few. All of these factors play very important, determinative roles in our decision making. To ignore these factors is to grossly oversimplify and misunderstand how we as human beings come to the conclusions we do.

I’m not saying that we don’t have some amount of freedom to make our choices, but these other, often ignored factors provide a framework that essentially limits or inhibits the kinds of choices we make.

Someone once asked me in an email interview why I was a Christian. I sat a thought about it for a while, trying to be as honest as I could with myself why I believe what I believe and the only really honest answer I could give was because my parents raised me to be a Christian. And it’s likely that I was raised to be a Christian because my grandfather was a Baptist minister and he raised my father to be a Christian. And the fact I was born in America where Christianity is the predominant religion didn’t hurt either. If I had been born in Japan or Saudi Arabia or Jakarta, chances are I would not be a Christian. If I had ardent atheist parents who raised me in a community of atheists where I had a bunch of atheist friends, chances are I’d be an atheist.

To take this a little bit further, a very important reason why I’ve reassessed my faith as a Christian in so many ways has been my life experience directly related to playing in a band. Traveling all over the world, making friends with and working with people who are not Christians. Making friends with atheists, feminists, homosexuals and learning about who they are and listening to their stories has greatly shaped my thinking and the conclusion I’ve come to.

Some might point out that this discredits my convictions. That I simply blow where the cultural winds take me. But the reality is that we are all blowing in the wind and it’s much nicer to be aware of that fact than to be blind to it.

Almost Christian

I’ve recently begun reading Almost Christian: What The Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean. I got turned on to it by Tony Jones who is blogging through the book. Even though I’m not too far into the book, I can tell that Dean is addressing the issue in a thoughtful and balanced way so I’m looking forward to reading more.

The main point of the book seems to be that the faith of teenagers is in crisis. American teens don’t seem to be able to successfully articulate their what their faith means to them or what they believe. And Dean believes this trend is most likely due to the fact that American Christian adults are doing a poor job of exposing teens to classic, orthodox, traditional Christianity. She writes:

“What if the blase religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all? What if the church models a way of life that asks, no passionate surrender to ho-hum assent? What if we are preaching moral affirmation, a feel-better faith, and a hands-off God instead of a decisively involved, impossibly loving, radically sending God of Abraham and Mary, who desired us enough to enter in creation in Jesus Christ and whose Spirit is active in the church and in the world today? If this is the case–if theological malpractice explains teenagers’ half-hearted religious identities–then perhaps most young people practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism not because they reject Christianity, but because this is the only “Christianity” they know.

And if you are unclear on what Dean means by “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” she outlines five guiding beliefs of MTD:

1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to fell good about oneself.
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

And this is all taking place, according to Dean, primarily because adults don’t do a good enough job talking about and practicing their faith in front of their children. For all I know, that may be true to some extent. I’m not that up on the history of polling teens in this country on matters of faith but I wonder if this isn’t such a new development. Is it possible that with current day fixation on polling, data, focus groups especially in the American Church, we’re just finding out what has more or less always been the case? It’s like people who are freaking out that autism is on the rise when it’s much more probable that autism is relatively static but that it’s being diagnosed much more successfully with benefit of today’s medical advances. Again, I’m not an expert and to some degree I’ll take Dean at her word, but this is something that I thought of while reading the book.

Ultimately, Dean, along with everyone else who fixates on why teens don’t seem all that interested in American Christianity, is attempting to untangle a very complicated web of intricate and inter-related factors. It’s certainly worthwhile and I’m glad the work is being done. But I wonder if we are missing a key point in all of this.

Imagine you were an alien visiting earth. You have no previous religious practice and you have no previous knowledge of the various world religions practiced on earth. You arrive and someone tells you about two Gods. One God created the world and everything in it. If you believe in that God and love that God, you will be spared eternal conscious punishment in a place called Hell. And because a vast majority of the world don’t believe this God in the right way, they will go to hell forever, even though God loves them all very much. And then the other God, the God of MTD, created the world and watches from above, wants everyone to be nice and happy. This God will help you when you need help and if you’re a good person, you’ll be rewarded with being with God in heaven.

What religion makes more sense? What God would you place your bet on if you were that alien? Personally, I don’t blame American teens for believing what they do. Given the choice between the classic, traditional depiction of the Gospel, I’d choose the God of MTD every day of the week. I’m not saying that I’m a proponent of the MTD message and I’m not saying that the prescriptions Dean makes are totally off base. So far she brings up valid concerns and offers helpful suggestions, but are we missing the bigger picture? What is the gospel are we sharing to our kids and is that gospel compelling? For me, I believe an entirely different gospel today compared to the gospel I was offered as a youth. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t teach me or that I didn’t have awesome youth workers at the church I was raised in. The gospel I was offered didn’t work for me. It was the prime suspect. Everything else was pretty awesome. Great parents, great people at the church I grew up in but I needed a way to connect to God that made sense to me. Doubling down on teaching kids a message that doesn’t compel them doesn’t seem like a great solution.

Contemplation in a World of Action

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusion about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions.”

— Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action

Sharing in the Same Love

If you find any comfort from being in the Liberator, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His tenderness and mercy fill your heart, then, brothers and sisters, here is on thing that would complete my joy-come together as one mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love. Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. We will get nowhere if our motives spring from selfish ambition or from indifference to the plight of those around us. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbor’s interests first.

In other words, adopt the mind-set of Jesus, your Liberation King. Live with his attitude in your hearts. Remember:

Though He was in the form of God,
He chose not to cling to equality with God.
But poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand-new;
a servant in form
and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
obedient to death-
a merciless death on the cross!
So God raised Him up to the highest place
and gave Him a name above all.
So when His name is called,
every knee will bow,
in heaven, on earth, and below.
And every tongue will confess
“Jesus, the Liberating King, is Lord,”
to the glory of God our Father!

– Philippians 2, The Voice

Sifter of Dust

Suppose you know the definitions
of all substances and their products,
what good is this to you?
Know the true definition of yourself.
That is essential.
Then, when you know your own definition, flee
from it,
That you may attain to the One who cannot be
defined,
O sifter of the dust.

— Rumi

Gay Rights and Adoption

“Anyone who stands between a hungry kid and home with food is doing something immoral. Anyone who stands between a child who is not safe and safe home is wrong. And if you think that heterosexual parents make better adoptive homes, and want to make a big deal about it, you had better have at least one adopted, high need kid if you want me to give a hoot what you think. I realize that’s a much more visceral than rational response, and probably a little unfair. But as I’m sitting in my Moms’ living room, cooking for tomorrow, when 28 of our family – my sisters and their husbands and kids, my aunt and her adopted daughter and her elderly mother, two former foster kids and their kids, my aunt and uncle (on step-Mom’s side) and their kids are coming together, I find I simply can’t come up with anything else to say.”

– Sharon Astyk, a commenter at Rod Dreher’s blog, Crunchy Con, who was raised by two moms. Read her entire comment here.

There is a great deal of grandstanding by conservatives on issues such as gay equality and the rights of the unborn yet there are so many unwanted kids left to fend for themselves in a nation of staggering over-abundance. In the abstract, these arguments succeed at unifying the true believers but all the while the day-to-day lives of the forgotten trudge on. The reason conservatives are slowly but surely losing in these kinds of debates is evident in stories like the one above. These stories expose in plain site that the only value that keeps the conservative flame flickering is their own dogmatism, their own greedy hunger to be “right.” If their concern was for the children themselves, they’d most likely be too busy raising them to give a shit what others think.

(HT: Andrew Sullivan)