Archives for category: Spirituality

We were having a conversation the other day about Jerry Falwell and someone said they hoped he’d spend time in Purgatory. Another acquaintance, who is a very conservative Christian, responded with “That’s not an option. There is no Purgatory.”

“How do you know?” asked the first person.

“Because it’s not in the Bible. The Bible makes it very clear…” And off he went on a discourse about Biblical Truth. As an observer and as a Christian the whole interchange made me uncomfortable. My acquaintance was certain that there was no Purgatory. I don’t have certainty but I can’t say I believe in Purgatory.

What’s the difference?

I think the difference is humility and the importance of recognizing our limitations. We would like to have a complete and objective understanding of what the Bible says. The reality is that our “understandings” are always colored by our cultural background, our faith history and our tendency to look for confirmation and discard contradictions.

Could God make all this clear? Could God release an update or an appendix to the Bible that spells out in very specific language just what God meant?

Rob Bell again:

Is the Bible the best God can do? With God being so massive and awe-inspiring and full of truth, why is his book capable of so much confusion? Why did God do it this way?

I would love to have the answers. At one time I was certain I had them. I read the Bible and took it literally and was blissfully ignorant of translation and interpretation issues. I was obnoxious and pushy because I knew I had the truth and it was my duty to make others see it.

That is why Velvet Elvis seems to resonate so well with me.

This view of the Bible is warped and toxic, to say the least. The assumption is that there is a way to read the Bible that is agenda- and perspective-free. As if all these other people have their opinions and biases, but some are able to just read it for what it says…

I’m actually giving you my opinion, my interpretation of what it says. And the more I insist that I am giving you the objective truth of what it really says, the less objective I am actually being.

I didn’t understand this until recently. It’s liberating to not have to have certainty. My fear was that if I went in this direction then my faith would falter. The truth is I’m appreciating the ways my faith is starting to deepen.

There’s a book I’m reading now that I really like. It’s called Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. It’s got me thinking about things and that usually means I’m going to be writing about it as well.

I ran into Rob Bell when our pastor was out for a Sunday and, instead of the sermon, they played a video by Rob Bell. I was very impressed by the presentation and message and he seemed to have a very straightforward, thoughtful was of making complex issues clear. I immediately went home and ordered his first book from Amazon.

He has a section on questions that I found refreshing:

A question by its very nature acknowledges that the person asking the question does not have all the answers. And because the person does not have all of the answers, they are looking outside themselves for guidance.

Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.

Questions bring freedom. Freedom that I don’t have to be God and I don’t have to pretend that I have it all figured out. I can let God be God.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head.  I have had conversations with Christians where they open up the Answer Box and start rattling off the bullet points and I get this creepy, “I need to escape now” feeling.  I really don’t want to be that sort of person.  I want to be open with the fact that I don’t know everything.  Once I gave up on fundamentalism I did feel free.  Free to say I don’t know all the answers and I don’t need to know all the answers.  Free to start asking some questions and have that be okay and not an embarrassing revelation of weak faith.

I found out some sad news today. A former professor of mine named Robert Webber died on April 27 of pancreatic cancer. Bob – he wanted us to call him “Bob” not Professor Webber – was a professor at Wheaton College when I was in grad school in the early 90’s. He completely rocked my world.

I was majoring in Clinical Psychology but Wheaton required us to take some core theology-type classes as well. I initially signed up for a class in Church History. When I told my other psych classmates that I was in Church History, they all responded with “No way. Nuh uh. You need to take Christian Traditions. The professor’s awesome and there’s no tests.” No tests? Sign me up. So I signed me up and dropped the Church History class.

The first day of Christian Traditions with Bob Webber I was dumbstruck. The professor was this fiftysomething guy with curly white hair who had us all sit in a circle. He told us there were no tests but that we needed to keep a journal. He made us all learn each others’ names. And then he proceeded to dismantle the shaky structure of my fundamentalist faith.

He made us read books about the Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church. He poked fun at evangelicalism’s love for reason and logic and roasted Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell. I remember him standing in the middle of the circle and saying in a high-pitched, mocking voice “Evvvvidence That Demaaaaands a Verrrrrrrrdict”. I had worshipped at the altar of McDowell for several years prior to that so I was offended and yet intrigued as he talked about how few people come to faith through intellectual reasoning.

“Experience” was a word he loved. He helped me understand that Communion is an experience of God, not just emblems symbolizing theological truths. He taught me the importance of not just knowing about God but knowing God. The whole time in his class I felt like I was visiting another planet.

He was responsible for my wife’s and my decision to attend an Episcopal church the whole time I was at Wheaton. My sister later attended the same church and my niece was baptized in that church.

He introduced me to Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulen which continues to astound and inspire me today. He helped me become wary of some of the silliness Christians can easily fall into. And he opened my eyes to the theological implications of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic film Total Recall.

There are few people who have had such an impact on my life. The short 5 months I was in his class have left a lasting imprint.

We had something unusual happen at church this weekend. As we walked in and took our kids to the children’s depot we saw on one of the monitors that they have in the hallway what looked like a picture of a lion. I couldn’t get a good look and our kids were running down the hallway and in danger of knocking old people over so I forgot about it for a bit. When we got them dropped off and entered the auditorium we were handed our usual Sunday bulletin. It’s always a pretty snazzy deal, full color and high quality paper. There on the front was the lion again.

“No it can’t be…” I began thinking with a dismayed feeling and then I saw the words printed right below our church’s name on the bulletin: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Sure enough our church had an advertisement for the Narnia movie on the front of our bulletin.

We get into the service and there it is again on the big screen: Aslan the lion and several kids with swords forming a border around the screen while our church posted instructions in the center of the screen for people to please have a seat.

That wasn’t all of course. No we had to have a skit with a young girl running down the aisle, up the stairs and onto the stage where a giant makeshift wardrobe stood and she opened it and walked inside. Then our minister preached his whole sermon on the movie and how it was clearly a “Christian movie” and a possible “evangelism tool” and how our church would be purchasing tickets and we could all go together.

The strangest thing was during communion. Up on the big screen was Aslan the lion and the kids with swords again and in the center of the screen was the message to please help ourselves to communion as it was passed down the aisle. Except in my mind it read “Communion tonight is brought to you by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A Walt Disney production coming to theaters December 9, 2005.”

The whole thing struck me wrong. I’ve read a great deal of C.S. Lewis’ writings and I can’t imagine he’d be pleased with what’s been done to his story. I do want to see the movie and I suspect I’ll take my children but afterward I’m going to go on Christian Blackout so I don’t have to have it beat into my head how “Aslan is Jesus!! He really is!! He’s Jesus!!!! Don’t you see it??”

A thoughtful reader directed me to this post by Natala on her blog. It deals with friendship, compassion and how we represent ourselves as Christians to unbelievers. It’s lengthy and riveting and made me tearful.

You should read about the porn star too.

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