28 September 2005

Another riff on the Lord's Prayer

I'm sick of all this philosophical mumbo-jumbo and reference to crap from my undergraduate comp-sci classes. This blog is getting to be way too much pretentious head and not enough heart. Sorry.

So instead, here's another take on the Lord's Prayer that I've been working and praying on for a few months. It started out as an attempt to train myself to be better at praying aloud spontaneously. Whenever I'm asked to lead prayer in a group, I get all tongue-tied and trip over myself trying to find the "right" words. So I decided to start with the Lord's Prayer (which I really think Jesus meant more as a model for prayer than a prayer to be literally repeated), and try to come up with a spontaneous personal expression of Christianity's most central prayer. I've done this sort of thing before.

Anyway, it started as an attempt to become more comfortable with allowing what was in my heart to come spontanously out of my mouth. Fairly quickly, it turned into an exercise in tinkering with and polishing the prayer until I thought the words were "right." This is just my personality and I might as well accept it. I still want to get better at praying aloud spontaneously. I think I just need to stop trying to make myself look small when someone says "Who wants to lead us in prayer?"

So here's the prayer I came up with. It comes from my heart via my head, and all credit goes to him who composed the original, of which this is just a heartfelt imitation.

Mike's prayer

Father God, we yearn with all our hearts for the coming of your Kingdom!

Mother God, we pray with all our hearts that we may play some part, as you've called, gifted, and sent us, in welcoming the entire world to receive and enter into your Reign.

In order that we may do this, we pray that you'll give us whatever we need today to best serve both You and our fellow creatures.

We pray that you'll free us from the anger, the guilt, and the other baggage we bring with us from our past.

We pray that you'll also free us from our fear of the future, and our own tendency to make a mess of it.

We ask all this in confidence, because we know that this Kingdom is real, and that it's Yours, and that You have the power to make it fully real on this earth.

And we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus.


25 September 2005

And the obvious follow-up question...

...is: "OK, smart-ass, so you think faith is like a marriage. Then you must have some claim to knowledge (either present or future) that there's actually someone to be married to. On the question of God's existence, at least, isn't it a matter of fact or fiction, knowledge or lack thereof?"

Well...maybe. At the very real risk of producing a post that could only be understood by someone who's had college-level studies in both theology and computer science, it's true that faith is a little like being married to someone on the other side of a really good Turing Test. This is a proposed test for artificial intelligence: allow a human to freely question both a computer and another human. If the questioner can't tell which is which, then arguably the computer is truly intelligent. If the only way you could interact with your spouse were through the Turing Test interface, how would you ever know if the "person" you were married to were "real" or just an artificial, man-made construct? Similarly, it's possible I'll never know whether the God I have faith in is "real" or just a human invention. Never, even after death. It's possible that, after death, "I" won't have enough in common with the "I" of this earthly life for the question to be meaningful.

But as in the case of the possibly-silicon spouse: in the final analysis, what difference does it make? Apparently something attracted you sufficiently to the entity on the other side of that interface to make you fall in love and marry them. So enjoy your life and live your commitment!

Also, in the case of faith in God, Christians do have something that tips the balance on this question: Jesus Christ. How do we know the object of our faith is "real" and not "artificial"? Because he was real. He walked the earth, healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, loved the unloved, gave his life for his friends, and (so we believe) rose again to life. We know our God is not artificial because our God was a real, live human being.

So how, then, do we know that that human being was God?? Nyeesh, you are just full of questions, aren't you? Maybe some other time....

More on faith and knowledge

I don't have a whole lot of readers of this blog, but damn if they aren't of remarkably high quality.

My good friend Jayce from Rochester left the following comment on my post about faith and knowledge:

Anyway, you said, "All orthodoxy demands (in my opinion) is agnosticism tempered by an optimistic confidence in God" and went on to outline several logical combinations of alternatives. So the difference between faith and non-faith is how you read a tautology. By that, I mean that God revealing Himself to you (is that the right phrasing?) may or may not happen. Faith argues, "but it may" while non-faith argues, "but it may not." Given that this "revealing" is guaranteed to happen when you die (I'm making an assumption instead of asking just to speed up the comment-response cycle) then wouldn't that aspect of faith be a claim to knowledge you cannot possess?

Like Elizabeth M.'s comment on another post in the same series, this is an excellent question. So I thought that addressing it (as with Elizabeth's comment) merited its own post. So:

Where my meaning differs from Jayce's interpretation is in his assumption that my "optimistic confidence in God" refers to revelation leading, eventually, to intellectual understanding or knowledge. But note that in the same post on orthodoxy, just after the part Jayce quotes, I wrote: "Orthodoxy is just saying you don't know for sure that they aren't true, but that you accept them as part of your tradition and trust God to reveal their truth and meaning to you if and when it suits God's purposes to do so." (The emphasis on the word "if" wasn't in the originally post, but perhaps it should have been.) My point is: it may be that it's important to our ability to serve God and our fellow creatures that we come to an intellectual understanding of some of these items. If so, then I trust that God will lead me, at some point, to such an understanding. But it's by no means certain, in my mind, that my having such an understanding is important, and therefore I have no particular faith or assurance that I'll ever understand these things, even after death. Maybe, maybe not--and I'm OK with it either way.

So Jayce's tautology and its possible interpretations are interesting on an intellectual/logical level, but in my opinion (and I'm not trying to put Jayce down--he's a rather remarkable guy whose reasoning powers I highly respect) that's far from the most important level in spiritual matters. Faith is, in my opinion, primarily a matter of the heart, a matter of relationship and commitment, like a marriage. In a marriage, it's good to have an intellectual understanding of some aspects of your partner, but I gotta tell ya, there are some things you'll never understand. You just need to accept them--but that doesn't mean you've got to create artificial intellectual/logical constructs that simulate genuine understanding of those aspects. In fact, trying to do so will generally get you into a lot of trouble.

If your mindset is primarily quote-unquote "modern," you probably think that that all sounds like sidestepping the question. I hear ya. But for those of us in the postmodern world (which in some ways is like the premodern world), it's where we're at. The logical/rational/understanding/knowledge questions are important; I'm not denying it. But are they everything? Are they the the most important? Hmm. Don't know, and don't know if I'll ever know. :-)

17 September 2005

Emerging = evangelical?

I keep on hearing things in the news lately that threaten, with their combined weight, to break my heart. The problem--the crisis, really--is that described in the article linked in my last post. In brief: the world and this nation are groaning in poverty, injustice, and war. Jesus' heart would have broken--Jesus' heart does break. The Christian right, who believe in making faith part of public and political life (and do very effectively make faith a very big part of public and political life), somehow don't think those are God's priorities. The Christian left, for whom counteracting poverty, injustice, and war are (sometimes) priorities, don't believe in making faith a part of public and political life, and if they did, they'd be laughed off the stage as irrelevant. Because we are overwhelmingly a (professedly) Christian nation, I don't think it's possible to say that these problems will be solved in this country through secular means. One or another form of Christianity is going to heavily influence the public debate and limit the effectiveness of secular solutions.

Of course, secular organizations and a great many faith-based organizations are doing huge amounts of good, but what kills me is the vast reservoir of untapped resources that we could lay claim to if the two sides of the left-right gulf within Christianity could somehow be persuaded to stop fighting each other and get busy with the mission Jesus gave us. Lefties: news flash: we have a mission. We are expected to get our asses in gear. If you haven't found a community that is helping you see how your faith should be transforming you and the world, let me know; I'll help you look for one. Righties: news flash: the mission is not primarily about beating people over the head regarding personal morality issues. It's primarily about healing the world and its people and inviting them to join us in that adventure.

So, I'll call that Problem Number One.

In related news, people have been noticing for decades now that both the Christian left and right are mightily missing the point. They have been at a loss to see what a Christian identity and a Christian community could possibly have to do with them. And, they've had kids. So we have whole generations of folks 35 and under, especially in urban areas, who have zero connection to the Christian faith story. Some of them may have been half-heartedly connected with a Christian church in their childhood. Based on that slim connection, they may decide to give the church another try some day. Maybe not. Lots of younger folks, however, have zero exposure to Christianity apart from the media and some Christian folks they may know. (Note that I'm not primarily talking about folks brought up in a non-Christian faith, but folks brought up with no faith.)

Like as not, these Christians are of either the right-wing-check-your-brain-(and-heart?)-upon-entering-the-church variety, or else the left-wing-check-your-faith-upon-exiting-the-church variety. I myself knew lots of Christians growing up, but with the exception of my Grandfather (some day I'll blog about Papa, one of my chief role models), my impression of every one of them was one or the other of those stereotypes. No doubt this was a grossly unfair impression in many cases (in fact, I've since learned that it certainly was), but I can nonetheless understand why, for many of these younger folks, the idea of joining a church makes about as much sense for them personally as the idea of joining the circus. But a lot of these younger folks want very much to make a positive difference in the world, if only they knew where to begin, and who could help them find a way to do that.

I'll call that Problem Number Two.

In the face of these two problems, I must admit that I get a little worked up when I hear people say that the Emerging Church conversation is a phenomenon of evangelicals, for evangelicals, relevant only to evangelicals. Yes, it began among (primarily nondenominational and Baptist) evangelical Protestants. Yes, to this day most of the conversation's leading lights and rank-and-file folks hail from that background. And yes, many of the books I've been reading on the Emerging Church pretty much assume that their audience consists exclusively of evangelical Protestants. The thinking, I guess, is that since a core assumption of the Emerging Church is that Christians are on a mission from Jesus that should transform their lives and give them an active, outward-directed faith, and since that's not the sort of faith that is associated with liberal mainliners, liberal mainliners are probably not interested. (Also, a lot of emerging writing seems to be geared toward getting conservatives to consider the "generous" part of "generous orthodoxy", which many liberals already get.)

OK, I follow this line of thinking, but let's assume for the sake of argument that I'm right in saying that a large part of the business of the Emerging Church is to work on finding solutions to Problems One and Two. Further, let's say I'm right in claiming that the Emerging Church folks are having some success in that business.

So I ask you: What exactly about Problems One and Two makes them a bigger issue for evangelicals than for largely-liberal mainliners? My opinion: nothing. My own mainline church is one that gets, to a large extent, that faith should transform us and cause us to transform the world, but despite that, I see very few folks age 20 to 35 when I look around in our worship services. When I travel, I generally attend Episcopal or Lutheran churches, and guess what? I see the same thing there as well. Problem Two is not an evangelical, nondenominational problem. It's a Christian problem--and for all I know, it's probably a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist problem as well. And Problem One is obviously equally "our" problem in the mainline--maybe more so, since both sides of the left/right squabble are well represented in our denominations and are very busy tearing them apart from the inside. So if the Emerging conversation is finding answers to these problems, how on earth can we sit back and say, "All of this sounds great! We're certainly glad some of you evangelicals are learning to be more generous! Keep us posted!"

Aaargh! No! We have to join this conversation. We've been invited, specifically, on multiple occasions, by multiple leaders in the Emerging Church--and by "we" I mean mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians alike. And I personally know many mainline individuals and congregations which are engaging this conversation. And for me, personally, these two problems are something that I feel very strongly called to help solve--perhaps to devote the rest of my life to helping solve. Tomorrow evening, several fellow disciples and I will gather at my church to talk about starting an Emerging-style service at Holy Comforter--a small step in this direction, or so I pray. God, if it's your will,be with us as we try to engage both emerging generations and our brothers and sisters from other parts of the Body of Christ in new ways. Amen.

15 September 2005

A Christian nation?

This article from Harper's Magazine, reprinted on Sojourners web site, is important reading, I think:


It's about our failures as a supposedly "Christian" nation where the face and voice of the Christian faith is often the Religious Right. What it doesn't cover (much) is the ways in which the Religious Left also misses the point, but it's gently provocative reading nonetheless.

UPDATE: here's the link to the article where it was originally published, on Harper's. If you don't feel like registering for Sojourners, read it here instead (no registration required):


13 September 2005

Not really blogging

Sorry, folks, I didn't blog this weekend, because I was hanging out with a bunch of my closest friends. I think it's a good excuse. I will choose sleep over blogging now, too; in point of fact I don't feel too inspired at the moment. I helped out a little yesterday as my church loaded (and I mean loaded) a really big moving truck with supplies for a town in Mississippi. A staggering amount of goods, a staggering amount of effort on the part of some individuals that I am blessed to practice discipleship with, and it's just a cup of cool water in a desert of thirst. But still.

And I found out last night that someone I like and admire has breast cancer. I believe she has every chance of beating it, though.

Take care, all, and hold your loved ones close.


03 September 2005

Why orthodoxy? (Part 4: Why orthodoxy?)

OK, I'm finally getting to where I wanted to go with this series, after far too much side trip, background, and disclaimer. So: If you're a Christian, why bother trying to be an orthodox Christian? Here are some reasons, in my opinion:

  • The historic Christian belief system, for all the bad fruit it's borne down the centuries, has value. It's been the bedrock of the faith of a great many great souls in the nearly two millennia since it took form. St. Benedict of Nursia. St. Francis of Assisi. St. Patrick. St. Teresa of Avila. Dame Julian of Norwich. George Fox. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Martin Luther King. Desmond Tutu. So many others. The creedal statements of orthodox Christianity are a way for you and me to stand together with these great souls in a single, unbroken tradition. It is good for that tradition to be whole and unbroken. It's a precious thing that shouldn't be cast off lightly, although it should naturally grow, evolve, and heal its own maladies, which admittedly are many. But that healing, I think, shouldn't result in breaking off from the essentials of that tradition. (What exactly are those essentials? That's a matter for honest discussion, but I would claim that the items listed in the first post in this series would be in that list.)
  • All orthodoxy demands (in my opinion) is agnosticism tempered by an optimistic confidence in God. What I mean is: you don't have to say you know these things are true. Orthodoxy is just saying you don't know for sure that they aren't true, but that you accept them as part of your tradition and trust God to reveal their truth and meaning to you if and when it suits God's purposes to do so. The alternatives are to either say you know with certainty that these items are true, you know with certainty that they are false, or you couldn't care less. The first two alternatives to orthodoxy, it seems to me, are completely at odds with both faith and reason. The last is only at odds with faith.
  • Orthodoxy gets you a seat at the table with conservative sisters and brothers in Christ. This may seem cynical, but it's not, and I think it's vitally important. I am not saying,"Lie to the conservatives about what you believe so they'll talk to you." However, if you can honestly say that you can affirm the basic tenets of the historic Christian faith, then you may be recognized as a brother or sister in the faith by those for whom orthodoxy is a fundamental requirement. If you must deny some of those tenets, you may be considered an outsider and not welcomed to the table. And in my opinion, being welcomed to that table is vital to healing the jagged divisions in the body of Christ that cripple us and hinder our mission. It's vital to enabling the mutual love by which Jesus said his followers would be recognized. Again, I'm not advocating dishonesty. I'm just saying that it's worth considering whether your discomfort with some of those tenets is close enough to negative certainty to preclude the trusting agnosticism mentioned above. To thine own self be true, but are you honestly that certain? Certain enough to trump Christian love?

So that's my case. I really don't think it's going to convince anyone, but if it's food for thought, that's all I hope for. I'm very hopeful that we, the body of Christ, might to some substantial degree heal our bitter left/right divisions and meet on the common ground of generous orthodoxy. So many of my evangelical and post-evangelical brothers and sisters are working hard to convince their fellow evangelicals, for whom orthodoxy seems self-evident, to be generous too. I feel compelled to do my part (as a mainline post-liberal) to try to help my fellow liberals, for whom generosity seems self-evident, to reconsider orthodoxy if they have dismissed it in the past.

So that's my first fumbling attempt. Sorry it took so long. In my wildest prayers, I see us in the left hand and our friends in the right hand working toward a future in which we're both clasped at the heart of the Body of Christ. And I rejoice, though I also see that there is so much work that God has given us to do. God, be with us. Amen.

01 September 2005

Baby Got Book

Found out about this one from my blogging neighbor, Meredith.

It's pretty funny. Check it out.

Responding to Hurricane Katrina

ERDI got the following from my rector's blog, and he found out from fellow Episcoblogger Sarah Dylan Breuer: it's an effort by concerned bloggers to raise awareness and funds for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. I'm glad to join in. Episcopal Relief and Development is one of many organizations responding and I encourage those who read this blog to consider a gift toward the effort.

ERD Responds to Hurricane Katrina

[Episcopal Relief and Development]

As Hurricane Katrina leaves behind devastation in Florida and Louisiana, and closes in on Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, Episcopal Relief and Development has mobilized in support of communities affected by this disaster.

After tearing through Florida on Friday, the Category 4 hurricane regained force over the Gulf of Mexico, with winds topping 145 mph.

This morning, Katrina touched down again, just east of New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane-force winds caused a path of destruction 250 miles across. A million New Orleans residents avoided harm by obeying a mandatory citywide evacuation.

Seventy percent of the coastal city is below sea level, and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps. After pumps failed in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, filling the streets with six feet of water, dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses.

Katrina is over Mississippi this afternoon. Storm surges in Gulfport, Mississippi have already plunged the city under ten feet of water. Winds tore the roofs off buildings in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Disaster officials will begin assessing the damage to Louisiana and Mississippi today.

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the US. Experts estimate that it could cause between $10 and $25 billion worth of damage. If the higher assessments are confirmed, Katrina will be the most expensive hurricane in US history.

On behalf of Episcopalians, ERD has sent emergency funds immediately to the Diocese of Mississippi. This emergency assistance will help vulnerable people whose homes are destroyed or severely damaged. ERD support will help the diocese provide aid to community members through two mobile response trailers, which are equipped with supplies like chainsaws and generators to assist in the recovery.

We are waiting to hear what kind of aid is most needed in Louisiana. We have also offered emergency assistance to dioceses likely to be affected as the storm moves inland, including Alabama and Tennessee. Forecasters also warn of the risk of high winds, flooding, and scattered tornadoes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

We offer our prayers for the people affected by this disaster--those whose homes are under 10 feet of water, those who have lost family members, and those whose businesses have been blown down and swept away. Please join us in praying for people affected by Hurricane Katrina.

To make a contribution to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina, please donate to the US Hurricane Fund by credit card via this page or by calling 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o US Hurricane Fund, PO Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101.

Episcopal Relief and Development, an independent 501(c) 3 organization, saves lives and builds hope in communities around the world. We provide emergency assistance in times of crisis and rebuild after disasters. We enable people to climb out of poverty by offering long-term solutions in the areas of food security and health care, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.

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