Monday, September 28, 2009

The lowest common denominator

Part of me is amused, and part of me is distressed at this video. On the one hand I'm not surprised that good 'ol Kirk "Mike Seaver" Cameron is making this video, but I'm saddened by the realization that this argument is actually accepted by a disturbingly large number of people.

It explains why Wolf Blitzer, an otherwise reputable journalist, would waste everyone's time asking Republican presidential candidates if they believed in evolution during a debate last year.

I'm also somewhat amused by this video in response to Kirk. If you can set aside your offense at the plethora of 4-letter words, this woman has some substantive points, particularly when she mentions how Darwin has nothing to do with the big-bang theory.

Ultimately I'm left not really knowing what to think. On the one hand, I don't encounter these issues on a day to day basis, because even the most conservative people in my congregation don't think that science and faith are mutually exclusive (something for which I'm very grateful).

On the other, clearly there is a substantive enough portion of the population with whom this issue still has traction. If it didn't, the Christian-media-industrial-complex wouldn't waste any energy on it because it wouldn't make them any money. And those guys are nothing if not good capitalists.

I hope that the silent majority of rational individuals out there will see the forces using Kirk Cameron as their spokes-puppet for what they are: people who want to scare you into accepting their ideology without questioning. The issue for these people isn't about faith in God or even the authority of the Bible, really. It's about the authority of their interpretation of the Bible. In other words, the authority of them. And that's scary.

I'd like to address one thing Kirk says in the video. He claims that atheism has doubled over the last twenty years. I have no idea if that's true or if he even has any research to back that claim (I suspect he doesn't). But one has to wonder, if atheism (which is not the same thing as non-participation in church) really is on the rise, is Charles Darwin really the culprit?

I say no. Christians have only ourselves to blame for our steadily declining influence in the world. People look at us and perceive us a judgmental, hateful, out of touch with reality, and too obsessed with our own wonderfulness to really care about what real people are going through. And those outside of the church who actually pick up a Bible and read about Jesus only have those suspicions confirmed when they see the horrendous gap between the teachings of Jesus and the practices of those who claim his name.

We can create straw-men out of Charles Darwin and attack them all we like, but our problems are our own fault.

That being said, I hope you'll listen to what Kirk Cameron's puppet masters have to say. I also hope you'll read Charles Darwin for who he is and what he has to say: not as a Nazi or a racist, but as a guy who looked at the world and began to wonder if things aren't more beautifully complex and diverse than we'd previously thought. Darwin is a guy not unlike Copernicus or Galileo before him: someone who dreamed big and was persecuted by the religious authorities of their day, only to see succeeding generations repent of their ancestors' stupidity.

PS- if you're interested in issues of science and the Bible, check out Dr. James McGrath's blog, Exploring our Matrix. He's a first rate biblical scholar who poses challenging questions to all corners of institutional Christianity. You should also check out this great article on Kirk's latest quixotic venture by UCC pastor Chuck Currie.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moltmann Meditations (part 1 of ?): Theology and Biography

Now that I've had more than a week to digest the plethora of amazing discussions, conversations, and ideas I encountered at the Emergent Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann (one of my heroes and something of a grandfather in faith, but more on that later), I feel like I'm ready to reflect on what I experienced.

Theology as Biography, or Biography as Theology?

At the beginning of the conference, Danielle Shroyer led us through a "Moltmann 101" seminar that talked about Moltmann's major works in chronological order and put them in context of his biography. I had some idea of the order in which these works were written, but I had never given much thought to them, because like most students of theology since Aquinas, I've been taught to read theology as an objective, closed system free of contextual bias.

(I wholeheartedly reject this idea, by the way, but many systematic theologians write with this assumption, and I like to try to give people a charitable reading on their own terms)

Moltmann, however, makes no such assumptions about himself. His can be deceptive in this way sometimes (or, at the very least, the English translations of his writing) because he has a very structured writing style, and he deeply engages his theological predecessors and contemporaries with very little first person commentary. So it is easy to read him in the way someone would read Karl Barth.

Moltmann is very open about how his theology is deeply rooted in his experiences as a young man serving in the German army during World War II, particularly the deep anguish he felt when he learned about the Holocaust as a prisoner in a British POW camp. His work as a theologian is rooted in the reality of the suffering he saw and experienced early in life, and these questions are still crucial to him in his eighties.

In an effort to understand Moltmann's theology better, I am now reading his autobiography, A Broad Place. I am hoping that understanding his life story better will open up new insights when I reread some of his theological works that I read before.

Moltmann's insight that theology is deeply contextual is in need of greater recognition in the American church today. We are killing each other over a host of issues that are preventing us from working together on the larger problems of the world: problems on which we largely agree like AIDS, poverty, access to clean water, and ending child sex slavery.

But we refuse to work together on these issues because we fight one another over who has the "correct" interpretation of the Bible, as if there is one correct interpretation that rises above any contextual bias. We assume that God can't possibly be speaking to those who disagree with us, because they understand the Bible incorrectly.

Moltmann reminds us that we all come from somewhere, and what we bring to the table greatly affects the way we read the Bible and do theology. So maybe we should put aside the issues where we disagree for a moment and tell each other our stories. If we began to understand where we each come from, we might be less likely to demonize the other and understand why we come to the conclusions we do.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn't Be Ordained

Joe Bumbulis at collideoscope posted this the other day (it seems to have originated at the Christian Feminism blog, and I just had to share:

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn't Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Even more shameless self promotion

I'm trying to organize my thoughts from the Moltmann conversation, and hopefully I'll begin posting those in the next day or so.

In the meantime, however, a new book on calling stories just came out, and it includes an essay I wrote about the value of mentoring relationships.

It's called Beyond the Burning Bush, and although it's focused primarily on ministry in the United Methodist Church, I think it would be valuable for any person wrestling with the idea of a call to vocational ministry (ordained or otherwise).

There are lots of really good essays in this book, including pieces by Sara Baron and Sarah McQueen, with whom I had the privilidge to serve in the Young Adult Seminarians Network.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vicarious Live-Blogging Moltmann

As I said before, I'm not live blogging the Moltmann Conversation (this post doesn't count). I need time to process my thoughts, so I'm taking notes and I'll post reflections when I have time to digest them.

There are, however, a number of folks who are live blogging the event and providing some interesting and insightful commentary.

I'm posting them for the benefit both of those who are here and those who wish they were and want to know what is happening:

Brian Paulson (pastor of Libertyville First Presbyterian, where the Moltmann Conversation is taking place)

PomoRev (Frank Emmanuel)

Anyul Rivas (written in Spanish)

I'll link more folks as I find them

Friday, September 04, 2009

Moltmann Conversation

Next week I'll be attending the Emergent Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann in Chicago. I'm really excited about this because I read a lot of Moltmann in seminary, and one of my professors was a student of Moltmann's at Tubugen. I'm also getting to see some family and friends while I'm there, which will be really nice.

(sidenote- I can't figure out how to get my keyboard to do umlauts, so my apologies to the German scholars out there)

Going to Emergent events is always an experience, because there always seems to be an unspoken competition as to who is the coolest, edgiest, theologically progressive hipster. I'll no doubt be contributing with my Macbook, my corduroy jacket, and my pipe. I don't have square glasses, screen printed t-shirts, artfully messy hair, or creative facial hair (just a plain 'ol beard), however, so I won't be winning any style contests.

One thing I won't be doing is live blogging the event. For one, there will be people there with sharper theological minds than my own who have much more interesting and well read blogs than I do, and when I find out who is doing that, I'll post links to their sites.

But the bigger reason is that theology, particularly the kind of deep theology that Moltmann does that draws from so many different sources in the Christian tradition, is not the kind of conversation that can be related through the kind of first impressions that constitute live blogging.

I will probably tweet a quote here and there, but for the most part I'm going to take notes, let it all sink in, and then I'll post my thoughts a few days after I get back.