Friday, May 27, 2011

Examination

The other day, in To Heal, I made the following statement...


"...I took my faith in Christ and set it to the side, but placed ALL other aspects of my Christianity on the table for scrutiny and examination."


I described my reasoning for doing so - having seen everything I don't want to become (in my ex's family and circle) through the practice of my faith in Christ. I was having a conversation about this with someone outside of the realm of this blog earlier today and they had a hard time understanding exactly what I meant. In the event that the meaning translated equally ambiguously through the piece I wrote the other day, I'll try to explain it a little better in this post.



First of all, let's take a look at humanity in general, and its unwillingness or inability (whichever applies in a given situation) to discern. According to the dictionary, "discern" is defined in the following manner...


to perceive by the sight or some other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend/to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate


People often criticize me for speaking to motive. I'm of the opinion that without giving at least a cursory thought to motive, there are innumerable things we'll never be able to discern - when motive is so much of what discernment is about. Look at law enforcement as an example. To convict a person of murder, or to even seriously establish someone as a suspect...motive has to be established.


Think of any truly malicious or terrible thing ever done to you. The first thought that came to your mind (and perhaps the first word that left your lips) was "Why?" When something significant happens to us, particularly something painful, it's in our nature to want to know "why". If we aren't asking "why", that may say more than we want it to about the significance of an issue, event, thing, or person to us - particularly with regard to those of us who claim faith in Christ.


Society in and of itself isn't particularly discerning. Look at some of our foremost celebrities. We've got plethoras of very famous people like the Kardashians and Paris Hilton, and their only discernible "talent" is being famous. Look at the lack of musicianship and musicality of most of the younger rock bands these days. There was a band on Letterman tonight, Arctic Monkeys, that was more like a sonic enema than anything musical. Society has accepted people like the Kardashians and Paris Hilton as celebrities because television (and print media) has told us they're celebrities. Society has accepted bands like the one on Letterman tonight as genuine "musicians" because their appearance on Letterman told us they are, or some other marketing campaign or public appearance has told us they are (all while people who can actually PLAY their instruments were sitting at home saying, "God...Please...Make it stop!").


We generally do what we're told, even though we usually don't recognize that we've been told something or that we're acting on the thing we've been told (that we don't recognize we've been told).


Our churches serve us a fast-food spiritual diet (they love the dollar menu items) while asking for fine-dining contributions when the offering plates are passed - and it seems few people are bothered by it. A steady diet of spiritual milk and cookies when they should be serving filet mignon and fine wine. Emotional highs masked as spiritual experiences. Don't believe me? If I could take audience video of, let's say, a Journey concert as they performed "Open Arms" or "Faithfully", and take audience video of the typical "Praise and Worship" portion of your average mega-church's service, play them both for you with the audio muted - I guarantee you wouldn't know which was which. You'd see a lot of one hand raised, the other on the heart, head tilted back, eyes closed, body swaying side to side with the music. If we don't look at motive, both ours and the performers, we won't see that one entity, Journey, is selling us an emotional experience connected with the music that ends when the music ends (and makes no bones about it), while the other has sold us an emotional experience connected to God that ends when the music ends (but they want you to believe it's something more). In other words, a "heathen" rock band has been more Christlike in their honesty than your average church - and most Christians can't discern this because they feel guilty examining the motives of church leaders and, quite frankly, probably don't want to look at their own spirituality and see where our use of all things "God" fits into Karl Marx's depiction of religion being the opiate of the masses (our religious addictions - something I hope to write more about in the future).


Life is easier when we don't have to think, when our senses can be dulled, and when we are lead by the nose - even when unaware. When we just accept based on the surface of things, we get into trouble. We have to look deep. I'm not suggesting you go through life as a cynic, even though a measure of cynicism is healthy and wise. I'm suggesting that we ALL discern, and when something doesn't add up, consider motive, consider everything, and dig past the surface.


In the statement I made, what I was trying to convey was this: I was so repulsed by the "Christianity" I'd seen in this group of people, knowing what their "faith" had done to me, that I wanted to put my own Christianity under the microscope. I saw nothing in them that I would so much as mistakenly identify as Christ-like even if I were in a drunken stupor. I didn't want a particular "Christian lifestyle" masquerading as my Christ or actually being my true Christ. I didn't want a religiosity that merely dulled my senses to the pain of "the world". I didn't want to turn up my bible and take a pull from it like it was a bottle of Jack Daniels. I wanted (and still want) Christ to be a friend to me, and through Him, I wanted to be a friend of God. No more, no less. The rest would take care of itself. I still firmly believe that. I struggle holding up my end of that equation, as they're both better friends to me than I am to them 100% of the time, but for me, faith now begins and ends in that equation.


So, knowing my faith in Christ wouldn't change...I put everything, and I mean everything, else about my Christianity on the table and under the microscope. It didn't all happen at once, as I discover new areas that I've yet to examine all the time - but they all get their turn. Paul's words in 1st Thessalonians 5:21 began to resound louder in my thinking. 


Paul says to "dokimazō" (to test, or, guess what? - to discern) "pas" (all things, everything), "katechō" (holding securely, taking possession of) "kalos" (that which is pure, good, worthwhile, beautiful, choice, et cetera).


Everything I've ever believed about my faith was examined. Why I believed the things I believed (that was the toughest one to accept some of the answers to). How the things I believed held up in practice, who they made me in practice, what they made me in practice, how they enhanced or diminished others in practice. How I looked at the bible has been, and continues to be, examined, and even more, how I LIVE the bible - particularly the words of Christ. How I looked at "church" and its institutions and traditions. How I looked at prayer. Did I live by rules, using the bible as a rigid rulebook in some ways, defined by a religious lifestyle or culture? Though never a "fundie", I'm sorry to say that I did. Parts of my Christianity WERE in fact more about a culture and lifestyle, even if not "fundie", than I'm comfortable admitting. Shame on me. Parts of my Christianity WERE more of an addiction than something spiritually healthy. Shame on me. Thank God for helping me to see that, and thank God for helping me to see that I still have SOOOO far to go to resemble a life truly Christ-like, reminding me that I'm no better than anyone else - a perpetual work of the Holy Spirit in progress. 


Examining my own motives, and finding them lacking in many cases, has been internally humiliating at times and one of the most difficult things I've ever done. But, I'm thankful for the determination to do it. To me, it's an example of at least ONE good thing God has created in the vacuum left by the terrible wound these people gave me.


The one thing I've settled on: We've paid soooooo much attention to orthodoxy, orthopraxy, exegesis, eisegesis, hermeneutics, et cetera, wringing our hands over the tiniest matters in scripture, making sure we've got it just right, when we've missed on the most important instruction in the scripture...Love God with all your heart - Love your neighbor as yourself. On those two commandments EVERYTHING else about our faith is built and based. Just getting those two right is a full day, week, and month - a lifetime - in and of itself.


I'm telling ya, we don't get those two right, and things like "biblical principles" that shape a lifestyle don't mean jack-squat.


But, we'd rather nickel and dime each other to death on things that amount to a whole lot of nothing in comparison. We're okay with people stomping all over those two commandments as they live their lives, but, by God, cross someone on a "biblical principle" and you'll find yourself radioactive in certain sectors of the Christian community.


My self-examination is continual (and certainly not always successful) in searching for this kind of inconsistency. 


I've reached the point where I'm not okay with those who profess Christ stomping all over those two commandments. As compared to those two, I don't shive a git about your "biblical principles". 

19 comments:

  1. Lewis - you are a very interesting man with a beautiful perspective on spirituality.

    I have been reading your blog with great interest (and sorrow) for a while. Ironically, I have never been a fundie and indeed, was brought up Hindu but still feel a deep resonation with what you share.

    At the age of 16, I found myself in a 'gnostic christian' cult - a group I thought was loving, pious and spiritual. Devoted my life to it, married a man in it. Eventually clawed my way out of it (and the marriage) by dint of many tears, intensely dark depression and serendipity. A therapist helped me through it - someone who eventually proved to be very right wing christian and told me I was possessed by demons...

    And therein law my draw to fundie-ism and I have been hooked ever since, in an intellectual exploration of the psychological underpinnings of control/abuse and totalitarian psychology as well as empathy for those caught in it.

    Stay strong, fight the good fight -
    A

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  2. This is what my grandpa believes - love God, love others, and nothing else matters. And he lives it, too. Funny thing is, as a fundie, I was taught growing up that my grandpa was not "saved," and that's what I grew up thinking. Grandpa was a bad Christian, we, while pronouncing judgment on all those who believed differently, were the good Christians. How sad.

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  3. thank you for a clarion call to reality. Love God, Love your neighbor, without those, the rest of it is just so much BS.

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  4. This is the process that I find myself going through right now. It's a very scary place to be when the rules have kept you "safe" for so long. A big wake up call for me was how I was lied to, hated, insulted, called names, etc by former friends of over a decade when I pulled away from the extreme fundamentalism. The fact that I would leave my husband, regardless of the reason, was so outrageous to them that any and all actions on their part were apparently excusable. Love, compassion, and caring was no where to be found. That's just not what Jesus is about. So here I find myself trying to figure out what He IS about. A process I have a feeling might last a lifetime :-)

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  5. I know just what you mean. I'm familiar with how people get so wrapped up in doctrine and "Biblical principals" that they fail to see the Gospel, even in the very scripture that reveals it! It's so easy to get caught up in, I know firsthand. But one verse that kind of brought this issue to my attention was Matthew 23:24, when Jesus said, "You blind guides [Pharisees], straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!"

    "Gnats" being far too heavily scrutinized and "strained" while the important stuff, like "justice and mercy and faithfulness," [Mat 23:23] were ignored.

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  6. I totally get what you're going through, Lewis.

    Peace and good will, SS

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  7. See, those two principles right there are the ones I follow. I'm more pantheist than Christian, but I admire Jesus Christ, and I admire those two laws because they are really very sensible. Love and honor your chosen deity, where applicable. Love and honor the people who share your plane of existence. People who can't get those two right need to seriously examine their priorities.

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  8. Next installment please.
    It's been 11 days, your killing me here LOL.
    Just kidding, I know these things take time to reprocess and reopen those old wounds. I really do appreciate you sharing and helping others avoid what happened to you.

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  9. I am waiting with bated breath as well!

    Lewis, not all churches offer dollar-menu items and demand fine dining prices in return. I love that analogy. My search for a church that gave me the deep, lasting experience with God lead me far from Protestantism. My husband and I are now Eastern Orthodox. God seems to lead us all to different places, but that has been my experience.

    Blessings to you. Thanks for writing this blog.

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  10. Dude, seriously, this stuff makes no sense.

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  11. Sounds like something Robin Phillips might say...that is...if he left anonymous comments on blogs.

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  12. Dear Anonymous, May 28, 2011 10:56.

    This makes no sense to shallow people who pursue a dishonest religion that is spiritually and emotionally bankrupt.

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  13. *pats Anonymous on the head*

    It's OK, someday you'll understand ....seriously...Dude.

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  14. After traveling a somewhat similar path as yours many years ago I completely abandoned my "how to be a good christian" fundie rule book and (sadly) have only within the past couple of years begun trying to figure out what following Christ really looks like.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the only thing that matters is loving God and others. Unfortunately, after so many years of legalism I have a persistent belief that God doesn't love me because I could never measure up to the demands of a grace-less God. I have been battling this belief for several years now and have finally begun to believe that God's grace truly is greater than all of my sins and that his love for me is both real and beyond measure.

    Although I generally still fail at loving God and others the people I find hardest to love are those binding the hearts and consciences of other as condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23, as well as their foolish followers who come hell or high water will be damned before they will lay down the heavy loads that they themselves also seek to lay upon others.

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  15. Interested bystanderMay 31, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    Your writing is insightful and has given me so much to think about since I began reading your blog. I wanted you to know you have touched me and that I have had conversations with my children on the nature of Christianity and the ways that people twist it. We have all examined our faith and how we live it. As you say, we have found a lot we aren't too proud of. But it has clarified for us where we want to go and how we want to live.

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  16. Thank you for writing this, Lewis. I really needed it today. I am weary from the burden of disapproval by those who equate discernment with disobedience.

    Critical thinking involves more than logic. Logic tells us, "Because A and B are true, therefore C is true" (in cases when C actually does follow from A and B). Critical thinking, on the other hand, demands that we consider whether A and B are actually true.

    Critical thinking examines the possible motives of those who proclaim A and B. (This is not the same as thinking of the worst possible motive, and accusing them of it.) It is not disobedience to question the truth claims of church leaders, when faith in God demands that we follow *God* always.

    Discernment does have a spiritual component, but some are so quick to dismiss the mental component. Why is that? I keep hearing, "It's too hard for me, and it's not necessary for salvation, so therefore it must not be important." I really don't want to impose a new burden on others, tailored by me, of intellectual rigor if it is too much for them. But could they be selling themselves short? Could they benefit from realizing that we ALL feel like we're not keeping up sometimes? But pressing on yields the fruit of greater understanding eventually, even if it's not perfect understanding.

    Scripture does not contain the words, "critical thinking." But it has a lot to say about wisdom. (See Proverbs 1:20-33.) Is it wise to accept a fallible human's truth claims about what God's Word says, without asking God for ourselves? But before any of us pride ourselves on being "the" children of Wisdom, either with or without critical thinking, I think we need to consider that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer.

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  17. Lewis, your closing portion of this post hit the nail on the head and is a sentiment I've expressed myself. Why are we focused sharply on the details when we can't even get the basics down? And how can we get those "details" right if we're not approaching them from a solidly built foundation of the basics?

    -Aerial Jean

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  18. "I didn't want to turn up my bible and take a pull from it like it was a bottle of Jack Daniels. I wanted (and still want) Christ to be a friend to me, and through Him, I wanted to be a friend of God. No more, no less. The rest would take care of itself."

    me too!!! LOL@ JD reference! I love your posts. they are refreshing confirming and where i'm @.

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