Daniel steps out

There come times in ones life when you must admit to something. I have admitted to many things, including that I have indeed been wrong on many occasions, and am sure I will be wrong many more times. But there is an admission that I have not made, that I have decided it is time to make. I am stepping out…

I am not a conservative evangelical Christian. I really don’t like christian music, I don’t enjoy singing in church, I don’t even like going to church, I’d rather not set foot in a christian book store, you will not catch me buying anything overtly labeled “Christian”, and I am a little suspicious of any company that advertises that they are christian. I also am saddened by the mixture of Christianity and nationalistic pride, christian leaders that endorse war, fear-mongering from the pulpit, christians that “trash talk” Democrats, Liberals, Feminists, Environmentalists, welfare recipients, presidential candidates, rednecks, Mexicans, Muslims, Catholics, Pentacostals, Southern Baptists, Free Methodists, Athiests, fellow motorists, and … well, anyone. Yep, it really does give me an icky feeling in my stomach. I have it right now.

So what am I? Do I have to say? To those who would claim to be christian, I might seem a liberal tree-hugger, and compared to the average consumer, my ideas may seem to lean toward communism. So, to make things easier, I will outline my core values, and you can make up whatever label you prefer.

I do still believe in God, and that he somehow made this incredible universe at least partially for us, but mostly to enjoy for himself. I think that we fit in there because, as he made us somewhat free agents, we can somehow please him more than the rest of the stuff he made. At some point we took that freedom, and twisted it and that did not really make him very happy. He decided that, at great pain to himself, he would extend a favor to us despite our twistedness, and in fact show us how to undo the kinks.

Yes, I know, I did not mention Jesus, or the cross, or the bible. Those are all parts of it, but the terms themselves do not add anything to the story. I do believe that Jesus was much more than a very wise man, and I think that his personal example, as recorded in what we call the gospels, is probably the best example there ever was. The horrible way that he died, and the events following that death are very significant, but to what extent we will not truely know until later.

So there is the theology section. Now, on to regular everyday life. I believe that God made the world that made me. I believe that God cares not just about people, but also about all the other stuff he made, and if we care at all about God, we will also care about his stuff. When I say “care about”, I do not just mean disapointed if something happens to it. I mean really take an interest, and be actively invovled in taking care of it, in the same way that you would “take care” of your ailing aunt, or your new infant. Not how a gangster would “take care of it.” This means be good to yourself, your fellow two-legged-rational beings, the other creatures around you, the bit of dust that keeps producing the stuff that keeps us alive, and the elements that we are built from. Be good means more than don’t be bad. Being good involves active choices for doing things that are beneficial. There are some virtues that describe this type of good: self-discipline, humility, justice, mercy, compassion, charity, love, and grace.

As it turns out, these virtues were the primary teachings and example of Jesus. Some of the other things he taught or lived were simplicity, intolerance of religious facades, modesty, integrity, perserverance, community, stewardship, and self-sacrifice (literally!). Those are the values or virtues that I see as the core of what Jesus taught and lived. If I take him as a excellent teacher and example, those become the core values for which I yearn and strive. The other stuff? Church service, Sunday school, daily devotions, quiet time, yearly bible, praise music, “the experience”, full-time ministry, excecutive pastors, assistant pastors, “emergent”, neo-conservative, sword-drills, memory verses, alter calls, “the prayer”, christian radio, christian movies, christian products, christian versions of ideas that are already in use, christian America, christian stores, church camp, study bible, teen bible, womens bible, christian fiction. It is just extras. I see it as the weeds that grow up and choke the seed. It is the stuff that keeps us from taking care of the things that God cares about, the stuff that can keep us from doing good.

So, there you have it. I think I still please God. I long to please him now, more than ever before. But now I feel more freedom to follow Jesus more fully than I ever have.

Back to reading…

I browsed Arts & Letters Daily today, something I have not done in months. It was interesting to find a few articles that in some way point at the same problem: unhappiness and moral decline in culture today. Before I say anything more, I am but a lowly observer, and one without a history of unusual social insight. I write here only because I find the correlation interesting, and the truth sad.

Theodore Dalrymple, a British doctor that spent the last 14 years working in a prison and a slum hospital, in The Frivolity of Evil looks at the almost spontaneous nature of evil in the underclass of Britain, and the causes. A key insight is given near the end that would apply to our own culture here in America:

So while my patients know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, and worse than wrong, they are encouraged nevertheless to do it by the strong belief that they have the right to do it, because everything is merely a matter of choice. Almost no one in Britain ever publicly challenges this belief.

In a similar way, Mary Eberstadt looks at the results of irresponsible adults on their children, most notable in the angry and misogynistic music of today’s youth, in Eminem Is Right. It is a disturbing look at the source and focus of their rage.

And, not to be left out, the Christian community is scrutinized along similar, albeit less extreme lines in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, where it is noted that Christians as a whole are not doing much better, despite a profession to live according to the teachings of Christ. It seems that our morals as Christians may keep us from performing as many illegal acts, but there still seems to be an obvious carelessness and selfishness demonstrated in the home. At the end of the article things take a brighter turn and some positive trends are revealed.

I think that the common thread that runs through these articles is the popular belief that personal irresponsibility is a right. There is more than individual choices represented here though. These trends also indicate a general direction of a spoiled democracy (in the way a child is spoiled), and a complacent Church.

Forgive our spam

Another literary spam crossed my in box, this time with L. Frank Baum’s Master Key. Although interesting in itself, it is quickly forgotten in the rush we are in to become ordained:

As a Reverend, you will be authorized to perform the rites and ceremonies of the church

Perform Weddings, Funerals, Perform Baptisms, Forgiveness of Sins
Visit Correctional Facilities

Want to open a church? Check out Ministry in a Box

Wow! Forgiveness of Sins! I wonder what it is in that box that makes those who respond to this add qualified to offer ‘Forgiveness of Sins’? Imagine who would respond to something like this. Creepy.

Arco- is not fossil fuel; Santi- is not about clean

As I begin looking at organizations in Arizona that interest me, I have run across a very interesting place called Acrosanti. B and I have an increasing interest in sustainability, or living in a way that leaves little impact on the world around us. It is about stewardship and a value of creation. So, I have been looking around Phoenix for companies or organizations who have taken this perspective. One of the ones that popped up was this Arcosanti project. It seems to be a community built around the ideas of Paolo Soleri. He is an architect that trained with Wright, and has been building this alternative to urban sprawl for the last 30 years. “Arcosanti aims to rise to an eventual 25 stories and house 215 people per acre (New York City averages just 33 per acre)” It is only about 5% completed, and Soleri is in his 80s…. At first glance it looks like an interesting place to work and a worthy project, but after looking around the site and doing some searching, I am not sure if anyone other than Soleri quite understands what the project is about. He has taken many terms and redefined them according to his own purposes, including such terms as grace, animism, resurrection, being, theology, creation, and self. It is all a bit confusing, and I can understand why more people are not jumping on to his wagon. The aims of the project are noble, I admit, and that attracts me, but the philosophy is too close to a new religion for my tastes. They do have an opening for a Network Manager, but I am not sure I can stomach the 5-weeks of workshop if it contains stuff like this.

More here from 1995.

Provocation #23

Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important – precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actu- ally involved with God – for this one single human being is enough.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard