Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hatred of Heretics

A few weeks ago, Rob Bell released a book called "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived" and in the wake of a video he made to promote the book, it caused a kerfuffle (by the way, I have never had to spell that word before and had to look it up) in the church world. Some took that the video was implying that Bell didn't believe in hell or that at the very least he believed that Gandhi is not in hell (when they believe that he is because he was not a Christian). This was all based off of people not even reading the book. Some used this moment to dismiss him and could finally call him a false teacher, etcetera, etcetera.

At this point, I should mention that I have since read the book myself and I am admittedly a fan of Rob Bell and have been for a long time. His approach to teaching is one that I appreciate and one that challenges. I feel I should say this because I admit I have a bias in this.

However, I don't want this post to be about what I thought about the book. Perhaps in a future post, but I am not interested in that. What caught my attention and what made me more sympathetic to Bell before the book even came out was the reaction of Christians.

It was the immediate and seemingly flippant response to Bell. It was considered outside of Christian thought because it seemed to challenge the traditional understanding of faith. The question was not allowed to be asked.

This has always been a sore spot for me because it feels like questions are treated like they are the source of evil in faith. I was born into a faith that had everything locked down. Every story and passage had a certain understanding and it did not waiver. If there was a question that was asked, there is an answer even if it is an uncomfortable, hard truth that people will just have to suck up.

Essentially, everything in theology and Christianity had been boxed up and the only people that were allowed to ask questions were those who were outside the church because they "lacked understanding" and even then eventually they would be told "you just need to have faith" if their questions could not be answered.

I understand why many think that questions in faith is contradictory. How can you say you believe something when you question it? Doesn't that indicate that you don't have faith? Doesn't that indicate a distance because you don't even know the god that you profess to follow?

It would essentially boil down to "If Jesus said it, I believe it!" and it was a battle cry of sorts. I have faith! I have zero questions! Questions don't matter! The only one who can ask questions is God, that is it! The fewer questions you have, the more faith you had.

It felt strange to be honest. When someone said that they "had faith in Jesus", it seemed like they meant that they believed what he said was true. Thus the line of logic is that as long as you believe that Jesus is Lord and saviour and that you say you're sorry, then you "had faith in Jesus" and that you'd be saved.

The idea was that justification (being declared righteous before God) came at a word spoken and that sanctification (the process of becoming 'holy') was either unimportant for your eternal soul or is automatically given to you when you become a Christian. It seems like the spiritual journey of faith boils down to a moment in time. That split second where you asking Jesus to be your saviour changed you from being condemned to hell forever to getting the greatest gift in the world.

I always felt like that was a cheap journey. In fact, not really a journey. It turned the journey of faith to be essentially slapping a bumper sticker on the back of your car and then you could do donuts in the parking lot until you ran out of gas and you would still be declared a traveller.

Is the journey of faith really that easy? So simple? The rest of your life doesn't matter except for a 30 second prayer?

It was strange because when it talks about faith in Hebrews 11, it lists the great heroes and heroines of the Hebrews who did something because they believed. If I told you that your house was about to blow up, and you said "I totally believe everything you are saying and you are truly my saviour" but that was it, do you really act in faith just saying you believed? It seemed like faith was tied up in doing what God wants you to do. To show that you had faith seems more like you believed what God tells you to do to the point that you actually did it. James 2 talks about faith being something that you do.

Some Christians seem to balk at the idea and are quick to say that you aren't saved by doing good works. Which is not what I was saying. I am saying that your statement of faith is not words. I am saying that your faith is living faithfully the best you can because that shows that you actually have faith that God isn't out to trick you.

Which leads me back to questions. If we are trying to be faithful to the call of Jesus, shouldn't we be working to act the best we can as followers?

In every other field of thought, it is questioning the status quo that leads to innovation and to keep up with the changing culture and changing social paradigms. Not that the Bible is irrelevant to today and we need to update it, but rather shouldn't we be figuring out how to apply the powerful, life-changing message of the Bible in a context that is different. What does it mean to be faithful when the scenario is vastly different from the time of Christ when His message was subversive and his Lordship not understood and when He broke the chains of a strangling religion? Now, we live in a culture where Jesus is apart of the social milieu, when some of the world's leaders and rich are His followers (in sharp contrast to the oppressed people of the less influential). What does it mean to be a rich North American in the state of security far from the tragic issues of the world? How do we be faithful? Aren't all of these questions that are worth asking?

I suppose I have two reasons that I am inclined to listen to a guy like Rob Bell.

One is that I have felt for a long time that Christianity has lost its power and its purpose because we don't do much. We do missions and perhaps serve once in a while not because we see it as apart of us declaring that Jesus is Lord but because it makes us feel good. Faith has become a way to make us feel good as opposed to being apart of our purpose which is to join with the work of God to bring rejuvenation, redemption, order and love to a world in chaos and on the brink of destruction. It is my belief that this is rooted in how we understand what faith is and I have wondered for a long time if we have allowed our traditional understanding of faith to actually make us spiritually blind and lazy. Our faith is taught as something cheap, easy and an accessory to a privileged lifestyle as opposed to something that requires us to live completely different.

I believe that the journey of faith is much more than slapping on a bumper sticker. It is something that requires us to be curious. To be adventurous. To be aware of the hurt in the world. To be willing to become heroes for the sake of the one who calls us to be heroes and has shown us the way to be heroes.

Unfortunately, I do not believe our current understanding to be a sacrificial hero, but rather it is constructed as something that keeps us locked up in our walled cities and guns ready to shoot anyone who disagrees with us.

The other reason I am inclined to believe Rob Bell is not necessarily because of who he is. Rob Bell, unlike many other preachers who were cast out as someone legitimate to listen to, has had a history of teaching that looks to not just tow the line, but rather set people free from the demons of this life. Demons like insecurity, laziness, anger and distance from God. He doesn't seem to be in it for the money. Sure, maybe the Nooma videos are pricey, but he's not begging to send money to his church. It is hard to say that what he is saying is self-serving or even an easy gospel.

However, he asks a question that Christians do not like which is one that strikes to the core understanding of faith and he is painted as a monster. He is the anti-Christ (just like Barack Obama and Michel Gorbachev before him). We are told that he is crazy and off-base without hearing him out. He is a heretic and he deserves hatred from Christians despite bringing messages of hope and freedom in this world of pain and tragedy.

This reaction seems to be so violent and angry that it makes it seem like everything that Bell has ever said before this moment is not to be listened to. I think the guy's earned the chance to ask a question.

Who seems more like the one with compassion and wisdom? The guy who is sincerely wanting to challenge the status quo to bring about possibly a richer, deeper faith or the guy who is willing to cast the first stone before the sin is even committed? There is a distressingly strict religion that has built up around the life-saving teachings of Christ that it feels like the Pharisees have found their new home in the church. Let's remember that the Pharisees were born out of a sincere desire to follow God, but they let their understanding of the scriptures to be the prison to those who want to seek God as opposed to an opportunity to live in the richness of faith.

It is important for us to not put our faith in a stranglehold because we may kill it, but rather wrestle with it back and forth with the questions of what faith is and what it looks like. It will make us stronger and better able to travel the journey of life.

"Oh, let me put you in your place
I love it when you say
Giving everything away

Tell what's in it for me
Tell me now what's in it for me
No one's getting this for free
So tell me now what's in it for me

Whatever keeps you warm at night
(Whatever keeps you warm at night)
Whatever keeps you warm inside

Your bridges are burning down
They're all coming down
It's all coming round
You're burning them down"
- "Bridge Burning" from the Foo Fighters' album "Wasting Light"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hatred of Villains

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the sadness I felt in regards to the treatment of celebrities. I feel that culture has a terrible tendency to either idolize or demonize individuals on the basis of a mere like or dislike of their art. I think it doesn't take much to admonish each other to give these folks a certain amount of humanity. They are nether worthy of worship or dehumanization. To me, it is a mere overlook of a basic understanding that humans deserve no more and no less respect than other humans.

However, I want to address something that is perhaps more difficult for an individual to concede. We all have our own villains in our lives. Some are minor villains like those of the snotty kid at school who teases us for the clothes we wear or this could be the man who commits monstrous crimes on fellow humans. For each of us, the villains are different, look different and could be the heroes of others. Perhaps they rightfully deserve the title of "monster". This is where hatred seems like it would most belong. We're supposed to hate villains.

Perhaps our villains are sorry. Perhaps they are defiantly angry and relentless in their abuse. In the end, I want to bring them together in one category. Let's call them "villains" for the duration of this post.

One of the things that breaks my heart is to see a person who has been wronged by a villain. Especially, when it rocks their world and it seems like they are imprisoned by the wrong-doing. Sometimes it enrages me so much to hear the amount of evil and hate that villains are capable of. I sometimes wish I could grab a bat and find justice a la "Taken". Some things are so wrong and no one should have to endure at the hands of another human.

I mourn with you, if you have faced the brunt of the black shadow that the human mind is capable of summoning. I wish I could take the pain away. If there was a way that I could, I would. I am sorry that I don't have that ability, but all I can do is say that you don't have to be alone.

It is easy to be angry with the villains in our lives. I believe you are justified to be angry. The question then becomes what are you going to do about your pain and your anger.

There are options. Like any other scenario that we find ourselves in, we have many ways that we can go. Broadly, we can try to take care of the symptoms or we can address the disease.

Many people go the route of when they get hurt by another, they deal with the thing that hurts them the most. They may seek revenge, believing that an equal or greater attack on the individual that hurt them is just and they will then feel like things are right. However, this may feel good temporarily, but ultimately it does not take away the damage done. They are still in pain. They do not feel like things have returned to the way they were.

Some turn into lifelong victims. They take the wrong that was done to them and carry it forward, blaming future failures on the past. If someone is bullied, they may carry low self-esteem that cripples their ability to reach their potential because of the doubt planted in them and then that doubt grown by their inner critic and bully. My own mom still carries the burden of her victimhood that she experienced from her mother and it clouded the rest of her life even past grandma's death sixteen years ago. This one is particularly hard for a person to recover from, because they actually face constant doubt in themselves and feel justified in not dealing with the issue thinking that it is someone's else fault.

Some live in reclusion from the rest of mankind. They will not trust people because people can hurt them. They live with fear and isolation. They can turn bitter and gain a vicious hedge of defensiveness. Perhaps they cut with their words or with their actions. Either way, the will not allow pain to come their way again. They will not allow themselves to be fooled again.

There are surely other ways people can react to the wrong-doing of the villains, but when you deal with the symptom of evil, you do not deal with the disease of evil. The sad thing is that if we do not deal with our pain or anger, we give the wrong done to us much more control of our lives and our character than should be. It is terrible the things done to us by the villains in our lives, let's not give it more power over our lives. We cannot control what people will do to us, but we can deal with how we deal with it.

If you are tortured by your past or by your villains, we need to have to prevent the evil of their actions from seeping into our actions. If we allow their violence or their hatred to make us angry, bitter, or afraid, we let evil into our lives. The evil that says "You must strike back", "You must close yourself off" or "You deserve this". If we want any chance of healing, we need to get to working on fighting the disease of evil.

We need to be assured that their actions are not a reflection on our character. Our actions are a reflection of our character. Evil being done to us does not mean we have to become evil.

How then, do we fight the evil of the actions of villains before it dominates our lives? It comes down to something that can be very difficult. It is the process of forgiveness. I am not talking about the simple saying "I forgive you" but rather the pursuit of making that statement true. It can take an incredible amount of effort to try and see that the villains in our lives are also victims. They are dealing with their pain, their issues and they don't know how. Villains are not born as villains. Villains grow up out of unresolved pain and pent up anger and fear. Villains are people that have not been able to forgive.

This is what I am trying to get at. If we do not become the people that do not let the evil done to them dominate them, then we will become the villains in the lives of others. We will be multiplying the evil. We will spread it more. We will become the very thing that we hate.

However, if we can latch onto the bizarre, yet wonderful concept of forgiveness, we will not only find that we can reverse the tide of evil, but we will actually find the healing that our soul seeks when we are hurt. It may be easy to deal with the symptom of evil, but I suggest that to fight against evil we cannot fight with evil.

All of these things said, I still believe that justice is necessary and that justice should be dealt with wisdom. If a person is in a place where their villain continues to attack them and hurt them, they are fully in their rights to go to lengths necessary to stop the acts of the villain from continuing. A bully needs to be corrected. A criminal needs to go to jail. An abuser needs to be separated from their victims. They need to deal with their demons and continuing evil should not be overlooked.

My pleading however, is for those victims. Don't let evil dominate you. Don't let the evil of other's become your evil. Allow yourself to be the one who forgives and in that find the thing that heals you. It is difficult and that is why I would submit that often we don't have the power to truly forgive. We need the one who knows forgiveness. Jesus, who came to the world in order to reconcile humankind with their creator, knows what it means to be rejected, attacked and wounded by those he came to save. He was killed in the name of evil, but he forgives in the name of goodness and healing because that is who God is.

May you find the healing power of forgiveness, the only true weapon against evil. May you know that your destiny is not determined by those who wrong you. May you find comfort in Him who is comfort.

"See my sister got raped, so a man got killed
Local boy went to prison, man's buried on the hill
Folks went back to normal when they closed the case
They still stare at their shoes when they pass our place

My mother cried 'The horror has finally ceased'
He whispered 'Yeah, for the time being, at least'
Over his shoulder, on the squad car megaphone
Said, 'Let's go Michael, son, we're taking you home'

Same pattern on the table, same clock on the wall
Been one seat empty 18 years in all
Freezing slow time away from the world
He's 38 years old, never kissed a girl
He's 38 years old, never kissed a girl"
- "38 Years Old" from the Tragically Hip album "Up to Here"

That Almost Seemed Real

I am not going to say much on here today, but I wanted to post something in the wake of my most recent show at the high school and the fact that it has been a while since my last post. That's mostly due to the amount of work and time that has gone into this last show.

I'll be honest. That was one of the shows that I was most anxious about. Not nervous. Just anxious. It was the first time that I was called in to perform for a group that doesn't really know. I was trying to figure out what my audience would be and how I could reach out to as many as I could.

I even got the opportunity to promote the show on one of the local radio stations which is an interesting experience. It's weird to go and promote yourself to an audience. I've always advertised other groups and companies, but never the brand of David Rae on public media before. The good part was that I made a connection and I may be back on a somewhat regular basis to promote my other shows or events for the church. Strange but great.

The show itself went over really well. The majority of the material went over fantastic and aside from a couple of bits and one hiccup, the show went very really well. Consistent laughter and even some of the sketches that I assumed were not that great actually got a fantastic response. Such as this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWJqbDkjIUA

I am now looking to the next show I am doing on May 1st, that will actually raise money for me! It was confirmed that I will be on this year's summer ministry team and I am excited to see where God will use the team.

As for my spiritual life, I have been thinking through many things and I have to say that things make more sense now to me than they ever have. I will save that for another time. Also, I plan on continuing my mini-series that I started a couple of weeks ago which has sprung up from my wrestling in my faith.

As for my personal life, it is life. You didn't think I could actually go three for three, did you? However, don't worry. Things are well and even now, I will continue to say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

"Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage.

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act,
With insufficient tact,
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.

Living in the limelight,
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem.
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation,
Get on with the fascination,
The real relation,
The underlying theme."
- "Limelight" from the Rush album "Moving Pictures"