Bad Theology, Good Riddance

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I have loads of bad theology. It’s rotten. It reeks. It’s spoiled. It’s bad. I came by it honestly, though. I wasn’t rooting around in another person’s garden to get it. I lived amongst it and couldn’t even tell that it was so rotten. I don’t think it would behoove us for me to display it here as though I am posting my lunch on Instagram. I think it would help to just say, “There is a lot of rotten stuff here and it needs to be cleared out for some new life.”

Back in 2008, I spent a week at Desert House of Prayer in Tucson, Arizona. I like to call it DHOP and borrow the tagline, “Come hungry, leave happy”. I chose to enter into silence for that whole week with not really any agenda besides an openness to God. I brought some books along, primarily Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong. Their words merged within me, creating space for questions I had long stopped asking. I prayed a great deal that week. I hiked, even getting on top of a huge rock that was next to impossible to get down from easily. This is  indicative of how I have lived much of my life, actually, setting out for a stroll and encountering unexpected “adventure”.

Borg and Spong (who I lovingly blended into the word Bong for that week) made room for me to think, talk and explore who Jesus was to me. I had spent the seven years before unpacking who Jesus wasn’t and I really hadn’t done much more than that since. I thought the church that I came from, for all intents and purposes, owned Jesus. I thought they were right that I was unacceptable. I thought they had the ability to determine insiders and outsiders. I didn’t consciously think these thoughts, mind you, but I lived my life as if they were true.

Now, here I was, in silence, no external voices to tell me if I was right, wrong, or crazy. The last three days I only had silence as my companion. I even refrained from reading more of Bong (it’s growing on you, isn’t it?). I was aware of an aching, deep void that was left in the dissolution of friendships from the church I once adored. The aching deep void that God could not be accessed by me anymore. Here’s the beauty, though. It is in voids that God speaks and creates. It was in that void that I began to ask questions and seek Jesus once more.

Let me be clear that I do not have anything profound to say about who Jesus is after this soul searching. I don’t really think we need to have yet another voice on the topic entering into the “Nah-ah” and “Uh-huh” debate that gets played out all the time. This isn’t actually about the theology that I ended up embracing. This is more about the unexpected grace I experienced when I became willing.

Over the last three days of my time at DHOP, I cried a lot. I wrote letters to people I love and who love me. I wrote letters, too, to the people I loved who rejected me in the name of God. I held space for the really hard stuff and found that as I did, it started lifting. It wasn’t a tangled mess of anxiety, sadness and anger anymore. It was becoming just an experience that I had, not the only experience I ever had which is what it had felt like before. As this clearing happened, I was able to access love, goodness, forgiveness, kindness again. I prayed for the people who had rejected me and  I actually, finally, meant it.

The last evening I was there, I sat on the front porch with my eyes closed, just enjoying the sound of the birds, the gentle breeze, the freedom from city noise. As I sat there, I heard someone gasp. I opened my eyes and not even a foot away from me was a beautiful, perfect deer. The woman who gasped was on the sidewalk about three feet away. Neither of us moved. The deer did not look at all frightened. She gazed back at me gently. I began to cry without realizing it, just silent tears pouring down my face. She moved on from us and went back toward the desert area. I looked at the stranger, made friend by a powerful moment we had just shared, and all she said to me was, “Wow!”

I have found that once I am willing to relinquish the places within that are causing decay and pain internally, there is not much else I need to do except be present with my God and present with creation all around me. When I am experiencing openness of heart, generosity of spirit, kindness of thought things just happen. I become the deer, I become the stranger, I become the silent one in waiting. It feels as though I am bearing witness to my own life in these moments rather than being the agent that controls and launches them.

I have been struggling again with parts of theology that are life-snuffing versus life giving. It comes in an ebb and flow for me, this realization of theology that hurts. A dear friend of mine shared his own experience with recognizing a bad theology he had that was impacting his choices daily. I relate to that, the underlying moral imperative that is neither moral nor imperative. In the spirit of willingness, I get to work on clearing the bad theology out. For me, this means honesty in prayer, honesty in writing and honesty in talking. This work is not easy, there are reasons some may never attempt it. For me, though, it just hurts too much not to work on clearing it out.

Here’s what I do know to be true and it is the driving force behind the hard work of excavation: All it really takes is willingness. That’s really it. A recognition that it hurts and a willingness to simply just let it go. Because you see, dear one, there’s just something about willingness that grace can’t get enough of.

A Rat Pack Sabbath

by Ryan Gear

In July 2012, I was blessed to take a ten-day trip to Israel, and our tour group spent the Sabbath in Jerusalem. The Jewish tour guides on our bus dropped us off at our hotel on Friday evening, the beginning of the seventh day.

On the way to our hotel, our tour guide said, “Let’s turn on some Sabbath music.” I expected a dirge, something completely depressing, something that said, “Thou may no longer buy beer for 24 hours.” That was not, however, the music that fit the mood.

He turned on the tour bus radio, and the song began, “Da da da da da, Start spreadin’ the news.” It was Sinatra. Not exactly what I expected, and that was excellent. He explained, “On the Sabbath, we listen to relaxing music.” On that day at least, Sabbath music in Jerusalem was Rat Pack music.

He clarified further that Sabbath means “to stop, to cease.” It means to stop working and enjoy life without work for one day each week. He told us that he was going to go home, light candles, and enjoy dinner with his family. His kids and grandkids were coming over for dinner. They would say Sabbath prayers, talk about their week, play games, and have fun. His definition of the Sabbath is a day to enjoy life with your loved ones.

When we got back to our hotel, we discovered that a group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews had rented a ballroom with their families and were dancing and partying on the Sabbath. This wasn’t what observing the Sabbath looked like where I grew up in Ohio. When they were done, the hotel looked like Def Leppard had trashed the place.

In Jerusalem, the Sabbath is a weekly vacation day— a fun, relaxing, 24-hour celebration with the people you love. It’s not observed out of a sense of duty so much as it is anticipated and enjoyed. This makes sense for Christians too. In Mark 2:27, Jesus says, “Humanity wasn’t made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the benefit of humanity.”

Once or twice a week, my four-year old son and I walk to our mailbox to get the mail together. In our subdivision, our mailbox is about 200 yards down the street. If I walk to get the mail alone it takes me five minutes. When my son and I go together, it takes four times that long.

Our neighbors have some bushes next to the sidewalk. So, my son takes a few steps out of our yard, and then he stops to smell the bushes. There are no roses on the bushes. They’re just bushes, but he stops to smell them. Then we take a few more steps, and he stops to crouch down to watch some ants walk across the sidewalk. Then he takes a few more steps until he hears a birdie. He stops to listen for where the birdie is, and then he watches the birdie. Then we take a few more steps, and he hears a doggie bark. He stops to see where the doggie is. He explains to me that “Doggies say ‘woof woof.'” Then we take a few more steps, and so on.

Now that he’s four, he wants to “explore” the culvert where water runs off the street and into the rocks. We walk along the rocks and watch for bugs. Taking a few steps off the street magically turns us both into Indiana Jones.

He is absolutely filled with wonder, and he starts and stops according to whatever interests him. Then, eventually, after stopping and starting several times, somewhere along that fun, wonder-and-awe-filled journey… we get the mail.

Children do what comes naturally to humans. What if it really is hardwired into the human brain to live according to a rhythm, a rhythm of working and then stopping, and then working and then stopping?

We have lots of sayings to express this. We say, “The joy is in the journey” or “Life’s a journey, not a destination,” or “Take time to smell the roses.” I read an article recently finding that employees who have a little bit of downtime in their day are more productive. Go figure. We all know we need more rest.

Many people in our workaholic culture feel like soulless machines, pressured to stay late and expected to not take all of their vacation. That’s not what it means to be human. Sabbath means that you can take control of your life and live life to the fullest, not as a production line machine, but as a real live human being. The Sabbath empowers you to be more than your job and more than money.

So, let me ask you, are you overly busy, trying to accomplish more than you’re physically or emotionally able to do? Are you spending more time at work than what is healthy for your family? Are you a people pleaser, over-committing by saying yes when you should say no? How good would it feel to stop, and take a vacation day once per week?

That is the primary meaning of the first creation story in Genesis:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

The two creation accounts of Genesis do not explain the scientific origin of the universe, but they do convey a world of wisdom, wisdom that continually coaxes our evolution into more whole creatures.

The seven-day creation poem was likely inspired by parents trying to teach their children why they observe a weekly Sabbath day. Egyptians had a 10-day week. The Babylonians may have observed a monthly Sabbath on the new moon. Israelite parents had to explain to their kids why their schedule was different than everyone else’s.

Do you weekly remind your children to stop and enjoy life and each other? Sometimes a health problem tells us that it’s time to live a more balanced life. Sometimes our time-starved families remind us. Sometimes, in our more reflective moments, we clearly see the truth expressed by Frederick Buechner, “There are people who use up their entire lives making money so they can enjoy the lives they have entirely used up.”

Maybe this blog post is another reminder that you have nothing to prove. As we read in Genesis 1, you’re created in the image and likeness of God. You have dignity and worth because of that, alone, before you lift a finger do any work. Our Creator has given us a rhythm for experiencing the good life, a rhythm of working and resting, working and resting, working and resting. We’re created to be more than machines.

The Sabbath gives you permission to be human.

Brian Swimme and the Celebration of the Sanctity of Earth

by Amos Smith

Brian Swimme teaches cosmology to graduate students at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. Swimme often reiterates that the underlying reason that people abuse the earth is that they don’t think that it’s sacred. Swimme’s emphasis is the marriage of Religion and Science.

Swimme says when we look deeply into our 13.7 billion year “cosmogenesis” that we cannot help but be filled with awe. The fact that the Big Bang happened is in itself a profound improbability. No known laws of probability can account for it. It is both a sacred and a scientific miracle.

Swimme has produced a twelve part DVD series called “Canticle of the Cosmos,” which has been distributed worldwide. His work is most influenced by the French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who believed that everything in existence has a physical as well as a spiritual dimension… The Universe is in a deep process of transfiguration. Love, truth, compassion and zest—all of these divine qualities are embodied in the universe.

Swimme seeks to place scientific technology in its context of the infancy of the earth community as it struggles for reconnection to its sacred source. For Chardin and Swimme the human being is the current culmination of a still-evolving universe.

For Swimme the ecological disasters that happen on our planet take place because the cosmos is not understood as sacred. A way out of this difficulty is a journey into the universe as sacred. Swimme is a mathematician by training, who seeks a larger, warmer, nobler science story. The story of the Universe should not just be a collection of facts. It should sweep us into a grand world view, including meaning, purpose, and value addressed by world religions.

Swimme thinks that the popular view is that the earth is like a gravel pit or a hardware store, that the earth is just stuff to be used—that consumerism has become the dominant faith, which exploits the riches of the earth. His fundamental aim is to present a new cosmology that is grounded in contemporary scientific understanding of the universe but nourished by ancient spiritual convictions that the earth is sacred. “Indeed God saw everything that God had made and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)”

I like Swimme because he offers a sacred understanding of the Universal Big Bang, which is the larger context of the Christian Big Bang. The Universal Big Bang is a miracle of science. The incarnation, which is the Big Bang of Christian tradition for me, is the miracle of faith. That through Christ, God is with us!

Your Hyphens

by Karen Richter

I am a woman-wife-mother-introvert.

multiple religious belonging - intersectionality
Whooo are you?

I am a democrat-progressive-child advocate.

I am a Christian-universalist-meditator-educator.

We all have many layers of our identity, different roles emphasized at different times or in different settings.

Later today at Shadow Rock UCC, people interested in the idea of people identifying with more than one religious tradition will be gathering.  Some will be folks who themselves identify as Christian-Buddhist or church-attending Jew or Muslim-Christian or Sikh-Wiccan.  Other participants will be religious leaders who want to prepare their faith communities to better meet people of faith who claim a variety of backgrounds.  Some – like me – will be curious and eager, coming with questions and assumptions about what this might mean to the future of faith.

Yesterday, I saw a video online about a Palestinian woman who is striving to be an active participant in the struggle for Palestinian identity and liberation as a woman.  Activists often call this ‘intersectionality.’ I found this definition (thanks Google!) of intersectionality quickly, but I didn’t really need it.  It’s one of those things that you know when you see it.

Intersectionality (or intersectionalism) is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination by examining the complex multiple facets of identity of an individual such as race, gender, class, sex and age.

My best understanding of intersectionality is that society often appears to ask people to choose and prioritize from among their identities.  Are you advocating for families or union workers?  Are you representing African-Americans or women?  Intersectionality pushes back against this phenomenon, instead recognizing that people crave space to be their whole selves… bringing every bit of their identities and experiences to bear on issues and decisions.

So, why are we even a little bit surprised when this idea of wholeness and recognition and valuing unique experiences breaks into religious communities?  Maybe a Christian-Hindu should surprise and challenge us no more than a Native American feminist.  Don’t we want churches to be places where people can be their whole selves and be welcomed?  Don’t we want more genuine people in the world?

These kinds of developments remind me that as a species we are still growing, maturing, evolving.  It’s exasperating!  And it makes me hopeful for the future.

The gathering begins at lunch today.  Join the conversation.