Monday, November 24, 2008

Made in God's image

Sorry to single you out again, debby, but your comment sparked another series of thoughts for me. You mentioned that your role as a mother is part of your connection to knowing/understanding God. In some ways it sounded like this was a treasured epiphany for you, but in other ways you almost sounded guilty, like it cheapens God's love to compare it to our own.

I don't think that's the case at all. Christians believe that we are created in the image of God, and although there's dispute over exactly what that means, it should at least give us peace that our own thoughts, relationships and concepts aren't laughably inept and petty to God. In some mysterious way, some "image", we and God share the same experience.

Our human role of parent is often very useful to me in thinking of the divine role of creator. You see, in our Western form of Christianity we are told that the entire purpose of the universe is to glorify God. In fact, just yesterday at church a man gave a short talk about how the entire point of Jesus' life was to bring glory to the Father. Here we inevitably get back to the Trinitarian concepts that do nothing for me (wasn't Jesus really glorifying himself, if he was God?), but the man's central message was that it's all about God.

Eastern Orthodox churches have a different picture of creation. They look at God as other-oriented, at His core. This was reflected in the life of Jesus, who spent his few years of ministry healing, teaching and loving people. There's no evidence that Jesus was doing this primarily as a self-focused exercise. He genuinely cared about the people of his time, and did his best to serve them. As his core, he was other-oriented.

So compare these two pictures of God from the West and from the East -- the creator making it for his own glory, and the creator who is other-oriented and sharing something beautiful with creations he loves. Quite different pictures... are they mutually exlusive? I don't know!

What I do know is that the Eastern view of God actually meshes better with my own experience as a father. I didn't have children with the main purpose to create a generation that would take care of me. It wasn't about me receiving service or praise from little ones. No, when Jamie and I decided it was time to start a family, the reason was something much more indefinable. It was just time. We were ready to share our home, and our very selves, with new family members. We were ready to create life and nurture it, watch it grow with excitement and concern, and then one day release it to find its way in this crazy and fun universe.

So I wonder if the "why" of creation, for God, is something similar. I wonder if that's part of his image we inherited. Maybe he didn't make this whole thing just so that he'd be praised. Maybe it was something tougher to put a finger on, and it was just time. Maybe he wanted others to share in this thing called life, and then after it's over, he'll move us on to the next adventure and once again watch with excitement, concern and pride, like any good parent would.

In the end, is it still all about God? Perhaps so. But my perception of what that means has really changed over time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I believe

Debby had a good comment on my last post, and it led me to ponder my favorite part of Timothy Keller's book that I read and reviewed.

As I mentioned in the review, I like that Keller came right out and admitted that there's no proof for God. Can faith in God be reasonable in some ways? Sure. But the reasons and evidence hardly pile up to the line of inevitability. It's certainly possible that God doesn't exist, and even the term "faith" implies uncertainty and maybe even some doubt. That's okay.

This concession can be so powerful in forming healthy relationships with agnostics and atheists. I sometimes meet church members who feel that their faith is so sure, so unshakably correct and true, that anyone who doesn't agree just isn't paying attention to the obvious. There is much I admire in that kind of stalwart faith, and while I see the need for those types of followers in the kingdom, I am not one of them. My faith, at its deepest level, shrugs its shoulders and says, "You know what? I might be wrong about all of this."

This doesn't work for everybody. Some may think that this type of faith is too timid, too laced with apathy about solid answers, and too open to the possibility of dissolving altogether. Perhaps they're right... I honestly don't know, but I honestly stay true to where I am and for now I confess that my answers to every single big question (does God exist, why am I here, where do socks go when they disappear from the laundry) is, "I don't know". But even if I don't know, I believe in answers to these questions, and then I live accordingly.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are facing the fiery furnace, their punishment for refusing to worship a statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. Instead they said they only worshipped God. Before throwing them into the fire, the king gave them one last chance to bow to his image. This was their answer in Daniel 3:16:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

I hear them saying, "You know what? We could be wrong about this. We could totally burn up into nothingness in ten seconds. But we're sticking with our hearts and our faith. We can't prove we're right. But we go on anyway."

I admire that so much. That's the spirit of doubting Thomas in the New Testament, a guy who gets way too bad a reputation sometimes. Sure, he doubted some of Jesus' decisions and he doubted the resurrection, but he kept on anyway! When Jesus told his followers he would go to see his friend Lazarus, Thomas thought it was a bad plan. This would mean going right back to the people who had earlier tried to kill Jesus. It was dangerous, possibly silly, and there was no evidence Jesus nor his followers would survive. Jesus stood his ground and said he was going. Thomas answered (John 11:16):

"Let us also go, that we may die with him."

What a doubter! He knew there was no guarantee that he would survive, but he went away, because he believed in what Jesus was doing. I love that.

Some of my Christian friends did not grow up in Christian families -- they came to their own faith later in life and from different angles. But each of them came to faith in ways more mysterious than obvious, through feelings as much as logic. Some of them read this blog. For many of them, when I ask about their "conversion" story, it goes something like this: one day I didn't believe, the next day I did.

This gives me courage, because in the end, to answer the title of this post, I believe because I believe. I have no proof that I'm right. I confess my Christian upbringing was a major factor, and in other circumstances I'd be something other than Christian. I confess that there are social pressures to me keeping a Christian label.

I don't use science or archeology to prop up the bible as infallible truth. I don't claim any particular grasp of spiritual wisdom that is better than any other faith, denomination or church member. And yet I believe.

I may not believe the exact same things you do. In fact, we almost assuredly don't agree on many things. This often makes things a little prickly for me at church, as it's hard to find the line between healthy diversity and breaking from the faith. What things can I disagree on openly and still be considered a "brother"? It's under the surface of my mind most Sundays I go to our church.

Confession time:

-- I agree with some of Lee Strobel's conclusions in the "Case for Christ" series of books, but I find his methods faulty and his arguments weak.
-- I believe that the rule of consequences is built into the universe, but I'm highly doubtful of the traditional view of hell.
-- I believe that Jesus is my absolute biggest spiritual influence, yet I doubt some of the Trinitarian doctrines that are supposedly essential to my Christian status.
-- I believe that what we do in this life matters, but I don't fret about my "special purpose" and instead have been focused on living naturally, meeting each day ready for whatever it brings.
-- I believe that the golden rule encompasses the very essence of the most important parts of Christianity, but I admit that other religions have equal, and sometimes superior, focus on that same essence.

And I believe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Calendar wisdom

This year my daily calendar in my office has been from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People company.

If the very name makes you groan, no biggie -- just skip this post! :)

Not everyone is into that kind of stuff, but I like having these daily tidbits. Here are my favorites from the first half of the year. And by "favorites" I usually mean that these are the ones that made me very uncomfortable as I faced up to my own shortcomings:

"The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them -- when they feel understood by you -- that you have listened deeply and sincerely, and that you are open."

"So many of us are filled with our own rightness. We want to be understood. Our conversations become collective monologues, and we never really understand what's going on inside another human being."

"If I think I see the world as it is, why would I want to bother with someone who's 'off track'? My paradigm is that I am objective; I see the world as it is. Everyone else is buried by the minutia, but I see the larger picture. That's why they call me a supervisor -- I have super vision. If that's my paradigm, then I will never be effectively interdependent, or even effectively independent, for that matter. I will be limited by the paradigms of my own conditioning."

"The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don't is literally the difference between night and day. I'm not talking about a 25 to 50 percent different in effectiveness; I'm talking about a 5,000-plus percent difference, particularly if they are smart, aware, and sensitive to others."

"Some people become so centered on an enemy, so totally obsessed with the behavior of another person that they become blind to everything except their desire for that person to lose, even if it means losing themselves. Lose/Lose is the philosophy of adversarial conflict, the philosophy of war."

"Whenever love is given on a conditional basis, when someone has to earn love, what's being communicated to him is that they are not intrinsically valuable or lovable. Value does not lie inside them; it lies outside. It's in comparison with somebody else or against some expectation. And what happens to a young mind and heart, highly vulnerable, highly dependent upon support and emotional affirmation, in the face of conditional love? The child is molded, shaped, and programmed in the Win/Lose mentality."

"Dag Hammarskjold, past Secretary-General of the United Nations, once made a profound, far-reaching statement: 'It is nobler to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.' I take that to mean I could devote eight, ten, or twelve hours a day five, six or seven days a week to the thousands of people out there and still not have a deep, meaningful relationship with my spouse or with my closest working associate. And it would take more nobility of character -- more humility, courage and strength -- to rebuild that one relationship than it would to continue putting in all those hours for all those people and causes."

"I do not agree with the popular success literature that says self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind-set, of attitude -- that you can psyche yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values..."

"The real key to your influence with me is your example, your actual conduct. Your example flows naturally out of your character, or the kind of person you truly are -- not what others say you are or what you may want me to think you are. It is evident in how I actually experience you."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

More on the book review

My buddy James let me know that he was a little unclear on some of my criticisms of The Reason for God. I went back and read my post through two more times, and James is right -- I don't think I expressed myself very well. Here's another try.

The intended audience for Keller's book is non-Christians. Atheists and agnostics, mostly, but he's writing to followers of other religions as well. The book is laid out into two sections -- the first covers the most common questions posed about Christianity (why does God allow evil, why did Jesus have to die, etc...) and the second half lays out his take on some of the most foundational Christian principles -- grace, love, spiritual disciplines, etc...

So given all of that, I have to think that at some point he wants the reader to ask the question that is asked multiple times in the New Testament: "What must I do to be saved?"

It's the call to action. Every church I've seen has some sort of answer for this question. Some say you must accept Jesus with a statement of faith, others perform baptism, others have a longer-term process with multiple steps of commitment.

Keller doesn't answer the question at all. He spends 300 pages telling non-Christians why they should change their minds, yet if the book actually succeeds in this, he leaves the non-churched reader wondering about the next step. I found this strange.

So this is my main critique with Keller's book:

1) He says that non-Christians are lost and destined for hell (see here on his church website for more on the topic). We'll call this "point A" in a spiritual journey, just for the sake of example.
2) He says that Christianity is not only the key to going to heaven, but it's the key to living the best life on earth. We'll call this point B in the spiritual journey.
3) He says nothing about how to get from point A to point B.

That seemed odd to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book Review -- The Reason for God

The last book I finished was The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on it here in the blog, since many of the book's themes relate to some of my recent writings. And many of you have shared with me either through the comments, through email or through conversation that these deep questions of faith are fun to wrestle with.

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So here are two things I liked about the book, and two things I didn't like.

Things I Liked

#1 -- Keller admits throughout the book that while he is focusing on the rationale for God, there is no proof that the divine even exists, let alone that the Christian view of God is correct. At some point, no matter how much evidence appears to pile up, we all make a leap of faith in our theology, if we're not agnostics. To say definitively that yes, there is a God, or no, there is no God, is a non-provable statement in scientific terms.

I like this. It's a good, humbling reminder for Christians who think their view of God and the world is so obviously correct, and it's a good starting concession to readers who have no belief in god whatsoever.

#2 -- He makes a great point that atheism, when taken to its natural conclusion, is a depressing way to view the universe. This is by no means a new thing -- Nietzsche was writing about it more than 150 years ago and the phrase "nihilism" is known mostly because of him. Or just read the first two chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes to see what life looks like if dust-to-dust tells the whole story of humanity.

Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett and others have tried to explain how this universe is still beautiful and amazing without God, and at the big-picture level I can agree. But then they say that we can encourage beautiful things like love, peace and respect for mankind with an atheistic worldview, and that always falls flat for me.

If I am simply molecules in motion, then love is merely a chemical reaction. Respect is an illusionary concept between strangely-organized pieces of moving flesh. And with such a massive universe (approximately 13 billion light years across) why would it possibly matter what I, a 200-lb. organism with DNA more than 99% equal to a chimpanzee, do with my day? Is there any "should" in the life of a tree or a fish? No. So what makes me different?

The fact remains that we have moral obligations and nearly-universal themes of conscience across cultures that make no sense on an evolutionary level. Perhaps there's more going on than just molecules in motion?

Things I Didn't Like

#1 -- He could've used some more original thought. The book is almost 300 pages long, but much of it seems to be quotes from prior apologists. The first half of the book is full of excerpts from C.S. Lewis, and the second half is peppered with NT Wright. Seriously. I've already read their stuff... I bought this book for something new.

When I was reading in bed one night, I looked at Jamie and mentioned this point. Then I closed the book, opened it to a random page and showed her. Boom. C.S. Lewis quote.

#2 -- His view of grace/law/salvation made no sense to me. I tried and I tried but I couldn't reconcile his chapters to develop of mental picture of where he stands on some doctrinal issues. This bothers me, because I love getting in peoples' heads! And when I read 300 pages of your work, I feel like that should be enough to get in your head and understand you, even if I don't agree with you.

Here's an example -- maybe you can help me.

On page 4 in his first chapter, he describes a cross-religion panel he sat on with a Jew and Muslim. During that conversation, he clearly stated that their religions are an either/or proposition, both in terms of correct doctrine and salvation. So if Christianity is "right", then the other guys are doomed. And vice versa. They didn't think these different religions could be reconciled by the same God. Fair enough -- I understand him so far.

Then he wrote a section about hell and why he thinks it's real. His sole support was the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Based on my previous writings on the subject, some of you already know that I think it's a huge stretch to use that story as evidence for the current view of hell. But whatever... I still understand where he's coming from, even if I don't agree.

Near the end of the book, he writes about the beauty of God's grace, and how it impacts our view of other people. Here's what he says (emphasis mine):

This gospel identity gives us a new basis for harmonious and just social arrangements. A Christian's worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God's unconditional acceptance).

That means that I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do. Since I am not saved by my correct doctrine or practice, then this person before me, even with his or her wrong beliefs, might be morally superior to me in many ways.

So he cannot do anything to save himself. Like Paul wrote in the New Testament, redemption is either all grace or all law. You can't have some of both. Keller seems to agree and say that it's all grace, and all from God. Nothing to do with doctine, practice or morality.

Yet earlier in the book he made it clear that many people were going to hell, and that seemed to be due to their incorrect doctrines, practices and/or morality!

And if they turn that around somehow, haven't they done something themselves to be saved?

If it's not to Mr. Keller's credit that he's going to heaven, then why is it his neighbor's fault that they're going to hell?

So there ya go -- two things I liked and two things I didn't like. If you have anything to add or if you can help me get in the author's head a little better, let me know!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Update and kid quotes

1) Our phone line has been completely down since Saturday. No phone line, no internet. AT&T said something about the line being open more than 800 feet away from our house, and that is impacting us. Yeah, I'd call an inexistent dial tone and no phone service an "impact". They're working on it but may have to call in some other team to fix it. I'm betting our bill won't be prorated down next month to compensate for the time without service!

2) I had a weird swollen spot under my right jaw for a few days. I assume it was a lymph node. Last Thursday it was sore in the morning, grew throughout the day and by that night it was like a golf ball and was hot to the touch. Gross, I know. I went to the doc and he was pretty freaked out and completely stumped by what could have caused it. That's always nice to hear from a doctor.

I've been on antibiotics since then and everything's just about normal now. I never had any other symptoms -- no fever, sore throat, earache or anything.

Just one more medical mystery from our family.

Enough of that -- onto recent quotes from the kids!

#1 -- Capital punishment

Jack (3yo) walked into a room to find our two dogs wrestling. He went to separate them and then gave them a talk:

"Who started this? Did you start it (points at Mo)? Did you (points at Z)? Whoever started this... (raises his hands dramatically)... must be killed."

Don't worry; he doesn't know what that means.

#2 -- Hurricane Ike's impact

Jack: I'm very sad.
Jamie: Why, son?
Jack: Because I'll never go to the aquarium again.
Jamie: Sure we will! But not today.
Me: No, it's closed today. Even the zoo is closed.
Samantha: Why is the zoo closed?!?!
Me: Because of the storm.
Samantha: Oh yeah... the storm. What happened to the animals?
Me: They're fine. They'll just stay in their cages.
Samantha: What about the outside ones? Oh yeah, they'll just go to their inside places. The elephants have a place that looks like jail, so they'll go there.

#3 -- Toddler version of the Z-snap

Jamie: Jack, pick up that toy and put it away.
Jack: NO!
Jamie: Jack, that's a minus (a scoring system we were trying out, unsuccessfully).
Jack: (Stomping his foot and tightening his fists) Mom, THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!

#4 -- Quick-witted at age three

Me: Samantha, how was kindergarten today?
Samantha: Good.
Me: Do you have friends there?
Samantha: Yep.
Me: Do they have names?
Samantha: Well, one is named Genesis.
Me: Genesis? Really?
Samantha: Yep.
Jack: What about Exodus? Was he there?

#5 -- Dream on

Jack: Dreams aren't real, daddy. Dreams aren't real.
Me: Nope, they're not. Sometimes I wish they were, though. Like when I dream I can fly.
Samantha: Ooh, ooh... you know what else would be cool if it was real??!?
Me: What?
Samantha: If I was uh INDIAN!!

#6 -- Dust to dust

Samantha: Daddy, who is Nonny's mommy and daddy? (Nonny is her great-grandmother)
Me: I don't know, sugar.
Samantha: Why not?
Me: They were too old by the time I was born.
Samantha: How old were they when you were born?
Me: Well... they were so old they weren't alive anymore.
Samantha: You mean they were dead?
Me: Yes.
Samantha: They were already dead when you were born?!?
Me: Yep.
Samantha: Whoa! They must be mummies by now!

#7 -- Faster than the elevator

Samantha: I like eating outside at the restaurant!
Me: Me too!
Samantha: Do you ever eat outside when you're at work?
Me: No, we don't have outside tables.
Samantha: Why don't you open your window?
Me: Mine doesn't open.
Samantha: Why not?
Me: Because it's on the eighth level.
Samantha: EIGHTH LEVEL!!! WHOA!!!
Me: Yeah, it'd be too high and too dangerous to open the window.
Samantha: Sure would; especially without parachutes!

#8 -- Rub it in, why dontcha

Samantha: Hey daddy!
Me: Yes?
Samantha: I bet if you didn't have kids, you'd want to be a baseball player!
Me: ....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Meme about me

I done been tagged by AJ, my sister-in-law, a sweet girl who owes all her blogging success to humble little me.

Here are the rules of the meme:

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Here we go!

1. I've always been into fitness but I haven't done a single formal workout since Hurricane Ike seven weeks ago. Fortunately after years of training I'm pretty good at listening to my body, so I've dropped my calories enough that there's been no weight gain. But I'm not as strong, fast or fit as I'm used to being. In the past, breaks like this would have driven me crazy but for some reason it's not bothering me this time.

2. How have I cut calories? By using intermittent fasting, basically skipping meals as it suits my schedule and my appetite. Lately I've been purposely skipping lunch two or three times a week, and it's amazing how it works for me. I don't get hungry and I keep up full momentum at the office without worrying about food. I've done lots of study on this topic over the past few years and all the "metabolism damage" fears about skipping meals are incorrect, in my opinion.

3. Right now I am pumped about this weekend. Earlier this year I posted some pictures of our first-ever camping trip, a group outing with some other families from our church. Well, this weekend is another church camping trip, but Jamie and I have some things we really need to stay home for. Her parents, though, have volunteered to take the kids on the camping trip so that they can have a couple of days of non-stop fun with their grandkids.

Jamie and I have had plenty of dates without the kids, and even a short trip or two. But we've never been home for a weekend while the kids were away somewhere. It's going to be bizarre and I'm sure we'll miss the kids, but the prospect of sleeping in on Saturday is worth a fist pump and a "booyah".

4. When men hit their mid-30s some of them lose their minds a little bit. Sort of an early mid-life crisis. I've heard this from several guys, and I'm not immune to the phenomenon either. So it's confession time. I have decided to do something very unexpected, and to jump into an activity that I've always known I wanted to try. It just took more than 30 years to admit to myself that I truly wanted to try it. In a way I guess I'm coming out of a closet. No, not that closet.

I'm learning to play piano. I've only just begun, but I have a decent keyboard, some books and am in the hunt for a good teacher. I want to learn it the right way, and have it become both a creative outlet and a stress-relieving activity at some point. That will entail enough of a mastery that I don't have to "think" so hard about the technicality of the playing, and can just focus on the feelings of the music. I realize that's a long way away, but I'm genuinely commited to getting there.

Knowing my blog visitors, some of you are reading this and thinking, "weird, Michael". Others are chuckling and saying I'll never stick with it. Others are jumping for joy.

5. I have a Playstation 3 and a Nintendo Wii, but I haven't been playing much of either lately. Not because I don't want to... there are several games for both systems I'm interested in. Just haven't gotten around to buying them. It'll be time when it's time.

6. Most of you know I'm a geek for physics, if you've been reading my posts lately. But I'm also a geek for other areas of science too -- specifically the intersection of psychology and neuroscience. Or put another way, the world of the "mind" and the world of the "brain". Examples:

-- Alzheimer's is a physical condition, affecting the brain tissue. But it manifests itself in terrible ways on the memory and the emotions. Brain and mind are connected.
-- Take a minute to close your eyes and think of one of your best memories. Picture it, see it, hear it, smell it. Chances are good that this mental exercise brings physical results -- a smile, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure and a relaxation of normally-tense muscles like those in the neck and shoulders.

See? I'm a geek for this stuff. Our scientists are still only scratching the surface in discovering what our brains, and our minds, are capable of.

7. When I get nervous, I get sweaty on my hands and on my booty.

Alright dudes, you're getting tagged. I've got a ridiculous amount of blogs in my RSS feed (more than 40 at last count), and eventually I'll get around to building a blogroll of some of my faves. And I've got more than 7 faves, so please don't be hurt if you're not in the short list of tagees to follow:

Bob Barbanes
Bob, just Bob

There's another Bob I could've put on this list... my Uncle Bob. Hey uncle, let me know if my tagging of you would nudge you to get to blogging again. Cuz I'll totally add you to the list.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

More on the evolution panel

We had some great comments and questions after my last post -- tonight I'll answer a couple of them directly. I just know I'm gonna be wordy on these, so it was too much to leave in the comments section!

Question 1 -- Did you lose/win the debate?

Thankfully it was just setup as a panel, and the minister/moderator introduced us and explicitly stated to the room that it was not a debate. I appreciated that from him. He had worked closely with the four panel members over the past few weeks to ensure that the mood was light and respectful, and before we began on Sunday morning he read the following excerpt from an email I sent to the panel last week:

"I like to believe that our church members are unified in spite of our differences, not in the absence of them."

So if it wasn't a debate, what was my purpose/goal in serving on the panel? It was simple -- to put a personal face on a different perspective. I didn't want to change the attendees' minds on the issue of evolution -- they aren't ready for that big of a shift. I merely wanted to cause a ripple in their very clear, black/white worldview.

On my post about evolution several months ago, I noted that for some people this is a "Level Two" issue -- something that is essential to their entire worldview and faith. In other words, for them, if the world is more than 6,000 years old then you can throw the whole bible away. If the big bang really happened then God doesn't exist. They hang everything together on that single point -- a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. It's all black or white, with no room for grey, no room for the bible having things like poetry, parable or metaphor. One panel member said exactly that -- "if we leave room in the bible for poetry, then where does it end? Maybe Jesus never really lived at all."

So you see, if I win the debate and somehow get them to accept that the earth might be older than 6,000 years, their entire faith comes crumbling down. That's not my intent. Paul speaks pretty clearly about this in his letter to the Romans. Here are a few different sections from The Message translation:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with--even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I'm convinced--Jesus convinced me!-that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe--some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them--then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.

Good stuff, and it reminds me to get back to following the golden rule. I want people to give me space and grace for my own opinions, then I have to do the same for them. When I spend some time seriously thinking on this, I realized there are two things that really irked me about previous conversations with creationists:

1) They assumed their own belief was the only true choice, and anybody who didn't agree was dumb, evil or terribly misinformed
2) They got very emotionally involved in the issue, literally shaking with anger at the thought of other people's weak or nonexistent faith

My main goal on the panel was to avoid both of those mistakes, by:

1) Having an open mind and projecting a sense of genuine humility
2) Staying cool, calm and loving, with no anger to those who disagreed with me

That's how I want people to treat me, so it was "golden rule" time for me to do the same.

Question 2 -- "If you dont take Scripture in its entirety, how do you reconcile the parts that dont make any logical sense. Do you actually call yourself a "Christian"?

I'll sorta be coy and devious on this one, just for the sake of brevity. These questions start to get to the core of my entire faith, and the answers are more than I can post in a few paragraphs.

So to be coy and devious, I don't really understand what "take scripture in its entirety" means anymore. I used to think I knew what that meant, and I held that over people who didn't agree.

So is the whole bible true or not? Literal or not? Song of Songs is cleary poetry, but is it "true"? If so, what is it telling us, and is that truth any less important than historical facts?

Here are my two devious closing comments:

1) If I told Jesus I was a Christian, is it possible he would reply, "You're a what?"

2) In Paul's second letter to Timothy, when he wrote that "all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching", did he think he was writing scripture?