Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Now for something totally different

Jamie has said that when it comes to faith, what I like to do every few years is throw everything into the air -- all my assumptions, worldviews, textual interpretations... -- and then start over and see what I end up with. She's seen me go through this process two or three times and I have to admit she's correct.

Interestingly, though, this type of regular creative destruction has been limited to my theology. I've never done that in other areas of my life. Until now.

I have an advanced business degree from a good school, and finished that degree a decade ago. For most of those 10 years I've flowed through my career without questioning most of the assumptions, worldviews, etc... that came with the curriculum.

Over the past year, however, I've finally put some real effort into my vocation and predictably gained more responsibility as a result. And what I've noticed is, much of my training isn't going to help me in my career. And it may even hinder me.

It's not that my training was wrong; it's just woefully insufficient. This epiphany knocked me over the head as I saw expert after expert fail when following the book on corporate management. The same book I was taught from 10 years ago.

I'm throwing it all up in the air. Starting over. And I'm well into the process of creating my new view of how I want to run a business. And it's incredibly exciting because what I see as the urgent needs in 21st Century corporate America happens to match very well with my own abilities.

I realize this is a very different topic for this blog -- most of the "tribe" who follows here likely comes to read slightly subversive religious ramblings. :)

So I won't stick on this topic long. But I may think this out through the keyboard. And who knows, since most of us work at a job, maybe we can even help each other with how half our waking energy is used Monday through Friday.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I think homosexuality is no more of a choice than your skin color

When considering any complicated topic, there are a few different ways I approach it as I try to form my own opinion. In general, I can usually sum up my approaches as:

1) Science/empirical knowledge
2) Logic
3) Personal experience

Where's the bible in this, you might ask? My perception of scripture heavily influences how I look at all three areas above! The text is so rich and so layered that I certainly include it in almost every major decision I make. But you've seen on this blog how I can dive into a passage of scripture and tie myself in knots with in-depth study!

Besides, on this topic (is homosexuality a choice) the bible is silent. So the three points above are what I've used to think about this, and all three approaches lead me to the same opinion.

Quick note before I begin: what I'm talking about here is homosexuality, the sexual and romantic attraction to people of the same sex. I'm not talking about homosexual behavior.

#1 -- Science

This one was pretty easy for me because the studies have been out there for quite a while. I won't cite them or link to them since they're readily available on the internet if you're interested, but there are two that quickly come to mind.

The first is at least 20 years old and was the result of scientists' efforts to better understand fetal development in the womb. Their discovery was that fetuses receive large rushes of hormones from the mother at different points in their development, and the amount of hormones greatly affects the growing fetus. In males, you can even recognize these effects by looking at finger lengths -- if the ring finger is significantly longer than the index finger, then he likely received a large rush of prenatal testosterone. And he's also more likely to be heterosexual. Less testosterone, his fingers are closer in length, and he's more likely to be gay. Sounds like an urban legend but the data supports it.

The second study is on brain anatomy and function. Hypothalamus size has shown to be correlated to sexual preference, and neuroscientists also discovered that gay people use their brains differently when given a mental task. Real-time MRI technology continues to show amazing things every year, and right now it looks clear that homosexual people have brains that look different and work differently from heterosexual brains.

If it's biological, it's not a choice.

#2 -- Logic

Our society has come a long way in dealing with people who used to be seen as "the least of these". Women's rights, minorities' rights, the end of child labor, and on and on... I'm very grateful to live in a country that continues to make a sincere effort to live up to the ideals of our founding fathers (equality and liberty).

But I say with sadness that it is still very difficult to be gay in America. Especially in some areas of the country. The South is notorious for this, and having lived most of my life in the South I can affirm that the reputation has been earned.

I've seen children mocked and brutalized for their sexuality. I've seen teens disowned by their families because they wouldn't "turn straight". I've seen adults cowering in fear that someone might find out about the secret they've been holding inside, terrified, for decades. (See here for a powerful video on this topic).

Who would choose that?

C.S. Lewis used this logic as proof that Jesus' resurrection was real -- he noted that only insane people would give up their lives for a blatant lie, and the disciples were all willing to give up their lives to spread the news of the resurrection. And they weren't insane.

Gay kids are giving up their lives every week in this country. Would they do that if they were faking it, or just to cause trouble?

#3 -- Personal experience

Lab results and news stories are all fine, but sometimes to really dive into a topic you need to put a face to it. A soul to it. You need a friend who is in the middle of the topic, living it.

I have gay friends. Some are single and still searching for a true love; others are partnered and hoping to have the legal right to marry one day. I can't think of any friends who are in a gay marriage, but I do have gay male friends who are currently married to women and are working through this massive challenge.

If they could flip a switch and be sexually attracted to their life partner, and leave behind the temptations to break their vows with men, I'm not sure if they'd do it. Being gay is part of who they are, and to me it's not right to just have them wish it away.

But it brings such turmoil to them on a daily basis. They haven't chosen it, and some of them got married in the hopes that over time the attraction to men would pass. It didn't.

They have faces, and souls, and are some of the most god-loving, respectful men I know. And they didn't choose homosexuality any more than I chose to be attracted to tall brunette women with nice legs and great smiles. My sexual preferences are just part of who I am, and haven't changed since I started becoming aware of them around puberty.

Wrapping it up

You certainly don't have to use my framework of these three approaches to the issue. But if you're starting from scratch and haven't really considered any of this before, you might want to do your own research on the science. You might want to think through the logic of what it means to be homosexual, the price that comes with it, and how Christians should treat them.

And finally, and most important, you might want to be a friend to someone who is gay. God has a way of blowing up our stereotypes and our prejudices one face at a time, and I'm so glad He's done that with me.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The final of five (not appropriate for kids)

Tonight I'll conclude what could have been titled "One more woefully short post about an infinitely complicated topic." To wrap up the week, here's what I think is the #1 most explosive topic facing Churches of Christ in America today: gay marriage.

Note that I didn't say homosexuality. The church has felt pretty secure and unified on that one for a long time. But gay marriage is a first for my congregation, since the CoC wasn't formed until about 200 years ago and has always been concentrated in the US.

For a different take than you might have seen before, let me share my opinion on what this fight over gay marriage is not about, no matter what Christians proclaim:

1) It's not about the sanctity of marriage. Divorce rates are embarrassing in the church, just like they are in American culture at large. If we were really serious about the sanctity of marriage, we'd be doing the basics (more premarital counseling, more mentorship, higher expectations of our peers) and the extreme (looking closer at arranged marriage customs and other worldwide practices that seem to lead to healthier, longer-term relationships than the American model) to protect it.

2) It's not about homosexuality as a whole, because it's not really about lesbianism. Besides the fact that the bible doesn't speak on lesbianism, two women being together just doesn't bring the "ick" factor to many heterosexual male Christians. And it's heterosexual male Christians who lead the way in the Churches of Christ on this issue (because women aren't allowed to serve in leadership capacities, as noted in my previous blog post).

3) It's not about freedom and the role of government. Most Christians in the south (where CoC is most prevalent) are in Republican-leaning states, and are linked with policies about small government and minimal regulatory interference in our personal lives. Dictating whether or not two single, consenting adults can get married is a pretty strong form of interference.

4) It's not about love and relationship. The church is all for relationships built on sacrificial love. A heterosexual couple, a men's fellowship group, a youth group of teenagers... all highly valued forms of social and personal connection treasured by the church. I have grown up greatly blessed by this.

So what's it about? Sex. Sex between men, specifically. To keep this post from being too long, I'll just list two of many reasons why I think the church is on dangerous ground here:

1) Marriage is much more than sex. We're saying that two men can't marry because they will have sex, and that sex might be a sin. So is the sin sodomy? What acts are okay and not okay, even within a marriage bond? Leviticus clearly lists "sex during a woman's cycle" as sin against God, but I've never heard a single sermon or church teaching on the topic.

Why not? Because it's none of the church's business what my spouse and I do behind closed doors to enjoy each other's bodies. Sex is only one part of marriage, and it's private.

2) Marriage is much more than procreation. This break between marriage and procreation happened early in human history, and even early in the Old Testament. King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines -- the purpose of that had nothing to do with procreation. This was about sex and power, with Solomon the ruler and the women his subjects.

God looked on Solomon, with his 1,000 sex partners and perhaps no true love, and we believe God still accepted him despite the ridiculous gluttony of marriages. Yet there are people today with one partner, a truly loving relationship, and no path to marriage.

So there you go -- my fast opinion on what this debate isn't about, and what it is about. At the cultural level, this debate is already over and every state will have legalized gay marriage during my lifetime. But at the church level, the debate is just beginning and will continue to be a dividing point for decades to come.

May God bless this mess!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Fourth of five -- the 2nd hottest topic in Churches of Christ

Why not go out with a bang this week? Tonight I'll briefly write about what is probably the 2nd most controversial topic in Churches of Christ (mine and my family's long-time congregation).

The role of women in church services.

That may sound ridiculous to those of you without a deep religious background in your family. And it probably sounds ridiculous to those from other walks of faith as well, but this is hardly just a Church of Christ issue. Catholics, Episcopalians, even Muslims are wrestling mightily with this clash of 21st Century cultural values and much older religous values and traditions.

I won't go into those cultural values... that would take too long. Instead I'd like to consider the writings of Paul that have led to this clash in the first place. Upon a quick reading of our English translations, it appears in his letter to the church of Corinth and in other places that Paul feels women should be silent in church.

More examination complicates matters, as usual. The context of his writings involved a time of pagan worship on a massive scale, which also came with prostitution, drunkenness, loud and chaotic assemblies, and role-reversal (women and men mixing clothes and mannerisms). Each of these topics get addressed in his letter to Corinth -- it appears to me that Paul wants to distinguish Christians from these other groups such as the cult of Dionysus. And 1 Corinthians 11 seems to make it clear that women are indeed allowed to pray and prophesy in worship assembly.

And if you dive into the Greek text, "silence" doesn't seem to be the only translation of Paul's instructions. In 1 Corithians, the word "gentleness" would be equally accurate, and in 1 Timothy... well, the Greek word "authentein" is the word translated as silence, and it appears nowhere else in the entire New Testament.

Perhaps today's church interprets the texts correctly, and women should have been held out of ministry, speaking and worship positions for the past 2,000 years. Or perhaps we have it wrong.

Either way, in my opinion this is one of the top two issues in our church today, in terms of tension and explosive potential. Tomorrow I'll wrap up the week with what I feel is #1.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Third of five -- more hot topics

I figured that since the first two posts went to religion, which is always controversial, we'll move to something easier like politics. Heh.

#3 -- Letter vs. spirit

I doubt God's a Republican or Democrat. I'm sure Jesus was neither since those parties didn't exist, our country didn't exist, and Jesus wasn't recorded to be active politically, which cost him dearly at the hands of all political parties of his day.

So on the letter of the law when it comes to politics, I can't place Jesus in either camp. I think Republicans have it wrong when they say that Jesus is on their side because he's for freedom (he lived in a culture of slavery and his freedom was not of this world). And I think Democrats have it wrong when they say that Jesus would want government to take care of the poor (he said that was up to us).

So forget the letter of the law, let's talk about the spirit. Are Christians people that our society recognizes as reasonable, peaceful and open to political conversations? Outside of the actual content of our discourse, are Christians seen as the types of people willing to extend grace on temporal matters like politics, taxes, etc...?

How we talk about things really is as important as what we say. So even though Jesus isn't a Democrat or Republican, I think I know how he'd talk to a rural farmer, a young minority in prison, an illegal alien or an investment banker.

So that's what I try to do. I fail, of course. Just about every time. But I'm trying!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Second of five

You dudes rocked in your responses and in being patient with my absence -- thank you!

#2 -- Credit and Blame

In church last Sunday the sermon was about how God is the only source of good things, and we can take no credit for anything good we might do in our lives. It is all God. The scripture was Luke 18:19:

"Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."

Then later in bible class, the lesson was about how the devil is an easy scapegoat but we are actually the cause of all bad things in our lives, and cannot cast away the blame on Satan. It is all us. The scripture was James 1:14:

"each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and

Which made me wonder -- why do we take none of the credit for the good, yet all of the blame for the bad? Is it possible that our actual contribution to the universe has some of both?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Out of my shell for the first of five

I can finally feel things lifting after what has been the most intense work/career phase I have ever had. Some of it has been good, all of it has been challenging, and although it may not have a "happy" ending I am still grateful because it has given me the chance to grow.

So back to faith/theology and the things that make me tick!

This is the first of five short daily posts I have promised to myself, and to you. If anybody's even got me in their RSS feed anymore, ha.

#1 -- Understanding and Forgiveness

I have noticed that whenever I'm having trouble forgiving someone who has hurt me, the path to forgiveness goes through the town of Understanding. If I can just focus enough on who they are, what they've faced in life, how their personality works, what they're afraid of, what they dream of... eventually I can empathize closely enough to see the world through their eyes.

And in that moment, when I start to understand who they are, I gain clarity on why they do what they do. And I can no longer fault them for it.

So the question is -- do you think God understands us?