Tag: christianity
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‘Fight Club’ & The Art of Faithful Listening

As a preacher, I often lean on illustrations from movies to in order to further demonstrate truths of our faith.

Many might disagree with that approach.

Still more might disagree with how often I refer to the movie 'Fight Club' as an illustration of faithful community.

Let me explain.

For the most part, the movie is not a life-affirming or redeeming one. However, there is one scene between Marla Singer (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and one of the main characters (played by Edward Norton), where they share an encounter at a cancer support group.

I'm not sure if one must yell “Spoiler Alert!” before mentioning details from a movie that is 15 years old, but…Spoiler Alert!

Neither of these characters has cancer. However, they have inserted themselves into a series of support groups because – as you gather through the course of the movie – they lack basic and healthy connections to other human beings. This is certainly a problem for our culture – especially Christian culture – but I digress.

In an exchange which causes them to finish each other's sentence, Norton begins by saying, “When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just…”

To which Bonham Carter replies, “…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”

This raises an interesting – and possibly life-changing – question: Do you find yourself really listening to others, or just waiting for your turn to speak?

I would argue that the faithful life and existing in faithful community is more about listening, than it is about being able to say the right and faithful thing.

I'm preparing to be commissioned as a probationary elder in the United Methodist Church this May. As a part of that, I am taking a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. Essentially, you serve as a chaplain in a group learning environment. I'm happen to be serving as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chaplains are called upon to minister into many different situations. You could be paged to a belligerent patient's room, you could be asked to pray for someone before they go into surgery, or you could be called to the bedside of someone who is being terminally weaned from life support.

In each of these situations, the faithful have obtained a list of platitudinous sayings or supposedly helpful scriptures that are meant to act as “silver bullets” to correct behavior or soothe the hurting soul. However, that shouldn't excuse the fact that, short of our platitudes, we have a way of finding a place to insert our thoughts and feelings – rather than allowing the other person to find a caring soul within us. My role as a chaplain is not necessarily to find the right words to say to someone, but to hear the other person as a creature of sacred worth. Only after I have listened, should I consider attempting to offer some type of spiritual intervention into their lives.

Should I tell the belligerent patient to ” be slow to anger?”

Should I tell the patient going into surgery that “God doesn't give us more than we can handle?”

Should I tell the family of the terminal patient that “God needed another angel?”

Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was pouring their heart out to you. Were you just waiting for your chance to tell them exactly what you think you should do, or waiting to share with them a particular scripture that speaks to them in times of trouble?

I hope not.

Am I saying that scripture is wholly unhelpful in our times of trouble? No.

Am I saying that each of our carefully or hastily shared platitudes is worthless? Possibly – but that's not a hill I'm willing to die on.

I am saying that maybe we should be more attuned to the inherent worth in others. If we understand the other person as a creature of sacred worth, maybe we should be willing to listen, empathize and validate, rather than just listening for opportunities to insert ourselves into their trials.

There is a difference between listening and “listening for your turn to speak.” As those seeking to live in faithful community with each other, the faithful thing to do would be to learn to tell the difference.

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@BartEhrman & the Line Between Scholarship & Sensationalism

On March 25th, Bart Ehrman's latest book came out, and I haven't read it. However, after reading his HuffPo article about it, I've decided I'm probably gonna read something else.

The thesis of his article – and the book, one can easily gather – is:

It is not hard to make the argument that if Jesus had never been declared God, our form of civilization would have been unalterably and indescribably different.

He proceeds to spout a contrarian stream of logic that challenges the origins of the faith. In an abbreviated counterfactual, Ehrman comes to Constantine:

If Constantine had not converted, masses of former pagans would not have accepted the faith in his wake. The empire would not have become predominantly Christian. The Christian religion would not have been made the official religion of the state. The Christian church would never have become the dominant religious, cultural, social, political, and economic force of the West. We never would have had the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, or Modernity as we know it. And most of us would still be pagans.

While I trust Ehrman to be a more faithful and virtuous scholar, this paragraph reminds me of the leaps Bill O'Reilly made to connect modern, conservative political thought to the teachings of Jesus in Killing Jesus. The thesis Ehrman spouts is a fairly contraversial one – and he knows it. At the very least, this book will be talked about in many academic circles. However, it could also get picked up by national press, and even television shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – like some of his previous work. How exciting for him?

Essentially, Ehrman claims that the insistence upon Jesus' divinity by a small group of Jesus' friends is the only way Christianity could have grown into the world-wide force it is today.

This is thin at best, and straddles the line between scholarship and sensationalism. Irresponsibly, I might add.

My Wesleyan heritage tells me that scripture, tradition, reason and experience should work together to inform my faith. Many in the Wesleyan tradition are fighting hard against this heritage, but I still find value in it. I use this dynamic to further understand my faith. Ehrman's book appears as if it will lie well outside the realm of what I consider valuable to further understand my faith.

So, again, I'm probably gonna read something else.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Comments welcome.

 

@eJoelWatts & Myself Respond to @JohnLomperis on @HuffPostRelig

A quick post to direct you to a response I penned with Joel. John Lomperis of The Institute on Religion & Democracy wrote a Washington Post op-ed, and we believe it is woefully incorrect.  

SERMON from 7-7-13: “Church Goes to the Movies: ‘Secondhand Lions'”

This is the first in a four-part sermon series called “Church Goes to the Movies.” Part 1:   Part 2:    

Christians: How NOT to React to Secular News – #DOMA

Christians have not been setting a good example on social media today. The Supreme Court ruled The Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Reactions have been anything from “they're heathenous sinners, but I'm called to love 'em” to…well…I wanted to share these with you. First up, we have a random pastor: Next,

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I See What Ya’ Did There, @GlennBeck

Glenn Beck, Professional Clown

I don't know why I do it to myself, but I listen to Glenn Beck's radio program.

Yes, seriously.

This morning, during one of his live advertisements for gold, he makes this statement:

I don't know how this all ends, but it doesn't end well.

He is – of course – talking about the continuing economic malaise the global economy is experiencing.

I've heard him say this – or things like this – numerous times. It wasn't until this morning that I realized what a weasely, chicken little-y, media whore-y type of statement it really is.

Essentially, he is able to keep his “the sky it falling” rap afloat without offering any evidence of it. Sure, he spends his entire broadcast presenting “evidence” of what he believes is the truth, but he is nearly never correct about any of his wild-eyed bloviating.

Why do I care?

If it weren't for the fact that Mr. Beck has such a broad reach – and has taken to shrouding his every move in the discussions he has with and visions he gets from God – I wouldn't care that much. I'd still listen, but not actively.

Glenn Beck is an entertainer. He's an actor. He's a visionary entrepreneur.

To be trusted for actual news or sincere opinion, he's not.

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Notes From The Pastor’s Office #22 – “Redeemed Atheists?”

This week, Pope Francis said atheists are just as redeemed by good works as Christians. I discuss that here.

Link to the HuffPo story.

Link to my Gervais post.

 

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Yes, God Is Against Drone Strikes – @MarkDTooley, @TheIRD

Mark Tooley, president of the neo-conservative think-tank The Institute on Religion & Democracy, continues his childish PR effort to make the term “Religious Left” synonymous with cowardice. If he cannot mention “the Religious Left” in the pejorative, he doesn't write the editorial.

Unfortunately, he just doesn't know what he's talking about.

Evidently, his years serving under President George W. Bush have impaired his ability to portray those with which he disagrees, accurately.

In his most recent article (it seems he just can get enough of his pontification in as many outlets as possible) – found here – Tooley claims the same crap he usually claims about “the Religious Left.” They want to see an America weakened to the point of impotence. They see no difference between the US and Nazi Germany. They only want to sit back and snipe at the those with which they disagree.

None of these accurately describe progressive Christianity, but that doesn't stop Tooley from continuing to say them.

In his response to religious liberal ethicisists and their suggestions that US drone policy is religiously problematic, Tooley sums up his argument pretty pathetically:

People of faith trust that God, in His own time, will fully redeem the world and defeat evil forever. But the utopian Religious Left sometimes wants to pretend their policies can preempt God. Fortunately, their counsel is mostly ignored, on drones, and virtually on every other issue.

In his attempt to further talk down to those Christians he believes deserve his derision, Tooley actually proves the opposite of his argument. Drone strikes are nearly the epitome of an ideology's policies preempting God. Tooley is using the Rovian tactic of turning your weakness into a weakness for your foe.

Drone strikes are, at the very least, morally problematic and religiously troubling. For someone – even a former CIA analyst like Tooley – to be so sold out to the idea of drone strikes as standard procedure, is unfortunate.

I pray the issue might cause him a little more moral uncertainty.

An Open Letter by @csalafia To The Folks at @TheIRD

My friend, Christian – @csalafia & homebrewedtheology.com – wrote this amazing open letter to the neo-con, Washington think-tank posing as a United Methodist renewal group, The Institute on Religion and Democracy. There is scripture. There is Book of Discipline. It has it all, and should haunt the consciences of all those who inhabit the Washington

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The Church Is Not A Business, Jeffery Walton – @TheIRD

  In the wake of Atlanta-based pastor Louis Giglio’s decision to back out of praying during President Obama’s 2nd inaugural – due to backlash he received based upon an anti-gay sermon he preached in the 90’s –┬áThe Institute on Religion & Democracy has made sure to display it’s righteous indignation. I’m not writing to comment

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