May 9, 2005

How Do You Frame God?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 7:42 pm

I posted my thoughts on this question on the Spiritual Progressives Conference forum, and having gone to the effort to write it, I am repurposing it here to get the most mileage out of it (edited for grammar only). Drop in on the conference for more responses to this and other questions, or to post your own.

God as the Master Craftsperson

Although I’ve read “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, I have to say that my own framing has not been deliberate or intentional. But, if I dissect it to see what framing is implicit, it is definitely of the nurturant mother variety. But I think there’s more to it, so let me try a different personification or two.

In many ways, I think of God as an ideal employer, or an ideal boss, or a mentor. Maybe the closest analogy is an apprentice/master relationship from the pre-industrial guild economies.

Running with this analogy, my role as an apprentice is entirely secure, so I have no anxiety that I’m going to get “fired” if my work isn’t adequate — I have guaranteed eternal employment as an apprentice. But I’m privileged to be allowed to apprentice to this “master”. I’m grateful for not only the honor of being allowed to apprentice, but the fact that it will never be taken away. I could sit around and goof off without being fired, but I feel like we should all be getting to work! Not to keep our jobs, but because we have our jobs. So let’s get working! Time to see what has to be done, what the master needs us to do, and to get it done.

And we need to learn from the master. We are so lucky to be able to learn from the master, that there’s no time to waste! Let’s try to do his work, but do it very carefully to make sure we do it right, that the results are pleasing to the master. If not, we don’t quit, we learn from our mistakes, and try all the harder next time. Not out of fear, but out of gratitude for the gentle and patient corrections provided by the master.

Implicit in this is a mutual love, but not the love between friends, which presumes that we are equals. My love is borne out of my humility before the master. And I experience his love by his willingness to accept my feeble efforts as worthy and his desire to teach me. No one will ever confuse me and the master, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying to do as he instructs me.

So how is that for a frame?

Encouraging Signs the Country Has Not Lost Its Mind

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 4:30 pm

So let’s review:

  • Congress and President Bush pass a law asking the federal court to intervene to keep Terri Schiavo alive…

    …and the court politely tells Congress to mind it’s own business, as Schiavo is allowed to die.

  • The Christian right convenes “Justice Sunday” protesting “the filibuster against people of faith”, which Senate Majority Speaker Frist addresses…

    …only to have Frist later say that he believes in an independent judiciary, with Bush himself repudiating the charge that the judicial nominees are being opposed because of their faith.

  • The Rev. Chan Chandler kicks out all Democrat members of the East Waynesville Baptist Church for not supporting President Bush and the Republicans…

    …only to later welcome them back, saying that it was all a “great misunderstanding”.

A majority of Americans opposed Congress’ action on Schiavo and supports the judical filibuster. Is there a pattern here?

With all the news being made by conservative Christian activists and their congressional allies, I have been frequently alarmed that the country is on the verge of a theocracy, about to abandon the carefully constructed neutrality of the government regarding religion. But I am always reassured by subsequent events that the vast majority of Americans have not lost their sanity.

So what does it all mean?

Maybe the conservatives won the biggest battle in 2004, the Presidential election. But despite the fact that Dobson et al claim credit for Bush’s election, recent events have shown that this was not a political takeover by conservative Christians, but a closely contested election over secular issues, particularly the “war on terror”. Conservative Christians are not carrying the day with their shibboleths of judicial activism and persecution of Christians. The Christian Right may be succeeding at getting attention for their agenda, but they are not winning the hearts and minds of the electorate nor most of our elected representatives.

This doesn’t mean we can relax. There are plenty of battles to fight, such as the Kansas State Board of Education hearing on the teaching of evolution, or the Constitution Restoration Act of 2005. Some of these battles may well be won by conservatives, although perhaps not as many as we progressives fear. But it seems the big national battles, where the country as a whole focuses on the issues involved, will not be won by the conservative extremists.

So let’s keep fighting for a Christianity of grace instead of condemnation, and national policies based on it. But I think we can also be encouraged that the majority of Americans and of politicians can be reached, will listen, and will ultimately do what’s right. Thank God!

May 8, 2005

Spiritual Progressives Conference May 9th-20th

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:04 pm

The Rockridge Institute, home of George Lakoff, author of bestselling Don’t Think of an Elephant, is hosting an online conference on progressive politics and religion:

Spiritual Progressives: A Dialogue on Values and Building a Movement

The Rockridge Institute has partnered with a coalition of progressive religious organizations to host an online conference on the Rockridge Forums. This exciting event will bring together progressives, Rockridge framing researchers, and religious leaders from across America to discuss the role of progressive religious values in public discourse.

* When: May 9th-20th, 2005
* Who’s invited: Anyone with an interest in exploring progressive values and the progressive religious perspective
* Where: The Rockridge Forums

This conference is to be conducted asynchronously, meaning that you don’t need to be logged in all day, but can check out the conference leaders’ posts and respond with your comments as you have time. Leaders are to include Marcus Borg, Jim Wallis and pastordan.

I will be checking in and participating as time allows.

May 4, 2005

Email to Rush Limbaugh

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:24 pm

I realize I’m coming to this late, but having finally read Limbaugh’s quote via Faithful Progressive, I have to chime in. Here is a transcript from Media Matters (click here for the full audio experience if you dare):

I would submit to you that people on the left are religious, too. Their God is just different. The left has a different God. There’s a religious left in this country.

And, the religious left in this country hates and despises the God of Christianity and Catholicism and whatever else. They despise it because they fear it, because it’s a threat, because that God has moral absolutes. That God has right and wrong, that God doesn’t deal in nuance, that God doesn’t deal in gray area, that God says, “This is right and that is wrong.”

My email to Rush Limbaugh, with a copy to FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin:

I noted with sadness your recent criticism of my deeply held religious beliefs.

On April 27th you said on your show that “the religious left in this country hates and despises the God of Christianity.” I am a political progressive, and a Christian too. I am a progressive not in spite of, but because of, the teachings of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Conservative Christians claim that they are persecuted by the media. Apparently you have taken it upon yourself to make sure progressive Christians are likewise persecuted by the media. It’s true that Jesus said “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”, but somehow I don’t feel blessed when a fellow Christian accuses me of despising my God.

I would prefer another way, a more Christian way. Let us debate theology, let’s debate politics and policies, but let’s not ever accuse our fellow Christians of hating our God. If I have ever done so, I apologize. I’ll accept your apology anytime you’re willing to give it.

In Christ,

Bob

FP Unmasks "I am a Christian Too"

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:22 am

Well, not really, but I am flattered and honored that Faithful Progressive invited me to be interviewed as one of his weekly blogger interviews. Thanks, FP. So go on over and check out the interview and FP’s blog!

May 3, 2005

Focus on the Family Has Family Arrested

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:10 am

In case you haven’t been following this story, Soulforce is an organization working for “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance”. On Sunday, they held an event in front of Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs to “hold Dobson accountable for his anti-gay rhetoric”. The protest continued on Monday. From a Soulforce press release:

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY LOCKS OUT SOULFORCE

Gay son and his parents arrested for trespassing as they try to deliver a letter to Dobson and Focus on the Family

(Colorado Springs) – A family who wanted to deliver a letter to James Dobson or the “next in line” was arrested for trespassing this morning as they crossed onto the property of Dobson’s organization, Focus on the Family. Originally, plans were to distribute 100s of letters written by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families who have been hurt by Dobson’s rhetoric during a public tour during normal operating hours, but Focus on the Family shut down on Monday, May 2, to keep LGBT individuals and families from entering.

Before the arrest, Randi Reitan, mother of Jacob Reitan, a young gay man and Youth Director for Soulforce, read a letter she had written to Dobson explaining how his rhetoric is hurting families like theirs. Holding a bouquet of roses, and struggling to get the words out, Randi stated, “There was never a moment we did not love or accept our dear son. But we struggled with how best to see the day Jake is loved, accepted and understood by society. As parents and Christians, we felt called to work for justice for all in the gay community.” The letter is available online at www.soulforce.org.

With his arms around both parents, Jacob stated, “This family is about love, my parents love me as I am, as God created me, and James Dobson is out to destroy loving families like mine!” As the family crossed on to the Focus on the Family property, police immediately handcuffed Jacob Reitan, his mother Randi, and his father Phil, who all had tears in their eyes as they were led to the police van.

Over 125 Soulforce supporters, singing “Amazing Grace,” stood by in support of the Reitan family who were released from police custody a short time later.

“We believe that the ministry of Jesus was about opening doors for the marginalized and oppressed, so it is ironic that Focus on the Family is slamming the doors on those very same people that Jesus would have welcomed with open arms, ” stated Rev. Nori Rost, pastor of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church.

So what pro-gay-agenda propaganda did the Reitan’s letter contain? An excerpt:

There was never a moment we did not love or accept our dear son. But we struggled with how best to see the day Jake is loved, accepted and understood by society. As parents and Christians, we felt called to work for justice for all in the gay community.

[…]

But we worry for Jake. He is a courageous young man who feels a passion for justice. We have had “fag” scrawled on our driveway, raw eggs in our mailbox, pink paint balls peppering the front of our home, lamp posts broken, unsigned letters filled with terrible messages mailed to our home and Jake’s car window smashed into a million pieces.

People are taught to hate. People are taught to be intolerant. As Christians, we must teach God’s love for all his beloved children by our love and our actions.

We know that God loves Jake just as he is… a gay man. We know that Jesus is with Jake each day as Jake works to see the day all in the gay community are respected and given the same rights and privileges we all enjoy. We pray that day comes soon.

Soulforce has documented their research into Dr. Dobson’s hate-filled views towards the LGBT community available here. Please support Soulforce’s important actions to bring Dobson and others to account for their unChristian bigotry against gays.

May 2, 2005

An Open Letter to Richard Dawkins

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 10:52 am

As unlikely as it sounds, I am both a theologically orthodox Christian and a fan of yours, which is why, before getting into my disagreements with your statements in the interview by Salon, I’d like to talk about where we agree.

You say that “evolution is a fact”, and that resistance to evolution:

comes, I’m sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won’t find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.

I am not a theologian, sophisticated or otherwise, but you won’t find any opposition to evolution from me and the millions of like-minded Christians. In fact, I find the denial of evolution to be almost blasphemous in that it is a denial of part of God’s creation, and a particularly beautiful and elegant part at that. To deny evolution or the Big Bang is to tell God what you will allow him to have done instead of celebrating what he has done in fact.

I also agree with you that belief in God doesn’t solve the mystery of creation, the question of “why there is something rather than nothing”, as Hawkings put it. It doesn’t make any difference if that “something” is the known universe, or is instead the known universe plus God, it still shouldn’t exist, and the fact that it does is inexplicable. For many Christians, the identification of God as our creator isn’t a statement of the origin of the cosmos as much a statement regarding God’s relationship to us, which is a far more important revelation.

I take exception, though, when you blame religion for

Terrorism in the Middle East, militant Zionism, 9/11, the Northern Ireland “troubles,” genocide, which turns out to be “credicide” in Yugoslavia, the subversion of American science education, oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and the Roman Catholic Church, which thinks you can’t be a valid priest without testicles.

You subsequently undercut your own argument when you say:

I don’t wish to suggest it is doctrinal disputes that are motivating the individual soldiers who are doing the killing. What I do suggest is that in places like Northern Ireland, religion was the only available label by which people could indulge in the human weakness for us-or-them wars. When a Protestant murders a Catholic or a Catholic murders a Protestant, they’re not playing out doctrinal disagreements about transubstantiation.

If there were no religion in northern Ireland, the fighting would still go on between the “Celtics” and the “Anglo-Saxons”, or the “Republicans” and the “Unionists”, and would be every bit as fierce. Christ teaches us to love our enemy, to turn the other cheek, so violence in his name is clearly of human, and not divine origin. We fight because we are human, and delude ourselves that God is on our side, even when he has given us no reason to think so. We can’t blame God when we are too stubborn to listen to his counsel for peace. Violence is evidence of the desperate need for religion, not the fault of religion. Similarly with environmental destruction — the fact that some Christians are using religion to deny our moral duty as stewards of the Earth calls for us to be more obedient to God’s will, not to deny God altogether.

You over-generalize when you describe religion as a virus, transmitted from parent to child, from preacher to congregation. I won’t deny that, in some cultures and with some individuals the religion meme propagates itself this way, but you argue that this is the sole reason that religion still exists. This ignores those raised outside the church that convert as adults, and those raised inside the church that go through their own spiritual journey, their forty years in the desert, before returning to God of their own accord. C. S. Lewis, an atheist until his conversion in middle-age, was no unthinking lump of clay, passively absorbing the religion meme from a charismatic preacher. So how to explain the sophisticated, educated theologians you speak of? Many Christians have arrived at their faith through thoughtful and careful exploration inspite of their upbringing, not because of it. To dismiss us as victims of a passive parent-to-child imprinting is rather condescending.

You also miss the point when you say that

A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the “imaginary friend” and the bogeyman under the bed.

If by “lack of evidence”, you mean lack of scientific evidence, then you are correct. That doesn’t mean there is no evidence at all, and I am not speaking of the Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich. As I’ve written on this blog before:

Science only concerns itself with explaining scientific phenomena. The scientific method is based on the observation of repeatable, measurable events. Any event that is neither repeatable nor measurable is of no interest to science since theories can not be developed nor validated for events that can’t be duplicated, predicted or measured.

For the “brights”, this distinction is valid but irrelevant, since there are no miracles, no events that, if we look closely enough, can’t be explained via the scientific method. If this is the case, then science is not only true, but complete. There is nothing else to consider.

On the other hand, if we find a single event, just one occurrence that violates the rules of cause and effect, that can’t be repeated or measured, but that has undeniably occurred, then we know that science is not complete. We will then know that science is true, but only within its limited scope, and that there are things beyond which science can not go.

Of course, the hard part is finding and observing such an event, this miracle, in a way that conforms to the scientific method. By definition, miracles are non-repeatable events. They don’t seem to occur when we have the cameras, spectrometers and particle detectors ready to observe them. The existence of miracles, or just one miracle, will never be proven by the scientific method.

The nature of these events called miracles is very personal. If it happens to you, it is a miracle; if it happens to someone else, it is neatly resolved by assuming that if you spent long enough looking for a natural cause, you would find one.

I believe that this is the way God intended it. God’s existence can not be proven, because then we would no longer have faith, only fact, and faith is clearly very important to God’s plan. Some Christians I know have spoken movingly of a personal miracle that convinced them that God exists, and that he loves us. For them, this is the single event, an effect without any possible cause, that demonstrates that science is true but incomplete, that there are phenomena that lie outside of science, that there are events that are neither repeatable nor measurable but still very real. They are lucky indeed, but as Jesus said, “Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Of course, for Christians, we all have one miracle that is very personal and very universal at the same time: the risen Christ. This too, is unconvincing as scientific evidence, and has been explained away countless times. But for those of us who have experienced this truth personally, if no other miracle ever occurred, it is all the proof that we need.

May 1, 2005

Lamott: God Doesn't Take Sides

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 5:59 pm

I know that some of Anne Lamott’s writings are perceived as insulting to those of us in white churches, but I can’t help but enjoy her latest piece in Salon. I recognize my own Christianity in hers, and find her writing to be moving and spirit-filled. I am very pleased to see her getting the attention of the national media, along with the likes of Bill Moyers and Jim Wallis. The more prophetic voices proclaiming the Gospel of grace, the more marginalized Tony Perkins, James Dobson and their ilk will become.

But on to some highlights from her essay, where she begins by talking about the apparent “appropriation” of Christianity by the right.

What the right has “appropriated” has nothing to do with God as most of us believers experience God. Their pronouncements about God are based on the great palace lie that this is a Christian country, that they were chosen by God to be his ethical consultants, and that therefore they alone know God’s will for us. The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. The first holy truth in God 101 is that men and women of true faith have always had to accept the mystery of God’s identity and love and ways. I hate that, but it’s the truth.

I just think Bush and his people have gotten it so wrong.

…[W]e who believe that a benevolent intelligence animates our lives need to live by Jesus’ command: to try to stop killing other human beings, just for today, and to act upon a total commitment to the poor, to the old and to the Earth. Watch, God said, and I don’t think he meant cable news. I could be wrong. But what I think he meant was, “Watch for the warning signs of God’s presence so you can remember what he said to do — bring food to those who hunger, bring water to those who thirst, and help through love and showing up to turn despair into hope, swords into plowshares.”

Following are five warning signs, symptomatic feelings that indicate that God is present in our hearts (and our national priorities).

1) A passionate belief in freedom and equality…

2) A belief in the importance of separation of church and state…

3) A core belief that all people are good, and precious to God, and that everyone deserves to be cared for….

4) The desire to sacrifice….

5) Deep feelings of generosity….

…A whole lot of us believers, of all different religions, are ready to turn back the tide of madness by walking together, in both the dark and the light — in other words, through life — registering voters as we go, and keeping the faith.

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