Friday, June 22, 2007

Time for Aunt BeaN and family to head east for a family reunion. Will report more on my return. Have a great week and don't think too much while I'm gone.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

So I figured out this afternoon that the reason why I'm having such a hard time getting started on this is that I don't want to argue about inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is "inerrant," without error). Since that is the lynchpin of the conservative Christian mindset, it seemed like the place to start. But every time I start lining up my ideas, I hear knives being sharpened in the background-- people girding up to do battle with my meager little arguments. I don't have anything to say that will change the mind of someone who is already convinced. So I just don't want to do it.

And of course I don't have to. So I'm not going to. Whole books have been written on this topic and you can read them if you want. (Try Bart Ehrman and Timothy Paul Jones, who take opposite sides, for a start). I'm just going to chime in with my little bit of experience, the thing that turned the tide for me once I started questioning.

So imagine me, about 23 or 24 years old, still more Evangelical Christian than not, but questioning and thinking and questioning and thinking. And it occurred to me that I had never had the experience of God requiring someone or something to be perfect before God could use it. My experience had always been (and still is, although I would use a different vocabulary to describe it now) that God works through imperfect human beings, messed-up situations, and so on. Moses, David, Peter-- they all had many moments of highly imperfect human-ness. So why would God's scriptures be any different? Why would God cause human beings to supernaturally create an absolutely perfect book, when that isn't the way God has done anything else? Why wouldn't God have scriptures that were messy, vibrant, open to interpretation, a bit confusing, somewhat chaotic-- just like the rest of the world that God created? (again, remember this is me 20 years ago, not the way I would phrase it now).

And that was the grain of sand that tipped the scales for me. You could argue, of course, as Paul does in several of his letters, that Jesus was perfect. But even if you accept that, Jesus didn't write the Bible. Several dozen regular people did. So there it is and I'm moving on, after having been stuck on this topic for weeks trying to figure out how to say it. I know that's not going to convince anyone, so no drive-bys, please. I know it's not an airtight argument. It's just what was helpful to me.

And Happy Summer Solstice to all, by the way...........

Aunt BeaN

p.s. sorry about some of the awkward wording in there, but I was trying to avoid using the male pronoun for God. Even at that stage when I was still mostly Evangelical, that would have been important to me, which I suppose would be the main reason I was only "mostly" Evangelical.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I've spent several weeks now writing posts in my head about how and why I left fundamentalism behind some twenty years ago. At the time it was happening, it was more a survival thing; I had reached the point where continuing in that direction was toxic for me, and I turned and ran. But I never really thought it out, and that seems important, even at this late date. But now that our summer has settled into as much of a routine as it is likely to, and I have an hour to myself before the kids are awake, I'm sitting here at the computer to type out what I've been thinking and the things I've been meaning to say just don't seem that important--the logical inconsistencies in believing in inerrancy; the need to pierce through the self-reinforcing nature of being inside an all-encompassing system of thought; separating out what is one's cultural heritage and what one believes.

It seems more important to point out what I'm moving toward rather than what I'm leaving behind. Which would be: a sense of gratitude flavored with a bit of humility toward the experience of life; a practical integration of what I theoretically believe with the details of being fully present in my current surroundings; and relinquishing the need for the false sense of security provided by the feeling that the universe is explicable. Which is all a very wordy way of saying I want to find meaning in my experience-- my experience as it is not as I want it to be-- rather than thinking about my experience. Meaning instead of meta-meaning.

Ack. Words words words. It's so hard to get them to say what you want them to say. That doesn't quite do it. It's a work in progress.

And my hour is up.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

One of the best things about having a teenager in the house is that you keep up with what's going on in popular music, books, and movies. My daughter has me hooked on her radio station, which plays far more interesting stuff than my old classic rock station. But with a few exceptions like Good Charlotte and Pink, we end up buying different CDs. Well, actually, she doesn't buy CDs, she downloads them from iTunes, but that's an aside. She likes the techno-dance-rap stuff that is to me scarily reminiscent of disco music, while I like Robert Randolph and Ben Harper.

I've become a bit obsessed with Ben Harper's new double-disc album, Both Sides of the Gun (you have to wonder if he knew about Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience). He's the guy that did the pop-ish song that was on the radio all the time a few months ago "Always have to steal my kisses from you" --which probably will pay for his children's college educations and many vacations in exotic locations, but most of his music is profoundly thoughtful. I find as I listen to it that lines from the songs pop up in my head in contexts that he probably never anticipated. "Fools will be fools and wise will be wise, but I will look this world straight in the eyes..."

Which brings me to the real topic of this post, which is the relationship that believers have with their sacred scriptures. It's difficult to describe if you've never experienced it. What makes the headlines are things like the Christian Right's insistence on a literal interpretation of the creation story and Muslim suicide bombers who are supposedly acting out the commands of the Koran. But what doesn't make the headlines is the way the wisdom of the sacred words informs all of your actions in a way that makes them both meaningful and thoughtful. The closest I can come to explaining how it feels is the analogy of immersing yourself in someone's lyrics or poetry (Ben Harper, U2, Shakespeare, Keats), which probably everyone has done at some point. The words begin to float around in your ahead, coming to mind at the oddest times-- sometimes adding meaning that you wouldn't otherwise have noticed, sometimes reminding you that others have been where you are.

I think if you weren't raised in a conservative religious environment, any religion, it is difficult to understand how deeply the faithful love their scripture. For Muslims, it's the Koran; for Jews, the Torah; for American Evangelicals, the Protestant Bible. I don't know that much about the eastern religions, but I imagine for Buddhists the sutras of the Buddha and for Hindus, the vedas or Upanishads hold a similar place of veneration.

I still feel a great deal of love for and devotion to the scriptures on which I was raised-- and I use "on" advisedly there, because we were raised on the Bible the way other children were raised on meat & potatoes, or organic foods. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I still feel this love among a blend of other emotions which includes fear (because every time my dad opened the Bible in a disciplinary setting, we knew we were about to feel really, really bad); guilt (of course, because I never have been able to measure up to the teachings of Jesus); and even a bit of embarrassment, because the way we were taught to read the scriptures sometimes led to opinions that (now) I can't believe I ever endorsed.

But there are so many supportive, enriching, marvelous words in the Bible. When I worry about the way I am raising my children, "Perfect love casteth out fear" comes to mind, (I think only those of us who were born up to about 1965 still memorized the King James Version) reminding me that it is more important to love them than to worry about them. When I'm worried that I'll never figure out how to integrate who I am with what I believe, there's James: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault..." and looking that up to make sure I had the wording right reminded me of another good one: "Consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be full and complete, lacking in nothing." That was always quite comforting to me. That translation is the NASV, I had to try three different versions to find the one I memorized. My sentimental favorite bible is an NASV (New American Standard Version). I could go on and on but it's probably not all that interesting.

This post has been pieced together because I've been working on it all week. It seems an important thing to say before I go on to the next one I'm working on, which is why I'm not a literalist anymore. So this one is "to be continued......."

Aunt BeaN
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a Light unto my path (Psalm 119)

My soul wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken. (Ps 62.5-6)

How blessed are they who walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scoffers, but their delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on it they meditate, day and night. (Psalm 1)

As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for Thee.... The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42)

The Lord's lovingkindnesses never cease, His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23) which of course brings up the whole topic of hymns, which also live in your head, because there is a great one based on those verses: Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy Faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

ok, I'll stop now.  but I could go on and on.
OK, here's a couple more, maybe my favorites of all.

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The wording of this next one is from the version we sang in choir when I was in high school, so it doesn't really match up with any particular translation. But this is the way it exists in my head.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall persecution, or distress, or nakedness, or peril or sword? Nay, in all these things, we are more than conquerors, through Him who loves us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God; the love of God which is in our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 8:35-39 (more or less)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I've talked on a number of occasions about podcasts I've listened to, mostly NPR shows that are made available on iTunes or I don't think I've ever mentioned my all-time favorite, though, which is Speaking of Faith. I've been listening to it for over a year now, and while there's been the occasional clinker, it is generally a thoughtful, stimulating look at the many ways that faith plays a role in our culture. It is "public radio's conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas." The interviews she does often are the springboard for posts in this blog (though sometimes months after they aired). Highly recommended.

Friday, June 01, 2007

a technical aside

So I suppose I should say something about the difference between being a Fundamentalist and an Evangelical Christian. I usually refer to myself as a recovering fundamentalist because most people who are not part of the conservative Christian world don't know the difference. And in fact, from that perspective, I don't think there is much difference. Both groups believe that the bible is the inspired Word of God, every last word of it. It is, according to both groups, "inerrant," meaning "without error." Both groups believe that humans are sinful and that this sin separates us from union with God. Both groups believe that you are only saved if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior, to borrow an overused phrase. And that we can only be reunited with God because Jesus gave his life for us. And the virgin birth and the divinity of Jesus and the bodily resurrection and so on.

I'm not even sure I remember what the technical differences are, but I know I had an impression that Fundamentalists had a lot more rules. I remember my dad saying once that Evangelicals concentrated more on God's grace (his willingness to forgive us even when we don't deserve it), while Fundamentalists concentrated more on God's righteousness and judgment. If someone wants to chime in here and help me out, please feel free. I do remember that we teased about going to Bob Jones University, a decidedly fundamentalist institution, where (supposedly) the male and female students were so thoroughly separated that they were required to walk on different sidewalks. (I have no idea whether or not this was actually true, I just know we used to joke about it). (great humor Evangelicals have).

For the record, I was raised as an Evangelical Christian. I don't think this will make a difference to most of my readers (all dozen of you) but just in case it ever comes up, I disclosed. :-)