Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Story Where You Choose the Ending

I'd like to run a scenario by my fellow Christians...

Imagine that a young married couple--a man and woman--begin attending your church. They are perhaps in their mid-20's. You gather that they have immigrated to the U.S. from a small and obscure Eastern European country. After a few weeks, they come to an informal get-together for people who are interested in becoming more involved in the church. As part of the gathering, people are invited to tell their stories. And so, the young husband tells theirs...

He begins by explaining that in their country the economy is very bad--most people are very poor. Because of this, young men generally don't become established until they are in their mid-20's, and so most men don't marry until they are of that age. Additionally, health care is almost nonexistent in their country. The result is a high level of infant mortality and a high number of women who die in childbirth. Because of this, women tend to marry very young--15, 14, even 13. And so, in their country it is typical for the husband to be 10 or 15 years older than the wife (you notice, however, that this young husband and wife are about the same age). Marriages are usually arranged by the parents and generally have more to do with family or clan alliances or business relations than with romance.

The young husband then begins to tell about a man from their country who followed this cultural pattern. He married a much younger woman and they had some children. After several years, the wife died (the young man doesn't explain how, but you suspect it may have been during childbirth), leaving the man a widower with children. Eventually, the man remarried--he needed a wife to cook and clean and care for his children and perhaps produce a few more. Of course, the available pool of potential wives would have been comprised mostly of teenaged girls, so now the man was considerably older than his second wife. In fact, the man's oldest son from his first wife was as old as his new bride. The new wife came into the home and assumed her duties. Some time after that, the man died (life expectency is also relatively short in this country), leaving the second wife as a widow and step-mother.

The man's son and the man's widowed second wife--who were about the same age--fell in love. But, technically, the second wife was the son's step-mother. Even though there was no biological relation, their family and societal role took precedence, and so in their culture, such a relationship was forbidden. The young couple decided to run away together and wed. They came to the U.S.

The young husband concludes his story by stating what you have already come to realize: "My wife and I are that young couple."

And now they are at your church.

And now I end my scenario with a question: Would you allow this couple to stay in your church, or would you demand that they leave and never return?

Please click here for Part 2 of this story!

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Illegitimate Authority

I was in a Fry's Electronics store recently with a co-worker, picking up some Ethernet cables. As we walked towards the exit after paying for our merchandise I said, "Oh, I should probably warn you, I don't allow them to see my receipt." Sure enough, consistent with Fry's policy, an employee partially blocked our way and said curtly "I need to see your receipt." I smiled back, "No, you may not." and continued walking out the door. As we got outside my co-worker said "I didn't know you could do that!" I reminded him that at the moment we completed our transaction at the register--during which Fry's received my payment--the merchandise (as well as the bag and receipt) became my property. After that point, the "door-checker" had as much right to look at my receipt as a stranger does on the street who asks to look in your wallet or purse.

My family and friends tease me about my "no receipt policy" (which does not apply to Costco, since I signed a membership agreement in advance stating I will allow them the privilege). I have been followed through a Circuit City parking lot by a shouting manager and have been banned repeatedly from Guitar Center (yet, strangely, have never been prevented from returning).

The thing is, my little rebellion against receipt checkers is about a matter that is very important to me, and that matter is how easily we submit ourselves to illegitimate authority. As humans, one of our greatest gifts from God is the gift of our free-will. We ought to be very careful about who we surrender that gift to.

As Jonathan Dymond (1798-1828) wrote in his brilliant essay entitled An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity: "He who, with whatever motive, resigns the direction of his conduct implicitly to another, surely cannot retain that erectness and independence of mind, that manly consciousness of mental freedom, which is one of the highest privileges of our nature. The rational being becomes reduced in the intellectual scale: an encroachment is made upon the integrity of its independence. God has given us, individually, capacities for the regulation of our individual conduct. To resign its direction, therefore, to the despotism of another, appears to be an unmanly and unjustifiable relinquishment of the privileges which He has granted to us."

There is no shortage of people and corporations (oh, wait, corporations are people) who will boldly claim authority in our lives. The trick is discerning when that authority is legitimate and when it is not. More often than not, I suspect, it isn't. But we give in, in order to get along. Perhaps that is what illegitimate authority counts on.

I became a Christian outside of any church--as the result of a divine encounter. Because of that, I began as a Christian knowing almost nothing about Christ or the Bible or church or doctrine or theology. Upon entering the Christian world I discovered a legion of voices--on TV and radio and behind pulpits--claiming to be authorities. For a long time, I kowtowed to their audacity and tried to be what they told me I ought to be and believe the way they told me I ought to believe. But gradually, as I matured, I came to see that--in many cases--their authority was not legitimate and was, in fact, misguided at best and abusive at worst. Many of those self-proclaimed authorities were not well educated. Many were lacking in integrity and character. Some were bullies. Some were extremely narcissistic. But there were also a few good ones: Wise and humble people who, rather than proclaiming their authority were content to simply allow it to be recognized gradually as relationship developed. Quakers refer to such people as "weighty." And Quakers, God bless 'em, know a thing or two about challenging illegitimate authority.

So yes, as the bumpersticker says, I do question authority. And something isn't God's will just because someone boldly claims it is so and quotes scripture or tradition. And no, you cannot see my receipt.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can." - Thomas Merton

Saturday, February 09, 2013

I think it's time we talk about whether or not people who are engaging in a certain lifestyle should be welcomed into our churches without condition. I think you know the lifestyle I am talking about. Shouldn't they repent before they can be accepted as fully-functioning members in our churches? And certainly no one in leadership or ministry ought to be taking part in this behavior! Scripture is quite clear that this is a lifestyle which God's people should not engage in (see, for example, Proverbs 22:7; Proverbs 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 15:5-6; Romans 13:8 and Philippians 4:19). Certainly, we can love them, but does that mean we have to accept their choice? I am, of course, speaking about people who choose to go into debt (via bank loans, credit cards, auto loans, home mortgages, etc.).

Or is it possible to apply scripture in such a way as to accomodate for this?


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Monday, February 04, 2013

Yesterday at church was, for me, the epitome of what I love about Quaker worship: People gathered together with humble hearts; a deep sense of God's holy presence; ministry in speech and song and silence; a clear and profound message from God, spoken not just from the pulpit but also from out of the reverent listening stillness, through the mouths of various women and men in the gathering; an unforced sense of community as people lingered after the meeting to lovingly give their time and attention to one-another. Beautiful.

Quadrilateral Lenses

I drew a little diagram for class to explain how I conceptualize and apply the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is as a series of "lenses" through which we perceive our theological constructs.