Monday, March 24, 2008

"Live Blogging" was a bit ambitious

I guess it's what happens most of the time when you go panning for gold: you hope to come up with a big, shiny gold nugget or twelve, but instead you find ourself with a handful of pretty pebbles.

I had hoped that I would come out of the REBA conference with a handle on a couple of Big Ideas: you know, the ones that account for all sorts of variables and, once you find them, keep turning up in places that you never expected to find them. I've spent the last couple of weeks mentally sifting through our discussions, trying to find something exciting for the kind folks who continue to read my blog.

I haven't come up with anything like that.

Instead, what I mostly have is a profile of the REBA attendees: pet issues, life events, worldview quirks, that sort of thing. So in the absence of great, wonderful ideas, I'll share with you that profile, expecting that a few of you will find it encouraging to know there are other people who share some of your pet issues, life events and worldview quirks. Maybe a few of you will even be able to diagnose us with some well-defined clinical disorder (oppositional defiance, anyone?) or help us understand ourselves.

So without further ado, these are a few of the ideas, beliefs, attitudes and experiences that the REBA attendees share.

1. Disappointment with the Christian church.

This isn't merely a disillusionment with church based on bad personal experiences - although we have those - neither is it a disappointment with the behavior of the church on a global scale - although we are pretty fed up with that, too. It's a sadness that comes from both of those directions, and meets in the middle to form a deep disappointment in the institutional church.

2. A high view of God's goodness

As I have said many times before, the statement "God is good" sums up my fundamental belief about God. I have no way of proving this belief to be true; it is simply an axiom that undergirds all of my theological beliefs and arguments. The REBA attendees seem to share this axiom, along with another sensible axiom: "and we know pretty well what we mean when we say 'good'."

3. High value on the example, person or teachings of Jesus

Jesus is important to all of us. Each of the REBA attendees expressed this sentiment in a slightly different way, but it seems that we all think that there's something different, important and powerful in the story of Jesus or his teachings.

4. A high view of people outside the church

Many of the people we love and admire are not part of the Christian church. Some of these are well-known figures from the past or present; some of them are close friends or family. We recognize both the virtues of these people, developed outside of the Christian church, and we recognize that our Jesus might be helpful to them.

5. A low view of scripture

Frankly, we just don't buy that the Bible is the direct product of divine inspiration. There are too many inconsistencies in the text itself, and we know too much about the process that produced the text we have today. Some people have the truth of the Bible at the center of their belief structure, as an axiom similar to our belief that God is good, but this belief is simply not an option for us. We believe that the Christian Bible is a valuable collection of people's stories about their experiences of the divine, but we have simply seen too much to accept the unquestioning bibliolatry that we all were raised with.

5. A belief that secondary things are obscuring Jesus

We feel that the goodness in the Christian message is largely inaccessible to those outside of the Christian tradition. Sometimes this is because churches still cling to a premodern mindset and remain actively opposed to, or ignorant of, widely-accepted scientific knowledge. Sometimes it's insistence on a particular hermeneutic, one that requires that we jettison the Bible if we find any part of it to be false. Sometimes this is because the church, and the Bible, embed Jesus in a deep metaphysical ocean of angels, demons and miraculous events that one must either accept wholesale or hack apart to get to the wisdom of Jesus, which is difficult enough on its own.

We desire to find ways to crack the nut, allowing the love and acceptance of Jesus to spill out to the people who most need this acceptance and love.

I think that's it, at least for now. I'm sure that my distillation of our discussion is somewhat skewed toward my own opinions, and it is definitely couched the language that I, personally, find most appealing and useful. One of the other attendees might even flatly disagree with one of the things that I've written here. But that's OK: I'm open to correction.

And that, I guess, is a final quality we seem to share:

6. We don't really have any doctrine

We're not terribly attached to any of the points I've mentioned above, or anything else that we currently think we know. And we certainly don't insist that you believe the same things. However, we are much more likely to take you seriously if you are willing to accept the limitations on certainty that come with one's status as a human being, and approach us wanting to discuss things rather than debate them.

So there you have it, a little nibble of our noetic structures, particularly those bits that pertain to the Bible, church, Jesus and God.

We're not really sure what we'll be doing at the next REBA meeting; maybe we'll visit a sweat lodge. Maybe we'll visit a microbrewery. Maybe we'll continue our discussions online. Whatever we do, though, I'm pretty sure that we won't be making another trip to Liberal, Kansas. The people are nice, sure, and Dorothy's house is there, but I'll be honest: when you combine high prairie winds with a meat-packing plant of that magnitude, you end up with a pleasant little town that smells like a big dead cow. And frankly, one weekend of Big Dead Cow will last me for a long, long time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Live Blogging REBA

So here I am in Liberal, Kansas, home to the monstrous American Beef packing plant, a miniature Statue of Liberty, Dorothy's house, and most recently, the first official meeting of REBA: the Recovering Evangelical Bastards Association.

The association currently has four members: one from Dallas, one from Denver, one from Nashville, and me, from Abilene. We converged on Liberal from all directions this Friday, like the four horsemen of a very minor apocalypse. Our goal: to hang out, drink plenty of beer and discuss our sundry theologcial hangups.

Friday night we picked up some Kansas barbecue (read: pork). After driving the length and breadth of Liberal (approximate time: 30 mins), we settled on an excellent place called King's. So let that be your first lesson from our meeting: King's barbecue in Liberal is, well, pretty good.

The reason we picked up the barbecue, of course, was that we felt an obligation to our abundant supply of Colorado, Nashville and Texas beer. So we sat down with our beer, barbecue and hot-water cornbread (from Harold's in Abilene) and began to tell our various stories.

I won't go into detail about those stories right now, but basically: everyone grew up in similar churches, and now everyone is either not attending a church, or attending a different church (we have one UU-attender). So very quickly, the central question for me became, "how did this happen?" How did the group of us end up at such similar conclusions about church, the Bible, and religious questions in general?

We haven't come up with an answer yet, although we have batted around some ideas that have to do with American consumerism, college professors, and the like. Let me know if you have any ideas. I'll try to update you as we go along.

Oh, and by the way, you guys that keep necro-posting on blog entries that are more than 6 months old ... quit it. I promise I'll post again on God and good and evil, and then everyone can discuss whether what you're saying makes a lick of sense. But for now, I'm ignoring your comments. So there.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Some Grey Bloke

Another thing I need explained for me.

h/t Aric Clark