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.


Cody said...

I've been eagerly awaiting this post. I really liked the summary. I also really liked that there were no life-changing conclusions that came out of the weekend. It just wouldn't fit would it?

I have to say that number 6 is probably the most important. There will be no learning, growing or discussion if someone does not agree on number 6. Everything else is up for debate/discussion.

One thing that either I missed, or you missed is that God is a personal God. Not the anthropomorphic God of the Hebrew Bible, but a being or sorts that is aware of itself, and not merely the Spirit of Goodness or some such thing. I think we would also all agree that God in some ways interacts with humanity, otherwise there is no reason to discuss or even think about God.

Thanks again for the hotwater cornbread. I think of it fondly.

Matthew said...

Thanks. I agree about number 6.

I'm not convinced that God is a personal God, though, or that God interacts with humanity in a personal God sort of way. I think I mostly sat out of that part of the discussion, but I feel like the problem of evil is just too heavy to make it easy to use metaphors that emphasize God's personality or interaction. Instead, I would be inclined toward metaphors that emphasize God's doing and being ... I'm inclined toward God being a pattern or pull toward goodness in the Universe, or toward God being a verb rather than a noun.

Basically, I'm open to lots of metaphors that people use to describe their experiences of God, but I get uneasy with Personality and Interactivity because (based on the problem of evil) they come a little too close to making God evil, which is contrary to my fundamental belief in God's goodness.

Cody said...

I think I can agree with you. I guess my idea of personal and interactivity aren't well defined.

A pull toward goodness is interactivity enough for me.

I do have this high anthropology. I don't recall a discussion about that. I think mainly because we all have a low Christology and that, in my experience, leads to high anthropology.

What say you about the human condition? Is there a need for salvation? If so, are we in need of atonement or deliverance from outside ourselves?

Matthew said...

I think I'd say that there is a lot of nastiness in the human condition, originating both inside the human animal (things people do that hurt other people) and being imposed from external sources (nature, harmful systems). In those senses, I think we are in need of salvation.

But I disagree with people who say that humans are essentially ugly and violent beings simply whitewashed with a veneer of civility, as well as those who stack onto this belief the assertion that only magic Jesus dust can transform the essentially violent human being into a free, noble and benign spirit.

The reality seems a little more complex than "human beings are evil to the core", and the source of our salvation a little more elusive than magic Jesus dust.

Does that answer your question?

Connor said...

"God is good"

"and we know pretty well what we mean when we say 'good'."

I just love that. :)

Cody said...

"The reality seems a little more complex than "human beings are evil to the core", and the source of our salvation a little more elusive than magic Jesus dust."

Agreed. I would also like to think that our salvation is a little more complex than going to heaven when we die. First, I don't really buy the Christian idea of Heaven as eternal devo. Secondly, I prefer a salvation that begins now rather than later and one for which I am at least partially responsible.

"God is good and we know what good is." It is funny, emoticon worthy even. But it is important. From where does our definition of good come? We know it when we see it (like porn)? Is it embedded in our DNA? Is it an image of God within us?

I ask because I think most people would agree that they pretty well know what they mean when they say good. And I would guess that most everyone would agree on big issues: Killing, Opression, Greed = Generally Bad, Compassion, Love, Mercy = Generally Good, those sorts of things.

Too much commenting, sorry to dominate. I guess I have unanswered questions despite the REBA conference. At least I'm not commenting on really old posts (yet).

Connor said...

From Cody:

"And I would guess that most everyone would agree on big issues: Killing, Opression, Greed = Generally Bad, Compassion, Love, Mercy = Generally Good, those sorts of things."

I agree with you on that, but these views are thrown out the window for an hour in Sunday School classes every week. Which is why I think the statement about knowing what is 'good' is so profound yet obvious.

Cody, you wouldn't happen to have a brother who shares a name that starts like mine and yours?

Cody said...

"Cody, you wouldn't happen to have a brother who shares a name that starts like mine and yours?"

Yep. Do I know you? Or do you just know my bro?

I heartily agree with your feelings on Liberal,KS. I do not plan to spend another night there. Even though Jesus (the motel manager, not THE LORD) was really nice.

Matthew said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Jesus. Bummer.

Anonymous said...

There were 6 points - I agree with them all! I think I have a dis-satisfaction with church and structure - but not with faith and the meaning of the teachings. I also do not like neatly formed doctrine for upholding structure's sake - doctrine was made for us, not us for doctrine. All around great points!

Anonymous said...

"Secondly, I prefer a salvation that begins now rather than later and one for which I am at least partially responsible." (Cody)

Same here - I am a huge fan of living a salvific life in the here and now. Logically, it makes sense. Why is salvation always something for the 'hereafter' when none of us have even seen that place nor can do nothing to change that place? However, we do know what we can do here for others.