Sunday, September 30, 2007

Belief and Being: Myth Informing Life

Yep, yep here we go again. Part three to the topic of Belief and Being."

Postmodern spirituality, whatever that really is, must have a Joseph Campbell mythic touch. As Campbell might have told us myth is more important than truth. Personally I do not buy that line, but on the other hand I do not fully reject the importance of myth.

Tolkien has changed my life with myth for the better. To a lesser degree Lewis - strangely even Adams, and Herbert. Almost as powerfully as Tolkien, ancient tales whose original tellers have long been forgotten have moved me through the Mabinogion - myths on one hand thought to be Pagan, and on the other hand thought to be Christian in origin.

The power of these fables is not in true stories told, but in truths being delivered through tales of heros and villians, and of monsters and faeries. Something in the myth stirs the human heart to deeds beyond itself, and moves us to issues of greater value than the span of our life. Average people take on mythic heroism in the shadow of the stories which captivate their hearts.

Myth speaks to our existence, and calls us to be something greater. It awakens us into a fullness of life by causing us to believe that romance has not died.

This is the power of myth found in our childhood stories, and it is the power of myth in ancient Pagan spirituality. Gods and goddesses whose stories are now only partially remembered become hunters and huntresses, virgins and mothers, protectors and healers for the struggles experienced in everyday life. Their stories become a sourcebook of guidance for today's Neo-Pagan.

Comparatively, as Christians we read our Book as a book of true stories, and we often invest our energy in defending its historical veracity. I will never set aside this foundational element of my faith in God - I believe that he interacted with humanity in real events through human history, and many of those events are retold in the pages of my Bible. Yet I have to ask myself "who has the more living faith?": The person who allows a myth to direct their life as a child is enamored and captivated by the fables told at bedtime, and goes on to try and recreate them at playtime, or the intellectual historian who defends the stories of scripture like the accountant who keeps someone else's books?

Somewhere in between these things - or maybe better yet - somehow holding radically to both these positions, I can discover a Belief of Being. In defending my historic faith, and in discovering the power of its tales (like myth) to inform my daily life I find a present reality, and a living faith.

Is this where I discover the meeting place of belief and being?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Belief and Being: The Net Worth of Man, and Our Communication of the Gospel of Becoming

That's right. I am a serial blogger. I tend to get stuck on certain topics, and blog them to death. Other times I reiterate ideas periodically, and create less connected series. I've got my Christian Sexuality series, and my stories entitled "Beyond the Pall," now I am in a second part of what is minimally a trilogy about "Belief and Being." So, if you like being bored to tears by someone investigating all the wrinkles of some specific thought - read on! And thanks for hanging out with me.

In the previous post I wrote about the tendency of Evangelical Christianity to proclaim a "Gospel of Becoming" to those outside the boundaries of the Evangelical faith system. We speak of Hell and judgment, Heaven and happiness, sin and death, and forgiveness and eternal life. These eschatalogical elements of the Christian faith become our heraldic call to those who are not yet part of our tribe.

It would seem that under the assumption that "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God," we only communicate those things which have to do with a person's eternal destiny. (Perhaps not realizing that the topic of Heaven may be one of those subjects which are the "things of Spirit of God," which even a perusal of 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 would suggest.) This potentially exaggerated assumption leaves us with nothing to discuss with those who do not carry our theological positions, except to warn them of impending doom, or offer them a hope of eternal life - and this we call the Gospel.

Heaven is indeed a topic of Good News, but it relates to our future only. Heaven and Hell speak to us of a need for becoming something other than what we are now, and of turning toward a future of promise instead of one of certain doom. This has no reference to the present reality of daily of living, or to the hopes and dreams which reside in the human heart now. It does not speak to my need for significance, or even of realized love in this life. The messages of Heaven and Hell tend to reverberate with subtle hints of intrinsic worthlessness. The message tells some people that without acceptance to Heaven they are merely refuse for the dung heap of eternity.

This at least is how a Gospel of Becoming is received by many people who have heard it. Is it any wonder that the message has been rejected? The idea that humanity is intrinsically worthless is counterintuitive to life itself, and certainly not found in scripture.

Check out just a few passages which say otherwise:

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour."

"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it."

This passage from Matthew 7:26-27 speaks of a man's life as a house built on a poor foundation, which falls. The fall is "great." This simple reference identifies the intrinisic greatness of humanity.

"But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God."

Here in James 3 we are reminded of the imago dei (the image of God), which every person is created in. Our treatment of one another should be dictated by an understanding of this point.

If the people we communicate Gospel truths to walk away with a sense of worthlessness, could it be that we have communicated a Gospel of 'becoming something other,' and have fallen short of communicating a Gospel of Being?

I am certain that we are working hard to live our faith, and therefore merge our belief with our being, but I am not certain we have learned well to communicate a Gospel of Being. The Gospel of Becoming is a critical message, and one not to be forgotten, but in order to identify with those living with Postmodern, and/or Neo-Pagan reference points, we must communicate a Gospel of present reality, and of being, in order to identify ourselves as part of a caring community working at merging belief and being.

Now what that Gospel of Being looks like is something for other posts. Do you have any thoughts on what a Gospel of Being might look like?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Belief and Being: The problem of communicating our faith

This is the SynchroBlog post for Tuesday, September 25th. The subject is Paganism and Christianity

These are some preliminary thoughts on a subject which I want to study further. I theorize that it may have ramifications for our society at large, whether as a response to postmodern thought, or perhaps even as a response to more general humanistic, or materialistic trends in popular culture. Yet, my consideration of this topic relates directly to the difficulties of cross culture communication between Evangelical Christianity, and Neo-Paganism. At this point I am merely theorizing, and do not have either trend studies and statistics to document, or scholarship resources to act as a guide.

Belief and Being: The problem of communicating our faith

Belief as defined by evangelical Christianity is based primarily in a combination of confidence in an unseen Other, and an eschatalogical hope. This source of faith (faith and belief being used interchangeably here) is otherly, as is the object, and the goal.

"He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."

The dual parts of this definition for faith define it as: 1) confidence in the Unseen Other, and 2) a future eschatalogical hope. This model of defining faith is a repetition from the first verse of Hebrews 11.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

The writer of Hebrews, who gives us the clearest definition of faith clearly outlines the dual nature of this critical trait of the Christian character. Faith looks ahead to the future, and faith looks behind the curtain of human experience into the realm of the unseen. Even the most modern definitions of faith (such as those described by Francis Schaeffer or Josh McDowell), which rely upon perceivable facts to determine unseen realities are left with the difficult balance that faith which can be perfectly proven is not faith at all, but simply intellectual deduction.

"For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?"

"For we walk by faith, not by sight"

The fact that Evangelical Christian belief is rooted in a description of an Unseen Other (God), and in a future hope helps to disconnect human emotion from discussions about belief. Evangelical belief is not aimed at self, but at Another. It is not hinged upon a current condition, but is looking forward to a distant and glorious hope. Evangelical belief systems do not define the Christian, but the God in Whom the Christian believes. It does not define the current condition of Christian character, but the eschatalogical hope. Even when the Evangelical speaks of understanding themselves, it may be described as understanding how God (the Unseen Other) sees us in a future perfected state. In this operation of Evangelical faith, belief is potentially disconnected from the present reality of one's character, condition, and sensibility. Even at best Evangelical belief defines who a person will be, and less who they currently are. It is personally descriptive of becoming, more than of being.

Furthermore belief is attached to an immediately accessible, but continuously ongoing process of change.

"Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord."

Evangelical belief is connected to the triad of spiritual tranformations: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Belief accompanies change, and is expected to travel together to the end with personal transformation as its companion.

These characteristics of evangelical belief are a cause for celebration by its adherants, and are discussed with ease. Past failures are overlooked, current desperate conditions are seen as temporary and even hold seeds of beneficial transformation. Pain is eased by hope, and the only solid enemy of faith becomes personal doubt.

Yet for those whose belief is not based in the unseen, and the eschatalogical model of Evangelical Christianity, belief may take on a far more personally invested role.

Within popular culture we are commonly told that we must believe in ourselves. Eschatalogical hope is useless in the world of acheivement. The Unseen Other potentially offers us a source of help, but even that help is defined as serving to bring fulfillment to a more immediate present. Belief is sourced in self, and working to fulfill the moment. Even unseen and futuristic beliefs are discovered by a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith." Personal investment into one's belief is all that exists for some people. Even faith in God is come to by the activity of stepping out beyond oneself.

This self based belief is personal and naturally - self defined. It comes by means of that which is seen, or has been experientially defined. It is an existential reality, and therefore gives definition to one's being. As a culmination of life experiences it defines a person. It is who they are. This belief is less about becoming, and is almost completely about being.

Within the Neo-Pagan movement there are people whose belief systems are accessed by ethnic origin - most popularly, Celtic, Native American and Nordic mythologies in the U.S. Belief systems are defined by ethnicity, and are therefore clearly associated to being. Other Neo-Pagans attach themselves to myths or totemic guides which relate to character traits they find in themselves, and further define their beliefs by their sense of being. Though traces of the evangelical definition of belief in the unseen, or in a future hope may be found in Pagan belief systems, it does not hold the same power to disconnect one's beliefs from one's current condition. A challenge to beliefs is the same as a challenge to self, and an attack on one's legitimacy of being.

As Evangelical Christians, we will regularly be faced with communicating our faith, and consequently challenging the faith of others whose faith defines who they are. Their beliefs are personal, because they are the culmination of life experiences. These differences in the source, and direction of faith create tension in communication of belief systems between the Evangelical Christian and the Neo-Pagan. Evangelical Christianity has the call to proclaim its faith. It is therefore necessary for the Christian to understand that others may receive challenges to their beliefs as attacks against their being. We may well find ourselves in debate contests between those whose faith defines their being, when we think that beliefs are less personal and rooted in a hopeful becoming. For another faith is a personal journey defined by who they have become, and now are. My Evangelical definition of faith tells me it is less personal.

For the Calvinist or Reformed Christian even their faith may not be their own. We did not come to it ourselves, but its source is Him Who gave it. Does this depersonalize belief even further? Personally, I am not a Calvinist, but then perhaps my sense of missiology is partly to blame.

I do wonder if perhaps I have something to learn from the person whose beliefs radically and personally define their being. Could it be that I need to find a balance between a faith describing my becoming, and a faith describing my sense of being? Perhaps, but the practical question is, "How does this inform the discussion of my beliefs with others?"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Synchroblog Links: Paganism and Christianity

Tomorrow: Tuesday, September 25th there is a group of us doing a Synchroblog on the topic of Paganism and Christianity. My post will be coming up next. Follow the links below read what others have to say on the subject.

Belief and Being at Square No More
Matthew Stone at Journeys in Between
Christianity, Paganism, and Literature at Notes from the Underground
John Smulo at
Heathens and Pagans and Witches ... oh my! at Calacirian
Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith
Chasing the Wild Goose at Eternal Echoes
Visigoths Ahoy! at Mike's Musings
Steve Hollinghurst at On Earth as in Heaven
Undefined Desire at Igneous Quill
A Walk on the Wild Side at Out of the Cocoon
Observations on Magic in Western Religion at My Contemplations
Tim Abbott at Tim Abbott
Spirituality and the Zodiac: Stories in the Cosmos at Be the Revolution
Rejection, Redemption, and Roots at One Hand Clapping

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Join Me at Off the Map Live

Where will I be November 1-3
Speaking at Off The Map Live

John Smulo and I will teaching a workshop called "Making Friends with Witches and other mythbusters."

If you can make it please come and join me.

Karen Ward told me she owes me a good beer, and that there's a nice Belgian styled pub nearby her place in Seattle - cool. (She joined us at Salem Beer Works during our "God for People Who Hate Church Conference.")

Check out the website

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Interpreting By Day What God Speaks By Night

My friend Steve Maddox told me he was setting up outreach events at Borders Books. He arranged to offer free dream interpretation, and would spend the afternoon at Borders talking to people about their dreams.

I thought to myself, "I can do that."

Over the years people would share their dreams with me, and then ask what I thought they might mean. Often I would be rather dumbfounded that they asked, because any dream which had some sense of divine meaning (which certinaly is not all of them!) seemed so obvious to me. If dream interpretation was something which came natural to me, perhaps it was a gift - like Daniel who was able to interpret dreams better than all the kings magicians and astrologers.

Five years earlier I had been at a pastor's conference. Ed Silvoso was the main speaker, and I happened to sit with him at breakfast one morning of the conference. Ed and I talked. I told him my story: how I moved to Salem, Massachusetts from California to plant a church, how I had studied about Neo-Paganism, and how I had come to know some of the Witches in our city as friends. Ed remarked that Daniel was assigned the position as the chief of the occultists in Babylon by the king, because he did "the stuff" better than they did. Daniel was the head pastor of the Witches, he said.

After breakfast Ed spoke at the morning session. He retold my story to the conferencees, and told a room full of over 500 of my peers that I was a pastor to the Witches in Salem, like Daniel was a pastor to the Witches in Babylon. He spoke in a prophetic tone, the kind which only comes from Pentecostals.

Until recently I did not realize how much these two stories have merged into one long, wild tale.

I am convinced that my friends who are involved in the occult yearn as deeply for the graceful power which comes from God's good hand as I do. Healing, miracles, and prophetic utterances of promise and grace are things they want for their own lives just as much as I do. Of course, their pursuit of these things has taken a different path than my own, but perhaps like Daniel, there is power in my journey with Jesus, which can speak gracefully into their lives.

I thought about interpreting dreams like my friend Steve was doing at Borders Books as I was preparing for the month long Halloween season in Salem, and I decided it was time to give this a try.

We made up our signs. We put out our tents. People began to stand in line, just like they do every year we set out our ministry tents.

One evening close to Halloween itself, a young man in an elegant, long black ceremonial cape stood in line with his friends. I had trained a few people to interpret dreams that year, and was taking a break from the tent, and keeping the line outside the tent door happy. The caped man and I began to talk. He discovered I was a pastor, and we discussed the differences between his Pagan path, and my Christian worldview in friendly terms. For the most part I asked questions, and he answered them. He believed the spiritual realm was a helpful, friendly place. If he asked for guidance and help it would not lead him astray.

After talking for some time, he asked about the dream interpretation, and wondered if I interpreted dreams. I told him I did. He told me his dream.

He and his friends were in Red Rock, Colorado. It is a New Age "hot spot," a natural amphitheater, and beautiful concert venue. After some time of being there, black helicopters came racing over the hills, and began to shoot at he and his friends. Some of them died. Others were severly wounded. He and one other friend were able to escape into nearby caves, and hide from the helicopters. Then the dream ended.

"What do you think this means?" he asked.

I looked at him, and paused simply because my response was one of importance. Then I said, "The spiritual realm is not always benign, sometimes it is malignant and harmful."

The young man gasped out loud. His eyes opened wide, and he said, "You are so right!"

I had not thrown Bible verses at him to prove from a scriptural standpoint that demons existed, and spiritual deception was real. This was a young man who had studied religions, and understood many of the basics of Christianity. He had rejected the Christianity he was familiar with, and adopted another religious view, but his rejection of the Bible did not mean that he rejected all spiritual voices. He took stock in his own dreams, and that evening his dreams and my Christian worldview met.

Where he would not listen to the Bible, he would listen to his dreams, and the God Whom I believe wrote the words of scripture had visited his head by night.

Since that evening I have wondered how many non-Christians are visited by God in the night. After four seasons of interpreting dreams I have discovered that there are more people visited by God than I can possibly know. Perhaps He comes in dreams, perhaps in life experiences, or perhaps in words of power and grace. He visits them by night, and I believe that He waits for us to help interpret the wild variety of those visitations by day. I also believe that He is giving us the charisma to do so, and to speak prophetically into their lives.

I have had Witches call me late at night to ask my advice, and guidance in times of trouble, but I do not think that I am anything special. I believe that there are more Daniels out there. There are more pastors to the people who are not found in our churches, but are still looking for God's guiding voice to speak into their lives.

What We'll be Up to Next Month

Small Emergent Churches? Is this the future for what we call Emergent?

I am a proponent of intimate church settings. Often that translates as small, but certainly not always. Bill Easum who travels as a church consultant and sees a lot of churches says that he sees small experimental Emergent churches in the future of the church, but also a need for "giga-churches."

Here is Bill leaving a comment on a blog. This was noted by Steve Knight over at Emergent Village who was asking the question "What are Emergent Churches doing to reproduce themselves?"

I wonder that too, and of course I wonder about myself in that respect.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Binge Drinking in the UK

Now Prof Carlos Z. and I got a good picture of binge drinking since we were hired for an evening to do security at Maes B (the Youth Field) Concert while we were at the Eisteddfod in North Wales. This article about binge drinking in the UK seems a bit off target to me. If the professor in Aberystwyth really thinks that the problem is in the media hype.

Now perhaps there has been a bit of an over concern by teetoddlers in evangelical circles in Wales from time to time, but the Prof Carlos Z. and I saw a large number of underage binge drinkers, and nobody doing anything about it. In fact parents appeared to chalk it up to some kind of rite of passage. Great rite of passage for an underage teenage girl at an event with older binge drinking guys! Maybe the professor should visit a few binging events and rethink his thesis.

Beyond the Pall (Part 6): Pagans in the Pews, and 1692

(Beyond the Pall is a continuing series following missional engagement with the Neo-Pagan community in Salem, MA and beyond. The story began with the death of a friend who was a prominent Witch in Salem. I was a pall-bearer at his funeral, and so this series carries the title with its not un-purposeful similarity to the term “beyond the pale.” This story comes from our "God for People Who Hate Church Conference back in May. Some of you may have been there for this event.)

Three women sat nervously in the back of our little church in Salem, Massachusetts. Church was not a place they frequented, and a Christian conference was not something they would have ever considered attending, but I had personally invited them, and they agreed to give the event a try.

Could it be that the memory of the Witch trials of 1692 still lingered, and left the smell of death over our city? Or were there more recent memories, which haunted these women's minds, and made church a scary place to these three Witches sitting in the back row.

In the break between the sessions, we discussed issues close to their hearts. John Smulo and I talked, asked questions, and tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

The first woman was a Witch in her mid-fifties, and she had been one for over twenty years. She owned a Witchcraft shop, and trained people in the craft, but she had not been raised as a Witch. She was raised in an Irish Catholic home. She remembered threats of Hell, and never quite identified with what seemed to be the cruel God of Catholicism. She knew that some Christians believed she was a baby sacrificing, Satan worshiper, but she assured me that she did not even believe in the existence of Satan, and had raised her own children. She told stories of people asking her what babies tasted like, and how many cats she had sacrificed.

The second woman was in her early thirties, and identified herself as a solitary Witch. This meant that she did not have a coven, and did not gather on any regular basis with other Witches. She did not care to practice spells, and simply performed a daily ritual which sounded like a session of silent prayer. She did not grow up in a Christian home, but she did work for a large Christian Book Company. She was appalled by the hypocrisy, judgmentalism and gossiping of her Christian co-workers, and had wondered for quite some time if this was the typical state of the Evangelical Christian faith.

The third woman was Jewish, and in her mid-thirties. She was not actually a Witch, she was a Druid. She was raised as an Orthodox Jew, and went to Hebrew school when she was young. After a series of spiritual searches beginning in her late teens which included Christianity, and Buddhism, she found herself drawn to Druidism, and now owned a small Celtica store in town. She was strongly polytheistic, and thought that Monism (the belief that everything is one), and its counterparts, which for her includes Monotheism were part of the problem of violence and struggle in our world.

All three women thought that it was preposterous that Christians believed that Witches and other occult practitioners made a regular practice of cursing churches, or Christians. "I don't even have time for that kind of nonsense," the first woman remarked.

The end of the break came, and it was time for the next conference session to begin. John and I were leading the discussion panel, and so I began with a short introduction, "This is what a Witch looks like. Is it what you expected?" The attenders at our Christian conference laughed.

Now it was their turn to tell their stories, and relate their struggles of living as Neo-Pagans in a predominantly Christian world.

Many Christian churches would be afraid to allow a discussion panel with people from other religious beliefs, but we weren't one of those churches. We believe listening and learning are as critical to the Gospel as preaching, and this was our opportunity to show our beliefs in a practical way to our Neo-Pagan friends.

After an hour and a quarter, we were done with the session. The three Pagan ladies thanked us for allowing them to share their lives, and the first woman who had been practicing the craft as a professional in Salem for almost twenty years said this event was the first of its kind she knew of in the city.

The church applauded. The applause rang with appreciation for their courage to sit before us, and tell their stories. I wondered if this had happened in any other evangelical Christian Church anywhere.

Could it be that Christians in Salem had lived side by side with Pagans since the inception of the Neo-Pagan revival (which began in the late 1960's), and never really knew what they believed, and what they were like as people? Apparently, it is possible, and we were wondering how effective it has been in reaching people with the message of God's love.

Does the smell of death from 1692 still linger over our city, and is this what makes dialogue so difficult? I think not, but perhaps the false reports of baby eating, Satan worshiping Pagans does infect the minds of some church goers, and that stench of death just might be enough to keep Pagans from the pews.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ken Silva Responds Without Really Saying Anything ;-)

Ken Silva has responded to my previous post on his blog sites. I guess they are not really dialogue blogs, because he leaves comments for people to read, but I can't find a place to respond. He simply says that I have responded in an "emergent kind-of-way." I am supposing he means that I am anticipating dialogue, and asking for more of a response, but he does not accurately, or accurately respond to my comments.

Here's your chance Ken. Defend your attacks on the Emergent Church, and show how I fit into those same heresies you identify.

I thought this may be a fun exercise. I will be leaving for home from London tomorrow, so this will give you a few days to respond sufficiently, and with more than one of those "if you don't know what [that] is in the first place, then how could you be sure you're not moving toward it?" remarks.