Friday, January 29, 2010

Lecturing at St. Donat's Castle in Wales

Oh yeah, I'm living like Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.  I will lecturing about Witches, Pagans, and Druids at a castle in Wales on Friday, February 12th at 6:30pm.

You might never again have the opportunity to have a real life Harry Potteresque experience like this one.  The topic in interfaith communication and relationships between widely variant belief systems - in this case Christianity and Neo-Paganism.

What better place to hold such a lecture than a Welsh Castle?!  St. Donat's Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan is owned by Atlantic College, and I am giving the lecture for students.  There is a facebook event page for this.

Come and join me for the fun.  Witches! Castles! in the UK!  Move over Ms. Rowling.  I'm doing the real thing!

If you are interested in being a part of such a dialogue, but can not make it to Wales there is a Christian/Pagan dialogue online called Circle and Cross Talk.  Circle and Cross Talk is sponsored by The Gathering.

Suggested reading on the subject "Beyond the Burning Times."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Old Spot Pub: Hot with Theology Tonight

What do you get when you cram 15 people into the corner of a pub near the front door all discussing the potential of an apocalypse?

You get the waitress making room in the dining room for the group.

That's what happened tonight.  It was a full house of pub theologians and the topic was apocalyptic pronouncements and our opinion of them.  It was a predominantly Christian group, which is often not the case in our Pub Theology gatherings.  The topic went from religious pronouncements of apocalypse, to scientific pronouncements (Global Warming), to discussions on what makes apocalyptic declarations a necessary element of human desire, to philosophical considerations on the nature of time (always a fun one for me).

It was rowdy, it was fun, it included a brew or two, and it was church like it was meant to be.

Monday, January 25, 2010

End of the World - Pub Theology 1/2010

Tomorrow the End of the World is coming.  It is arriving at Pub Theology at the The Old Spot in Salem.

We will discuss the issue of apocalyptic annunciations. Do you believe that the world will come to a cataclysmic end? Is it soon or still millennia away? Is it based on science and global warming or apocalyptic literature and prophecy? What do you think about the 2012 date for the end of the world? What about the 2nd coming of Christ?

There is a facebook event page about it - you can find it here.

Come and join us before the world ends and there are no more Pub Theology events!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why I believe in Hell

Do NOT expect a theological study with scripture references and philosophical justifications for a loving God creating a place of eternal torment.  That is not what this post is about.

Jesus talked about Hell, and I suppose as a follower of Jesus that ought to be enough to justify some kind of blind acceptance for a theologically difficult, and often incongruous belief as eternal judgment from the hands of a loving God.  I suppose in some way Jesus' words are enough for me, but something else has caused me to accept the belief in Hell more deeply in the last few months.

As I look to Jesus' words I find that perhaps his own justifications for the acceptance of a belief in Hell were bolstered by the same justification I have recently embraced.

Jesus appears to speak of Hell most frequently in the presence of the religious elite - the Pharisees, and Sadducees.  My favorite Bible verse on the subject is just such a context, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)

The kind of people to whom Jesus is speaking are my most recent self-justification for believing in Hell.  It is NOT Adolf Hitler, although he is certainly high on the list of people who have become justifiable arguments for needing a place like Hell.  Other similar evil world leaders do NOT become my justification.

Like Jesus, my justification for believing in Hell is found in religious leaders.

I live in Boston.  Every day for a couple years, it seemed that the Boston Globe carried the ongoing story of the priest abuse scandal on the front page.  I am convinced there is a Hell.

The same story continues today in Ireland with an ongoing and yet connected Irish priest abuse scandal.  I am convinced there is a Hell.

When worldwide ministries appear to be robbing widows with false promises of healing, prosperity, and miraculous divine favor when in actuality they repeatedly.  These are a few of the things which convince me there is a Hell.

I wonder if these same kind of things convinced Jesus of the existence of Hell.  It works for me.  It is not this wicked world, which convinces that there is a place called Hell.  It is the wickedness found in those who deceive honestly religious people for selfish and sick purposes who convince me there is a place of torment designed by a loving God.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson and the Haitian Satanic Pact Myth

Pat Robertson spoke out today about the Haitian earthquake.  Plus two points from Pat and CBN for raising money for the people who have been hit by the tragedy.  Minus I am not sure how many points for Pat Robertson saying that Haiti has been bit with this tragedy because of a 200 year old pact with the devil, which they supposedly made when slaves rose up to free themselves from French rule and cruel slavery.

The pact with the devil supposedly occurred in 1791, and followed 13 years of bloody revolution.  At the end of the revolution the Haitians actually sent French soldiers who came to enforce slavery back their commanders instead of killing them in a historically noble act.  For a fuller discussion of this supposed history follow this link to a Haitian minister's response to the supposed pact.

I have spent quite a few years busting nyths about the Neo-Pagan community here in Salem, MA and around the world.  My reason for doing so is because I believe that in order to fully express God's love to people we must be speakers of truth - not just about God, but as importantly truth about them.  If we believe lies about people, and people groups we become unwitting slanderers, and ruin our own reputation along with other people's reputations.

So, in this instance please give to help Haiti, but do not automatically be convinced of this "pact with Satan" story without fuller historical evidence.  Shame on those leaders who tell these stories without having the evidence.

To give I suggest the Salvation Army.  It is one of the biggest "bang for your buck" emergency relief providers around, and have my deepest respect.  They are usually first in - last out, often before the Red Cross.

For more see my article at The Examiner

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Face(book) of My Faith

Is my faith best measured by those who believe like I do, or those who stand outside it looking in critically?

This was the question I asked on a tweet on New Year's Day.  Once my tweet made it across the not so great divide from Twitter to Facebook it turned into a discussion.  The thrusting and parrying of terms turned into a wildly different set of values about faith over the next 46 comments.

The comments can be divided up into four basic responses:

1) Our faith is personal.  No one should be able to judge it.
2) Those on the inside - who believe like we do are the only one's who have a valid judgment point from which to gauge the validity of our spiritual strength, and the stability of our faith.
3) Outsiders (those who do not believe as we do) are a better gauge of our faith than those who think just as we do.
4) a general "neither" with some leaning toward the idea that only God is a real judge of faith.

Then there were some random asides which were bunny trails off the main point.

The group of people responding was a combination of conservative Christians, liberal Christians, a couple Neo-Pagans, and some harder to define people. 

Faith as a personal unjudgeable element was held out as the option by those who were from every position - conservative and liberal Christian, and Neo-Pagan.  Responding "neither" was similarly spread across the demographic.  Responding that insiders and/or outsiders were the better judges came only from the conservative leaning evangelicals, with those who are most missional minded responding that outsiders were the better judges. 

My question was not presented as query about the general validity of measuring a person's faith, as much as a recognition that it happens in this world today whether we like it or not.  In typical missiological (missional for the more trackable pop term) consideration (since that is my bent) I wondered about this as it relates to the betterment of the faith system I value - Christianity - yet, not as a denominational system, but a more as mystical invisible line of demarcation - i.e those who know God generally as I know God, and follow Jesus in living measurable faith.

Off the Facebook grid, someone on Twitter responded that our faith was measured by our works.  Harkening back to our Bible buddy James we know that this is a biblical concept - so it fits into my worldview, but I am still left with the question, who judges those visible works of my faith best?  those who think like I do, or those who are critically evaluating my faith works (from here on out I will create a new word "faithworks") from an outsider's perspective?

The problem with an insider's perspective of my faithworks is that since they think like I do, they are far more likely to have the same blind spots, and myopic evaluations of Christianity that I have.  Their view of my faith will be tainted by the little cultural, western, 20th century, evangelical Christian paradigm I have lived within.  If our faith system has been off course by 2ยบ for a couple centuries we may be miles away from plumb, and not know it, because we have been told we are on the course of the straight and narrow our whole lives.  We have even been given scripture references and proof texts to validate our experience.

Now of course, the problem with the outsider's critical view is that their expectation of my faithworks may be tainted by a cultural bias against my traditions.  Sexual mores, theological misstatements by church leaders, abuse int he name of religion may all play a part in a skewed reference point, and an automatic rejection of my faith system as a completely broken and invalid system of belief.

Since I am missional and driven that way by a deep seated desire to adventure into faithworks I am less concerned with how my cronies view my faith.  This of course is dangerous.  It could get one excommunicated by golly!  But I want my faith to live in places where my "kind of faith" is typically lampooned.

Furthermore I choose (please note the word "choose") to view those who critically look at my faith as people who are typically well intentioned and in search of authenticity.  I tell myself that they have probably rejected Christianity for a good reason.  There are after all a couple reasons to do so.  Maybe a few.  Okay maybe a whole bunch.  If I truly view them as being on an authentic search then I place a mantle of nobility upon them.  In the course of the discussion it was observed that I appeared to place something that looked like the Romanticist's innocent savage moniker upon everyone who criticized Christianity.  I responded by saying that although I did not have a Rousseauan noble savage anthropology, looking for the noble in the savage appeared quite Christ-like to me.  (This will probably become a whole new post at some point soon.)

Now I know that on a person to person basis there will be Christians whose evaluation of my faith is beneficial and valuable.  I also know that there will be Christians who expect me to live up to some culturally established set of unwritten and silly rules.  Similarly these potentials will occur with those whose faith is different than my own, but this I do know:  I more frequently value the critique of my faith from those on the outside of it, more than those from the inside.

Some would say that this could lead to syncretism - that I might adapt my faith to fit their cultural and religious expectations.  To that insider's critique I say:  Do you think that we may have been off a couple of degrees for sometime now?  Maybe our friends on the outside looking in at Christianity have something valuable to say to us.

P.S.  I really liked Marshall's response, "Faith is always measured by ones self and enjoy(ed) or tested with others." I don't think Marshall would call himself a Christian.  Of course, I view my faith as being ultimately tested by God, but Marshall, your response rocks.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Salem Witches' Pub Crawl and the Pastor

Last night was Pagan Pub Crawl night in Salem, MA.  Salem has some events, which are either completely unique, or at least rare.  Now, I am sure that there are probably hundreds of Pagan Pub Crawls across the world, but I am also sure that there are few as well attended or colorful as ours.  This one is actually officially called the "Salem Witches' Pub Crawl."

Okay, I know calling this pub crawl "ours" is probably a strange sounding thing coming from a decidedly evangelical kind of pastor like myself, but I refer to it loosely as ours.  Salem is my city - so it is our pub crawl.  These are my friends and they invite me to these events whenever they occur, and are genuinely happy to see me there - so I guess it is our pub crawl.

Regular faces were there.  From our church (The Gathering) myself and The Prof. Carlos Z. were there.

It was a generally good event to be at - not a typical Christian potluck or bean supper - a little bawdy in discussion at times, kind of like working on a construction crew, but these are good people with a real concern for myself and for The Gathering.  That may sound funny to those who haven't been to The Gathering, or visited us during our times of outreach, but that's the way life in Salem is - the Salem Witches are our friends, and we think that's the way Jesus would have it.  WWJD?  He would probably go to the Salem Witches Pub Crawl if He lived in Salem.  So we just go in His place, since He is not living here in flesh and blood right now.

As a point of highlight I was spent quite some time with Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi.  They are both authors and quite well known in the Pagan world.

Little did I realize, but we had something in common - a previous home - Escondido, CA.  Raven and Stephanie owned a Witchcraft store in Escondido from 1998 to 2002.  I spent much of my time from Junior High to Bible College in Escondido.  It is as close to being the place I hail from as anywhere a transient Californian might come from.  Of course, by 1999 I moved away from Southern California (note: I hate the abbreviated version SoCal - that is like telling someone from San Francisco they live in Frisco - not good etiquette) to come to Salem.  Raven and Stephanie now live in Springfield, MA, and will be in Salem with some regularity.

We talked about things like the holiness of place, and whether one locale had a special spiritual significance to it, or if that holiness was something one carried around inside themselves.  Myself, Raven, Stephanie, Laura Dee, and Lori Bruno discussed this and other topics such as the Middle East struggles, and the divine imprint upon creation.  I found Raven and Stephanie to be intelligent and gracious communicators, and hope it will be the beginning of getting to know them better.

This doesn't quite sound like Carmen's Witch's Invitation - does it?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Atheist Blasphemy Challenge Looks Sophomoric

I understand the danger of corporate religious power, and the part strict dogma plays in isolating people, and ruining lives. I can almost fathom the possibility of a return to medieval patterns of dealing with perceived heretics, and blasphemers. I have been on the wrong side of the gavel in ecclesiastical edicts determined by false charges and I have seen the devastating wicked power which can occur at the hands of religious leaders.

To most people these things are a fantastic possibility - like tilting at windmills, or yelling at monsters under the bed at night - few people in the western world live under any serious ecclesiastical threat.  The few of us who have experienced it, even under its greatly diminished power compared to medieval times, understand its dark under belly.

In the Muslim world, and in the superstitious boundaries of a highly charged animist Africa people are loosing their lives.  Muslim reformers are being imprisoned and murdered.  Women and children are being tortured and thrown out on the streets as accused witches.

Enter stage left the Atheist Ireland response to the recently enacted blasphemy law in Ireland.  Their 25 blasphemies, which they posted online the day the law went into effect look like a sophomoric publicity stunt in comparison to the people whose lives are on the line in a real life situations.

The response by Irish authorities to the 25 blasphemies has been next to nil.  I will be completely surprised if this ends up amounting to anything more than a group of people shouting obscenities at one another to get attention, and finding like a group of junior high kids standing on a street corner trying out their four letter words that no one was listening to them anyway.

Many of the atheists responding to the blasphemy law have been intelligent, well spoken,  and considerate people.  I have a number of atheist friends whom I count among people I trust most in this world, but for the crude and abusive ranters I have no respect.

Step aside little kids!  Let the people who have the scars from the battle fight the war.  We are the ones who know where the battle lines are really drawn, and understand what the real dangers of religious power look like.  I think the Irish blasphemy law is really what designers say it is:  made to make prosecution nearly impossible.  It is a toothless lion.  All the four letter words in the world can only bring up an indecency charge, and that quite frankly might be worth slapping a few nasty little boys with.