Seven Reasons I Avoid Traditional Christian Language, prt. 1

I have been trying this past week to keep my social media friends updated on my current struggle with multiple sclerosis. Most responses have been affirming and gracious, but some indicate that I apparently do not use enough traditional Christian language. Some readers have been put off by my references to positive points in other religious systems such as Buddhism. Others seem to think I believe psychology alone will save humanity. Others think my posts on Facebook are too self-help oriented. I want to go on record here to give specific reasons why I avoid traditional Christian language.

1. Most traditional Christian language is no longer understood in a post-Christian society. My desire as a writer, speaker, and teacher is to be understood by as many people as possible. If I have to choose between being understood by traditional Christians or being understood by non-Christians, most of the time I would choose the latter. Christians looking for the Christian God in my language will surely find Him (or Her — gotcha!).

2. I don’t care whether some Christians think I speak Christian enough. I know that many non-Christians believe I speak Christ enough that they are drawn to the love they sense and hear. Many Christians, by the way, are very deeply drawn to this too, as it was sorely lacking in the churches where they grew up.  

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My Experience with Meditation

When I first started meditating, it nearly always made me angry. I felt such disgust and even self-hatred for how useless it seemed, that I couldn’t seem to ‘get it,’ that I couldn’t control my thoughts. Of course I realized that was exactly the reason I was doing it, and gradually that anger began to subside. In other words, I hesitated trying it because I feared it wouldn’t “work.” When I started trying it, I was angry and disappointed that it didn’t “work.” But the first thing meditation did in my life was pretty much put an end to that awful perfectionism and toxic anger and disappointment in myself and others. And it did it simply by being what it was – something I couldn’t control. I was forced to let myself be a beginner, to be out of my league and feel worthless at something that seemed so simple. I had to accept my limitations. As I did, meditation began producing a humility I had always wanted but frankly had always lacked.

Strangely enough, humility only comes when we learn how to stop trying to be humble. Trying is just more of our own efforts and therefore, of course, we’ll be immensely proud of our successes and immensely ashamed of our failures because we’re still living as if it all depends on us. That is ego. At least that’s Freud’s term. The Apostle Paul called it the flesh. Pink Floyd called it the wall. Billy Joel called it the stranger. The great mystics called it the shadow. Carl Jung called it the false self. It doesn’t matter what you call it, all that matters is knowing that if you spend your life living from that place, your whole life will feel, and be, false. Meditation, slowly and surely, leads us out of that place.

A great gift of meditation is learning the contemplative mind. When you start learning what that looks like, then your own emotions and reactions become cues to you when you are in your “natural” (i.e., “false”) mind and you just need to get alone and get quiet and let God bring his mind to you (“the mind of Christ” in Christianese). Then every moment of life becomes a school where we are learning obedience and humility, as we begin learning to literally surrender in every moment of life, to let it all go, to realize that our obsessive worrying, controlling, and fixing is the problem, even and especially when we apply that to our spiritual lives. It is in meditation, and only in meditation, that we learn to let go of ego/flesh/shadow/false self.

Question: Do you think meditation is weird, or only something super spiritual people do? Have you considered it but have never really seriously tried it? Do you find yourself fearing it a little bit, and if so, what are you afraid of?

For more info on meditation, download this packet of brief audio lessons.

Words Give You Away

Words give you away. A week or so ago I posted something on Facebook to encourage people who fear that God has been removed from our schools. That post got more likes and shares and “thank you’s” than anything else I’ve ever put on Facebook. When one of my friends shared it to his Facebook wall, he got a reaction I could never have anticipated.

A guy started quibbling with the theology, “Is David saying that all of these people worried about God not being in schools do not believe in God’s omnipresence?” Stupidly, I took the bait, and quite the lively and completely pointless back-and-forth ensued, though we both remained very courteous. His point was that I’m missing what people truly intend when they complain that God has been taken out of schools. What people actually mean, he said, is not that God has been removed, but that God is no longer openly acknowledged. My friendly opponent argued that I was quibbling over a “Freudian slip,” that people don’t actually mean it like it sounds. But it’s not a Freudian slip. Freudian slips are accidental. They do not keep “slipping” out of people’s mouths the same way over and over and over again.

My response was, and is, that people nearly always say pretty much what they believe. In fact, your words actually belie what you really believe. Words give you away. If you say, “God is no longer in our schools,” you don’t mean only that “while God is certainly present in a theological sense, he is no longer openly acknowledged.” You in fact mean that the lack of acknowledgement of God’s presence in schools makes you feel that God is no longer there at all.

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God is in the schools

Facebook post: God is in the Schools
The following is a post I put on Facebook that has been shared a great many times and I wanted to put it here for those who have not seen it there. I hope it encourages you.

To those who say America is in trouble because God has been taken out of the schools, don’t you believe it for a second. God has never been out of the schools, or out of anyplace else on the earth, for a single moment. Wherever there is a godly teacher or student, God is in the schools. Wherever healing is happening in people’s lives who attend or work at the schools, God is in the schools, whether those people call it that or not.

Wherever there is love and kindness, joy, humility, patience, or self-sacrifice, God is in the schools. Whenever true things are spoken and taught at school, God is in the schools. Whenever music is played at school, God is in the schools. Heck, wherever there is a CHILD at school, God is in the schools. No human being is nearly powerful enough to get God out of ANYWHERE. Of course God is in the schools!

Believers, where is your confidence?

Theological musings, mostly about love

A new guy visited my church this past Sunday and emailed me from our website asking me to clarify some theological positions. I’ll be very honest — I hate doing that. It’s like arguing over the color of the wallpaper in heaven. It begins and ends with opinion. It’s based on nothing. Even the Bible is interpreted so differently by individuals and churches that you end up quibbling over the meaning/interpretation of it once someone brings it in to “clear things up.” It’s just not a useful thing to do. At the same time, I’m a Christian pastor and I feel like people do have a right to at least basically know what I believe. What follows is my response to this nice man’s email, unedited.

Hi [name snipped].  I’ll answer your questions concisely.

No, I do not believe all will be saved. But I think many Christians will be extremely surprised at who, and how many, are ultimately saved.

I do not believe hatred has any place in our lives, any more than we can bomb our way to peace or screw our way to chastity. Therefore I reject love the sinner but hate the sin. The dualism it presents is a big part of the problem with spiritual life. We can’t separate people from their sins, loving one part and hating the other (parable of wheat and tares). Sin isn’t just a list of bad behaviors that we can easily call out and hate. People are whole beings, and love sinner/hate sin is an abstraction that has nothing to do with human beings. I think Christians use this to shrug off our responsibility to love and that it has been responsible for a lot of evil done in the name of God.

I don’t distinguish between Christian love and any other kind of love. All real love is from God.

I do not really accept the striving to eliminate sin. As we increasingly connect to God, sin becomes less attractive and eventually repulsive. Freedom is not in striving against sin, but in no longer finding it appealing.

Should contemplation be supplemented with other disciplines? Absolutely. But we need to do a much better job with the contemplation. It can’t be taught as something just for monks and hyperspiritual people. It’s foundational and without it we will likely remain immature and neurotic all our lives, trusting only in ourselves.

I do not agree that homosexuality is fundamentally evil, nor do I agree that it is not inborn. I do concede that greater social acceptance of it has probably led more people who were sexually on the fence to claim gay identities than they otherwise would, but I am deeply convinced there are major genetic determinants for most people.  I don’t pretend to understand everything about it, and I’d be the last to deny the brokenness of human sexuality, and we see its effects everywhere. But Jesus never spoke of it so it obviously wasn’t on his agenda. That says a lot. I’m not claiming it’s all just perfect and there is no issue, only that, in any case, love is the best response.

I hear what you’re saying about Sodom and Gomorrah and I understand that sentiment (note from me to readers — this was a response to his assertion that America is a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah). My focus, however, is on the church, and on the miserable failure of God’s people to even pretend to really love others. We will never be able to beat the hell out of people, but we certainly can love them into the Kingdom.

Peace to you,