Sunday, August 28, 2011


I forgot that when I send these updates people often see inaccuracies with what I write, take offense or issue, or don’t like it. Now this isn’t the case with every remark I remember below. But since I made the marks publicly I want to correct them publicly.
Last update I wrote this top 10:

10 Reasons You Know You’re Serving the Homeless in the United States

10. When serving a plate of food, a homeless man says to you “Would YOU eat that?”

9. When offering food to a homeless, hungry man he says to you “Is it cold? I don’t eat cold food.”

8. When offering salad to a homeless woman, she says “No crunchy pieces. Only salad with no croutons.”

7. When offering salad to a homeless person, he says “I don’t eat salad.”

6. A homeless man looks at the food I’m offering him and says, “Hey, even homeless people have standards! You know what I mean?”

5. A homeless man sees you without a phone and offers you one of his two cell phones.

4. A homeless woman in a soup kitchen turns down your Moroccan chicken soup saying, “No, thanks. I’m a vegetarian.”

3. A homeless person offers you a job.

2. A homeless man pats his tummy and says to you “I’ve decided I need to lose a few pounds.”

1. A homeless man complains about rising prices and backs it up by showing you his energy bills.

Now someone pointed out that it’s offensive or seemingly offensive. In fact at least one of the readers was homeless for a while and it’s not a good place to be. I want to acknowledge the plight of homelessness in the U.S. and the often subtle bias against them that shows up in our actions in conscious and subconscious ways. This was not meant to poke fun at homeless people. I didn’t make up any of the items. They’re all true. And yet they are things that I can smile and laugh about with homeless people (not at them). I took each item from true happenings between homeless people and me. They each had names, though, I didn’t name them. For instance, one man, my first homeless friend in DC, really did offer me a cell phone. I’ve really been shown bills. True story, comedy-filled, but true. I think the funniest aspects of life are true. It’s like truth is somehow embedded into the fabric of that mysterious quality that makes us smile and laugh. And that is what is in these stories.

Secondly, someone pointed out that they have experienced this abroad. My friend experienced it abroad and this does happen outside the U.S. The point isn’t so much that it is a US phenomenon, but it’s a phenomenon that happens in places that are relatively more affluent or wealthy than other places. In other words, in any situation in which homeless people are steadily or regularly receiving food through whatever source, they have an option of being particular or picky. This can happen in developed or developing countries. And I was highlighting the cases I experienced in D.C. However, I have yet to experience this in a region of hyper-dire need and hunger, seeing people reject my food due to taste, for instance. This may happen but it’s outside my experience.

Next, someone wrote to explain to me that the Jewish prisoners at the camp in Terezin did not sing Verdi’s requiem because they somehow believed Jesus was God or were converting to Christianity. I asked some others about this to see if this is the message others received. So far, I think only one person seemed to have sensed this in the words I wrote, so I hope it was just one. My point was that the tension was beautiful—the tension of a group of Jewish prisoners singing a Catholic mass and the greater tension of the prisoners singing a mass for the dead in order to both inspire and retain life. I find life doesn’t exist without tensions. If we see none, it’s probably because we’re not yet awake.

I don’t remember all the comments I was to correct from the various response emails, but I do remember one last one deals with sharing what others say. I’ve shared what many people said about me anonymously, never with any problems. But an anonymous story breaks fiduciary trust (confidence) according to some or one. So please excuse me for sharing anything you might have said about me in an email to a few people. Please feel free not to share with me answers to questions such as when I ask “what do you think I want.” I don’t interpret anonymous stories as breaking trust so that was probably the difference in ethical behavior there. My guess is that the feeling of betrayal committed by me is worsened if the story I share is one that is critical of me (making the person feel bad) versus a story when someone is praising me (I don’t think every story would elicit a response).

Lastly, someone asked why I would not have more questions or fight more when told he was not into God anymore. My guess is that my point in the last update was completely missed. So to repeat, I said something like this. It is evident more and more to me that there is an undercurrent of atheism that runs central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. There is a dual tradition of the priest (who works in the service of God) and the prophet (who speaks out for God against God (the god being served by the people)). There is a strong tradition of religious people who fall into rituals of serving God in their image rather than one greater than their conception. And so a multitude of voices (usually a prophet) usually speak out revealing glimpses of a greater understanding. Through the arc of the Torah and New Testament Bible one can find a pattern of people coming into a deeper understanding of God and trading in old images of God for better ones. You can see this developmental understanding of God through the trajectory of the Bible regarding people’s understanding of God’s uniqueness, God’s agency, God’s character, etc. This list goes on. This is a process I, myself, have engaged in throughout my life whether I knew it or not. And I still do it today. It occurred with Jesus’s disciples after he was crucified, with the Christian church through Luther and Calvin, with the church during the movement from slavery to abolition, etc.
So it is evident then that we can engage in certain dialogues that, though seemingly subversive, lead us into a deeper meaning such as

God, rid me of God” Peter Rollins
Forsaking God for the sake of God” Meister Ekhart
Before God and with God we live without God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is always difficult to stuff ideas and lessons that have taken years to learn or ideas I’ve picked up from others and share them in a short email or blog, but think of it like this. I’m not surprised when a friend has left the faith or questions God. First, the act of questioning God and this crazy world is a very godly act, one I feel is desired by the God of Judeo-Christian tradition. Think of the one name that was given to the people who would be God’s chosen people (remember; they were chosen not at the exclusion of others [old understanding], but chosen to be a blessing, for the inclusion of others—one example of a developmental understanding through the arc of the stories of the people of faith)—Israel. The one, singular, defining name given to the people of God means “wrestles with God. . .” Really? Wrestles with God? Not holy or sanctified or righteous or good or perfect or better-than-you or best or anything else that is perfect? Really? Really. It seems to be the nature of God to allow the tension that is humanity to find beauty in the mess, the quagmire of questions.

The story of Job is probably the oldest dated writing of the Torah and Bible. In the story a man named Job loses everything (business, money, etc.) and his friends come around to comfort him with. Job has even lost his children; his wife tells him to curse God and die. His friends come one by one and reason with him. They tell him this and that (for example, “you must have committed some sin in order to be dealt a blow like this”). The perfect cookie-cutter answers, given to me by church people for why God was happy with Job and unhappy with the visiting friends, never made sense to me. The friends said reasonable things (according to some wisdom). Job just struggled and questioned God. And therein lies the answer. The friends offered . . . theology. Theology isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s quite natural in the after math of the event of God to have thoughts about what happened. We form beliefs. But it’s what happens when those provisional, inadequate thoughts take the place of final authority that a problem arises. And here Job didn’t deal with theology. He wrestled with God. He questioned, he pleaded his case. And I honestly think, at the end of the story, when God shows up in a huge whirlwind and asks all these impossible questions about “Who put the stars in the heaven? And who put the sun in the sky?” God doesn’t answer Job’s questions because it’s not about the set answers or understanding or . . . theology. It’s not central. Rather, it’s about a conversation and the growth that happens in that engagement with God. God then honors Job and not his friends because Job didn’t cling to theology; Job clung to God by wrestling with God (just like the name Israel would come to mean when given as a new name to Jacob). It’s the same reason David was so close to God. David wasn’t close to God because he felt close to God all the time. No; he was close to God because even when he felt distant from God he expressed his feelings of distance directly to God thereby maintaining the closeness and connectedness even in the center of feelings of isolation (I may have to reread that a few times to let that sink in). He struggled.

And the most mature of us realizes that our images or pictures of our God are provisional. That’s why we trade them up. That’s why when I question God I realize and understand that I’m never questioning God but I’m questioning my understanding of God. So when someone becomes an atheist, I’ve learned that they are not rejecting God but they are rejecting their understanding of God. And if that is the definition of atheism then I’m a type of Christian atheist because I reject my understanding of God all the time as I learn to hold a better and more accurate (closer to who God actually is) image of the increasing mystery that is God.

So in a sense because I understand the tensions, the wound, the rupture that is in the scripture (a recent book called the “Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties” tries to resolve every single problem; unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves due to the inadequacy of the unsatisfactory answers), I understand that at the same time I name God, I must engage in a process of de-naming God so as not to create a conceptual idol (think of the contrast between “our father who art in heaven”—the familiarity of a dad to “Hallowed be they name”—actually God’s not like a dad, he’s also wholly other). Does that make sense? So fundamentalism can be looked at as a particular way to believe rather than referring to the content of beliefs.

Fundamentalism can be said to be a particular way of believing such that you exclude all other people who believe differently in accordance to the amount that their beliefs differ than yours. Rather, I try (key word is try, I also fail) to include everyone especially those that differ the most from what I believe understanding the belief isn’t central. To put it another way, fundamentalism is believing in what you believe. Because I know the current picture I have of God is wrong (though I don’t know what will improve in the future), I, rather, disbelieve in what I believe. I love that, and I thank Rollins for that thought. It’s so true.

So no, I don’t get mad at a friend becoming an atheist. I understand many of those friends were driven there by reinforced hurtful images of God manifested in us. Rather, I try to love those especially and increasingly in correspondence to how much the beliefs of others differ from me.

No comments: