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Thoughts, Musings and Opinions about Theology, Politics, and Life in Seminary.

Church

Today is the Lord’s Day (unless you are a Seventh Day Adventist, Jewish or Muslim), so I thought I would postpone my “Christian and Conservative Idealization of the 1950s in View of ‘Madmen'” post and write about why church is so difficult, and why committing to a church is so difficult.

As you might be aware, I am a woman; as you might also be aware, I trend left, politically speaking (OK, “trend left” is a bit of an understatement). As well, I am an evangelical, and tend to be orthodox in my theology, meaning I still think it’s important to adhere to the Creeds–Nicene and Apostles’, mainly. You would not think, at first, that these three pieces of information–gender, politics, orthodoxy–would necessarily make the question of church difficult. And it doesn’t always: plenty of women attend churches that are “complementarian” or belong to denominations that do not ordain women–in fact, many women are very vocal defenders of these policies, especially those associated with the SBC, the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, the PCA, Mars Hill or CBMW; plenty of liberals keep their mouths shut and attend conservative churches, or don’t see politics as a priority outside of the voting booth; some evangelicals are perfectly fine attending less-than-orthodox churches because they value belonging to a neighborhood perish or prioritize high church liturgy or the centrality of the weekly Eucharist over teaching or belief statements.

For me, though, as well as for some kindred spirits in my life, these factors significantly complicate decisions about where to attend church. Here is how it usually goes: I look for a church in which Jesus Christ is central, and in which the gospel is preached. In the United States and Canada, unfortunately, this weeds out a lot of churches. Then I move to secondary considerations, regarding worship: theologically meaningful worship (hymns are a plus!); in-depth, intelligent, theologically sound preaching; regular (hopefully weekly) Eucharist/communion; reverence for and centrality of the Word of God; some use of liturgy or orders of worship; and efforts to include beauty and sensory experiences into worship.

Worship is foundational, to me, and I believe that it should not be about what “feels good” to us but what is honoring to God; at the same time, we have to be able to enter into it in an authentic manner. I think that several things help me/us to do this: liturgy, because within set forms and prayers we are released from our perpetual self-consciousness; conscious openness to the Holy Spirit; engaging different parts of our selves–I am drawn into worship through words, while others might be drawn in through incense, icons, or music; the Eucharist, because it was instituted by Christ, has been present since the Church’s inception, and unites us with Communion of Saints, past and present; and preaching rooted in Scripture.

At this point I often encounter my first problem: most evangelical, “theologically orthodox” churches consist of a whitewashed church or warehouse, a few worship songs (with loud guitars and drums), extemporaneous prayer (“Lord, I just want…”) and a sermon by a charismatic preacher in jeans (with a powerpoint!). There is nothing wrong with this, in terms of the gospel still being preached, and people praising God, but I feel a longing for something deeper and more substantive, that is connected with the rich history of the Church universal. I often feel that this leaves me with two options (I am aware of non-denominational and emergent churches trying to create church from the best of all traditions, but I think this “picking and choosing” can be a bit dangerous), as I do believe in the necessity of denominational structures: Anglican or Presbyterian. This, subsequently, gives rise to new problems, specifically the conservative vs. mainline issue.

Right now, this issue is thought of as a code for “the gay thing”, which is tragic, because I think that this caricatures the very real and very complex questions at hand, and focuses the entire conversation around the fate of a particular group. Many of the mainline churches have, for various reasons, adopted a kind of gospel of niceness and inclusivity. For the gospel to be nice and inclusive, though, this involves a lot of watering-down of belief, and for me, this has always “begged the question” (wrong use of phrase, I know): what’s the point? If Jesus didn’t really die for us and was not raised as the first fruit of what is to come, we are basically finding artificial ways to give meaning to our lives, which to me is a waste of time: why not be honest and join a humanist community center or something? There are ways to create meaning in life without pretending it is based upon something that you have watered down so much that there is nothing to actually believe in. My point is, in aiming to become a socially acceptable, influential civil institution, the mainline churches mostly focus on doing good work in society (not a bad thing at all) while being vaguely spiritual and trying not to offend anyone by claiming exclusivity of doctrine or belief system (or anything else).

There are exceptions, of course–West Side Presbyterian, Christ Church of Hamilton-Wenham, Church of the Advent, University Presbyterian, to name a few, and these churches make a strong argument for continuing as witnesses in their denominations. This is a good thing, but these churches are tough to find.

So, because I get frustrated with not being able to at least start on the same page with the basics, i.e. who Jesus was, I move to the more theologically conservative forms of these two denominations, and here we run into the other two problems. Read the rest of this entry »

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Settlers of Catan and a Funny Facebook Thread (including mild ripping off of “Stuff ____ People Like” concept)

Brian Buell

Brian Buell I think someone should write an article about Settler’s of Catan and its role in Christian culture.

Scott Hwang
Scott Hwang

Like how it keeps people from graduating from Christian Colleges or…?
3 hours ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Scottie! Get up here. 7!
2 hours ago
Paul Fombelle
Paul Fombelle

well…. your negative influence of Settler’s has spread to AZ. You are slowly going to cripple our economy. I better warn Obama. You might get some sort of funding to stop playing it.
2 hours ago
Catie Porter
Catie Porter

speaking of lost time have you tried http://www.sporcle.com?
2 hours ago
Alanna Linden
Alanna Linden

You can also buy “Settlers of Canaan” if you want a more spiritualized version to justify the time eaten up by the game.
2 hours ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

HAHAHAHA…there are certain things that catch on in Christian culture for NO APPARENT REASON and Christians seem totally unaware that this is the case or that they are the only ones who are obsessed with _____. Settlers is definitely one of these things. When I was in China with a Christian org EVERYBODY loved Settlers and played it CONSTANTLY; it was a social staple when teams got together. In Mass., all Gordon graduates love Settlers; at Regent they play Settlers. It has always boggled the mind, esp as I’ve never played it so I don’t understand the allure. I am going to make a list of similar phenomena and will get back to you.
about an hour ago · Delete
Nicholas Stephen Munn
Nicholas Stephen Munn

that and the princess bride… perhaps comparing the two to see how christian trends develop…
about an hour ago
Nick Addivinola
Nick Addivinola

Not sure of the Christian connection(s) but certainly appreciate it as an interesting game. Who knew that my friends and I were playing such a religious game all this time.
58 minutes ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

OK, am still working on it (thanks Nicholas Stephen Munn for adding an important one):
1. Settlers of Catan
2. Princess Bride
3. The Brothers K/David James Duncan
4. smoking pipes
5. U2/Bono
6. Damien Jurado/David Bazan/Sufjan Stevens/Pedro the Lion/Rosie Thomas
7. xkcd
8. the game “Mafia”
9. Paste Magazine
10. Flannery O’Connor
11. Lord of the Rings/Narnia
12. Franny and Zooey and other non Catcher Salinger
13. Swing Dancing (90s) and/or Salsa Dancing (2000s)
14. Harry Potter
15. Conner Oberst
16. LOST
17. post-modernism

I am sure that there are more of these, but basically this list is: “‘secular’ things that Christians think they are cool and original for liking but are not/think are not ‘Christian’ things to like, but actually are,” if that makes sense.

36 minutes ago · Delete
Nicholas Stephen Munn
Nicholas Stephen Munn

pipe/houkah….
36 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Oh geez, I just suggested the brothers k to someone this afternoon…
33 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

Have you ever met my friend, fitz?
32 minutes ago
Brian Buell
Brian Buell

I gotta think lost is more universal.
29 minutes ago
Anna Scott
Anna Scott

i know, that’s what George says. He also says post-modernism shouldn’t be on there, but here were a couple of my criteria: What is something that Christians from Gordon, ELIC (my China org) and Regent unfailingly get together to do? (watch LOST, play Settlers) or What is something Christians think they are edgy or “culturally relevant” or intellectual for talking about? (postmodernism, xkcd, etc).
25 minutes ago · Delete

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Thoughts on Distraction

There are several things that I have been wanting to write about, but have been unable to shake a recent bout of laziness. Here are some things that I have wanted to write about, so I make sure that I don’t forget, when the time comes, which, hopefully, is soon: the ideal church; issues of exclusion and who is in or out in our churches; marriage and various books about it; youth in China, etc. So, expect some posts about these things soon, and feel free to remind me, if necessary. Tonight, however, I was especially moved by a sermon that I heard at St. John’s, Shaugnessy (I know, it’s a somewhat controversial church–but it’s where I’ve felt the most at home since starting at Regent). The text was Matthew 6:5-14, and the sermon was on the second line in the Lord’s Prayer: …hallowed be your [thy] name. I thought that Aaron Roberts did a wonderful job of taking four words and unfolding a deeper truth. His point was, essentially, that to ask–to request of God–that His name would be hallowed or “made holy” is to ask that He be at the center of the individual’s life, as He is at the center of the universe, holding it together as Creator and Sustainer, and as we were built for Him to be in us. Aaron noted–drawing on Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death–that anything else that we might place at the center of our lives will be unable to reciprocate our love or devotion and will be incapable of ever forgiving us. To ask that God’s name be hallowed is to ask that He hold his rightful place in our lives and in the world.

imageDB.cgiAaron gave us a few minutes at the end of his sermon to ask the Holy Spirit to show us the things that occupy the place of primacy in our hearts and lives. He repeated/suggested things like: spouses, marriage, money, career, ambition, etc. But, as I knelt there, and as the Spirit worked, I realized that none of these were quite applicable for me: rather than any one defining thing commanding my devotion, there is, instead, a bundle of small and trivial things, which I rely on to provide me with a few seconds of relief from challenges, thoughts, intensity, fear, etc. The incredible irony here is that I came to faith at a very young age (12) because I had suddenly realized–with great horror–at around age 10, that every adult around me was distracting themselves from the reality of death and dying. Maybe this is not true; there may be plenty of adults that are at peace with their mortality. At the same time, I looked around me and saw everyone busy trying to give their lives meaning and direction, filling every spare minute with hobbies, activities, plans for the future, etc. While, to them, it may have seemed totally innocent and well-intentioned, I wondered what would happen if they stopped their gardening, do-gooding, reading, drinking, planning or cause-crusading and faced the reality that in decades (or days) they would die? It then struck me that these hobbies, activities, causes and plans were compulsively undertaken, with one thing proceeding immediately after the last, so that no one would ever have to stop and look into the great darkness; the void. Interestingly, there is a book about this, which I have yet to read (embarrassingly), but that was recommended to me by another student at Gordon when I read an essay on this subject to an advanced composition class. Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, wrote The Denial of Death in 1974, which similarly asserted that our lives and life choices are largely motivated by our desperate need to avoid thinking about or facing death. Read the rest of this entry »

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