Faith Seeking Understanding (Not Explaining)

There is a subtle irony in the nature of jokes. If you understand the joke, then you laugh. If you don't, and someone explains it to you, then the joke is much less funny. Jokes shine from understanding and loose their luster with explanation. 

The same can be said about the life of faith. 

The life of faith is one that seeks understanding a deep wisdom that is not only difficult to explain but sounds ridiculous. For instance, Jesus says the meek with inherit the earth and that the peacemakers are blessed; turn the other cheek, forgive our enemy seventy-seven times, the last will be first and the first will be last, and that Jesus is found among "the least of these." Frankly it all does not make any sense. 

In my short time as a preacher, I can tell you it is getting to the point of silly to try to explain the wisdom of God. The wisdom of God is like a joke: not only does it often sound silly but it also shines in understanding and looses something with explanation. 

This is why the mystics were less interested in prose and more interested in poetry. Why the ancients were less worried about doctrine and more interested in practicing the disciplines. The Church seems to be at her best when she is not explaining God (and getting bogged down in the silly conversations like the big bang vs. "creationism"), but seeking the peace that passes... well you know what I mean.


The Failings of the Church Justifies Her Existence Not Eradication

Over the weekend, while the Judicial Council of the UMC made a big decision, I could not help but think about Lillian Daniel's book When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places Even the Church. While the whole book was fine, it was the first chapter that spoke to me. I share a short excerpt from that chapter with one modification. While Daniel is critiquing the "Spiritual but not religious" category, I offer one slight modification to her writing here. The addition is what is in (parentheses). 

"The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I personally do not want to be associated with a lot of it. But, news flash, human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel and ignorant things, and I don't want to be associated with them either. And here, I think we come to the crux of the problem that the (progressive/conservative) spiritual but not religious people have with the church.
     If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might really be able to do this thing and meet their high standards. If we could just kick our all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans (exclusionary language in the Discipline), the Democrats could bring about the second coming and the NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. If we could just kick out all the Democrats (Discipline disobedience), the fiscally responsible would turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.
     But in the church, as everywhere, we are stuck with one another, and being stuck with one another, we don't get the space to come up with our own human-invented God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In church, in community, humanity is just way too close to look good."

Perhaps ironically it is the divisions in the Church that keep me connected to the Church. I know it is the Church, with all of her divisions, that help us from creating a God in our own image. Humans are too peaty to model a God after. The failings of the Church justifies her existence not eradication.

Vanilla Ketchup And Understanding the Bible

In 1999 a little study was conducted in Germany using ketchup. The Germans who were formula fed as an infant, preferred ketchup that was scented with vanilla than the Germans who were breast fed as infants. Those who preferred the vanilla scented ketchup did not make the connection that how they were fed as infants influenced their later in life ketchup preference later in life. (Citation). It is a silly little example of something that we all know - what foods you like and dislike are influenced by your experiences. 

We accept this about our tastes in food as well as of other things that are even more silly. For instance, expecting parents will not give their baby the same name of someone they know and think is a jerk. There was no way our boys were going to be named Ryan or Eric for this exact reason. We all know that there is nothing wrong with those names but our experiences, even irrationally, affect our decisions. 

The same is true for understanding the Bible. We want to think that we can objectively read and understand the Bible. We want to think that we "just looking at the scriptures" when we try to understand them. We want to think that we can read the Bible in isolation of our experiences. Additionally, we tend to think that others are more prone to allow experiences/culture to influence their interpretation of the Bible than we are. 

I think vanilla scented ketchup sounds disgusting, I am not sure that I want to call it real ketchup.  However, many others believe ketchup without vanilla scent is incomplete ketchup. Both sides are unaware of how their infant diet affects their understanding of orthodox ketchup.

Maybe our understanding of what is orthodox is less influenced by a rational and objective set of decisions, and more about experiences we never would imagine would matter.

“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

 Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Clearly Cranmer was among the happiest of the reformers...

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry the VIII's reign. He saw a lot of craziness from the king of his time but he also saw a lot of craziness from the schism in the Church that has come to be called the "Reformation." 

Ever a student of his surroundings, Cranmer noted much about the human condition that recent Psychology and Behavioral Economics has come to ratify. Cranmer's anthropology is perhaps best summed up by the Cranmer specialist, Ashley Null, who stated it this way: “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”

As products of the "enlightenment" we like to think that we make rational decisions and that our decisions are guided by reason and understanding the facts of the matter. We hang our hat on the idea that if we could just get the other side to see the facts and use their reason, they too would see as we see. If only liberals could see the silliness of their desire for a greater national government! If only conservatives could see the irrationality of their position!

Cranmer understood that our mind is not doing the choosing. It is our heart and our gut. We use our mind to only justify our already desired choice. Much of our desire to "learn the issues" is the work to discover the "flaw" in the others position and to reinforce our previously held position. Open your heart and you will see where your decisions will take you. Perhaps more importantly, look at the heart of another and see that they too are just like you, just trying to choose and justify the longing of their heart.

Go easy on one another.