Monday, June 24, 2013

Paradigm Shift

You hear about it occasionally,  an Evangelical becomes Catholic or even an Atheist. To make the change from the Evangelical position a paradigm shift must take place. Christian Smith, a Notre Dame professor and sociologist, covers this in the appendix of his book entitled "How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in 95 Difficult Steps". In my experience, I could only do about 85 of these steps which made me a good Lutheran.
 John Loftus also addresses this issue in a different manner with his "outsider test of faith". He is a former pastor whose book " Why I Became an Atheist" explains that we need to look at the faith we hold from an outsiders perspective and evaluate if it is true or not. This was also helpful to strip away what was programmed into me not by my choice and look and see if there was anything left. We all inherit faith traditions, political views and other cultural traits by the environment we are born into.
A paradigm shift is what happens when see problems with our current theological position and begin to find answers in a different theology for example. I know as I went to pastors and leaders I knew in my evangelical realm, I was not satisfied with the answers there and I had to read church history, theology, philosophy and anthropology to start to make progress. In this first article, I will highlight some key things that popped the Evangelical bubble I was living in and what caused the cognitive dissonance in the first place. Then I will do an article further explain each point with more information and where I got it from.
1. History and Evolution. Being an avid reader of history I noticed that the Evangelical tradition I was in had no historical roots prior to when The Fundamentals were published around 1915. My evangelical experience pretty much followed everything out of those volumes and church history between Paul and Martin Luther was ignored. Knowing the theory of evolution allows you too see everything around us builds and develops over time. When you start to back convert the political and evangelical culture in light of history you begin to see it is a modern invention married to our consumerist culture.
2. Politics. It felt like everybody around me was a 100% card carrying Republican. I didn't have to listen to any of the right-wing political talk shows because it was parroted all around me even walking though the courtyard in between services. Being constantly surrounded by this rhetoric is tiring and only lead me to further isolation. Dissenting opinions were discouraged and actually you were talked down to for not buying in to their conservative way of thinking.
3. Culture Wars. Homosexuality is a big one here for me. My wife and I met a gay couple whose son wanted to be friends with our son. At first, they were afraid to approach us because of the church we attended. This did not sit well with us and made us understand how conservative Christianity has not been very welcoming to the GLBT community. I have come to find that those who are the most judgmental of homosexuals don't know any. Meeting a long term committed couple and getting to know them made us realize they were awesome people and we are lucky to have them as friends.  Actually, volunteering at an independent film festival and being exposed to documentaries that addressed the GLBT and other cultural issues that helped sink this part of my evangelical piety as well.
4. New Calvinism. As I became more theologically aware, I realized there was a neo-Calvinist trend sweeping over conservative evangelicalism. To me it feels like doctrine, control of the flock and the bible become idols.  At least now I could identify what I disagreed with in my former branch of evangelicalism and quit feeling like I was the only one who didn't get it. Knowledge is power and enabled my family to move to a more historical faith tradition.
5. Anthropology.  I started reading Anthropology after reading "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett. When you start to evaluate belief systems without the fear of hell and look at it from a geographical perspective, things change. I see most denominations in Christianity as need for us to still have tribes to belong to. I then realized I needed to go find a new tribe to belong to indulge this need in my human nature.
These 5 topics were key to causing the paradigm shift in my journey and everybody's is unique. It is a big jump that most people don't make it and are filling the growing rank of "nones" in our midst. My experience with church up to 2 years ago left me wanting to quit as well. My quest for answers allowed me to see jumping to another evangelical church wasn't the answer and it was time to try something totally different.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Recently, the ELCA the denomination my church belongs to, elected a gay bishop in the California area. Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is no longer a church and the only thing in their initials they hold to is the A for America in the denominational name. This is a typical response from the conservative leadership of American Evangelicalism that identifies more with the pharisees than Christ's teachings in my opinion.

If the playing field is level, then I can point the finger at the Al Mohlers of the world and make blanket statements about their denomination without knowing all of the facts. All churches in America are losing members at a level that makes one wonder if the church will be an afterthought in future. The only Christian denomination that has maintained their membership numbers is the Catholic church and that is due to immigration from Mexico and South America. Most Southern Baptist church plants don't even have the name "Baptist" in their name and they try to have a hip and cool name. Al sees the troubling trends in his own denomination and is trying as a defense mechanism to point out the faults in the more "liberal" denominations as he sees it.

Coming from a church tradition that is very similar to the Southern Baptists, I know many great followers of Christ in the conservative realm. Never would I call the churches they attend invalid just because I disagree with some theological points they make. It is sad when religious leaders buy into the liberal vs conservative paradigm in politics that has trickled down to churches. I would like these conservative leaders to concede that there are followers of Christ in the more liberal congregations as well.

So back to the ELCA voting in the first gay bishop, the main point of my article. The ELCA is a huge church body made up of conservative, moderate and liberal congregations. The locale that voted this bishop in agreed he would best represent their local synod. What works in one part of America may not work in another part and Mohler wants to paint the whole denomination as being on board with a certain agenda. From what I have seen is the ELCA is a big tent that allows for differing opinions on issues of the day. Most of the mainline denominations have tried to include the GLBT community in a polar opposite way of more conservative denominations.

So where do members of the GLBT community who want to remain Christians show up to worship? Clearly, they aren't welcome in the conservative realm of Christianity and some can't "Pray the Gay Away."  The believers that proof text the letters of St. Paul and Leviticus overlook quite a bit of the Mosaic law to make their faith fit for them. How can they sit in the pew with people who tell them their lifestyle is sinful when the person pointing the finger is a glutton, materialistic or self righteous. It seems like judgement falls on them when the jerk calling them a sinner gets a free pass.

I guess it boils down to that the conservative leaders view any denomination that is not on board with them as a different religion altogether. Even though Baptists and Lutheran worship the same God, there is wide gap in biblical interpretation and church practices. I have no problem with the Bishop who was elected in California and neither did the congregatios that elected him in. A denomination that makes sure there is a place for everyone is one I am proud to be a member of.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend

A tradition in my family on Memorial Day weekend is to visit the graves of our family and pay our tributes. My Grandmother would get up at 6 am and cut iris and peony flowers from her garden and we would go to 2 local cemeteries and pay our respects.
Fast forward a decade and I am able to that in my locale for my wife's family unfortunately. This year we went together and visited her family graves in our city. During our drive time I remembered some of the sadness and disunity that followed the death of one of her family members. I told her she and our children deserved better than that and I would never do the same thing to our family.

Then I got to thinking, is it easier to sneer at the baggage of our in-laws and overlook the problems in our own family. Once I looked hard at my side I realized that my family has issues too. Sure I tried to filter out the bs I grew up with, and I have been successful in some areas, but still have to work on things.
Being the father of a family is tough and even more so if you want to be the best you can to your wife and kids. Not only do you have to be a historian of your wife's family, but you have to be critical of your own. Then you have to blend what was good from both sides to allow your children to have a launching pad to achieve heights you and your spouse couldn't.

I love the impact the imperfect people in my wife's family made on her. I hope she can see through the craziness of my family and see how it impacted me in a positive way as well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Goodbye to Gene Stephenson

I have been a baseball fan my entire life and have enjoyed the fact we have had a winner in my own backyard in Wichita. WSU baseball is a powerhouse and has fallen off competitively since 2008. I cancelled my season tickets after the 2009 season when there was a noticeable drop off in the quality of the program. After this introspection,  I can add that I am a fair weather fan to my list of many faults.

Gene built the baseball program from the ground up and won on a level that is amazing when you look at his record overall including this season. Gene comes from the old school where you get respect for building something and get a free pass in some ways. He should have seen the writing on the wall with all of the aircraft companies kicking long-term employees to the curb and declining season ticket sales. Gene is the last of a generation that doesn't understand that you can't rest in prior success, last year is the past and it is "what have you done for me lately?" in modern business culture.

Gene is the man as far as building a premier NCAA baseball program out of nothing. Unfortunately, he blame shifted at the end of his career. One example was that the indoor practice facility was built because there was a recruiting barrier and once it was built there were no results to rally the fanbase. The faith of the contributors to the program fell off and probably drove the winds of change. The average fan doesn't realize how they were constrained to recruit a certain number of Kansas residents and even then I don't think there were any full ride scholarships. On top of that, the MLB draft plucked recruits and successful players out of the program and the game changed from the glory days of the 80's and 90's.

I didn't want his tenure as a coach to end like this, but knowing human nature I knew it was inevitable. Gene should have taken a biology course where evolution was introduced and he maybe would have seen that those who adapt survive in the long run. The landscape of college baseball was changing in front of him and he failed to adapt. The powers that be figured that the money they were paying him would motivate him to factor this in. When he didn't for whatever reason that is his problem.

I think it sucks that it had to end this way and more of this rests on Gene for not seeing the trends in collegiate sports and the business world. Once the fiscal year you were successful in is over you have to plan to maintain for the next year. 5 years since the last super regional was generous by business standards to expect a repeat. We wanted a better showing at the regional this year but it was clear the players were no longer on board with the coaching staff.

Gene is a hero to my alma mater Wichita State University and I hope there is reconciliation between the 2 sides so there can be proper respect paid to his contribution to the university.