Wednesday, June 30, 2010


can't recommend this corner of the world more highly. especially when in the company of dear friends.


Monday, June 21, 2010

open response...

i really enjoyed reading this latest post over at Hackman's Musings Stop Using Big Words and a related post from 2007 on religious illiteracy. my response was too long for the comments box - so i'm sticking it up here instead...



really interesting couple of posts...

i think this phenomenon of 'no big words' is indeed correctly and perhaps intrinsically linked to the issue of religious illiteracy -- the problem is not simply one of language, but the (limited) theology underpinning it.

i see what you described across this post and the 2007 piece in my own context - in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland - aka PCI...

(background: PCI is an all-island denomination, where the vast majority are north of the border and who make up the biggest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland - which is far more conservative evangelical than the small number of Presbyterians here in the Republic)

i've lived on both sides of the border and what you describe was the very reason I left the denomination. 
the best part of twenty years ago i first became aware of an anti-theology bent from those who had encountered more 'American-style' evangelical Christianity that was becoming popular.

in a congregational student group those who had been introduced to evangelical culture became suspicious of those who were studying theology in university -- to do so meant one couldn't be a 'real Christian'. i think because it meant one was by definition questioning the tenets of faith. there were fearmongering stories of people doing so and 'losing their faith.'

fast forward to today and that notion has gained such widespread currency that it is openly and unashamedly acknowledged that those studying for the PCI ministry avoid studying their divinity degrees in more progressive universities, and those PCI ministerial students entering the theological school at Queen's University in Belfast (where the majority take their degree) do so with the plan to get through the degree with their 'faith intact' and without taking on any of the ideas presented by the more liberal faculty or the theology students not studying for the ministry.
ministerial students typically grade lower than non-ministerial students and they then enter the ministry and preach consistently and almost exclusively on the doctrine of salvation.

however important that may be to Christianity I grew up in this same denomination (south of the border) with sermons delivered by a generation that was more reflective and open to questioning and with a variety of hermeneutics than those in my own generation who now stand in the pulpit. they were sermons on a wide range of themes relevant to religious experience and praxis. but the trend toward the more fundamentalist evangelical has created a kind of infantilism - retreading the same message over and over. there is thus little time given to what maturing in faith requires of us.
ironically i left the denomination because it was both too head-driven in its Calvinism and yet also dumbing down. despite being traditionally conservative, there were and remain exceptions - those who preach with nuance and
questions (criticized for being poetic and woolly) but the trend is that from the pulpit the denomination is becoming more theologically narrow while scrambling to work out how to make the gospel 'relevant' in today's society.

anyways, i say all that not to rant or gripe, but because for me it is the phenomenon you describe not just in one-on-one conversation but happening to an entire denomination. and i can chart it by the decline in conversation at the Sunday evening dinner table in my family - my father still attends but the range of theological ideas being preached has narrowed to the point where once wide ranging meaty discussions we shared about the sermon from the morning have been reduced to frustrated rants about how the sermon was all leading up to the same point that's been made every Sunday this year.

i left the denomination in large part (although by no means exclusively) because it was too easy for me to experience Christianity only as an intellectual exercise (and thus not for me holistic or healthy as a spiritual experience) and ironically any attempt to re-enter it has left me thinking there's no longer enough on offer to intellectually engage with. 

i have often thought it is a rather weak kind of faith that cannot stand up to inquiry - when simply asking questions is reduced to indicating a lack of faith then we are not standing on solid ground at all. rather, it's suggestive of a theology that might crumble. which is why one is then criticized not for the ideas one suggests but the language one uses - because there is little or no substantive comment to be made in response to multiple or alternative perspectives on offer. 

so yep - i perceive 'no big words' is the tip of an iceberg in which a simplistic theology is an end point that crucially is without everyday consequence - there's nothing to be discussed or debated. it's a case of believe this, end of story. it's salvation without impact.
simplistic notions of faith, in avoiding thoughtful reflection, risk never maturing into the wisdom often found on a lifetime's path of 'simple faith'. and while i believe language and vocabulary can be empowering and become a powerful tool to enhancing one's perspective, one doesn't need big words to think.

but it's not the words - big or small, it's the ideas behind them that matters... the phenomenon you see and find troubling, troubles me too - it is small words for a small theology and, i fear, concepts of the divine that are all too reductionist...

a G-D that can't cope with my questions or doubts or wondering, or frankly, gives them much heed, doesn't seem like much of a G-D at all....


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

some things never change...


An open letter to the public

Hi there,
On March 24, in the wee morning hours, mistakes were made in the waters of the Prince William Sound, way up someplace in Alaska. By now you all know that our tanker, the Hexxon Valdez, was hit by a treacherous submerged reef that made us lose 240,000 barrels of valuable oil in the uncooperative waters of the Sound.
We could sue that reef if we wanted to, that's just not Hexxon's style. Instead, we are keeping our fingers crossed that this whole thing will blow over in a matter of weeks. Sure, there will be disgusting pictures of filthy birds, fish, and other unsavory wildlife. But I hope that you know Hexxon has already committed several hundred people to hose off those stubborn otters that still happen to be alive. 
Finally, and most importantly, I want you to believe how sorry I am that this incident occurred. We cannot, of course, undo what has been done. Only God can do that, and he caused the whole damn thing in the first place. But I can assure you that since March 24, this little 'ink-in-the-drink" problem has been receiving our full attention, and will continue to do so until you forget about the whole thing. 
Thanks for your continued support. We couldn't do it without you.
Keep on pumpin',

L.G. Crawl

P.S. To those who have suggested that we Hexxon executives should be forced to go to Alaska and scrub those oily rocks ourselves, not returning until the job is done, no matter how long it takes, we simply say this: You don't understand. We are rich and powerful beyond your wildest dreams.


(c) 1989, Matt Groening, from Life in Hell.

Friday, June 11, 2010

it's (nearly) all relative

file 2/3rds of what follows under flagrant? nay unabashed family promotion:

Want to recommend a new (to me) blog - Hackman's Musings - i've spent the morning browsing it when i should have been writing a paper. Recommended, only in part, because it features an audio conversation (which i'm not even through yet - it's 2 hrs long) with David. And adding to the awesomeness, Brook's in the conversation too. And there's even some of Sarah's music thrown in to boot. the blog is reading really great and well worth checking out if you, like me, like your faith discussions full of questions, and prefer open wondering fidelity over having certainty.

also worth following is Elizabeth's blog - Catalogue of Potions. reflective writing that's as persistently lovely as she is.

also in family matters, for those having trouble downloading the last 8 or so episodes of The Lake Effect, Ewan is aware there's a problem with the files and will try to resolve it soon. he's very busy with parenting, partnering and job right now with little time to do much more than plan and record the shows for rte2xm. ewan says there will be some upgrading going on at their site too but he says he'll get his own online stuff sorted as soon as he can. here's looking forward to the resulting massive dose of good tunage catch up to come. if you haven't listened, the first 27 shows are available and there are scores of others who'll back up my testimony that he's sharing some of the best aural goodness you can find.

Shirley and fam are visiting us overnight. better squeeze in some school work before they arrive. looking forward to the chat.

peace be with you,
and be kind to the animals..


Monday, June 07, 2010

wake up, church... and remember

the latest post over at Queermergent. which is worthy of being quoted in full - for its pain. and its power.

Christendom and Gay-bashing
By Queerbrit

This morning the gay Christian guy I was dating for some weeks was beaten up by his family when they found out he was gay.  He is now so scared of loosing his family, he has promised he will never see me again. Good Christian family there then. So why am I telling you this as a gay christian man living in England?
Well I am telling you this, because this is the consequence of the Christian churches position on homosexuality. The Churches indirect homophobia dressed up as theology and hermeneutics, has given room for the increasing rise of homophobic violence here in England.
I am just so lucky that I live in the UK. If I lived in Africa it would be a different story. Now 2/3rds of African Countries have outlawed and criminalised homosexuality. That’s an increase of 50% in less than 10 years. Why the increase – well a lot of this seems to be associated with ex-colonialist expressions of Church such as the Anglican Church in Nigeria and Uganda.  It seems the Church in Africa can only hear a Jesus associated with patriarchy, intolerance and violence.  I have no idea how they can read the Gospels and not see connections between their behaviour and the Pharisees, Scribes and Saducees.
Yes I am angry, because Christianity is supposed to be about love and hope, about a new form of society modeled on the Kingdom of God.  It seems, instead, it is modeled on fear and power.  How sad is that?
So where do we go from here as gay christians when much of the two thirds world is proving to be oppressive and have blatant disregard for human rights?  I praise God for the Episcopal Church that is such a proactive support for gay people.  It is such a shame that most of the world sees it as a threat. As we speak gangs are going around South Africa beating up those involved in pro-gay politics.  This is just not good enough, and I wish I could see leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury giving leadership with a focus on justice.   As Desmond Tutu was so important in standing up against Apartheid,  where is the churches voice standing up for gay people?  The silence is deafening.                            Well I think I know what Jesus would be doing – and just may be the Church of today would perceive him as a threat and crucify him for standing up for the queers as much as the poor and excluded. Wake up church, people are dying and people are being oppressed, remember what you are supposed to stand for.

Rachel posted this on twitter, and it feels like a prayer...

"Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground." - Oscar Wilde