Saying “goodbye” to old friends

So I recently started doing this thing at 9:30 on Sunday mornings.  I’ve called it “Wading into the deep water”. I figured it was about time to address some of the wild javelinas in the room…starting with the fact that we don’t all agree.  Theological opinion circulates in the church more than the smell of expensive hipster coffee in the lobbies of big churches.

There is no doubt I feel the pressure to give black-and-white, authoritative, “right” answers when I am confronted with questions…especially the hot button kind.  I am a spiritual answer man, for crying out loud.  I’m also aware there are “conventional” interpretations…answers I was taught when I was just a theological grasshopper…traditions as church practices that I just assumed as my own for years…that I no longer believe or practice.

Change did not happen overnight.  Nor did it happen flippantly. I didn’t just wake up one day and realize I had fallen off the Bible teaching bandwagon of my past.  I’ve read. I’ve studied…the Bible and the writings of church thinkers throughout the ages. I’ve listened. I’ve compared and contrasted.  I’ve weighed things out. I’ve wrestled with my motives and the possible outcomes.

There are many things I still hold as unshakeable truths.  I cannot remotely imagine ever changing what I believe about certain things.  Yet, there are others that have morphed over time…and still others that are long gone.

Some changes have been relatively easy.  Other changes in my thinking have been painfully difficult.  Some changes have been fully embraced. Others are still a work in progress.  All have been fueled by a desire to be a true disciple and obedient to the word.  At the risk of looking like a crazy man or being labelled a heretic, here’s a look at some things I no longer hold as absolute truth…things I have “changed my mind” on over time:

  • Rock music is of the devil.
  • Women are unfit to lead in society.
  • We can trust the american judicial system to treat everyone with fairness and impartiality.
  • Pastors are to be the theological authority in a church family.
  • The goal of the church is to get bigger.
  • True christians needed to picket abortion hospitals.
  • You can’t be a private gun owner and truly trust jesus.
  • Making condoms available from the health centers on High School campuses is always a bad thing.
  • Getting counseling is a sign of weakness.
  • The premillennial position on end times is the right position.
  • Men are always to be the spiritual leaders of the marriage and family.
  • I will be “raptured out” before the “great tribulation”.
  • Since God apparently knows everything that’s going to happen (and is possibly causing it), prayer can’t change God’s mind.
  • Calvinism and Arminianism are both equally true.  Our finite minds are just incapable of completely understanding it.
  • Any people who speak in tongues are just wacky.
  • Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.
  • You must have an invitation to accept Christ into your heart at the end of a worship service.
  • It is a sin to miss communion on a Sunday.
  • It might even be a sin to miss church on a Sunday.
  • Church services are only to be done on Sundays.
  • Communion has to be unleavened bread and Welch’s grape juice (the sacred grape juice).
  • Guitars should not be used in church.
  • We need to dress up on Sundays for church.
  • The earth is less than 8000 years old.
  • The King James Version is the most reliable translation of the Bible.
  • Christians should not have tattoos.
  • Dancing is sinful.
  • Women should never speak in a church service.
  • If a person repents of sin and professes trust in Christ for salvation on their deathbed…but never makes it to the baptistery…they will go to hell.
  • All catholics will go to hell.  Probably most episcopals, too. My home church even had some serious doubts about Southern Baptists.
  • Real christians don’t drink alcohol of any kind.
  • Missionaries and pastors are superior christians.
  • America is more “christian” than other countries.
  • Jesus was really born on december 25.
  • Homosexuality is always a choice that people make.
  • Hell is endless and eternal pain and torment.
  • Divorced people are prohibited from important ministry in the church.
  • Sundays are the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament Sabbath.
  • Church meetings need to begin and end with prayer.
  • Only certain people are predestined to be saved.
  • The sermon is the most important part of a church service.
  • God’s greatest attribute is his omnipotence.
  • Christians have to be republicans.
  • Personal wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.
  • Personal poverty is a sign spiritual maturity.
  • Churches are better off being racially segregated.
  • There is a sure-fire formula for marriage success.
  • Natural disasters are a form of God’s punishment.
  • My church and my doctrine are “right”…and everybody else…if they disagree…is wrong.
  • I have an obligation to perpetuate my denominational heritage.
  • My words or my relationship with a person can keep them from sinning or self-destructing.
  • If i am doing something really important for God, he will protect me from harm.
  • When a child dies, we can console ourselves by believing God wants them more in heaven than he wants them on earth.
  • All Muslims are inherently bad people.
  • Mormons and christians basically believe the same thing.
  • It is important to teach people to tithe.
  • The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the 27 Amendments to the Constitution and the Sermon on the Mount are all to bear equal importance in the life of an American christian.
  • the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.
  • The amount of people believing a particular doctrine, teaching or tradition increases its credibility.
  • Since we’ve always done something that way (or believed that way), it must be right…and we must continue doing it.
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Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Letters to Little Theologians

The Farra ThreeI’m back young Farratroopers…

From the time I was born, my mom and dad taught me to believe that God existed.  We prayed to God.  We read stories about God from the Bible.  We went to church and sang songs to God.  I was taught that God made the world and everything in it…including me!  Mimi and I taught the same things to your daddies when they were your age.

It wasn’t until I started going to school and spending time away from my home and church, that I learned there were people who didn’t believe in God.  I can remember how surprised I was.  I couldn’t imagine a world without God.  And I still can’t.

I have spent my whole life trying to help people understand who God is.  I hope we get to talk about God together someday, when you are a little older.  There’s so much I would like to say to you.  Until then, here are a few things about believing in God:

I can’t see God.  I never have.  But when I look around at all the things in the world…the mountains and oceans and stars and crazy-cute babies that are born (just like you), I have more than enough reasons to believe God exists.

God is not a person like you and me.  God doesn’t have hands and feet.  God isn’t a man.  Or a woman.  Even though the Bible (we’ll talk about the Bible later) refers to God as “He”, God didn’t grow up as a boy.  In fact, God never grew up at all, because He has always been here.  Before anything existed, there was only God.  God has no limits.  He is everywhere.  All the time.

God sees everything that is happening.  God knows everything we are thinking.  God hears everything we say.  That’s why we can talk to him.  That’s what prayer is.  (We’ll talk about prayer some time soon, also.)

In spite of all the things I know about God, believing is still a mystery to me.  There are still so many things I don’t know. Because God is mysterious, people make up a lot of their own beliefs.  So believing in God is something I have always taken seriously, making sure that what I believe is as true and right as it can possibly be.

You three are already little swimmers.  I love watching you in the pool.  When you are in the shallow end, standing on the stairs, right next to me, you feel really safe and confident.  It’s only when you get out in the deep end that it gets a little scary and you have to trust that you have practiced, that you know your swimming skills, and if you breathe right and move your arms and legs right, and don’t panic…everything will be okay, even though you can’t really see or touch the bottom.

Believing in God is a lot like getting out into the deep end.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Theology for Grasshoppers…the reason.

GrasshoppersTo the Youngest Farras, 

First of all, Tatum, welcome to the club!  This is our little online community…one that you share with your cousins, Holden and Nolan, and me.  Now, this is sort of a private club…just the four of us…but there are a lot of other people who get to look in on us.  I’ve already written a bunch of stuff to your cousins over the past few years.  Someday, maybe your mom and dad will read all of it to you.  

From now on, though, I’m going to write to all three of you.  Here’s why:

When I was a little boy your ages, my daddy…your great-grandfather…took great care of me.  He loved me and provided for me and made sure I was always safe and healthy.  He taught me many things and helped me grow up to be a good man, just like him.  I’m really grateful for him.

But as he and I both grew older, I began to sense something was missing between us.  My dad wasn’t much of a talker.  And because he didn’t talk much, there are a lot of things I never got to know about him.  His actions always “spoke” very loud, but his silence kept me from understanding the deeper things about him.

By the time I became a young man, there were things I really, really wanted to know.  I wanted to know “why” he did the things he did.  I wanted to know what was deep in his heart.  I wanted to know what he believed and what he felt.  I wanted to know his doubts and fears.  I wanted to know how he became the man he was.

But we never did talk about those things before it was too late, and I’ve always felt like I’ve missed out on something really special.

So I made a big decision when my sons, (your daddies!!) were little like you.  I wanted to make sure they knew me.  Really knew me.  I wanted them to know more than just the things I did.  I wanted them to know why I did those things. I didn’t ever want them to feel like they were missing something.  So I learned to talk to them.  Talking with each other about meaningful stuff became one of the most important things we did together.   It still is.

A number of years ago, I began writing to them.  I want them to know things I had never told them.  I want them to know the stories of my childhood.  I want them to know all about how me and Mimi came to love each other and why we have spent our whole lives together.  I want them to know about the good and bad things that happened to me, that shaped me and changed me.  I want them to know about my faith and how I’ve come to believe the story of Jesus.  I want them to know my doubts and fears and weaknesses, along with all the things my heart has come to love.

So I write.

And that’s kind of why I’ll be writing to you guys in the weeks and, hopefully, years to come.   Not so much to tell you the stories of my life, but to tell you about what I believe and why I believe it.  I want to tell you of the deeper things in life, the things I hold closest to my heart.  The things that make me who I am.

You probably won’t understand a lot of it right now, although you guys always come up with new ways of surprising me!  You’ll probably need to read it sometime later in your lives…maybe even after I’m gone.  So I’m going to choose my words well, and pray they will matter to you somewhere down the road.

I love you guys.  Be wise, Grasshoppers.  

Papi

Theology for the rest of us

one percentersWhen I started in the business of being a minister 42 years ago, I entered into the world of theology…the study of God, religious beliefs, and the Bible.  Years of my life have been dedicated to reading and studying what others have written.

That’s what you do as a would-be theologian.

But through the years, there has been a slow shift.  In my young adulthood, I devoured books.  I was thoroughly impressed and deeply influenced by the writings of pastors, commentators, and Bible scholars who didn’t just wade out into the deep end of the sacred book, but mined it.

I have spent untold hours re-reading interpretations and explanations and commentaries, with my head spinning, as I tried to make sense of their complicated theories and weighty analysis of the pages of Scripture.

Even though they all spoke of the Bible as God’s word for everyone, I have grown to see it has been turned into a textbook, designed to be dissected, analyzed, and illuminated for the masses…by the hyper-educated and masters of theological academia.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I get it.  Most of the time, I can debate and argue religious concepts, interpretations of the Bible, and the whole of church history, with the best of the ecclesiastical eggheads.

Here, you want to be impressed?  I know about arcing, mirror reading, and redaction criticism.  Yup.  I can tell you the difference  between prevenient  grace, irresistible grace, and common grace.  You want to know about mongerism, modalism, molinism, inclusivism, text criticism, cessationism, open theism, or penal substitution?  I’m your guy.

My point?  Pleeeeez don’t be impressed.

In recent years, the term “one-percenter” has become popular, as it relates to the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people and the control they have over the world’s finances and the power it wields.

I’ve concluded there are also the theological one-percenters...that super small group of highly educated, religious elite, who spend their lives studying and teaching theology, for the benefit of the 99%.

That group loves to write.  They love to speak and produce conferences that other theological one-percenters attend, in order to listen to each other.  They read each other’s books.  They subscribe to each other’s blogs and troll the comment sections, looking for an opening to prove each other wrong.

They believe the other 99% need them, in order to fully understand what God’s book is saying.  But the truth is, most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking or writing about.

And it’s not because people are ignorant.  It’s because the theological one-percenters have made it soooooo confusing!

Apparently, they are impressed with each other, though.  They keep writing and selling.

I’m not naive.  Theological academia has its place and certainly serves its purpose.  The study of God’s word deserves solid scholarship and careful consideration.  I’m grateful there are people who have dedicated their lives to it.  But I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul didn’t intend for this level of academic surgery to be performed on his letters.

And I’m definitely sure Jesus didn’t intend for libraries of books to be written to explain everything he did and said…by people who always seem to appear way smarter than He ever was.

It just isn’t that complicated, is it?

My biggest theological shift

Shift happensThere are a lot of things from the traditional, generally-evangelical, low-grade fundamentalist church upbringing of my youth that I have left behind.  Teachings, traditions,  and practices that no longer make senseor that I simply no longer believe to be true.

Some of them were difficult to say “goodbye” to, and have taken years for their grip on me to be relinquished.  Others were not nearly as difficult to part company with.  We were never really close friends, anyway.

But there is clearly one change that is greater than all the othersone that affects every area and discipline of my life.

I was taught at homein my Sunday school classesfrom the pulpitin Bible studiesthat the ultimate goal and purpose of being a Christian was to make it to heaven when I died.  Secondarily, it was my responsibility to make sure I did whatever I could to make sure others followed me there.

And the default partner to those goals was to dramatically and passionately put the fear of hell..that place of eternal suffering and endless torment for everybody who didn’t believe the way I didinto all that crossed my path.

Talk about a heavy burden to bear.  Yeesh.  The good news is that over time, I have come to see things from a different perspective.

It all began to change in my mid-twenties when I did my first serious study through the Sermon on the Mountand the Lord’s Prayer, in particular.  When I first comprehended that Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, it turned my theological world on its side.

He was telling them (us) the Kingdom was about here and now and not about  there and then.  Jesus said that he came that we might have full and abundant livesright now.  His death and resurrection can bring deliverance from sin and justification before a holy and righteous Goda liberation and freedom to become everything He created us to benow.  The teachings of the NT letters are not so that we can make it to heaven when we die, but so we can live faithful and purposeful lives in the present tenseand be partners in showing the world what true Kingdom “come” really looks like.

John Wesley said it this way:

John-Wesley-Quote

My life is no longer shaped and dictated by what is going to happen after death.  Not for me or others.  Fear of hell motivates no one for the long term.  Maybe it has in the past, but I’m convinced fear ultimately pushes people away.  However, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  1 John 4:18

I fully intend to live in the presence of God forever.  And forever means now.

And that’s the message I want people to hear.

MMA of the heart

MMAI’m pretty much convinced that most people simply believe what they want to believe.

Oh, they can talk big about reading the right books and listening to the right authorities and watchdog groups and historians and news services and educators.  But when the dust settles, it looks to me like the average joe just decides what he or she wants to believeand sticks with it.

And the longer they stick with it, the thicker the filter where information is siftedand private, individual truth is formed.

My dad was a “union guy” till the day he died.  The local carpenter’s union kept my dad working, made sure he was paid fairly, and provided support during the lean times.  When people came along and cried of the evils of the mighty union, my dad would hear none of it.  Period.

Many Americans stand firmly on the belief that the United States was formed as a Christian nation and built on the faith and values of the framers of the constitutionin spite of serious evidence to the contrary.   “It’s just revisionist history written by people who want to tear down our country”,  they say.

When my mother had her first stroke, her beloved doctor told her to start drinking a glass of wine every day.  My poor, teetotaling mom labored under the weight of guilt for the rest of her lifeand no matter how many times her would-be, theologian/youth minister son tried to point out that drinking a glass of wine everyday was not a sin, my mother was never convinced.

We all believe what we want to believe.

  • President Obama is a Muslim.
  • Country music is bad.
  • Public education should be eliminated.
  • Mexicans are lazy.
  • We need more trained, private citizens carrying concealed weapons.
  • Women are not fit to lead.
  • Chevy, not Ford.
  • Steak is the perfect food group.
  • All of creation happened during six 24-hour days.
  • Republicans are rich, heartless capitalists.
  • Democrats are evil.
  • Texans are justbetter.

And hundreds more like these.  When faced with the possibility that their cherished position could actually be intelligently and logically challenged, people will simply close off and continue to choose to believe what they have always believed.

“There is no new information that would ever cause me to change my mind.”

“The information sources I submit myself to are totally trustworthy and intellectually superior to anything or anyone new that could come my way.”

“My position (perspective, opinion, belief, judgment, attitude) needs no changes.  It works fine.  It adequately defines and explains the world, as I choose to see it.”

I have changed my mind on a lot of things during my life.  Most of them were smaller, non-essential kinds of things.  Others, though, have been more of the big, rock-your-world variety.  Some were practical.  Some were ideological.  Some have been theological.

All of the changes were based on new evidence.  Sometime by even walking in other people’s shoes.  Study and questioning and listening and wrestling were seldom easy.  It took time and determination.  None of the changes would have taken place without my willingness to admit my understanding would always be imperfect and limited.

Most of those changes have redefined the way I live my life.  I am definitely a better man for all of it.

How about you?  Are ready to do some cage-fighting with what you believein the pursuit of something nobler?

It’s not so bad on the mat.