Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In which I don't understand being saved

by Nick Miller Kauffman

(Cross-posted from Scribble Theology)

My junior year of high school, I went with my girlfriend to a Bible study at her friend's house. At some point during the evening we split up into pairs, and I wound up in a small loft, seated on the floor across from a girl I'd never met so we could "share our stories" with each other. Almost immediately, her question for me was, "When were you saved?"

I'm not the kind of Christian that has an answer to that question. I definitely didn't know what to say then, having never been asked before and not really knowing what "saved" meant, so after fumbling around for a while for an answer, I offered:

"Um... always?"

I actually did have what was supposed to be a "saved" experience the year before; it's just nobody had bothered to tell me that's what it was supposed to be. It was at Acquire the Fire, a big indoctrination program Christian event where you go to experience an incredibly long rock concert interspersed with the occasional awkward dramas and sweaty preachers. They asked for those who wanted to accept Jesus into their hearts to come forward, and I thought, "Well heck, that sounds like something people should do."

So I went down onto the floor of the convention center, kneeled in the aisle, felt a stranger put his hand on my shoulder, and got prayed over for a while. I remember when I went back up, my youth pastor hugged me and said he was proud. I didn't know I'd just been saved, but I did know that the experience was an awesome emotional high.

It's hard to remember what went through my head at the age of 16, but I can be sure I didn't know what was going on because of my later answer to the "saved" question at that Bible study. And when my youth group went to ATF the next year, too, I went down to be saved again. Because I wanted that emotional high again. Like drugs. And it didn't hurt that my youth pastor was proud.

Except my youth pastor didn't seem as proud that time. He didn't really say anything or acknowledge me when I came back to where our group was seated. Because being saved once is cool, but being saved twice, two years in a row, at the same event... what, did the first one not take? Did I just want attention? Did I not get it?

I never got the memo that said you only got to invite Jesus into your heart once (or that Jesus wasn't there anyway). I guess maybe it comes down to different views of the meaning of worship (and that's the reason I'm thinking of all this right now -- my theology group was talking about worship tonight). Is it about the adulation of God? The word itself would suggest it should be, but that's not my purpose, and I don't think it's Acquire the Fire's purpose.

I see worship as a communal experience and an opportunity to draw closer to God--which is maybe a euphemistic way to say "achieve that emotional high." That's what I was after, and I got it with the meaningful music and the emotionally charged room and the hand on my shoulder and the proud youth pastor. But by their theology, at least at that event, the idea was to rack up more souls for heaven's army. And I was the guy who enlisted, and then circled right back to the back of the line to enlist again.

And that guy is weird.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our Role In These Times

Awakened by the present violence, 
I wonder what we as young adults have to offer our church.

What role do young adults play in fostering openness 
in the Church of the Brethren?

Feel free to interpret "openness" in a way most connected to your hopes, 
whether they be theological, ecological, inclusion of marginal groups... 
the sky is the limit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Definitions and arguments

My fellow academics will understand the joy of considering a question, picking a position, and arguing to defend it, with little concern for consistency, integrity, or what we truly believe.  I invite you to consider the following question through that lens.

What political philosophy is most consistent with Brethren values?

Libertarianism?  Liberalism?  Neo-liberalism?  Classical Republicanism?

Democracy?  Post-scarcity anarchy?

Pick your definitions, pick your stance, and pick your argument.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quotable professors

Future Bethany students: take classes with Nancy Bowen.  She is very good at saying quotable things:
You have to be careful about claiming to know God's will.  We can't prove, however much we may want to, that God is this and not that.  All we can do is ask, "What kind of community will this understanding of God create?"
(Paraphrased from memory.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Brethren orthodoxy

A little while ago (I can't seem to find date stamps on his blog), David Stiles wrote this post about Feast of Love, in which he urges COB progressives to split from the Church.  I find this a little unfair, given Carl Bowman's analysis showing "gay supporters" are more likely to find staying Brethren important than "gay opposers."

What got me going as a seminary student, though, was this particular wording:

If congregations find themselves outside of the basic orthodoxy of the COB, why continue to fight?
Firstly, it seems like a big leap to name the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference's position on same-sex covenental relationships as constituting or being key to the basic orthodoxy.  When someone asks you about the Church of the Brethren, what do you say?  "We're Anabaptist [and here's what that means], we're a peace church, we practice simple living, and we're opposed to the homosexual lifestyle?"  Does it really make it on to that list?  Why this, and not our statements about depleted uranium and global climate change?  What makes the 1983 human sexuality paper so basic to what it means to be Brethren?  And more pointedly, Brother David, why this and not our position of women in ministry?  Why must those who disagree with this Annual Conference statement leave, but not those who disagree with that one?

Secondly, and more broadly, I have a real problem with the phrase "Brethren orthodoxy."  The word "orthodoxy" derives from the Greek orthos, meaning "right/true/straight" and doxa, meaning "opinion/belief," and the word means exactly what that would lead you to suspect.  It seems to me the Church of the Brethren--this "no creed but the New Testament," "no force in religion" church--has no orthodoxy.

Another word, which might be more relevant to us Brethren, is "orthopraxy," which means "right action/activity."  It seems more appropriate for a church whose Annual Conference has much to say about practices, but little to say about what one should think or believe.  Even this monumental human sexuality paper makes no claim against those whose beliefs run contrary--it is only concerned with actions.

So I put forth that the Church of the Brethren has no orthodoxy, but does have an orthopraxy.  (I ran this by one of my professors, and got a nod of agreement.)

But this orthopraxy is not found in some sort of inerrant Constitution passed down by the founders; it is found in the statements we make, modify, and strike when we meet every year for our Annual Conference.  It changes constantly from what previous generations held, whether due to new information, issues our predecessors did not face, or evolution of moral thought.  What our orthopraxy is next year may be very much different from what it is this year.  That is simply how it's done in this church--attempts to forbid further efforts at change fly in the face of how we as church make our decisions.

One last note: Even orthopraxy, in the Church of the Brethren, is limited in scope.  It isn't found so much in statements like the 1983 paper--which are, after all, merely reflections of what the majority of gathered Brethren believe--but in our polity.  "You can't be in a same-sex relationship" isn't our orthopraxy; "You can't be openly gay and be a licensed minister" is. (I have previously indicated that I think "we don't agree" would be more helpful than "fifty-one percent of us think this.")

It seems to me that preaching a "Brethren orthodoxy" is a far more serious split from Brethren tradition than are evolving views on human sexuality.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Speaking of comments

You may have noted that I read Dunker Journal.

One thing that has always bothered me, and many to whom I speak, is the lack of open discussion on that website.  So I have started a new blog, devoted to re-posting/linking Dunker Journal entries with a space for comments.

To keep it from degenerating into what Craig Alan Myers calls "vituperative arguments," I am requiring a Google or OpenID sign-in for all comments.

Check it out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Comment guidelines

I am vehemently in favor of allowing comments on blogs.  I am in favor of allowing comments on my own blogs so that they may become forums for conversation about things that matter (instead of just me shouting at the rain), and I am in favor of other people allowing comments on their blogs so I can disagree with them openly instead of just muttering angrily to myself.

However, I find I'm made uncomfortable by anonymous comments.  At best they are a not-very-exciting mystery, but at worst they give me the feeling that I'm in a dark alley trying to have a conversation with a masked person.  That's not the sort of situation I like to be in on a regular basis.

The following are comment guidelines for this blog, applied now and not effective retroactively:

1. All comments must be signed with some sort of legitimate identity.  This can be a full name, a first name only, or a handle that is consistent and is connected to a significant online presence.  This leaves room for those who don't want their names on the internets, but allows us all to feel like we're talking to real people.  Commenters are encouraged to identify themselves as completely as possible.

2. Comments may not contain offensive or hateful speech, threats, or other content you wouldn't share in church.  (A vibrant and frank church, that is.)

3. Comments not made in the spirit of these guidelines will be deleted without apology.

4. Interpretation of the above guidelines is the sole responsibility of the blog moderator (that's me) and all decisions are final.

I will continue to technically allow "anonymous" comments so people can comment without signing in to Blogger/Google/OpenID, so long as these guidelines are followed.  If I have to, I will restrict posting to people who are signed in through one of the affiliated services.

This does not represent a change to a heavy-handed moderating style; I will continue to encourage all thought and points of view on this blog, will continue allowing authors to post at will without editorial oversight, and will only delete comments I feel I cannot allow to stand.  Note that while anonymity has been an issue, hateful/offensive stuff thus far has not, so I am laying out obligatory precautions rather than reacting to something that has already happened.