Monday, April 27, 2009


I had the pleasure of being a part of an informational session/conversation on Thursday about Islam. In addition to deepening my understanding of the faith I was reminded me of the things I should have learned in World Religions class if I had been more awake or done more of the readings. Not only that, I also gained an interesting insight about my own faith and chosen religion. The presenter started by asking the question of what a religion was. The purpose of this was to highlight the understanding of the Islamic faith, specifically that Islam is not just about what you believe but is also a product of how you live that faith/belief.

This to me is a great way of looking at Christianity and what we should be emphasizing as well. I do not know enough about other faith traditions, in particular to comment on how well they put their understanding of living out faith into practice, but my experience of Christianity is that end up concerning ourselves too often with orthodoxy (correct thinking) instead of orthopraxy (correct practice). Denominations and individuals fall into the trap of arguing about how the Bible is meant to be understood, read, or what exactly it means. We split hairs, parse out meaning and ultimately do little more than dig ourselves deeper into theological trenches. My worry is simply shifting the conversation to orthopraxy does not fix it. I fear that all that will do is turn the philosphical, analytic cannons of our faith on a new target. Instead of arguing about issues of theology we will end up arguing if using a reusable bag at the grocery store is really a way to live out our faith.

Ulimately it seems to me that problem is not the Doxy or the Praxy, but the Ortho that goes before it. If we stop worrying about getting it exactly right we will have a lot more room for belief and from belief will come action. Religion gets reduced and codify, so we can say if someone is Christian, or Muslim, or Hindu, and know what it means. Instead we should worry more about how people of all faiths live them out in the world. None of this is to say I don't have a sense of both a correct orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Afterall, I need something I think is right in order for me to act, but it is not productive to simply worry about getting everything right, because I will never achieve that. At some point we need to go out and try this whole faith thing out, see what it is like to live our faith in the real world and let our faith define who we are, not just in terms of believe but in terms of action, then we really will be religious.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Fencing Head Game and the Church

One of the challenges of fencing, as with many sporting competitions is the head game. An athlete can be physical superior to another, but a bad case of nerves, or a poor outlook and things can go bad quickly. For me the hardest part of the head game was the constant comparison with other fencers. In most fencing competitions everyone warms up and gets ready to fence in the same gym they are going to compete in and so it is easy to start the comparisons between athletes before the fencing tournament has even begun. I for one was especially prone to watching others warm up and as I got better and better looking around for the biggest challenges in the room. Rather than looking for helpful tips to fence them, or preparing myself mentally I tended mostly to sort people into two categories, people I thought I could/should beat and those I thought would beat me. The end result was that I was never really sure my head was in the right place when I would start a bout because I was more worried about the expected result than working on making my own desired result.

Today as I was getting my chai and sitting down to think about church business I got caught in the same sort of head game. I overheard a couple of other people in the coffee shop discussing their church and when they added on the chapel and the coffee shop and how many services one of the other congregations in the area had moved to. It was easy to fall into the trap of comparison, competition, and the ineveitable feeling of failure by contrast. For whatever reason it is easy to start treating congregations and churches like competitions, constantly evaluating who is doing well (usually someone else) and what we could be doing better. Certainly some of that is human nature, or at least natural for a lot of us. The effect however is the same, instead of looking at the success of other conregations as a sign of God's work in the area we fall into the trap of feeling they are stealing our members, or the potential members we want.

In the end I end up being of two minds on this. On the one hand, I know that I am not meant to compete with the other churches since we are all on the same side. On the other hand, if I feel called to do the best job I can for the church, some of doing that requires me to be able to judge what sort of job I am doing, and a good measure of that is how well other churches do as a comparison. Maybe the solution is to spend some time with a sports psychologist and get my head straightened out so I can get back in the game and do better. Or maybe I just need to do a better job of letting go of my competive rivalry and trust the prompting of the spirit to tell me when I could be doing more. I guess I could also try and not think of everything in terms of how it relates to fencing, but I know that is not the answer so I will have to keep thinking and musing.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Radical Root

Last Tuesday in a meeting I had the opportunity to observe one of many amusing and yet perhaps very telling quirks of the English language. As a part of a conversation of how to move forward as a congregation someone observed that what was needed was something radical, they also agreed that what we needed to do was get back to the root of what we had been doing. Now at face value this can almost seem a little contradictory, I mean we tend to think of something radical as far out and different and the root as sort of getting back to the basics. The amusing part of course is the fact that they really mean the same thing. In mathematics, a radical is the square root of something. To be radical is to go back to our roots.

One of the challenges in our world seems to be this tendency to bury and forget about the root. Instead we focus on the huge plant that springs forth from it. The root, the base, the foundation is lost in the midst of the edifice around it. In the end going back to the root, back the base, to what everything is built on is something radical, something exceptional.

Maybe Jesus was a radical because he did just that, point us back to the root, to God. He did not get caught up in the legalisms of the day, but went back to the root, to something truly radical. have we in the church gotten caught in the legalism, the bureaucracy, the edifice that is the Church and forgotten the root? It is a serious question, one that countless others have raised and hopefully many churches and even denominations are considering. As the United Methodist Church begins its campaign to rethink church maybe we need to rethink church mathematical, and find that radical root that got us started, that careful harmony that John Wesley had between personal piety and social action. Or go even further back, to that life with Christ, that reminder that Christ is meant to be the center of what we do, of who we are.

Maybe it is stretching the mathematical imagery further than it should be taken, but I see a striking difference between the search for the radical root and fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is based on around certain core principles, getting back to the basics, and yet fundamentalism stops short of getting to that radical root. It stops with whole numbers, easy integers. Getting to the radical root goes a step further, if you keep taking the root of an integer eventually you get to one whose root is no longer rational, but irrational. The root of 81 is 9, the root of 9 is 3, but the root of 3 cannot be expressed with integers, it is irrational. To me that seems that when you get to the root of Christ, you are looking at that irrational number, the square root of 3, inexpressible with simply integers, irrational. Christ is the quintessential irrational, 3=1, the square root of 3. What is really radical about root is in the end we recognize that at the source of the church is something highly irrational, our root cannot be defined in simple integers, a God who will walk among us as a man, will die for us, and will free us all from the power of death. The to me is the radical root.