.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

My Photo
Name: jrichard

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

So what am I thankful for?

This year, there's simply too much to list here. But I felt the need to hit the high points.

First and foremost, I am thankful that my wife and I are still married and are able to enjoy this holiday together. And from that flows so many sentiments of gratitude about so many blessings in our lives.

I am, of course, thankful that our growing son has tested so well time and time again in his mother's womb. I am thankful that Bethany has been spared the worst of the pregnancy symptoms. I am thankful for the relationships that continue to enrich and secure our lives. I am thankful for the chance to see my nieces and nephews, and to hear how they approach life.

I am thankful for our friends, particularly the ones that stick with us through struggles and conflict. I am thankful for those that serve as inspiration, who meet the challenges of a cruel world with grace and dignity.

I am grateful for my job, for our situation. I am very grateful that Austin is such a good dog, and one that makes travel so easy.

And there are so many lesser blessings for which I am thankful. YES, I am thankful that Texas pulled out the win over Texas A&M (when Texas loses, my cell phone lights up with trash talk. The peace that comes with a UT victory is a great blessing to me and my phone). I am thankful to have a mental break from all the recent tasks and challenges at work.

Most of all, I am simply thankful for being.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The dangers of proof-texting

This morning, one of my Facebook friends posted a prayer to his status update.

"Prayer for Pres.Obma and all those that are pushing the health care bill.
Psalms 109:8 "

This particular friend of mine tends toward conservative/libertarian views, so I was curious what song he could be referencing to bolster the types of comments I normally expect from him on the issue of healthcare reform.

So, I pulled up my digital NRSV, and lo and behold:

"May his days be few; may another seize his position."

Ah, message received.

But on closer inspection, what's SO amazing about little snippets like these: context provides many meanings.

On closer inspection, Psalm 109 is a song of David when he is lamenting that wicked and deceitful people are saying untrue things about him and calling for an end to his reign, and ends with a call to God to return upon his enemies all that they call for him and to deliver and protect him.

So, bizarrely, my conservative friend had located himself as possessing one of the "wicked mouths," "speaking against" the leader in the song with "lying tongues."

Once one simply reads the passage in context, it appears that the reader/singer is calling for God to smite the false accusers who stand against those supporting insurance reform and to deliver and protect our president from those who unjustly want to cause him harm.

Now, I suppose it's entirely possible that my normally conservative friend is more progressive on this one issue, and that his post was a call to stop inserting truths, falsehoods, and political opposition baldly into the public discourse about how our country should approach healthcare/insurance reform.

If this is what he meant, I'm surprised. I decided to thank him for sending me down this particular textual journey today.

However, I suspect his intention was to convey the opposite meaning, that he was assuming the line "May his days be few; may another seize his position" as a literal call for the president's political end (I'm choosing to ignore the next line, which appears to call for the leader's untimely death and the resulting plight of his surviving family).

Proof-texting meaning is a dangerous way to convey sentiment. Often, the proof-texter tears one line out of context and presses new meaning upon it, perhaps thinking that text from an authoritative source provides support for his or her own opinions. Unfortunately, for those who closely read our Bibles, such messages often present alternative meanings. Usually, I find such moments to simply convey that the proof-texter is not a close contextual reader of the text he or she uses. (I will lament the state of our public education system another day).

In this case, the contextual reading of the authoritative source seems to mean precisely the opposite of what the sender intended.

Context matters.

Psalm 109, a song of David

Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.
So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.

They say, ‘Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin.

May his days be few;
may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans,
and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg;
may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
May there be no one to do him a kindness,
nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord,
and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before the Lord continually,
and may his memory be cut off from the earth.
For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the broken-hearted to their death.
He loved to curse; let curses come on him.
He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.
He clothed himself with cursing as his coat,
may it soak into his body like water,
like oil into his bones.
May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself,
like a belt that he wears every day.’

May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
of those who speak evil against my life.
But you, O Lord my Lord,
act on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is pierced within me.
I am gone like a shadow at evening;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting;
my body has become gaunt.
I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads.

Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love.
Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O Lord, have done it.
Let them curse, but you will bless.
Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
May my accusers be clothed with dishonour;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.
With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save them from those who would condemn them to death.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boulder Valley Christian Church

Having attended a couple of truly progressive churches (rather than the "progressiveness" in the Church of Christ, which seems more like a distinction between conservatism and fundamentalism), we decided it was time to try the church that Bethany's aunt Lisa had recommended: Boulder Valley Christian Church.

In a twist of fate, we did not get to attend with Lisa, a fact that might have given us a greater opportunity to experience the church for ourselves.

Like many of the South's "Bible churches" and "grace churches," BVCC appears to be a nondenominational collective formed primarily from the cultural splinters of the Baptist movement in the late 1980s.

BVCC is a values-driven, family-oriented church, which appears socially conservative and warm and inviting for those who attend. The service was contemporary in style with a full arrangement of instruments.

BVCC appears to be between pastors at the moment, and the message was delivered by Mark Scott of Calvary Christian Church in Columbia, MD.

There is an undeniable warmth emanating from the members, and one can feel the close-knit ties of family that permeates the gatherings.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Community United Church of Christ

I had often heard about the differences between the United Churches of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Growing up, this distinction was largely one of negative reinforcement: the Church of Christ is the "true church" and the United Church of Christ is a pretender.

In the past few years, I've wondered at the actual difference. The controversies surrounding Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ in the past couple of years had drawn me to examine the movement closer, and I discovered that the largest difference appeared to be of a political persuasion.

Although the Church of Christ is officially apolitical (earlier strands of our movement had even objected to their memberships voting or serving in the military), I believe at this point it is fair to say at this point that the movement is socially conservative. The "progressive" or "liberal churches" that raise the ire of the core of the movement are dubbed so normally only on worship style and format: whether women may participate, what types of music will be offered, what role technology should play in the worship service, etc.

But the United Church of Christ movement is socially progressive, and its membership seems to favor activist stances organized around and through the church.

Community United Church of Christ
would appear to be no exception.

Our first clue to the nature of the congregation was a sign on the front door that indicated that gay and lesbian believers would be welcomed and embraced by the congregation. In addition, the foyer's handout rack (which in conservative churches is normally filled with tracts explaining the "correct" theological position on various issues) was filled with opportunities to become involved in community programs, everything from Habitat for Humanity to race-relational programs to recycling advocacy groups.

The pastor, Pete Terpenning, did not deliver a sermon in the sense that I have been accustomed. Rather, he delivered a communion meditation that referenced our position in this world and our role in the politics of our country. This presentation evolved into a doxology and then a free forum in which members took turns explaining their joys and concerns to the congregation.

At one amusing point, Terpenning took the microphone from a young man who had presented a lengthy collection of thoughts about our role in political injustice and said to the congregation, "This is a good point. If we do not work to combat injustice in our society, who will care for those who cannot fight for themselves?" Without missing a beat, and elderly woman on the front row turned and pumped her fist in the air and cried "OBAMA!"

The congregation broke into soft laughter, and then moved into the communion ritual itself.

It was an odd experience worshiping in a church whose politics lean left of center. Having developed a preference that worship be apolitical (largely because I have rarely felt comfortable expressing conservative ideology in worship, the dominant cultural bias in most churches of which I've been a part), it was strange to feel my private passions vindicated within a communal setting.

I still do not know if my sentiments regarding the intersection between religion and politics will lead me to easy comfort within formal worship expressions of political positions (no matter how deeply those particular positions resonate within my own). But I found the experience affirming and greatly appreciated the love and compassion expressed to others that morning.

This church is my early favorite.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nederland Community Presbyterian Church

For our third stop, we decided to stay local and try the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church.

Following the Presbyterian liturgy, the church added a "Ned touch," as many of the community members (and even the Pastor), grabbed instruments at one point and played some interesting renditions of familiar music.

The church itself seems rather comfortable. The presbyter, Donald Dexter, delivered a sermon marrying the burning bush story from Exodus 3:1-15 and the story of Jesus revealing his plan to the apostles recounted in Matthew 16:21-28 in order to ask the congregation "Who sent You?"

As the church struggles to walk the line that divides social conformism from social irrelevance, how can Christians struggle to be in the world but not of the world?

I understand this tension, though it is not one that has particularly plagued my own soul in some time. I have been a part of too many congregations that formed their own worlds, leading members to live apart from the culture on Sunday, but conformed to the culture (and all too often without any distinction whatsoever) during the week.

I believe my life is about serving my fellow man in both spheres, and I do not recognize the privilege assumed by many Christians. We are called to work in the world, and any movement away from that tenant of truth violates the very point of trying to live by these principles.

That said, I did not have a negative response to this church at all. Every church I've ever been a member of struggles with this question. It's just not a struggle with which I personally identify.

Bethany cooled to the idea of returning here. From here view, should we move to Boulder in a year, we would be better served forming our communal ties there, so as to not be forced to restart this process next year.

But going to church 1 mile from our house would have been awfully convenient, though ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Atonement Lutheran Church

Although I was raised in the Church of Christ tradition, I have always held a fondness for the Lutheran and Presbyterian movements. While I was in Austin at University Avenue Church of Christ, I had involvement with each movement through ministry work, and was impressed with the call for social justice I found among the Lutherans.

Their history of basing political activism on spiritual principles does resonate with me.

During our house search last May, we had looked at a house across the street from Atonement Lutheran Church. We decided to make this church our second stop on our journey for a church home.

Like all Lutheran congregations, Atonement follows the Lutheran liturgy. It is inspiring to think about the fact that all Lutherans across the world followed the same passages and sang at least some of the same songs.

The pastor, Rev. Debra Enquist, delivered an impassioned, yet informal sermon, mixing in equal parts of modern vernacular with her theological terminology. She struck me as a cheerful warrior, someone who always brings a radiant smile to the table, even while calling for transformative change and justice for those who are hurting.

I enjoyed the service, perhaps more than Bethany (whom I believe still found it a bit formal).

All things being equal, I could find a place here. Bethany might find it a bit too comfortable.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Boulder Valley Church of Christ

We began our search with the familiar.

After months of searching different churches in Dallas, we had settled on Skillman Church of Christ. Through our connections there, we had learned about Boulder Valley Church of Christ and had located their information on their Web site.

Unfortunately, we caught them on an odd Sunday. Though their Web site did not appear to mention a different schedule, the church holds an annual sunrise service that began over an hour before we arrived. So we caught only the tail end of the service.

BVCoC appears to be a warm church that honors the convictions and traditions held by the CoC movement, though with far less formality than I had experienced in Dallas. The same friendliness we had come to expect was present, but with less of a "high church" atmosphere.

Which is nice. I suspect we will visit again.

I am reminded that we initially caught Skillman on an awkward Sunday during our search in Dallas and that it took a repeat trip to find our place there.

Who knows?