Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Theism: The belief in one or more deities. More specifically, it may also mean the belief that God/god(s) is immanent in the world, yet transcends it.

Clew started a discussion on her blog asking people to say whether or not they are theists, and why or why not. I think I’m going to have trouble fitting my answer into a comment form, so I’m making a whole entry of my own about it.

I’ve actually been thinking of writing something along these lines as it is. The church I attend is Trinitarian in nature, and the theology is based in the Nicene Creed, which essentially states that the Father begot the Son, and the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as it is sometimes called now, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

My problem here lies not with the Creator or the Sanctifier, but with the Redeemer. For reasons I can’t quite explain, even to myself, I just can’t bring myself to believe in the Jesus part of the Trinity, even though I have wanted to. And if I am completely honest with myself, I have never believed in Jesus as a personal aspect of God. Look back through my other theology writings. I always speak of “God” or “the Spirit,” because that’s what I understand and feel comfortable writing about. It’s never about Jesus.

If I break down my beliefs to their core, I could probably best be classed as a panentheist. Panentheism is the view that God is immanent within all creation or that God is the animating force behind the universe. I touched on this a couple of entries ago, writing about comets. Everything that exists is God examining God’s self and seeing what happens. The part of God which transcends the knowable universe is the part which is observing.

I do believe also that part of the knowable universe includes a spiritual realm, as well as the material realm we can easily see, and that this realm contains beings which can interact with the physical realm in certain situations, or in dreams. For example (yes, I know it’s fiction, but it’s the clearest example I can think of), J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion describes the world as the unfolding of the thoughts of the creator-god Illuvatar, while other beings, the Valar and the Maiar, who were created by Illuvatar, are “in” the world as its caretakers. (They’re in a spiritual realm not reachable by ordinary means, but also not in the Void where Illuvatar dwells.) I have not yet decided whether I believe the spiritual beings to be separate beings who are part of the creator-god in the way that material things are, or if they are the way by which the Divine interacts with the parts of itself which are enfleshed. I could argue either way.

But you see my quandary here. I belong to a church. I love my church and the people there. But I don’t believe the same things they do. I’ve been feeling like a fraud since I started being more honest with myself. How can I say the Nicene Creed every week when I don’t believe a word of it? How can I accept the “body and blood of Christ” when I know that it’s just bread and wine, and no holier than anything I make for myself in my own kitchen?

I believe in my church and the love that is there and the work that we do in the world, the music we make and the prayers that are raised. I don’t know if that’s enough for me to keep going there without feeling like a very uncomfortable fraud.

Friday, April 07, 2006

More History Channel Fun

Wasn't I supposed to spend Lent creating brilliant theological essays? Yes, you see how well this has worked.

So, anyway, I was watching more History Channel last night. They ran two specials about the Antichrist and the coming of the end.

Now, as I've posted before, I don't believe in any kind of literal interpretation of Revelation at all. But I always watch these End of the World specials. Generally, I sit there and argue with the narrator. (For some reason, the History Channel specials on the supernatural always seem biased in favor of whomever believes in the topic of the special.) These specials both had a few interview clips with Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, as one of the "voices of reason" who take a decidedly non-literal interpretation. And it was obvious that poor Bishop Griswold was trying not to roll his eyes at the inanity of some of the questions being asked of him.

So, while I was sitting there listening to the dispensationalists describe exactly what is going to happen when the Antichrist comes to power (and I will swear to you that televangelist Benny Hinn's southern accent is fake-- he sounds like a refugee from a Grisham movie), it occurred to me that these people must think the Antichrist is a complete idiot.

Think about it. For a couple hundred years now, they've been publicizing these things. And yet they still think the Antichrist is going to do what they SAY he's going to do? Like he'd use 666 for anything when it's gotten such a bad rep! New world order? Pfft. A REAL Antichrist would find much more indetectible ways of doing evil.

(And why do these folks always assume the Antichrist is male? The Beast described in Daniel and in Revelation is never once referred to as male. The pronoun is always "it.")

For that matter, why would the Antichrist even bother doing all these things anyway? The prophecy's been written, s/he knows how the story ends. So why not skip all the trouble and use all that power and charisma to lead a life of leisure on some tropical island?

See? Strange things pop into my head while I watch the History Channel.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Comet and Glory

Last night I was watching a show about comets on the History Channel. "Comets: Prophets of Doom," or something like that. In with the usual History Channel sensationalism about whether or not a massive, life-extinguishing comet is headed for Earth right this very second, they had interviews with actual scientists and NASA officials.

One of these mentioned something about how the first water on Earth was very likely brought here by crashing comets. The young Earth had been absolutely bombarded with comets for awhile, which kept it hot and molten. But almost as soon as it stopped and the magma cooled to rock, the water vapor the comets had carried condensed into liquid.

There’s even debate on whether this water vapor from the far reaches of the solar system had also carried the first amino acids—the protein chains which are absolutely necessary for life to arise. Possibly even living organisms themselves hitched rides on these comets—microscopic bacteria, dormant in the cold of space and the heat of Earth’s infancy, coming at last into the shelter of liquid water and blooming over so many billion years into the myriad strange forms of life we know today.

(Evolution, in my view, is not a tree with humans as the highest point, as I recall seeing in a middle school science book, but something more like a blackberry bramble, a great tangled vine twining and growing in all directions.)

It put me in mind of a tangent my mind had followed one late night some time ago. Suppose the Deity, the God who is behind the gods, was wondering about its own identity, sometime some 16 billion years ago as we measure time. And suppose that as we do, the Deity decided that the best way to discern itself was to analyze itself, to break itself down. So in that instant of self-analysis, the Deity split apart. Something came where there was nothing. Could that have been the cause of the Big Bang? This would mean that everything which exists would be Deity made manifest, Deity trying to understand itself.

I know it’s rampant speculation and I will never be able to prove it, even if I live along with the Universe another 16 billion years. But imagine my surprise, some years after I first had this strange idea, to hear this description of an alien religious philosophy on the sci-fi show “Babylon 5”: The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. As we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective."

Our sun is a second-generation star. Every bit of matter which created Sol and Earth and the rest of this system was once part of some other star system, some distant star which exploded in glory and threw its matter out into the furthest reaches of space, where it swirled and reformed and coalesced into everything which we know. Comets leave glistening trails of star matter in their wake as they ponderously orbit the sun on their long elliptical paths, and everyday the Earth passes through the whispers of the comets’ journeys.

We are starstuff.

Monday, March 06, 2006

An Unexpected Quiz Result

This morning I took a rather interesting online quiz called "Which religion is the right one for you?" It asked a whole bunch of questions about my beliefs and how I think things should be, and this is what I came up with.

You scored as Satanism. Your beliefs most closely resemble those of Satanism! Before you scream, do a bit of research on it. To be a Satanist, you don't actually have to believe in Satan. Satanism generally focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes. Do some research if you immediately think of the satanic cult stereotype. Your beliefs may also resemble those of earth-based religions such as paganism.

  • Satanism: 96%
  • Buddhism: 75%
  • Paganism: 75%
  • Agnosticism: 71%
  • Hinduism: 67%
  • Islam: 46%
  • Atheism: 38%
  • Judaism: 33%
  • Christianity: 21%

Well, at least the little devil icon guy is cute.

Needless to say, this is not exactly the result I was expecting. But then, with the way they describe it, it actually makes a fair bit of sense, at least this line does:

Satanism generally focuses upon the spiritual advancement of the self, rather than upon submission to a deity or a set of moral codes.

No matter what form my worship has taken over the years, this has always been one of my core beliefs-- that it's important to advance spiritually. So they're on to something, at least, even if they have a very odd way of telling me so!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Middle Way

One of the traditions of the Episcopal Church (and the rest of the Anglican Communion, for that matter) is that we will always seek to find a middle way, or via media as the church fathers called it in the old days when Latin was still the official language of worship. This began in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, who was faced with the rather daunting task of shaping this new church started by her father, Henry VIII. With her advisors, Elizabeth decided that the Anglican faith would be a middle way, somewhere between true Roman Catholicism and true Protestantism, as exemplified by the Puritans who were starting to become a force in England.

This tradition of following the via media has spread to other aspects of Episcopal tradition as well. In some senses, this is good. It means we look for consensus and compromise, and that we can include all kinds of people.

It also sometimes, in my opinion, means that we avoid taking a stand and that we try too hard to avoid offending people.

Sometimes you just need to put your foot down and decide what you believe and where you want to go with it, and I truly wish sometimes that we could do this. There’s a chance the church will split over the issues surrounding homosexuality. I don’t want that any more than anyone else does. But I want even less to be wishy-washy about it and avoid doing what’s right just to keep the majority happy! Tyranny by a majority is still tyranny, and surely Jesus wasn’t worried about keeping the disciples happy when he was doing his earthly ministry.

Last year there was a commercial showing some people waiting in line to get into a church as if it were a nightclub. There was a bouncer going through and removing the “undesirables” from line—gay couples, young people, poor people, punked-out teenagers. The message of the commercial was that even if you’d felt that way elsewhere, their church would welcome you. It was for the United Church of Christ, as I recall.

It should have been ours. We should have been the ones to take that stand. All the directory signs and emblems boldly proclaim, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you!”

It’s time to make it clear that this statement is true.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bishop Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ever to be elected as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, has admitted to alcoholism and checked himself into a rehab center.

Of course, some Shouting Christians ™ are already using Bishop Robinson’s problem as “proof” that no gays should be in the clergy. “See? It’s proof of God’s wrath! God hates TEH GAYS!”

Never mind that God created TEH GAYS.

Quite honestly, this news didn’t surprise me. It saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me. How much pressure must there be on some one who is “the first” anything? The vanguard of great social change is not a comfortable place to be.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not considered a hero by most until long after he was killed.

Whenever anyone stands up for anything that challenges the status quo, there will invariably be attempts to shout them down and shut them up.

And Bishop Robinson probably never wanted to be a “cause.” He probably never wanted anything more than to follow his calling.

Be well, Bishop. Rest and heal. Some of us are hoping you win.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Last night I saw what I will call, for want of a better term, a vision. It wasn’t a dream, because I was awake, but it certainly wasn’t a daydream in the sense of me controlling it, either. And what I saw was this.

I saw myself coming near to death, so near, oh so near, as if a lethargy had set into my limbs and I was drifting away. Then far away I saw a great river, and on the far shore wandered a multitude of souls. They weren’t joyful, they weren’t sad. Mostly, they were just there. They were lost.

These were the souls who can not fly. They are still bound to the earth; they can not rise and be reborn until they learn to fly. And it is their fear which holds them most strongly. Anger and pride hold them down somewhat, but it is their fear which binds them so strongly they can not break free.

So they wander, and they do not even know that they can fly.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Demons: Reaction to a Modern Parable

Yesterday, my church presented for the first time a sermon which actually offended me. After more than two years of sermons which were either spot-on what I needed to hear, or pleasant, or thought-provoking, I didn’t think they’d ever offend me, but they finally did.

The way we do things without a full-time rector is that the sermon duty alternates between three women: the supply priest, the parish coordinator, and a woman who is in the process of becoming ordained. Yesterday was the parish coordinator’s turn.

Her sermon was based around a short story about a woman who is “restless and displeased” with her life, who goes to consult a gypsy fortuneteller to see if she can figure out what’s wrong. The gypsy tells the woman that she is possessed by seven demons, and gives the demons names such as “I Will Not Die,” “Things Will Get Better,” “Someday Love Will Come,” and “If Only This, Then That.” Basically, all of the usual dissatisfactions and insecurities a modern woman might have with her life.

I take exception to this story for two reasons.

The first is that to portray these insecurities as demons is unusually facile. The way the story was written, they come from outside entities. This is a dangerous doctrine, to think of the unwanted facets of the personality as demons or evil spirits. It seems something that could very easily be used to put off personal responsibility or the need to shape our personalities ourselves. “Well, I can’t help being this way. It’s the demon’s fault!”

The second is the inherent assumption that such restlessness is bad. I have found that through restlessness comes creativity and a desire to make my life better. Restlessness impelled me to action at times when I might otherwise have sat passively and let my life crumble around me. God helps those who help themselves, as they say. And who’s to say that a restlessness of that sort is not in itself a message from the Spirit, trying to get through and tell us that we have something we need to be doing?

Surrendering to the will of God, as the story suggested, does not alleviate restlessness. It may direct it and give it purpose, but the restlessness will ever be there, pulsing and preparing the person to act.

Friday, January 20, 2006

In-Your-Face Evangelism

Last week, I had a rather unfortunate encounter with a fundamentalist Bible literalist at work.

This lady, whom we shall call B, is in the same department as I am—higher ranking, but not a boss of mine. She was offering me a very small side job typing up a sheet her church’s Bible study group could use to mark off the Bible chapters they have read. Easy enough. My boss, whom we shall call C, was also there. Once I agreed to do the typing, B and C got to talking about the Bible study group some people run here at work during lunchtime on certain days, and B asked if I’d be interested in attending.

I asked for more details, and she said they were doing a study of Revelation using a study guide written by Ann Graham, Billy Graham’s daughter. I immediately started to feel uncomfortable. Wasn’t Ann Graham one of those who, after 9/11, went on TV and said that the attacks were a divine punishment because America contains gay people? But I was polite. “Well, I’ve probably got a more liberal interpretation of the Bible than you would be using, but it’s always good to hear different ideas…” I began.

B cut me off and started telling me there was nothing to interpret, because the Bible was God’s Divine Word ™ and it simply was as written.

I tried to explain that in my church, we don’t take such a literal interpretation of Scripture. It was inspired by God, to be sure—at least the parts which aren’t forgeries inserted by people working for their own agendas. But it was written by humans. It was translated by humans. It has been for centuries interpreted by humans trying to understand what the people of another time and place were attempting to say, trying to understand the nuances of languages they did not speak as natives. To say that there have been no errors in that process over the years strikes me as astonishingly naïve. (I didn’t tell B that part.)

B kept interrupting and talking over me. C, bless her, tried to make B keep quiet so I could finish what I was saying, but it wasn’t working. Finally I explained the very core of my faith, my certainty that God is a God of mercy and justice both. Suppose there is a Muslim man who is good, I said. He loves his family, gives alms to the poor, worships Allah as best he can. He does as he was taught. I can not bring myself to believe that he will be damned, because he had no way of knowing God except what he was taught. God’s message has been so garbled by humans over so many years. I believe that when we die, we will meet God, and all that misunderstanding will be lifted away. We will then be given a chance to decide whether we accept that Truth or not.

B was having none of it. “Well,” she said dismissively, “it says in the Bible that everyone who doesn’t follow Jesus will be damned. Sometime I’ll talk to you without C around. I’ll bring you around to my thinking!”

Hmm, how much more condescending could she be? I was as polite and restrained as I was because C was there. If she’s not around, the full theological onslaught is going to be released. The gloves will come off, as they say in hockey.

It was really a very stressful encounter, and I felt full of adrenaline afterwards. There was a definite fight-or-flight response going on. I couldn’t very well fly, so I fought. As politely as I could, with the only words I knew, but I fought for what I believe to be true.

I don’t believe this style of evangelism has any place in a life of faith. Nowhere in the entire Bible did Jesus tell the disciples to be disrespectful. None of the writers of the Epistles said to do any such thing. My faith is to be shown in the way I live my life, however imperfectly I manage to do that. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not I can shout louder than the person who’s disagreeing with me.

Just because someone can interrupt and talk over me, it doesn’t make them right. It just makes them rude.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


I remember having... not an argument, exactly, but certainly a spirited discussion with one of my cousins when the Barenaked Ladies song "It's All Been Done" came out. I insisted it was about reincarnation and souls encountering each other through successive lives, even though done comically. She said there was no way; it was just silliness.

I actually believe in reincarnation. I know that's not a common Christian belief (in fact it's considered thoroughly heretical by some), but it seems too right an idea for me to let go of.

The early church did teach a doctrine of reincarnation. Witness the words of Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, "'It is absolutely necessary that the soul shall be healed and purified, and if it doesn't take place in one life on earth, it must be accomplished in future earthly lives." Even St. Augustine in his Confessions mused on the possibilities of multiple lives. "Did my infancy succeed another age of mine that dies before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb? . . . And what before that life again, O God of my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?" Certain sects of Christians, especially Gnostics, Manicheans, and Cathars, taught that reincarnation was fact, but the idea was declared heretical by the mainstream church at the Council of Constantinople in the year 533.

The main Christian objection to reincarnation is that it seems to indicate that Christ's gift of salvation and grace is not enough, if multiple lives are required to attain perfection. However, within the Gospels, Jesus himself refers to John the Baptist as the reincarnation of Elijah. "For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14.) See also Matthew 17:10-13 and Mark 9:9-13.

The Apostle Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, was a Pharisee. The Pharisaic sect of Judaism taught a form of reincarnation, that the souls of the wicked were punished after death, but the souls of the righteous were "removed into other bodies" and had the power to revive and live again. Paul gives us a tantalizing hint at the possibility of reincarnation in his first letter to the Corinthians. "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed." (1 Cor. 15:51.)

I believe in reincarnation because I believe that one of the responses a soul makes upon receiving the gift of grace is the desire to know God. With very few and rare exceptions, though, this can not be done directly while we are embodied. So we learn about God by learning about the world and people around us. We come to understand God and God's love, in our limited way, by understanding and loving others.

It would be a rare soul that could reach even a partial understanding of life and its mysteries in one lifetime. So I believe that reincarnation is itself a gift of grace. It does not detract from salvation, but is a part of it. It is the gift of a loving Creator that our souls are given as many opportunities as we need to learn what we need to know to become part of that love and rejoin with God in the Source of All.