Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Evolving Christianity

About a week ago, my wife's cousin visited us for the weekend. It was a lovely time going around the city and showing her some of the things we like to do here in the City of Broad Shoulders, which included going to our church.

When we were getting worried we might be a little late, she offered, "there'll be about ten minutes of music, so we might miss that." I realized how different our church is from others, in that we don't follow the same format every service, let alone the same as every other church.

Which got me to wondering why most churches have a system of "come in, stand, sing, say 'hi', sit, sermon, announcements, stand, sing". A couple of those might get moved around, but that's the gist of it.

I think the answer lies in the sort of language used in the sermons. What pastors tend to say when they talk about a passage of scripture is, "this is what this passage means." A "correct" answer is being presented, which doesn't actually help.

At Wicker Park Grace, our pastor, Nanette, has offered the idea that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we stop doubting, we stop learning; this applies to God as much as anything else. If there's a right answer, than when you reach it you can stop thinking about the question.

Problem with God is, there is a lot of unknowable there, and I think we need to change the way we think about Jesus and God. That is not to say we need to change what we think (although that might be a good call in some instances), but our methods of thought should change.

This is obvious when you look at how prayer has evolved over the centuries. Jesus offered certain prayers as templates, and most people do not take those as the only proper words to say. Likewise, the early church looked into the sky when they prayed. If our method of talking to God can change, so too can the way we think about speaking with God.

The whole "right answer" schema comes from a misunderstanding of knowledge. When I was in high school, I knew people who said they liked math because it had right answers, unlike English (even though when you're in high school English, there is certainly only one right answer). This only embraces the most rudimentary way of thinking about and doing math, a field which has so much room for creativity.

If Futurama can create new theorems to solve its plot, then there aren't just a set of known quantities. It's the same with faith and theology. We need to move past the comfortable, legalistic ideas of "right answer" and "wrong answer" and embrace "rewarding answers".

Reason being, the world needs people who care about each other the way Christ did, and he was creative about it. It takes creativity to fix the military-industrial complex, corporate farming and health care systems that aren't working.

The best way to mobilize Christians is to move past the kind of binary thinking for which God didn't design humans to settle and to ask better questions; we can find comfort in not having answers.

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