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Friday, September 13, 2013

What is Happening in the Churches of Christ?

This is a PowerPoint presentation I put together to help explain what's happening in the Churches of Christ based on Joe Beam's article in Grace Centered Magazine.

Let me know what you think. Is he right? Where do you see yourself on this spectrum? What do you see in the future?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Win a copy of my novel

Reviewers are saying it's:
"Superb" "Quick [and] fun" "Snarky Adventure" "Super Fun!" "Fast pace, great humor and romance" and "Not...terrible...actually pretty good." 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like Mind

by James T. Wood

Giveaway ends September 27, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Faithful Unbelief

In Mark 9:24 a distraught father, at the end of his rope, cried out his final plea to a God who had failed him: “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

That father was in the midst of a crisis of faith. He had tried everything he could think of to heal his son, but nothing worked. He’d even come to Jesus’ disciples who were supposed to be able to do things that no one else could do. When they failed too it seemed like the end for this ever hoping, yet hopeless father.

Then Jesus walked up. He started to dig into what was going on and learned of the disciples’ failure. He made it clear that anything is possible for one who believes.

That statement is life and death.

When faith is easy, it’s a joy to know that God is on your side. It adds to strength to consider that God makes anything possible. When the blessings are flowing, faith flows with them.

But when faith is hard, the idea that anything being possible for those who believe feels like another boot to the back keeping you down. It’s just another indication of how hopeless you really are. If you could simply have enough faith, God would provide. So the failure is yours, not God’s. It’s your lack of faith. Your disbelief. Your failure. Your death.

But that desperate father wouldn’t give up. Even though faith was hard for him and he was filled with unbelief, he didn’t see just two options.

We live in an either/or world that likes to divide things into neat piles. It is either this or that. It’s either here or there. It’s either conservative or liberal. It’s either science or faith. It’s either logical or emotional. It’s either faith or unbelief.

The father refused to be bounded by either/or. He claimed both faith and unbelief. He scattered the neat piles and destroyed the divisions. So Jesus smote him. Smote him good.

No, Jesus loved him.

It’s almost like a Kobayashi Maru, the fictional test for Starfleet officers in the Star Trek universe. It’s a no-win situation. No matter what option you choose in the test it turns out badly. It’s designed as a test of character to determine how potential officers react to real-life no-win situations.

Captain Kirk didn’t accept the rules. He denied that there could be a no-win situation so he found another way. He reprogrammed the test.

The desperate father didn’t accept that there could be an either/or situation. He wanted both/and. And Jesus gave it to him. Happily.

Jesus healed the boy. The father’s son was well. The faithful unbelief of the father was rewarded.

The idea of faithful unbelief isn’t often explored. We usually read the bible from an either/or perspective. Either people are faithful or they are unbelievers. We don’t usually have categories for the both/and, for the faithful unbelievers.

Yet that happens all the time. Faithful unbelief is something that everyone deals with, if they’re honest. Death, loss, divorce, sickness, bankruptcy, unemployment: doubt-causers. For the desperate father it was the incurable sickness of his son. For others it might be years of unemployment. Or mental illness that won’t flee from medicine and therapy. Or a relationship that is so broken mending it seems impossible. Or a death that comes suddenly and leaves broken hearts in its wake.

Doubt-causers will strike every life. Guaranteed.

So what do you do? How do you cope? How do you process through a doubt-causer in a faithful way?

What does Faithful Unbelief look like?

Join us for thirteen conversations exploring faith, doubt, questions, answers, and how to have faithful unbelief.

  1. Being Uncertainly Certain
    1. Why what we think we know isn’t always what we know.
  2. Cognitive Dissonance
    1. The power and danger of thinking two different things at the same time.
  3. The Cycle of Learning
    1. How our reason, experience and emotions combine to create knowledge
  4. Asking Questions
    1. Exploring the different motivations for asking questions.
  5. Asking Logical Questions
    1. A brief overview of logic, its questions and potential answers.
  6. Asking Emotional Questions
    1. How feelings spur questions that logic may not be able to answer and what to do about it.  
  7. Searching for Answers
    1. Ways to begin processing questions: study, conversation, experience, journaling, meditation, counseling, etc.
  8. Searching for Meaning
    1. Touching on the difference between answers and meaning and what each one can offer.
  9. Discovering Truth
    1. How will you know when you know what you know?
  10. Big T Truth versus Little T Truth.
    1. How finding your truth may or may not have anything to do with Truth.
  11. Change
    1. How to use both feelings and actions to create change, and why you should do it.
  12. Cognitive Consonance
    1. Re-aligning your brain to a new reality is painful and rewarding.
  13. Re-Engage the Questions
    1. The cycle of faithful unbelief continues. Learn how to keep the process going in a healthy way.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Last Mile

The term "The Last Mile" came from the push to get phone lines to every person in the United States. The real problem, and the most expensive part of the process, was getting the line the last mile down the road to the houses of people.

It was easy to start the process. The first few miles were close to the phone company and a natural extension of what was already happening. But the farther from the phone company, the more spread out the people became.

Still, getting to the towns wasn't terribly difficult. There were highways that led to most of those. What was the real issue was that last mile from the towns to each person's home.

I struggle with the last mile in almost every project I do. I want to hurry up and start things, but I don't want to finish them. The minute details. The endless polishing. The last, lonely, long mile of it.

But the last mile is the difference between a professional and an amateur.

It's easy enough for anyone to start something, but to go through all the thankless effort of finishing well is the mark of a true professional.

My first published book wasn't professional. People read it because, I think, the content outshone the flaws.

But instead of rushing out my next book. I'm forcing myself to walk the last mile. To re-read what I wrote and others have read.

I really don't want to do this. That's why I must.

How do you deal with the last mile in your work?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wrestling Entropy

It’s vast.

Vast and constantly swirling.

But it doesn’t swirl like the eddies of a river seeking chaotic balance. It doesn’t swirl like clouds forming a funnel of violence. It doesn’t swirl  like flames erupting from a pitch-filled knot on a log tossed into a fire.

No the swirling is fully random.

That may not seem a differentiation, but it is.

Everything we see that we think is chaotic isn’t really. It’s order that we can’t fully perceive. The swirls of sunflower seeds are arranged according to Fibonacci’s sequence. So too the shell of the nautilus. The clouds obey patterns of wind. Fire is defined by thermodynamics.

The pseudo-chaos we see is not chaos but our inability to understand. The flowing river is in perfect order that we could see if we knew ever molecule of water, every fish, every plant, every gust of wind, every stone and every footfall of a deer slaking its thirst at dusk. It all goes where it ought to in precisely predefined patterns.

This unending, swirling, chaos-incarnate is wholly different. Not in degree, but in kind. There is no analogy. Laws do not define it. Understanding cannot contain it. Vision cannot circumscribe it.

You stand at the edge as if on a cliff before the raging sea. It writhes, alive and seeking. You can sense its cold purpose yet no words exist to describe it. As color to one born blind.

You fear it, as you should, but slowly something dawns on you. The realization creeps up your spine and lodges in the base of your skull. It is felt, but not yet known. Your fearing, lizard-brain, fight-or-flight knot-in-the-pit-of-your-feet locks you in place.

Your blood pressure rises. Sweat embraces you. Breath escapes you. The chaos is growing, coming, seeking to destroy you.

Panic cries out, begs for your obedience.

But with Alexander’s blade your gut-thought cleaves the Gordian coil.

Entropy fears you.

You fear it. As well you should. It desires that all should be like it. Everything should fail, crumble, topple and rust into oblivion. It devours worlds, stars, galaxies and hearts.
But it fears you too. As well it should.

You stand before it defiant. Its all-consuming chaos is not death to you, but life. It is from whence all things come. Not willingly, but eventually.

You wrestle with Entropy.

Each match is a titanic struggle laying low one or the other opponents. You know not if you will succeed or fail, yet you stride forth into battle. Into chaos. Into death-life you wade knowing that you can drag out of its vast, swirling depths some order.

But not the order that can be understood, contained and explained. No, the order you draw forth is other. Like Entropy is other.

Your order is something new, something wondrous. It is Creation.
What was not now is. Because you stand, fight and overcome Entropy.
Do not diminish the heroic act with petty labels.


Those are but orderly, understandable, circumscribable labels for those who stride forth, like you, and wrestle Entropy into submission in order to bring a Creation forth into the world.

You should fear Entropy, but so should Entropy fear you.

You are mighty. You Create. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Why Productivity isn't Always the Best Goal

My 2012 was wildly unproductive. I want to feel like a failure. I'm trying not to though.

For most of the things I did in the last calendar year I have no measure of success. By any quantitative, objective standard I'm a failure. I made less money. The church I was working with closed down. I didn't publish a book (after publishing 2 in 2011). My writing business ended up writing off more than it made.

All that really makes me want to feel like a failure.

But I'm reminding myself that productivity isn't my goal. I don't want to be a productive writer, teacher, minister, or husband. I want to be better.

Instead of looking at 2012 through the lens of productivity, I'm trying to look at it through the lens of improvement. Am I better?

In 2012 I started developing my craft as a fiction writer. I joined a critique group and a connection group for writers. I've been able to give and receive feedback on writing that is thoughtful, helpful, and not personal.

I started teaching in 2012 and I've been working to develop my skills to communicate ideas over the long-term and to translate my thoughts into concepts that can be understood by all the different types of thinkers.

I helped a church see what true ministry looks like, how difficult it is to be a disciple-making-disciple, and to come to the realization that they no longer had the energy to do what they were called to do. Even though the church closed, the members left with a better understanding of God's calling for their lives.

My wife and I have kept working to improve our marriage. We revisited our marriage mission and vision in order to make it more closely align with who we are and what we're doing. We experimented with new ways to express love to each other, kept having conversations about how we can improve and have just worked hard to be great at marriage.

If I evaluate 2012 based on the standard of productivity, I failed. But in 2013 I'm a better writer, teacher, minister and husband than I was in 2011. So I'm doing my best to not feel like a failure.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Either/Or, but Both/And

Either/Or thinking is, in general, a waste of time.

For one thing, it's a logical fallacy to assume that there are only two possible answers to most questions. In nearly every discussion there are multiple answers with varying levels of validity.

It also immediately puts the discussion into the realm of right vs. wrong, which isn't a helpful spectrum on which to operate. If we are only concerned with being right, we won't entertain any other possibilities which actually increases the probability that we'll be wrong (more on that in a bit).

It's also a relationally destructive paradigm because conversations are reduced to competitions in which one party is the loser and the other the winner.

Both/And thinking offers more hope and certainty.

Looking at how both views can be right and wrong allows ideas to be placed on a continuum rather than set up as diametrically opposed. Seeing the continuum, or even a web of thoughts, provides not only a fuller understanding of the issue, but a better way of disagreeing.

Instead of pitting right versus wrong, a both/and view allows the strengths and weaknesses of different ideas to be expressed. However if you're stuck defending the "right" answer, you are likely to never see its inherent weaknesses nor to discover the strengths in other points of view. This is, in essence, what the church did with Copernicus and Galileo. Their emphasis on being right blinded them to the strengths in the argument of another. So they were unable to admit the weaknesses in their own argument and therefore drastically reduced their chances of being right.

Ultimately, both/and thinking seeks relationship over rightness. But that doesn't mean that rightness is sacrificed. Rather, when the relationship takes priority, it allows a forum for more ideas to be heard and a fuller understanding of the ideas to develop. Oddly, emphasizing relationship increases rightness.  

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

My Favorite Gay Atheist or Why Conversation Makes Us All Better

I just finished reading a very good book:
Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. In it Chris Stedman tells the story of how he grew up, converted to Christianity, came out as gay, went to bible college, became an atheist, discovered that religious people aren't universally terrible, went to seminary, and began advocating for interfaith dialog and action - even though he doesn't have any faith per se.

The story is very personal and thoughtfully written. If you've never met an atheist or a homosexual person, you should absolutely read this book to see the humanity within those groups. Chris doesn't hide his humanity.

The story of Chris desperately struggling to not be gay was particularly moving and thought provoking. Especially since that's not what caused him to lose his faith...

Right now Chris is primarily concerned with helping atheists to have a moral purpose other than just disagreeing with theists. He's helping his atheist brothers and sisters to serve, connect, and make the world a better place. Chis is also helping atheists to converse with people of all faiths through his connection with Interfaith Youth Core.

Chris' story is one of continually diving into the deep end of dialog with people. Through it he's been hurt, abused, and rejected. But, more importantly, through it he's helped erase hate, bigotry, and violence that are bred of ignorance.

Dialog, according to Chris, doesn't call us to lessen our beliefs, ignore our convictions, or change our faith to accommodate others. Instead, actively sharing what we believe and why we believe it helps to strengthen the core of compassion, love, and connection with others. Listening to other people is a powerful way to show value for them. Listening without trying to convince exclaims respect.

I notice that Jesus never tried to convince the Romans to stop following Jupiter. Jesus' words about religion were to those who claimed to have a lock on the truth. He broke the lock, kicked in the door, and invited in everyone to have a part of the conversation.

Jesus' beliefs did not require him to convince others of his rightness, nor did his beliefs weaken in response to open dialog with others.

Why can't we have the same attitude?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why the Conversation Matters or What Heisenberg has to Teach Us about Life

Albert Einstein famously responded to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with the quip, "God does not play dice with the universe."

Einstein hated the rise of quantum physics even though it was a direct result of his work.

So, what does that have to do with conversation? I'm glad you asked. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is the quantum application of the observer effect which states that when measuring a system, the observer changes the system. This effect is so pronounced when taking measurements at the quantum level that the observer must be considered as a part of the system being measured.

Make sense?

Okay, let me try again. If you check the pressure of the air in your tire, you have to let some of the air out in order to gauge what's going on inside the tire. You change the system to measure the system. If you wanted to do a quantum measurement of the electrons of the molecules inside the tire, your act of measuring would make you a part of the system.

The same thing happens in conversations. I had a conversation on Facebook recently about gay marriage. It got up to 265 comments over the course of 5 days. Toward the end several people were questioning the point of such a lengthy discussion since no one appeared to be changing opinions on the matter. I don't think anyone did end up changing views, but they all changed. Every person who contributed to the conversation was changed for it.

By measuring your thoughts, you change your thoughts. You cannot state what you think without affecting what you think. So by being forced to type out words, everyone in the conversation was also forced to subtly change their minds. Then, in addition, they were forced to specifically address their thoughts toward opposing views, and since I won't brook abusive, dismissive comments, they had to do it in relationship with others.

That changes people. That changed me.

Even though my opinion on gay marriage isn't substantially different now than it was before, I better understand why those who disagree with me hold their views. They better understand why I hold my views. And, I think, we're all better for it.

How have you benefited from having a conversation in which no one changes their opinion?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opinions on Gay Marriage are Shifting for Everyone

Yesterday NPR pointed to new research from Pew that says people's opinions about gay marriage are changing.

Currently more people support gay marriage than oppose it (49% to 44%), which is a change from previous views. But the astounding statistic that comes out of this research is that 28% of people who currently support gay marriage used to opposed it.

It's a rarity in modern social and political spheres for people to so radically change their minds. What could cause such a shift in opinions on such a divisive topic?


People changed their mind on gay marriage because of a relationship with someone homosexual. It's much harder to oppose something when you put a face on it. It's much easier to change your mind when you do it out of care for someone.

Relationships change minds far more than statistics, logic, rhetoric, or pleading. Knowing someone and being known by someone is, perhaps, the most powerful way to convince someone. It creates a cognitive dissonance to see someone who seems good and to ascribe to them the label of evil. It's difficult to believe that gay people are bad when you know a good one.

Do you know any homosexual people? How has your relationship changed your mind?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Rob Bell Right or Wrong about Gay Marriage?

So, I guess Rob Bell is in favor of gay marriage now.

According to the Huffington Post Bell said:
"I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs -- I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are."

So, is he right or wrong?

The Washington Post welcomes Bell to the side of right and justice in a new Civil Rights Movement.

The Patheos blog descries Bell as the latest celebrity to fall to the scythe of cultural normativism.

Which one is right?

I think that we're asking the wrong question here. Or, to put it differently, we're not asking the right questions.

Rob Bell says that he supports gay marriage. Okay, great. But what does that mean? Doe he now think that homosexuality is not a sin in the bible? Or does he think that the bible shouldn't affect civil laws?

Both are conversations that are worthy and need to be discussed. But what's happening here (in the case of the Patheos blog, to name just one) is that Christians are condemning Bell to hell (ha, the jokes on them since he doesn't believe in hell). On the other side, gay rights activists are saying the Bell is in favor of homosexual relationships (not just gay marriage).

From what we have so far, we can't really make a determination. And that's the problem.

The conversation about gay marriage is so mired in preconceived notions that any statement on either side means that one must align with a particular view. It's inconceivable that one could be for gay marriage and still consider homosexuality a sin according to the bible.

And that's why we can't talk about this. We're yelling at each other rather than having a discussion. Yelling gets us nowhere and, in the case of the church, it is only serving to further marginalize and minimize any message of hope or truth they might have.

Please stop yelling. Please stop promoting the yelling. It's not helping anything.

So, is Rob Bell right or wrong about gay marriage?

I don't know, let's have a conversation and figure it out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Embrace Fear

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," quoth Franklin Roosevelt.

In some sense that's absolutely true, our fears are based on our imagination far more than on reality. But what if we didn't perceive fear as a negative emotion? What if we decided that fear was simply a barometer pointing to the reality of our lives?

What if fear stopped being something we avoid and started being something we embrace?

Not that we should become fear junkies who seek the next fright-fix, nor that we should hope to encounter terrifying situations, those aren't helpful.

But fear is. Helpful, that is. It tells us when there's something that we want to avoid, and often that thing is something we really ought to do.

Think about it. Top fears - once you get past spiders, snakes, and rats - are public speaking, dealing with conflict, and pursuing dreams.

We fear what we need to do. We know what's good. We're easily able to determine what is good, but we have a hard time moving to do the good that we know we ought to do. We're afraid. We run from the fear and so we don't do the good that we ought to do.

Instead of running from fear, we should embrace it. As Brene Brown says, "Lean into the discomfort."

Growth is uncomfortable; it's scary. But that doesn't mean we should avoid it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fear, Guilt, and Life

Fear and guilt aren't bad things. They help us to identify what's going on in our lives. They are powerful, useful markers that should increase our awareness of what we're doing.

But we've shifted so that we are driven by our feelings rather than being driven by purpose. It would be like planning your life around which gas station you can get to with your car rather than just finding a station when the tank is low.

Fear and guilt signals that something's happening, not unlike the low-gas light on your vehicle. But what you do with the signal matters far more than the signal itself. We've become signal averse rather than signal aware.

We think it's the light that should be avoided rather than the low gas level. So we might do things like put tape over the light, remove the fuse, or constantly and obsessively fill the tank ever few miles.

It's no different with fear and guilt when we seek to numb them, avoid them, or constantly assuage them through some sort of penance or ritual.

We're missing the point of the emotional signals we have.

How do you work to integrate fear and guilt into your life rather than avoiding them?

Monday, March 11, 2013

We were Made for This

In the origin story, we read about two trees being place in the garden. One tree was life, the other knowledge. The tree of knowledge was forbidden. Yet it was grasped anyway.

In some ways it seems that the church has interpreted this to mean that knowledge is evil. If it was a sin to take and eat of the tree of knowledge, then it must be wrong to pursue knowledge now. The conclusion became that knowledge itself was wrong.

What if that's not the case? What if we were made for knowledge and he problem wasn't in gaining it, but in gaining it too soon?

In the biblical stories, the life-tree never leaves. It's in the beginning and at the end. We were always meant to eat from it. We were made to eat from it.

What if we were made to eat from the knowledge-tree too? Just not yet.

Look at a child who is confronted with the knowledge of good and evil before they're ready. Children who suffer through abuse and tragedy don't have the mental power to cope with what they've learned. They gain the knowledge of good and evil but lack the ability to comprehend them. So, most often, they shut down in various ways.

What if that's what happened to humanity?

What if we became aware of good, and it was too much for us, so we feared it? We covered our nakedness and put up barriers to vulnerable relationships because the sheer goodness of them is terrifying.

What if we became aware of evil and it was too much for us, so we felt guilty? We let guilt overwhelm us and blind us so that something minor exploded into a major problem; greed gave birth to murder.

These twin demons of fear and guilt are coping mechanisms that our immature minds threw up against the onslaught of overwhelming knowledge. And since that moment in the garden we've been grasping forward trying to deal with the knowledge that was thrust on us long before we were ready for it.

Knowledge isn't bad; we were made to eat from the knowledge-tree. We just got there too soon.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Questions of the Heart

Today's blog lives on another site. You should go there and read it.

My friend Peter asked me to write a guest post for his blog. The title I chose was: "Questions of the Heart."

Here's a teaser for you:
"Growing up in church, I was taught that certainty, not cleanliness, is what’s next to godliness. From the pulpit to the Sunday school classroom, we were told that we could be sure of our faith. It came as a surprise to me, then, when I discovered the many of the heroes of faith in the Bible have struggled with questions."
 You should go and read the rest. And leave a comment over there.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Then it All Went Wrong

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did. The Industrial Revolution transformed our world. It shaped government, economics, education, religion, and nearly everything else about our world. We found ways to make things faster, cheaper, more long-lasting, more interchangeable, and more profitable.

We went from a world where everything was hand-crafted as a unique item. Every bowl, gun, book, ship, house, and saddle were unique. They cost a lot of money, time, and effort to produce which helped to keep the poor poor and concentrated power in the hands of the few rich. But with the Industrial Revolution we learned how to replicate identical copies of a prototype.

So we tried to replicate identical copies of the United States government around the world.

We tried to replicate copies of intelligent people through our educational system.

We tried to replicate copies of our religious leaders through our churches.

While you can easily copy a tire, mass-produce it, and end up with better, cheaper results, it's actually detrimental to try to do the same thing with government, intelligence, and religion. We took the good of the Industrial Revolution and made it a bad thing by over-applying it.

Sir Ken Robinson points out that schools are killing rather than nurturing creativity. One of his main complaints is: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Yet we've designed an educational system that systematically punishes students for doing exactly what they need to do in order to learn and grow.

How messed up is that?

People, and the systems made up of people, cannot be replicated. Human beings are not interchangeable parts to be swapped out on a whim. With each person, with each generation, we need to provide opportunities for growth and change. We need to provide opportunities to doubt, question, and grow.

The current generation needs to take up the ideas of racism and civil rights and examine them anew. They can't rely on the conclusions of the past. The current generation needs to work through the deepest questions of religion and philosophy for themselves.

We should, absolutely, interact with the great thinkers who have gone before. But they aren't molds into which we inject our own minds to be conformed to their way of thinking. Rather they are guides who've blazed a trail for us. It's on us, however, to walk the path--or to choose to blaze our own trail.

Monday, March 04, 2013

You Can Never be Right without being Wrong

We're born with the innate capacity to be drastically wrong and still be okay with it. Babies eat dirt and, most of them, learn that dirt doesn't taste very good. Toddlers touch something hot and learn that it's a bad idea. Children crash their bikes and learn that the jump was too high.

But somewhere on into the teenage and early adult years we start making the switch. We have, somewhere, gotten the idea that to be an adult is to be right. I wonder where children could have ever gotten the impression that adulthood is the equivalent of always being right...

But it's the very people who eschew the idea that we're right who are our greatest innovators and heroes. The dirt-eating baby who grows up continuing to try new and daring combinations of flavors might be a famous chef or a prize-winning chemist. The toddler who burned her hand might grow up to develop new technology to keep us safe in our cars. The child who crashed his bike might grow up to be a test pilot and get to crash even bigger things.

We have this dual-personality issue in our society where we laud those who embrace being wrong only once they've been wrong enough times to be right. We focus on the end rather than the means that got them to that end. We don't praise Edison for his failed bulbs, but for his success. We don't praise Asimov for his terrible writing, but for his breakout works. We don't praise Steve Jobs for NeXT, but for OS X and iOS.

What if we started praising people for failing? What if we started encouraging people to be wrong?

How would that change our schools? Our jobs? Our government? Our churches?

Most of the major breakthroughs in history would have been impossible without people being wrong. Why then, are we so averse to it?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Lessons in being Wrong

Happy Sequestration Day!

Today is the feared, dreaded, awful day on which the sequestration of federal government funds takes effect and mandates spending cuts across the board.

We're here for one reason: no one is willing to be wrong.

The Democrats won't admit do being wrong. The Republicans won't admit to being wrong. The president won't admit to being wrong. The senate won't admit to being wrong. The house won't admit to being wrong.

But in some ways they're all wrong. They've all made mistakes. It's not a surprise (or it shouldn't be) that human beings thought one thing was right and, after time, discovered that it wasn't. That's the story of how we've progressed from stone-age cave-dwellers to masters of our world (which we're admitting that we've been wrong about).

"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to eat that chicken raw."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future." 
"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to racially enslave people."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future." 
"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to make that asbestos so easy to inhale."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future."

But, for whatever reason, the current government seems incapable of having a similar conversation. And, for whatever reason, the current church seems incapable of having a similar conversation.

There's no danger in being wrong, or even in the possibility of being wrong. The greatest danger is in convincing ourselves that we can never be wrong.

Am I right?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Infallibility, Omnipotence, and Omniscience should be Banned from Faith

The pope, Benedict XVI is retiring and, in so doing, is losing his claim to papal infallibility. Up until February 28, 2013 anything that he says as the leader of the Catholic Church is considered to be infallible and a part of the church's doctrine. However when he ceases to be the leader, he won't be infallible anymore.

But was he ever? Really?

There are arguments for and against papal infallibility and there are similar arguments for and against biblical infallibility, but how do they really help the Christian cause?

I don't think they do. Really.

When we start off with the supposition that something is infallible that puts it beyond questioning, but that's exactly what we need to do with the bible and the doctrines of the church. The book of scripture that we have today didn't come about because it was deemed infallible, it came about because it was deemed useful by the people of God putting it into practice.

Put another way: they tried it and they liked it. The put the bible to the test of life and it passed. Not every book did, those ones were left out. The ones that remain contain a united story of God seeking out his people from the beginning of time to the end. It's a beautiful story. But we only have it because our faithful forbears had the audacity to question scripture.

Which brings us to the doctrines of omnipotence and omniscience - that God can do anything and knows everything. It sounds good, but it's actually a problematic position that doesn't come from the bible.

Go back to Genesis - what does God do immediately after creating the world? He rests. Now that might be because he was tired (we don't really know), but we do know that he rests. Later in Genesis God and Abraham are bargaining over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham questions God's plan and God is willing to change his mind in response to Abraham's plea (we get this again from Moses, Job, David, and the city of Nineveh). If God knows everything then the appearance of free will and the necessity of prayer become mere playthings rather than relational necessities.

Rather than saying the bible is infallible, we should affirm that it is useful.
Rather than saying God is omnipotent, we should affirm that he is powerful.
Rather than saying God is omniscient, we should affirm that is is supremely wise.

When we step back from the precipice of the infinite we allow God and the bible to be in relationship with us and us with them. Relationship must allow for mystery, questions, conversation, and revelation. If one side of the relationship is unquestionable, unknowable, and unreachable then it's not a true relationship.

So, how big of a heretic am I?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Basis of Belief

"Some things have to be believed to be seen."

That quote has been variously attributed to Ralph Hodgson, Madeline L'Engle and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe they all said it, it's not that original. In fact, it's the basis of almost everything we do on a daily basis.

Going back to the conversation about Thomas and how the evidence helped him to believe, we have to assume that it was his belief that helped him to see the evidence. There were many other people who saw Jesus resurrected and decided that it wasn't him.

But let's come back to that.

In 1982 an Australian scientist named Barry Marshall developed the hypothesis that stomach ulcers were caused, not by stress and spicy food, but by a bacterium. The scientific community ignored him, ridiculed him, and flat-out wouldn't believe him. The conventional wisdom was that stomach acid was too harsh an environment for bacteria to live in. Marshall persisted, but no one would believe him until, at his wits' end, he drank down a petri dish of the suspect bacteria. Within a few days he developed the ulcer.

This was proof that his hypothesis was right. It was in 1985.

Yet for decades the public and the scientific community alike persisted in believing that stress and spicy food caused ulcers. Finally, in 2005, Marshall's work was recognized and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine.

It was only because he believed in his hypothesis that he saw a bacterium as the cause of ulcers instead of stress. Everyone else in the scientific community saw the same evidence yet believed something different. In the end, Marshall was shown to be right, but proof wasn't enough to convince the world. His unyielding belief was an indispensable part of the process.

Evidence can't exist without belief. Or rather, I should say that evidence isn't perceived as such without belief. It might be a bacterium, a sub-atomic particle, karma, or the resurrection of Jesus, whatever it is, unless you want to believe it, any evidence can be dismissed. And, if you're predisposed to believe it, anything can be construed as evidence.

That puts us in this dangerous middle-ground where we can't have any epistemic certainty. That is, we can't know for sure that we know anything. Since what we believe informs what we do with evidence and what we do with evidence informs what we believe, there's no beginning nor end to the cycle. Descartes' Archimedian point is quicksand. It's the chicken and the egg.

The basis of belief, then, is the certainty that we cannot have any certainty. Once we accept that everything we perceive is filtered through the lens of our belief, then we can start figuring out how good our beliefs are and how good our evidence is.

What have you seen because you believed in it?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Believe without Evidence

"Sure," you might say, "it's easy to say that Thomas was a good example, but he had empirical evidence of Jesus. What am I supposed to do?"

Good question. How are we supposed to believe, or more to the point, how are we supposed to overcome doubt without evidence?

Our cultural fear of doubt is one side of the coin, the other is our desire for empirical evidence. We want to know for sure. We'll be convinced by statistics, studies, proof, hard evidence. Marketing, politics, academics, warfare, and religion are all now supposed to be based on hard data. We can target this demographic and have a 78% chance of success. We can make this product and have just a 5.5% chance that it will hurt anyone. We can attack that country and have a 35% chance of achieving our goals. We can calculate the statistical probability that God exists at 67%.

But none of that is evidence. None of that is the same at touching the resurrected Jesus.

So, how can I doubt like Thomas did? How can I be expected to believe the same way that the apostles did?

You might be saying now, "If God really wanted me to believe in him, he'd give me proof. Since I have no proof, he must not exist."

You bring up a good point. What would you say to you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Be Like Thomas

When did we get to the point of thinking that we don't need any evidence for what we believe?

When did we get to the point of thinking that doubting is bad?

I had someone challenge me recently in my assertion that doubt is a good thing. His response was that we shouldn't doubt Jesus. I thought about it for a moment and then realized that doubting Jesus isn't condemned in the bible, it's exemplified.

Thomas famously questions his compatriots who told him about Jesus' resurrection. He stubbornly refused to believe until he had proof (which the others already had). When Jesus showed up again he didn't hesitate to provided the requested proof. He didn't condemn Thomas for his doubts, and then Thomas, in the light of the evidence, provides the best and fullest understanding of who Jesus is when he exclaims: "My Lord and my God."

I wonder if the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rational thought and proof is actually what planted the seeds of irrational thought and lack of proof in religion.

Sure, there have been many attempts to rationalize and prove religion. There are apologists that make it their work to provide Christian evidence and advocate for intelligent design. But their arguments seem to trail off at the end. They seem to all reach a point where you have to "just believe." And any expressed doubt is anathema.

Jesus was quick to point out things that made him angry. He flipped tables in the temple, broke the Sabbath in the synagogue, and called the law-teachers children of the devil. Let's just say he wasn't subtle in expressing his disapproval when he felt it.

And he doesn't disapprove of Thomas doubting.

What does that say about doubt? What does that say about us?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Examined Life

Socrates famously said: "The unexamined life is not worth living." (ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ)

He's spent his life devoted to the idea that asking questions, and encouraging others to do the same, would make himself, his students, and the world a better place.

He died for that idea.

People aren't dying today (in most places) for this same idea, but they are often silenced. Socrates challenged the standards of everything and held that nothing could be beyond examination. Religion, politics, love, science, warfare, history - all of it was fair game. And, like it was 2,400 years ago, all of it still strikes a nerve when anyone seeks to question the decided truth.

Doubt is tantamount to heresy in most churches, in most political parties, in most relationships, in most of our lives.

Yet doubt guides us to truth. Doubt gives us the tools and the distance to learn. If we don't doubt our own knowledge, we can't add to it. If we don't doubt our own conclusions, we can't better them. Without doubt, progress is impossible.

If the conclusions you've come to are right, then there is no risk in re-examining them. You will, invariably, discover that they are still correct. So, the only risk to examining your long-held conclusions is that you might be wrong. The only risk is that you might find an erroneous conclusion that you can change.

That risk was so terrifying to the people in power that they put Socrates on trial for it. He chose death rather than living a feckless, risk-free life with no more examination.

How do you deal with doubts?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Should Churches Die?

Last week I had a conversation about whether or not churches should die. I've been thinking about it, and I'm not sure what the answer is.

On the one hand is the research that shows the average church lifespan is from 50-80 years and that only one-in-twenty churches can be revitalized to extend that lifespan (Gray, Legacy Churches).

But, I was challenged to come up with biblical basis for allowing churches to die. I had a hard time coming up with anything.

So, on the one hand, we have the reality of the situation which says that normally churches die after about 80 years, but on the other hand we have the exceptions that continue to thrive for centuries. So, on which should we base our practice?

I did think about Jesus teaching on death in John 12 - "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

He's not necessarily talking about churches here, but about himself. But it's clear that he's setting himself as an example for his followers. Death leads to life. Jesus died so that others could live and he asks his followers to do the same. Is it too much of a stretch to extend that principle to churches?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I think a few things are clear:
1. We need to get much better at starting new churches. For some reason this is still a struggle rather than a natural response.
2. We need to get much better at revitalizing existing churches a 5% success rate is abysmal.
3. We need to get much better at dying for the sake of others. What that means, exactly, I'm not sure. But Jesus clearly taught that his followers are the types of people that are willing to sacrifice for others.

What do you think? Should churches die?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Where have I Been? or Killing me Softly

I've been absent from this blog for too long. I'm sorry about that.

Over the last month and a half I've been walking with the Peninsula Church of Christ as they made the decision to close down. I've also been struggling with the source of my creativity. I think the two are connected.

The journey with Peninsula has been good, but difficult. I'm blessed and thrilled to have been able to support and work with the courageous leaders of the church as they looked at what it would take to revitalized the church and, ultimately, making the decision to close.

That journey has taken enormous creative and emotional energy. It's not something that I'd recommend lightly (though it's fully worth it). I've often felt drained and exhausted emotionally. Poured out feels like an accurate metaphor.

In the midst of all that I didn't have anything left in my creative well to draw on. I had drawn down to the bottom and had nothing left. Now I'm working to learn the skills of refilling the well and only drawing as much as I can replenish.

Going forward, Peninsula will close, Andrea and I will find another church with which to work, and I will write more here (and other places). But for now, please accept my apology.

What refills your creative well?