Posts Tagged ‘ Christianity ’

Exclusion: Who Really Gets Excluded?

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” – Toni Morrison

First, I love Toni Morrison, her books, her mind.

I really like this quote from Ms Morrison. As I ponder it, I see the truth to it, universal truth. We might like to turn it around and say that paradises are defined by who is included. But once you set who is included, you’ve by necessity defined the larger group of who is excluded. I think that this is a universal human tendency, to create exclusive clubs we deem Utopian.

In light of this I have been reconsidering the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. Jesus attends a dinner party thrown by one of the leaders of the religious elite. While at this dinner party He tells three parables about dinner parties. Parables about exclusion.

In the first he addressed self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness. People coming in were taking it upon themselves to take the places of honor at the dinner table. Promoting themselves, setting themselves above others. In this they create exclusive space, say others are less worthy than they are, “I belong here, you don’t.”

In the next Jesus tells the host that when he has these parties he should invite the poor, the destitute, the unclean, the sinners. Why? Because there is no real benefit in being exclusive, it is in inclusion that God’s blessings come.

Now that we have the context, on to the parable I really wanted to talk about. The parable of the Great Banquet:

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

We need to remember whom Jesus was addressing, the religious elite, those who made rules that kept people out. This is pointed out in the second parable in this narrative, the one where he tells the host he should’ve invited the poor, destitute, etc. This religious club, this exclusive utopia of society’s finest (we see this in the first parable of self-aggrandizement.) These are the people who wouldn’t associate with the other, those who other those different from them. These are the people who would assume themselves invited to the great banquet. It would never occur to this audience that the other would be invited, after all they didn’t fit the qualifications, that they had devised, for invitation.

In the parable all of the “invited” guests have refused the invitation. They have to do things that the exclusive, in-people do. They have their exclusive activities that prevent them from attending this dinner party. The other is then invited, brought in to attend the party.

This is a party for all. No one is excluded, because all are invited, included. However, the religious elite have excluded themselves. In excluding the other they exclude themselves. The very act of excluding, excludes the one who thinks they are included.

In Christianity they contend that it is the religious elite that have rejected the invitation. They even contend that Jesus was talking about the church, the gentiles who are the poor and destitute who actually attend. The church likes to see itself as the sinner invited to the party. They cannot recognize that Jesus is speaking of universal truths, just as Toni Morrison addresses in the quote above. It is our human tendency toward being exclusive that is being addressed, the religious elite and the poor are illustrative, vehicles for the greater message. While Jesus was probably not talking about Christians the application can be made. But not as they would like to think. No one wants to identify with the religious elite of the parable. Christians like to comfortably identify with the poor, outcast sinners. Yet, the more the church tries to make qualifications about who is in and who is not, the further it excludes itself from the great party. The more it insists groups of people cannot be a part of the party, the further they they are from attending themselves. Just as in their judgment they drink judgment upon themselves, in their exclusion the exclude themselves.

Drawn Beyond the Lines of Reason

A few weeks ago I was standing in a group of 3 or 4 after church, amongst whom was my friend Carol, our Pastor of Families, Children, and Youth, was telling one of the Sunday school teachers about Godly Play. Carol said something that intrigued me. She said that the point of Godly Play is to tell the children the biblical stories in a language that makes sense to them. Then have the children create a project. Now, oft the project doesn’t seem to be related to the story, but that is okay, because it is what the story does within the child’s heart that is being expressed, a heart affected by the story.

This idea, that so intrigued, me floated around in my mind for some time. As I related this event to another friend she said something about connecting our story to the project, I almost rejected this in the context that was in my pre-conscious. But, it is kind of hard to unhear something.

I read Peter Rollin’s Orthodox Heretic some time ago. It is a collection of parables that he created. I don’t really recall the parables so much as I recall what he tells us about parable in the introduction.

hOW tO speak Of sOmethIng that cannOt be
saId?

In the parable, truth is not expressed via some
detached logical discourse… it emanates
from the creation of a lyrical dis-course —a dis-course being
that form of (mis)communication that sends us
spinning off course and onto a new course.

A parable …will change our
world—breaking it open to ever-new possibilities….
(Rollins, Peter, Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, 2009)

Also, of late I’ve been listening to Lateralus by Tool. The lyrics have been spiraling ’round in my head.

I imagine
drawn beyond the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines.

Black then white are all I see in my infancy.
Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
Let’s me see there is so much more and
Beckons me to look thru to these infinite possibilities.

Feel the rhythm, to feel connected enough to step aside and weep…
To feel inspired to fathom the power, to witness the beauty,
To bathe in the fountain,…To swing on the spiral ….                             With my feet upon the ground I move myself between the sounds      I’m reaching up and reaching out.

I’m reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
We’ll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one’s been.

And one more piece that fits into my recent thinking. The opening soliloquy of the movie Crash:

Its the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

All of these elements started coming together yesterday as I pondered ecclesiology, something else I have been doing a lot of lately.

Again  I digress, well slightly.

So, yesterday the above mentioned elements started coming together and connecting in my mind. They began a dance, an intricate dance, dancing together. Clumsily, at first, but each beginning to find the rhythm of the other as they danced ’round my mind “beyond the lines of reason”.

So, we have parables and stories, even gathered from the culture at large  that reflect the biblical narratives, the biblical story or some aspect thereof, some theme, idea, maybe even the biblical stories themselves recast. A story teller tells the story to a group of creative adults. The biblical story, the parable crashes into the listener’s story and hopefully shatters reality,or at the very least begins to crack it open. This begins a process of some type of transformation within the listener. A transformation that may not be able to be put into coherent words to make logical sense. The listener struggles with the dissonance, the shattered reality. Now, we give the listener the chance to express herself artistically.

This seems to me to be worship. Can it work that way? Can it be?

Beginning in January our Monday Night Group is going to experiment with this crashing of the biblical story into our stories, cracking open our realities, and finding artistic expression. I think that there are infinite possibilities when we reach for whatever may come. Maybe we will find that the cracked reality expressed will shatter reality for the others in the group. Hopefully all will grow together, learning from one another, experiencing this story of God.

If you are in the Sacramento, CA area and might be interested contact me on Twitter, or here in the comments.

How NOT to Talk to Atheists

So, there I was this morning going through my Twitter timeline (@persecuted23 for those interested) when I caught part of a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian. (I follow many Atheists, Pagans, non-Christians.) I find the conversations between Christians and Atheists particularly interesting.  I can really see why the Atheists get so damned frustrated. Actually, I remember the same conversations I have had as I was an Atheist most of my life.

The conversations tend to go something like this:

“Oh so you’re an Atheist, are you?”

“Yes, I am an Atheist.”

“But don’t you know what God says? That if you don’t believe in Jesus you are going to Hell.”

“Well, for starters, I do not believe in God, neither do I believe in Hell.”

“But God’s word, the Bible, says….”

What the Christians neglect that the frame of reference that they most often use in these conversations has been rejected prior to the conversation.  They keep going back to it in a never ending spiral of  the logical fallacy of petitio principii. These people can’t seem to understand that the argument that they are trying to make will never be made because the premise is rejected. For Atheists God, and therefore the Bible, have no authority because for them God is non-existent. So, to keep referring to God, to keep repeating the Psychologist’s fallacy becomes nonsensical within the conversation. I have never witnessed a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian where the Atheist hasn’t tried until she was blue in the face to get that point across. Yet, Christians keep pressing the petitio principii and the psychologist’s fallacy. You may well desire that your position, your frame of reference to be universally accepted and think it objective, but it just simply isn’t either.

Not only am I offended by the ridiculousness of the continued repetition of these fallacious arguments I am equally offended by the confrontational and combative nature of them. Instead of approaching people with an attitude of “I’m right, you’re wrong”, why not try to understand where they are coming from. Maybe, just maybe it was conversations like these that pushed someone from agnosticism to atheism. Maybe take a lesson from Paul when he visited Athens. He first explored the city, went to their temples and shrines and learned what they believe. Then used the truths that they possessed as a starting point. He found points of agreement before he engaged in conversation with non-believers. Paul did not look for points of disagreement. Jesus never looked for points of disagreement when He approached people, whoever they were.  Jesus and Paul honored people and their opinions, did not approach them with, “You’re wrong.”

Listen to the Atheists, the Pagans, the Muslims, the Buddhists, to everybody and find where we intersect, where we have common belief, common experience. Then, and only then, can you even begin to even communicate.