This Is Not An Exit: Conversations

An untitled piece from Reuben Wu’s Cross Country series that means a lot to me during a year of transition and moving forward.

This is not an exit. This is not mere escape. I hope to engage people, whether they be my family or friends or the lucky stranger who stumbles into the conversation.

The purpose of this blog is to share a bit of myself, to engage and sustain dialogue and debate, and to share new insights and interests. I do not plan to exclusively focus on political happenings and current events, religion, or my artistic interests, but I expect that as I grow and change comes, I will comment on a combination of topics. That being said, much of my thought process is informed by my perpetual study and consideration of the world, the divine, and where we stand today. Whether the posts here be book reviews, life updates, or philosophical questions, I hope to make this journey engaging and fulfilling for those of you interested.

To be clear, I am not a scholar. I have never attended seminary, the only class I ever dropped in college was the single Religion class I ever took, and I don’t even have a specific church home (although I like to watch/listen to sermons here and here). I studied English Literature, Comparative Literature, and Philosophy, spending much of my academic life writing poetry and playing music by myself and with friends. I am not here to tell you what to believe, how to believe, or even all the reasons why you should believe anything. But I do read a lot, I write a lot, and I try to continually educate myself. And I hope I have a few things worth saying.

Even the political stances I may take, they are all religious for me, as someone who follows Yeshua of Nazareth as King and Messiah. So while I will surely make statements perhaps endorsing this or that political ideology or affirming a specific religious view on topics big or small, I hope to first make it clear that what people profess, politically or religiously or otherwise, is far less important to me than who they are and what they do with their life.

Specific ideological and theological standpoints, while immensely important, are not road maps to God and goodness. Surely, not enough deep thought is paid to the nature of the Divine, the cosmology of the Universe, the existence or nonexistence of a Hell, what the meaning of life is, or what happens when we die. I will take a risk, however, and say that I believe quite strongly that whatever doctrine you ascribe to, the most revealing glimpse of the Holy is not to be found in correct philosophy or religion. As a Christ follower, I dare say that the Arian heresy or threats of modalism, Pelagianism, or Rapture eschatology – each having been deemed unfit for the Church at various points of history for complicated reasons – pale in comparison to the reality of a religion watered down to truisms and catch-phrases, a stagnant universe without action, change, or the challenge of good against disease. Many of my friends who don’t share my beliefs have seemed closer to the Divine at different times than some of the most devout theologians of whom I am aware, and the most poetic beauty in the world – in music or in a painting or in the open air of exploration – should remind us all that whatever is out there or within ourselves, it is much bigger than anything simple words can express.

This is my pup Molly. She’s a good indication that the word is both a lot simpler and a lot more complex than we like to admit.

I will take a second to go ahead and admit to certain theological beliefs for which some may declare me unchristian and heretical, although none of my beliefs are particularly novel. My discomfort with the Hellenization of classical theology and the rationalism of the western Church does separate my perspective from much of the American and European Christendom, but my Protestant upbringing does not yield completely to the Eastern view with which I am still somewhat unfamiliar. The open view of the future preached by Greg Boyd and John Sanders seems to best explain the nature of omniscience, human freedom, and the problem of evil. The hopeful universalism of Origen and other Church Fathers is far more beautiful and radically optimistic than the fire-and-brimstone fear-mongering popular in the South. For me, the question of Heaven and Hell is not one of time and space and of “where” and “when,” but one far more profound and present, and the Eastern portrait of sin and Hell as disease and tragedy is far more impressive and Godlike than the Western view of a wrathful God of legalism and hate. The biography of “the Devil” as red-skinned, trident-wielding creature is less than convincing, and the idea of any sort of literal “war” between Good and Evil greatly misses the mark. It is clear to me that science and creation are not enemies, that the depth of allegory, metaphor, and poetry can bring forth a picture of this world that is far more wonderful than the simple fundamentalism of either atheistic scientism or religious literalism can offer. The mystical theosis of the Orthodox Church, the cosmology of the sephirot in Jewish Kabbalah, and Islamic Sufism all serve to bring me to a faith far less concerned with the old guy upstairs with a beard and a throne than with a universe that is electric, powerful, and unknowable, somehow personal and yet transcendent, a mystery that three-part sermons and nursery rhymes cannot come close to.

Of course, few laypersons without interest in philosophy and the history of theology, subjects I make a point to study and research, will be familiar with the complex views of Christology, Atonement, and Energies/Essence that separate denominations, sects, and communions. There are some far more educated than I who will scratch their head at someone simultaneously affirming open theism, (hopeful) universalism, humanistic existentialism, and kenotic trinitarian panentheism. I hope to expound upon my ever-growing and evolving faith, learning from fellow Christians and the spiritually in-tune of other faiths and walks of life. Having grown up learning from Pentecostal preachers and Calvinistic pastors, absorbing the works of agnostic musicians and atheist philosophers, having fellowship with friends who are Buddhists and teachers who are Process theologians, it is no wonder that I have an eclectic body of belief. And yet, again, I think many issues within the faith are ultimately unimportant, many of the complications merely semantic, and others still purely speculative.

Don’t misunderstand me – theology has an important place, and I truly cannot stress how much I enjoy it. However, the truth is that even orthodox doctrines such as that of the Trinity or even the nature of Christ as divine man are historical and were hotly debated for the first five centuries. The religion of Paul and Peter was vastly different than what is now known as Christianity and while some doctrines have been deemed heretical for important philosophical reasons, it should be asked why it is children who shall inherit the Kingdom of God and not the philosophers. While I admit to a deep intellectual distaste and stigma against the predestination doctrines of Calvin, the made-up myth of the rapture, and the Sola Scriptura fallacies of literalist Protestantism, these disagreements need not come between believers uniting in a faith in Yeshua of Nazareth as King and Messiah, nor should they prevent love and fellowship with the rest of humanity. In spite of history, I can call Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Christian my brothers and my sisters. The church. And I still hope to love and to learn from and commune with my other brothers and sisters of the world who pray to Allah, those who light candles to Krishna, those who sing songs to the wind and the rain, the priests of the world and the stars and the depths of the soul.

Martin Erik Andersen's TzimTzum I, representing the Big Bang-like explosion that begins creation according to Jewish Kabbalists.Martin Erik Andersen’s TzimTzum I, representing the Big Bang-like explosion that begins creation according to Jewish Kabbalists.

Whatever the Truth is, the Light of Tabor reveals that it is something untouchable, numinous, and Other. I’m alright with not understanding, and I don’t plan on being correct. Those words don’t apply here.

And yet, despite the lack of awareness of the doctrinal details both great and small separating Churches that so often share a street corner in the United States, neither is there much attention paid to the politics of the Kingdom, the nature of a religion founded upon a man crucified as a political rebel, a movement founded in treason, anarchy, and community. Good behavior does not necessarily make up for a lack of faith or intellectual error, but a belief in Christ without the love and compassion he embodied is a faith devoid of meaning and holiness. We may never find the right system to explain God or the world, but while you can always be wrong in your head, we can try to come close to being good in our hearts. Somehow, the mysticism of the prophets and the early Fathers, a profound awareness of the mystery of a co-suffering God entering the world as a lowly laborer, is abandoned for a bumper sticker catch-phrase far from the allegiance and martyrdom of the early followers. Particularly in so-called West, Christians have become content with a faith as mere mental belief, a religion as mere relationship without the rallying nature of a risen King.

To those who have been hurt by others who claim to share my faith, I would like to apologize for these brothers and sisters. Their portrait of God, crafted either in ignorance or in something more insidious, is not the portrait of Salvation.

To my brothers and sisters who have contributed to these misunderstandings, I admit my own guilt as well. But I hope that you too can find something far greater than the parody that threatens to take over.

In this American Christendom, policies and rights are paraded around, despite the example of forgiveness, grace, and love that the early church acted out in its nonviolence, martyrdom, and present-oriented Kingdom vision. In a world so defined by violence that stems from belief, it seems to me that the most important problems are not those of catechism, creed, and legalism, but of compassion, community, and love.

Whatever this is, this is not an exit.

The business of turning over the tables in the temple has yet to be finished.

This is not an argument regarding specific political parties or presidential preferences. I’m talking about an awareness that Christ is subversive, that his Kingdom is not in the sky or on the ground, that Sabbath worship that doesn’t carry over into the work week and onto the streets is not worship. If it is the children who shall inherit the Kingdom, philosophy certain must take on a different role, but so too should the ethics of the Church. Simple, direct, loving. Children are unconcerned with national lines, state laws, political insult, or economic fallout. Caring for your neighbor through sacrifice is simple, impractical, revolutionary. The best version of the good news is laughter and compassion.

NASA is constantly discovering more and more places in the Universe like our own. If you’ve watched the X-Files, you know that staying opening to new ways of looking at the world isn’t such a bad idea. Let’s try not to get cocky.

If there is room for the Catholics and the Baptists, the Orthodox and the Calvinists, the Mennonites and the Open Theists, then certainly there is room for the lawmakers, the politicians, the economists, and the pragmatists. The liberals and the conservatives, democrats and republicans, the libertarians and the anarchists, the communists, the monarchists, the socialists, and the capitalists. But if any of those identities eclipses the fellowship of the Divine, something is wrong. We’ve abandoned the upkeep of the world for the eating of the fruit. Someone took the wrong exit.

A Christianity that pledges first to a Bill of Rights before the Sermon on the Mount is not one that I can believe in, nor is one more concerned with verses than with voice. A faith behind flags, relics, police, and pulpits is not a true faith, but mere rhetoric, an usurper of goodness, no matter how well-intentioned, rational, or pragmatic. A God wrapped up in words, however well thought out the Book or Declaration, is not God. God made flesh that can turn Word into Love – that’s something worth believing in. Something worth living by, acting out, becoming. Christ – whatever He is, whatever the Trinity is, however his time on Earth played out – is not some one-way ticket to Heaven – whatever, wherever, whenever that is. He is life.

This is not an exit. This is an invitation in, to dialogue, to family, to learn and grow with me. This is a declaration of childlike wonder and innocent abandon to Love you and the world and the universe. So, welcome, please come in.

Currently Listening – Pale Horses, mewithoutYou
Currently Reading – Dear White Christians, Jennifer Harvey
Currently Watching – Season 2 of the X-Files

This Is Not An Exit: Conversations

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