Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dear God, am I a Liberal?


About three months ago I managed to confuse everyone I know by posting an outline of the blog that I am now posting today. What happened is that three months ago I got excited about writing this blog, but I didn't have the time to actually sit down and think/write it all out. So I posted a teaser. But I wasn't very clear about it being a teaser.

"Dear God, am I a liberal?--An Outline" was a teaser to this blog.

About a year ago I started consuming the books of former Episcopal Minister, Robert Farrar Capon. The effect has been nothing short of a complete shift on my view of God, theology and Scripture. I've been getting shaped by books for a decade, but I would say this is the first time that I've had my worldview "shifted." I'll get into the details of what I'm talking about presently, but for a moment take time to consider the mechanics of what is going on.

We are so easily influenced. Peer pressure is not an occasional phenomena but is more akin to the air we breathe and the water we swim in. Your thoughts, choices, opinions and ideas are not your own. I do not know to what extent I am reinventing the wheel for you by telling you this, but I find it's good every so often to be reminded of these facts. No, I'm not saying you've never conceived of something original; I am only saying it is difficult to understate the extent to which you are a product of external forces.

And so it is with Robert and I. For better or worse I have let Capon shift the way I view the things of God. I keep using the word "shift", let me explain. It is not as if he has caused me to think different things about God (i.e. now I'm not sure if Jesus is God, sin isn't so bad, the Muslims are right), but it's more like he said, "You've been looking at God through that window in front of you, but you can actually get a better view if you look at Him through this one over here."

So what is the result of my understanding of Capon's teachings? To relax, to lighten up, to let a little more go. It turns out God is much more powerful and sovereign than I thought. How best to explain? How about this:

The other day I was speaking to a Medical Assistant at work about what she was going to do for the holidays. She's Catholic, and she told me that one of the things her family does around Christmas is go out to this farm in Enumclaw where the Virgin Mary once appeared. She appeared there a few decades back, and now the farm is considered Holy Ground. The guy who owns the farm talks to Mary frequently, and she to him, and the MA rattled off to me several things that she's either seen or heard of happening that could only be classified as bonified miracles.

When she first started telling me about Mary and everything she was doing I had to suppress the condescending, knowing smile that tried so hard to leap to my face. My lifelong training has well informed me that the Catholics are dead wrong on a great many things--the god-like status of Mary being one of the major ones. I myself, unlike too many other Protestants I fear to guess at, think that most of the Catholics, like most of the Protestants, will still be "saved," it's just that the Catholics will have to be saved in spite of their many wrongs.

But then a funny thing happened. I started thinking different thoughts about the Catholics as she and I continued the conversation. I thought, "Who the hell am I to deny the reality of these things she's saying?" Because I'm a Protestant, I "know" that the Catholics are wrong and God is not happy with those things they are wrong about. I'm not so arrogant as to think I don't have anything "wrong" in my theology, just that I'm not As Wrong as the Catholics. But I had to be honest with myself--if any fellow Protestant was telling me about the exact same miracles I wouldn't have been nearly as skeptical or dismissive (I'm always at least a little skeptical). What basis did I have to discount these Catholic miracles/blessings from Mary?

After reading Capon I now know that it is entirely possible, if not incredibly likely, that God's relationship to the Catholics goes something like this: "Well Mary, they've decided you are something of the divine. It's not how I designed you, wasn't the plan I had, but it means something to them, so I'm going to send you down to Enumclaw to give them a thrill." I know how offensive my words must be for the Catholics, so let me show you just how easy it can be for the Protestants as well: God beholds Luther and Calvin, whimpers, and puts his head in his hands. "Sure, my Church gets a little out of hand and I get an anti-semite and a murderer to come running to my rescue. Great. And Calvin goes and tells the world that I, who am Love itself, creates most of the human souls in this world only to be fuel for the fire, grist for the mill." He claps his hand to his forehead and pours himself a Johnny Walker Blue, neat.

We are so incredibly concerned with getting it right--but we are not remotely capable of "getting it all right." How can God be chagrined by theological error when a) everyone will have it to a greater and lesser extent, and b) he DESIGNED us this way? We do not possess the capacity to comprehend the mind of God. So we, by design, will fall short. But, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. God IS concerned with us believing the right things. We wouldn't have the Bible if he wasn't. So you have to hold both of the truths in an open hand: You won't get it right; it's important to God to get it right. But we can't. I know. Look, I didn't make it up, I'm just telling you what I'm seeing.

Am I right about all of this? Do you need to now bow down before the truths I've presented? Well, as Steve Brown is fond of saying, 50 percent of what I've just told you is wrong--I just don't know which 50 percent.

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