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DJ Sybear
Easthampton, MA
Maybe I'll try again at this bio thing next week.
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Hey Jesse. Can't help but reply. Two thoughts, in addition to what I said below. 1. Regarding how you can best encourage your friend's spiritual development? In Vineyard lingo, that'd be, ask God what He's doing in your friend's life, and then bless that. In stage 4 lingo, I'm sure that'd be longer to explain. 2. Regarding how you should relate to him within your group of friends? Well, if your friends are stage 2ish, then their group is a bounded set, so of course they're terrified. And if your friend is stage 3ish, then he's self-selected out of their bounded set. So it sounds to me that if you want to maintain friendly terms, it can't be on any pre-existing basis. You'll have to rebuild your relationships based on who you know each other to be. Your friend is still the same person he was, he just believes and behaves a little differently.
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Something about this post is begging me to reply with, "Hi, my name is James, and I'm recovering from my addiction to bounded-set Christianity." Tongue-in-cheek aside, I'm not sure there's a great way to go about the stage 3 aspects of spiritual development. Maybe there's some folks out there who are further along who would have some wisdom on the matter. That said, I suspect two things have helped me when I do them. The first is being relentlessly honest; with myself and with others. I could put lots of ideas I have behind a facade and play to people's interests, so as to convince my stage 2 peers that I'm not a total heathen and to convince my stage 3 secular friends that I'm not an obnoxious goody-two-Christian. Who am I helping if I politick? Certainly not myself, and rarely anybody else. The second thing that helps is remembering: remembering that stage 3 isn't the end in itself, or a new bounded-set to hop into. It helps to remember that God has a vested interest in breaking me out of stage 3 confusion and becoming the center for my journey. It helps to remember that God really can be pursued and that he is, in fact, right now pursuing me and aunt Norma and that weird guy in the van in the next lane. Then again, maybe those things were just helpful to me. Let me know if I'm on to something, folks.
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Classic stage theory in that article. A blend of stage 2 liberal theology and stage 3 attitude, rebutting the conservative stage 2 masses, written from a sociological perspective. And it feels "right"; it feels "righteous". But does it help anybody? What are we going to do in this bounded-set religious landscape? Admittedly, that's not particularly in the scope of what Zuckerman is trying to speak to: he's a sociologist, not a pastor. Well, maybe a sociologist in pastor's clothing. There is real contention here between the genuine heart of Jesus and both the liberal and conservative camps of the Church. Neither camp has staked out the corner of the market on Jesus. To move past our petty contention we need to discover Jesus in some centered-set direction that will enable us to move past the bounded-set barriers we continue to erect.
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I'm not sure I can thoroughly speak for Brent or Dave, but your question strikes at the difference between classic "dispensational" theology (which undergirds much of modern evangelicalism) and kingdom theology. Paul certainly does refer to a day of judgment to come in various passages, even in the book of Romans. But Paul uses the past tense plenty in Romans as well. We "have been justified", we "died to the law", we "have been called" and so on. Dispensationalism settles this temporal disagreement by removing the paradox, separating time into ages, suggesting that God handles humanity in specific but different ways during different eras of time. Kingdom theology embraces the paradox, allowing for the idea that the judgment of humanity (and humanity's sin) on the cross, while already complete, has not yet propagated to the whole world. Thus God's kingdom has already been inaugurated, while at the same time or present age continues until that final judgment to which you referred. That said, a centered-set approach to faith in Jesus is not contingent on either theological approach. Many of the folks here on the blog happen to ascribe to a kingdom theological perspective, and it shows. Back to the discussion about heaven and hell and exclusivity, though, and your earlier point. While it is true that a person can't cultivate a heart toward Jesus without Jesus, what do you think the Holy Spirit has been up to these past 2000 years (honest not meant to be snarky question)? The book of Acts is full of stories like that, the Roman Centurion being the most notable one. God is at work with people who've never even heard of Jesus, and though they may not know this "God" whom they are pursuing or believe in by any specific name, that does not immediately invalidate what they believe or are pursuing. The opportunity for us is to help them see that the God they want is in fact Jesus, and to point them towards him. We can do that one of two ways. We can either do that in a bounded set way, expecting them to believe the right things and say the right things before we can affirm them as having a right relationship with God. Or we can work with them where they're at, learn what it is that they are already pursuing that is in common with God's heart, and then slowly point them towards Jesus through that endeavor. I'm for the latter, not the former.
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BTW, thanks for putting your opinions out there, Dave. Thanks also for participating in the discussion in a centered-set way, allowing all of us to enter into this on centered-set terms (as much as is reasonable for a blog). So this concept of exclusivity strikes me as the way forward from conversations about hell. In stage theory terms, most conversations about heaven/hell result in divisiveness precisely because the traditional views are totally stage 2. Hell and heaven are bounded sets. Both parties in a conversation are painfully aware of this, before anybody has said a word. For a secular person talking to a person who believes in Jesus, the internal dialogue is much like your Hindu friend: "Is this 'Christian' going to blithely condemn me and everybody I know who isn't part of his exclusive Heaven Club?" My take on all of this percolated from a discussion I once had with a worried friend who had grown up in stage 2 faith communities. He asked me, "Do you believe in assurance of salvation? Once saved, always saved?" I thought about it, and admittedly at the time I did believe in assurance. But I felt he was missing some point with the question. I came to a surprising answer, in a Holy Spirit sort of moment, and blurted out, "I think Jesus wants to assure people of their salvation." My friend seemed helped by the idea, and subsequent research on my part seemed to reveal that that tidbit of wisdom indeed squared with scripture. So most of my conversations about heaven, hell, and exclusivity are tempered by that view. Jesus loves people; he's drawing humanity to himself; the landscape of faith is centered-set. God is generally less interested in "saving people from hell" than he is in reaching anybody who will listen with the good news and power of his kingdom.
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I think I have a prejudice against notions like "God is always only good". Maybe the New England attitude has seeped into my veins, because I do feel like there might be reasons to qualify such a statement. I think it's too abstract, too difficult to interpret, too perfect. "No downside with God (Jesus)" is much easier for me to swallow. I can see that there is no downside to Jesus because I can see Jesus in real terms. He makes God's person manifest, and I can observe that in the stories that we have of his life and death and resurrection. The further I step from that central idea, the more uncertain I feel. Is there no downside to life with Jesus? I would say unequivocally yes, but that took some convincing on God's part. Is there no downside to the Church? Not substantially so. Is there no downside to Christianity? Unfortunately, there are a few, yes. So I guess it's a matter of scope for me in this discussion.
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On stage theory terms, I'd have to say no, there's no guarantee that someone who does good works has a connection to God. But why is that a fruitful question anyway? A better question might be "Are good works an opportunity for interaction about God?" And the resounding answer is yes. On purely pragmatic terms, why would we want to ask the former question, and judge people, when we could instead focus on the latter, and engage people's real interests in God?
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I think this generally falls into what I refer to as "The Caramel Principle", in honor of a scene from Good Will Hunting. Will, upon asking out Skylar, replies to her offer to go for coffee by saying, "Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels... When you think about it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee." In other words, I think there's a certain abitrariness that comes from an existentialist outlook that I sense in Dreyfus and Kelly's summation. And it's not all bad. There's a certain moral relativism in it to be sure, but the pleasure principle is built into the human psyche, to an extent at least in this age, and people need the whoosh on occasion: the endorphins, the adrenalin, the stimulation. It's associated often with people's entry into bounded sets, "conversions", if you will. But whooshes can stand on their own in any stage of the stage theory. The downfall in stage 3 of the whoosh is precisely that it is arbitrary: it's not necessarily attached to some value, or to anything lasting. It doesn't lead you anywhere. It doesn't establish meaning or a grounds of being anymore than anything else. It's precisely what makes novels like "Eat Pray Love" both so frustrating and so enchanting to us. Stage 4 offers something better than a flash-in-the-pan experience, though. That's its point. To take a cue from the parable of the sower, meaning built on whooshes is like the seed that lands in shallow soil: it springs up quickly, but when the sun comes up, it is scorched, because it has no root. Seed that lands on good soil, though, produces a crop, rooted and firm.
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Funny you mention it, Chris... I think you're onto something, in that there's an aspect of this that involves unconditional, sacrificial love, supremely expressed in the person of Jesus. Prejudice and hatred certainly aren't conquered solely on other terms. But the examples you give are a great example of why I think there's a both-and in play here; both long-term love and long-term reasoning. I too could have a ten minute conversation and convince someone that local produce and switching to CFLs is a good idea. But the bar of entry is fairly low on those items. Convincing someone prejudiced in favor of consumption—a consumer—to take up composting or invest in their home to reduce energy consumption rather than buy a new granite countertop is considerably more difficult. All that to say, I don't think long-term love, as noble as that may be, is a substitute for long-term reasoning. Nor vice versa.
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Well, it's a slightly odd article. Douthat and the folks at the Marriage Project have some interesting points, though perhaps not compelling in every regard. Douthat points out in the full article that "any binary...oversimplifie[s] a more complicated picture," and he may be right that the white-collar social liberal vs. blue-collar cultural conservative dynamic is outmoded. The study raises a question of the stage theory model we talk about here. If traditional mores on sex, dating and marriage are typified by stage 2 Christianity, why does stage 3 engagement (post-Christian sexual behaviors, in this case) seem to be rising faster amongst the non-collegiate crowd? A second question emerges as well, on a more pastoral level. If stage 3 attitudes are fairly prevalent amongst Americans insofar as their sexual choices, what might a stage 4 response to that look like from churches? In terms of pastoring, preaching, small group studies, church ministries? And is anything working at your church to improve dating and marriage, for your congregants and their peers?
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I do wonder about the latin immigration trend as it pertains to this, not so much because of the historical trends, but because of timing. If Mexican (and other Central American) immigrants bring a needed resiliency to the Catholic Church in the US while other denominations are waning, what would that mean? Will we see a remnant Church in the US after these trends settle, maybe 50 years from now, that is more characterized by Catholicism?
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I've gone through a number of stage 2 and 3 iterations, if you will. I grew up occasionally attending church, but left as a young teen because I didn't see the utility in all that religious effort. I then proceeded through a four-year season of stage 3 atheism, deism and agnosticism. In college I encountered God in a real way, met by better orthodoxy (grace) and better experiences (meeting Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father). Stage 2 was the environment of faith some, if not most of the time, and like any compliant Christian would, I played along. But there was a good bit of inner dialogue that drifted into stage 3. And there were plenty of stage 4 moments of the Kingdom breaking into our everyday lives, and dispelling all that religious stage 2 hooey. So what now? In terms of affiliation, I'm a pretty classic stage 3 "none". But it's more like I'm on sabbatical from Church, for all sorts of stage 2ish reasons. I still love Jesus; I just don't trust that returning to a church won't result in a bunch of messy stage 2 entanglements.
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Thanks, Mark. I think I can speak for many of us here, much like Vinceation did above, that we regular posters here love and appreciate the unique and diverse stories of faith experiences such as your own. On a more personal note, thanks for your insights about GLBT life as it relates to your faith journey. Stories like yours remind me to have hope that God wants to bridge the stage 2 dividing walls that we use to separate ourselves: Christians, GLBT folks, atheists, Jewish people, "Nones", and so on. May God bless your continuing journey, brother.
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I can think of two sources on this subject off the top of my head. The first is the story of my friend Ken's former mentor, who was a pastor in a mainline church. Ken knew him for at least a few years and was attending his church. Ken was surprised when his friend admitted to him, in confidence towards the end of his life, that he no longer believed that the Bible was much more than some stories that maybe helped people along, and that whether God was really out there was pretty much a mystery. So maybe not strict atheism, but full-fledged agnosticism at least. Sadly, the story ended in tragedy: the pastor committed suicide, and in the wake of his death the news surfaced that he had maintained a secret relationship with another man, never free to have that relationship affirmed given his status. His funeral was shunned by most of the congregation as news spread, and Ken was one of the few that attended. Ken, understandably shell-shocked, dropped the seminary program he was in at the time for a master's program in philosophy, and turned his back on the Church, and God, who to his mind had abandoned his former mentor. The second source comes from a program I was involved in ministering to pastors in crisis. On the bright side, this is good news: the prevalence of confessed atheism or agnosticism in this program was very low. By virtue of the format, pastors were secure knowing that their confessions would not travel to unintended ears; no one would know what they said or admitted in that context, and the geography of the situation put them miles away from their churches. That said, I think we ran into a couple pastors who didn't really believe God was out there. So that would be less than 5% of the pastors we worked with. And since that's self-selecting based on crisis, I'd put the odds at less than 1% prevalence across the United States. Not that that's particularly scientific, mind you. So is there a there there? Does Dennett have a credible theory? Probably. Is it earth-shattering? Probably not. The opportunity here is to stop thinking of pastors as superhuman. They just aren't, and whether pastors believe or not from one day to the next isn't indicative of anything, except that ministers of the gospel are just as fallible as the rest of us.
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Do pastors and congregants even know how to accurately describe their own churches, let alone anyone else's? So in a broad sense, I'm not sure most Christianese church terms (theologically liberal, or conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical, protestant, charismatic, etc.) have any value whatsoever. And why bother? Does it really make me feel better at night knowing that my church is conservative, or liberal, or whatever? I doubt it, and if it does make me feel better, than I'm totally operating in stage 2: all bounded sets. That said, knowing how to describe one's church is probably important. Wimber was probably right. What do we value, what's our mission, what's our philosophy of ministry, what are our ministry practices, how does it work. Is that centered set? Moreso than classifying yourself by labels. It allows room for change, and it doesn't presuppose that your church has arrived. It allows room for pursuit, pursuing Jesus, actually. Y'know, the whole women-in-ministry thing has ruffled some feathers in the Vineyard community, and that's what it is. I'm sure similar things have happened in other churches; take the Anglicans and Episcopals on GLBT issues. Some churches get frustrated that the movement they were in is suddenly going a different direction, and the pastors, like ship's captains, have to make a decision what course to follow. Do we stay with the fleet, or do we chart a new course on our own? Imagine all those church ships, traveling the vast oceans, picking up wayfarers in need of a home. How boring would it be if they were all traveling the same route? Think how many wayfarers would be stranded at sea, ignored by the passing ships because they were too far from the shipping route. Instead, consider this marvelous plan, that God has sent his churches to the ends of the earth.
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I can't say I traffic much in "justice" circles. I've only been on a smattering of service projects in my life, and I actually do far less now that I live here in Massachusetts and am not consistently involved in a church home. That said, I run into two aspects related to justice: social issues and activism, particularly of the GLBT rights variety, and environmental issues and activism, particularly related to this new-fangled movement towards "sustainability". What I have discovered anecdotally is that everybody has opinions and far fewer people are actually doing anything about said opinions. So I do wonder how often people seek out justice opportunities or if the opportunities simply present themselves. In big picture terms, then, churches do have a unique position by being institutional resources for connecting people into missional justice. Great! Be missional, do social justice! However, for precisely the same reason, I think churches are in a double-bind on this, because their reputations on social issues have to line up with their social justice initiatives. I could invite any number of my friends to a service project sponsored by a church. The "nones", the people least likely to attend a church but also more open to service, are the people most likely to ask, "Well, what do they think of gay people?" And even me, as a gay man, don't get a pass on that question. When it comes down to it, the best answer I can give about most churches that aren't explicitly affirming is, "Well, they're not sure what they think about gay people, but they're nice, and most of them are pretty open." So I'm not sure justice is a particularly good entry point to faith for conservative churches looking to do both social justice and outreach. It's new wine in an old wineskin.
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Glad to hear you have a new job; something about your tone suggests that it's an improvement on the state of affairs back in August, around the time of the Summit. May God bless the discovery process of the new work ahead for you. I think there's something heartwarming in your perspective of the law as intrinsically invitational, and I do like that. Which is odd, because I'm not particularly a fan of law at the outset, typically. I suppose it is a nice foil (hearing the law in such positive light) to the ne'er-do-well liberalism that lurks in my subconscious. Your last paragraph really struck me, though, because I think "the question" still is there. I think we agree it is true that God uses a variety of means to woo people towards obedience. But I sense the implication in what you said that human nature doesn't particularly change, or seem to change, over time. Which is odd in the light of some verses from Jeremiah, which I won't attempt to interpret right now for brevity's sake, but that you might have some thoughts about that I'd love to hear. "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
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I think, when it comes down to it, that the reason I'd never make a very good conservative is because of my intrinsic bias against "shoulds". I can hear shoulds, I can contemplate shoulds, I can even search a should for the benefit that would motivate it. But generally speaking, I avoid all shoulds. For me, there are only opportunities or possibilities, and some certainly have better outcomes than others. When giving people counsel, I'd rather the other person made up their own mind than have me tell them how to do it. Oddly, this is a full-circle sort of conversation for me, because I was grappling with this idea about the time Jeff and I were still working together. I'm not sure what to think about that, but it is noteworthy to me, and strangely refreshing to hear coming from my old friend Jeff. Peace, brother.
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I am not a fan of personal guilt. More often than not, it's hard for me to see any upside to guilt. However, as processes go, I can't imagine going from personal error/sin to a confessed life without passing through guilt. At least, that's been my experience. To make an analogy, maybe depression is to grief what guilt is to reconciliation. Grief is about coming to terms with loss, and I'm not sure you can do that without some manner of sadness/depression; you have to feel that lack, that absence of the person or object of grief. Similarly, reconciliation strikes me as a process by which we come to terms with past "sin", and I'm not sure we can do that without some element of guilt. That said, I think the good news that Jesus offers is that guilt doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out ordeal. We can move on and be encouraged to move forward from our failings. Guilt is no longer the story of our lives; it's just a pit stop we visit now and again.
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Variation on the theme: I did not see "Eat Pray Love", nor expect to anytime before video rental. However, on the topic of entitled-travelogue-spiritual journeys, I much enjoyed "The Darjeeling Limited", which I did recently catch on DVD. But maybe that's only because it's fiction, rather than a trumped-up Hollywoodified memoir.
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So I'm going to operate under the assumption that this conversation happens virtually or via print, rather than in person. I think this process is a lot easier to talk through if you're Shaken's friend than a talking head on a blog, simply because the dynamic interaction will probably unveil a bit more of his opinions regarding his sister, and of course allow for real interaction over time. Also, I purposely haven't read Cary's response, nor for that matter, have I given any of the other comment here more than a cursory glance. So this is how I would respond, influenced by mentors I've had in the past. My starting point would be with why Shaken is writing in the first place. My read on the situation is that, while he may have some genuine doubts, Shaken seems to suspect something is off here. Either his sister is right, which seems like bad news, or his sister is wrong, which would also seem like bad news. My question to Shaken would be: why the hesitancy? I think he already suspects there is something unjust about the way God's Church is portraying God. It sounds to me like God's Church is the Insider's Club, and that instinctively bothers him. So as much as I might say that, or even be projecting that onto Shaken, ultimately, his instincts are right in continuing to pursue God as he already knows him. Shaken has to get his own sense of to what extent God is exclusive or inclusive, and no amount of persuasion from me or his sister can make that happen. And since both me and his sister believe God is a living God who answers prayer, neither of us can argue with that, really. That being the case, I'd encourage Shaken to ask God about it, to study and wait and listen and look for an answer or a sign or a sense of who God really is, and to be transparent with his sister about that process upfront. Then, when he feels like he has a better handle on what he believes, he can revisit that experience with his sister and share that decision with her. Maybe he'll even have some helpful insight for his sister at that point. As I see it, the worst that happens is each of them, brother and sister, walks away from this thinking that the other has faulty beliefs. Sadly, that would mean that sister believes brother is going to hell. But at the end of the day, even at the end of a lifetime, that doesn't mean that they can't love each other, or that they can't work out ways to respect each other despite their differences, or that someday down the road their differences might resolve themselves somehow. Parayer and time do amazing things for people, because God is an amazing God.
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Nice, Vinceation! I agree; I'd love to hear what some pastors would do. That said, I'm going to go ahead and share my opinion anyway down below. Cause I'm like so professionally qualified to have an opinion.
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Thanks Dave. I'll be looking forward to hearing your talk this week (presumably). ;-D As a gay follower of Jesus myself, who has been variously both in and out of favor with church authorities in regards to my sexuality and its expression (or lack thereof), I'm certainly bound to have opinions on the subject. I don't think a whitewashing of the Church into a single unified position on this subject is going to work. Both the conservative and liberal theologies on this matter are flawed: in spite of the vast historical accord in favor of the conservative position, and in spite of the vast contemporary secular accord in favor of the liberal. So assuming diversity on the subject, what kind of peaceful accord can Christians, many of them fairly stage 2, make with, one one hand, their more liberal Christian counterparts, and on the other, with a vast, liberal secular culture? Can we make peace? I hope so, for my people's sakes.
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The school has an authority to write curriculum standards and demand performance as part of credentialing a student for service in a particular industry. Much like David said below, a master's program in school counseling includes clinical performance objectives. Licensure in the state of Georgia requires three full years of supervised practice post-degree. If a candidate like Keeton was politely "ignored", and allowed to graduate maintaining her positions, Augusta State could be investigated by a number of professional accreditation boards if an incident occurred. If they Augusta was found at fault in not remediating Keeton's professional behavior, they could lose the accredited status of their curriculum. All of this comes back to what professional organizations think is acceptable counseling practice.
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Well put, Amy. My post could've perhaps been shorter had I seen yours first. I think you articulated an idea I wanted to convey, that counselors should only be credentialed if they hold positions that will not do harm to potential clients. From the viewpoint of modern psychology, "homosexuality as sin" is simply out of the bounds of the secular professional community. Thanks for your thoughts.
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