Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fighting heresy

I was reminded again this week that fighting 'heresy' is a delicate operation.

A number of years ago, I left the library at about the same time two days in a row and caught a few seconds of a radio preacher. The first day, he was ranting about the false teachings of "Sanders and Boyd." I turned the radio off. The second day, he was still going on about how wrong "Sanders and Boyd" were. Apparently, these two people were making some pretty big waves. I listened a little longer and came easily to the conclusion that I would find more to like about "Sanders and Boyd" than the one trying so hard to refute their views. A little research led to a more complete identification of John Sanders and Gregory Boyd, proponents of open theism. I bought and read The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence by John Sanders. Sanders' views fit well with my beliefs and the book was profitable. I wondered if I should write a thank you note to the radio preacher who introduced me to him.

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a website exposing the 'heresies' of the emerging church in America. Her son had the dubious honor of being noted as a student leader on this road to heresy. As I looked around the site, I found some of my favorite Christian writers highlighted, along with other names I had not previously encountered. I have left the site open in a browser tab and revisit it now and then. There is useful information there -- links to sites connected with the emerging church, spiritual formation, and contemplative prayer. I don't know of another place on the internet that does so well in pulling together such an attractive set of resources. Being well-practiced at overlooking offensive tirades from the established church, I'm not overly bothered by the negative words that surround these resources.

What is/are the person(s) behind the site thinking in presenting all of these open windows into the ways God is working in the 21st-century Church? Am I supposed to look at them and immediately agree that they must be of the devil? Is that an obvious conclusion to the site manager(s)? Is there any fear at all that visitors such as me will follow the links and embrace what they find rather than joining the "ain't-it-awful" crowd in rejecting them?

The book of Acts in the Bible contains the account of a zealous young Pharisee named Saul who witnessed the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and then went on to persecute the early church. In chapter 9, Saul is off to Damascus to round up followers of Jesus Christ in that city when he encounters a blinding light and a voice that says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the pricks." (KJV memory version) There's a short conversation and then Saul gets up and becomes just as zealous for Christianity as he has been in opposing it. It strikes me that such a complete turn-around didn't start when that light flashed, that at some level Saul (later to become the apostle Paul) was already beginning to wonder if he might have it all wrong and be working against God rather than for Him. Perhaps part of his zeal was designed to squelch the doubts that had begun to nag at him.

I wonder about the person(s) behind the Lighthouse Trails Research blog. Are they so blind to the appeal of what they are presenting that they are confident that no readers will be drawn to it? Are they struggling to maintain their position of disdain while nagging doubts erode away their convictions? Alternatively, is the site maintained by someone only pretending to oppose this stuff and banking on the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity? (I would seriously entertain this idea if honesty and transparency weren't a strong value among people embracing spiritual formation.)

Perhaps we should all stick to supporting the stuff we love rather than risk spreading the word about the stuff that strikes us as wrong-headed in our attempt to fight against it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let me tell you how it is.

(How's that for a subject with no keywords?)

This morning I was sitting in a hotel lobby using my laptop. A businessman settled into a nearby chair with his laptop, and he and his companion discussed the availability of internet access. When they couldn't get an immediate connection, the companion decided to go get a jump drive rather than waste time trying to get connected. As I continued with what I was doing, I thought I saw the man left behind with his laptop glance my way a couple of times as though he were curious about my success in obtaining internet access. It occurred to me that maybe I could help him get connected but I pushed aside the suggestion. After all, what was I really going to do?

The day before, I stood in a Metro station in Washington, D.C. waiting for a train. A family disembarked from another line and came up to study the map beside me. The mother said they needed 7th & C and thought they would emerge at that intersection if they walked to their left. They discussed it a while and then started that direction. But the mother turned around to check the map one more time to make sure. At that point, I said, "I just came from 7th & C. You were headed the right direction."

I've been taking some training for library software. It's sort of a learning together process. Those doing the teaching are only a little ahead of the students. Questions are welcome. Sometimes I have questions. More often, it seems, I have observations, maybe a helpful tip to offer. In other situations where I'm supposed to be a learner, such as in Bible studies, I might put my observation in the form of a question, such as, "Where in the Bible does it say what you just told us?" Interpreted that sometimes means, "I don't agree with what you said and am quite certain that there is no biblical support for it. I'll let it stand rather than challenge your authority, but I'll at least cast a shadow of doubt over it." It's not really a question.

Ah, the attraction of being an authority. Let me tell you how to get connected, where to go. Here's a tip for doing this computer process. This is what I know about the Bible.

Sometimes I'm the one on the receiving end when other people are eager to share their expertise and help me out well before I've indicated any interest in being helped. Sometimes it truly is helpful and I welcome their input. Other times, it can be quite annoying. In those times, I tend to quit responding while I wait for them to run out of words and go find someone more appreciative of their help. I figure no response beats a negative response.

So when is the right time to offer help to a family trying to find themselves on a map and when is it better to wait for them to look around and ask? Are there times and places in this world for offering unsolicited help? Is this urge to help those around me a character flaw or a gift to be honed and used to bless others?

Just pondering.