2nd Reza Aslan Video

SoGo Media is doing an excellent job at editing and publishing the videos of our night with Reza Aslan.IMG_2769

Here is the 2nd (of 10) where he talks about his conversation to Christianity and then back to Islam. Embedded in what he says is a critique of religion as a whole.

Let us know what you think!

You can hear the podcast of the whole interview here. 

You can purchase Reza’s best-selling book as a Christmas present by clicking through our Amazon link.

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Day 6: Translation Station

I am blogging my way through Neighbors and Wisemen for Lent.
We are on chpt. 6 – today we talk about views of the Bible and how our faith creates our experiences. 

First of all, I just want to acknowledge how good of a writer Tony is. I enjoyed reading the roller coaster of this chapter so much. I also grinned several times at little Balkan details he tucked in that I wondered if anyone else caught. Neighbors & Wisemen

I was fascinated by how every character in this chapter had two sides.

The Islamic preachers at first seem to be propaganda-esque caricatures, but later we see them be gracious, insightful and hospitable.

Tony starts out as a peddle-to-the-metal zealous apologist ready to take on all comers, but later we see him as a confused and fragile young apprentice.

The pastor we see is both a wise, insightful, patient and comforting presence … who also has picked up and odd fascination with a niche subject that is both troubling and upsetting.

 Characters Wanted

I love real characters. The reality is that we each have multiple sides. We have sides that face out and that the world can see. We also have shadow sides.

One of the arts of discipleship and developing christian character is acknowledge and addressing the shadow side.

That is part of what Lent is about for me. By taking something away or by adding a new variable, something is often exposed by my change of routine or my change in desire.

 

The Bible

There were two interesting aspects of the translation issue raised in this chapter.

The first has do with where our confidence is rooted. I am a big fan of the Bible. But one thing I have seen over the last 20 years of reading the Bible is that when people put that much faith in something … then they find out new information about it, it can often rock the whole house right down to its foundation.

I have said before that we live in an era where everyone can own and read a Bible (thank God). But – and this can not be overstated – the Bible was not written to individuals to read alone. It is meant to be read A) out loud B) in community.

Reading the Bible silently and alone is where a lot of bad things start.

It is a sad state of affairs that after the divides of the 20th century that we have the opposite of a bell curve- we have a trough. Bell trough

Those who believe the most in the Bible often know the least about the Bible. Those who the most behind the Bible often put the least amount of stock in the BIble.  

It is an uncomfortable situation for all involved.

 

Experience

I am a big fan of John Wesley. Wesleyans have something called a Quadrilateral. It takes Scripture and partners it with reason, tradition and experience.  This provides a real positive for me and sets up and odd negative.

The positive is that your knowledge of the Bible and the behind the scenes can be changed or adjusted without you losing your bearings. Scripture is not the sole location of our faith.

The negative comes up because I have bought into a school of thought that says “Our words & ideas not only help us interpret our experiences – they also help create the experiences.”

You can see this is Tony’s vocabulary about ‘the giants’ in our lives. Because he has this  biblical story in his mind, it actually creates his experience with the preachers at the university. He is not only interpreting his experience through that lens – that lens is creating how he experiences the other.

If he had a different story in mind, he would have experienced them very differently. Our words shape our world at some level.

I would love to hear your thoughts on 

  • the shadow side of character
  • the Bible situation 
  • spiritual experience and interpretation 
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Lets not be too hard on Pat Robertson

As you may have heard, Pat Robertson topped even himself in the category of ‘insulting-inflammatory- stupid comments while the tape is running’ this morning. That may seem difficult with all of the previous entries that have earned him elite status in the gaff olympics.

His newest entry was in response to a question from a man who apparently wanted to know what to do with his non-submissive wife.  Robertson started with suggesting that the man could convert to Islam … and as tough as it might be to top that one, he did. After conceding that the Bible does not allow for him to divorce her, Robertson gave him the option to move to Saudi Arabia – thereby indicting not only an entire religion but an entire nation.

I know that many will want to jump on Robertson with disdain and scorn but … maybe we should not be so quick to jump to judgement. As often happens in cases like this, there is a good possibility that there is something we don’t know behind the scenes. There might be more to the story that at first meets the eye.

  • Robertson might have undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome.
  • He might have a serious drinking problem and been under the influence when he made those egregious comments.

Now, before you dismiss this outright – just keep in mind that many preachers and politicians who rail against homosexuality later turn out to have been involved in illicit same-sex affairs at the very time they were railing. This pattern can be seen in leaders of many self-righteous and sanctimonious movements.

With public figures, we just don’t know. So I am suggesting that we might want to hold off judgement. Sure, right now it looks like crazy Uncle Pat has come unglued and betrayed the very gospel that he is supposed to be a minister of and a spokesman for. But … let’s just give it time.

That is plan A.

If you can’t wait for that, there is a plan B. As I proposed a few weeks ago, it is possible that words for fundamentalist christians are like dialogue in porn movies. They play an important role in allowing us to suspend our suspicion and get down to the real business at hand.

I said that the real activities were nationalism, capitalism and militarism. One of our deaconesses added patriarchy. This accusation would stick to Robertson’s many gaffs like a field of burrs on a cheap pair of cotton dockers.

 Here is the thing: I want to be a generous and gracious purveyor irenic ecumenism. But there are times when you hear something like this and realize how many people are genuinely injured by this stuff. Like it or not – he is a spokesman for our religion, my tradition and Jesus’ name. This is why I go so far out of my way to say that we need to stop waiting for Superman and start sticking up for causes that don’t directly impact us.

Here is a conversation that I have had repeatedly in the past 20 years.

 Me: I’m not against guns for hunting, but we have to do something about assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns.

Guy: It’s our God given right to bear arms.

Me: Wait! You probably still believe in things like depravity and original sin right?

Guy: It’s right there in the Word.

Me: Umm… those aren’t actually in the text of scripture but anyway … IF you believe in depravity, don’t you think we should account for that in our gun laws?

Guy: The second amendment protects our God given right to defend ourself.

Me: I get that, I’m just trying to say that we could revisit some things that were written in the era of muzzle-loaded muskets and flint lock rifles.

Guy: Liberal.

People don’t like when I am critical, negative, dismissive or adversarial. Neither do I.  All I am saying is that I am very nervous about what gets broadcast on christian radio and TV these days and the impact that it has on thousands and thousands of people.

So here is the question: If, and I am only asking ‘if’, there was a machine that was fueled by a different vision of the world and different priority structure than that fleeting Galilean vision – but it was covered with a thin veneer of Jesus talk as a mask for the true agenda … should’t we say something at some point?

If the Jesus-paint was only a mask on a monster, or a series of brushstrokes on a Hollywood set facade … we should say something right?

That probably is why plan B in this case is not so popular.

THE most important thing in all of this is that we are very clear about people who have simply bought into a bad brand of christianity and those who are up to something with it.  It is one thing to have merely inherited a flawed-limited-unaware religious product and those who openly promote a product that injures people and harms those who need what Christ provides the most.  We have to be careful.  This stuff is wicked, acidic, and cancerous. We can’t paint with a broad brush or be dismissive of folks who are just walking the same road we are all walking together – trying to figure it out.

May God give us grace in the journey.  We need it.  Lots of it.

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Stop Comparing Religions

I had the chance to teach adult Sunday School this past weekend as we worked our way through Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. We are up to Question 9 “the Pluralism Question”. I had looked forward to this all Summer.

Now unfortunately I did not have the time to cover some classics on the subject like:

What I was able to do is to build on the thought of folks like  John Hick. In his famous works ,such as An Interpretation of Religions, Hick provides tour-de-force in the realm of comparative religion. He is not, however, simply reporting on religions – he is putting forward a theory about religions.

Many of Hick’s fans and critics alike end up saying the same two things when talking about him. The first is about the analogy of the mountain.  The metaphor about many paths leading up the same mountain is a pluralistic classic. The second is about the blind men and the elephant. This is of course based on a Kantian dualism between the numenal and the phenomenological.

Religions are like blind men, each with their hand on a different part of the elephant and thus describing different aspects of the same reality. One has the trunk, one the ear and one the leg. They each talk as if they have grasped the whole but in reality, they have not. Though it may appear as if they are talking about very different things (a Christian from a Muslim or Hindu) they are actually all touching the same entity.

Then there a critics of Hick.  Both Mark Heim in Salvations and Stephen Prothero in God Is Not One are post-Hickian.

Critics of Hick seem to have two main critiques (I am being very general here):

The first is that analogy of ‘paths up the mountain’ is flawed. Religions are like different paths up different mountains. The mountains may all be in a range together – in that they have some similarities and are in proximity to each other – but essentially they are not all leading to the same place. Being a good Hindu, which may have some ethic overlap with say the Christian sermon on the mount, is still not the ultimately after the same thing. Religions do not all lead to the same place and so just walking on road for long enough does not guarantee arriving at the same destination.

The second concern is about the Kantian blind men and elephant. When one takes on this enlightened view, one is placed in an elevated position above the religious traditions. They think that have a grasp on the whole but in reality it is only a part (ear, trunk, leg). The Katian-Hickian at that point is in the real seat of truth. The question then, is why would anyone ever participate in any particular religion?  Why even be a Christian – for example – and only grasp the part? Why not be a generic ‘God-ian’ and recognize the whole? In this way, studying religion is a way to not actually participate in any actual religion! Ironic isn’t it?

 Here was my main point on Sunday: the problem is comparative religion itself. The very discipline that we end up being unsatisfied with contains within it (from the very beginning) the inherent problem that we end up being frustrated with.

The problem is this – comparative religion is a product of a Western approach (with its intrinsic dualism) that first imports and them imposes it categorization upon other traditions and then looks within that compartmentalization for points of similarity and contrast. This will never work.

What I ended up doing was pointing folks toward an innovative concept called ‘Comparative Theology: deep learning across religions borders’ developed by Clooney in the book “Comparative Theology”.

His point is that each tradition tells its own story – in its own words. The art then is not in compartmentalization but in humble listening. Each learning to hear each tradition-religion bring forward its own stories, teachings, practices and values we remove ourselves from being ‘over’ the religion as a judge/reporter and humbly place ourselves at the feet as a learner/listener or at the table as friend/partner.

 I love Clooney’s approach. I find the epistemology and posture refreshing. I also think that in the inter-connected, trans-national, multi-religious 21st century it is going to be ever more critical to distance our selves from approaches of centuries past.

I have written before that I don’t want to apologize for being a Christian (I truly love it) but the time for apologetics is passing into the night of history. It’s a new day and a new approach is needed for the plurality and multiplicity that we increasingly live in. Many conservative christians hide behind exclusivism to guard against the threat of relativism.  What I love about Clooney’s approach is that they are not asked to give up their internal belief as christians but are challenged to adjust their external posture toward those of other traditions.

 

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Defending Diana Butler Bass and those non-human animals

Two weeks ago I got to sit down with Diana Butler Bass and ask her about everything from her new book’s title Christianity After Religion to the Methodist tradition and why Evangelical young people are 30 years behind.

It was a blast! [you can hear the audio here]

At the end of the hour, the last question was put forward by Darcy who asked about something Diana had alluded to in the Methodist question. Butler Bass had said that the early Methodist had historically A) ministered to the fringes and B) gone to the frontiers.

It was the fringes and the frontiers that Darcy wanted to know about. Only, she was not asking about the past. She wanted to know about the present.

 Who are on the fringes today and where is the frontier for us?

This is possibly the best question I have heard asked at one of our live events. 

Diana didn’t flinch. She outlined three such scenarios that would qualify:

The first was in the realm of sexuality.
The second was in the realm of pluralism.
The third dealt with our environment.

  •  In sexuality she articulated issues related to the transgendered community. This did not surprise me. In the LGBT formulation, T (transgendered) is the the one the raises eyebrows. Now, because I am came to this conversation through a friend who was doing Queer theology, I had initially taken the LGBTQ as a 5-part alliance. I did not realize how difficult the T can be (not to mention the Q) until I starting asking question and listening to stories. I quickly became aware of the complexities and complications involved.

In the two weeks since Diana’s answer I have had several conversation about her take and I have realized how much conversation has yet to be had. May God give us grace as we learn from each other.

  •  In religion she mentioned learning from Hindu friends. As a student at Claremont School of Theology I am very invested in and more than on board with the idea of inter-religious learning. Yesterday was my day off and so I (as Christian) headed to a Jewish bakery to  sit and listen to an audio recording I had about diversity within Islam.

I am always shocked at how much I don’t know and how much beauty there is within each tradition. May God give us grace as we learn from each other.

  •  In issues of environment and ecology, I like to think of myself as up to speed. This is a subject I have really investigated and as someone mentored by Randy Woodley (his new book Shalom and the Kingdom of Creation was just released and he will be on the podcast next week) I was tracking with her when she talked about non-human animals [I often allude to Nipples & Belly Buttons in this regard].

It should not have been surprising to me that with the release of the video of our conversation that she came under some suspicion by a group called IRB  (Institute on Religion and Democracy) as well as others for  her views on non-human animals.

From the blog Juicy Ecumenism here is the end of Diana’s answer and their commentary:

“Non-human animals and their experience of our environment of the divine are a place that human animals need to listen in order to create more full understanding of God’s creation. […] They don’t have voices like humans do, but isn’t that part of my prejudice?”

I don’t like to bring up the slippery slope, but the mud’s looking pretty slick from here.

What IS surprising to me is that – of her three answers about the fringes and frontiers – that seemed to be the least inflammatory of the three answers!

In my humble opinion, her pluralism answer and her sexuality answer were FAR more daring – and challenging! The only thing that I can figure is that some Christians have so bought into the Cartesian dualism regarding humans that both Transgendered and Hindu folks are completely off their radar screen … but don’t you DARE say what you said about listening to non-human animals.

I was prepared to defend Diana Butler Bass after our show – she said some daring things -  I just didn’t think that it would be on the issue of creation-care over sexuality and pluralism.

This contemporary religious environment will never cease to surprise me.

 

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HBC Top 11 Blogs of 2011

Here are the top 11 blogs of Homebrewed Christianity in 2011  :


1. Theology Nerd Book Survey 

2. That’s “Too Gay” – Brian Ammons’ Banned Chapter from Baptimergent

3. Your First Steps into Biblical Universalism

4. 31 Reasons I Left Evangelicalism and Became a Progressive But Not a Liberal by Michael Camp

5. God Takes Sides….or When Karl Barth Was Right

6. Defining the Secular: Charles Taylor (pt. 3) by Deacon Hall

7. Rob Bell Wins 

8. The classic ‘Footprints in the Sand’ poem revisited

9. Are you a Bellian or Piperian?

10. a big difference between Christianity and Islam 

11. Goosing Emergents into the Mainline

 

Thank you all for your amazing participation and feedback – that was a wonderful year of conversation and theological brewing!

Let us know if you had a favorite that didn’t make the list.

 

From Chad, Tripp, and Bo – thanks for a great year, Brew On!  and don’t forget to share the brew.

 

 

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9/11 Special: Graham E. Fuller and a world without Islam

On the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we talk to Graham E. Fuller about the world we live in and geo-political roots of our contemporary conflicts.

We talk about Israel, Turkey, Russia, Bosnia,  Malaysia, Indonesia and America.  We also go back in history – past the Crusades – to the roots of the East/West split and the relevance of those tensions for us today.

Graham E. Fuller is author of A World Without Islam  . He is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, a former senior political scientist at RAND, and a current adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University. He is the author of numerous books about the Middle East, including The Future of Political Islam. He has lived and worked in the Muslim world for nearly two decades.

 

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Sound Off: American Grace and Islam

In his interview for Homebrewed Christianity (episode 103), David Campbell covers just about every aspect of American Christianity that one could hope for. Recounting his book American Grace, written with Robert Putnam, he addresses generational differences, cultural shifts of the 20th century and theological concerns. It is educational in some aspects and eye opening in others. The interview is fantastic and has whetted my appetite enough to attempt to tackle the 600 page tome this summer.

There was a moment in the interview that, however, when Campbell turns away from examining only Christian congregations and has something very interesting to say about other religious communities – in this case American Muslim communities – that really caught my attention.

The particular exchange happens starting in the 38th minute of the interview (I have embedded a sound snippet in this blog that I pulled out of the interview – look to the bottom left of this post for the “play” button).

Campbell says that mosques in America tend to take on a very different characteristic and play a different role than they do in other places around the world. He says that the leadership of these communities adapt to take on a set of responsibilities that look very similar to what we would expect to find pastors doing. He also points to the idea of “belonging” to a mosque being a uniquely American kind of idea that is consistent with a congregational tradition in this country.

The reason that this stood out to me is that I had asked about this kind of potential adjustment in an Ethics of Pluralism class earlier this year in regard to American Muslims. The essence of my concern went like this:

The modifier ‘American’ plays as powerful a role in that religious construct as that which it modifies. Will it come to be that to be an American Hindu is as distinct a way of being Hindu from other manifestations of Hinduism (Asian varieties for instance) as it is from being an American Buddhist? So that an American Hindu may have more in common with an American Buddhist than she does with a Hindu in India.

I ask this because American Christianity is so essentially distinct from other forms of Christianity – both current global expressions as well as historic expressions –  The adjective ‘American’ is as powerful in the construct ‘American Christian’ as the Christianity that it modifies.

I went on to imply that American Muslims in the generations to come may be as unique an expression of Islam as American Christians are to the global and historic church. This did not go over very well.

I have posted other question before with Claremont’s new University Project and with the release of Miroslov Volf’s new book. What David Campbell had to say has made my revisit my initial suspicion and opens up a whole new set of questions about the future of religion in the West and around the world.

The question in my mind is this: will America change Islam more than Islam changes America?

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Claremont’s New University

Today the new University Project announced it’s official name – Claremont Lincoln University. You can read about the background story of the name here.

As a Claremont student, I am invested in the future of the project. I had desired to come to the School of Theology for a while but that was considerably amplified with the announcement of the project [read the Time Magazine article here] to train Imams, Rabbis and Pastors in close quarters and in close contact.

There are two things that I am especially excited about and a third that I am concerned about:

  • There has been a lot of talk around training Imams. I have been following several conversations about the domestic training of those who will serve in U.S. Islamic communities. Historically, the first wave was bringing over foreign trained Imams to serve in the American context. That had inherent limitations. The second wave was to send American candidates for foreign training. The challenge was then to translate the training into a context that was significantly different than the training environment.

Imams in the U.S. are asked to provide services and play roles that are unique to the North American context. Imams are asked – not just to be experts in theology and textual interpretation – but serve as social workers, counselors, and all sorts of other roles that are not traditionally in the job description or accounted for in the training they may receive. The Islamic Center of Southern California and Claremont Lincoln University will address these concerns in a uniquely particular way.

  • Questions about training ministers in a pluralistic environment are deep. My program is in Practical Theology and my hope is to train future ministers. I am often asked  about doing this in an environment where Rabbis and Imams are trained. I think it is important to say that the goal here is not to merge into one religion or do away with difference. As a Christian minister my desire is to prepare future students to serve in an environment that is both diverse and complex. It does us no good to train them for service in an environment that no longer exists. This is the real world and these are our new realities. Ministry training should be calibrated appropriately.

Here is one of my concerns:

In response to the LA Times article, there were several comments. This one caught my attention:

The idea of making the world nicer by accepting all religions equally is bound to fail. People with intellects sophisticated enough to sympathize with the idea are more likely to reject all religions equally. Believers will not reject their holy scriptures which proclaim their way is the only way….. except for the tiny minority of theologians who refuse to take their religion literally and are rejected by the masses they preach down to.

It reminds me that we are not entering this endeavor in a vacuum. We are no longer in a majority position where certain constants can be relied upon. We are in a liquid environment that asks us to navigate shifting currents and changing tides. The tide of public opinion, denominational difference, and sectarian concerns are but three of them.

I am thrilled to be at Claremont at this time. I am intrigued by the road ahead and fascinated by the elaborate challenges that need to be overcome.  I am also greatly encouraged by the ones that have already been overcome.

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Islam, Volf and the future of the world

Last weekend the LA Times had a review of Miroslav Volf’s upcoming book  on Christian and Muslim theological concerns. It is well worth your 5 minutes to read. Volf is a renowned Christian thinker and is supremely well respected in my circles. For him to be addressing this topic is noteworthy in itself – regardless of what he says about it. But when one hears what he says about it… it is truly noteworthy.

For Miroslav Volf, an Episcopalian professor of theology at Yale’s Divinity School, (the name of God)  is a direct route over the “chasm of misunderstanding” and hatred that has separated Christians and Muslims for centuries… In his thought-provoking new book, “Allah: A Christian Response,” Volf attempts to explain how the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are, essentially, one and the same.

Here are three things, from a uniquely Christian perspective, that I would like to see addressed:

  • The name of god – Is Allah the same as Jehovah and is that the one Jesus called “Abba”?
  • If so – are these 3 legitimate covenants with the same God? (1 with Issac, 1 with Ismael and 1 with Yeshua)
  • Can we figure out how to stop A) converting each other and B) killing each other

This past week I had the opportunity to sit in a meeting with a U.N. delegation from North Africa that was visiting the States in order to talk about future relations between The US and the Islamic world. The main focus was education and since part of my degree is in Religious Education, I was thrilled to be able to sit in.

We are not talking about creating one single super religion. That is not the point. In fact, that would be unhelpful, confusing, and dishonoring. We are talking about an exchange of mutuality and co-operation that is both edifying  and honoring of the traditions we represent. This will involve listening to each other, asking tough questions, challenging each other and learning from each other.

Just about one year ago I was in Hawaii and as I sat beside the freshwater mountain stream where it emptied into the saltwater ocean of the Pacific  – I wrote this for the Everyday Theology podcast :

The final section of the stream is reinforced with lava boulders on both sides.  It’s about 500 yards long and ends in the Pacific Ocean.
At high tide the water comes in from the ocean and fills up the canal. The interesting thing is that the stream flowing down the middle actually creates a  current that flows out to the ocean.  The salt water comes in to fill up the canal, but it is the fresh water that creates the current flowing out.

That for me is the perfect picture of the world that we live in and the time that we live in.

The current of culture is meeting the tide of history.

I am looking forward to reading Volf’s book (if you are looking for a good read until then, I would suggest “God is not One”  by Stephan Prothero.)

I am intrigued by the things happening in Northern Africa and the rest of the Islamic world. I wonder how grassroots democracy, global capitalism and Islamic culture look 50 years from.

I am thrilled to be a part of the University Project at Claremont School of Theology. I am anxious to see how it will actually look when the ‘rubber meets the road’ and we are training Imams, Rabbis and Christian Ministers in such close quarters.

I keep thinking back to that stream in Hawaii as it met the Pacific… and it seems clear to me that where we meet is a great example of “the fringe”.   It is the place where the future is made.

100 years from now things will be nearly unrecognizable from the way they were 100 years ago.  It is my sincere hope that Abraham’s children can discover and model how to live in peace together and be a blessing to the nations of the earth. The cynic will say that it is impossible – that there is too much water under the bridge or that the very idea goes against human nature. I don’ believe that.

First, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing. The stakes are too high and the world has gotten too small. Second, The God of Abraham is in it. Now, to someone else that may not mean a whole lot, but to me -  it means the world.

 

originally posted on LeadfromtheFringe [here]

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