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Opening This Thing Back Up

I took this blog offline a while ago.  Now it’s back on.  I’m not 100% sure whether I will actually start writing again or not, but at least you can read old posts if you want.

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I have been thinking about that widget over on the sidebar that shows my most popular posts. The problem with it is that it’s based on what people have been looking at over the last 24-48 hours, which means it is representative really of what google searches bring people here, and not what my best writing is. So I think I am going to add a new widget that indexes what I think are my best pieces of writing.

I’ll put it up later today, but for now, here’s my tentative tracklist for the “Best of Byzantium” album.

Postmormon Sexual Ethics
Shout at The Devil: Satan, Heavy Metal, and the Great God Pan
Say A Prayer For Lefty, Too
One Way Or Another: The Bacchae
Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian
Eating Is Sacred
My Own Goddess
Aura Salve

Any of my readers think there’s any really good posts I have overlooked?

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Just saying. It seems like it’s a crappy blog platform with less functionality. What am I missing? What’s the point of Tumblr supposed to be? How is it more fun or more useful than something like Blogger or WordPress? Is there some big huge payoff to Tumblr that I don’t know about? Are there big Tumblr enthusiasts out there who think it’s just great? If so, why?

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Some of my friends and I have started up a group blog called Burning At The Stake. It is intended to be “a place for heretics, dissidents, pagans, and true believers of every stripe to hang together so they don’t hang separately,” in other words, an anarchic commune of a blog with too many rulers and not enough rules where we talk about god and spirituality and anything else that strikes our fancy without taking ourselves too seriously, and without limiting the conversation to any sort of thematic perspective other than whatever we happen to bring to the table at the moment. I’m pretty excited about it, and I hope you will tune in and follow along.

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I haven’t blogged in awhile because we moved to Chicago, and packing and unpacking with two small kids has been kind of crazy-hectic. I have some things to blog about, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get it. Christmas is coming up, and we want to get our place all cleaned up, moved in, and set up before the holidays (family company, etc.), and before my job starts in January.

So hang tight, and don’t delete me from your feed reader just yet.

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I’m thinking about starting to blog regularly again.  One nice thing about blogging my spiritual journey was that in a way, the blog actually helped propel me forwards.  When I came to a new conclusion, or something stuck in my craw, the blog helped me reify the former and work through the latter (or in some cases, see that it couldn’t actually be worked through).  Since I’ve stopped blogging regularly, I’ve made some decisions and come to some new conclusions, but in some ways they haven’t made much of a difference because I haven’t done much about them.  Blogging would be a way for me to make my experiences real, and commit myself to my decisions by announcing them publicly, if that makes sense.

Also, having a blog is a way to, simply put, make sure things that interest me happen in the blogosphere.  Other people’s blogs are fine, but there’s a give and take, an ongoing conversation that is lost when I don’t blog myself.  The conversation suffers, I think.

On the other hand, I have some moderate concerns.  I’ve come a long way since I stopped blogging regularly, and I’m not sure if I would try to catch up, or just kind of pick up where I am now and fill in important details as I go.  I guess the latter is more realistic.

I also wonder if the public nature of the blog isn’t more than a little narcissistic.  Would my needs be better served by something like a diary or a journal?

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Blog-crastination

The problem with procrastinating blog posts on a blog like this one is that I wind up moving three or four steps past an old thought in my head before I write that old thought on the blog, so it seems pointless to write it for public consumption when it’s not even what I’m thinking right now.

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Sorry, this is kind of two posts in one.

I’ve been struggling with belief and faith lately.  My wife and I are attending an Episcopal parish, but we’re still not sure if it’s the place for us.  I am strongly attracted to the Episcopal form of worship, but the attitude and the sermons always reflect a kind of “Religion Lite.”  It seems like every sermon is about how the Gospel reading isn’t as radical as it sounds, how it doesn’t really invite you to totally change your way of life, but is just telling you to think happy thoughts and keep on living the basically good life you’re living.

I don’t feel Challenged, invited to be more like Jesus and live a radically different kind of existence.  I don’t feel like this parish is about transforming us into New People, but telling us we’re fine the way things are.  It seems a little empty.

At the same time, I’m struggling with Christianity as a whole.  Do I really believe in Jesus at all, or do I just like Christianity?  There’s a big difference between the two, and unfortunately I think I may just like Christianity.  I’m not sure what to do about it.

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I’m a little bit angry with a particular aspect of Mormonism today. Mostly, I find myself just caring less about the Mormon Church all the time, but when something directly affects me or my relationships, it’s hard to just grin and bear it.  even if it means coming out of blogging semi-retirement.

Mormonism teaches that if you pray to ask with a sincere heart, that God will tell you that the Church is True. It’s a guarantee- you do x and God will do y. That seems innocuous enough, until you apply it to the real world, to real people, and discover that actually plenty of people have prayed about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and Mormonism in general, and have not gotten a satisfactory answer. This is difficult to reconcile. God has supposedly made a promise, right? So either God breaks his promises, or the people who aren’t getting an answer are the problem. And Mormonism teaches that God is a God of truth and cannot lie. Therefore, people like me must be lying. It’s the only logical conclusion- or something like it. Either we’re being dishonest with ourselves, we’re blinded by our pride, we’re too far in sin or too caught up in the world to recognize the Spirit, or something like that. But any way you want to fold it, the result is offensive and insulting. This line of logic means that everyone who doesn’t join (or stay in) the Church is either lying or has allowed themselves to be in the bondage of Satan.

There are two ways out of this for Mormons. One is the fairly common idea that God answers prayers in his own time, and you’ve just got to have faith. That is total crap. Why should I have faith that God is eventually going to give me a satisfactory answer? How long do I wait? Forever? Why? Why would I do that? There’s a point where it just becomes more likely that the reason why God’s not telling you Mormonism is true is because it isn’t. If I don;t know the Church is true, what possible reason would I have to keep asking and persevering for my entire life until I find out that it is? If I want it that bad, I’ll wind up manufacturing it myself.

Plus, by that same logic, I should be just as persevering with any other Church or religion, if my only assurance is the testimony of others. What makes the people testifying the truth of Mormonism any more trustworthy or reliable than the people testifying the truth of Catholicism, Islam, Quakerism, or Atheism?

Furthermore, what good is a promise that will for all intents and purposes never be fulfilled, or fulfilled in a way that is completely unlike what you expect or is completely unlike what the plain meaning of the promise is, the reasonable interpretation of the promise. If God does that, then he’s wiggling out of his promises on technicalities, and that isn’t really being a God of Truth. Promising something that reasonably sounds like x when you really mean y isn’t honest, even if y is technically one possible interpretation of the promise. That’s not honesty and Truth, that’s deception, which is the opposite.

There’s one other way Mormons can escape the insulting reconciliation that forces them to brand everyone else a liar, and that is the ability to live with paradox. This is the best way, the most productive way- reconciling God’s promises with people who don’t get answers to their prayers by not reconciling it at all. By chalking it up to something they just don’t understand. This allows the Mormon to be a believer without assigning dishonest or evil motives to everyone else. It allows the believer to take people like me at face value, to not have to assume that I have a hidden motive or agenda when I say I just don’t believe the Church is true and I just don’t believe that the Holy Ghost has told me it is.

Unfortunately, not everyone can do this. Living with paradox means maintaining a kind of cognitive dissonance, and cognitive dissonance makes people uncomfortable.

So instead of just accepting the paradox, most Mormons reconcile a (God’s promises) and b (people who don’t get answers) by assigning ulterior motives, by questioning peoples’ integrity, and by assuming that there’s some hidden but grievous sin. In short, reconciling Mormon doctrine with reality requires Mormons to pass exactly the kind judgment that Christ commanded us not to pass.

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Sorry this post has been so long in coming.  I haven’t had much time to put together a long post that meaningfully addresses complex and abstract issues, and on top of that, I sunk into a period of total spiritual apathy that I might just now be coming out of.

As I indicated in the introductory post to this series, I feel like I am standing at a spiritual crossroads of sorts.  Two of the paths that I have been honestly considering in my journey towards Christ are Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

One of my concerns with Protestantism in general, and with Evangelical Protestantism in specific, is that I see a lack of authoritative-ness, both institutional and personal.  Particularly in the emergent conversation, clergymen don’t come across as trustworthy guides or wise counselors because they come across as regular people just trying to figure things out.  I’m not saying that I think clergy should have all the answers and not be on spiritual journeys of their own, but there’s a sense in which I want clergy to be something more than just another person at church, who happens to be able to give a good sermon.

So I think I am looking for a church with an ordained clergy, and a church with institutional weight.  At the very least, “having been around a long time” means having, as an institution, weathered all kinds of turmoil and change without being destroyed by it.  To me, an older church feels generally more trustworthy and reliable simply by virtue of its age, and the collected wisdom of generations that goes along with it.

What churches have that more than Catholicism and Orthodoxy?

Furthermore, I’m looking for a church that is genuinely sacramental, one that includes outward expressions of faith and repentance to accompany the inward changes that seem so elusive and ephemeral.  I also want sacraments that are something more than a clever symbol that can be changed at will.  Although I believe that sacraments are largely symbolic, I think that too much emphasis on their symbolic nature renders them weightless and inconsequential.

So far, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem to fit the bill most perfectly.

I’m also looking for a church where there’s a real sense of community, more than “hanging around for donuts and lemonade after church and chatting with the peopel you’re friends with.”  What impressed me so much the one time I went to an Eastern Orthodox (OCA) was that they actually all sat down together for a meal when liturgy was finished.  In both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I think there is a sense of identity that is fundamental to community that I haven’t seen in most Protestantism.

Finally, perhaps because of tradition and institutional age and wisdom, it seems to me that Catholicism and Orthodoxy have been able to escape the twin evils of fundamentalism and theological liberalism that plague Protestantism so doggedly.

So why don’t I just become Catholic or Orthodox?  I have a couple of reasons.   First, my understanding of and belief in Jesus Christ is actually fairly Protestant.  Becoming Catholic or Orthodox would essentially involve rethinking and re-imagining everything I already believe, and I’m not sure I want to do that.  It’s not that I’m complacent or scared to re-think, but that my Protestant understanding of Jesus is intimately tied up in my decision to believe in Jesus in the first place.  adopting a totally new view of atonement and salvation would mean a complete rethinking of Christianity, and I’m not sure I want to do that.

Second, both churches have doctrines that are often troubling and in my opinion wrong: Catholicism has  it worst here, with things like the ban on contraception, the celibate priesthood, and transubstantiation.  But Orthodoxy doesn’t necessarily escape doctrinal scrutiny either.  Their beliefs and doctrines may be verifiably the oldest traditional Christian beliefs, but that doesn’t mean I agree with them.

At the same time, I have been wondering lately if submission isn’t actually an important component of Christian faith.  While there are unreasonable extremes, I wonder if it might actually be spiritually healthy to submit to authority and be teachable, and allow your opinions to conform to something greater.

If I’m just looking for the church that teaches exatctly what I believe, I might never be challenged and forced to grow.  I’m not sure.

My other problem, more one with Orthodoxy than Catholicism, is that they are in many ways very alien.  AI grew up Mormon, which claims all kinds of unique distinctiveness but in reality it has deep (and to me, obvious) roots in the frontier Protestantism of the early 19th century, so Protestantism is more culturally consonant for me.  Becoming Catholic or Orthodox would be almost as jarring as becoming Hindu.

Again, maybe that’s actually good- maybe encountering Christ shouldn’t be about being comfortable but instead should be about following him, even if it means following him into strange places.

I have a lot to think about.

Oh, and on a practical note- Orthodox liturgy is long, and you have to stand up the whole time.  I guess you get to sit down in Greek Orthodoxy, but it seems so much more of an ethnically rooted church, and, well, I’m not Greek.

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