Doubt: The Wrecking Ball

February 27, 2021     Lent B2    

Glendale City Church    Sermon 3 of 8

FOUR STAGES & BOOK

  • Stage 1: Simplicity.  Right vs. Wrong.  Good vs. Evil.  Safe vs. Dangerous.
  • Stage 2: Complexity.  How do I succeed?  How do I win? 
  • Stage 3: Perplexity.  Today and next week
  • Stage 4: Harmony.  March 13 and following
  • Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, Brian D. McLaren, 2021

WHEN STAGE 2 GETS UNCOMFORTABLE

  • Start shopping.  Shift to the church on the other side of town.  Try out churches in another denomination.  
  • Some revert to Stage 1 Simplistic Religion.  Just tell me what to do.  Tell me how to read the bible.
  • Become cantankerous.  Start writing letters to the pastor.  Start a new bible study class that seems to always end up pointing out what’s wrong with your church, the denomination or Christianity.  
  • Become depressed and isolate.  Church attendance starts to slide.  You start dodging people. 
  • Drop out to do individualized Stage 2 work. Read self-help books, religious buffet, etc.
  • None of this is because you’re losing your faith.  You’ve just become dissatisfied with the faith.  BIG DIFFERENCE.  

MY STORY

  • Questioning my Adventist Beliefs in College.  It was frustrating and terrifying because I didn’t want to let down my parents and all the people who loved me.  But some of our beliefs did not make sense to me.  For a short period of time it felt like I was losing God, but for most of the time, it felt like I was with God, but was losing my religion.  It ultimately came down to my conviction that the death and resurrection of Jesus gave us a lot more freedom than the Adventist faith practiced.  
  • Made Peace with Being Employed as an Adventist Pastor while Growing through Evangelical Conferences, Books, Etc.  Youth pastor conventions, megachurch church growth conferences, evangelical preaching seminars, etc.  They inspired me to put Jesus at the center of everything I did in ministry and help my church members break free from legalistic, obedience-based religion.
  • But Bigger Questions Were Beginning to Gnaw at Me in my late 20’s and 30’s.  Adventism and Evangelicalism started to seem too small a box and their theology too limited and exclusive to the bigger world.  And I started to see that some of the real challenges of the world were almost completely ignored by my faith communities.  
    • Racial Division.  Not a concern.  Spiritual Needs of LGBTQ.  Can’t do anything until they stop being gay.  Poverty.  Problem of sin.  We’ll always have the poor with us.  War, crime and violence.  These are all signs of the end of the world.  Nothing we can do.  True goodness in people of other and no faith tradition.  Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist—too many compassionate people who look like what my faith would call mature Christians…who weren’t Christians.  Science.  No room for adapting our beliefs to incorporate what science is learning about the world.  
  • When I Stopped Running from those Issues and Decided they Mattered: I Plummeted in Perplexity.  

PERPLEXITY

  • Look at Jesus as He Exhibits Full Stage 3

LUKE 4.16-30                      When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

          “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

  • Moving into a Full Existential Crisis.  This is Stage 3.  
    • Lose faith in the Authoritarian Pastors of Stage 1 Faith and the LifeCoach Pastors of Stage 2.  
    • Lose faith in simplistic answers to mysterious and perplexing issues in the world.
    • Lose faith in any core truth or one true story.  Everything is relative.
    • Lose respect for leaders and institutions whose actions don’t follow their words.
    • And the wrecking ball begins to do its work.  Deconstruction has begun.  And nothing that you’ve believe in is safe from its catastrophic work.  Your church institution.  The people in your church.  The bible.  God.  Everything is torn down.  
    • You’re all alone.  Any group of people with any leader and purpose is suspect.  You can’t trust it.  If you’re involved at all, you’re on the fringe watching for trouble.
    • You’re either angry, depressed, distressed or all of the above.  You hate that you were tricked into believing in anything or anyone.  You know you can’t trust anyone and yet you crave community and belonging even as you can’t truly belong to anyone or anything.  

THIS IS GROWTH.  THIS IS NOT REGRESSION.  WHEN YOU GIVE IN TO DOUBT, WAKE UP AND REALIZE YOUR FAITH IS NOT DEALING WITH THE BIG ISSUES OR ITS WORDS AREN’T FOLLOWED UP BY ACTIONS, YOU HAVE GROWN IN YOUR FAITH.  

  • You do not solve the problem by shutting off your brain, plugging your ears and screaming at the top of your lungs that you believe in the faith of your youth.  
  • You continue the journey of growth and spiritual development by taking the plunge into bottomless void of doubt and perplexity. And it’s hard.  Really hard.   

Contemplation: No One Is One Thing

The weekend after the 2020 Presidential Election, I make my attempt to share what I believe the church’s calling is during this time of unrest and division. View the sermon here. Sermon begins at 32:35.

In the sermon, I reference the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and how the Montgomery Allen helps his best friend, Jimmie Fails, see a guy from the old neighborhood, Kofi, not as a caricature of hate and cruelty, but as a human being of dark and light, someone who is more than just one thing.

Fish Guts & Other Liminal Spaces

On October 24th, I shared the third sermon in the series entitled, “Contemplation.” You can watch it here. If you don’t have time for the entire worship service, the sermon begins at 31:25.

What I Learned This Week

I’m thinking this might be a weekly tradition where I briefly share what I’ve learned this week. Here goes.

Audio Learning

I’m starting to listen to the Hidden Brain podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam. Here’s what I learned listening to the October 12 and 19 episodes.

  • Agronomist Norman Borlaug is my new hero. Because of his pioneering and arduous work in creating genetically modified wheat for Mexico in the 1960’s, he is credited with saving tens of millions of lives and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Doomscrolling. v., def.: When you thumb through your social media or newsfeed to find out what horrible news has happened.
  • Moral certainty creates moral blinders. When you are certain in your own mind about what is right and what is wrong, no amount of data, evidence or relational influence will be able to change your mind. In fact, you only look for information that reinforces your convictions. Psychologist Linda Skitka provides evidence that our world, to its detriment, is now, more than ever, driven by conviction instead of evidence; too little humility and too much hutzpah.
  • 200 years ago, 90% of the world was in extreme poverty. Today only 9% of the world is in extreme poverty. And 75% of the reduction took place in the last 30 years. –Steven Pinker, psychologist, Harvard University
  • The world, by most measurements is getting better and better. Why don’t most of us believe it? Steven Pinker says that bad can happen quickly and good usually happens slowly. When news coverage is focused on what’s, well, new, most information will be negative. While people are dying in war today, there are fewer wars taking place than any previous time in earth’s history. While people are dying from COVID-19, the average lifespan of humans is longer than any previous time in earth’s history.

Television Learning

  • With all his flaws, I’ve always been a David Letterman fan. His new season of interviews entitled My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, was dropped yesterday on Netflix. In the first episode, I learned that you can become a lawyer without going to law school, just like Kim Kardashian. There’s a legal way to do it via an apprenticeship. But yes, you still have to take the bar.
  • Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ sitcom starring Jason Sudeikis, is a delightfully sweet show. Everything about the show, including Sudeikis himself would tell you it’s trite and contrived. And yet, it’s lovely. You can’t convince me otherwise because I have a moral conviction about it, and as you’ve already learned, your arguments against it will fail.

Clergy Still Say Good Stuff

  • Father Vazken Movsessian. My deep thanks to Vazken for helping me get a primer on the attack on Armenians in Artsakh by Azerbaijan and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The quote that sticks with me from my time with him: “Azerbaijan wants to finish what Turkey started in 1915.” I’m praying for peace in Artsakh. Watch for info on a Glendale community prayer vigil in early November.
  • Reverend Galen Goben. From his sermon last Sunday reminding his listeners that they are hidden in God: “Your heart, the place that God invites you to, is the place where God commands the universe.”
  • From a Well-Respected Pastor Who Shall Remain Nameless. “You haven’t truly experienced the beauty of Huntington Library and Gardens until you’ve toured them high.”

Timing on Tasers

At the September 1st Glendale City Council meeting, the police department requested a new five-year contract on taser equipment. In a time where the council and police were being asked to thoughtfully review their approach to community policing in light of the nationwide calls for reform and Glendale’s own racist history, I appealed to the council to table the request until a full evaluation on use of force approaches could be made.

My letter, which was included in a September 3 article by the Crescenta Valley Weekly newspaper, reads:

Mr. Mayor, Council Members and Chief Povilaitis,

I am writing to ask the council to table the police department’s request to enter into a five year agreement to purchase tasers for its officers. There are number of reasons, but I’ll focus on the most important one.

In a moment when our city’s people of color, Black and Brown, are pleading for police reform, this action of adding more tools to enforce law and order will communicate that Glendale is still Glendale. The symbolism is clear.

I ask you as our city’s leaders to not approve another item that is used to keep people in line until the police department, city manager’s office and concerned citizens, like those on the Coalition for an Anti-Racist Glendale start discussing ways to improve community care which will not only reduce violence but increase citizen happiness.

If, after initiating new approaches to community peace and well-being, the use of tasers needs to be explored again, that will be the time to do so.

Thanks you for prioritizing a forward-thinking approach to governance and law enforcement.

Unfortunately, my letter’s argument, while appreciated by a couple council members and lumped into the category of an anti-police rant by another, carried no influence with any. The new contract was approved 5-0.

While tasers are a less violent alternative, we as community members need to rethink everything about policing in order to protect and serve all of our citizens and reduce the dangers and stress loads that our men and women in blue experience.