Absorbed

Hello to those of you who still surf by Wonderstuff from time to time.

I wanted to remind you that I’ve got a new blog and a new site, and it has basically absorbed the kind of thinking and writing you find on Wonderstuff. I hope you’ll add www.bobowenblog.com to your reading list, and check out the new site. As always, I welcome comments and enjoy the conversations that spring from them.

See you over there!

From Wonderstuff to Windblown

There hasn’t been anything new showing up on this blog for several months now, and that’s primarily because I have launched a new blog site called WINDBLOWN: Reflections on Being Made New.

The launch of this new blog site – which has become my main posting site – is in conjunction with the beginning of my new job serving as Minister of Adult Spiritual Formation at Dunwoody Baptist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia. I felt it was time for a change in both look and focus, and so I created Windblown in an effort to more effectively communicate my thoughts of the myriad of ideas and issues related to spiritual formation.

If you are or have ever been a reader of Wonderstuff, I hope you will follow me to my new site and become a subscriber. I believe you will find there a lot of what made Wonderstuff a great eight-year experience, as well as some new additions (in the coming weeks and months) that will hopefully inspire you to even deeper reflections on the good and beautiful God who breathes life into each of us.

You can check out Windblown by clicking HERE.

Much peace,

Why the Ham-Nye Debate Wasn’t Helpful

I’m writing part of this post on my laptop in a coffeehouse just off the Baylor University campus. For many who may not know, Baylor is a private Christian school; it’s motto is Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (“For the Church, for Texas”). However, Baylor also finds itself at the culmination of an ambitious, decade-long initiative its regents called “Baylor 2012,” an aspiring, expensive plan to achieve higher levels of academic excellence in all aspects of university purposes and functions. One of the cornerstones of this plan was the construction of a massive science center that would revolutionize Baylor’s impact on the science and research communities, offering state-of-the-art training in competitive degrees such as chemistry and biochemistry, environmental science, geology, physics, psychology and neuroscience.

Also, the coffeehouse in which I sit is called Common Grounds.

It's a rule that the trendier the coffeehouse, the clearer the coffee pun must be.

It’s a rule that the trendier the coffeehouse, the clearer the coffee pun must be.

Because that’s the point. It’s the belief at the core of Baylor’s plan, it’s the hope residing deeply in so many of the educators and students working in this community, and it’s the cry of Christians all over our country and our world who are fed up with the prevailing view that science and religious faith are mutually exclusive – that they cannot coexist.

And then these same Christians and scientists turn the channel to CNN last Tuesday night and witness a “debate” between two individuals who have no interest in finding common ground between their respective fields of study. We stare at the screen, shake our heads, release a frustrated sigh, and listen as these two men only serve to fortify the wall they believe exists between science and religious faith. Thank you, gentlemen.

The only thing worthwhile about this debate was to whether neck tie or bow tie would prove victorious.

The only thing worthwhile about this debate was to whether neck tie or bow tie would prove victorious.

The Popularity of the Conflict Model

Here’s the main problem with the Ham-Nye debate. It took place within a “Conflict model” interpretation of the relationship between science and religious faith. The renowned scholar, Ian Barbour, who focused much of his attention and career on the interplay of science and religious faith, proposed a four-fold typology for understanding how the two fields of study can interact. In laymen’s terms, he figured there were four ways a conversation about faith and scientific research could go.

On one end of Barbour’s spectrum is “Conflict.” In this model, the fields are viewed as unable to coexist. One must be fully correct and the other must be fully incorrect. Many who embrace Barbour’s reasoning are quick to point out that this model is the least helpful, but the most exciting. Because conflict is exciting – it’s what drives action movies, political discourse and pretty much every reality TV show ever filmed.

"We need some conflict, stat! Let's have one of these ladies throw a party and then hide everyone else's Xanax."

“We need some conflict, stat! Let’s have one of these ladies throw a party and then hide everyone else’s Xanax.”

However, there are other ways to consider the relationship between science and religious faith. These models are less popular and more difficult for both “camps” to absorb into their understanding. However, they are perhaps more beneficial and edifying than the Conflict model.

Why the Ham-Nye Debate Wasn’t Helpful

Just because a debate, by definition and practice, is an argument between two different points of view, does not mean either point of view must be accepted to the complete exclusion of the other. A debate that truly educates and energizes deeper thought and study is one that is willing to concede that both sides have something to offer to the general consciousness.

Unfortunately, the two players in Tuesday night’s Creationism-Evolution debate are not interested in adopting that kind of overarching philosophy. Call it a fear of appearing weak or uncertain, or perhaps plain ol’ stubbornness, but I’m also apt to believe that fewer people would tune in for a debate that was clearly driven by a “Dialogue” or “Integration” model, in which common ground and the ability to learn from one another exists at the heart of the argument.

Everyone knows the neck tie and the bow tie hate one another with a passion.

Everyone knows the neck tie and the bow tie hate one another with a passion.

As Peter Enns put it in his own article on the debate, “Ham needs his theology just the way it is in order to maintain his strong grip on his understanding of reality. His theology requires a science that supports biblical literalism. Failure in this regard is not an option for Ham. … Nye is clear that he has no delusions of convincing Ham. The debate presumably is aimed at dissuading those who listen to Ham.”

Anyone else bothered by that? Sure, there is something satisfying when your belief about a certain something is proven to be the right one, but the deeper and more profound the question, the less likely you will ever arrive at such a feeling. Certainly within debate there is a loyalty issue; a person feels compelled to stifle dissent that might scratch and claw at the fabric of his or her belief. But that loyalty, and the desire to protect one’s viewpoint, only exists in those who are trapped in the Conflict model. And the longer you’re trapped there, the harder it becomes to see things even slightly differently.

It's a scary thing when these two guys prove to be a more agreeable pair.

It’s a scary thing when these two guys prove to be a more agreeable pair.

The Debate that Could Have Been

Sitting in Common Grounds, I can overhear students talking. Contrary to the stereotype that only Christians attend a Christian university, I can hear plenty of conversations and arguments ping-ponging back and forth across tables. Pro-choice or pro-life? Should homosexuality still be considered a sin? Is capital punishment unChristian? Should stem-cell research be banned? Should a Christian support alternative energy initiatives?

Which style of cravat is lamer?

Which style of cravat is lamer?

I can’t help but believe that every student who engages in these conversations walks away with a sharper understanding, not only of his or her viewpoint, but also of the other side and the data and conviction it also has to offer. The conversation partners are not only  better informed by the conversation/argument/debate’s end; they have been made, in some small way at least, more patient, perceptive, and gracious people.

Is that too much to ask, also, from a televised debate on one of the defining arguments of the last century? I don’t think so.

But after last Tuesday, I’ve come to suspect that more and more people – be they people of faith and/or supporters of scientific progress – are walking away from such contests with one thought clearer than all the rest. That the only relationship between science and faith is a warring relationship. That it’s a fight, a bitter dispute, and anyone who doesn’t dig a trench and draw a line in the proverbial sand is a weak, hesitant person, full of doubt and lacking conviction.

May we come to see that the exact opposite is not only the real truth, but also the only real hope for peace and progress we have left.

The Girl on the Road: What Mary Teaches Us About Controversy

Social media is abuzz with impassioned posts about freedom of speech, judgment vs. judging not, and the difference between showing tolerance and being clobbered by it.

"Hey! Leggo my hand!"

“Hey! Leggo my hand!”

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you are the happy few who pay little attention to social media feeds and entertainment news), you know that a rich, white, Southern guy with a well-known cable reality TV show has been accused of spouting bigotry and racism during an interview with a popular magazine. He claims his comments are based on his Christian faith and interpretation of the Bible. Some people, whether they’ve read the article or not, are outraged. Others are outraged at those who are outraged. Apparently, it is THE most important issue for Christians to think about and talk about and argue about and spend their energy and emotion responding to … this week.

I have no direct response to this issue. Oh, I could say some things, sure. But I won’t for three reasons. The first is, I just don’t care. I know this rich, white Southern celebrity is my brother in Christ and that I should show at least some measure of concern for what he has to say as a representative of Christianity. But I just don’t care. If I have to concern myself with his words, then I must concern myself with all the words spewed by all my other Christian brothers and sisters who are attacking what he said, defending him for saying it, or sitting on the fence until the winds of controversy dissipate. So, instead, I will ignore the talk and simply offer this blog post as my only “stance” on the issue.

The second reason I won’t straight-up respond to the controversy is that I recognize it to be one of those times in which the more you comment, the less clear the issue becomes. Whether you speak from conviction or merely out of loyalty because you’re a fan of the guy’s TV show, your words will only muddle the issue – make it sloppier and more complicated than it already is. Some people will agree with your points, while others will make it their mission to refute every little idle word they can identify. This I have learned from experience – unproductive experience.

The third reason I will not throw my hat into the ring of this particular controversy is Mary.

Here’s the deal. This controversy, like so many others that have set the Internet and cable news networks ablaze in 2013, boils down to one thing: what to do with sinfulness.

Read enough comment threads or Huffington Post articles or religion-themed blogs and you will find that with any issue concerning accusations of bigotry or a controversy generated by a person (or an organization) allegedly standing up for “what the Bible says,” there are those Christians who feel it is the dutiful thing to “support” and/or “stand with” the person (or organization) being “persecuted,” and there are others who, instead, point out where that person (or organization) went wrong and how they could have been less judgmental and better exemplified the Christian’s call to “love others.”

Was that enough quotation marks for you?

Was that enough quotation marks for you?

Maybe ‘tis the Season, but rather than these two trains of thought, I can’t help but think of Mary. Virgin Mary. The girl from Nazareth. The girl on the road. The girl who was visited by an angel, entrusted with an extraordinary promise, and willingly accepted the consequences.

You see, with Mary, God seemed to break his own rules. The Gospel of Luke makes it clear that while Mary was engaged to Joseph (the word is “betrothed,” indicating a promise of marriage had certainly been made), they had yet to be fully married and nothing had been consummated. Ask any evangelical Christian if it is okay to conceive a child out of wedlock, and they will shake their heads and point to Scripture to back up that conviction.

But it doesn’t stop there. Mary is called “highly favored” by the angel Gabriel, but then she is found to be with child “by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, she is unmarried and pregnant, and so, in the eyes of the public, she is a sexually active loose woman. In the eyes of the Law of Moses (which Jews believed was almost literally handed down by God to the people of Israel), she is an adulteress. According to that same law, both she and the man with whom she committed adultery (if it is indeed not Joseph) should be condemned to death (Lev. 20:10). If she escapes a death penalty (by any other excuse than she is the victim of a rape, which we cannot believe she claimed), it is only on a technicality that the marriage to Joseph had not yet been consummated and because she is therefore, for all intents and purposes, a prostitute. Is it any wonder that Matthew’s Gospel tells us Joseph was seeking to annul their engagement? Is it any wonder Mary spends three months of her pregnancy living with her cousin far from her hometown? Is it any wonder she is willing to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem, to leave her home and make that long journey south, before they are officially married?

Like this, only less honeymoon-ish and more sand and swollen feet.

Like this, only less honeymoon-ish and more sand and swollen feet.

According to ancient Church tradition, before we can revere the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus into the world (i.e. the season of Christmas), we must sit for a while in anticipation of his coming. This season is called Advent. It is marked by hoping and waiting. Hoping for the best, and waiting for God to show Himself. And of all the biblical stories that correspond to this time of hoping and waiting, the one at the center is that of Mary, the girl on the road, the girl of scorn and shame, the girl with a bastard child growing inside her. Hoping that she will endure the scorn and remain obedient to God’s will. Waiting for God to show up and sanctify what everyone else sees as sinful.

Because, according to what the Scriptures say, Mary should be condemned. One wonders if the reason why “there was no room in the inn” had more to do with keeping sinfulness at bay than it did with a particular house being at capacity. One wonders if the reason the baby Jesus was placed in a manger was to keep his uncleanness and unlawfulness (according to Leviticus) at a distance from the good Jews who did not want to be rendered unclean by association. One wonders if one of the main reasons the angel announces the birth to a bunch of shepherds is because those lowly peasants might have been the only ones unfazed if they were to have learned the sordid nature of the baby’s family history.

"Ummmmmmmm…"

“Ummmmm! We’re gonna tellllll…”

If the story at the heart of Advent teaches us anything, it is that God is more concerned with proclaiming the birth of his Son – and ALL it entails – than he is with laws and rules and naming sins. This is not to say that the law – in this case the moral, sexual statutes in the latter half of the Book of Leviticus – is pointless. However, when it comes to the good news of Jesus Christ, it takes a backseat. A way way backseat. What matters is Jesus, come to earth. What matter is peace on earth and (to cite an outdated translation) goodwill toward men.

With the help of a divinely inspired dream, Joseph recognized this before it was too late. Instead of distancing himself – joining the finger-pointers and keeping his distance for the sake of propriety and good, wholesome morality – he chose the way of love. He gave no arguments, made no rationalizations. He simply erased the distance between himself and the one who was scorned. He willingly journeyed to Bethlehem.

One hopes that, each year, we will choose likewise.

Your Basement is Haunted

Memory is not so much a segment of the brain as it is a room in a house. It is a particular place within the home of your being. Specifically, memory is a basement. To get there, you must momentarily step out of daily life, open that creaking door that scratches across the threshold, and descend a rickety staircase leading to a place where you keep everything that, up to this point, makes you you.

Of course, like a lot of basements, the basements of our beings can be frightening places. Sometimes the swinging lightbulb flickers, casting unsettled shadows across the cold, stone walls. Here you find an overwhelming clutter – your dusty boxes full of long-buried emotions, your pile of excess mental baggage. Few trips to this basement are convenient, and even fewer find you emerging from those depths full of positive energy. Rather, even if your intentions for venturing down those stairs are positive, you usually return at a quickened clip, as if something long buried has uncovered itself and is close at your heels in pursuit, and you must surface and slam the door shut lest it leap back into the daylight with you. Lest it escape the bottoms of your past and come to exist again in your present.

 ...

Like many a basement in a gothic short story, the basements of our beings are haunted places. There are creaks and groans down there. The echoes of angry words we spoke to someone who we’re sure didn’t deserve it. Reverberations of hasty statements we regret we ever voiced. The basement is where the ghosts of our past reside. Some we can identify – people who we wronged mixed in with all the people we believe wronged us. All of them wander around down there, blind and lost. The only conceivable purpose for their presence is to feed our guilt or fuel our grudges. When we must descend into these cellars of our lives – whether in some fleeting, naive attempt at self-reflection or a necessary reconnaissance into our memories – we attempt to do all our business from the stairs, lest we disturb those spirits. We get in and we get out, and we try to forget anything we might have seen down there. At the top of the stairs, we wipe our feet on the dusty, cobwebby mat, intending to bring not even the smallest fragment with us back through that door into daily life.

And we wouldn’t go down there at all if it weren’t the only storage space we have. The problem is that a lot of the good stuff is down there, too. Reminders of good deeds done with no coercion, wise words we didn’t know we had in us, memories of inspiring, heroic folks with whom we once interacted. It is hard to believe how much clutter is down there, and harder still that none of it is very organized. The good words are mixed in alongside the bad, and the figures we revere mill about among the same ghosts from which we divert our eyes. There are all kinds of musty odors down there – they come from the open boxes, and just when one hits our nostrils and tickles our interest, another assaults us and we recoil and berate ourselves for ever thinking it would be okay to go poking around.

Even finding your way through such a mess is daunting.

Even finding your way through such a mess can be daunting.

Oh, we’ll try and spruce the place up a bit, especially if we find ourselves needing to venture down there on a regular basis. We’ll try to get it all organized and labeled. We make sure the good things are easy to access, and we don’t stack too many boxes atop each other because the last thing we need is them to all come tumbling down and spilling out like Pandora’s box. The goal is to avoid as much of a mess of memories as possible. There’s nothing more agonizingly tedious as cleaning up spilt memories by oneself. Sometimes, we’ll decide we need some professional help with our cleaning, and a lot of time these doctors we go to see help us. They remind us that as frustrating and intimidating as it is, the clutter is still important. They help us label things, and they don’t mind peaking into those dusty boxes with us. They help clear some room in the far back of the basement for those ghosts to wander about without getting in the way. Of course, the downside is that every once in a while one of these doctors isn’t paying attention to what he is doing and knocks over a box we’d rather not have known was there.

...

For the Christian, when it comes to the basements of our beings, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is with one’s salvation experience comes the presence of the Holy Spirit – the presence of Christ in our inmost being. The bad news is one of the very reasons he takes up residence in us is that, like those weirdos on Storage Wars, he is eager to get into that basement of ours and start rooting around. He’s convinced that everything down there – the good and the bad, the pleasant and the disturbing, the loved ones and the ghosts – means something for our present and for our future. What is more, Jesus himself agrees with this idea.

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:7-11,13)

This is one of the many reasons why we pray. We seek God’s direction before we descend into the basements of our beings. We choose to go downstairs with his Spirit at our side. It’s not that the doctors don’t help – they do. It’s just that the Spirit is even more of a specialist when it comes to dealing with all of our clutter. He’s seen millions of basements like ours, and millions more that are far worse. He’s fought his way through many a jungle of cobwebs, braved even the most frightening collection of terrors, and withstood even the most rancid of odors.

Every one of our basements are haunted places, and merely getting organized isn’t enough to restore health to, and to draw wisdom from, our pasts. So we do not go in alone, but alongside the friend and Helper whose job it is to boldly yet gently show us who we really are, deep down.