The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

torsdag 23 maj 2019

Reflektioner i skymningen - vad betyder "do no harm" i Metodistkyrkan

Ofta hör man det sägas att Metodistkyrkans vision och mål och mening kan summeras i ett citat från John Wesley som lyder: "Do no harm, do good and attend the ordinances of God". Jag har alltid tänkt att det är ett ganska meningslöst citat eftersom det inte definierar vad som menas med "good" eller "harm".

Nu visar det sig att definitioner finns i kyrkordningen.
Här är några exempel på vad Wesley menade med "do no harm":
- taking the name of the Lord in vain ("-Herregud!", på svenska)
- profaning the Lord's day
- selling, buying or using alcoholic liquors
- buying, selling or keeping slaves
- Buying items that have not paid their duty ("pengar under bordet")
- Speaking ill/evil of ministers
- Uncharitable or unnecessary talk/conversation
- The putting on of gold and costly apparel
- Reading books or singing songs that do not tend/increase the knowledge or love of God
- Softness or needless self-indulgence
- Saving money/treasure on earth

Här är några exempel på vad han menade var "do good":
- give clothes to naked
- give food to hungry
- instructing, reproving or exhorting all we have interactions with to tell them not to do "what feels good"
- taking extra care of Christians, buying from their businesses "since the world will take care of its own"
- taking up their cross daily
- bear the reproach of being a Christian
- continue to show evidence for a desire to "flee the wrath to come and the forgiveness of sins"

Här är några exempel på vad Wesley menade med "attend the ordinances of God":
- public worship
- reading or studying the Bible
- Communion
- Family and private prayer
- Fasting and abstinence (avhållsamhet)

Ska man citera John Wesley så räcker det inte med 144 bokstäver, eller vad Twitter tillåter idag. Det är så nedlåtande och fördummande att läsa eller höra citat tagna ur luften för att dom låter bra eller passar in i ett narrativ man tycker om.
Som vanligt med Wesley finner man sig själv på den "korta listan", alltså att man har kommit till korta. Jag tror knappast någon inte gör det.

Men allt detta är för att komma med en önskan om att slippa fördummande citat eller slogans som
inte i det minsta hjälper oss i kyrkans framtid. Plattityder och uppenbara sanningar är så otroligt ohjälpsamma, främst eftersom dom invaggar människor i en falsk trygghet eller uppmanar till intellektuell slöhet, att allt "ordnar sig".

Det gör ju inte det.

tisdag 21 maj 2019

Reflections at dusk - The art of being wrong

Let's do a little experiment.

When was the last time you were wrong about something important?

We live in the aftermath of what is often called the post-modern era. It has been called many things and described a thousand ways (I'm sure Twitter is full of meaningless memes about it). Postmodernism is like "time", we all know what it is until we have to explain it. However, one of the most radical changes post-modernism brought to our collective thinking and philosophy is that there is no objective and absolute truth.
Everything was seen as either linguistic powerplays (the notion that some people use language to oppress others. We see this often in identity politics) or simply the triumf of personal preference. The modern era and its logic and rational discourse about truth or reality was labeled as cool and distant from real life. Post-modernism tried, and succeeded, in making sweeping changes to how we talk and think and relate to each other from a subjective perspective. That is why people's feelings have become the ultimate "truth tellers". If feelings are hurt then it must be false or wrong or bad or oppressive. Thus goes the argument.

The last time I was wrong about something important was a few months back. I made a comment about something important and voiced my hesitance and leanings. I had missed a line in a document that told me I should think/believe otherwise and when that was pointed out to me I had to admit that I was objectively and truly wrong, even if it didn't feel good. My feelings are not ultimately what decides what is true or not. I am not a post-modern. I believe in objective truth that is always, everywhere and for everyone true, independent of circumstance of preference. I am a modernist even though my pride/feelings took a hit. Truth matters.

(To be honest, I think everybody is a modernist deep down and only become post-modernists when they don't like conclusions that are telling them something they don't like. I believe that people inherently know and recognize truth when they see/understand it and that post-modernism just gives people a fancy framework of excuses or rationalizations.)

However, feelings are powerful and even though post-modernism despised meta-narratives (over- arching systems of thought) it certainly provided the world with a powerful one. In many (most?) cases it has become the philosophical de facto world we live in, unknowingly or not. An obvious example is how people nowadays call it harmful when somebody's feelings get hurt because they didn't get their way or someone disagreed with them. Google "harm" and the definition describes a physical act. Read social media outlets and "harm" becomes when someone's feelings are hurt because something happened that they didn't like. Another obvious example are the so-called "safe spaces" on American colleges where opposing views are banned from mingling (to the point where the Christians satire site did a piece on it here). A third "obvious" is Donald Trump. All emotion and feelings, no logic or reasoning.

This is also why the situation in our churches is the way it is. The discussion has moved from discussing and debating and arguing about the issues/doctrines and what is true to appealing to people's feelings and preferenecs. For example, "Love wins" is a horrible way to use Scripture and logic but it is a great meme that rallies people around a concept or feeling. Who is not with "love"?

However, have you noticed that exceedingly few people ever change their minds anymore and exceedingly many solidify into camps of us vs. them. That is a consequence of all this.
I personally don't mind the "us and them" mentality since it is very Biblical (jew and heathen, believer and non-believer, sinner and saint). However, I do mind the change from "us and them" to "us vs. them". There is a huge difference.

We have lost the art of being wrong and submit to logic and civil discourse.

To be frank, I think this is a very bad and dangerous situation. If we don't know how to be wrong, because that hurts our feelings and our feelings are ultimate, then how can we ever change our minds / admit that we were wrong? How can there ever be progress? How can we tell the truth from the lie?
(This is another reason why I think so many people shy away from logical and rational discourse about Christian doctrines and beliefs since they aren't based on feelings or emotions and quite often upset our feelings and/or emotions).

In the case of the church, if we don't hold to eternal and objective beliefs and truths and everything is personal preference and feelings, how is the world to be saved? How are we any different? How can we know the One who is Truth? How is it not like the blind leading the blind?
If all we have to go on is "whatever feels right" or "whatever feels right to me" or "whatever I believe", then what hope is there? If we don't know the truth or what is right, then who does? If we can't admit that we are wrong we also can't admit that we are right, objectively right, and preference and feelings rule the day.

I know that all of this sounds a little dense and maybe has a touch of that "ivory tower" out-of-touchness with the real world. However, I think the implications are massive and incredibly destructive. Just look how the Methodist church has descended into a civil war. Not long ago this church was a beacon of truth, love, order and holiness in the world. Now it holds conferences that make monster truck rallies look orderly.

So what is the solution?

We need to recapture the art of being wrong again. Wrong because objective reality tells us so, not whether or not our feelings feel thus, or whether our preference is for "the other side".
We need to practice saying "I sincerely believe X but I have been convinced through good argumentation and evidence that I should believe Y".
We need to learn that being wrong is not the end and having our feelings hurt is not harmful (Do we really think that Jesus didn't hurt anyone's feelings?). The end is when we reject being wrong just because, in essence, we don't (feel) like it.

Simply put, we need to find something bigger than ourselves to latch onto, unite with and submit ourselves to. Yes, I know I said "submit" and I know that it is probably the worst curse word for the post post-modern mind. But it is crucial that we submit and practice submission, if nothing else because we are all humans. We are not ultimate. We are not God. We must submit because sometimes or oftentimes we are wrong and truth matters.

Obviously, this is not a simple task but post modern scorn for objective reality (with its direct cause of the rise of the radical dictatorship of the self) is a dangerous contradiction (Is it objectively and always true that there is not objective truth?) and thus a very poor foundation for life and reality and church. It turns people against people and that is always bad.

My suggestion: find someone that you trust and practice submitting to that person. Try admitting of being wrong (as logic and reason would have it, not because of your feelings or preferences). Try not to go with the flow or follow the trends.  As G.K Chesterton once said: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”