Trying to Argue With Circular Logic

When I was in college I was introduced to the concept of circular logic or circular reasoning. This is a form of logical fallacy in which the reasoner starts with the argument they want to use as their conclusion. To some extent, the argument can be made that this type of logic is the bedrock of religious reasoning. In fact, it was through religion that I was introduced to use circular logic as my modus operandi for reasoning: the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God, therefore, it must be true that the Bible is the Word of God. There is no way of going away from this reasoning… you just have to either accept it altogether or reject it altogether. But if you are a religious person who has never been exposed to any other way of reasoning, leaving this type of logic is not an option.400px-bible_cycle

It has been a while since the last time I had a conversation with anyone who used circular logic. For the most part, I try to stay away from trying to engage in philosophical conversations with people who use this type of reasoning. Sure, I could have wonderful conversations about the weather, aspects of life, work, ourselves, etc., but it is impossible to have real conversations regarding faith with people who only use circular logic for their religious arguments. There are some people who might realize that they use this type of reasoning and, not wanting to step away from it, just accept that other people have other ways of looking at things and move on. But there are others for whom circular logic is so ingrained in their lives and way of thinking that they cannot comprehend why someone would step away from this way of thinking in order to find answers somewhere else. For some of them, trying to convince you to go back to using circular logic is not only their mission: it is their duty in life as the lives of those around them depend on it!

Unfortunately, I fell for this not long ago. When I noticed that I was engaging in a one-way conversation with someone who could only use circular logic, it was too late for me to step away. I tried, but failed miserably, to point out the invalidity of the arguments. Of course, this was to be expected! How can an argument be invalid if the only way to validate it is by going back to the premise that made the argument valid in the first place! Ha!

Although I grew up using circular logic for my religious arguments, I have come to grow in my understanding of religion and faith. I now use all the tools available to me in order to understand the religious premises that I live by. I have also come to understand that other people will have different ways of approaching the same questions I have, and that many times, depending on the approach, the answers will be different. The fact that the answer is different doesn’t make it invalid; it just makes it… well… different! I accept that. Thanks to the wonderful mentoring of Angela Figueroa, who was the sociology of religion professor who introduced me to the world of deductive and inductive logic and how to step away from circular logic, I have come to grow in my understanding of religious arguments and how to use them. I have also come to understand that “feelings”, “hunches”, and “inklings”, are not valid reasons to start arguments and to come to conclusions. That doesn’t mean they do not have a valid place in the human experience of the immaterial (or God, or the Divine), it only means that they cannot and should not be used as the bedrock of argumentation.

When I stepped out of using circular logic to “prove” my religious believes, it was a painful process. For a very long time I felt lost, confused, and completely out of control. There was a time when I even came to accept as my reality that there was no evidence of a Divine being, and therefore, there was no such thing. It took me a long time to understand that I could still be faithful, religious, and connected to a Divine being without the need to base my beliefs in circular logic. But again, this is a long and painful process. In my recent conversation, I failed to understand and accept that the person using this type of logical fallacy could have been deeply hurt by stepping out of their way of thinking. I only hope that our conversation was a small seed planted in them to be able to see the wonderful, fulfilling, and satisfying opportunity to have a faith that continues to grow and not one that is stuck in an empty sphere that takes you nowhere in your relationship with God. I also hope that I do not have to engage in another argument like this, as it was extremely painful to see how little progress you can make in trying to have an actual conversation when the other participant has already decided what the conclusion must be.

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Filed under Church, Logic, ministry, Philosophy, Sociology, Theology

A Few Signs of Hope

I have to say that for most of the US American people, the next four years of a possible fascist-leaning regime are not the safest, nor is there much hope for most of the US American people (no, not even for the white poor who might have voted for the president-elect, as his policies *will not* benefit the larger society but just a few upper higher class individuals and corporations.)

However, I did see some glimpses of hope for the future. Sure, there is no way of knowing how many of us will survive the regime. And certainly, we can’t even say for sure whether the authoritarian democratically elected will actually follow the Constitution and rule for only the allotted time. But, for whatever time we might need to suffer this regime, the signs of a hopeful future are out there. img_0579

As I was talking a walk around the campus of the university near my office, I saw many messages of hope, acceptance, and support for minorities. This gave me some hope that many young people do understand the significance of this historical time. Perhaps the older generation are so fed up with democracy that they did not care about using their democratic rights to bring an authoritarian into power, but the next generations DO care about democracy and pluralism.

img_0586The resistance has continued to grow, and just like in previous authoritarian regimes, this time there will be martyrs and victors. Sure, the democracy of the USA has come to an end for the time being, but out of this coming regime a “more perfect union” will arise… Our youth are leading the way!

#RESISTANCE

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November 14, 2016 · 10:40 am

I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

Learning to Live With Cancer*

I am standing in front of my kitchen sink. It is early in the morning and I have already cooked breakfast and am ready to clean some dishes before leaving the house. The dirty dishes are piled up, ready to be cleaned and put away. But there’s one word that keeps coming back to me. It’s been a few weeks already, but the word doesn’t leave my mind. It comes back and I slowly repeat it. Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma…sarcoma-cancer-awareness-ribbon

It is frightening to think that your life is about to end. Up until now, I knew that I would not live forever. In fact, I’ve had a few close encounters with death already. The first one was just as I was being born. The amniotic fluid invaded my lungs and I had to be resuscitated. My mom didn’t get to hold me in her arms until a few days after my birth. There was another time in elementary school when a car almost hit me. I remember clearly that one experience. I was enjoying a lollipop when I heard my mom’s screams, and I found myself almost touching the red car’s hood. I don’t recall how I got there, but the feeling of having been closed to death is not something that goes away easy. Many years ago, I still remember laying in a hospital bed with an infection and being unable to breath. The last image I remember is that of the doctors screaming something like “he’s back, he’s back!” They had resuscitated me once more. But this time, for whatever reason, it felt different.

Just a few weeks before standing in front of the sink and uttering the word “sarcoma”, I had received the call from the doctor. The biopsy I had a week and a half prior to the call had revealed that I had soft tissue sarcoma. It was impossible for the biopsy to determine how spread the cancer was, or in what stage, or whether the tumors were only located on those visible marks I had gone to the doctor for. All the doctor could tell me was: the biopsy revealed sarcoma and more tests were needed in order to find out other answers. The oncologist’s office will give me a call to set up the next appointment.

The days I spent waiting for the oncologist’s call felt like years. I thought this waiting was going to be the worst. But it wasn’t. After that one call and the setting up of the appointment, came the other period of waiting. Now I had to wait for the actual date of the appointment. Until then, nothing was clear; nothing was finalized. I just had a date for the appointment and a wealth of information – both good and bad – through the magic of the internet. Of course, this is not something that I recommend to anyone! That was, perhaps, the worst of the decisions I made. It brought even more stress to my already stressful waiting period.

Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma… Every day since the diagnosis, I repeat those words. Sometimes it is in front of the kitchen sink. Other times it is in front of the mirror. Other times, while I drive to work. I feel like if I keep mentioning it, it will either go away or make me more in charge of it.

It has not been easy since the diagnosis. Even after having met with the oncologist and knowing more about what lays ahead, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reality that my body has been invaded by this illness. I continue repeating the words, hoping that the repetition will take away the diagnosis. But I also know that this is not going to happen. Right now, I just need to learn how to clean the dishes with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to put the dishes away with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to look myself at the mirror and see both what I like and the marks of sarcoma. I just need to learn how to live with cancer. But that’ll be it: I will learn how to LIVE.

_____

*I wrote this reflection after a few days of being diagnosed with sarcoma. Since the, I have seen the oncologist, gone over the possible treatments, confirmed that the cancer is not spread, and scheduled my first round of radiation. Not super great news, but way better than thinking that my life is over. 🙂

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Aprendiendo a vivir con los miedos

¿Que si tengo miedo? ¡Por supuesto que tengo miedo! Y mucho.

img_0336 Han sido unas semanas de espera. Primero esperando por los resultados de la biopsia. Una vez que llegaron los resultados, la espera de la cita con el especialista. Luego la espera de más exámenes y más laboratorios y más tiempo para hacer un plan de acción… En fin, que la espera misma ha sido todo un miedo aterrador.

Hace unas seis semanas recibí la noticia que vivo con cáncer. Sarcoma de los tejidos blandos, para ser preciso. El recibir la llamada del médico, justo unas horas antes de entrar a una importante reunión, no es lo que le recomiendo a nadie. Tuve que beberme las lágrimas, fingir que todo estaba bien, ofrecer mi reporte y contestar las preguntas necesarias. Tuve que hacerme el fuerte porque es lo que se supone que uno haga. Pero por dentro… ¡no! Por dentro me iba muriendo poco a poco. La noticia me llenó de terrores que no imaginé que eran posibles. “Me estoy pudriendo por dentro”, fue lo que pensé. “Todo lo que he luchado, todo lo que he hecho, todos los planes que no he podido cumplir… todo se viene abajo.” Sí, esos fueron los pensamientos que tuve.

Pero tuve que poner todo a un lado y seguir. Pa’ lante, porque no hay pa’ donde más ir.

Soy jíbaro. De Castañer. Del campo. De cafetales. Soy jíbaro y a los jíbaros no se nos da eso de aparentar flaqueza. Soy jíbaro y a los jíbaros no nos queda bien eso de sentarse a echarse a morir. El orgullo no nos permite doblar el brazo y admitir nuestras penas y penurias. Pero por dentro… O no, por dentro es otra cosa. Por dentro nos desbastamos igual que el cáncer que se va comiendo mi cuerpo de adentro hacia afuera.

Por supuesto, lo primero que pensé es que mis días estaban ya contados. ¡Y tanto sin haber cumplido! Nunca fui papá. Nunca viaje a todos los continentes. Nunca terminé de escribir mi novela. Nunca obtuve mi doctorado. Nunca escribí mi obra máxima de teología. En fin, que vi mi vida pasar frente a mis ojos en un minutos.

Es interesante que esto fuera así porque no es la primera vez que enfrento a la muerte. Pero el cáncer… oh… el cáncer es injusto y malvado. Te destroza los planes y los sueños en un minuto. Ya han sido muchas las vidas que he visto extinguirse por el maldito cáncer. Algunas hasta han pasado a la eternidad.

He visto mucha gente morir. Soy pastor y ha sido mi responsabilidad estar allí para ver lo que pasa. No solo eso. Soy humano y como tal, siempre he vivido la muerte. Primero un primo. Luego mi abuelo. Después mi mejor amigo. Todos se fueron. Todos de manera inesperada. La muerte siguió siendo parte de mi vida… una tía. Otra tía. Otro abuelo. Otro primo. Otra amiga. Y así, siguieron extinguiéndose vidas a mi alrededor hasta que me acostumbré un poco. Luego, una vez que estuve en el seminario y me preparaba para hacerme ministro, entonces encontré la muerte un poco más de cerca. Trabajando en un hospital pude tomar de la mano a algunas personas mientras se despedían de este mundo. Se iban descarnando y siguiendo sus espíritus hasta encontrarse con el Gran Poder. Sus almas pasando de esta esfera a la próxima y yo allí, junto a ellas para acompañarles. ¿Pero yo? Pues si yo he escapado la muerte tantas veces. ¿Cómo va a venir a por mí?

La muerte no me da miedo. Lo que me atemoriza es el despedirme sin haber terminado de tejer mis sueños. Eso sí me da miedo. Me da miedo quedarme en una cama hasta deshacerme en pedacitos y no poder valerme por mí mismo. Me da miedo el no volver a viajar y ver tantas maravillas y conocer tanta gente que aún no he visto ni conocido. Me da miedo el que se termine mi tiempo de explorar. Me da miedo el no haber dejado una huella en este mundo. Me da miedo el no haber amado hasta lo más profundo y con una pasión tanta que no quiera ya morir. Me da miedo el no volver a mi terruñito y escuchar una vez más el cantar del gallo y del coquí; el tener el placer de levantarme con el olor de la flor de café y el sentir el sereno de las mañanas. Me da miedo el no ver a un ruiseñor más en las flores de maga y el no poder volver a caminar en el fango y oler la yerba mojada. Eso me da miedo. Me da miedo el que nunca nadie me diga “¡papi!” con la inocencia que solo puede hacerlo un niño o una niña. Me da miedo que no tenga fuerzas ya para abrir los ojos y ver el cielo desde mis montañas lejanas.

No quiero escuchar, de nadie, que no tengo que temer. Nunca lo dije a ninguna de las personas que vi morir o a sus familias. No quiero que me lo digan a mí. ¡Sí, quiero tener miedo! Pero quiero también aprender a vivir con ellos. Los miedos no se van por si solos. No. Con los miedos se aprende a vivir.

No sé qué traerá el futuro inmediato. Mucho menos puedo saber lo que traerá el futuro lejano. Por ahora, solo sé que estoy aquí. Sé que tengo a familia y a amistades. Sé que tengo mi gente de la iglesia y mis estudiantes. Sé que tengo conocidos que han extendido la mano para ayudar, si solo por un ratito… Sé que tengo miedos con los que voy a aprender a vivir.

¿Que si tengo miedo? ¡Por supuesto que tengo miedo! Y mucho… pero soy jíbaro y voy a aprender a vivir con ellos.

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Church: Do Not Be Afraid of Change

I am often asked if the transformation that the mainline church is going through (with the fast and marked decline) scares me as a minister. My answer is a bit complicated, but I will try to summarize it here. The very short answer is: yes and no.

Let me explain…

As a minister, the decline of the mainline denominations makes me scared. First, because I grew up in the mainline church. It pains me to see an institution that had such a huge impact in my life declining. The mainline church – in my case, the American Baptist Churches, but also the two other denominations that have welcomed me, the

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The ruins of a church altar in Antigua, Guatemala. (Picture credits: J. Manny Santiago (c) )

United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church – has been my spiritual home for all of my life. It was in the mainline church that I learned the stories of the Bible, the teaching of the “Golden Rule”, the hope for a coming kingdom and the eternal reign of peace that God will bring. It was the mainline church one of the institutions, along with school, that fostered my leadership skills and gave me a chance to begin learning how to be a leader. Sure, experiencing its decline is both scary and sad.

Second, as a minister, I rely on the church for my income. Contrary to what the media may portray and to what popular culture tells you about ministers, the truth is that this is like any other profession. I went to graduate school. I took psychological tests to examine my readiness for serving people under stressful circumstances. I did an intensive internship unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) to help me understand myself and gain knowledge on how to serve others who are undergoing major challenges in their lives. I also learned about history, economy, sociology, religious pluralism, political systems, non-profit administration, rhetoric and debate strategies, philosophy, literary criticism, multiculturalism and a bunch of other areas that are transferable to non-religious positions but that very few places would recognized as such because of preconceived ideas about religious leaders. Moreover, I took student loans because it was the only way to pay for graduate school and because the opportunities for scholarship when studying theology are minimal (although, I did receive some scholarships from religious organizations and the school itself.) Thus, if I lose my source of income, my family would be in a really difficult position. Of course that scares anyone!

With all that said, the transformation of the Church – in this case, the Church with capital “C” – is not what makes me feel the most scared. Why? Well, because the Church, and its expression in the mainline denominations, is not of my own making. The Church is, as the New Testament attest and we proclaim every day, the body of Christ. The Church has been around for a long time, and it will continue to be around even after all the institutions we have built around it have faded into history. Sure, there will be – as there have always been – enormous transformations of the institutions. Some of them will not survive. Others will merge and create new things. And still others will grow and expand steadily.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12.27: “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” Paul’s words are an expansion of what Jesus himself said earlier in his life. The gospel of John 14.19a-20 tells us that Jesus said: “Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” If the people of the Church is the body of Christ, then we must not be afraid of the transformations through which the Church goes. Sure, the institution will look very different than the one we were raised in or are currently a part of; but the main truth remains: the Church will continue to live.

I believe that our fear to lose the institution that we so much love has stood in the way of letting the Church grow and transform. Many of my colleagues who, like me, depend on the church’s salary to feed our families, are too afraid of losing this source of income. As I stated before, this also scares me. But I am also confident that the tools and the experience I have gained while serving the mainline church will serve me well in finding a suitable position should the time come when the institutionalized church cannot offer a position for me any longer. I believe that we must let go of the fear of losing what we know in order to let the Church and its mainline expression to go through whatever transformation it has to go through.

This also means that we should find ways to give each support. All transformations are both traumatic and difficult. We will go through painful moments. During this time, it will be important to have the support of those who are close to us and who can extend us a hand in making whatever transition may come less painful. However, fear is not, in my opinion, the answer. And thus, my invitation is to let go of the fear of change and accept the transformation that is already present within the mainline church as the manifestation of an ever present Spirit of newness and renewal. Remember that we confess an ever creating God. Let God do a new thing and show us what wonders and awe-inspiring new things God is bringing to us!

 

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Filed under Church, Dios, Identity, iglesia, ministry, Teología, Theology, worship

Taking a break… but not for too long!

Friends:

Much has been going on in the past months. I needed to take a break from writing for my blog in order to focus on personal matters. I will be back soon with more writings and more sharing of experiences. Of course, I write this blog more as a diary than with the intention of having followers, but I thought that, for the two or three who *do* read my posts, I wanted to let them know that I have not abandoned the blog. 😉

Thanks!

 

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