Category Archives: theology

Levees of God

On the left side of this page there’s a sidebar, and on that sidebar are interspersed quotes. Like particularly pretty stones one might find by a riverbank, I’ve picked these up and have them displayed here, each pointing to a moment of insight or counsel, or reflecting a resource that pushed me farther away from the explicable and into some new course of life. Or gave me hope in the midst of a way that didn’t make sense to me.

Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16

Books have been my mentors my whole life. I’ve always been a reader and reading has generally caused me to lose focus on the present and lose focus on what I was supposed to be learning in a given context. I get distracted by books, and of books there is no end. One book leads to another, the rabbit trail leading to the rabbit hole, down we go.

When I think back on my life, I think of the books that were shaping my thoughts and assumptions during those various seasons. That would probably be the most effective form of self-biography, a list of books. To add to that, I probably could add writing I’ve done, self-biography that is not autobiography–telling my story directly–but telling of the deeper me through the guides that are compelling me further up and further in.

I wrote essays on CS Lewis and James Michener in high school, reading almost all of both of their works before I graduated. In my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the early church Fathers, and more specifically to Tertullian. My Spring break of that year was filled reading through the two volumes of his writings in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. It took longer than that one week, of course, but it filled that week and expanded into all my life. The strange thing is that reading has never just been academic or intellectual for me. It has when required, but the reading I’m talking about–the kind that shapes and defines me–has been quite holistic. I loved the early church fathers, for instance, because they spoke of depths of faith, love, hope in the midst of trials, perseverance. Tertullian’s mix of brilliant exposition and sarcastic wordplay delighted me to the core of my being.

I did not, to say the least, have the stereotypical college experience. I was distracted the whole time, distracted by pressing problems and, more to the point, distracted by God. This is probably why, in my junior year, I resonated greatly with Wesley’s writings. He spoke of both my passions and my struggles.

This post isn’t about college, however. I’m in the midst of writing about my journey to and through PhD studies. The last post ended with me in the mountains.

I went there to write. Really. I was living in Pasadena, looking for jobs, and writing was the only thing that stirred my soul. That and answering “run a Christian escort business” when people asked me what I did for a living.

The mountains provided, even within their own modicum of chaos, a place I could be even more deliberate about my deeper quest. People thought I was running away from life. It was entirely the opposite. I was turning around and facing the always encroaching Void, letting its waves wash over me, no longer fleeing from it. If I did not have faith, I would not stand.

Hunting truth is no easy task; we must look everywhere for its tracks

Basil the Great

I continued to write, but more importantly for those first couple of years I began to read into the depths. Each season of my life has its theme books, and the four volume set of the Philokalia was the theme of those mountain years.

I found the early church fathers in college, reading through the ante-nicene Fathers set after graduating. I found John Cassian my first year in seminary, who radically upset my ability to subsist contentedly in the world as I knew it. The Philokalia was the progression of that reading, discovered because I wanted to read Wesley deeper, and sought out a source for his Makarios, a great influence in his life. I found Makarios in the Philokalia and also so many others. Niketas Stethatos being my favorite (if one is allowed to have such favorites).

Such writings showed me a map, a path to deeper places, deeper answers, deeper hopes. Also deeper restrictions, deeper limitations, stricter standards. I was like an Autopia car when the ‘driver’ lets go of the steering wheel, bouncing back and forth but making progress along the track. I was not good in so many ways. But God sought more for me, and in the flood of the Spirit’s work, there were levees that kept me isolated, kept me moving a determined direction. As much as I might have wanted to flood into other pastures, God established the way.

Hence I ought unceasingly
to give thanks to God who often pardoned
my folly and my carelessness,
and on more than one occasion
spared His great wrath on me,
who was chosen to be His helper
and who was slow to do as was shown
me and as the Spirit suggested.
And the Lord had mercy on me
thousands and thousands of times
because He saw that I was ready,
but that I did not know what to do
in the circumstances.

Patrick of Ireland

In the midst of this path, a path of both isolation and narrowed community, I found hope. I found renewal. I found a voice.

In the midst of this, I also rediscovered a couple of theologians I had first met in seminary. I read Pannenberg and his three volume systematic theology. I also read Moltmann. Both of which radically affected my understanding of God and this life and God’s work in this world. Moltmann affected me even more personally, becoming an actual mentor of sorts, and not just through his books.

Moltmann was the way God led me down the mountain and back into life.

Which is the subject of another post.

Posted in 500, journey, lake arrowhead, spirituality, theology | 3 Comments

Resurrection hope

In the experience of Christ, the resurrection gathers all people into the power of the messianic moment even now, as such people live in the light of the Spirit’s in-breaking of history. “Only the love which passionately affirms life understands the relevance of this hope, because it is through that that this love is liberated from the fear of death and the fear of losing its own self.”[1]

Rather than losing one’s own self, thus always anxious about the encroaching identity of others, feeling vulnerable and fragmented, thus easily subverted, the person who lives in the light of the resurrection is secure in their identity as being alive in Christ. The substance of Christ gives substance to each person, securing their future as participants with the open fellowship of God. This security frees people to live with openness in their particular contexts.

“The resurrection hope,” Moltmann writes, “makes people ready to live their lives in love wholly, and to say a full and entire Yes to a life that leads to death. It does not withdraw the human soul from bodily, sensory life; it ensouls this life with unending joy.”[2]

We can say yes to death only in light of resurrection hope, which allows us to no longer fear death nor be determined by false forms of identity that we think might protect us from death.

“In this resurrection dialectic, human beings don’t have to try to cling to their identity through constant unity with themselves, but will empty themselves into non-identity, knowing that from this self-emptying they will be brought back to themselves again for eternity.”[3]

The identity that Christ promises to his people, then, substantiates each particular person as a particular subject in God’s particular mission. They do not lose their identity, becoming a drone in a collective, rather the promise of resurrection is a process of becoming in full who a person was always intended to be.

The hope in God is hope in one’s own future in which identity is secured and blossoms into fullness. The resurrection leads a person past the work of the cross, in which history and the past finds resolution, and into the future where a person can truly be who they are in the community of others who are similarly becoming.

“Communion with Christ,” Moltmann writes, “the new being in Christ, proves to be the way for man to become man. In it, true human nature emerges, and the still hidden and unfulfilled future of human nature can be sought in it.”[1]

The goal of much oppression, to secure one’s own identity and power and position—to secure one’s self in a particular context and project one’s security into the future—invariably leads to death, and thus dissolution of that goal. That was the earliest deception of sin, the taking of the fruit to assert one’s own identity and bypassing God.

Only the way of the cross includes the path to resurrection, and only by participating with the crucified God do we then have a substantive hope for not only salvation from but indeed and more importantly, salvation into.

This salvation into includes those ultimate goals for which oppressing tends to be concerned—issues of fulfillment, identity formation, security. Because the cross entails the loss of identity, the resurrection is about more than resuscitation of that old identity into becoming a more successful version of the same.

Jesus does not valorize who we were but awakens us to new possibilities in accordance with who we were always meant to be. “For freedom,” Moltmann writes, “is nothing else than being open for the genuine future, letting oneself be determined by the future.” Yet, while the Spirit of resurrection can thus be called the power of the future, the resurrection is not futuram but an advent, a novum of new life, a new way of living.

This new way of living involves participating not in our determinative future but participating in Christ, “from the knowledge and recognition of that historic event of the resurrection of Christ which is the making of history and the key to it.”[3] The cross opens a person up to be a new person, emptying and forsaking, the resurrection is the promise of filling, of new life.

Thus, the resurrection “means recognizing in this event the latency of that eternal life which in the praise of God arises from the negation of the negative, from the raising of the one who was crucified and the exaltation of the one who was forsaken.”[4]

Hope is not static. Hope initiates movement.



This was a couple of  wee excerpts from my dissertation



[1] Moltmann, Coming of God , 66.

[2] Moltmann, Coming of God, 66.

[3] Moltmann, Coming of God, 67.

 

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 196.

[2] Obviously a statement like this would raise objections concerning the historicity of the Garden narrative. Whatever the historical basis, the narrative intent of the story was to assert a particular kind of action/response that is at the root of human alienation from God and self. It is this narrative intent that is my concern.

[3] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 212. Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 229.

[4] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 211.

Posted in church, holidays, holiness, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Fragments

This is the sort of stuff that gets cut out of my dissertation:

If God is determined to liberate and God then promises this liberation, the issue at hand is not simply one’s own experience of suffering at a given moment but also God’s very identity as able to surpass the historical contingencies and fulfill the promise. God puts his own identity, essentially, at risk in making the promise. In other words, with the promise it is not only about us, but also about God being faithful to himself and in his faithfulness to himself he is faithful to us. It is in this accomplishment of faithfulness that God, then, can be identified as God, as it is only God who is able to surpass all in order to accomplish all. God becomes knowable through the promises he makes and the promises he keeps. “I am” becomes “I am the God who brought you out of Egypt.” This then expresses God’s intent to be known through the horizon of history as the promises and the fulfillments identify, clarify, and substantiate his revelation of his self.

Posted in academia, dissertation musings, theology, writing | 1 Comment

Entrusting

The process of embedding a transcendent reality within an imminent context is one of illumination, seeing reality for what it is and, in this, making the truly worthwhile stand in contrast to the wrong and misguided. Such a process for a person, or community, or context is not always easy, or welcomed. The whole problem with alternative identity systems is that they are forming identities, and our identities are who we think ourselves to be and orient us in how we act for ourselves and among others. This is why a person who is being illuminated by the Spirit, and seeks this illumination, needs a safe space in order to become who they are called to be—a space where there is encouragement to walk along the way of Jesus Christ and walk with fellow travelers accompanying them on this journey.

Such a community of people are becoming together who they are called to be in their lives and in a specific context, which it itself as a context and as a space filled with many people, called to redemption in the light of God’s immanent transcendence. As people resonate with this work of the Spirit they are both lifted up towards Christ and situated even more in their place—becoming incarnations of God’s reality with, for, and among a particular location. This is a work of transcendent immanence, participating with the Spirit in the redemption of a context, helping it to realize what it was called to be and helping those within it learning who to be.

This is, to be sure, a profound work, a work that we see most fully realized in the work of Jesus, whose incarnation resonated within his particular context, and then as people were transformed beginning to resonate in many other contexts, reaching all around the world. These pockets of resonance carry on this mission of the Father, which is the mission of Christ, which is the mission of the Spirit, gathering all of space and time into the resonance of God’s redemption and relationship. Put in such terms, it seems incredible that such a mission would be entrusted to people—all of whom are not yet fully who they are called to be themselves and yet are, in the midst of their own becoming, called to participate with God in the liberating work of the church. We are being formed as we are being sent. “It is,” as Jon Huckins puts it, “the only way to fully step into a vocation of Jesus apprenticeship. It is emulating our rabbi.”[1] Part of this emulation, then, is the posture of entrusting.

Just as Adam was intended as a mediator and to represent to it God’s identity and to steward it in submission to God, so to Jesus came among us, in part, to serve as a model and a mediator—for creation in general and for the misguided humanity in particular.[2] This role of mediator and representation was passed on by Jesus to his disciples, not staying among them but leaving and in this leaving, allowing the Spirit to enter into the life of the church with new power and authority. This is not necessarily something the disciples would have chosen on their own, as Jesus was, without a doubt, much more trustworthy in such a mission than they were. Indeed, one might say that entrusting such people—then and now—to such a task is dangerous.

Yet, this is the work of God, calling others to be who they were made to be in the midst of the mission each were called to participate in: being sent into this world for the sake of this world. This is a community task, as it is as persons within a community that we begin to represent God to this world. “God’s mission wasn’t designed to advance with a set of sent individuals. It was designed to advance through a faithful people living as advocates of the missio Dei.”[3]



[1] Jon Huckins, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community (Kansas City: The House Studio, 2012), 133.

[2] See Huckins, 133.

[3] Huckins, 135.

(an excerpt from my dissertation)

Posted in dissertation musings, emerging theology, holiness, Holy Spirit, Jesus, missional, theology | 1 Comment

One way, many directions

This past Saturday evening, I preached at the PazNaz Saturday evening service. Here’s the page of notes I wrote up as a guide.

Made Clean – July 29, 2012

“The Best Thing and the Worst Thing” – Acts 15:36-16:5; Galatians 2:11-13

Our Context: Those of us who have been in churches a while have almost certainly been hurt by being a part of churches.

When there’s clear sin happening, it makes sense, right? People are intentionally moving away from God’s work so of course there is evil. There’s a famous heretic Marcion who lived in the second century. He has this famous quote, “I’m going to tear your church and make a rent in it forever.” He wanted division because he thought the church was wrong and he was right, and he intentionally sought ways to destroy the church and lead a new group in a new direction.

When someone clearly has the church’s worst as a goal, we know where to stand.

It’s like Moses and Korah.

What if there are differing opinions, however, on what direction the church is to go, conflicting opinions on ministry or how things are to work, resources? That’s where, I think, the most church issues come into play because with those we expose fissures, cracks of faith and commitment to each other.

We might say we trust each other but when disagreements come, we want to be right and if we’re right the other person must be wrong and if their wrong we need to do something about it.

So many church problems come from people who are sure they are serving God coming into disagreement with others who are sure they are serving God—each person thinks they’re right and each person thus thinks the other people must be opposing not only them, but also God. How many denominations do we have because people split off into different factions because of often very minor issues of mission or doctrine?

My story—working in a church, young adults, spiritual gifts, getting people involved.
Their goal, mission, door to door evangelism. They thought it had to be one or the other.

We alienate people when we generalize our own calling.

This isn’t new. READ PASSAGE
Some background: Galatians 2; Acts 13:13

3 characters

Paul – Paul’s mission was the churches and the message. He wanted to build churches. He was a missionary and an evangelist who often got in difficult circumstances, so he needed to know who to trust. Life was unsafe, and he needed safe people around him.

Barnabus – Barnabus’s mission was the people. He wanted to raise up new leaders and invest in people. He did this with Paul, remember, using his own reputation to help Paul transition into a trusted role. John story?

John Mark — John Mark wanted to serve Jesus. But he was immature. He had failed and stumbled. Was there grace? He wasn’t trustworthy, that’s true, but he wanted to be. Help my unbelief, Lord.

God’s work –Did I say three characters, I meant 4. We have to have God’s heart.

Discernment
Personal experience – NewSong—God had put something onto my heart, God had put something on other people’s hearts. How do we know which direction to go?

How do we go forward when others want to go left or right or up or down? That might be forward for them, but not for us. Like the universe, however, God’s work is expanding in all directions.

At the heart of this passage is the reality of the stress and strain of learning how to live as a body—if each of us have been given different gifts and passions and callings—which we have—then we’re going to have different priorities and perspectives and goals. How do we learn how to listen in a way that celebrates this diversity instead of erupting into division?

In this text we have forms of redemption: Barnabas and John Mark go to Cyprus.

Paul takes Silas and later Timothy—two helpers who were much more suitable to minister to Gentiles.

We shouldn’t idealize the early church, because we see the problems there that we still experience. What we should do is trust in God, who works all things together for good because at the end of the day it is his mission, and we’re just part of it. We also need to remember that we’re not the only bearers of God’s mission and our part isn’t everyone’s part.

I like the story of Narnia where Aslan won’t tell other people’s stories—we’re not told everyone’s stories, we’re just told our own and called to join with others not as same people but as diverse people with a shared mission and savior. Rather than causing division, we should celebrate that we have different gifts, different places and ways of influence.

Posted in Scripture, speaking, spirituality, theology | Leave a comment

Acts 14:8-20

Last evening, I preached at the PazNaz Saturday Service. The passage this weekend was Acts 14:8-20. I spoke from more of an outline/cues than a text, as I’m trying to get better at speaking like this. I said more than what’s in the notes, including some extra points and a bit of personal touches/honesty.

Here’s my notes:Acts 14:8-20

The Story of God in Contrast to other Stories.

Luke is establishing the story of the followers of Jesus as the continuing story of the story of God.

We can’t attach our own story to this story, we have to listen to the story God is telling so that we interpret everything right.

Perspectives in Lystra:
Characters—Putting ourselves in each characters shoes to observe the passage from different perspectives.

A. The healed man – asked for alms, and got his legs.
Types of needs – healing, jobs, protection, financial
Types of salvation

The man needed healing, and that’s he got. Let’s not overlook this.
God is a God who heals. Who provides. Let’s not get distracted by all the wrong ways of responding to this moment and forget the power of the God we serve. We get so distracted by being nervous about being wrong, that we forget that God is a God of salvation who is reaching out to us.

When God works that’s a testimony. For us and for others. It’s a testimony for us because God working helps us think about how God will continue to work.
But how do we interpret this work?

Story of God — Exodus (Red Sea) — Exodus 14 Pharoah had the signs of the plagues, but then dismissed them and attacked Israel.

This story echoes Acts 3, establishing Paul as approved by God, with Barnabas.

B. The crowd
What is the story they know?

Olympian deities roaming the earth – Ovid

Types of hopes – gods, work, money, health

Types of devotion – transactional, religious, financial, influence

Types of leaders—CEO, priest, king—we want to put our identity in the one who saves us.
Most enthusiastic and most fickle—they support you until you disappoint them, then their passion is still as great, in the other direction.

New Atheists—disappointment with God turns to antipathy with God.

Desperation is a dangerous drive, it drives us into the arms of supposed heroes and often against God, who we only judge based on how well he is meeting our needs.

Fickle servants for a fickle god—they acted in the way their worship formed them.

Looking for incarnations, mistaking the servants for the master

Don’t trust in Egypt – (Isaiah 30) fickle masters make fickle people, blowing with the wind

(Exodus Golden Calf—Egypt) – Exodus 32

C. The Jewish leaders

Devoted to God—jealous for God—heresy hunters

Takes advantage of ignorance

We know these people, people so sure about their interpretation of God that they won’t allow any other expression, and often drive away healing and salvation in doing so.

What could they do for the lame man? They could be right. How does that help anyone?

And they weren’t even right! Being right with God comes with power, with hope, with thanksgiving, not destruction and stoning.

(Korah) – Numbers 12, 16 (Moses did not need to avenge himself)

D. Paul and Barnabas

Parallel with Peter (Acts 3:8)
serving God according to God’s story. First came healing, then preaching, then stoning?

The speech. A very succinct summary of the story told in the early chapters of Genesis (see also Romans 1)

The power of God
The testimony of God
God the creator – in charge of all—rejected the deities
God the provider
God the patient restorer—asserting God’s promises

The humility of serving God – testify to God’s power, not our own abilities.

Doing right does not mean all goes right and things going wrong does not mean we did wrong
Models for ministry, turn a misunderstanding into a moment for preaching

Reminders of Moses – as a Leader and the Creation/salvation narrative.

We can’t take Jesus out of his context, out of the context of the story of Scripture, because then we start attaching to him our own perceptions of the kind of Messiah we think we need.
Acts 14:21-22 “going through considerable suffering”. Speaking from experience!

What kind of hopes to do we have? What kind of savior are we looking for? What kind of story are we a part of. We must get deeper into God’s story so that we know who we are.

***Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13**

Let us go forth an live in God’s story and celebrate the story that he is bringing to fulfillment in this world.

Posted in church, ministry, notes, speaking, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Truth, Beauty, and Yodeling Pickles

Peter, “It’s just a bit of silliness really.”
JM Barrie, “I should hope so.”

~from the movie, Finding Neverland

There’s something about theology and ministry that makes me serious. Now, that’s not a comment about how seriously I take it, or these are topics of great concern that merit only very serious attitudes.

It’s more that these topics, for whatever reason, seem to cause a shift in my personality. I become very serious. Don’t believe me? Read this blog. It’s very serious, mind-crushingly serious, alienatingly serious. I can’t even remember the last whimsical post I wrote here. I can’t remember, for that matter, the last whimsical anything I wrote. I try to post on what I’m thinking about, but since this is an entirely sporadic blog (liberally sprinkled with “sorry I haven’t written for awhile” sort of posts), I’m not really even sure what the goal of this blog is and it’s certainly not a cross section of what I usually am thinking about.

This has become my serious side. It’s the side of me that doesn’t let itself out in most social situations, and the side of me that, for whatever reason, is both an integral part of who I am and the choices I have made, yet I don’t express in other situations.

Remember the pensieve from Harry Potter? It allowed one to store memories, pulling them out like threads then storing them in a bowl.

This blog, and writing in general of late, has been my pensieve for seriousness. Scroll down, read the earlier posts. Very serious stuff. The writing at least. The pictures are more about beauty.

Truth and beauty, that’s the stuff of life, yeah?

Only for the longest time whenever I’ve had to describe myself or add a tagline I’ve used the phrase “a lover of truth, beauty and occasionally silliness”.

That really does sum up my personality. Only there has been a plain lack of occassionally silliness in my writing. And honestly, I miss it. I’ve been thinking for a while about how to get it back in but, of course, as my main writing task these days is my dissertation and dissertations are, as a rule, especially soul-crushingly serious even within the already serious genre of academic writing, I’ve not a lot of mental space for indulging my whimsy.

I say I don’t have a lot of mental space for whimsy, but isn’t it a matter of making space?

Did I post that part of my dissertation, the part I talked about making space is a significant part of our relationship with God and with others, not only something we do but something that reflects the image of God? I don’t feel like looking now, because that’s tedious, and as there’s few things more serious than tedium, I’m going to dodge looking for the requisite link.

Making space is good. But making space for whimsy and silliness? That’s something the desert monastics would certainly scold me about. Such a serious lot. And the trouble is that I have long taken them very seriously so while I disagree with their scowling about laughter and fun, I realize that there’s was often a depth of spirituality that I, in my best moments, really would love to discover. Maybe my blog has become an unintended reflection of my inner suspicions that theology and the Christian life really are, and should be, quite serious endeavors.

“A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, “We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?”

That’s from the Desert Fathers. Not all those desert monastic really knew God, but the ones quoted in that book did, and much more than I do.

And yet… to a person, every mature Christian I’ve met or heard speak in person–those whose walks with God are deeper and longer and more thorough than my own–have a sense of humor. That’s always high on a list of relationship ideals, right, that the other person has a sense of humor? That was a big part of my attraction to Amy. She made me laugh.

“And you can laugh?” Yeah, I think so. Precisely because we have to render an account. And there are parts of my rendering that will be, to be sure, pretty ludicrous in the re-telling.

Theology and the Christian life are serious, to be sure, so merit a degree of somber interaction. However, when it comes down to it, both are also pretty ludicrous. We’re trying to come up with words that describe the creator and sustainer and ultimate identity of the universe, who we say is one but also three, God but also man, but not just a man, a man that isn’t like other men but is so much like other men that our very orthodoxy is dependent on testifying that this man is a man as much as other men but not like other men in all sorts of pretty specific ways, like the fact that he didn’t sin and like the fact that even though God incarnated as a man, this man didn’t exhaust all the identity of God even though he was fully God in every way, but since we also have the Father–who was with but not identical with this man, but be careful about using qualifying identical because then you have three gods instead of one; and this third one, or part or mode or person (but not separate person, more of an identity within the threeness of the oneness) is tricky because it’s not really a person, only it is, but more of a wind, or a breath, or a tempest, or a bird? or maybe a force but also a person because our trinity needs three persons and isn’t the beginning of a joke in which a son, a father, and ghost walk into a bar. So, the man died, really died, but didn’t die because he was raised from the dead and is now alive but not alive with us, with the Father, and with us in Spirit–which isn’t a pretty phrase meaning we’re thinking about him but he’s literally with us in Spirit–only to return again at some point which is always just about to happen for the last 1988 years or so.

I could go on and on. But you get the point. There’s an inherent ludicrous quality about theology that sort of inspires a bit of snickering when anyone tries to take it too seriously.

Yet people are very intent about taking it too seriously and if you don’t take it seriously they’ll be the first to remind you how serious to take it. But what do they know?

Really, all that seriousness is about trying to cope with the fact that much of theology, and much of our lives, and much of reality in general is ludicrous. Not because it’s meaningless. But because the meaning is so complex and intricate that our attempts to package it up in brown paper with neat little bows is ludicrous.

And because, I think, God has a sense of humor too, so whimsy is embedded in Creation. Our recognition of it is not dodging the main points of life, it’s indulging in them, recognizing and interacting with the world in a way that doesn’t take it as serious as many people want us to take it.

Finding the silliness, exploring the whimsy, letting go the absoluteness that seriousness seeks to impose, isn’t just a distraction. It is, I increasingly believe, part of our participation with God, part of recognizing the world for what it is–a ludicrous sort of place–seeing the contradictions and complexities as often displaying the ludicrous reality in which we now live.

Laughter is good medicine not because it’s a placebo, but because it helps us see the world rightly once more. Whimsy gives us perspective. And inasmuch as it does, it is, I think, holy.

“And you can laugh?” Yeah, I think so. Because we don’t just render an account our sins. We celebrate our salvation, and that is a feast, a joyous event, a reflection of the fact that this God, the God, our God, takes us seriously but not that seriously. He thinks us ludicrous too, and is willing to rectify our faults because of his love for us, not because we deserve it, because we’ve proven how serious we are about our salvation, but because he wants to. So he does. Ludicrous as it is, God saves us. It’s his whimsy to save the world. God is holy and God saves, becoming one of us so that we can participate with him. Foolish and scandalous as this might be, that’s what he does. And it makes me laugh, because it’s so thoroughly good.

Truth, beauty and occasionally silliness aren’t just a tagline, after all. They’re how I define holiness because they are how I see God’s identity expressed in this world.

They are, as such, also the expressions of love.

Which is, I think, what theology should also be about. Certainly it’s what I want to be about, and I think finding the whimsy and humor again in my writing is a necessary part of my becoming a more developed theologian.

A theologian who is always serious doesn’t really know God.

I could go on and on, writing serious words about whimsy and bogging down in existential introspection about my own identity as a theologian and the seriousness of silliness as part of the theological project. But, that would be ludicrous, so instead, let us end with this, a yodeling pickle.

This post is part of the May Synchroblog. Here’s a list of other participants in this month’s bit of silliness:

Posted in academia, contemplation, missional, musings, personal, silliness, theology | 13 Comments

Hope and Oppressing

Some (unedited) musings from my dissertation:

Those who are investing their identity within oppressor oriented models — models where competition and domination are considered positive rather than negative — tend to rationalize their behavior in the context of their wider philosophical and social milieus. By participating with the crucified one, however, such rationalizations are discarded, seen for what they are—forms of self-alienation in the guise of self-fulfillment. Participants in forms of non-infinite identity are, ultimately, anonymous — they are without identity because their attempt at identity is contradictory and transient. They lose themselves in the mass of other objects, all flailing to be unique in a morass of historically tired attempts to assert themselves as unique. They define themselves by what they do, how they compare, how they control – but ultimately they remain anonymous as they are not differentiated in their identity through their participation with the fullness of identity, loved and empowered as subjects in God’s particularizing mission.

They are nonhuman inasmuch as they are distant from the only source of substantive human identity—the God in whose image they were created. Oppression is the active negation of such an identity, self-imposed exile from Kingdom, participating as subjects in the crucifying rather than in being crucified. In other words, those who seek to establish identity through means of oppression are given the pronouncement, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” There is no hope where oppressing promises hope, there is only hell.

That is precisely why a liberation of the oppressor is important. The oppressed realize there is no hope. The oppressors often do not. And in their deception they perpetuate sinful structures and behaviors, leading them and other inexorably towards death and dissolution.

Only the way of the cross includes the path to resurrection, and only by participating with the crucified God do we then have a substantive hope for not only salvation from but indeed and more importantly, salvation into. This salvation into includes those ultimate goals for which oppressing tends to be concerned—issues of fulfillment, identity formation, security. Because the cross entails the loss of identity, the resurrection is about more than resuscitation of that old identity into becoming a more successful version of the same. Jesus does not valorize who we were but awakens us to new possibilities in accordance with who we were always meant to be. The resurrection is not futuram but an advent, a novum of new life, a new thing, a new way of living.

The cross opens a person up to be a new person, emptying and forsaking, while the resurrection is the promise of filling, of new life. That is why salvation is described so many times as indicative of this new life, a new way of being in this world, rather than merely debts being paid or acquitting judgments. A person is “born again,” given a new start in who they are, as particular individuals no longer enslaved to the determinative history which preceded, but rather interpreting that history as a path of redemption that leads into, first, death of self, then resurrection of new self.

As this path gathers together people from all backgrounds, the blameworthy and the blaming, it entails another basic human need, that of community, non-competitive, non-authoritarian community where identity is not derived either by establishing identity over and against others, but by sharing in the identity of Christ so that each person becomes substantively able to participate as a free person among others, celebrating diversity in an infinitely complex unity.

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The Crux of the Cross

A wee bit from my dissertation writing:

Moltmann writes:

When the crucified Jesus is called ‘the image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and god is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about ‘God’ is to be found in this Christ event. The Christ event on the cross is a God event. And conversely, the God event takes place on the cross of the risen Christ.

Those who are forsaken, who are poor in Spirit, are blessed because in their forsakenness Jesus identifies with them; these are the people whose life share his own experiences and those are the people with whom he was cast. They are blessed because then, with Jesus, his future becomes their future. If then, the experience of Jesus is ultimately the experience and orientation of God in bringing salvation, only by identifying with those who Jesus identified with does one then identify with Jesus.

To identity with the forsaken one must let go that which one feels is one’s right, letting go forms of oppression so as to participate in community with Christ who suffered under oppression. Those who are oppressed, then, are liberated as oppressors no longer can justify their oppression, so no longer oppress. The broken relationships are healed when the oppressor lets go domination to join Jesus on the cross and is thus together with those who Jesus joined by going to the cross.

In light of the cross, the oppressor can no longer justify oppression by blaming the oppressed for the state of oppression, charging them with violations of blasphemy, or political unsuitability, or being God forsaken and thus deserving of human forsaking. In light of the cross, alternate forms of identity formation that always leads to some kind of oppression are put aside in order to identify with the man who challenged all societal forms of justification and identity. One cannot, literally, be with Christ while being an oppressor.

One must be liberated from oppressing in the very nature of participation with the God who is the crucified God. In this we face a crossroads. A person is either with Jesus where he is, or they are with those who accuse Jesus, aligning themselves with those who were arrayed against him: the Jewish leaders, Pilate, the Roman soldiers. If someone oppresses they are not worshiping the God who is Jesus. The oppressors are the true blasphemers, the true rebels, the truly godforsaken. That is the crux of the cross.

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Comprehensive Exam #3: Moltmann and the Spirit of Life (part 2)

This work of the Spirit has broad implications. First, there is an ecological implication. The Spirit who is the Spirit of life, by definition is interested and connected to all that is living. Where there is life, there is the Spirit. This means that how we respond to this world is directly related to our participation with the Spirit, those who are participants with the Spirit are renewed in their creative and constructive contribution to ecological thriving. This very pervasive presence of the Spirit in all of nature has been considered by some as being quite close to pantheism, and more accurately described as panentheism, in which the Spirit is not equivalent to nature, but rather the Spirit is throughout nature, but more than nature. Indeed, for many this steers too far away from orthodox theology, at least according to their interpretations.

Indeed, as many more liberal commentators, such as process theologians and others, do have a more loosely orthodox description of panentheism, Moltmann’s own approach combines a pervasive work of the Spirit in nature with an always sharply defined understanding of the Spirit as a unique Person of the Trinity. This emphasis on the Spirit’s personhood, rather than as a vague force or presence, means that for Moltmann it is the Spirit who is the defining presence of nature, rather than nature being the defining presence for the Spirit. As such, the Spirit is working in and among all life, bringing all life to a new and renewed eschatological fulfillment.

This comprehensive work of the Spirit interacts with humanity in pervasive ways as well, calling each person to a renewed relationality and an emphasis of life over death in their particular contexts. In all situations, the Spirit leads towards that which expresses life and leads away from that which expresses death. For humanity, then, the soul crushing affects of domination, restriction and limitation are fought against. This is a liberating work of the Spirit, who liberates the oppressed from their oppression, and liberates the oppressors from their oppressing, leading all to a new relationship of equality and freedom, in which each person is fully able to be who they were created to be without having to define themselves over and against others.

The perichoretic movement of God, in the power of the Spirit, enables a new way of living, calling forth “a broad place where there is no cramping,” a holistic expression of eschatological life in which the freedoms of God are expressed in passionate and creative freedom. It is, indeed, a dance, a dance of life, a dance of hope, a dance of freedom and invigorating friendships. This liberating call leads people to hope in a new way of living, one that calls them forth to express this new life, and which, in places of restriction, causes the chains of repression to chaff and be resisted.

For Moltmann, this work of the Spirit is highlighted in the life and work of Christ, with Moltmann emphasizing a strong spirit-Christology, in which the power of the Spirit is seen as influential and defining throughout the whole life of Christ, especially in the cross and in the resurrection. This work of the Spirit means that Christ is also with us in our suffering, sharing the same Spirit, able to communicate the hope and empathy of Christ’s historical experiences into the contexts of our experiences, so that Christ is a brother to us in our suffering and a redeemer for us in our salvation.

We do not have to be defined by the restrictions placed on us by others, but in the Spirit we are defined anew by Christ, given freedom in a renewed identity, that calls forth our creativity and contributions, calling us to live life in a way that enables others, indeed the whole world, to find their own freedom and participation.

This exploration gives renewed priority in the context of Christian community, which is not separated from the world but is embedded within it as a beloved community, in which each person is given space and priority in discovering the fullness of the Spirit’s gift within the particular community and within the whole of their contexts, whatever context this is. This means that Moltmann is decidedly interested in all the various forms of liberation and contextual theologies, seeing these as pneumatological priorities, pushing his theology into conversation with feminism, other cultures, and always interested in what new work God is up to throughout this world.

This hope filled work by Moltmann is comprehensive as an exploration of the Spirit’s work throughout this world, and indeed throughout the various topics of theology. Moltmann secures his places a wholly Trinitarian theologian, arguably even more so than Pannenberg, whose discussions of the Spirit, while pervasive, neglect to emphasize the Spirit uniquely in a distinct monograph. The personhood of the Spirit in Pannnenberg, then, can tend more towards a rhetorical emphasis. In Moltmann, however, we have a distinct Pneumatology that actively fights against any attempts to restrain the personhood of the Spirit beneath another topic. The Spirit is a defining reality.

In his emphasis of the Spirit as the Spirit of life, however, it can be argued that Moltmann neglects the more difficult passages on judgment and the Spirit’s involvement in correcting individual sin. Indeed, Moltmann does not deign to even discuss such aspects, being willing to critique Scripture’s more negative discussions rather than relinquish a wholly hopeful view of the Spirit’s work. Moltmann also does not seem to say too much about other spirits, with the Spirit of God being the emphasis throughout in sole regard. Add this to a more systemic view of sins, more structural rather than moral, Moltmann can be criticized for having too much hope, and leaving aside the quite pertinent and Scriptural issues of personal holiness, sin and thus the topics that might be more individually oriented.

However, this may be, it might also be argued that for Moltmann, these topics are so well discussed that it is not as much he disagrees with the discussions as he finds nothing new to say, so in coming to the Spirit of Life we have to approach it truly as a contribution rather than systematic and comprehensive discussion. For Moltmann here, as with all his works, his goal is less to be systematic and entirely coherent and much more to be engaged with the questions and struggles of life as we encounter it. The Spirit of Life is always engaged with life in its many modes and contexts, with our spiritual experiences and rational thought both reflecting aspects of pneumatological insight. As such, Moltmann here seeks to build theological integrity with our experiences, giving us hope in our contexts, calling each of us to a renewed, hope filled life with God that is a constant celebration of truth and beauty, in an always creative love for life with God and with others.

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