According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review - Peter Rollins "Insurrection"

Insurrection (pt. 1)

by J.R.D. Kirk
December 23, 2011

We want to believe, says Peter Rollins. It’s natural. We want to know that someone is watching. We want to know that things beyond our control will get better. We need to hope for a brighter future.

And, he says, this is just the problem.

In his book, Insurrection, Rollins makes the case that our ideas of God are, pervasively, sub-Christian, precisely because they hope too much for a happy tomorrow rather than embracing the broken today.
Rollins warns the reader early on that the purpose of this book is, in essence, to slash and burn: this is a work of “pyro-theology," not constructive theology–an attempt to burn away the husk that has accrued to Christian faith and practice and return to the source.

In the end, this will be both the book’s strength and its failing. Its strength in that it holds up the mirror to the church and demands of us that we take a long hard look at what we say and do–and how these things fail to embody the gospel we confess to believe.

But it is also the book’s weakness as Rollins insists on a “not/but” where he should have constructively engaged in a “both/and.”

First, then, the strength of the book and what the church desperately needs to hear.

The book begins with reflecting on the significance of crucifixion. Christ was crucified. We are co-crucified with Christ.

And, on the cross, Christ was abandoned by God.

Thus, to live into our co-crucifixion is to live in a space where we experience and acknowledge that we are forsaken, that there has been no miraculous deliverance. The church has to create space for this embrace of darkness. Rollins speaks of our common mythology–the one that makes us all want to believe in God–that things will get better because God is present to deliver.

When we suffer, there will always be an army of Job’s comforters
who attempt to save our mythologies, and like Job, we must resist them.

What does this have to do with the church? The church, wittingly or not, creates structures that reassure people that the experience of crucifixion isn’t what is truly real. The church’s confident sermons, its songs of comfort, tell us that the co-crucifixion is not ultimately determinative.

“The structure acts as a security blanket that enables us to speak
of the Crucifixion without ever undergoing its true liberating horror” (48).

The problem as Rollins outlines it is that when we have people celebrating divine presence in dozens of ways, we are enabled “to admit that absence and forsakenness are part of our faith without experincing the transformative trauma of this admission” (70). And, of course, while being the agents of certainty, many pastors secretly harbor the very doubts that they are covering other for others.

Instead, the community should be helping us acknowledge and find life in the midst of suffering. The “new life” of resurrection that Rollins will turn to in part two of the book is lived now as life is found within the suffering and trauma of the world.

Although he uses language and takes it to a level that I am not always comfortable with, Rollins makes a strong and important case in the first part of his book that crucifixion is a crucial component of the Christian life experience–not something to be overcome in order for us to know and live what is true, but something that is to be lived in as where we discover the truth about ourselves in the Christian story.

Next time, we’ll turn to what he says about resurrection. And this is where I’m going to want to part ways with Rollins, in order to embrace a paradox of saying yes to what he advocates while simultaneously saying yes to the hopes of traditional Christian piety.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Speakeasy on Tap book review folks. The Federal Government wanted to make sure you knew this, so that you could have all the information you needed to determine whether I was basically paid advertising rather than an objective reviewer. Of course, I never told the folks at Howard that I’d write a positive review, but they gave me a copy anyway. So, now that you know, you can decide for yourself: will I buy the book, or is this word of Kirk simply too tainted to be believed? I hereby fulfill my duties to the Federal Government.


Insurrection (pt. 2)

by J.R.D. Kirk
December 23, 2011

The first part of Peter Rollins’ Insurrection was an exposition of the crucifixion as definitive of the Christian life (see part 1 of my review here).

Next, he turns to resurrection.

This is the part of the books that elicited the strongest reactions from me, both positive and negative. I knew I was going to have problems with the chapter when its epigram read:

“I am God,” says love. -Marguerite Porete

God is love. Love is not God. This is a fatal mistake that haunts the chapter. It begins well, however.

Rollins leads us through the realization that we tell stories about ourselves. We have ideas about ourselves. But these do not match the reality of what we do. The true us, Rollins argues, is found in what we do; the explanation of what explains our actual actions is a more realistic depiction of us that the ways we idealize or even demonize who we are and what matters to us and what motivates us.

We say that we know money and a larger house and a different neighborhood will not make us happy, and yet we devote all our time and energy to obtaining those things. Which is the real us? The one that says she does not believe it? Or the one who acts like she does?

This part of the book is pure gold. It helps put more meat on an assertion that I make regularly: the hardest part of preaching is convincing people that the message is calling them to repentance. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and what we believe, blind to the fact that our lives belie every bit of it. We need stories to unmask our self-deceit.

Rollins argues in compelling fashion that “our actions do not fall short of our beliefs–our actions are are beliefs.”

Ch. 7 is where things get more complex.

Rollins articulates here the best of what biblical scholarship will tell you as well: the kingdom of God, and even eternal life, are not categories simply about the future, but categories about a transformed here and now that we are called to participate in.

But Rollins mistakes the presence of the transcendent God within our world for the falsehood of the idea of a continued transcendence. And he mistakes the presence of the kingdom here and now for the falsehood of the idea of a future and perfect reign.

The biblical narrative maintains a tension between the already-and-the-not-yet, as well as between the immanent-and-the-transcendent. This dialectic is lost in Insurrection.

Thus, I find myself celebrating much of what Rollins affirms–because presence and realization are central to the gospel. And yet I find myself parting ways with Rollins in what he denies–because transcendence and futurity are core components to the gospel as well.

Here’s the problem, that manifests in the chapter, with confusing the statement “God is love” with its pagan counterpart, “Love is God.” This confuses God with the activity and attribute of God; it invites us, in fact, to worship and serve the creature–better, our own creation–rather than the creator.

In Rollins’s words, “God is the name we give to the way of living in which we experience the world as worthy of living for, fighting for, and dying for.”

God is a label of value we append to what we find beautiful in the world. God is an idol of our own making, rather than a being who is at work to make the world worthy of living for, fighting for, dying for. Far from a splitting of hairs, labeling God aright in relationship to the creation is the difference between Christianity being a projection of our imaginations, or a reality in which we are called by Another to participate, the difference between true (all of life-)worship, and idolatry.

Thus, while Rollins rightly challenges us with his claim that we cannot claim to love God while hating our neighbor, Christianity can never ground this on the claim that God is the love that exists between one person and another.

Heeding Rollins’ urgent pleas, we will find ourselves more invested in the world, never guilty of that classic failure of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. But we must so engage the world with the understanding that the kingdom is God’s and not ours, and that there is a future for this world because the resurrected Lord is at work in it here and now.


Khurram Dara Shares his Muslim Story for Christians to Hear

Ask a Muslim... (Khurram Responds)
January 10, 2012
Comments

Today I’m thrilled to share Khurram Dara’s response to your questions about his Islamic faith as part of our ongoing interview series.

Khurram is an American Muslim from Buffalo, New York, and the author of The Crescent Directive: An Essay on Improving the Image of Islam in America. Khurram graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, and is currently studying law at Columbia University in New York. If you frequent CNN’s Belief Blog, you may recognize him for his recent post there defending TLC’s “All American Muslim” against Muslim complaints. You can follow Khurram on Twitter and find the Crescent Directive on Facebook.

From Khurram: Before I answer these great questions I wanted to thank Rachel for inviting me to join this wonderful series and also thank the readers for such intelligent discussion. I’m accustomed to seeing distasteful comments and allegations, so this was a nice change of pace.

I do want to point out that I am NOT a religious scholar or an expert on Islam. I’m by no means a perfect Muslim, and my mother is quick to remind me that I don’t go to mosque enough! My work focuses on Muslim imaging, particularly, how to combat negative perceptions about Islam. My belief is that forums like these are very helpful, but can only go so far, given that most people with negative views towards Islam are unlikely to participate in an open-dialogue such as this.

So I didn’t answer some of the questions about specific teachings, not because I’m trying to dodge the questions, but because I’d prefer not to give you wrong information. I think a great resource is Imam Suhaib Webb’s “Virtual Mosque,” where he has a lot of information to answer some of the questions that were asked. Also, for more on what my views are on the relations between Muslims and other Americans, I’d encourage you to read The Crescent Directive, where I really lay out my positions in full.

1. Justin asked: Can you provide some background about yourself? I'm curious to know for how long you've been a Muslim and what keeps you in the faith today. Is it an inward conviction? Some type of evidence that supports the Quran? Something else?

I was born in Houston, Texas, but with the exception of a short stay in Kentucky, I’ve pretty much spent my whole life in a suburb or Buffalo, New York. My parents, now U.S. citizens, are immigrants from Pakistan. As far as my religious background I was born and raised Muslim, and would certainly consider myself to be a person of faith. I don’t really think about faith in terms of evidence, in fact, faith by definition is belief absent proof. It’s tough to explain why I have faith, it’s just a sort of feeling I get—that I know God’s up there and that there was a reason I was born into this faith.

2. Wesley asked: What Islamic tradition are you a part of? Shi'ite? Sunni? Sufi? (And is this the correct way to ask that question?)

I'm Sunni, and yep that's a fine way to put it.

3. Steve asked: What is it like to live openly as a Muslim in America? How much suspicion/discrimination/fear is directed at ordinary Muslims?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Muslims live with more freedom in America than we could anywhere else in the world. I’m certainly not oblivious to the fact that there is fear and suspicion, even discrimination of Muslims at times. But a lot of the blame for the fear should go to terrorist groups and radicals who are soiling my faith and crippling the voices of the overwhelming majority of peaceful adherents.

And while it is sad to see some of the suspicion and discrimination, we do have many of our fellow Americans on our side, who stand up to these incidents. More importantly, the discrimination is not systematic or institutionalized; we don’t see restaurants refusing to serve Muslims or businesses refusing to hire Muslims. This gives us American Muslims an incredible opportunity. It is even more critical for American Muslims to build bridges with other Americans while we can, and really positively integrate into American society so that we can ensure this discrimination doesn’t spread.

4. Several readers wanted to know about Islam and women. Katy-Anne asked: I am wondering how you as a man feel about the treatment of Muslim women and the root reasons why Muslim men tend to treat women the way they do? Zeckle asked: In Christianity, we have various views on women and their roles in society and faith--ranging from a very hierarchical, patriarchal view to egalitarian; does Islam have a wide range of views of women as Christianity does? What are those variations in Islam? Do those variations occur along cultural lines---Islamic theocracies versus American Islamic understanding?

I think it’s pretty obvious that many of the countries in the Arab world have cultures and policies that are extremely oppressive to women. My understanding of Islam has always been one that puts everyone on equal footing. I think you’ll find more of that here among American Muslims. It’s important to remember the role culture can play in behavior, and there is a tendency for culture to be confused with religion, which may explain the poor treatment of women in many of the Islamic regimes in the Arab world. In any case, my own belief and my understanding of Islam is that oppression of women should not be tolerated in any circumstances.

5. Zeckle asked: What are some areas where Islam and Christianity have similar values and may be able to work together in our world?

Overall I think a majority of the values are the same. There are many overarching moral themes, such as helping those in need, caring for those in your community, etc. I can’t speak to some of the more specific doctrines, but there is one commonality I find very interesting.

I think most people don’t know the place Jesus has in the Islamic tradition. He is one of the highest regarded messengers and Muslims do, in fact, believe that he will return to Earth to defeat the “false messiah” also known as the anti-Christ. I’m sure there are many more similarities between the faiths, but that is probably one of the least known.

How these similarities will enable us to work together is a different question. I don’t think our ability to work together hinges on similarities in specific teachings. I think it comes from similarities in interaction. As I point out in The Crescent Directive, for most people, their perceptions of a particular group are more of a function of their observations and interactions with individual members of that group, than they are a function of specific teachings of that faith. As a result, I think a Muslim and a Christian, simply by living and engaging in a pluralistic society like the United States, have the opportunity to get to know more about their respective faiths, just through experiencing life in a society that includes members of that faith.

So, in my opinion, the key to working together will really be American Muslims continuing to integrate and invest in American society, and our fellow Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists, and others, embracing our efforts to take our place in the mosaic that is America.

6. I asked: What have you found to be the most common assumption people make about you when they find out you are Muslim?

I haven’t found any. I know it’s probably true that some people make assumptions when they find out I’m Muslim, but I’ve never been able to discern what, if anything at all, they had assumed. Sometimes people aren’t sure if I can eat meat—I can, just not pork!

7. From Karl: A common criticism that I have seen leveled at mainstream, moderate and progressive peace-pursuing muslims is that for a group that is said to form the vast majority within their religious community, they [allegedly] haven't done enough to restrain, inhibit and denounce extremists who advocate and commit violence in the name of Islam for religious and political ends. Do you feel like this is a fair criticism? Why or why not?

I hear that often, as well. While I think many members of the American Muslim community do denounce extremism, I think we could all be doing more. One of the things I mention in The Crescent Directive is that American Muslims have a number of organizations dedicated to Muslim advocacy, why not a few dedicated to eradicating extremism? And remember it has to be more than just condemnation because at the end of the day it can only go so far—at some point we have to actually have to take action, get into the trenches and stamp out extremism within our faith. That said, on the whole, I think American Muslims are leading the way on standing up to radicalism.

Note from Rachel – Khurram introduced us to a fantastic resource when he suggested consulting Imam Suhaib Webb’s “Virtual Mosque.” For those who had questions about Sharia Law, you should check out this video in which Osman Umarjee explains Sharia Law. (He starts talking about it at around 3:40.) Those with questions about the meaning of “jihad” might find this video from the Bridges Foundation helpful. I spent quite a bit of time this week searching the site and learning more about Islam (from actual Muslims for a change). Along with Khurram, I highly recommend the site.

Check out the rest of our interviews here.


Imaginatively Re-Inventing the Stories of Women in the Bible

Esther and Vashti: The Real Story

by Rachel Held Evans
January 9, 2011


When I was a kid, I imagined Esther to be something of a beauty pageant contestant.

I figured that, in addition to her twelve months of beautification, she must have performed a talent and answered questions from a glass bowl before winning the heart of a love-struck King Xerxes.

I never learned in Sunday School that Esther, whose Jewish name was Hadassah, was forced, along with perhaps thousands of virgin girls from Susa, into King Xerxes harem. Or that the king had banished his first wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to publicly flaunt her body before his drunken friends. Or that, in response, he had issued a ridiculous kingdom-wide decree that “all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest” and that “every man should be ruler over his own household.” Or that under the care of the royal Eunuchs, Esther and the women of the king’s harem each took a turn in the king’s bed to see who would please him best. Or that the women received just one night with the king, after which they were transferred to the eunuchs in charge of the concubines, with the instruction not to return to the king’s chamber unless summoned by name, under the penalty of death.

They left those details out of the flannel graphs.

Recently, some Christians have conjured a reinterpretation of the story of Esther that is equally as imaginative as my beauty queen version—one that casts Vashti as an ungodly wife for refusing to submit to her husband and Esther as a model of godly submission for respecting her husband.

In Real Marriage, (which I reviewed last week), Grace Driscoll writes that, “[Esther’s] example illustrates the repeated command across all Scripture that wives respectfully submit to their husbands and removes any excuse we have for disrespecting our husbands... Amazingly, when she had an extremely urgent request, she respectfully waited outside [her husband's] room to be heard. She didn't barge in and demand that he do what she wanted …She didn't disregard his need for respect."

And Dorothy Patterson, an editor of the new Evangelical Women’s Commentary, notes, “Most people don’t think about submission as being a topic in the book of Esther, but it is clearly in the text. I think our readers will find it interesting to see how you take the Old Testament roots for something that is very heavily discussed in the New Testament.”

Both of these authors fail to mention the fact that the reason Esther waited outside her husband’s room was because she would have been executed by Xerxes if she hadn’t!

Or that the very act of summoning her husband was an act of defiance, not submission, that could have gotten Esther killed. Or that the dynamic between Esther and Xerxes is decidedly not the picture of a healthy marital relationship, what with the harem and death threats and all.

Driscoll and Patterson’s bizarre interpretations of Vashti, Esther, and Xerxes represent yet another example of how the modern biblical womanhood movement isn’t as concerned with returning to biblical womanhood as it is with returning to 1950s, pre-feminist America.

Rhonda Kelley, co-editor of the New Evangelical Women’s Commentary, said this of young Christian women today: “Not only do they not have a framework, but in many situations our women students have been raised by mothers who were a product of the feminist movement. And so even their Christian mothers didn’t fully understand what it meant to be biblical women and they were rebelling with the world, with the culture, against a role that they thought women were being forced into.”

But it’s not those young women who misunderstand biblical womanhood; it’s Patterson and Kelley and Driscoll. In their attempts to try and bend the stories of an ancient near eastern culture to fit into the dynamics of a modern-day, Western, nuclear family, they have dismissed the actual story of Vashti and Esther and replaced it with one of their own making.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the Bible was written at a time in history when most women were owned by their husbands.

Technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Exodus 22:16-17), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), biblical for her to cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of many wives (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

With this in mind, I don’t know anyone who is actually advocating a return to biblical womanhood. What most in the “biblical womanhood” movement are advocating instead is a return to the June Cleaver culture of pre-feminist America, a culture that looked nothing like that of Vashti and Esther, Leah and Rachel, Tamar and Bathsheba, Mary and Martha.

But here’s the good news: The fact that these women lived in a time and a culture much different than our own makes them no less heroic and no less significant to modern-day women hoping to learn from their stories.

Part of learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be is resisting the temptation to either gloss over or glorify the culture in which these women lived and to instead allow their stories to speak for themselves. Only in the midst of the true contours and colors of the text do the characters of the Bible find their depth.

As I’ve spent the last two years reading the stories of women from the Bible, I’ve been moved by the courage and grace with many of the biblical women lived, despite their unjust circumstances.

Faced with an impossible situation that would have left her destitute and vulnerable, Tamar worked the patriarchal system to ensure that her father-in-law owned up to his responsibility to observe the law of levirate and provide her with a husband.

Despite being widowed, poor, and a foreigner, Ruth managed to exhibit just the right amount of virtue and moxie to become one of the most celebrated women in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Even Jephtah’s daughter, who was brutally sacrificed by her father in the name of God, inspired the women of Israel to honor her in a ceremony every year.

And it ultimately took the defiance of both Vashti and Esther to save the Jewish nation.

The real story, it seems, is much more interesting than the ones we invent.