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, October 30, 2013

Jesus' Possibilities of Marriage or Celibacy in His Early Life and Later Public Ministry

 
 
Did Jesus have a wife? I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot shepherd’s staff, but I know someone who will
 
 
 

Nazarenes Reject Strict Inerrancy in Favor of Soteriological Inerrancy of the Bible

Nazarenes Reject Strict Inerrancy
 
by Thomas J. Oord
September 10, 2013
 

Amazon Link
Recently, the Church of the Nazarene reexamined its view of the Bible. A study committee then recommended that the denomination retain its current doctrine of scripture and reject strict inerrancy.
 
The Church of the Nazarene is only a little more than 100 years old. Its theological roots are in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. And it has long held the Bible in high regard.
 
Out at the 27th general assembly, a resolution was brought forward to change the denomination’s view on scripture. The resolution sought to remove the phrase “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” and replace it with the phrase, “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.”
 
This resolution was one reason why I directed a conference at Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) called “The Bible Tells Me So” in 2011. From that important conference, my colleague in biblical scholarship, Richard Thompson, and I published a book of important essays from leading biblical scholars and theologians.  Several essays in the book deal with the inerrancy issue.
 
A study committee was commissioned at the 27th general assembly. Biblical scholar, Tom King, chaired the committee, biblical scholar, Alex Varughese, served as secretary, and ten others served. The committee’s report and recommendation were made public this summer at the 28th assembly. I want to walk you through what I consider the report’s central and most important statements.
 
Opposed to Absolute Inerrancy
 
The report begins by dealing with the proposed change by talking about the strength of the denomination’s current view of the Bible. It emphasizes that the Bible is inspired by God.
 
The heart of the argument comes in the second strength mentioned, namely the phrase that the Holy Scriptures “inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary to our salvation.” The committee notes that this phrase is “distinct from absolute ‘inerrancy’ in every factual detail.”
 
I especially appreciated the committee’s insistence that interpretation matters. We are not infallible in our interpretation of the Bible, they say. And while some Christians think that they are merely stating what the Bible says, this is naïve. “We interpret Scripture,” they write, “guided by the traditions of the Church, in the light of our experience as the people of God, and using sanctified reason.”
 
The committee argues that “the Bible is not to be treated as an almanac or a magic book or a text book of history or science.” But “God’s action in the history of Israel and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘necessary to our salvation.’”
 
The scripture study committee concludes this section by saying “The committee therefore believes that it is not only unnecessary, but that it would be untrue to the Wesleyan tradition, incompatible with Wesleyan theology, and unwarranted by the Scriptures themselves to add any assertion that the Scriptures are ‘inerrant throughout…’” They add that “to assert the complete detailed factual literal accuracy of every part of Scripture (‘inerrant throughout’) raises more problems that it solve and diverts people into unnecessary, distracting, and futile disputes.”
 
Nazarenes, not Calvinists
 
In the remainder of their report, the committee says there are important differences between strict-absolute inerrancy and the Nazarene view of soteriological inerrancy. “We are committed to the belief that the Scriptures give us a sufficiently accurate account of God’s action in the history of Israel and particularly in the birth, life, death, and bodily resurrection of the Lord,” says the committee. But “we do not think that highlighting the issue of detailed factual inerrancy is helpful or necessary to insisting on the full authority and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture.”
 
The Church of the Nazarene views scripture differently from other Evangelical groups. The committee had especially in mind the difference between Nazarenes and a particular Calvinist tradition. “This assertion of the complete inerrancy of Scripture in every detail (‘inerrancy throughout’) comes out of one particular Calvinist tradition,” they write. (Not all Calvinists are strict inerrantists.)
 
The committee notes two “severe” disadvantages in claiming the detailed factual inerrancy of scripture instead of its sufficiency. First, the concept of ‘error’ is not helpful, because it is impossible to define what constitutes an error. “The concept of ‘error’ is an absolutist word applied to something which is necessarily a matter of degree, and it is consequently a nightmare since it leads us straight into frankly silly and futile questions.”
 
Second, the misguided concept of absolute or detailed inerrancy diverts attention to unprofitable debates about unimportant details. “Because we are dealing with ancient literature, we frequently do not have enough information to determine whether an apparent contradiction is truly a contradiction or not.”
 
In the final section, the committee quotes many notable Church of the Nazarene scholars. Virtually all are opposed to the idea that the Bible is “inerrant throughout.” From this, the committee concludes, “Nazarene theologians as a whole, with few if any exceptions, are totally opposed to the idea that we need to assert the complete detailed factual inerrancy of Holy Scripture in order to defend its authority.”
 
After noting that changing the current view from soteriological inerrancy to absolute inerrancy would go against the denominations Wesleyan heritage and against its leading theologians and scholars, the committee says that the proposed change would result in a “narrower fundamentalist view.” And this would create “very serious division in the denomination.”

Thankful
 
When I concluded my reading of this report, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. While no denomination is perfect, I’m so thankful to be part of a group that both champions Scripture but also recognizes its limitations. I appreciate being in a worldwide community that believes God’s purpose for the Bible is that we might use it to follow God’s call of salvation.
 
(Find the full text of the report here on the Didache website.)
 
 
 

Don Thorsen, Calvin vs Wesley - "Their Separate Views & Administration of the Church"

Calvin vs. Wesley on the Church
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/10/30/calvin-vs-wesley-on-the-church/

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Paul's Soteriology

From Worldview to Theology, NT Wright
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/10/29/from-worldview-to-theology-nt-wright/

by Scot McKnight
Oct 29, 2013
Comments

NT Wright, in his Paul and the Faithfulness of God, volume 2, opens up with a sketch of his plan, which I will sketch briefly before we get to Wright’s own proposal: Paul’s theology is thoroughly Jewish from top to bottom, and it therefore revolved around three major themes:
 
Monotheism: God is one and it is the God of Israel.
 
Election: God formed a covenant with Israel by his own will, a covenant that grabbed this nation among the many and gave to Israel a mission to the world. This election and covenant form the soteriology of Israel’s theology.
 
Eschatology: again, God has a plan for history to rule this world with Israel having formed a special role.
 
Paul’s theology though takes these three themes into new territory in reframing each through Jesus and Spirit — thus, a Christology and Pneumatology give the monotheism, election and eschatology reshaped focus.
 
Paul’s mission was to engage both Judaism and the Roman Empire with its paganism in forming churches across the Empire.
 
So now to Wright:
My particular proposal in this Part has a simple outline, unfolding in three stages. 
Stage One - I take as the framework the three main elements of second-temple Jewish ‘theology’, namely monotheism, election and eschatology. I am aware, as I have said before, that second-temple Jews did not characteristically write works of systematic theology… (610). “I am equally aware that many essays in ‘Pauline theology’ have assumed that its central, dominant or even sole theme will be soteriology, and that my proposal may appear to be ignoring this and setting off in a quite different direction. However, as will become clear, I believe that the theme of ‘election’ is the best frame within which to understand Paul’s soteriology, and that ‘election’ in turn is only properly understood within the larger frame of beliefs about the One God and the promised future (and the particular problem of evil which only emerges into full light once the reality of the One God has been glimpsed). Soteriology thus remains at the centre” (611). 
Stage Two - This brings us to the second stage of the hypothesis. I shall argue, in the case of each of these three central and correlated topics, that Paul rethought, reworked and reimagined them around Jesus the Messiah on the one hand and the Spirit on the other (612)…. 
Stage Three - The third stage of the hypothesis is to demonstrate this christologically and pneumatologically redefined complex of monotheism, election and eschatology was directed by Paul in three further ways, which we postpone to Part IV of the present book. I list them here in the reverse order in which they appear in that Part. — First, it was what drove and governed the main aims of his letter-writing…. Second, though, if Paul was indeed redefining the central beliefs of second-temple Judaism, we might expect to find, at least by implication, a running debate between him and others within that world, focused not least on how they were reading scripture (613)…Third, this christologically and pneumatologically redefined Jewish theology was in reasonably constant engagement, again sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, with the pagan world of Paul’s day.
So he is taking 2 Corinthians 10:5 at Paul’s word: the man was capturing every thought for Christ.
And all of this ends up in a local church, in the ekklesiai of Paul:
The result of all this (again, this will come in chapter 16) was the founding and maintaining of communities which, in terms of the first-century world of Diaspora Judaism, were bound to look extremely anomalous. On the one hand, they would seem very Jewish, indeed ‘conservatively’ so. On the other hand, they would seem very ‘assimilated’, since they did not practice the customs and commandments that marked out Jews from their pagan neighbours. But these communities, Paul believed, possessed their own inner coherence, due to the freshly worked elements in the theology which he expounded, elements that were not bolted onto the outside of the parent Jewish theology as extraneous foreign bodies but were discerned to lie at the very heart of what that theology had most deeply affirmed (614).


 
 
 

Continue to Index -
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Philosophical Reflections on John Caputo's "Nihilism of Grace" - The Insistence of God

Caputo’s Nihilism of Grace: Eschatology, Event, & Self-Reflexivity
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In this penultimate chapter “A Nihilism of Grace: Life, Death, and Resurrection,” Caputo continues his critical engagement with “speculative realism” and argues for a “radical resurrection theology” (231) initially focusing on Ray Brassier and his book Nihil Unbound (NU).*2 Brassier’s argument is that since Kant philosophy has been too preoccupied with human subjectivity and has in the process ignored the fact that we are headed for extinction. Nihilism, for Brassier, is the realization “that there is a mind-independent reality which…is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable” (NU, xi). This post isn’t about Brassier, so I hesitate to quote him at length. However, the lines below are stark and powerful. It works well if read in your best Werner Herzog voice.
[O]ne trillion, trillion, trillion years from now, the accelerating expansion of the universe will have disintegrated the fabric of matter itself, terminating the possibility of embodiment. Every star in the universe will have burnt out, plunging the cosmos into a state of absolute darkness and leaving behind nothing but spent husks of collapsed matter. All free matter, whether on planetary surfaces or in interstellar space, will have decayed, eradicating any remnants of life…. [T]he stellar corpses littering the empty universe will evaporate into a brief hailstorm of elementary particles. Atoms themselves will cease to exist. Only the implacable gravitational expansion will continue, driven by the currently inexplicable force called ‘dark energy,’ which will keep pushing the extinguished universe deeper and deeper into an eternal and unfathomable blackness." (NU, 228)
In response, Caputo asks: what are we to do in the meantime while we are still here? Brassier’s analysis may be true, yet here we are, human beings enfleshed in human bodies floating through space on planet that just so happens to sustain life as we know for a short cosmic millisecond (not that we are at all helping!). What are we to do? How are we to spend the time that we have been given?
 
Caputo doesn’t necessarily disagree with Brassier’s description of nihilism as eventual extinction and death. To this he says yes, this is the case. The problem, though, is with the conclusion that because everything is headed for entropic disintegration nothing is worthy of value.
 
In a way, what Brassier offers is an inverted version of Radical Orthodoxy’s primary thesis. Whereas John Milbank and his ilk argue that becoming a classic Thomist metaphysician, participating in God’s Eternal Being (with disastrous political consequences!) is the only alternative to the threat of nihilism, Brassier, in Caputo’s rendering, suggests that nihilism is all there is at the end of the day and because there is nothing Eternal or permanent, because total annihilation is our ultimate horizon and nothing will endure, there is nothing worth our time (226-27).
 
This Caputo roundly and compellingly rejects. For the bulk of this chapter Caputo is in full on Dionysian mode, channeling his inner Nietzsche, the early Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy who engages in a full-throated celebration of life in spite of its frailty and manifold imperfections. Nihilism may indeed be all there is but for Caputo this is ultimately an instance of insistent grace. So instead of being-nothing (Brassier), Caputo calls for an embrace of “being-for-nothing,” which accepts nihilism as a gift and values life itself unbound and precious precisely because of its precarity.
 
Life is being-for-nothing other than itself, it is its own because, a pure gift, pure grace, pure contingency, where grace, givenness, and the aleatory vicissitudes of material existence are such that they are because they are without why (244). To paraphrase a comment Samuel Beckett once made with regard to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, life, for Caputo, is not about something, it is that something itself, which is why it is to be celebrated and enjoyed without why. “Nobody asked anybody for anything,” writes Caputo. “We answer a call we never heard. It’s just a pure gift in which what is given is given without good intentions, without any intentions at all” (230).
 
It is against this backdrop that Caputo reads various resurrection narratives, namely those of Lazarus and Jesus in the gospels. Resurrection is not the negation of death or the attempt to somehow write mortality and temporality out of the cosmic equation. Instead, these stories serve as theopoetic instantiations of a desire for life, of a certain faith in more life, not a particular, individual life, but life itself bounded by materiality and impermanence. Resurrection, for Caputo, is faith in life, a hope (against hope) for more life through the chance of the event, the chance of grace because as long as life persists, as long as we’re still here and haven’t disintegrated into elementary particles, as a long as this planet and this universe sustain us, as long as there is soil beneath our feet and sky above our heads, as long as blood flows through our veins and breath through our nostrils — as long as all this is the case there is the possibility and the chance of more life, not a life or my life, but life itself.
 
But there are no guarantees. In this “radical” theology of the event, in this topsy-turvy theopoetics of the perhaps, even God is a gambler, rolling the dice on the outside chance that maybe, possibly, perhaps, more life might happen, that grace might come, that the impossible may surprise us, that the event could facilitate resurrection. But perhaps not. Hell, for Caputo, is “ruined time” (242) which is one possible outcome of chance. Grace does not automatically heal everything; it may turn out to not heal at all. “Loving life is our best theory for everything,” but this does not mean we are safe, that things are ultimately determined, or that ‘love wins.’ Grace and love are not ultimate metaphysical categories here — there is just as much a chance for horrific atrocity as there is for resurrection and more life. Things could go horribly awry. Or, not. It all turns on “the reduction of the event” (231) and the passion for the impossible which means, simply, that there is no why: being-for-nothing. And as long as this is the case there is a chance for the possibility of more life, of the gift of grace, the grace of the event, perhaps.
 
TL;DR – Rather than allowing nihilism to be paralyzing (being-nothing) Caputo calls for an embrace of nihilism as grace, as a type of gift involving a full-throated celebration of life itself without why (being-for-nothing). Resurrection is the promise, perhaps, that there is a chance for more life, a chance for the event.
 
Now a few questions…
 
1. The first has to do with Caputo’s use of Deleuze. This has increased quite a bit since The Weakness of God and shortly thereafter. In particular, he loves to use a line from Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense in his discussions of the event.*3 This continues in The Insistence of God, especially in this chapter. Caputo borrows from Deleuze quite a bit but is ultimately “disloyal to his metaphysics” (234) wanting “no party in the war between Deleuzeans and Derrideans” (298 n23). But other than employing the word ‘metaphysics’ and assuming it to be a pejorative label–which I normally agree with though here I’m not as clear as to why–Caputo does not fully elucidate his differences with, and from, Deleuze. For instance, Caputo worries about Deleuze’s notion of “the plane of immanence” (again because it is too metaphysical) and instead opts for a more phenomenological description of the event in his discussion of resurrection. Yet later in this same chapter he will describe the event as “an emergent effect on the plane of the world” (239) a phrase he uses more than once and is, to my mind, all too reminiscent of Deleuze. So, what is the actual difference here? How is Caputo’s plane of the world different from Deleuze’s plane immanence? Another way of putting this, would be to ask what the discernible differences are between Derrida and Deleuze. Is the difference as cut and dry as Caputo makes it out to be? What is at stake for Caputo in this distinction? This is some interesting discussion on this over on Clayton Crockett’s post. I tend to agree with the notion that Derrida and Deleuze are perhaps closer than Caputo lets on. This closeness is something Derrida himself suggested.
 
2. In this chapter and throughout the book Caputo tends to conflate telos and eschaton. I wonder if this needs to be the case. What if instead of associating eschaton with ontotheological determinacy and finality we link it with Caputo’s understanding of the event? It seems to me that the event is deeply eschatological — in fact, it could be argued that the entirety of Caputo’s work since The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida is deeply eschatological.  The event harbored within the name of God, the “to-come” that is always structurally beyond anticipation, the absolute future which is distinguished from the future present, the surprise that exceeds and shatters horizons of expectation–all concepts that smack of eschatological consequence. Yet, Caputo himself is reticent to make this connection, rightfully wary of the metaphysical premises of most conventional eschatologies and their penchant to valorize closure and an other-worldy eternity. Again, I wonder if this needs to be the case. What if eschaton were decoupled from telos? There are plenty of resources within theology that can be leveraged to read eschatology against the grain. If eschatology is thought simply as the theological understanding of time and the future rather than the ontotheological discourse of the consummation of all things in some Great Beyond that saves us from the world then I think field is wide open talk about the event in eschatological terms.*4 Can there be a “radical” eschatology of the event or a poeticized eschatological materialism? What would it mean to thematize the event in such terms and to do so without recourse to the discursive strategies of the Kantian “type” of continental philosophy of religion?
 
3. In a certain way this final question extends beyond Caputo’s work but is certainly applicable to it. Quite a bit of ink has been spilt in the last 20 years or so over the “theological” turn in continental philosophy both in the form of support and as a critique of certain triumphalistic configurations (what Caputo calls “postmodernism light”). It seems to me that taken as a whole this “theological” or “religious” turn also places a certain exigence upon a critical re-evaluation of theology itself as a critical discourse and discursive practice. In fact, one could argue that the question of God after the death of God is one particular formulation of this exigency. But it isn’t the only formulation and I’m not so sure it is the best one for our particular cultural moment. So, for instance, I am encouraged to see Caputo deal, however briefly, with the insidious supercessionism that inheres in certain (quasi)theological uses of continental theory which privilege Christianity (152ff). His critique of neo-Kantian, fideistic configurations of “postmodern” thought as a means of protecting or saving (Christian) theology from immanent critique is also helpful here. The question, though, is whether Caputo’s “radical” theology is capable of enacting gestures of critical resistance against itself that facilitate, among other things, the decentering of Christian hegemony in religious thought. Caputo himself is still “doing” theology from a Christian standpoint, in many ways as a Christian, though I’m not sure he would claim the label “Christian theologian.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does speak to the sort of double-bind one faces (I include myself here). In this respect, it doesn’t seem off base to ask: what is the aim of a “radical” theology? Is its radicality contingent at least in part upon its ability to perform acts of theological self-reflexivity, to think itself otherwise, to think, perhaps, the demise of its current position? Is this, perhaps, what Caputo means when he refers to “a new species of theologians?” I realize some of this lies outside Caputo’s immediate scope, but I do think these are persistent and even insistent specters haunting any theological project, especially one which claims to be radical. Insofar as Caputo’s theology is thoroughly concerned with futurity–with what is coming–it seems worth considering what the future of theology is to be and whether such a future will sufficiently attend to its more liberative exigences. Or, not. Perhaps.
 
 
* * * * * * * * * *
 
 
1) Regular Homebrewed readers are surely aware that there has been quite a bit of back and forth over the meaning and use of the phrase “radical theology” recently, specifically whether the identifier is appropriately used by Caputo and others. While I understand Caputo’s use and defense of the phrase within this book (and his previous works) I do share some of these concerns. So for this post I am employing the term “radical” in quotations marks–with a certain amount of fear and trembling–to denote this contestation.
 
2) My exposure to Brassier is very limited and Captuo’s textual engagement with him in this chapter is actually pretty sparse. So my use of Brassier here is based on Caputo’s (brief) outline, which may or may not be the best reading. I hope readers more familiar with Brassier and so-called “speculative realism” will weigh in on this.
 
3) “The event is not what occurs (an accident), it is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed.” The Logic of Sense, 170.
 
4) Part of my own project at the moment is to trace this development in Derrida’s thought, something I think Derrida himself was well aware of but reluctant to thematize as such. In this respect, Caputo is most certainly a true Derridean disciple. But, of course, Derrida never really claimed he was doing theology, while Caputo is basically a late-blooming theologian.
 
 
 

The Ring Theory of Kvetching: "Practical Advice on How to Say the Right Thing to the Right People"



Illustration by Wes Bausmith
 
 
It works in all kinds of crises – medical, legal, even existential.
It's the 'Ring Theory' of kvetching.
 
The first rule is comfort in, dump out.
 
by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman
April 7, 2013
 
When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan's colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn't feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague's response? "This isn't just about you."
 
"It's not?" Susan wondered. "My breast cancer is not about me? It's about you?"
 
The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie's husband, Pat. "I wasn't prepared for this," she told him. "I don't know if I can handle it."
 
This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan's colleague's remark was wrong.
 
Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.
 
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.
 
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring.
 
Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
 
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it.
 
Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
 
If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that's fine. It's a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.
 
Comfort IN, dump OUT.
 
There was nothing wrong with Katie's friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn't think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.
 
Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn't do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.
 
Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don't just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.
 
Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you're talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.
 
And don't worry. You'll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.
 
Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of "The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators."