According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tony Jones - Five Reasons You Probably Shouldn’t Attend a Christian Seder




Five Reasons You Probably Shouldn’t Attend a Christian Seder
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2014/04/15/five-reasons-you-probably-shouldnt-attend-a-christian-seder/#more-9936

by Tony Jones
April 15, 2014

The Seder plate at Rabbi Joseph Edelheit’s home, including oranges, olives, and tomatoes.

It’s Passover until this evening, and lots of Christians — especially evangelicals — are attending Passover Seder dinners. But they’re not traditional Seder dinners, with Jews. No, they’re a co-opted rite, sometimes hosted by a “messianic” Jew, and sometimes just by Christians who’ve read a Wikipedia entry.

I’ve been to a Seder for the past couple years. My family and I have been hosted by Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, a sometime contributor to this blog, and a dear friend. In his role as director of the religious studies program at St. Cloud State University, Joseph has hosted Seder dinners for Christian students — at the Lutheran campus ministry for instance — but the difference is that he’s really Jewish. He’s a rabbi. He’s not play-acting. This is really his thing.

Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, are drawn to primitive Christianity. They want to follow Jesus like those first Christians did, before Constantine and Charlemagne mucked everything up with Christendom. I personally think that’s a noble goal, and I’m not totally averse to it. However, having a Seder meal at your church or Christian college is not the way to do here. Here’s why:

1) We know very little about Jesus’ Passover meal. The Gospels themselves equivocate on the meal — either it took place on Passover, or on the night before Passover. In the Synoptics (and Paul), there is bread and wine, but in John only a cup into which both Judas and Jesus dipped their hands. Bread and wine, blessed and passed, was common for any Sabbath meal with family or friends. The Passover meal in the first century surely featured meat, but there’s no mention of that in the Gospels or Paul.

2) The Seder meal as we know it developed well after Jesus lived. Before 70 CE, Passover was a festival celebrated by going to Jerusalem, to the temple. That’s why Jesus and the disciples went there. It wasn’t until after the temple was razed that modern, rabbinic Judaism was born, and along with it the practices and rites we know now as synagogue worship and home-based practices like the Seder dinner. In other words, Jesus didn’t eat horseradish or sip salt water.

3) Early Christian eucharistic meals were not patterned after the Seder, but after the Greco-Roman symposium meal. At a symposium, family and friends would gather for a meal to discuss philosophy, the gods, government, and the like. Social distinctions were temporarily ignored; men and women ate together. The eucharistic meal in the early church took this concept and amplified it, even allowing slaves to join the company.

A funeral banquet

4) The early church often met for eucharist in cemeteries. In the Roman world, friends and relatives of a deceased person would meet at the person’s grace in the necropolis on the 3rd and 30th day after death and have a feast on the sarcophagus. The party was called a refrigerium, meaning “refreshment” for the dead, and the top of the sarcophagus even had a hole to pore food and wine into the casket.

Early Christians, often persecuted for gathering together, took up this practice because Roman officials had so much respect for the dead that the church could meet unmolested in the cemetery. So successful was this rite, that Christians began celebrating the anniversaries of martyrs by meeting at their graves and having an all-night party — one of the only times when women were allowed to be out past dark in the ancient world. The practice was still common in the late 4th century, so much that both Ambrose and Augustine preached against it, but to no avail.

5) How would you feel if a rabbi or imam performed a mock baptism? That’d be pretty weird, right? That’s pretty much how it is when Christians take a practice that is central to Judaism and attempt to recreate it with Christian meaning. Virtually every Jew I’ve ever asked about this finds the practice offensive.

So, if you want to recreate an early church practice, pack a lunch and bottle of wine and go have a party in a cemetery. Or hold a Greek symposium, inviting people who come from different races and classes than you. That’d be a great way to be true to the early church, without stepping on the practice of another religion.


Blinded By Our Own Ideologies




Osteen, Driscoll and the Masking of our Ideology
http://peterrollins.net/2014/03/olsteen-driscoll-and-the-masking-of-our-ideology/

by Peter Rollins
March 21, 2014

I once attended a conference where a religious presenter attempted to defend authentic marriage. In his argument he referred to a problem he felt was created by the kind of celebrity marriages witnessed on TV. He argued that these take away from the depth and authenticity of true marriage by giving people unreasonable expectations concerning both the day and what will happen after it. As part of his defense he even evoked the name of Jean Baudrillard (author of Simulacra and Simulation).

But the approach taken by the presenter was actually a perfect case of what Baudrillard was arguing against. The logic of Baudrillard is not that celebrity marriages mask or eclipse some authentic marriage ritual, but rather that they actually help support the idea that there is such a thing as an authentic marriage ritual.

The obviously fanciful spectacle, in other words, enables people (like this presenter) to argue that there is an authentic alternative located in reality.

“Real” or “authentic” marriage ceremonies are themselves a form of contrivance that can encourage unrealistic expectations and demands. The ancient rituals such as the exchange of rings, declaration of vows, or giving of the bride are all performances taken from religious systems that have simply been around for longer than the type of thing we might witness on the fantasy of reality TV.

Places like Disney World are problematic in the same way because the very fantasy they create actually sustains the idea that the way we structure our lives outside that space is somehow the way things really are, rather than itself an expression of fantasy. The very fact that we can easily discern that Disney World is ideological means that we are more likely to forget that we ourselves are immersed in ideology in our daily life.

One of the main problems with the extravagant forms of religious ideology we see played out in figures like Joel Osteen and Mark Driscoll might not lie in their own obviously ideological character, but in the way that they solidify the idea that there is a non ideological community beyond them (one somehow not immersed in Western Values etc.).

Witnessing their overt ideology thus plays into the hands of those who would like to ignore their own ideological saturation.

The Walt Disney World of Osteen’s church and the Hell House adventure of Driscoll’s communities are then dangerous precisely because they can prevent us from seeing the political and cultural constellation of our own positions.


Who is God for You? Is He Like Us? Us Externalised? Or Wholly Other?




God is (the) Real
http://peterrollins.net/2014/03/god-is-the-real/

by Peter Rollins
March 25, 2014

On twitter I occasionally get asked what I think about the existence of God. It’s usually asked by someone who has a solid grasp of what the term “God” refers to, and they assume that it has the same meaning for everyone else. Hence there is confusion when I reply that I can’t answer in 140 characters. The response is usually that the question is an easy one to answer: yes, no, or not sure.

However the word “God” is anything but simple or stable, and so an answer to the question of “do you believe in God” must be preceded by the question, “what do we mean by the term ‘God’.”

In order to approach an answer to this question I want to make use of a tripartite frame that Lacan developed to understand our subjective world. Lacan taught that our inner universe can be understood through reference to three interconnected registers: the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real.

These are somewhat slippery concepts to get a handle on, but for our purposes we can make use of them without fully defining them. To do this I’ll refer to what it means to treat someone through the filter of the first two registers.

We treat someone at the imaginary level when we see him or her as fundamentally like us. In other words, they are someone who we can admire, love, hate, be jealous of etc. This is relatively easy to understand as we’re broadly aware of the way we exist in competition, or solidarity, with those around us.

When we treat someone in a more symbolic way they operate as a type of stand in for a more basic type of relation. To understand this we can think of how a person might treat their analyst. For example, an individual might relay a dream during their session and then say, “I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that I resent my mother.” In actual fact the analyst (who is not an expert on your unconscious) is unlikely to have an immediate interpretation of what they’ve said. The claim, “I know what you’re thinking,” is more likely to reflect what the person themselves is thinking, but are unaware of. At this point the analyst might respond by showing surprise or interest in the fact that the analysand (i.e., the patient) assumed what they did. In this exchange the analysand treats the analyst in a more symbolic way. The analyst effectively becomes a type of screen upon which the person’s unconscious is projected (and thus can reflect that projection back to the speaker).

In terms of religion, when the word “God” is employed I would argue that it is used primarily in one of these registers. In popular discourse “God” is basically understood in an Imaginary manner. God is a being like us, a being who speaks, thinks, desires etc. God is a being who we can love, hate, argue with and make up to. The difference between the theist and the atheist here revolves around the idea of whether this God exists or not.

In traditional theological circles God operates more on the Symbolic level. Here God is not named as such, it is claimed that what we say about God reflects ourselves and that we must speak of God as “beyond being,” “ground of being,” or in some other way that avoids the idea of us “speaking of ourselves in a loud voice” (Karl Barth). It is claimed that there is an ineffable reality to God that cannot be penetrated; yet this impenetrable God exposes us to ourselves.

In addition to the Imaginary and the Symbolic registers, Lacan also spoke of the Real. For Lacan, the Real is that which breaks into our Imaginary and Symbolic constellations. The Real is a rupture. The Real cannot be imagined or symbolized, it does not occupy a place, and yet it takes place. The Real is a crack within our existing political, religious and cultural configurations, a resistance that prevents systems from claiming absolute knowledge. It is a destabilizing event that threatens to disrupt the balance maintained by our ideological commitments.

It would seem to me that primitive religion understands God in a predominately Imaginary register (beginning from the Greek gods of antiquity right through to the gods of Western fundamentalism), while theology tends to treat God at the level of the Symbolic (onto-theology and apophatic thought = "speaking of God through negation"). In contrast I employ the term “God” primarily as a name for the Real. Indeed the collectives that I’m part of setting up are primarily committed to this idea of evoking the Real.


Noah - A Man Marked by the Loss of God but Able to Return to the World Where God Is


Noah

Noah: Aronofsky on Obsession, Madness and Loss
http://peterrollins.net/2014/04/noah-reflections-on-aronofskys-divine-madness/

by Peter Rollins
April 1, 2014

With the financial success of films like God’s Not Dead and Son of Man, alongside the fact that other religious movies are being feverishly produced, 2014 has been christened “year of the bible” in Hollywood.

The first big budget film of the year that aims to cash in on this relatively untapped religious market is Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. At first blush it can be read as little more than a cynical Hollywood attempt to tap into a new monetary vein while still sucking from the one that’s fed them thus far. Offer up the relatively safe mix of eye-popping CGI, highly choreographed battles, and simple emotional motivations to appeal to the average moviegoer, while wooing the faithful with a literalistic retelling of a biblical story.

Indeed it seem like the next logical step following the success that came from the producers of Superman, who created a series of sermons based on the film. Sermons written especially so that evangelical leaders could preach from the pulpit about how spiritual it was.

Yet, if this was the motivation of the producers, then it quickly becomes evident that Aronofsky outsmarted them by effectively building a Trojan horse out of the big budget blockbuster format so as to smuggle in a subversive and religiously disturbing content.

The exquisite scandal of Noah becomes clear when one views it in light of Aronofsky’s directorial debut, the darkly mesmerizing Pi. For while Noah is indeed Aronofsky’s first big budget film, it is his second cinematic exploration of the link between religious obsession and madness.

In Pi, the protagonist’s unrelenting drive for a formula that will unlock the secrets of the universe is revealed to be nothing less than a search for the name of God, a search that ends up in his mental and physical breakdown. In Noah, the protagonist undergoes a similar mental collapse when attempting to remain true to his divine call. While both films offer up different conclusions they each share the same fundamental theme.

It’s hard to miss the similarities that exist between Aronofsky’s Noah and Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. For in both a deeply literal and faithful reading of a biblical event is employed to explore a monstrous horror embedded within it. For Kierkegaard; Abraham and Isaac. For Aronofsky; Noah and the flood.

It’s not surprising then that the religious market has broadly rejected the film even though it seems to support their cause. The problem for a religious believer is not that it fails to be literal enough, but that its very literalism uncovers a disturbing truth: that too close a relation to the Other results in a form of madness and death.

Just as Abraham and Isaac are a type of cipher for Kierkegaard, so to is Noah for Aronofsky. In Fear and Trembling we must take a step back from the text in order to see that this is in fact a deeply personal book in which he is wrestling with his love for Regina: the woman who owns his heart, and yet who remains, of necessity, forever distant. Regina stands in for the ultimate object of Kierkegaard’s desire, she is a sun that enslaves him in an impossible orbit, an orbit that prevents him from spinning into space or crashing into the flames (in a painfully poetic way this proximate distance continues to play out even in death, for Kierkegaard is buried just across the way from where Regina lies with her husband).

In the same way it is possible to perceive in Noah a very personal wrestling with what it means to obsessively love something, while maintaining a distance from it.

Psychoanalytically speaking, one might say that Noah is then dealing with the incestuous temptation to transcend the barrier separating us from the desire of The Thing (that Other which we want more than life itself). The choices we have in the face of this temptation being either to (i) break through the prohibition and succumb to a form of death, or (ii) accept the barrier and live with an insatiable sense of loss.

Theologically speaking Noah (alongside Pi) can be read as cinematic expressions of Radical Theology, for Radical Theology can be said to precisely contend with the problematic of separation and loss from The Thing. Structurally speaking then, both Noah and Pi can be read as complex cinematic narratives exploring the consequences of getting too close to the object of our desire.

While Pi has a more radical, and pessimistic, conclusion, Noah offers us some hope. For as Noah is finally able to lay down his obsessive desire, and enter into the play of interpretation, he begins to heal. He is ultimately successful in separating himself from his incestuous desire to be a mouthpiece for his God and is reborn as a man marked by a loss, yet able to return once more to his family and to the everyday concerns of being in the world.


Transformance Art in Pyrotheology - Breaking the Cycle of Repression through Dialectics




Continual Subversion:
Pyrotheology, Dialectics, and the Art of Disruption
http://peterrollins.net/2014/04/continual-subversion-pyrotheology-dialectics-and-the-art-of-disruption/

by Peter Rollins
April 25, 2014

The term “Transformance Art” was coined a number of years ago to describe the praxis of Pyrotheology. Transformance Art is basically a practice that employs various art forms in an attempt to disrupt, disturb, surprise and confront a given individual/community with themselves. This disruption involves bringing to light the things that the individual/community have repressed, things that are likely causing suffering and/or violence. This is why terms like “doubt,” “brokenness,” “lack,” and “self-examination,” are so central to the lexicon of Pyrotheology.

However, when teaching on the subject, I’m often asked what would happen should this transgressive discourse ever achieve popularity. Basically the question is, “if Pyrotheology were to become a new orthodoxy, would that not undermine it’s own ability to unnerve and subvert us”?

This question revolves around the insight that any system of belief can become a type of enclosure to prevent us from being shocked by our own being and disturbed by our own acts. Indeed, as New Atheism makes clear, even a discourse that champions certain forms of non-belief can fall into this trap.

What is missed here is the way that Transformance Art is not designed to preach some system of belief (or non-belief), but rather to encourage a form of dialectic movement in the lives of those who participate (*development through a back-and-forth movement between opposing propositions).

Take the true example of a young man in analysis who described his attachment to a particular woman in terms of a drug addiction. During a session he spoke of how he sought the high of the connection with her even though these were inevitably followed by long, dark lows. As the session came to an end the therapist simply asked if the young man was in fact an addict who was seeking after the lows rather than the highs.

This rhetorical question had the effect of opening up a new line of thought in the analysand (sic, a person undergoing analysis), one that enabled him to explore the idea that he might get something out of his depression, and might even be seeking it out in some unconscious way.

The question asked by the analyst in this session is an example of how a type of dialectic movement might be encouraged, one that can effectively shake an individual out of a certain groove of thought. In a subtle way the analyst was able to present an opposite idea that seemed to uncover a more complex relation to pleasure and pain in the analysand, one that he was previously unaware of. In this brief moment the analysand was surprised by himself and disturbed in a fruitful way.

This is a dialectic move precisely because the negation is already a negation of negation. For when the question, “Are you actually seeking the low” is posed, there is an implication that the individual might be seeking the low because that is where the real high is. In dialectic terms it works like this,

Affirmation – I’m seeking the high

Negation – I’m seeking the low

Negation of negation – I’m seeking the low because I get some kind of high from it

From this insight the analysand might be more able to self-interrogate why he holds onto painful situations.

This example can help us understand one of the fundamental opening moves of Transformance Art. For those who put these events on are committed to a type of dialectic dynamic which attempts to uncover the hidden shadows of the conscious affirmations in a given group. All of which is in the service of surprising the community with its own repressed content (with the hope that this disruption leads to a more healthy, active and joyful community).

This means that Transformance Art aims to be an inherently subversive discourse, one that continually attempts to negate the affirmation of a particular group, regardless of what that affirmation is.



Introducing Andy Crouch - Bio, Videos, Books


Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch - Bio
http://andy-crouch.com/

Andy is the author of Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, published in October 2013. His book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling won Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture and was named one of the best books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, Relevant, Outreach and Leadership. In December 2012 he became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities.

Andy serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. He is also a senior fellow of theInternational Justice Mission’s IJM Institute. His writing has appeared in Time, The Wall Street Journal, and several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing. He lives with his family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

From 1998 to 2003, Andy was the editor-in-chief of re:generation quarterly, a magazine for an emerging generation of culturally creative Christians. For ten years he was a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. He studied classics at Cornell University and received an M.Div. summa cum laude from Boston University School of Theology. A classically trained musician who draws on pop, folk, rock, jazz, and gospel, he has led musical worship for congregations of 5 to 20,000.


Should We Play God?
Andy Crouch discusses human flourishing and authority at UMich




Andy Crouch: Interview




Andy Crouch: Image Making Part 1







2014 Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year ("Also Recommended," Leadership) ForeWord 2013 Book of the Year Award Finalist (Adult Nonfiction, Religion) Power corrupts—as we've seen time and time again. People too often abuse their power and play god in the lives of others. Shady politicians, corrupt executives and ego-filled media stars have made us suspicious of those who wield influence and authority. They too often breed injustice by participating in what the Bible calls idolatry. Yet power is also the means by which we bring life, create possibilities, offer hope and make human flourishing possible. This is "playing god" as it is meant to be. If we are to do God's work—fight injustice, bring peace, create beauty and allow the image of God to thrive in those around us—how are we to do these things if not by power? With his trademark clear-headed analysis, Andy Crouch unpacks the dynamics of power that either can make human flourishing possible or can destroy the image of God in people. While the effects of power are often very evident, he uncovers why power is frequently hidden. He considers not just its personal side but the important ways power develops and resides in institutions. Throughout Crouch offers fresh insights from key biblical passages, demonstrating how Scripture calls us to discipline our power. Wielding power need not distort us or others, but instead can be stewarded well. An essential book for all who would influence their world for the good.



2009 Christianity Today Book Award winner! Named one of Publishers Weekly's best books of 2008 (religion category) It is not enough to condemn culture. Nor is it sufficient merely to critique culture or to copy culture. Most of the time, we just consume culture. But the only way to change culture is to create culture. Andy Crouch unleashes a stirring manifesto calling Christians to be culture makers. For too long, Christians have had an insufficient view of culture and have waged misguided "culture wars." But we must reclaim the cultural mandate to be the creative cultivators that God designed us to be. Culture is what we make of the world, both in creating cultural artifacts as well as in making sense of the world around us. By making chairs and omelets, languages and laws, we participate in the good work of culture making. Crouch unpacks the complexities of how culture works and gives us tools for cultivating and creating culture. He navigates the dynamics of cultural change and probes the role and efficacy of our various cultural gestures and postures. Keen biblical exposition demonstrates that creating culture is central to the whole scriptural narrative, the ministry of Jesus and the call to the church. He guards against naive assumptions about "changing the world," but points us to hopeful examples from church history and contemporary society of how culture is made and shaped. Ultimately, our culture making is done in partnership with God's own making and transforming of culture. A model of his premise, this landmark book is sure to be a rallying cry for a new generation of culturally creative Christians. Discover your calling and join the culture makers.



Becoming and Being "Points of Light" -
Themes of Flourishing and Redemption in Broken Places

This is Our City