Archive for the ‘Society & Culture’ Category

Rhythms of Love

August 6, 2010 5 comments

Photo by Filhi bahthi photography via Creative Commons

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, reading, thinking…sitting. Music is n the background. “Celebrate Good Times” begins to play. And suddenly the celebration breaks into my world, my reading, thinking, sitting. My head starts nodding. Soon my shoulders join in. The sounds that were outside me seem to be reverberating from inside me, and my body is moving to the rhythm. Looking around I notice other people responding, moving, smiling. We exchange glances. In a room of strangers, the rhythm visibly connects us for few brief moments.

I’ve had experiences like this in stores, parks, churches and living rooms. The rhythm breaks in upon us and suddenly the room, the people are connected and moving to an unseen current. Music fascinates me, moves me, breaks in upon me. It comes from outside me through a speaker, a guitar, a drum, a singer. But soon it is inside me at the same time. My body, my mind, my emotions all respond, all echo back the rhythm. Somehow I’m connected, caught up in the rhythm.

And oddly, it lingers inside long after the music has stopped playing. The sounds, the words, the feel continues to resound within me. Though I speak about myself, I believe I’m describing an experience that is real for most of us. One moment we’re sitting alone and the next moment we’re caught up in an ocean of sounds that moves us, fills us, connects us.

Not all songs move us in the same ways. Hearing different songs can stir different feelings and different thoughts. For some strange reason, I used to force myself to listen to all sorts of music as some kind of imagined training. In college, I’d sit in the music lounge for hours soaking in all sorts of sounds. I’d join Columbia House Music Club again and again and again. I also joined the “Classical Heritage Society” and the “Jazz Heritage Society.” I’d listen to music I loved and oddly enough music I hated.

I remember picking up John Coltrane’s “Sun Ship” as yet another attempt at my musical education. I never figured it out. There were a few shining moments, but most of the time, I was immersed in chaos. I couldn’t hear one dominant rhythm. Instead, I felt caught up in a swirl of chaos. The music was disorienting.

It made me think of being caught up in the currents of a raucous ocean. Once my dad and I decided to “catch some big waves” by swimming at Myrtle Beach in the middle of an electrical storm. My mom was screaming and pacing up and down the shore while my dad and I were laughing and waving. It was fun but also disorienting. The currents above and below the surface pulled, pushed and turned us all around. When we finally decided to get out of the water, we had a hard time. The undercurrent resisted our every step.

I can only imagine the stress, confusion and disorientation of being caught in a storm at sea. With no land in sight, with no instruments of orientation, it’s easy to see how one could be truly lost of sea. I understand that pilots can experience a similar disorientation in the air. Without reference to his instruments, a pilot may literally not know which way is up. It is now believed that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s lethal crash into the sea in 1999 was a result of spatial disorientation. He thought he was flying up and flew straight into the water.

The currents of air and water and sound waves can propel us forward but also disorient us. We could be going forward; we could be going backward. We may lose our sense of direction.

We are immersed in a world of currents and rhythms. From the beating of our own heart to the fury of storm winds to the pounding of rain, we live in all kinds of rhythms and forces that impact us both inwardly and outwardly. There are also rhythms or currents of ideas, emotions, memories, and symbols that move through culture. The force of these rhythms are just as powerful as the physical force of ocean currents that move above and below the surface.

We cannot step outside of the rhythms of our world. We are all born at a time and place. We are born immersed in families and towns and eras with specific rhythms and struggles and currents. If I am born into a world where slavery is the norm, it will be very difficult for me to resist or act or think outside this force. If I am born into a land at war, I may have no memory of peace and find it difficult to even understand peace. If I am born into a family where divorce is the norm, I may repeat the pattern in my own life or never even marry.

Like the watery chaos of Psalm 46, all of us know the chaos of a world of conflicting ideas and emotions, of undercurrents that impact our dreams and our actions. The music of Scripture breaks into this world of competing currents with a strange alien rhythm. Sometimes when people first read the Bible, it might seem a bit disorienting. It should be. In fact, if it’s never disorienting we may not be paying close enough attention. The Word of the Lord breaks into our world as a challenge to the false rhythms of idolatry and oppression that reverberate on our planet.

In ancient Egypt, we discover the Hebrews trapped in a world of enslavement, oppression, and manipulation. The Word of the Lord breaks into this world as an alien rhythm, challenging the power structures and the whole conception of reality. After leading these nameless, powerless slaves into freedom, the LORD calls these people, His people and He gives them His rhythms that are rooted in love to God and love to man.

In Psalm 1, we hear a song inviting us to meditate or groan aloud these rhythms of love and worship and respect and honor. These rhythms directly challenge the constant rhythms in the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers. The world of the wicked, sinners and scoffers is built in resistance to the love of God and is rooted in self-preservation. It always leads to oppression and devastation. As the Psalmist sings, he reminds us that currents of the wicked produce a crop of chaff, of nothingness.

Like the disappearing world in “The Neverending Story,” the Psalmist realizes the end result of wickedness. Not some kind of naughty pleasure, but rather to destruction of all relationships, of all meaning, of all hope, of all beauty. The end result is absurd nothingness that blows away in the wind. There is only one sound powerful enough to withstand the gale force of oppression and emptiness: it is Torah, the Law of the Lord. The Psalmist proclaims that those who dwell, live, abide in this Law of Love will bear fruit in all seasons.

Yet even as I’m caught up the wondrous promise of the Psalmist, I am aware of my own duplicity. There are times when I speak words of love and life and encouragement. There are times when the rhythms of love seem to resonate in my every fibre. And yet, I know the fruit of selfishness. I hear James speaking directly to me when he cries out, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” I am not the man who lives in Torah day and night. I am the man who aspires to live in Torah but knows the way of hatred and anger and mockery all too well.

Isaiah says that the Lord looks for one true man, but found no one.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there
was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him. (Is 59:15-16)

He enters into our watery grave of idolatry. He entered into the alien rhythms of all world in complete resistance to love, a world that cannot build without breaking, cannot speak without cursing, cannot embrace with killing. Jesus, the Son of God, comes as the one true man. He steps into this world of complete disorientation where no one knows how to step forward and everyone stumbles in the dark. He comes as the true light. In His light, in His path, in His words, we behold the true and genuine rhythms of love. He is the God-Man from Psalms 1 who dwells and lives and acts in Holy Love. He enfleshes Torah, he embodies truth, He reveals the Father. He reveals Love between the Son and the Father. In His Life, His Death and His Resurrection He sets in motion reverberations of life that continue resounding and will eventually stop every false rhythm–even death.

So we turn to Him. We behold Him. We cry out to Him, “Lord have mercy.” It is then that we realize, He has embraced us and His song is beating in our heart. Yes, we are still learning His song, but we are no longer adrift in a sea of chaos. The music of the heavens is pulsing through us. Ours heads, our hands and our feet are beginning to dance.

Jeremy Begbie suggests that music itself is not hope but it is a dynamic of hope because it is sweeping us forward. In Christ, we are caught up in a true dynamic of hope. We are joined together in a song of love the will not fail but will overcome every false rhythm and conquer every lying word.

The Wasteland of Moral Ghosts

February 18, 2010 1 comment

Recently I wrote a response to the post-apocalyptic film, The Road. In the film, the world as we know has come to an end, and humans are losing their humanity in the struggle to survive. This film comes to mind as I continue thinking about the challenge raised by The Economist concerning modern progress and moral sensibility.

Morality and post-apocalyptic visions loom large in the writings of the moral philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre. In his essay, “The Achievement of Alisdair MacIntyre,” Edward Oakes introduces key themes of MacIntyre’s thought. Drawing from Oakes’ helpful summary, I’d like to review MacIntyre’s ideas in response to The Economist.

What does a moral wasteland look like?
Drawing inspiration from Walter Miller’s science-fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, MacIntyre describes the moral wasteland of our modern world in a parable where a series of environmental crisis lead to a violent revolt against the natural sciences.

Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still, there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred.

In this post-science world, MacIntyre describes an emerging cult of science that memorizes textual fragments, memorizes Theorems and surviving portions of the periodic table. Nothing is complete. There is no context for scientific knowledge or practice, so what remains is a jumble of words and practices that no one fully grasps, and yet they practice and debate. The ability to make sense of these scientific fragments appears irretrievably lost.
MacIntryre proceeds to suggest that this story really did happen in the world of moral reasoning. We are not entering a dark ages of morality, we’ve been living in one. And we don’t have the tools to understand moral reasoning, let alone make moral argument.

What does it mean to be wrong in a Marxist world?
He encountered this catastrophe firsthand in the 60s when he and fellow Marxists condemned the Soviet invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) as wrong. MacIntyre was forced to ask himself, “What do you mean by “wrong”?” At that point, he realized that Marxism provided him with no objective standard for declaring this act as wrong. There was no room for human conscience in a utilitarian focus upon consequences and not actions. Present actions were always part of some future consequence, thus one could never truly condemn an act as wrong. This problem led MacIntyre toward Thomism and toward an analysis on the wasteland of modern moral reasoning.

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?
Elvis Costello bemoans a life adrift in the currents of pain and hatred and misery. His longing for peace, love and understanding might be about personal loss but may also point to culture that has lost our navigational tools that point us to goodness, purpose, and a moral progress that means something more than the trendy cultural “sin of the week.”

Aristotle wrote in a way that assumed there are genuine final causes, goals, purposes, and aims. This way of looking toward an end state (teleology) saturates Aristotle’s writings from science to ethics to politics. He could speak of progress with a clear direction toward specific goals that were considered actually good, true and beautiful.

In the ethical realm, these words provided a ground for understanding humans as what we could be. In other words, these words/ideas focused on a future ideal. Working from this defined ideal, we have a basis to discuss what is good and what is not good. We can talk about goals and purposes of human life.

MacIntyre argues that in the post-Newtonian world, we lost any sense of teleology. Building on Newton’s mechanistic worldview, Darwin argued that “natural selection” is the mechanism for explaining an organ’s functionality. These two ideas led thinkers to focus on “life as it is” not “life as it is supposed to be.” The discussion of purpose no longer had any real meaning or real content. In other words, we lost the foundation for words like good, moral and purpose.

MacIntyre acknowledges that Nietzche understands the implication of what happened when he writes, “If there is nothing to morality but expressions of will, my morality can only be what my will creates.” Morality has no basis. Of course, humans continue to use words like moral, good, purpose and so on, but they are fragments of a worldview that was gone.

Is the person who protests the loudest the most moral?
MacIntyre argues that the modern liberal system (he suggests conservatism and liberalism are debates within the liberal system) understand morality as voicing our feelings and opinions. Since we don’t have a way to think about ultimate purposes, we don’t have a way to truly define moral progress. Thus our morality is about voicing our complaint.

This lack of a common ground turns our debates about war, abortion or other topics into shrill, yelling matches. We voice a loud (and often mocking protest against those with whom we disagree), but we don’t really speak to those outside our camp. We shout at them.

Martin Buber, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (ERH), and Franz Rozenweig all realized that our modern world suffered a dis-ease in speech. In the 1940s, ERH wrote that we may be facing a speechless future. What did he mean?

Our words would no longer have power to connect us. Buber wrote that our discussion were not discussions at all but mutual monologue where we speak to ourselves instead of really speaking to the someone who is other from us. He studied Communist cells, Jewish kibbutz, and Christian churches and concluded that our so-called communities are really communities of affinity were we all have to think alike to join.

The ability to talk to someone outside our “tribe,” our political camp, our religion, and find common ground was disappearing. Writing over 40 years later, Scott Peck and Robert Bellah warned that our civil society was breaking under the weight of unrestrained individualism. The civil veneer that holds our society together has grown thin and is seriously fraying.

MacIntyre cautiously voices concerns about the descent of our culture into morass of civil confusion, suggesting we may already be in the middle of another dark ages:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the more misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age . . . and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. . . . What they set themselves to achieve—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. . . . This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are not waiting for Godot, but for another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

Where is Benedict when we need him?
When The Economist posted their lament for progress in the modern world, they voiced a growing discontent that is echoed in political spheres, religious spheres, education spheres and even among family spheres. There is a pervasive sense for many Westerners that something is very wrong. Our iphones and Kindles and xBox 360s cannot rescue us from the abyss that Gertrude Himmelfarb warned about in her severe cultural analysis.

One the critiques of MacIntyre is that he points to Benedict but has yet to offer a robust vision for the way to move forward and out from this moral paralysis. He suggests a civil conversation between science and Thomistic Aristotelian ethics but Oakes and others still would like to hear more about how to get there.

Who is the man or the community of speech thinkers that might help us rebuild and restore dialogue and find a way to talk about morality within resonating inspiration? I don’t know.

I’ve been trying to learn this for the past eighteen years and I am still not sure.

I see pointers and clues. We a serious engagement with Einstein and his shattering impact upon Newtonian mechanistic laws. Field theory opens a new discussion with new ways to think and talk about our world. Even when it’s misunderstood it continues opening new channels for thought and discussion.

Personally, I’ve found the science of Rupert Sheldrake applying field theory to biology and consciousness and memory as provocative. During the last year, I’ve enjoyed the scientific theology of Thomas F. Torrance as he seriously engaged the claims of Einstein et al in relation to his faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Another helpful development has been the re-emerging discussion of Biblical wisdom literature as a guide to engaging those who are outside our camp and those who may even be considered our enemies. My friend Charles Strohmer is thinking and writing about how wisdom speaks to foreign policy (especially in this era where Western and non-Western leaders struggle to find ways to meet).

I’ll write more about my previously claim that Jesus Christ points the way forward for me in this discussion later. I would love to hear about other “Benedicts” who may have thoughts and patterns that could lead us away from the dis-integrated tribalism that infects and is infecting our world and our capacity to speak, leading us into the age of glare where we behold
“the appalling record of the twentieth century; … the sullenness of so many high school students today, the emptiness of their elders in college, the despair of the underclass, the desperate fun-seeking of the jet set, the divorce rate, the incidence of child abuse, and on and on.”

The Future of Progress

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Reacting to the unbridled modern confidence in progress, G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” He realized that real progress is not simply a temporal assurance as though the future hold unlimited promise for progress. The proper question is, “Progress toward what?” Where are we headed?

If I am moving closer and closer to an oncoming train, am I making “progress?” Chesterton viewed this unreflected confidence in the abstract spirit of the age as a bit absurd, he said, “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” And then, “The modern world is a crowd of very rapid racing cars all brought to a standstill and stuck in a block of traffic.” Recently a friend recommend I read last December’s, The Economist; where sounding very much like G.K. Chesterton, they published an article asking, “Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished?

The article weaves Imre Madach’s “The Tragedy of Man” (1861) throughout. Madach tells an industrial age version of “Paradise Lost.” Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but Adam is not repentant. He glories in his power and free from God’s rules, proclaims his dream of human progress and achievement. Lucifer lulls him to sleep and then leads Adam through a series of future epochs. The Economist summaries,

Adam gets the chance to see how much of Eden he will “regain”. He starts in Ancient Egypt and travels in time through 11 tableaux, ending in the icebound twilight of humanity. It is a cautionary tale. Adam glories in the Egyptian pyramids, but he discovers that they are built on the misery of slaves. So he rejects slavery and instead advances to Greek democracy. But when the Athenians condemn a hero, much as they condemned Socrates, Adam forsakes democracy and moves on to harmless, worldly pleasure. Sated and miserable in hedonistic Rome, he looks to the chivalry of the knights crusader. Yet each new reforming principle crumbles before him. Adam replaces 17th-century Prague’s courtly hypocrisy with the rights of man. When equality curdles into Terror under Robespierre, he embraces individual liberty—which is in turn corrupted on the money-grabbing streets of Georgian London. In the future a scientific Utopia has Michelangelo making chair-legs and Plato herding cows, because art and philosophy have no utility. At the end of time, having encountered the savage man who has no guiding principle except violence, Adam is downcast—and understandably so. Suicidal, he pleads with Lucifer: “Let me see no more of my harsh fate: this useless struggle.”

With this backdrop, we now visit the perplexing history of progress in the modern world. “Optimists in the Enlightenment and the 19th century came to believe that the mass of humanity could one day lead happy and worthy lives here on Earth. Like Madach’s Adam, they were bursting with ideas for how the world might become a better place.”

The Economist explores the troubled history of the word and idea of “progress” since its flowering in the 17th century. Some of the various approaches to progress include an accounting model, a scientific model, and a business model.

Accounting – Progress by the book
The libertarians Julian Simon and Stephen Moore wrote an extensive study arguing that “It’s Getting Better All the Time.” While they amass statistics highlighting amazing improvements in most living conditions , they ignore increased government oppression in the 20th century. They demonstrate a significant improvement in health and wealth but the numbers do not voice greater contentment, more happiness, a deeper sense of responsibility. They also fail to take into account the dangers as a result of progress like nuclear cataclysm, environmental destruction, or the decline in moral power as demonstrated in Alisdair MacIntyre’s work on moral philosophy.

Science – Discovery with a Hint of Alchemy
While science has transformed our modern world and made possible many of advancements in health and wealth that Simon and Moore document, we cannot ignore the power science wields to change and possibly even destroy the world. The Economist summarizes:

Modern science is full of examples of technologies that can be used for ill as well as good. Think of nuclear power—and of nuclear weapons; of biotechnology—and of biological contamination. Or think, less apocalyptically, of information technology and of electronic surveillance. History is full of useful technologies that have done harm, intentionally or not. Electricity is a modern wonder, but power stations have burnt too much CO2-producing coal. The internet has spread knowledge and understanding, but it has also spread crime and pornography. German chemistry produced aspirin and fertiliser, but it also filled Nazi gas chambers with Cyclon B.

Economics – The End of the Rainbow
There is a bit of irony in this section since The Economist virtue of its name is commited to strong business and a healthy economy. “Yet even the stolidest defenders of capitalism would, by and large, agree that its tendency to form cartels, shuffle off the costs of pollution and collapse under the weight of its own financial inventiveness needs to be constrained by laws designed to channel its energy to the general good.”

Free markets may have delivered economic prosperity but they can’t deliver inner peace, true joy, and an assured future growth. If the natural resources are completely depleted, we may hand our children an ugly world with even uglier social problems haunting them and their descendents.

A Vision of Moral Progress
In the end, we are presented with a possible approach for progress rooted in moral sensibility coupled the junior partner of democratic governance. Citing Susan Neiman, The Economist proposes that there are ways of thinking about morality that are not trapped in power games or institution bigotry. “Ms Neiman asks people to reject the false choice between Utopia and degeneracy. Moral progress, she writes, is neither guaranteed nor is it hopeless. Instead, it is up to us.”

My Initial Responses
While this article doesn’t fully answer Chesterton’s critique of the lack of a specific goal for progress, I think it does point us toward a conversation where those goals might be elucidated. Neiman’s language of moral sensibility is appealing though not having read her, I am not clear the path where she uncovers these moral senses, but I am attracted enough to learn more. It makes me think of C.S. Lewis’s language of moral imagination.

As a person who has been called by Jesus Christ, I look toward the person of Jesus Christ as a starting place for thinking about moral sensibility. Now some might suggest that this is immediately a closed-minded, bigoted response to this call for a “universal moral sensibility.” But as Chesterton points out some where, (and I am loosely quoting from memory) you can’t turn right and left at the same time. The act of turning right eliminates the left turn. The decision to speak of moral sensibility immediately changes the question from the universal to the particular. The real question is whose particular moral sensibility.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, I encounter a moral sensibility that fulfills the Ten Commandments including the Law and the Prophets. I can engage someone with a different foundation for moral sensibility. I simply make my starting point for moral imagining clear. It is not my own sense of morality (which is often deluded and corrupted) but the Ten Commandments fully enfleshed in Jesus that serves as a starting point for me to think more deeply about moral imaging and the future of progress.

Chris Anderson – Free

September 25, 2009 1 comment

Wired posted a great article on thinking/acting abundantly from the “long tail” wizard Chris Anderson this week. His basic premise is that businesses tend to think and act on the basis of scarcity and not abundance. He article offers excellent insights for businesses, families, and even churches. In fact, he is echoing a thought that shows up again and again in Scripture. Jesus tells a parable of the sower. While we tend to focus on the various places the seeds are sown and which seeds produce. We might also step back and think about a sower who sows everywhere–whether it looks like fruitful ground or not.

Anderson offers an excellent chart comparing the scarcity management model vs the abundance management model. Most often, I’ve worked around the scarcity model, but one boss at Philips Magnavox demonstrated the abundance model on a regular basis. One point of comparison is on the nature of rules in the two models. Rules in a scarcity paradigm sound like this, “Everything is forbidden unless it’s permitted.” On the other hand, the abundance framework suggests that, “Everything is permitted unless it’s forbidden.” The church has often operated within the former model, but Chesterton wisely pointed out that the latter model is the real thing. Listen to Chesterton on the Ten Commandments:

“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”

In one sense, this is what Anderson is exploring in his article on Managing for Abundance. Here are the highlights, but be sure to visit the article because he models his premise by giving away the audio of his latest book: Free.

One theme that shows up in his article is the “power of waste.” Anderson writes:

When scarce resources become abundant, smart people treat them differently, exploiting them rather than conserving them. It feels wrong, but done right it can change the world.

He illustrates this with a reference to Cory Doctorow and his ideas on “thinking like a dandelion.”

The science fiction writer Cory Doctorow calls this “thinking like a dandelion.” He writes: “The disposition of each—or even most—of the seeds isn’t the important thing, from a dandelion’s point of view. The important thing is that every spring, every crack in every pavement is filled with dandelions. The dandelion doesn’t want to nurse a single precious copy of itself in the hopes that it will leave the nest and carefully navigate its way to the optimum growing environment, there to perpetuate the line. The dandelion just wants to be sure that every single opportunity for reproduction is exploited!”

Read his article, his book, and don’t forget to visit his blog, The Long Tail.


January 23, 2009 Leave a comment


I was thinking about fishsticks tonight.

Categories: Society & Culture Tags: , ,

Emerging Theologies

January 22, 2009 5 comments

Reading Alister McGrath’s “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea” bring to mind some of the tensions in the theologies of our present era. McGrath writes about the range of Reformation theologies (which I’ve  also head referred to as Reformation vs Restoration movements). While Luther was conservative in his appeals for reform, focusing on the what he deemed as essential while protecting the historical rhythm of the church others rejected church tradition entirely and anything connected with it: rejecting everything from infant baptism to the Trinity.

Luther recognized the dangers of these extremes (and rightly so I think). Where do you stop and how do you end up with anything unifying truth that connects the people of God? In the beginning of the transformation, everything was up for grabs and all sorts of ideas and extreme expressions emerged. These may have had value in driving the question and helping the move as a whole seek for common unifying themes against the extreme dangers.

There are many threads worth teasing out in this short summary like the seeds of post-modern thought are already present before the “modern’ period (ala deconstruction). But what I also see is that the movement (just like movements in art, culture, philosophy and so on) had to push to extremes during the change. But gradually a moderated version emerged as dominant. Small strains never completely died out, but a large enough middle movement remained that eventually provided a place for unity among fellow “Protestants.”

Today we are in a similar time of radical change. We are going back to the source, and in our move, everything is on the table. The drive back to the source is seen in a widespread acceptance and emergence of Biblical Theology versus Systematic Theology. Yet within the groups of those seeking chnage there are a wide range of theologies. The crumbling of modern foundations early in the 20th century, made room for a range of extreme theologies that were politicized (Feminist, cultural and other theologies), philosophized (Existentialist and such), , economized (Marxist vs. Market driven theologies) and so on.

Today we see a range of emerging theologies that once again are willing to put everything on the table and question everything, including texts, doctrines, praxis and so on). In spite of the dangerous edge that some seem to skate along, all these theologies play an important role in helping define the conversation and the crisis. But I expect that over time a middling set of thelogies will emerge once again to bring a unifying forces to many Protectant (and possibly even Catholic) churches.

The Psalmist Remembers Deuteronomy

January 21, 2009 1 comment

There are a whole series of Psalms (such as 37, 73) that write within a memory of God’s faithfulness to His people. Right before Israel enter the land, Moses delivers a series of sermons (Deuteronomy) that remember God’s faithful deliverance from Egypt, protection across the wilderness, and promises concerning the land they are about to possess. These sermons are deliver against the backdrop of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness.

As a part of His faithfulness, YHWH gives His people the Law. The Law will train them to rule. The Law will teach them how to live and prosper in the land they possess. There are a series of blessings associated with the Law, which is rooted in YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. These blessings include (but are not limited to) life, possession of the land, blessing upon progeny, wisdom and understanding (power to rule), prosperity in health, family and culture.

When Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness, he is aware of a disparity between the promise and the reality. Everywhere he looks, he sees covenant violators who despise YHWH’s Law and live as a law unto themselves. Yet, these people seem to enjoy covenant blessings, while those who remain faithful seem to suffer.

The Psalmist becomes a formal voice of remembering on behalf of the people. He reminds himself and them of God’s faithfulness in spite of appearances. Appearances are deceiving. Momentary exaltation may be followed by lasting humiliation. The people of God do not react in the moment but live and act for the long haul. Their vision must reach beyond their own life to the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Memory of the past and vision of the future, give YHWH’s people energy to act in the now. The people of God will be vindicated. They will truly possess the land. The blessings of God will not be withheld. Instead of looking around each corner for the promise, they train themselves to rest in YHWH’s faithful promise.

What is difficult for them and us is learning to rest in God’s faithfulness, realizing that His blessings will be revealed in proper time and across generations. We participate in the blessings in relationship with the family of God who precedes us and proceeds from us. Hebrews 11:39-40 argues that we need one another to be complete (across time). Romans 12 , 1 Corinthians 12 and other passages argue that we  suffer and rejoice together as one people (across space). So the fulness of blessing cannot be born alone but must be born in relation with the family of God.

And ultimately, I would suggest, the fullness of blessing must be enjoyed in relation with all creation (cosmos). This is the vision of harmony Paul’s envisions in Ephesians 1:9-10. The Psalmist’s call to remember and rest leads to repentance. Not repentance rooted in terror. But a fresh turning to God’s way, God’s call, God’s plan that is rooted in the rest that comes from God’s faithfulness.

Vision and Revelation

January 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Just a reminder – These are rough notes and subject to critique and refinement.

Revelation and Vision
By discussing stories, memory, songs, dance and art, I am both developing the roots of vision and the idea that the world we live in is an outward expression of a symbolic center. In the center of the world is an idea about what constitutes the world and the destiny/purpose of that world. No one symbolic center can fully express the depths of our lives on this planet, so symbols may change and develop over time as new depths are revealed the rooted of our purpose.

“Revealed” is the key. We do not simply make up a purpose or a vision or a history. It is a calling. We are called out of the darkness into the light. N.T. Wright suggests that conversion and calling are one and the same movement of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit penetrates our heart with the Word of God. (Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word.)

While Paul was a master of the Torah as a Pharisees, he actually “hears” the Word on the road to Damascus. At first, he doesn’t even recognize the Word until the Lord of the Word reveals Himself. This encounter, this calling is the unfolding of Paul’s conversion and faith in Jesus Christ. This faith continues to unfold and open by the Spirit of God, bringing revelation to Paul, which becomes the driving vision of his life.

Revelation might be understood as the Spirit of God unfolding the call of God in our lives through the Word of God. The Spirit of God is revealing the Word of God. As we behold Him, we are changed into His likeness. As He transforms in loving relationship, He gives us vision and purpose, a realization that like Paul we are called to reconcile the world to Christ.

Divine Revelation is the Father sending the Spirit to reveal the Son, changing us into His people, His family, His called out ones. As we meditate upon revelation and vision, we may begin to see this as part of the larger call and response between the Father and His people that spans time and space.

As Dmitrue Staniloae says, time and space give us two realms for movement toward love. All of history is the story of movement toward love. At the beginning of time, the Father’s call of love goes forth and the echo of God’s people returns that call back from the end of time. When Jesus goes to the cross and passes through death to life, He is answering the call of love from the end of time.

And now that call is being unfolded in His people and will be fully unfolded in the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, the people of God who join Jesus at the Marriage feast, returning the call of Love.

Adjusting the Vision

January 11, 2009 Leave a comment

When I write vision, I also mean idea. Each of us make regular adjustments in our life, family, work and ministries. These adjustment may stem from a new idea or a change in my goals, the project, the situation, or the supplies. So my vision or ideas must remain flexible.

Flexibility – I may start out to write a poem on the leaves falling but end up writing a poem on the cold winter sky. As I plan and process and act, I may need to change. Some visions do not survive because we are not willing to change and adapt. I would suggest that other visions
appear and reappear in our lives in various guises. The young girls dreams of being a fairy princess may change into dreams of working in the fashion industry or dreams of raising a family. The one idea could morph into very different directions, but the root of the vision could still be there.

While there were at least four types of Judaism during Jesus’ time (Pharissess, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots) only one survived the destruction of Jerusalem. The Pharisees’ vision was not tied to the land and they were able to adapt to a changing world. The other three views of Judaism could not adapt when they were not in the land or at the Temple.

Is our vision conditioned upon factors that we might not be able to control. Consider the rapid changes in technology that we cannot even keep up with. Our vision may need to be both rooted in truth and yet flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

Resources – One thing that may change my vision is the change in resources. When an essential resource is no longer available, I either have to find a new source or change resources. What seems like a problem in the beginning could be a blessing in the end. The shift in resource availability may force me to adapt the vision in ways that a new and better idea emerges.

Vision from the People I Don’t Like

January 11, 2009 Leave a comment

One interesting source of vision can be the people who get on my nerves, or the people who disagree with me, or even the people who I consider my enemies. By listening to people who oppose me, I may learn insights or critiques that will help clarify my vision or highlight real problems. While Nietzsche opposes Christianity and mocks the crucified Savior, his critiques highlighted real problems in the modern vision and in the ways that Christianity had become intertwined with the modern vision. It is hard to listen to people who mock or offend me, but sometimes they may tell me things that my friends fail to say for fear of hurting my feelings. So I must cultivate an ear to listen both to friends but also to those who oppose me.

%d bloggers like this: