Category Archives: We Among Others

We Among Others: Who Are These People?!

I ended the last post in this series with the claim that even though Jesus is the (T/t)ruth, we all see Jesus through our own cultural context and world view. In this post, I want to explore how people see Jesus today.

But what about you? Who do you say I am?

Most Christians see Jesus as the Savior.  Now, seeing Jesus as the Savior means different things to different people.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath upon sinners.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from enslavement to Satan and evil forces.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from political oppression.  Some mean that Jesus saves us from ourselves and from anxiety of our own finiteness.

Most Christians see Jesus as the Son of God. Now, seeing Jesus as the Son of God means different things to different people.  Some mean that Jesus is the second member of the Holy Trinity, known as the “Son,” wherein his sonship refers to him as being the son of the Father, the first member of the Trinity. And then there’s the Holy Spirit to throw in another member.  Others see Jesus as the Son of God to mean that God chose Jesus the man for a special mission in the world.  God chose this man to herald in the Kingdom of God on earth, and teach people to love one another.

Now, I’m going to take a wild and crazy guess that most of the readers of this blog come from a perspective where Jesus as Savior means that he saves us from God’s wrath upon sinners, and that Jesus as the Son of God means that he is a member of the Trinity.  Fair assumption, no?

You think this kid reads my blog? Probably….

What demographic is this audience?  Well, considering that I’m writing on my front porch with the Minneapolis skyline in view, I can assume that my readers that know me are from the surrounding area.  Now, according to Wikipedia, being that the racial/ethnic composition of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metropolitan area is 81.6% non-hispanic whites, I can assume a lot of them are non-hispanic whites.  And knowing Minnesota’s strong Nordic roots, I can assume a lot of them come from that ancestry, and even have roots in Nordic Christian traditions (i.e. Lutheranism), but they’re also American, so they may likely be Baptist, Reformed, Methodists (but certainly not Presbyterians or Pentecostals! Shocking!) And finally, considering that they are reading this from a computer, they own or at least have access to a computer.

So, just from playful hypothesizing, my readers are likely white Midwesterners who make a sustainable income.  Great!

But what about everyone else?  Where are they in this discussion? Contrary to popular belief, the world is not predominantly white Midwesterners with sustainable incomes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Even in Christianity (the predominant religion in the world), white, financially comfortable people are not in the majority of Christianity.

However, the fact of the matter is that Christianity has been a white-dominated religion ever since, oh, I don’t know, the bishop in Rome officially became white and not Middle Eastern. In fact, I’m living proof of that.  I’m a white, Midwestern man, financially satisfactory (errr), typing theology on his computer.  What, then, do I do with that? What do you do with that?

As I said in the last post, we are not alone. We are all together, in solidarity, looking up to the Truth through our own eyes, but with each other.  Look around. Who are the people surrounding you?  A lot of them don’t look like you.  They don’t come from the same place as you do, and they sure don’t make the same amount of money as you.

What do you think they think about Jesus?

Probably not the same as you.

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We Among Others: How to Deal

We are now returning to the series “The Joy of Theology” after a long but necessary detour with the series “A Feminine Masculinity.”  Last time I gave a parable on the individual and theology, and I argued that theology is not just a vertical pursuit (between God and self), but that it ought to be done in the context of others (horizontally). But there is a “problem,” namely, that there are others, and especially others who may not see things the way we do.  So, how to we “deal with” the fact that I am but one person in the midst of a multitude of people, each with their own history, personality, and view on reality? Or is it a problem?

OK, first, let’s treat this as a problem, and it is for many, and it often manifests itself in two extreme solutions.

The first solution answers it this way: Everyone is different, everyone views the world differently, and because of this, there is no way of knowing for certain what is true.  Thus, there is no certain truth, but only truth as people see it, and so truth is what is true for them.

The second solution goes like this: Even though everyone sees reality differently, but there is one truth and there is only one true way to view reality, and everyone must ascribe to this in order to be certain of what is true.

What is wrong with both of these solutions?  I can address it in one stone’s throw (that is, if both arguments were birds, thence I would kill them…with a single stone’s throw).

One fallacy comes from the argument of individualism.  The first solution makes the mistake of saying that individuals are left to create their own truth for themselves, while the second solution argues that there is one individual paradigm in which all individuals must ascribe.  The ultimate problem for both is that while acknowledging others around them, they are still focused on either their individual pursuit of truth or on a single pursuit of truth.

But wait, there are two more birds taking off from the marsh.  Luckily enough, I have another stone, and in one throw I can kill the two.  Another problem comes from the argument of certainty.  Both see the problem in light of a pursuit of certainty, but where one abandons the pursuit of truth in light of no certainty, the other tries to build an argument of certainty from nothing.

The fact is that we are not alone and there is not one way to view reality.  We need to acknowledge that our way of seeing the world is not the norm in which others see the world.  In fact, it is very likely that our view of the world is in the minority.  In fact in fact, when it comes to the Bible, our world view does not even closely match up with the world view of the Biblical audience.  Does that mean we need to abandon our world view for there’s?  By no means!  We simply need to acknowledge that our world view is different, but in light of the multiplicity of world views, we can learn something from others.

Also, we cannot be certain of what is true, but we can be confident that there is truth.  Truth exists, but it’s just seen differently by people. However, and this is a big however, we Christians believe that there is one (T/t)ruth, and that (T/truth) is Jesus.  What, then, did Jesus mean when he said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6)?  Yes, this is true that no one can come to know God outside of Jesus, but we must recognize that our view of Jesus is not the view of Jesus.  It is a view of Jesus, and others view Jesus through their own lens of reality.

However, and this is a big however, I am not arguing that this means all paths lead to Jesus.  I am making light of the fact that while there is One Truth (and that Truth is Jesus), all of humanity sees Jesus through their cultural context and world view, and makes sense of him through that.  Praise be to God that we have a God that reveals Godself where we are at and wherever we are at and through whatever world view!

So, in the end, we are not alone.  We are all together, in solidarity, looking up to the Truth through our own eyes, but with each other.

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We Among Others: Ivory Towers, Smoke Stacks, and Favelas

Everyone is someone; an individual, separate and distinct.  This is excellent and praiseworthy. What is just as excellent and praiseworthy, and perhaps even more so, is that everyone is someone not only in themselves, but in each other as well.  What I mean by this is that people are meant to live with one another and in each other’s life.  We are not meant to be alone (re: Genesis 2? Obvi…), but that does not dismiss the reality that for the most part we are alone.  While we all share in the experience of humanity, and all that entails, we recognize that each of us are alone in our own experience of it.  That is to say, we each have an experience that belongs to us and us alone.

What we do with that matters tremendously to theologizing, and is the discussion of the evening. How do we recognize our individuality, our individual beliefs, and our individual perspectives.  There are three strata that I want to guide you through in thinking about our individuality in theologizing, and so I convey a little parable.

The Ivory Tower, Fantasia

Imagine that you are floating down from space and into the atmosphere.  The first thing you see is an ever-widening expanse of clouds from horizon to horizon, but piercing up through the clouds is a single solitary spire.  It is an Ivory Tower: a pristine work of beauty, so pure and magnificent.  All imperfections have been sandblasted from its exterior, revealing a worshipful brilliance. It stands above the world, breaking through the clouds, reaching on towards the heavens.  It stands alone, untouchable, but reaching ever higher towards the celestial unattainable.

Los Angeles, 2019

Let us leave the ivory tower to its own mission and beauty and descend beneath the clouds.  Breaking through the white cumulus we feel the sting of acid rain and choke on the smog.  We see smoke stacks, plethoras of smoke stacks from horizon to horizon, piercing out from the cityscape below.  They are many, but each purges its own sour gas, smoke, and fire at each other and into a overencompassing cloud of stench and pollution.  There is no stopping these stacks, for each must work nonstop to make their own progress and to produce more gas. Surrounded by each other, but alone.

Dharavi Slums, Mumbai

However, under the smog produced by the smoke stacks lies the city below.  Favelas are jammed into what space is not used by the ivory tower and smoke stacks.  Here people live in close quarters, and constantly in contact with each other, and learn to live together.  They are not removed from each other like the towers that surround them.  They do not and cannot rise above to produce the suffocating smog like the smoke stacks, and they cannot rise above the clouds like the ivory tower. So, they remain with each other.  Individual, but together.

What does this parable illustrate for theologizing?

Some are like the ivory tower: the get wrapped up in pursuing the truth that they ignore all other voices and get absorbed in the selfishness of the pursuit.  They see only themselves and the truth, and will shut out everything else that gets in the way.  They will barricade themselves into their tower so that their well will not get tainted.

Some are like the smoke stacks.  They make a similar choice as the ivory tower, that being pursuing the truth on their own and for selfish reasons.  However, unlike the ivory tower, the smoke stacks see other people doing the same thing, and so instead of growing higher towards the truth, they become embattled with others pursuing the truth, spewing hate onto others and polluting the well of discourse and dialogue.

Finally, some are like those in the favelas. They recognize the futility of the pursuit of the ivory tower and the smoke stacks, and choose to remain with the people.  They see the pursuit of truth as one with others, and so living together is the best way to understand and uncover the truth.

The pursuit of truth is not unilateral, it is not between an individual and truth.  That is not how we are. We are meant to share life together, and share in all of it.  The mysteries of life are meant to be discovered and wondered over together.  No one ought to be an ivory tower, no one ought to be a smoke stack.  We ought to be invested with the people around us and grow together.

How does this look, doing theology together?  We will unpack that next time!
Published locally at Caribou Coffee, Arden Hills, MN.

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