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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A Feminine Masculinity Part 3 of 3: Mother Earth and Father…God?

This is is the last post in the mini-series of “A Feminine Masculine,” which has been reflections on gender and theology.  This last post is the final reflection about how I live out my thesis: “In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.”

Last week I talked about the example of the beloved disciple challenging the identity of the über-masculine male.  This week, we will talk about…gardening.

As many of you know, I am a green thumb.  What’s funny about it is that I’ve always known I had a green thumb, but I never had an opportunity to exercise it.  My parent’s backyard was very shady, and so only hostas and other shade loving plants could grow there…no vegetables or stuff like that.

However, after moving into Minneapolis and into a community house, I finally had the opportunity to garden, and Lord have mercy did I ever! Once the harvest was all over, I had 150+ tomatoes and several eggplants and peppers, along with chives, sage, and tarragon.  Here’s a picture!

This year, I am planning on tripling the size of the garden!  But you may be wondering: why all this talk about gardening, then?  Well, glad you asked, because it has to do with the spiritual experiences and reflections I had while gardening, and I believe they are very applicable to our current discussion.

Over the summer of gardening I was wrestling a lot with my thoughts about gender discussions and identity in Christianity, especially with other men (for the record, if you think you are one of these people, you most likely are not.  The kind of men I’m talking about probably wouldn’t read my blog!)

I had realized a strange cult of machismo around some men, where their identity of being a man was rooted in their strength, their prowess, and their ability to fight. However, in all of this, I saw another disturbing trend: men would proclaim this machismo, but in their spiritual life and practices, they lived out a defeatist lifestyle (I am a worm, I am nothing, I am a sinner, etc).  Curiouser and curiouser….

So while gardening I had excellent times of reflection, meditation, and talking with God.  I would come to God with my questions while I tended my vegetables and flowers, and in the garden I discovered a “mantra” or a transformative statement: “boys destroy, men create.”

I realized that this cult of machismo created a cult of destruction.  In their idealized manliness, men would see themselves as unstoppable, or at least untouchable, and so had no care to how their actions affected others or the world.  They were ivory towers, they were Don Drapers.  However, at the same time they had developed a defeatist cult in their theology.  Their God was as angry and machismo as they were, and they knew that they could not please God.  Yet, this God was worthy of their worship and praise.  Curiouser and curiouser…

But what does gardening bring to this story?  Looking back to the Genesis narrative, what was Adam’s first responsibility?  To take care of the Garden.  Adam was to tend God’s creation, but also partake in it.  In gardening, we join in God and God’s creation to become co-creators.  In gardening, we get to see how God has and continues to work in the world and in us, and we feel the creative and creational power of God move through us.  We live in the life of the vegetation, and we grow with their growth. We create, we do not destroy.  We mend, we do not mutilate. We give life, we do not take it away.

Maybe this whole “giving life” thing or growth theme is the reason why gardening has been seen as a feminine exercise.  Sure, it does reflect the feminine motif of birth, but that does not mean it’s solely feminine.  As we see in the Genesis narrative, the man Adam was also called to create, to birth, to nurture, and to sustain.

We all participate in the current creation of God and in the new creation to come.  There is no exclusion based on gender, race, ethnicity, or whatever separates us from one another.  Let us all join in with God in God’s creation as we wait in expectancy for the new creation.

Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Center panel

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A Feminine Masculinity Part 2 of 3: The Beloved Disciple and Über-Masculinity

Dearly beloved,

Last week I posted my reply to Rachel Held Evan’s challenge to men to write blogs in response to John Piper’s comment that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  I said a lot in that post, and to a great reception by the internet community!  In short, this was my punch-thesis:

“We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.”

I ended the post with describing how I have been called to action in light of this:

“In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.”

In this sequel, I want to actually discuss how I practice this.  The last post was lofty; how, then, does what I preach look practically for me?

Fr. John Guiliani’s “Jesus & the Beloved Disciple”

One way is in the example of the beloved disciple resting on Jesus’ chest at the Passover meal. In this scene, and especially in iconography, we have a moment of tenderness and vulnerability. The disciple’s love for and devotion to Jesus is so intense that he cannot help but display it in an intimate and physical. But this love is not entirely selfless; the disciple is looking for reciprocity. In loving Jesus, he too wants to be loved. In leaning on Jesus’ chest, he not only displays love, but asks for it in return.  He wants to be held, to be known, to be felt, and to be loved.

What was the response to this act?  Did the disciples point and laugh at him, calling him names like “sissy” or “homo?” What if Jesus took offense to this, shrugged the disciple off his chest, wailing “Get off me, bro!”? But Jesus does not, and the others do not (though Peter is curious about him in John 21:20-23.  Jealous, perhaps?!).  Jesus accepts the gesture of love, and in allowing the gesture he reciprocates the love here and on the cross.

A transitional aside: We know very little about the disciple whom Jesus loved, and only church tradition identifies him as John the Apostle/Evangelist/Etcetera. However, I’m not even going to begin to explore the identity of the disciple, let alone 1st century CE cultural displays of affection. What matters is what this means to our discussion, and that is that loving Christ transcends gender, and that this love, the kind the beloved disciple shows, directly challenges an over-emphasized masculine identity, or an über-masculinity.

Don Draper of Mad Men: The archetype of uber-masculinity.

To love Christ (yikes, this is another whole discussion to be had!) means to love freely, fully, without abandon, and in total humility.  The sacrificial love Christ lived out, demonstrated, enacted, and realized is a call to love God and one another.  But for the über-masculine male this is difficult, or even impossible.  The über-masculine male is an independent and solitary figure.  He knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and often times does at whatever cost. He is strong, dominating, ruthless, and triumphant.  He is a rock, he is an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

How can the über-masculine male love one another, let alone love another man, and that man being Jesus?  For the über-masculine male, he cannot!  He does not love, but expects others to love him.  He lusts and controls, doing whatever to protect his impenetrable masculine identity. He has made himself to be a god, worthy of worship from “lesser forms” of men and women around him. This identity, my beloved, does not belong, and it is an identity that the love of Christ subverts.

A man who cannot lay his head upon the chest of Christ, who cannot show love in intimate and personal ways, is a shadow of a true man.  However, when one has responded to the love of Christ, a love so powerful, the über-masculine male cannot stand, for his feet of iron and clay are too weak to uphold his identity. Through the selfless and subversive love of Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, we find idolatrous identities collapse, and with nothing left of our own to grasp on to, we fall into Christ’s arms, and lay our heads upon his chest.

In a few days, I will provide another example, but in the interim I have a challenge to my readers:

Respond to this post with an example (or examples) of how your worship of God transcends or subverts cultural assumptions of gender identity.

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Feminine Masculinity?: A Personal Reply to Rachel Held Evens and John Piper

Hey’all,

We are temporarily departing from our series on the “Joy of Theology” to take up a special issue.  Rachel Held Evans put forth a challenge to men to write a “blog post that highlights the feminine images of God found in Scripture or that celebrates the importance of women in the Church. (Be positive and be creative!).” This is in response to John Piper declaring that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  As a man, I could not help but rise to the challenge!

“As a man…” Well, that just stopped me in my tracks. “Who am I?” A personal note: I have never felt like a very masculine man.  I never played sports, never was buff or even fit, or ever lived up to the masculine identity that television and Hollywood projected. So, I’ve always felt disconnected from masculinity, knowing that biologically I am a man, but not feeling manly.

The man Derek Zoolander joins with the human race in asking the eternal question: “Who am I?

And so, I was always pegged as the sensitive, emotional type, types that traditionally are not ascribed to masculinity.  I am sensitive. Men are tough. I am emotional. Men don’t cry. I am in touch with my feelings. Men don’t feel.

But in my life’s journey in becoming comfortable and confident in my identity as a man, I have been encouraged by the Biblical witness to the fullness of manhood and womanhood. A full manhood lives in the reality of masculine and feminine identity, and a full womanhood lives in the reality of feminine and masculine identities. I see Biblical people as living out their identity in the reality of the fullness of genders, in the fullness of the image of God, and not as isolated towers of masculinity or femininity.

Was Rahab any less feminine and more masculine to aid the Israelites in the capture of Jericho? Was Deborah any less feminine and more masculine to lead Israel to victory? Was Esther any less feminine and more masculine for saving the Jewish people from genocide?

Was David any less masculine and more feminine to dance before the Ark of the Covenant?  Again with David, was he any less masculine and more feminine in his friendship with Jonathan? Was the Beloved Disciple any less masculine and more feminine to lay his head upon Jesus’ chest?

Some will argue: yes. But I disagree.  I see these examples of people living in the fullness of their identities, perhaps even in counter-cultural ways and coming before God in celebration.

It’s actually the last illustration that means the most to me, and in this I see the best example of relinquishing our strongholds of identity and collapsing into the love of Christ.  The love of Christ invites us to lay our heads upon his chest in adoration and security. It invites us under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks (sound familiar?). All in all, God invites us to be the bride of Christ, and enter into holy union with our Creator.

So, in one sense I am saying that our relationship with God is bigger than our gender, but in another sense I am saying that we love God within an engendered culture and regardless of our gender.  But we can be free from the cultural constraints on our gender identity.

So am I suggesting an abandonment of the masculine and feminine?  No, that would be a fatal mistake.  What I am arguing for is for recognition to the openness of our genders in expression of love and worship of God. What I am arguing against is “gendermandering” the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience. That means that the Christian experience cannot be masculinized or feminized; it depends on the unity of the masculine and feminine in the reality of the unity of the image of God.

We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.

In sum, this reply to Rachel Held Evans may not have directly addressed her challenge.  However, I wanted this to be a demonstration of whence I come to the discussion of gender, the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.

The original article: http://rachelheldevans.com/john-piper-masculine-christianity

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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!
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Whence we begin? Non-negotiables and theologizing.

What arguing over non-negotiables looks like.

In one of my seminary classes last week, we were assigned in-class to name our top five non-negotiables when it comes to our faith and theology.  A non-negotiable, for those keeping score at home, is a tenet of belief that we hold on to uncompromisingly. It is something that we find to be so necessarily true that we cannot deviate from it.  It is an axiom from which we build upon all our other assumptions, and several other comparative sentences.

In class I wrote my list fairly quickly, for I have been thinking about these things for quite some time.  They are as follows, and then I will explain them afterwards:

1. The equanimity, balance, and holism of all life.

2. The Love of God.

3. A relationship with God and a relationship with others as an emanation of a relationship with God.

4. The reality and ethic of the resurrection of Christ.

5. The equality of humanity.

After looking at this, I felt that I had immediately pegged myself as the intellectual mystic of the class!  However, you may look at this list and see something different.  Allow me to explain my tenets, albeit briefly:

1. There is a natural balance in life that we all seek to experience.  We all strive for inner and outer peace, or, peace within ourselves and peace within our world and with others.  We recognize the intimate interconnectedness of life and respond to it.

2.  #1 points us in the direction that there is a God who loves and is love.  We recognize that God is for peace, for balance, and for relationship, yet all of this is but a small aspect of what we mean when we say that God is love or when we describe the love of God.  The love of God is more than what we can understand as love, but we can understand God, albeit incompletely, through our human understanding of love.

3. #1 and #2 then point to how God relates to us and how we relate to God.  Our God is a God of love made known through creation, and through creation God enters into relationship with creation (what I call the relational creation principle).  Thus, we are able to know and love God, and along with being commanded to love one another, our love for one another is an emanation of our love for God.  If we love God, we will love others.

4. Now we finally get to something explicitly Christian (winky face)! #1, #2, and #3 all are made fully known in the life of Christ.  We see it in Christ’s life of ministry, in his death, and especially in his resurrection.  Christ’s conquering of death, sin, and evil made the way to eternal communion with God, and established an ethic for living in that reality.  Christ’s resurrection both establishes a real change in human history and inaugurates a new age of living in communion with God and creation.

5. Finally, in light of all the previous points, the work of Christ has recreated and reconstituted humanity around Christ-self.  In this Christ has saved humanity from itself and affirms all as equal not only before God but before one another.  We are all children of God through Christ, and we live in that reality on earth in relationship with one another and in expectancy of its fulfillment of our ultimate union with God.

I could only explain these “non-negotiables” hilariously briefly here, but they set up a train-of-theologizing.  Each tenet picks up on a major area of theology that is necessary in discussion.

1 – Prolegomena, or, First Things.  How do we know what we know.  What do we know. What is the reality at hand?

2 – Theology Proper: The Godhead.  Who is God?  What is God?

3- Theology Proper: The Work of God. What does God do?  How and why?

4- Christology. Who is Christ.  What did Christ do?

5- Ecclesiology. Who and what is the church?  What and what are we as the people of God?

After I gave my non-negotiables I listened to my peers give theirs, and it was fascinating.  There were people who held non-negotiables that I would never hold.  There were people who held explicitly Calvinist beliefs as non-negotiable, others who held explicitly Arminian beliefs.  There were those who listed broad assumptions (like mine) and there were those who listed very specific dogma as non-negotiable (e.g. Scripture as divinely inspired, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity).  Like I said, it was fascinating.

It was fascinating to see what people held to, and even though I agree with most of them, in my theology they were not expressed so specifically or systematically.  Sure, I believe Christ was fully God and fully human; sure, I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and sure, I believe God is Trinity (please don’t get me wrong!). But what I learned from this exercise is that we all come from multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and histories, and these greatly influence the beliefs that each of us believe to be absolutely essential. Not only so, but from our backgrounds and personalities we understand what tenets we emphasize over others.

Next week’s post will look more at this phenomenon of multiple views and voices and the humility we need in encounter others who may disagree with us, or at least, look like they disagree with us.

What are some of your non-negotiables?  I’d be interested to hear!

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A New Series: The Joy of Theology

A new, albeit first, series in Theology!  Let me preface with a quote:

Theology is the joy of my life and the bane of my existence.

Another version of the quote is:

Christianity is the joy of my life and the bane of my existence.

What do I mean by this?  Well, I love theology and the Christian faith, but at the same time it can be tiring, draining, and frustrating.  Theology and Christianity can be life given and life taking, life enriching and life incu/succubine draining.  So, in spite of this reality, why do I name this new series “The Joy of Theology,” let alone risk copyright infringement from “Joy of Cooking?”

Well, before I even set off on this journey of theologizing, I should make a case for the journey itself.  This case involves upholding the tremendous benefits of theology.  These benefits include an exercise in loving God with your mind, strengthening ones faith and spirituality, and ministering to one another’s spiritual development.  However, there are risks, tremendous risks, that need to be acknowledged in theologizing.

The risks are just as plenty as the benefits, but one of the great risks couldbe substituting a knowledge of God for faith, hope, and love in God, ut another risk we encounter in theologizing is, in fact, encountering others theologizing.  We are not ivory towers in our theologizing; other people are asking the same questions, but may be coming to differing conclusions.  However, it is only when we shut out other voices and opinions that we become ivory towers.

In short, I am trying to make a case for doing theology in the first place, but my case for doing theology right is emphasized, and that’s what I hope you and me get out of this series.  So, what can you expect in this series?  Glad you asked.  Some articles might be, and ones that we alluded to already:

We Among Others: Being and Becoming Ivory Towers.
Portrait of the Theologian as What?: What does Theologizing  Look Like?
Dangerous Theologizings: Substituting a Knowledge of God for Faith, Hope, and Love in God.
Meditations: Theology as an Exercise in Loving God with Our Minds.
Theology Together: Doing Theology in the Context of Community.

Wow, I was not expecting to outline the whole series right then, but take a look at that!  I think we’ll go ahead with it!

I will try and post each week on Wednesday afternoons, so get ready for the first one this coming Wednesday.

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Now is the winter of our discontent? Thoughts on the season.

The following is an article I wrote for the Salvage Yard monthly newsletter:

‘Tis the season to be (fill in the blank), falalalalalalalala.  The song advocates for its carolers to be jolly, but for many, that is near impossible considering the season at hand.  Why is it considered to be such a terrible and depressing season, and in what ways can it be redeemed?

Winter embodies and represents many things that challenge its inhabitants.  At the very beginning of the season the holidays overwhelm us and wear us down.  For some, the obligations of the holidays leave us literally and metaphorically spent.  For others, the holiday season represents the worst in us, as the over-commercialization of the religious season banes us. Finally, the season itself wears us down physically with the retreat of daylight and the sun’s warm rays.

All of these are legitimate claims against the season, but the season also provides unique opportunities for growth and transformation.  It is true that the biting cold limits our “active” activities, but it is also an opportunity for us to work on our “passive” activities. Winter has been looked upon as a season of contemplation, and I think we need to reclaim.  In fact, I think we need to reclaim the seasons as a spiritual discipline of Christian faith-life.

We Minnesotans are fortunate to have all four seasons, and in such extremes!  The physical changes in the world help us to reflect and adapt to the spiritual changes in ourselves.  Spring is seen as a time of rebirth and fostering our energies in light of the season of action (Summer).  Fall forces us to reflect on our actions as well as to reflect on the significance of our lives, all in preparation for the season of stillness and quiet (Winter).  Winter is a unique time for spiritual contemplation and growth.  Take the time to read that book you got on spiritual growth, take the time to w the snowflakes fall; take the time to sit in the stillness of the night in prayer, and take the time to meditate on the previous year and how you want to grow in the next.

How do you take advantage of the season for spiritual growth, or, what thoughts and questions do you have about this seasons and its potential for spiritual growth? Lettuce discuss!

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Theological Explanations

What does one title their first “official” blog post, the one where they will set out to explain what their blog is all about?  As the title came to me, I turned around in my chair to look at my bookcase, and there, near the bottom, was a book titled “Philosophical Explanations” by Robert Nozick. I have only managed to skim through this tome, but the title inspired me.

In this blog, do I want to set out an explanation of everything theology?  Do I want to this to be the beginning of a who-knows-how-long systematic theology?  To be honest, that would be “fairly neat.” Imagine if the great systematic theologians like Pannenberg, Tillich, and Barth had blogs where they wrote notes to themselves about what they intended to write in their massive anthologies?  Well, I’m sure they did something of the sort, whether in stacks upon piles of notes in their offices or in letters to loved ones, all due to the fact of the nonexistence of the world-wide-int(er/ra)(web/net).

Now wait a minute, that idea of stacks of notes and letters to loved ones is compelling, along with the idea of developing a systematic theology.  So, what is the purpose of this blog?  I have a couple of purposes, actually.

One, I do want this to be a place where I can work on my craft of theologizing.  I want this place to be such where I can write out my thoughts and beliefs on issues in theology and have people respond to them (or remain isolated in the confines of digital space). I want to develop my theology in the contexts of the seminary student, the church leader, the community participant, the son, the brother, the friend, the stranger, and the guy sitting behind his desk in his room.

Two, I want my theologizing to not just be about presenting “explanations” of what I think and believe, but I want this to be more, oh, qu’est-ce que c’est…for lack of better and less mainstream words: relational, organic, storied, and the like.  I want to crush the ivoried embankments between the theologian and the rest of humanity.  I want what I think and believe to be shared, experienced, lived out in my interactions with you, my beloved readers, through this vehicle of WordPress.  I want my life of theologizing to be more life as theology than theology as life.

So, instead of an “explanation,” this blog is an “exploration.”  It is an “enterprise” in that I seek to accomplish something, namely that I develop my own theology.  It is a “meditation” or a “contemplation” in that it is a deep and personal reflection on what I think and believe in my own language, style, and spirituality.  Finally, it is a “communication” in that it involves all with ears to hear (and even those who don’t).

So, I hope you come along with me on this enterprise. Here’s a sneak peek of what I have planned:

I recently taught a class at my church, the Salvage Yard, on theology (in fact, the title of the class is shared with the title of this blog).  In it, we went through all the main areas of systematic theology (prolegomena, theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, hamartiology, Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology).  In my humble opinion, it was an incredible experience for me and the students.  So, here I want to make available my notes and discussions from that class.

I will also be posting selections of scholarly work that I have written for seminary.

Finally, I will be writing as topics as they emerge from wherever.

Thank you for your attention.  I greatly appreciate and anticipate your interactions.

Hmm, this post would make a fine “about” description.  Looks like I’m about to commit my first recycling job from this blog!  The system works after all…

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