Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sidebar Update

So I have finally updated my sidebar to reflect the blogs that I read on my RSS reader. These are blogs that I have been reading for some time, I have just not gotten around to emphasizing this on my blog. So here goes in no particular order:

Chrisendom: Chris Tilling is a witty Brit who finds himself studying in Germany. Has some great reflections on inerrancy, theology, and biblical studies. I hope he sends me a Doner for mentioning his blog!

Sibboleth: Daniel Kirk is a much more successful me. I assume he has finished his Diss. He has a high regard for Richard Hays, He has a job at an institution I would like to teach at, and he writes far better posts than I. So if you ever wanted to read posts that are well reasoned, and have been disappointed by what you get here at metalepsis, the bizarro world is just a click away!

Gospel of Matthew: J.B. Hood is a student up in Scotland doing some work on you guessed it Matthew. Great post on a theology of Land that I have to go back and reread myself!

the busybody: Loren Rosson III really does know it all! Great Esler fan, not so keen on intertextuality...

TallSkinnyKiwi: The name says it all!

Fors Clavigera: James K.A. Smith's Blog. If I was smarter I would really like to study philosophy under him, his take on Derrida is phenom! Buy his books, they are worth a read, just buy them used, we wouldn't want money and fame to go to his head!

the bishop of rhome: Adam Groza one of the finest human beings to grace the planet. Is a Phish loving, chasuble wearing, SBC pastor. It seems the powers that be often block his blog, so good luck ever reading this Eucharistic Baptist.

Now go enjoy!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Christianity is a most wonderful thing

It is amazing to me that Christianity is the most wonderful thing that has ever come to us and yet it seems to have touched the lives of most people very little.

Isn't that the way it is all through the Bible? It seems to me that that is part of the message. Maybe that's the meaning of "Many are called, but few are chosen." It isn't that people are consciously bad. Maybe they respond on one level but just do not follow through. Scripture teaches us basic things, God's thoughts about human beings. We have to remember that no one does everything right. We are all sinners. God speaks and we do not listen. On the other hand, the mercy of God is constant. It cannot be overcome. God's promises are absolute. Being Christian doesn't mean "being on the right side." A Christian does not always know where justice lies, does not always see clearly. But the Christian is aware that, while in the human being there is falsity and infidelity, in the mercy of God there is always absolute fidelity. So we reject no one, but still try to dissociate ourselves from anything that is going to hurt other people. Every Christian has to stand up for the truth that God's mercy is without repentance. God never takes back mercy. We are in a world where many people are in despair. That's where God is really needed. Our Christian witness of mercy is not, after all credible to a lot of people, because it's not very profound. The renewal of the whole Church hinges on this. And not just in ideological terms. We also have to dig in and really help those in trouble.

Thomas Merton, The Springs of Contemplation, 37

Friday, March 24, 2006

light pollution

but it is funny how alive he felt, down in that unemployment line
with all the trash at his feet
the pools of piss in the street
all of that filthy empathy for the way we're feeling

- Bright Eyes, Light pollution from the Digital Ash In A Digital Urn album (2005)


Sean du Toit over at primal subversion offers a good anecdote on the importance of learning by imitation:

An art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription, since no prescription for it exists. It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice. This restricts the range of diffusion to that of personal contacts.

It follows that an art which has fallen into disuse for the period of a generation is altogether lost. There are hundreds of examples of this to which the process of mechanization is continuously adding new ones. These losses are usually irretrievable. It is pathetic to watch the endless efforts -- equipped with microscopy and chemistry, with mathematics and electronics -- to reproduce a single violin of the kind the half-literate Stradivarius turned out as a matter of routine more than 200 years ago.

To learn by example is to submit to authority
. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts in the presence of his example, the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself. These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who surrenders himself to that extent uncritically to the imitation of another
... practical wisdom is more truly embodied in action than expressed in rules of action... [1] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-critical Philosophy (1958) pp. 53-54

Friday, March 17, 2006

Journeying with those in Exile

Dan from On Journeying with those in Exile has posted some very interesting musings entitled, 'Communicating Meaning: Speaking Religion with G. Lindbeck, M. Heidegger & U. Eco.'

In this short essay Dan is interested in communication, and how we are able to communicate pragmatically despite the ongoing postmodern anxiety over truth claims. He highlights three different approaches to communication focusing on the views of a theologian, a philosopher, a literary theorist; and attempts to synthesize them.

For the most part I agree with Dan so my dialoging with his ideas will not display any substantive disagreement. Dan highlights one of the biggest questions for those who find themselves in a postmodern context.

'If all truths are contextually understood, how can any communication occur between communities? It seems as though we are forced to accept the postmodern conclusion, so strongly supported by the likes of Eco, that communication is limited to pragmatic purposes and no real or universal truth-value can be expressed across community boundaries.'

Dan offers two ways to approach this problem, the first is by the Christians skillful performance of the language that is the language of the Christian religion. The second is the recognition that Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the word (certainly this statement should give us reason to pause about understanding truth as merely propositions). Here Dan states:

'Therefore, even apart from the living embodiment of the word in the faith community, Christian truth can be conveyed because Jesus himself is the Word. Certainly God works primarily through his Church, but God is not limited to his Church. Of course, as writers like Eco make clear, this assertion cannot be declared in any convincing (or even sensible) manner to those who have not yet encountered the Word made flesh. Yet the inability of all communities to agree upon a universal truth does not mean there is no universal truth, and, as God has made clear over and over again, the inability of communities to agree upon a universal truth does not mean that truth cannot be communicated (through language) across community lines.'

As I have been trying to work through some of these same issues in my own life, I am often caught in a kind of vertigo, a recognition that things are not as stable as I would like them to be, or even as stable as I once thought they were. I think there is a type of humility that transcends Dan's essay, a type of earthy humility that I suspect Dan gets from living out his faith, amid those who have been exiled from society. A kind of humility that starts with the uncertainty of God, rather than with a stable set of foundations that are deemed true about God intrinsically. But I don't know...

The recognition that we can't reduce the bible to a series of bullet points is key. Once we recognize that salvation is a cosmic story about the restoration of relationships, then the bullet points fade into the background, and the unfolding drama of the vindication of God through the Crucified Lord comes to the fore, at least that is the way I see it. The problem with living out the Christian language in skillful performance is that it often goes unnoticed. Or it is confused with some other sort of skillful performance. This happens not only on the individual level but also on the corporate level, because all of us don't live skillfully enough. When we model our language upon Jesus' own faithfulness to God's plan, we end up with a performance akin to Donald Trump as the lead, in Brechts' Three Penny Opera; somewhat less than convincing. But this perhaps is what stuck with me about Dan's essay: that our faithful performance of the Word, is always by the power of the Spirit. And that while we seek to live a life of faithful performance, even when we fail, and our performance gets all muddled up, it is through the power of the Spirit that we are able to offer a glimpse of love to the stranger.

Inherency Now!

Perhaps it was inspired by Bart Ehrman's presence on the Daily Show or blame it on the Joni Mitchell song Both Sides, Now that itunes decided to play; but whatever the reasons may be, I seem to think that Chris Tilling has some sensible things to say on the propositional truth of the bible and inherency. Check it out here and here.

Note: He does have the added advantage of living in a country that has some of the cheapest yet tastiest coffee in the world, this certianly must help his thought process along!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Does Bono Read Cornel?

At the heart of the human condition is a sense of terror, profound sadness, and sorrow; 'It is a kind of vertigo, a dizziness, a sense of being staggered by the darkness that one sees in the human condition, the human predicament.'

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Nature of Gifts

A gift more often than not means that the receiver will in fact have to give something back in return for acceptance of the gift. This is pretty obvious, even in our culture, but it was perhaps even more obvious in the first century world of patron and clients. So what then is the difference between a loan and a gift? The difference is not that obligations are absent, but rather, that with a gift, obligations are not specified in advance. There is however what Volf calls a "pure" gift, a gift that is given without any expectations whatsoever.

So what kind of gifts does God give? Is there an expectation to God's gifts in which we must repay them in some way? Or more to the point are we even able to give gifts to God?

Volf opens up some very interesting questions on the nature of Gifts, and while I know Derrida has some interesting stuff on gifts, I will restrain myself and stick with Volf. (Loud applause heard throughout cyberspace)

Volf argues that we are incapable of giving anything that obliges God to give us something in return. In order to oblige God to reciprocate we would have to give God something before he gives to us. But since everything we have is from God this is impossible. Our gifts don't oblige God in anyway, but do God's gifts oblige us in some way?

We also cannot return gifts to God because God already has everything. So if we cannot return anything to God does this mean God cannot receive anything from us? Volf states:

"But rather than receiving something God needs but doesn't have, what God receives is delight - the lover's delight at the sight of the beloved whose very existence is that lover's gift. What God also receives is pain - the lover's pain when love has been betrayed."

This lead us to the logic of Romans 12.1 is, "You have received; therefore you should present a sacrifice." But what sort of sacrifice…

- Pgs 39-42

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ark Found!

Jim West and Chris Tilling have both claimed that the evidence is overwhelming and researchers have found Noah's Ark, I agree the evidence looks formidable; however I think I might have spotted something in the bottom right corner.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Emerging from Emergent...

Some important thoughts on racial reconciliation going on here, go read them now!

Friday, March 03, 2006

God as Giver

In the first chapter Volf is concerned with the gods we create in our own image. He states that:

'Yet the Most powerful and seductive images of God are not the ones we craft in the privacy of our hearts. They are the ones that seep into our minds as we watch TV, read books, go shopping at the mall, or socialize with our neighbors. Slowly and imperceptibly, the one true God begins acquiring the features of the gods of this World. For instance, our God simply gratifies our desires rather than reshaping them in accordance with the beauty of God’s own character. Our God then kills enemies rather than dying on their behalf as God did in Jesus Christ.'[1]

Two common (mis)conceptions of God that Volf wants to expose are those of god the negotiator and god as Santa Clause. God the negotiator is a god who is petitioned conditionally, if you give me X now, I promise Y later. This god is prominent especially in times of crisis, but certainly not limited to such times. The main problem with this conception is that it necessitates that we have something to negotiate with. The other problem is that even if we could broker a deal with God, an all powerful being can break any negotiated contract, we have no power to make sure God keeps his end of the bargain. The main point Volf is trying to make is that God doesn't make deals. God gives.

God as Santa Claus is a god that showers us with gifts. He does not lay down any prior conditions to the receiving of gifts. In fact he comes out of nowhere, showers us with gifts, then returns to nowhere. This is the god that is most akin to consumptive materialistic culture many of us find ourselves in. God gives freely, solves our problems, grants our wishes, and fulfills us. The problem with this conception of god is that it ignores what it means to be created in the image of God. It forgets that God creates with purpose. It fails to remember that we were created to be like God, not in all his divinity, but like God in 'true righteousness and holiness' (Eph 4.24). We are to be like God in loving our enemies, we are to be like God in loving our Neighbors, and we are to be like God in humility (renunciation of status). Volf comments that 'to live well as a human being is to live in sync with who God is and how God acts'.[2] 'The Santa Claus God gives simply so we can have and enjoy things; the true God gives so we can become joyful givers and not just self-absorbed receivers. God the giver has made us to be givers and obliges us therefore to give'.[3]

[1] Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 22.

[2] Volf, Free of Charge, 27.

[3] Volf, Free of Charge, 28.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The God, Who Forgives

This is a homily from Tim Gombis. He read this a while ago at the Red Brick Church, Springfield Ohio.

God, Who Forgives

Isaiah 43:18-25
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12
Psalm 32 or 32:1-8

Our texts for this week reveal to us the logic of God's forgiveness. They also reveal to us our own ways with forgiveness and perhaps why we have such a hard time coming to grips with God's outrageous grace. These texts serve as a pleasant and stunning surprise, a blessed rebuke.

We foolishly think that we have God all figured out, don't we? We think that we know how He deals with sinners, what He's like, how He thinks. What is God like? Well, He's mostly like us, except totally huge, and He knows everything. And He told us what is right and wrong, so if we choose to do wrong, He'll be rightly outraged at us - because He told us not to do it, and we should've known better.

But, thankfully, He has made a way for us to be forgiven, and if we're willing to clean up our act, make things right, He's willing to consider taking us back. But He'll keep His eye on us, and if we blow it again..., well, we might want to read the fine print in our contract.

We may not lay out our understanding of God so explicitly, but we often feel that this is what God is like, right? He's very huge and powerful, and his heart isn't as small as that of the Grinch who stole Christmas - whose heart was two sizes too small - but surely it's not THAT big - after all, there's gotta be some limit to forgiveness and grace.

In thinking about God in this way, we have managed to become complete idolaters; we have made God in our own image. What is He like? What's His forgiveness like? Probably like ours.

Scripture, however, turns this idolatry on its head, giving us a true glimpse into the ways of God with His people. We will discover what these texts tell us about the forgiveness of God by asking and answering three questions.

First, why does God forgive sins? Because this is who He is! It is His identity, according to the final verse in our Isaiah passage: "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." It is who God is, it is what He does - it's His calling card; He forgives sins!

And He loves to forgive! Our Isaiah text depicts God going to great lengths to overcome our sin and to arrange situations in such a way so that we might more effectively enjoy His love. In fact, what makes God angry in the Isaiah passage, is that Israel refused to give God opportunities to forgive. "Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!"

So God forgives because it is his very nature to do so - and he DELIGHTS to forgive sinners.

These texts force us to ask a second question: Is this really so? How can we be sure about this? Does he really love to forgive, or does He do it dragging His feet? When God forgives sins, does he do it while rolling his eyes?

And we want to know, because this is how WE forgive, isn't it? "Well, I know I'm supposed to forgive you, so I guess I do. But I don't have to like it!! And I don't have to like you!! I'm still angry for what you've done to me, so you need to spend a few more days in the doghouse until you get completely back in my favor."

And we think that by holding on to bitterness against those who have wronged us we're only showing proper righteous anger at sin. "It's a godly anger at sin, alright?!"

So, in the somewhat mystifying words of the 2 Corinthians text, our forgiveness is "yes and no." We do, but we don't... We forgive..., but we'll just see how things go.

But God is completely unlike us - He is faithful and His word is NOT "yes and no," but YES!!

How do we know it's "yes" and not "yes and no?"

Look at Jesus!! Listen to how outrageous this is - God Himself came into the world, fully participated in the broken human condition, and died. And God raised Jesus from the dead to confirm His promises - to show that he is SERIOUS about forgiveness, SERIOUS about redemption and restoration.

God is fully committed to us - He is not of two minds!! He is not mostly committed to us, but we'll see how things go.

Jesus is the YES of God to us. There is no indecision with God toward his people.

"In Jesus it is always 'Yes.' For in him every one of God's promises is a 'yes.' For this reason it is through Jesus that we say the 'Amen', to the glory of God."

And this is gospel - this is good news, because we know ourselves. We know our sinful hearts, and it is so easy to believe the lie that it's a long road back to God's good graces. It's hard work getting back into his favor. But this is only true if God is like us - thanks be to God that He is not.

The third question that these texts raise and answer is; What must be done to obtain forgiveness?

This is answered in several ways in these Scripture passages, but I love how the Gospel reading answers it - especially when we think about how we usually read these gospel texts.

We typically read this scene where Jesus heals the man lowered through the roof in such an unreal manner. The guys run their friend up to the roof on a stretcher, remove a skylight, install a system of pulleys to the roof and smoothly lower him down - and, of course, he's reclining comfortably - and plop him nicely down in front of Jesus who then conducts this interchange with him and the scribes, to the quiet approval of all those watching, who close the scene with the polite applause of spectators at a golf tournament.

This is, of course, pure fantasy. Think about this scene. It's from Mark, a very gritty Gospel - full of action and pulsing with tension. These men hear that Jesus is at home, so they grab their friend and carry him down narrow streets, bumping his head on stone walls as they twist and turn down the alleyways, and arrive at Jesus' house. They're probably all disheveled and their lame friend is very uncomfortable and very likely in great pain, at this point.

"Ugh! The house is crowded, what're we going to do?! Let's go through the roof!"

"What?! Are you crazy?!"

So they drag him up to the roof, tear apart the roof, with stuff falling down all over the people inside, who are probably not at all happy that these strangers are doing a demo-job on Jesus' house - and while Jesus is teaching!

But so what?! We gotta get to Jesus! They lower him! With what!? We don't know - rope? His clothes? Again, this guy can't be all that comfortable at this point. But, as it happens, there he is, lying on the floor, on his mat.

And then what happens...

Jesus, taking note of their faith, says to the man, "your sins are forgiven."

This story is so familiar to us, we have completely missed how bizarre this is!! Think of all the commotion and the dust and dirt, stuff from the roof falling all over the people down below, people shooting dirty looks up at the guys who just lowered some street person down onto Jesus' IKEA coffee table..., it's crazy!

There is so much going on here, but we must take note of two things:

First, the phrase "when Jesus saw their faith." How often have we read this as, "when Jesus saw their qualifications?" Why did Jesus heal the man, we ask? Because of their great faith - Jesus looked into their hearts and saw that they had great faith!! So we too must have great faith!

NO!! What displayed their faith? Simply this - that they knew they needed something, and that Jesus could help them. That's it. "We're in need, Jesus is near, let's go."

Just like Psalm 32, v. 6: "I confessed my sin, and you forgave the guilt of my sin." That's it - recognition of our sin, forgiveness granted by God. There's no middle step of elaborate performance or credential-checking.

The second thing to note is Jesus' response to witnessing this bizarre instance of breaking and entering that unfolds before him: The dust starts to settle, the people all look at Jesus, He looks at the men, and says to the man, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

No discussion, no questions, no checking of credentials, no theological sparring. No fancy introductory speech, just a total outcast lowered into Jesus' living room, staring dumbfounded at Jesus while he has his sins forgiven by the King of creation.

The lesson here is this: God's hair-trigger response is set to forgive. Call on the Lord, and He will forgive. Intrude on Jesus' personal space, make yourself a nuisance to Jesus, and he'll forgive your sins.

On what basis does God forgive? Recognize your need and call on him and he'll forgive. End of discussion.

God delights to forgive, is angry that his people won't give him opportunities to forgive! God loves to show mercy, so "be glad you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord."

Series on Lenten Reflections

The next 40 days or so I will be offering my reflections on Miroslav Volf's book Free of Charge, which happens to be the Archbishop's (Rowan Williams) book chioce for the 2006 Lenten season. Please if you have this book and plan on going through it, comment whatever and whenever you want, even if you don't have the book your comments are more than welcome! But what a great excuse to go out and buy it, and join me!

Here is Rowan's take:

This is a book about worshiping the true God and letting the true God act in us. It tells us as plainly as possible that the true God is a God who cannot stop giving and forgiving, and that our knowledge of this true God is utterly bound up with our willingness to receive from the hand of God the liberty to give and forgive.[1]


[1] Miroslav Volf's, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace: The Archbishop's Official 2006 Lent Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 9.