Posts Tagged 'Peter Rollins'

Red Letter Christianity, Black Letter Epistle-anity, or Whole-Canon Spirituality?

Frank Viola pointed to Leonard Sweet’s Napkin Scribbles podcast awhile back, where Sweet explains why he won’t join Red Letter Christians or The Beatitudes Society. Frank asks what we think of Len’s reasons, which you can (and should, for the purposes of this post) listen to here. This is what I think.

I appreciate what Sweet’s saying here about the sometimes-seeming arbitrariness of exalting one portion of Scripture over & above others – for instance, many Reformed Christians seem to exalt the Old Testament to the exclusion of the New Testament altogether! But the flip-side of this observation is that we all do it – whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have our “canon within the canon” to which we afford pride of place. Sweet himself does this when he, after noting that “Red Letters” are themselves an outdated metaphor, then launches into how Paul seemed to care very little about the historical teachings of Jesus. I happen to agree with this assertion, but so what?

Using the “all Scripture is God-breathed” lens that he introduces as his hermeneutic, why should we care what Paul did or did not emphasize if we ought to be…I dunno what Sweet might call us…Whole-Canon Christians? The very existence of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels would make the teachings of Jesus important, regardless of whatever is or isn’t found in Paul. (And of course, conversely, it would make Paul’s perspectives and understandings important, regardless of what is or isn’t in the Gospels) In short: I like his avoiding the ditch that could characterize some contemporary social justice emphasizing Christians, but I’m not yet convinced that he wouldn’t steer us into the opposite ditch of reading the Epistles to the exclusion of the Gospels – the ditch that the worst excesses of Protestantism has been steering us in for 400 years.

Why do we vacillate from ditch to ditch? Let me offer a possible reason, speaking as a very young Gen-Xer (born in the last years that it’s acceptable to be an X-er, but I’m rather out of place as a Millennial) who has deep sympathies with the theologies that make my friends Sweet and Viola nervous: The reason why groups like The Beatitudes Society seem to be more focused on following Jesus rather than believing in Jesus is because we, generationally, have significant doubts about the kind of world has been left in the wake of “believing in Jesus.” Even if Jesus’ teaching is simply a re-assertion and universalizing of core Judaic values (or indeed, an ethical core at the center of all the great world religions), these are values that we feel the world is out of touch with, and desperately needs. If the Church had followed the Sermon on the Mount instead of  canon law reflecting Christendom-Empire values, would we see the massive devaluation of human, animal, and ecological life that runs rampant today?

For many in my generation, an over-emphasis of the metaphysics of Paul’s Epistles seems to have created a world where ‘spiritual’ salvation is divorced from practical change, where the state of one’s soul seems to have little bearing on the way we treat one another. Nowadays we distrust metaphysics in general – too much talk of God (even in church!) makes us nervous. A dear friend of mine recently asked me wistfully, “Couldn’t we love another another, serve one another, sing, eat together, even pray and meditate, without God? ‘God’ seems to have caused so much pain, and so many problems, in our lives.”

Focusing on the beatitudes, justice and morality of Jesus might indeed be lowest-common-denominator stuff compared to the semiotic actions, signs and wonders, symbol-laden death, vindicating resurrection, astonishing ascension, and (allegedly) transforming indwelling of Jesus the Christ, but for many bewildered Christians of the Red Letter ilk, starting over from square one with the Son of Man seems not only the sanest course of action, but the only viable alternative we have, facing conceptual-metaphysical burnout. Just give us something to do, please, and don’t tell us we have to believe anything.

And yet, having swam in such waters for the past 3-5 years, I have to confess that this perspective is bankrupt, damaging, and most certainly not sustainable. I do not say this as a judgmental outsider, but a sympathetic insider. I love me some deconstruction, some Caputo, Kearney, and Rollins; if given a desert island Bonhoeffer choice, I’ll take Letters and Papers from Prison with it’s death-row-conceived Religion-less Christianity over the bright-eyed idealism of The Cost of Discipleship any day. Give me divine mystery, holy opacity, the via negativa and apophatic mysticism. Revelation conceals as much as it reveals, and I think such a perspective is a healthy corrective of overly-positivist, modernist articulations of Christianity, where there’s a 1:1 correlation to what we imagine to be true and What Exists.

Still – a human life and human faith cannot be nourished in the long term from wholly deconstructive faith paired with righteous activism. We’ll become burned-out husks, without an epistemological web of meaning to rest in. Further, the culture at large, while suspicious of metanarratives, craves a larger meaning-making story to situate ourselves in. It can’t be a contemporvant version of What’s Come Before, but needs to be a deeply-rooted yet wide-open faith, with the human and divine Christ at the center. And I stand by what I said in June – Sweet and Viola’s work is a crucial, needed, and important Evangelical contribution to the re-enchantment and re-faithing that must happen in the next 10 years if Christianity is to be transfigured.

It seems obvious that – given the very real ecological and humanitarian crises (as well as opportunities) that face us, things we need to act on immediately if we are to survive as a species and a culture – we all need each other. It doesn’t do to dismiss Red Letter Christians only to over-correct in a “Paul Only” Protestant throwback. We need a recovery of the mystical, the positional, and the activist dimensions of faith; we need a gospel that is Good News for the cosmos; we need Sweet and McLaren (and Boff, for that matter, not to mention the scores of unsung women theologians and leaders who truly make up half the sky); we need the same kind of risk-taking taken with early, transgressive works like Quantum Spirituality, and drawing on voices like Brian Swimme, Tim King, Ken Wilber, Cynthia BourgeaultMichael Dowd, the late Thomas Berry, and Bruce Sanguin. We might not agree with everything these folks are saying and doing, but they’re out there, interaction with the questions and crises that people are facing today, as well as addressing the perennial questions of humanity’s search for meaning. Since when is 100% agreement the prerequisite for operating in grace? At what point did we begin thinking that any of our factions could compass an infinite God? Is the idea of a generous orthodoxy so hopelessly early 2000s? As Tim King says, we all need to come together at the intersection of mystery and humility.

All hands on deck, ladies and gentlemen. Spaceship Earth is in for some rough turbulence in the decades ahead – materially, spiritually, kosmically. We need a coordinated effort, not a spitting contest between so-called orthodox, so-called heretics, and everything in between. We’ll need the wisdom of crowds, the nerve of leaders, and the collaboration of every domain of knowledge – as well as its transcendence. Are you with me?

Guzzling Some Godka – Altered States & Permanent Traits of Spiritual Consciousness

GodkaIntegral musician, actor and all-around hilarious guy Stuart Davis has just filmed a short commercial hawking the latest in potable ancient-future altered states of (higher) consciousness – Godka, or psilocybin-infused vodka.

!!!

StuartAbsinthe what?

I wonder if he’s met our pals John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn – or John Scotland and Emerge Wales and Red Letters crew, for that matter?

Have you missed John since my interview with him last year? He’s YouTubing up a storm…here’s one of the latest, on ‘spiritual exercises’…

In a perfect world, John Crowder and Stuart Davis would get along like gangbusters. Stuart does for sex – on his bleeding-edge Sex, God, and Rock & Roll – what John does for drug culture. Crowder Baby Jesus Toke

If you missed it last year, here’s my six-parter looking at the Pentecostal/charismatic avant-garde, kicking off with Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction?

…and leading into a five-parter dialogue with Mr. John Crowder himself:

Part I Crowder Blue

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Good times.

What do you think of spirituality and altered states of consciousness? What I’m thinking these days is inspired by and summed up nicely in a piece entitled Mystical Experience or Unitive Seeing? by integral Christian contemplative Cynthia Bourgeault, in Richard Rohr‘s Radical Grace magazine. Money quote (though I could easily take the highlighter of my life and highest aspirations to the entire article):

The word “mystical” is almost always immediately coupled with the word “experience,” and a mystical experience becomes something that you have—or want to have, anyway. It becomes a sign of God’s special favor—a kind of spiritual “peak experience”—and circumstances promising to deliver that experience are eagerly sought after: from sacred chanting and Eucharistic devotion to Sufi whirling, solitude in the desert, or peyote. In the usual way of looking at things, it is an altered state of consciousness, ecstatic, something that takes you far beyond your usual self, a straight shot into divine consciousness.

What’s so bad about that?

Well, nothing, really. [Mike’s note: And I’d want to emphasize that I agree 100% – there’s nothing wrong with ecstasy and spiritual peak experiences! In fact, I could really use one right now…John, if you’re reading this, could you email me a toke of the Holy Ghost? I’d like Jesus on the mainline, please!] But from the point of view of real spiritual growth, it’s an immature state— a “state” rather than a “stage,” in the helpful language of Ken Wilber. A state is a place you go to; a stage is a place you come from: integrated and mature spiritual experience. It’s true that a mystical experience can indeed be a sneak preview of how the universe looks from the point of view of non-dual consciousness. And it’s true that this consciousness does indeed operate at a higher level of vibrational intensity, which at first can overwhelm our normal cognitve systems. But the point is not to squander this infusion of energy on bliss trips, but to learn to contain it within a quiet and spacious consciousness and allow it to permanently bring about a shift in our operating system, so that unitive (or non-dual) perception becomes our ordinary, and completely normal mode of perception.

Amen and amen. I’ll drink to that.

WWJD?

It is evening, and you are gathered together with the other disciples in a small room for Passover. All the time you are watching Jesus, while he sits quietly in the shadows listening to the idle chatter, watching over those who sit around him, and, from time to time, telling stories about the kingdom of God.

As night descends, a meal of bread and wine is brought into the room. It is only at this moment that Jesus sits forward so that the shadows no longer cover his face. He quietly brings the conversation to an end by capturing each one with his intense gaze. Then he begins to speak:

“My friends, take this bread, for it is my very body, broken for you.”

Every eye is fixed on the bread that is laid on the table. While these words seem obscure and unintelligible, everyone picks up on their gravity.

Then Jesus carefully pours wine into the cup of each disciple until it overflows onto the table.

“Take this wine and drink of it, for it is my very blood, shed for you.”

With these words an ominous shadow seems to descend upon the room – a chilling darkness that makes everyone shudder uneasily. Jesus continues:

“As you do this, remember me.”

Most of the gathered disciples begin to slowly eat the bread and drink the wine, lost in their thoughts. You, however, cannot bring yourself to lift your hand at all, for his words have cut into your soul like a knife.

Jesus does not fail to notice your hesitation and approaches, lifting up your head with his hand so that your eyes are level with his. Your eyes meet for only a moment, but before you are able to turn away, you are caught up in a terrifying revelation. At that instant you experience the loneliness, the pain, and sorrow that Jesus is carrying. You see nails being driven through skin and bone; you hear the crowds jeering and the cries of pain as iron cuts against flesh. At that moment you see the sweat that flows from Jesus like blood, and experience the suffocation, madness, and pain that will soon envelop him. More than all of this, however, you feel a trace of the separation he will soon feel in his own being.

In that little room, which occupies no significant space in the universe, you have caught a glimpse of a divine vision that should never have been disclosed. Yet it is indelibly etched into the eyes of Christ for anyone brave enough to look.

You turn to leave – to run from that place. You long for death to wrap around you. But Jesus grips you with his gaze and smiles compassionately. Then he holds you tight in his arms like no one has held you before. He understands that the weight you now carry is so great that it would have been better had you never been born. After a few moments, he releases his embrace and lifts the wine that sits before you, whispering,

“Take this wine, my dear friend, and drink it up, for it is my very blood, and it is shed for you.”

All this makes you feel painfully uncomfortable, and so you shift in your chair and fumble in your pocket, all the time distracted by the silver that weights heavy in your pouch.

– from The Orthodox Heretic, out soon

New Porpoise-Diving Life Out

Do you read Bill Dahl’s Porpoise-Diving Life? You should.

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This month’s web-issue, guest-edited by satirist Becky Garrison, is all about Holy Humor: The Redemptive Power of Laughter

This issue features Phyllis Tickle, Peter Rollins, Nadia Bolz-Webber, Mark Van Steenwyk, Matthew Paul Turner & more.

Check it out!

Back!

So Jeff Goins mentions ye olde blog very kindly in his Sticky Christian Blogs post, but notes stingingly “Mike doesn’t blog that much…”

Ouch!

I’d like to think that I’m quite prolific, every other week. ; )  Nonetheless, this is the perfect opportunity to tell you that I’m back. Back from a week or so of traveling to Rome, Atlanta, and West Virginia; back from preaching (kind of) at my alma mater, participating in some Southern home-grown avant-garde worship with Pete Rollins, the Atlanta Emergent Cohort, and The Living Room church in Grant Park; back from some great conversations with Jannan Thomas, the director of DOOR; back from time with family and friends and loved ones.

Back so that this week I can blog about Steve Knight on Google, Tripp Fuller on John Dominic Crossan, Englewood Review of Books and their Christmas Book Giveaway, the Rutba House, and – oh yes – an update on the ROM action…

Talk to you soon!

Searching for a Better God?

Frankly, I am. But how to get there? It was probably in reading Brennan Manning that I first puhttps://i1.wp.com/www.splinteredlightbooks.com/slb/images/items/120x1000/7827.JPGt words to the need to ‘heal my image of God’ – to renew my inner (and social) imaging of God from sub-divine images of domination and spite and terror that had unwittingly accumulated around it throughout my life and upbringing. Everything from the churches we attend to the TV preachers we watch to the ways we read the Bible can warp our view of the God whom the author of 1 John exclaims “is love.” Healing this image has for me involved loving fellowships, grace in strangers’ presence, more attentive reading of Scripture, and time spent in the fire and darkness of contemplative silence.

With that said, voices like Peter Rollins remind us that graven ideologies are just as insidious (and idolatrous) as graven images when allowed to harden into certitude; talk about God can only be provisional at best, seeing as God is inscrutable, ineffable, and dwelling in a light unapproachable to our consciousness. Even the revelation of God in Jesus obscures as much as it discloses. This critique against holding too-tightly to one’s view of God holds equally to calloused, fearful legalists as it does blissed-out grace heads. As Walter Brueggemann says, “God is irascible.”

It is with both of these powerful perspectives that Wade Bradshaw’s important new book Searching for a Better God argues. It’s brand new from the always-eclectic Authentic Media.

For previous generations, the key question among spiritual quest-ians was ‘Does God exist?’ Christianity’s apologia, sermons, and defenses were geared to this one question. For the current generation, however, the question is shifting: It’s not always so much ‘Does God exist,’ but ‘Why does God matter’? And, ‘What kind of God is God?’ For a generation aware of human trafficking and AIDS ravaging Africa and Tsunamis that kill thousands at random, the question of God’s goodness, or God’s morality takes center stage. Is God good or is God cruel?

There are, of course, many ways of approaching this question. In Searching For A Better God, Bradshaw argues that the God we think we know is a mistaken caricature and his nature is misunderstood. So far, so good eh? Manning, Marcus Borg and Paul Young would agree. But Bradshaw takes God’s questioners to the task in a somewhat different way. He feels that God’s interlocutors have concluded that they are actually morally superior to God and that God is less than adequate.  Even some in the church, Bradshaw charges, have begun to suspect this same thing.

Bradshaw, who is Reformed in spiritual orientation, does not equivocate: “This growing suspicion that God exists but is not worthy of our affection or devotion is subtly robbing the world of its one true hope.  God cannot be a source of hope, not because He isn’t real, but because He would not be good to know and to live with forever.  This is what I call the New Story.”

Bradshaw depicts this New Story in three questions:

  • Is God Angry?
  • Is God Distant?
  • Is God a Bully?

Shockingly, for Bradshaw the answer to all three may indeed be yes, but this very divine passion serves us well.  Bradshaw highlights a need for revelation rather than reimagination.

In the author’s estimation, the Church Universal today is responding to culture’s three questions in one of three ways. One group doesn’t want to listen to the suspicions of the New Story at all, thereby refusing to pay them any attention. (The fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals – and presumably some in his own Reformed camp – would fit here) The second group, persuaded by the New Story, sees the need to modify the old teachings and bring them into line with what is considered obviously moral today.  (I think he’d put emerging and progressive Christians in this camp) But, there is a third path that Bradshaw claims is the Christian way because it follows God’s example…the culturally-savvy Calvinista that produces such incognito delights as Paste Magazine and Asthmatic Kitty records, for instance. Not to mention more-overt ordinary joes like Why We’re Not Emergent authors Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, the latter of whom emailed me the other day and is the first ever person to ask for his church (University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan) to be removed from zoecarnate.com’s church directory! Oh, the unrepentant emergent sinners that must have been darkening their door! But I digress…

“The third path,” to return to the matter immediately at hand, “listens to the morality of the day and questions its common sense. Our task is to answer the many suspicions of the New Story and to find out where the suspicions and questions are coming from.  This hard way is the Christian path to wisdom and hope.”

[An aside: Its interesting just how many different people can utilize the idea of the third way.]

I think most of my blog readers will find Searching for a Better God a challenging read, particularly if you’re not a conservative Calvinist. But don’t let this keep you from opening the book. You should know that Bradshaw’s brand of Reformed faith comes out in the tradition of L’Abri, the 1960s family of Christian communes set up by winsome evangelical intellectual and cultural critic Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s analyses of culture-at-large make me break out in hives, but I can’t fault time for not going out into culture, asking questions, and posing questions in return from a stance of (presumed) Christian orthodoxy. While I may not agree with his cultural theology, I can’t fault the overall L’Abri process. Bradshaw is a worthy standard-bearer to this approach, and deserves to be listened to.

Related:

Capturing the Low Ground by Wade Bradshaw

Not Your Father’s L’Abri in Christianity Today

Pheonix Rising review

Apologizing for God – a review at Sensual Jesus

Agapetheism by Kevin Beck

L’Abri compatriot Udo Middelmann‘s The Innocence of God.  A similarly-provocative L’Abri-related tome from Authentic, attempting to balance Calvinism and Open Theism with regards to God’s character and activity in the world. I helped edit this one; it was quite the experience.

Jesus is the Way, Truth & Life: What I Mean

Years ago in my early 20s, I came in my unsophistication to an understanding of the relationship between Jesus and ‘orthodoxy’ that has served me well. Every five years or so what I believe tends to undergo some rather dramatic shifts, either in actual content or emphasis. So much so that the me of 15 years ago would scarcely recognize me as a “Christian,” in the way that ‘he’ would understand such a term. And yet, I still consider myself a friend and follower of God in the way of Jesus. Why is that, if the actual ‘beliefs’ (or ‘way of believing’) is so fluid?

Because Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life. What do I mean? Jesus is the Path, for one thing. It’s about becoming, not being. But even as ‘Destination,’ Jesus is Truth – not a set of propositions about Jesus, God, life, or reality. And this is a way of Life God invites us on, again, not a set of propositions.

Propositions aren’t the enemy here. To some degree, they’re unavoidable. We all hold images of God in our hearts. For my part, I try to have the best darn images I can – informed by Scripture, the best of our shared story (Tradition), my own life and lives of those around me, and, well, reality. I want a true-to-life picture of God, and a story-honoring Story to live by. But where Pete Rollins is so helpful (and him, taking a cue from Derrida, Levinas and others) is he won’t let us rest here…and I never let myself rest there. Because by my early 20s I realized that beliefs are like snake’s skin – they protect and keep clean and fit for a season, but then they get old, scaly, and slide right off – to reveal new and supple skin beneath. A snake trying to carry around old skin would be ludicrous…as would living in denial of the natural life-cycle of beliefs. Because Jesus is Truth, I can safely navigate provisional truths that lead me closer to Truth. Because Jesus is also Way – lived in the context of Life.

For this reason, “Orthodoxy” has never been a very helpful idea to me – in the popular understanding, not in terms of “right praise” which really resonates. Not because I’m hell-bent on being unorthodox – no, most of my beliefs might well be pretty staid by most people’s standards – but because of the sheer varieties of religious orthodoxies (with apologies to William James). Even within the Christian family, there are just so many to choose from. I think as we enter postmodernity and postchristendom, we’re realizing that it’s absurd to think we have to choose between ‘Orthodoxy A’ and ‘Orthodoxy X’ out of whole cloth; rather, we can, in the apostle Paul’s words, hold fast to what is good and helpful, and disregard the rest.


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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