What if there was an alternative to balance?

I know I said earlier that I wished to give up on balance, to let go of its safe confines and stretch out into a world that needs more than people who can only balance themselves precariously between two relatively distinct points. Work and family, serious and playful, depressed or hopeful, we often set up false dichotomies that lend themselves to the idealization of one particular way of being and also a sense of failure when we cannot achieve relative satisfaction in either domain.

Jim, a reader and commenter here, is retired from his "profession" but now works in an educational setting with kids with special needs. Why (My answer is based on my own thoughts and nothing that Jim has reported to me other than what I have read on his blog, I would expect him to correct anything I have to say about him)? He has worked most of his life and conventional wisdom says that the balanced approach to his life would be one of leisure and "retirement." Therefore, is Jim out of balance? Is he upsetting the apple cart with his approach to life? My sense is Jim has found something meaningful in his life that provides stimulation to the person he is and is becoming. Jim, in my own words, lives harmoniously with his circumstances.

Harmony is my substitute for balance. Where balance seeks a middle ground between two points, harmony seeks to embrace both points as valid and seeks to complement the multiple ways that life unfolds before our eyes. Harmony performs, plays, creates and builds on our lives. It can enrich an otherwise bland performance by altering the experience and the one who does the experiencing. To be in harmony with one's surroundings is to awaken oneself to the world of the moment, rather than looking forward to a different point in time where one must attempt to even out experiences and allay guilt.

I really have nothing against those who strive for balance. Balance can even be a way of living harmoniously with one's life. However, the more I think about harmony, the more I think it can offer an alternative to the pop culture mindset that has embraced balance and shunned grasping for the meaning in the moment. Balance works because we are a rational people. It can even be said to be Biblical, sort of. The greatest commandment is a three-way balancing act, God, self, others. Then again, how can we balance three separate things? There are no three-way teeter totters on the playground.

Maybe the greatest commandment is best enacted as a harmonious part of a life engaged in the moments of our lives. Harmony says that we do not have to sell all we have and give everything to the poor. However, a harmonious life might seek simplicity, might seek to honor God, self and others with the gifts of their life. It might seek to hear the stories of those who hurt and share their own stories of hurt and hope. I have often heard it said that the earth sings of the creation of God. If this is so, shouldn't we take the time to a hum a few bars back to the Creator?

yesterday and today

I have seen motorcycles with flags blazing riding down the street in an impromptu parade.

I have briefly surveyed the media's rendition of a memorial service.

I have watched names being read, and wreaths being laid.

I have listened to reports about being prepared for an emergency.

All of these things are meant to remind us to remember. But what is it that we are to remember? Death? Evil? Coming together for a brief second? Economic destruction? Fear-mongering? I'm not sure what I am supposed to feel (or even remember) these days.

Whatever goodwill we gathered has been used and abused. The event we memorialize has been turned into a political stump upon which dissenters and those critical of the current way of handling things are constantly beheaded.

Furthermore, what are we, as "Christians," supposed to do with this day? Undoubtedly some amongst our midst will use it to further the cause of hatred in the world based on religious views; others will use it as a sacrament to inextricably tie Christianity to this particular nation; still some might see it as a prime time for an altar call. Regardless, I have no doubts that Christians everywhere will find some way to interpret this day as a rallying cry for a "God"-fearing vindictive stance to those things that are different.

At a conference this summer I spent some time with a group of people talking about the events that took place at Columbine a number of years ago. One of the sticking points for many "Christians" was an impromptu memorial that happened in a local park after the event. At the memorial, crosses were placed for ALL of the people who died including the two shooters. Those in the community decried the placement of these crosses as an act of insensitivity and they were forcibly removed from the memorial.

When we memorialize things, I think we have a tendency to glamorize them as well. We turn ordinary people into martyrs and perfect them through the reporting of their lives over the public airwaves. However, there are those who commit acts that hurt other people, and they are human beings as well. Just as we deify the lives lost, we also demonize those who take lives. How are we to deal with these people, the ones who commit atrocious acts but are nonetheless also creations of God? We have ignored our responsibility as "Christians" for too long. Instead of being a conscience for this nation, we have become crusaders bent on domination rather than humble servants of a God bigger than we can comprehend.

The people who committed these acts do not have to honored, but their circumstances and their lives need to be remembered as well. Moreover, we need to ask the tough questions that led to the creation of their beliefs and actions. We need to understand both our complicity in the creation of their situation (global poverty and hopelessness among others), and their responsibility for their actions. Christians, above all, are about the business of grace and yet where is the grace in the memorialization of this day? If we are about forgiveness, then where are the preachers and theologians who are crying out for this discipline on this day? If we are about justice and righteousness, then where are the voices who are speaking out against global poverty and economic justice for all people so that some of the conditions that breed hatred can be alleviated? If we are about peace and grace, where are the "Christian" voices that are speaking out against violence, war and terror?

Instead of a day of memorialization this can become a day of dialogue. A time where we can come together and talk about what needs to change in the world so that events like this no longer are necessary. Maybe someday we can realize that behind every religious veil we created to hide or separate ourselves from one another hides a human being who is struggling to make sense of the world, the meaning of life, and their responsibilities.

grace and peace

Still a gentleman

In late May or early June my spouse and I headed into the mountains for a weekend away from Denver. Our domicile for the weekend was The Spa at Cordillera. We found out after our trip that this was the infamous place where Kobe Bryant's legal troubles began a few years earlier. It was a beautiful spot in the mountains just past Vail and the hotel was comfortable and relaxing (especially because of the deal we got for the weekend).

Our weekend was spent reading in the cool mornings and hiking in the afternoon. We hiked to Hanging Lake, a small alpine lake a mile or so off of the Interstate. I remember being surprised by the sheer number of people on the moderately strenuous trail. Moreover, it opened my eyes to the illiteracy problem in Colorado. The signs were clearly marked with the words "No Pets" (along with the requisite pictorial designation), but we passed our share of leashed and unleashed dogs along the trail. I love dogs, but dislike blatant disregard for rules, so I always feel as though I encounter a grave moral dilemma when these situations occur.

Regardless of my moral quandaries, the hike was beautiful and gave us ample time to test out our new hiking gear and Colorado lungs. I struggled a bit on the mostly vertical trail, but certainly felt rewarded at the end of the trail. If you are ever in Colorado, I would recommend taking the hike in the early summer when the snow melt makes the waterfalls thunder and the resulting mist chills the air. Nothing seems better after a long hike than standing the spray of a waterfall as it cools and soothes your weary muscles.

We chose to spend the final day of our weekend on a different trail near Minturn, Colorado. There is not much to Minturn, save for the large National Forest that backs up to it. The trail we chose to hike that day was meant to take us along a stream up to another mountain lake. However, a mile or two into the hike we found ourselves experiencing the Colorado mud season in all of its glory. At this point in the hike our trail disappeared, the multiple streams of chilled water swallowing it whole, leaving us guessing where to turn next.

Having absolutely no survival skills whatsoever we climbed a hillside and cautiously moved along a game trail that ran parallel to the streams below. When we could see the remnants of a trail below we slowly descended only to find that the trail ended a couple hundred yards upstream. At this point we decided that it was in our best interest to turn around and try another way. We sloshed our way back to the main trail and worked our way back to a fork in the trail.

Turning onto the new trail we were happy to see only one small stream to cross before we could enter a grove of Aspens and hopefully continue on to the lake. All that stood between us and the Aspens was a well-worn log that bridged the stream.

I was raised in the Southeast. I did not learn to say yes or no, but yes ma'am or no sir. I learned to open doors for women, give them my chair and walk on the outside of the curb so that they would not be splashed by cars driving through mischievously planted puddles. Much of this early childhood learning is still implanted on my brain, and on this hike it superseded common sense for some reason.

About halfway across the stream a rock stood solidly in the middle. I, ever the gentlemen, decided that I would plant one foot on the rock and one on the shore and offer my lovely wife a way to brace herself as she crossed the stream. You might able to guess what happened next.

My spouse is a petite woman who stands a good foot shorter and about sixty pounds lighter than me. However, at the moment she reached the middle of the log, the same moment we pulled one another off balance, I could have sworn she was an East German Weightlifter from the early 1980s.

My eyes widened as we began to tilt toward the earth. I could have sworn that something flashed before my eyes. Apparently, as we fell we did not let go of one another until we were too far apart to hold hands any longer. All I can remember now is the rapidly rising earth and my inability to get my hands in front of my face. The runoff of snowmelt in early June is frightfully cold, especially when you end up going nose first into a mountain stream.

Neither of us was seriously hurt. I still nurse two jammed fingers from that day, but they are slowly healing. My pride was wounded more than anything else. I am the guy who dumped himself and his wife into a semi-frigid mountain stream. We laugh about it now, as we did on that June afternoon, even though the mental scars still hurt every now and again. I learned a number of valuable lessons from that experience as well.

When your spouse says she does not need your help crossing a frigid stream, then let her cross it herself (or let him cross it himself). Being a gentleman has its limits. Snow runoff, while experienced in the mist of waterfall is exhilarating; snow runoff, while experienced doing a face plant into a mountain stream is just damn cold. Finally, it is a wonderful feeling to know that I can completely fail at a task and someone out there will still love me.

grace and peace...


For the last ten years, give or a take a few years, I have been concerned about balance. Not the walking on a curb without falling off kind, but the kind of balance that seeks the middle between two points. I have professed this devotion to balance with professors, clients, colleagues and friends as I sought to describe where I am and where I wish to be. If balance was a religion, then I was its pope.

I can't explain why this morning felt different from any other morning. However, as I sat drinking a glass of milk and reading the newspaper my mind began to work with this idea of balance. Suddenly, everything I sought, preached or practiced felt meaningless. Balance felt like a myth, a never-attainable goal that those who are too afraid to succeed or fail cling to in order to find some security.

We have several magnets that cling to our refrigerator door. Four of these magnets have different quotes that speak of love, passion, dreams or humility. Not one of them mentions balance or striking out and finding the middle ground in the great sea of life. Instead, it seems as though the greatest among us have found that life is best lived when we are no longer bound by the shackles of mediocrity; when we can shrug off the limitations that we impose upon ourselves and dare to see the world for what it is, good, bad, ugly or pretty.

It seems to me, that balance is an American myth that seeks to have everything in small enough quantities rather than the fullness of a few things. Monday through Friday (for some people) we strive for the modicum of success that will allow us to live peaceably and buy the things that the television tells us will make us happy. Too much success means too many responsibilities, so balance is sought in the workplace to alleviate the pressure to continually perform at peak capacities. On Saturday we seek to balance the unfulfilled needs of our work through some form of rest or relaxation, realizing by the end of the day that Monday arrives soon and our tenuous balance will be thrown off kilter for another week.

Sunday (for those of us in Christian churches) is generally the time when we seek just enough God to balance out any guilty feelings we may have had during the week. Too much God and our world is shaken to its core, because with too much God we might then have to love without abandon, live to the fullest of our createdness and care to the point where self-centeredness no longer works. When there is too much God we must heed our passion for justice and righteousness through grace, peace and love. Therefore, we find a balance that lets us live unremarkable lives of safety and comfort. I have an unrelenting disdain for bigoted rigid dogmatic forms of Christianity, much like the ones that occupy the limelight these days. But you know what? At least they are passionate and let you know about.

So, if my mythical beliefs about balance can no longer function as a basis for reality. What next? How do I live faithfully within the bounds of my createdness? How do I ensure that my passion does no harm to myself or to others? That seems to be one of keys to a passionate reorientation for me. Namely, how does my passion meet the world where it needs it the most, and as a result novelty, creativity, hope and love can thrive?

Aimless rigid passion seems harmful to the common good, it lacks creativity and emboldens triviality. Triviality, in turn, leads to evil because it cheapens God, humanity and this world we live in. A recent example of trivialization is tying a much needed minimum wage increase into tax breaks for the wealthiest families, this aimless passion for re-election trivializes the lives of those who are trying to make ends meet in an honest way. Politics aside, theological trivialization does far greater harm than any other form I know. Through theological trivialization, humanity is demonized, dogmatized and destroyed through the uncontrolled passion for control over the thoughts and beliefs of individuals.

Passion is needed in a world of mental numbness. However, passion must be guided by love, creativity, hope, grace and peace. This is what makes us stand out amongst our peers. That through our passion, when we leave this world, we leave it a better place, one where the relationships we share filled with the love and care that continually spreads when we are nothing but dust once again.

grace and peace

Interpretation, part II

Interpretation is governed by beliefs, experiences and narratives that inform our ways of seeing. Therefore, when I encounter a text I open myself to each of these governing principles that, in turn, competes and/or coalesces to provide an interpretive outcome. In a sense, I react to a text through these filters which provide the grounds upon which I begin to interpret a particular passage. Personally, I am informed by stories and experiences of inclusion and exclusion. I have found inclusive stories to be more supportive of the overall belief structure that is indicative of Christianity. As a result, when I read particular texts through my constructed lenses of interpretation I am more likely than not to emphasize and look for their inclusive aspects rather than those parts that might express exclusivity. This is my bias, and I acknowledge this freely based on my beliefs about the relationship between God and humanity as revealed in the overall ethos of the Biblical text.

Having discussed how I interpret the things I encounter in my life I want to turn to a couple of passages that, generally speaking, underlie my positions regarding the PUP report. Before doing so, I want to acknowledge that my original post was an attempt to examine the PUP report through a postmodern philosophical lens. This post is not meant to replace or supplement those ideas. Instead, it is an examination of a few biblical sources that serve to inform the theological milieu from which I interpret most everything. These texts are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of the canon and its application to the PUP report. Instead, these texts inform my interpretive ethos and nothing more.

The first passage is Paul's discussion of the body of Christ and its diversity and unity. For me, the basic premise of this passage is that each member of the body performs a different function with regard to the body's interactions with its environment. I interpret this passage two ways. The first interpretation pays attention to the internal functioning of the body as a system. That is, how the body functions with regard to its unity and its diversity. Paul description of diversity makes mention of the various parts of the body (i.e. - eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, hands, and so on). Furthermore, he goes on to unify these seemingly disparate pieces into one body that only functions in a healthy manner if all of these parts are working and doing their respective functions. This unification despite disparity reveals how we are to work together in the face of seemingly diverse functions and points of view. Moreover, internal systemic functioning is a necessary component of life so that full engagement with the world can occur.

The second interpretation concerns external systemic functioning. This is the way in which the body of Christ sees, hears, feels, etc. the movements and actions that occur in the world outside itself. When diverse body parts engage the world there is the possibility that multiple interpretations of a particular experience will occur. Without multiple interpretations the experience becomes myopic and stagnant, requiring little engagement or thought. If the only way we could experience the world was through sound, how would that change what we believe about what is occurring before us?

For me, the multiplicity of interpretive possibilities provides the greatest access to God’s relationship with the world. If all we had was my interpretations of texts, I am not sure we could ever fully understand (not that full understanding is achievable) what was said or meant by a particular narrative. Therefore, a diversity of interpretive perspectives is necessary (even those that are harmful, for how will we know a "good" interpretation without a really "bad" one) in order to ensure that the body functions as it can. The PUP report allows for the possibility of voices to be heard that have been silenced out of fear or threat from the rest of the body.

The passage is more a group of passages. These deal directly with Jesus' encounters with ostracized or oppressed peoples. These are the women at the well, the demonized, the poor, widowed or orphaned, the Samaritans and the gentiles. There are more stories than space in this essay. Therefore, I am being rather reductionistic when I refer to them. However, Jesus' dealings with the people in the majority of these stories revolve around recognition, acceptance, and integration.

These stories often begin with a description of the "offensive" person and their relative status in the society and culture. There is a recognition both by the storyteller and Jesus of the outsider status that is often given to the person in question. Jesus' response is generally one of recognition of this status and questioning its appropriateness. There is a movement from recognition of ostracization that provides the necessary contrast to the acceptance that Jesus provides. Sometimes this acceptance comes through a questioning of the status of the individual or even the individual questioning the status of Jesus' thoughts about the situation (think about the woman who responds to Jesus' inquiry about sharing grace with those outside the Jewish faith). Acceptance is often seen in an act that embraces the ostracized or oppressed individual, thus legitimating them before the pubic. Finally, this legitimation is consecrated through an act that integrates the offensive individual back into the societal framework as a new being. Often, at least through my lenses, the integration of the individual takes place through an act on the part of Jesus rather than on the part of the individual. That is, the insider makes the move to accept the outsider back into the fold, often without significant change on the part of the individual in question. The change is often an insider movement that allows more room for the outsider's perspective to be included.

Granted my examples are short and limited in their scope and nature. I am not a biblical scholar and I do not profess to have THE interpretation of these texts and stories. My only hope was to provide a biblical reference or two that informs my overarching theological perspective. I hope it helps, any thoughts and questions are welcome and may help me further understand what I think and believe.

grace and peace

An Explainable Absence

My apologies for not finishing what I started last week. I was studying for my Clinical Social Work Exam. I took it today and I passed. I am now (or soon will be) a licensed therapist in the state of Virginia. Now the next step is to seek a transfer of the license to Colorado.

It is a great relief to have the studying and anxiety behind me. I can't put into words the panic I felt when I sent the test in for grading. Furthermore, I am having difficulty describing the relief I feel now that I know I have passed. There are a lot of people who helped me reach this point. They are friends, family and colleagues and I want to thank them for the roles they played in my formation and development.

I will be out of town for the next few days, and will try and finish this post on interpretation next week. Take care

grace and peace...

Interpretation, part I

A question was raised concerning the position I took in my last post on the PC (USA), the PUP report and postmodernism. The commenter basically asked how I would support the positions I took using Biblical texts as my basis for interpretation. I thought his question was valid; however, I thought it would be better answered in a post rather than a reply to his comment. What I see in his question is larger than Biblical support for a particular position. Instead I interpret his comment as a question regarding sources of insight when making theological claims. I want to broaden his question a bit for several reasons.

First, to choose particular passages to support a particular point of view is to walk a thin line between support and proof-texting (proof-texting is when you pick a verse out of the Bible to support a particular position or rationale; one example concerns what preachers did to support slavery before the civil war). Second, no one creates a theological position from Biblical objectivity. That is, no one goes into an examination of the Bible without prejudices, experiences, thoughts or feelings. Whenever we endeavor to interpret a text, we bring with us a slew of baggage that colors our perceptions. A modern point of view believes that we can divorce ourselves from this baggage and come to a meta-understanding (an interpretation that is good for everyone) of a particular text.

There are several fallacies with this point of view of Biblical interpretation. First, it assumes that there is only one interpretation to a particular passage. Second, it assumes that we can find that one interpretation. Third, it assumes that any bias we might have can be put aside in the interest of the greater good. Finally, it assumes that interpretations cannot change throughout the years.

What this leaves me with is an understanding that no matter how I interpret a passage, there will be as many objections as there are people reading my interpretation. Therefore, what I can do is be aware of my biases and make them a part of the interpretive process so that people can understand both how and why I interpret a particular passage in a particular way. The locating of myself in my social, cultural and historical positions doesn't make my interpretation correct, it just makes it more honest with regard to the experiences I have had in life.

Therefore, let me begin with acknowledging who and where I am to begin fleshing out how I come to my interpretive conclusions. I am a thirty-something white male who was raised in an upper middle class home and continues to live in an upper middle class setting. I have extensive education in clinical social work and am an ordained Presbyterian minister. I consider myself to be a left-leaning moderate who tries to balance social responsibility with personal responsibility. I have worked as a minister, youth director, Christian educator, and psychotherapist. Currently, I am a full-time doctoral student (as if that wasn't evident by all of the garbage in the previous paragraphs) who is studying the relationship between religion and psychology.

My interpretive schema is informed by several criteria. First and foremost, I believe that God is all-loving, but not all-powerful as it is currently defined. I believe that God's power lies in God's ability to fully and completely offer loving alternatives to the decisions human beings make; human beings have complete free-will and can choose not to follow God's alternatives thereby leading to disobedience and the promulgation of evil in this world. Second, I believe that the Bible has a meta-message of relationship, and is ultimately concerned with revealing the ways in which people have encountered God and attempted to reconcile events that have occurred in the world.

I do not believe in the truth of the words, but instead believe in the truth of the experiences and the truth of a God who acts in history in a variety of ways. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but I believe in the movement of the Spirit during its writing and copying. I consider myself to adhere to a historical critical method of interpretation that seeks to remember the context but also acknowledge the similarities that surround our situations.

Finally, I believe in the immanence of God, that God is with us, around us, and active in the world. God does not stand outside of reality and is instead a part of the human struggle to find meaning and hope in a world that we have all too often chosen to destroy. God loves, God struggles, God hopes, God cares and God suffers with each of us as we attempt to discover and attend to God's pull in our lives.

My interpretations attempt to take into account ideas of tradition, experience, reason, culture, society and relationships. They are the interpretations of a pastoral theologian, care-giver and counselor who ultimately believes that Christianity, at its best, functions as a reconciling ethos of the individual to God, self and all neighbors.

Now that I have located myself, my next post will deal with particular passages that speak to my position regarding the PUP report.

(Looking back over this post, I must also say that I have truly adopted the doctoral lifestyle and way of thinking. I have heard it said that the true test of whether one is a doctoral student or not is the ability to, when encountering a piece of dog crap on the sidewalk, write ten pages about its relevance and necessity)

grace and peace...

Presbyterians, PUP, and postmodernism

Recently the General Assembly of the PC (USA) passed a resolution that agreed with a report made by the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (the PUP report). This report is intends to help the PC (USA) deal with the ordination of gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, the passage of this report has caused discontent for a number of people who disagree with a "local option" clause in the report. Most of the rants I have read about the passage of the PUP report amount to little more than modern interpretations of religious dogma rather than honest appraisals of the underlying philosophy of the report. Furthermore, these rants tend to come from a more conservative cohort, who incidentally, also desires to embrace the "emergent movement" with its postmodern underpinnings.

Rather than continue the current course of "saber-rattling" that is happening with a number of more theologically conservative Presbyterians, I want to look at the local option issue through the lens of the postmodern phenomena that I have been discussing lately. I will use three of the four phenomena to examine this report. These three phenomena include: the disavowing of meta-narratives, the dependency on rationalization as a means of interpretation, and the emergence of new social movements. My take on the passage of the PUP report is that it is the most philosophically postmodern decision the PC (USA) has made in recent years.

First, the PUP report acknowledges the deep differences that we hold as a diverse body of theological minds and hearts. The committee was painstakingly chosen for their diverse background and theological stances so that representation by a differing number of interest groups was evident. It is my understanding that this final report was unanimously agreed upon by the members of the group. The make-up of the committee helps us begin to understand the difficulty with establishing one Presbyterian meta-narrative. Each person entered the group with a distinct Presbyterian narrative that informed their positions, decisions and outlooks. These narratives were brought together in order to derive some form of consensus about the possibilities concerning the ordination of gays and lesbians in the PC (USA). The resulting report pays attention to the notion that we are a diverse body and that as a diverse body developing one opinion that will satisfy everyone fully is improbable.

Furthermore, to attempt to establish one meta-narrative to inform and guide all Presbyterians is create an authoritarian structure that leaves little room for the mystery of God to work in the midst of the church. The local option issue, decried by a number of postmodern wannabes, is the best course for a church that is informed by a multitude of possible narratives. Moreover, its passage by the General Assembly means that the church IS informed by postmodern sensibilities and in tune with the philosophical nature of the cultural ethos that surrounds us.

Second, the PUP report attempts to eschew the certainty of rational thought by realizing the difficult and heartfelt faith of a multitude of Presbyterians. I can only imagine the difficult (and yet somehow decent) conversations this committee endured through the last two or so years. To create a document that attempts to bridge the numerous rational gaps created in traditional arguments about the ordination of gays and lesbians is ambitious. However, the language and presentation of the document seems to incorporate more than mere rational thought; instead it attempts to relate the multiple hearts and faiths that created the PUP report. Furthermore, rationality is not eschewed entirely; instead it is given a place at the table, just not the head seat.

Numerous attempts have been made so far to rationally decide the "options" churches have as a result of the passage of the PUP report. The problem with most of these options is that they create rational categories for a multi-modal document. Providing rational solutions to a relational document is misguided at best and detrimental to the denomination at worst. Furthermore, it creates a dogmatic extremism that thrusts these churches into a modern philosophical "my way or the highway" point of view. Rational dogmatism is one of the reasons why the church is mocked by younger generations these days. Moreover, it is far from a postmodern position that generally emphasizes relational modes of being over religious modes of being.

Third, the PUP reports allows for the possibility of new social movements that have the local flavor of congregations. The local option gives credence to the multiplicity of narratives and forms of relationality that are prevalent in our churches. By having an option, churches and presbyteries can be guided by the movement of the Spirit in their midst, rather than being tediously tied to a meta-narrative that misinforms their faith. The local option implies that God is bigger than the narratives we wish to tie God to, and that their may be more than one way of interpreting God presence in our midst. Through the possibility of local arrangements, the church embraces its postmodern context and gives hope to those who have been disenfranchised for many years.

Finally, I want to pay some attention to the "emergent conversation" that has been informing the positions of many churches and ministers for a while. In the PC (USA) there are some people who have become enamored with this movement. Furthermore, some of these ministers are the first to provide a reactionary negative response to the passage of the PUP report.

First, my understanding of the "emergent conversation" is that it is an attempt to apply postmodern ways of being to a thoroughly modern church. Therefore, most "emergent" gatherings are based upon the view that relationship has primacy over religious dogma. The PUP report seems to give credence to relationship in the same manner. Furthermore, given the multi-modal form of worship and the gentility that most "emergent" orthodoxies possess (I say this knowing that some churches that claim to be emergent are merely re-packaged versions of vacuous and harmful theological conditions that seek popularity rather than change) a "local option" would suit them just fine, because it allows for the relationship to dictate the beliefs of the gathering, rather than the beliefs dictating the relationships we make. Finally, my sense of a true "emergent" church is that it is an attempt to continue conversation despite obvious differences in experience, theology, and modes of faith.

True emergent thought brings people together, rather than separates them from one another.

The promise of postmodernity is not that everyone will agree in the end. Instead the promise is that we will love one another despite the fact that or even because we disagree. Furthermore, that love does not seek to make your experience and faith the same as my experience and faith; instead it seeks to allow me the space to find the voice of God and voice of love in my life while maintaining the relationships we share.

grace and peace

Postmodernism 202

I will be continuing to study for my Social Work Licensure exam over the next few weeks. I will post when I need a break or if something strikes me as comment-worthy. The test is on the 26th and I am truly frightening by the amount and scope of the material I still have to learn...

This "final" essay will deal with the postmodern phenomenon concerning newly emergent social movements. I would propose that these new social movements can have a positive and negative impact on the way the world works. These social movements are, more often that not, local organizations that share particular narratives or concerns for particular narratives. This can have a great deal of impact on society. I think the bumper sticker that states "think globally, act locally" sums up this phenomena succinctly. We have more global information which makes the world a smaller place, but we have more regional specialization which makes the world more fragmented as well. It is the idea of specialization that I want to attend to first.

Several movements in the modern/postmodern church embody this phenomena. The most obvious is the contemporary/traditional worship split in most congregations. The division into preferential worship styles is a small example of how we are beginning to cater to the different narratives that people bring with them. There is nothing wrong with either of these worship styles (both can be equally meaningful or vacuous depending on how they are pulled off); however, what happens when the division of worship styles becomes a division in the congregation? What happens when the "traditional" folks don't know any of the "contemporary" people?

It seems to me that catering to individual needs in the context of the "body of Christ" will only serve to highlight differences rather than create the possibility of cohesion. This does not mean that individuality shouldn't be a part of the worship and life of the church, but the question is more about how individuality and community should mutually reinforce one another rather than detract from one another. The error I see is that we have created bodies of Christ within the context of what is supposed to be a body of Christ. That is, within one congregation new social organizations emerge that highlight the different needs of different congregation members and instead of dealing with them as a community of the whole, we might just let them go off and form their organization that functions within the walls of the whole, but is not really accepted as a part of the whole.

Sticking with our body metaphor, it is as though we are walking down the street and all of a sudden our right foot gets a hankering to take a different path than the rest of the body. So instead of working together to understand why the right foot might have a good idea or why some of its concerns might be valid we just hack off the foot and let it go its own way while we continue down our intended path. The right foot, regardless of its disembodied state, is still ours, it just no longer has a vital connection to the body as a whole and both move slower without each other. Thus, we have little in common save for a few strands of DNA and a corresponding wound.

Furthermore, as churches separate along these traditional/contemporary lines, what is to keep them from further separating? Why not a service for those members who prefer country music with ad hoc prayers and sermons under 12 minutes? This is the danger of increased specialization. Maybe not quite as absurd as my example, but we do end up catering to so many needs, wants or desires that we forget about the call to live in conversation with one another, not just with the ones who are like us or who we happen to like.

What is answer then? How are we to celebrate our togetherness and our separateness? How are we to understand the different needs and styles and narrative formulations that are present in the bodies of Christ that are called together? I am not altogether sure that we can answer this question in a manner that befits both the reality of our postmodern condition and the call to be the body of Christ. We are already a highly fractured religion even before we consider the internal fractured realities that individual congregations face.

I have to wonder if postmodernism might provide some of the answers we seek. If we head back to the phenomenon that originated this brief missive -- newly emerging social movements -- the word social stands out to me. If these new movements are indeed social in nature then a prerequisite is conversation, not agreement, but conversation. It means that regardless of how different the ideas are there is a commitment to the interpersonal. Moreover, to commit to the interpersonal is to commit to finding ways of remaining in conversation even when our views or our contexts may diverge completely.

We will always gather around people with whom we share a commonality. It is in our nature (or nurture) to want to be comfortable. However, the church has never been a place for comfort, and where it is change is necessary. The same goes for individuals and the movements they adhere to. Creating a new social movement that addresses the needs, desires and wants of a local context is wonderful. The "emerging church" can be an example of that. However, creating something separate in order just to be separate from "those people" or "their worship" or "that congregation" is not postmodern it is merely selfish. We cannot converse without a partner. Furthermore, there is nothing interpersonal when it just caters to the personal, nothing social when there is only one group doing the socializing.

The greatest opportunity that comes in the phenomenon of new social movements is the promise of new ways of talking about old problems. However, both the new social and old social must find a way to talk or a subject that both agree are important or both are just wasting air and contributing to global warming through the noxious gasses they emit when they sit and complain about one another.

There is one other hope that I will mention briefly. That hope is found in the idea that we are different and that we learn, worship and love differently. So much so that these new movements can awaken us to things that we have long denied or ignore in the interest of decorum or order. In conversation we may just find the new breath we seek when we enter the doors of a house of worship again or for the first time.

grace and peace...

Re-evaluating my zeal

I will be unable to finish my posts about postmodernity this week. I am heading out of town into the mountains of Breckenridge for the weekend and will not finish writing before that time. Given the lack of comments so far, I don't think anyone will be heartbroken.

I realize that I am merely presenting information at this point. Furthermore, I am toying with a more personal final post about postmodernity, but it will take some finesse to pull it off. Truthfully, I am not sure I have it in me just yet.

In other news, I am taking the National Social Worker Clinical Exam in just under a month. I am studying like mad and reading every single theorist and mental disorder and study guide that I can get my hands on. I have even started another blog which will go strong for about another month and then we will see from there. It is basically my write-ups for the exam. If you are thinking about the exam, I am putting the material out there for free. If it will help you, have at it. The blog is at lcsw.blogspot.com.

A couple of final words before nodding off to sleep.

I am getting a lot of hits from google about pastoral prayers and so I thought I might try and write a few new ones based on the lectionary texts. No promises, just thoughts right now.

I am also getting together my first bibliography for a comprehensive exam in school on pastoral theology. So far, I have about 12-15 books to finish reading by the end of September. Oh yeah, I have to know them well enough to write a three question, four hour exam, on their content without any of the texts present.

I am completing my third article for publication on congregational care. I also have a publisher interested in one of my ideas for a book. We'll see, in all my spare time, if I have enough saavy to write the proposal and get a contract before the end of the summer.

Since I am now (and will be for a while) a poor college student, I want to make a humble request. If one of the three of you (my loyal readers) are planning on buying something from Amazon, would you mind clicking through one of the links to the left? I get a little credit from every purchase made and it will go a long way towards maintaining my caffiene habit, or even allow me to purchase a book or two for my classes. It is not required and I only ask that you consider it if you are planning on buying something or if one of the books over there interests you. Okay, I feel dirty already... enough of the groveling.

Finally, I would like to write about some of the questions you have concerning, theology, care and ministry in the church. What are things, that you would like to know more about, but are not willing to ask your pastor? Moreover, what are the subjects that peak your interest but you don't have enough time to research? I have plenty of ideas to sustain me, but I want to hear yours...

I will return on Monday. Have a great weekend...

grace and peace

Postmodernism 201

This will be part three of four in a brief examination of postmodernism and its promise and pitfalls for Christianity. In this post I will look at the proliferation of information technologies as the third phenomena. This phenomena is probably the easiest to recognize in our culture, but I'll bet you didn't see it as a hallmark of postmodernity. However, when you place it side-by-side with the demise of meta-narratives it is easy to see its influence. Information technology has made the world a much smaller place. I might even say that the way in which we receive and perceive things is radically is different due to the ability of news to travel from one end of the earth to another with relative ease. Despite the lack of boldness in this statement, there are multiple things to consider when it comes to information technology.

First, Christianity no longer dominates the news media as the only valid perspective on issues. By saying this I realize that as far as we (US Americans) go, the media is still dominated by a white middle class Christian perspective. This is debatable for sure, but I am talking about the ethos from which most news arises rather than the particulars. In this country, no matter how much Christians bitch about secularism or humanistic approaches, we are largely shaded by this generic consumer version of Christianity that sticks to just about everything we report. In fact, I would point to the outcry over "secular humanism" as the proof that the way we report "news" is changing to a more global perspective. In the future, I believe that global perspectives will continue to make in roads in US American reporting. This will cause "Christian jingoists" to froth at the mouth (we can see a lot this already occurring when people adopt global views that are then construed as "anti-American" through a more conservative arm of the press). However, given the rapidity of reporting the US will continually be thrust into the global spotlight where it can either begin to realize its impact on the global culture and other countries or become politically "obsolete," much like a large obstinate Grandpa Simpson. As you may or may not know, Grandpa Simpson is the older slightly crazed member of the Simpson family. He is often seen as a forgotten part of the family whose ravings about the good old days are summarily dismissed. To be sure, he has some nostalgic value and occasionally contributes, but on the large part his influence is discounted because of his inability to "get with the times."

Second, information technology changes the way we communicate with one another. Take this blog for instance. Without the technology there would be no way of communicating these thoughts to you (though some of you might find this a good thing), unless we somehow connected in "real" life. My thoughts would be shared (or not shared) instead with a smaller group of insiders. Now, my thoughts go out for the world to read. As you might already understand, this can be both a good and bad thing. Those who find themselves on at the extreme edges of conversation now have a place to vent their views upon the world. However, there is also the possibility for greater accountability for what one says due to the ability of others to offer correcting points of view. The downside to this, as it has been reported recently, is that while we communicate with more people we actually have fewer close friends. Therefore, our communities become larger but more impersonal. This is the dual-edged sword of information technology. You get information rapidly, but most of this information can come across as lacking human depthfulness.

Finally, we have focused on the information part, the information technology part, and now we should look at solely the role of technology. Obviously I am no ludite. However, I am beginning to believe that technology has its limits. First, technology has greatly increased our productivity and even eased some of the repetitive tasks that humans undertake. However, it has not entirely lived up to its promise. Instead of alleviating stress and offering more free time, we have taken the time technology saves us and demanded more from those who use it. Productivity has become the buzzword for life, trouncing the promised relaxation that technology would provide. US Americans now work more hours per week and take less vacation than any other country in the developed world. Moreover, these increases have taken place since the dawn of the "technological revolution." Furthermore, technology has invaded churches with this same need for productivity. I may be wrong, but I have always thought that churches were meant to be the counter-cultural conscience of humanity. We were supposed to speak out against injustice and the consumerism that drives a shallowness in our culture. Instead, we use technology to prove our culture "relevance" and our ability to abide within the constraints of a common cultural paradigm. While I am not a ludite, I may be a liturgical ludite. I don't think PowerPoint presentations set us apart or make worship more valuable, nor do I think contemporary music makes us relevant. Technology can be used for great good in the church (you try writing a sermon by hand or typewriter); moreover, it can provide a valuable resource for reaching out to others and letting them know what we stand for. However, much of the usage today is merely an incompetant attempt at a "relevant" theology or liturgy that does nothing to set Christianity or worship apart from a run of the mill country club gathering.

I will add the fourth installment later this week. I leave you with one question. Namely, how will/does technology help/hinder the churches ability to adapt/stand against the pre-dominant ethos in the United States?

grace and peace...

Postmodernism 102

Paul Lakeland, in Postmodernity (see left for a link to the book), describes four phenomena that could signify a collaborative definition of postmodernism. The first one, incredulity towards meta-narratives, we have already discussed. The next three include: the awareness that a society which depends upon rationalization comes at a cost, the proliferation of information technologies, and newly emergent social movements. Each of these three phenomena impacts the church differently, and as with the incredulity towards meta-narratives each provides promises and pitfalls.

First, let us deal with the pitfalls and promises of a rational society. I believe rational is meant to describe a way of knowing. When we think of rational, an image of the calm serene scientist working her way through a mathematical proof or titrating a solution in a lab comes to my mind. Rational has, in some ways, become synonymous with the cognitive and/or with scientific ways of knowing. In the modern era there has been a preoccupation with finding, through science, the ways in which we are all the same. Science, in essence, has attempted to prove the meta-narrative in order to unity humanity under one banner. Moreover, rationality has attempted to transcend cultures and societies (and even religions) in order to posit the things that are good for all human beings. Any over-reliance on one way of knowing comes at a cost. Furthermore, over-reliance on rationality is detrimental to the structure of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

I want to take a moment and work with that last statement concerning the detrimental nature that an over-reliance on rationality has towards Christianity. In the modern era, a lot of time was spent proving that Christianity was the one true religion of God. There were (are) the attempts as proving the creation story, expeditions to find the Ark of Noah, scientific attempts at proving the validity of the Shroud of Turin. Furthermore, there are numerous archeological attempts that seek to prove that every word, every situation, indeed everything in the Bible is factual. What is forgotten in these attempts is the role of faith and mystery in the life of Christians. Let me offer an example.

When I was in high school I attended a conservative Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida. On one occasion I heard a sermon preached on the crucifixion entitled "Jesus died of a Broken Heart." The illustration that I remember from this sermon was the minister's discussion with a doctor about the Bible's mention of blood and water flowing from the wound inflicted by the soldier. The minister proceeded to give a medical account explaining how this was possible and the medical reasons why what the Bible says happened was factual.

In a modern world this was a perfectly acceptable way of preaching this text. It appealed to an educated congregation and brought a sense of rationality to the text so that it might inform faith. If we accept the definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" then this attempt at theology fails. It overemphasizes a rational proof of the text, and while it seeks understanding it leaves little room for faith. In the postmodern world, the response to this type of sermon would generally be a resounding "who cares?"

Instead, a postmodern approach might look at the different meanings of blood and water and the possibilities that each of them has for life giving and life sustaining. This sermon, instead of describing the medical "facts" might seek understanding through experiences with water and blood, through theological constructions of baptism and communion through the mingling of these two substances. Ultimately, a sermon would seek to say much with out telling much. That is, it would seek to describe multiple meanings without giving credence to one particular interpretation. This allows the listener to discover their own experiences of the text through the lenses they bring with them. Furthermore, the postmodern preacher uses the text to build faith through the multiple understandings present in its words, rather than an empirical attempt to prove that lack of faith in the words is incorrect. This approach gives credence to the mystery that is built into every text, allowing people from multiple backgrounds and experiences to work with the ambiguity of faith.

Finally, this turn from rationality poses some unique pitfalls for Christianity, especially evangelicals and fundamentalists. First, my impression of the evangelical church is that it fundamentally desires that the Bible be interpreted as factual. I will admit my lack of experience in the evangelical world (despite spending my high school years in what I would consider a theologically conservative church). However, with an emphasis on inerrancy the evangelical worldview runs into some problems with this multiplicity of meanings approach that eschews certainty through rationality. My experience of many evangelical worldviews (even more so in fundamentalist churches) is that they want everything to be true in the Bible down to the letter.

The emergent church is the latest incarnation that seeks to blend evangelical theology with postmodern phenomena. From my reading, this "movement" was built as a reaction to the consumer mentality of the modern mega-church. There was a sense that true community and faith was lost in the impersonal world of "cappuccino churches" and their homogenous and bland forms of Christianity. The emergent movement seeks diversity in thought and experience to enrich and inform its faith. However, there is still some resistance to a postmodern worldview and the multiplicity of meanings method of faith.

While the worship style incorporates multiple forms of interaction and learning, the theology lacks mystery and elasticity. Most of the leaders of the movement are white men from middle class upbringings. There are very few evangelical females or minorities in leadership positions who theologically inform the emergent community. Rather, the emergent movement seems, to me at least, to be a return to premodern ways of knowing using technology to enhance the experience. Premodern Christianity was marked by its dependence on spiritual ways of knowing and explaining the world. It was run by a male hierarchy who consolidated the power of the church and dictated meaning rather than embracing diversity. I am not implying that the emergent church discounts diversity; however, what remains to be seen is the active seeking out of, engagement with, and incorporation of multiple theological points of view and experiences into their view of the world.

I will work with the final two marks of postmodernity next week, but leave you with a couple questions. Can a church (theology) accept and incorporate scientific methods in order to prove its premises, while at the same time rejecting the ways that the world uses the same techniques to prove itself?

grace and peace...

The good, the bad, the ugly - postmodernism 101

This is the first post in a planned series of posts about different forms of postmodern thought.

It seems to me that postmodern philosophy and thought has something to do with each of these categories. As with all philosophies, postmodernity has its strengths and weaknesses. First and foremost it is important to realize that postmodernity is ill-defined but not ill-conceived. That is, to me at least, its philosophical basis works when it is spoken of generally. However, when applied particularly postmodern philosophy can run up against some major difficulties. Let's begin with Jean-Francois Lyotard's definition of postmodernism.

In a nutshell, Lyotard describes postmodernism as the incredulity towards meta-narratives. First things first, Lyotard is a linguist whose philosophical contributions centered around the idea that we all play games with language to the extent that it is ultimately impossible to have everyone agree on one meaning for one object. Lyotard scholars would no doubt disagree with me on this point. Truthfully speaking, I have only read one of his works and therefore my exposure to his thoughts is limited. I put my interpretation in context in order to explain how I got to the meaning that I have claimed from Lyotard's work. Thus, I have also proved his point concerning meta-narratives.

Meta-narratives are the grand narratives of modernity that sought to explain how we are all alike. That is, modern philosophy posited that there were certain stories or linguistic concepts that could be generalized to all people. Lyotard objected to this assumption and instead sought to bring attention to the individuality that is present in each interpretation of the same phenomenon. The good part of this theory is that it brings in marginalized interpretations; it opens the door for multiple possible interpretations of phenomena and the validity of each of these interpretations; it also makes us aware of the contexts that we bring with us to particular experiences. However, there are some possible negative aspects as well.

Carried out to its extreme, this form of postmodernism can lead to relativism and the denial of a larger truth. Furthermore, there is the possibility for conflict when multiple interpretations are deposited into a communal milieu. The conflict is not bad itself; however, when one finds themselves incapable of hearing and validating the interpretations of other people can be further marginalized in their own communities.

For those in Christian communities (indeed all religions fall in this category), we are by definition guided by a meta-narrative. Moreover, this meta-narrative contributes to a number of positive and negative experiences in the Christian community. To put it in its most basic format, Christians are all guided by the same story. This, in and of itself, could disqualify us from the postmodern debate. However, even though we believe we are guided by the same story, in truth we are not. So many are the interpretations of this story, that I have to believe that there is little possibility for us to agree fully upon its meaning. This means that our meta-narrative is actually a series of meta-narratives.

For example, if I were to admit publicly that I believe the story we adhere to, in its most basic form, reveals that God is love, then at that same moment someone else could cry bullshit (in a Christian way of course) and they would proceed to tell me that the story we adhere to says that God is judgment or God is jealous or God is power or even God is anger. Therefore, the meta-narrative that is supposed to bind us is really a multi-narrative (my term) that has no one guiding meaning that affects humanity in all the same way.

The "good" part about this example is the possibility that there is some form of "rightness" within each of our interpretations. If we accept that there is some validity in each of the theologies of Pat Robertson, Jurgen Moltmann, Paul Tillich, Joel Osteen, John Cobb, Jr., and John Calvin, and that in none of them will we find an absolute truth that will guide every single human being, then there is possibility of a "multi-rightness" that leads to multiple ways of encountering God in the world. Therefore, the discussion of differences changes from a "right-wrong" perspective to a "my experience-your experience" perspective. This can lead to a greater understanding of the varieties of experiences that make up our relationships with God, and possibly even further enhancing all of our experiences of God through the multiple ways in which God is encountered. One way of talking about this is that the multiple experiences of God resemble the concept of the body of Christ; my experience may be an eye or ear whereas yours might be a mouth or arm (we won't posit who gets to be the ass).

My guess is that you might also see some of the difficulties with this form of contextualization. The first is that God is supposed to greater than one or even the sum of all of our interpretations and experiences. This also means that God, if God is truly greater than all of these, is something that is ultimately a meta-narrative. That is, God authors stories that are beyond the context of human experience that are good for all of humanity.

Secondly, there would be no need for postmodern Christians to evangelize if we truly believed in the contextualization of the experience of God. All experiences of God would ultimately speak the truth about God from a particular perspective. This would mean that the meta-narrative of Christianity would not be a meta-narrative for the world. Instead, God would be able to speak through the meta-narratives of all religions, rendering Christianity as one path among many to God, rather than a "one true path" religion.

The final "bad" piece would be that we carry out contextualization to the point where we no longer resemble the Body of Christ but are more like a set of body parts in Ziploc bags. Contextualization could lead to compartmentalization and the separating of the body of Christ through the individuation of worship styles, theology, education practices, dress code, music styles and so on. Truthfully, we are already a compartmentalized religion, we just have broader labels for each compartment (think conservative-liberal, contemporary-traditional, modern-postmodern, etc.). Extreme contextualization can create pockets of Christians with the same tastes or similar narratives that cling to one another rather than reaching out to the body of Christ as a whole.

As far as the "ugly" is concerned. I think that might come out in two fashions. The first is an "anything goes" kind of Christianity. The second is a "lowest common denominator" Christianity.

In the "anything goes" category, Christianity becomes diluted through the attempts to appease as many different experiential styles while not catering to one group in particular. Take worship for example. I attended a church recently that incorporated powerpoint, hymnals, a praise band, organ, scripture, prayers and a basic sermon. The worship was poorly constructed with what I can only describe as a marginally acceptable order and description. As a person visiting the congregation I was subjected to: confusion, a praise band that seemed more interested in itself that in worship, a barely functioning powerpoint presentation that was distracting at best and boring at worst. This attempt to appeal/appease all of the congregational contexts left me feeling as though the congregation treated worship lightly, they felt theologically inept and shallow, and the service made me only more determined to find a better place of worship.

I don't mind "contemporary" worship (the distinction is a misnomer because ALL worship is contemporary due to its temporal locality and its connection with the world, regardless of its casualness or the use of "praise" music). There are some new music songs and styles that provide theological depth and challenge the singer/hearer to novel theological connections. The difficulty comes in the desire to please every person's context and whims rather than focusing the point of worship, namely to direct oneself to God for a sustained period of time. Therefore, the question that must be answered is, how can we open ourselves to anything that might direct us toward a sustained period of worship with God? Is it image, music, poetry, art, sermons, or prayers (or other mediums)? Moreover, how will we use these resources responsibly in order to accentuate our worship, rather than using them to keep ourselves interested? In my theological world, God is the ultimate audience of worship, the gathered body of Christ are the actors in the play. In "anything goes" styles, the actors become the audience and it shifts the focus of worship.

The final "ugly" is "lowest common denominator" Christianity. That is, we find the things we agree on and only work with those pieces. The difficulty with this form is that it lacks challenge and doesn't move people from the things that make them comfortable. Christianity has, built into it, a sense that something is not right with the world, and God has called upon us to try and fix it, with God's help. When we hit the "lowest common denominator" form Christianity loses its edge and becomes just another social or country club where we gather to pat ourselves on the back for not screwing up the world too much more during the week.

I realize this is a long intro, but there is a lot to Lyotard and the implications for Christianity are many. I will be gone for a vacation in the upcoming week, but I hope to post another piece to this postmodern puzzle by next Friday. Please feel free to comment on what you have read. I am by no means a philosopher, and if others have insights about Lyotard feel free to add them.

grace and peace...

born again

I have always shunned the term born again. This phrase brought up thoughts of witless teens handing out tracts at the Olympics, or the forceful conversion conversations that occurred with evangelicals about the state of my soul. For me, born again became synonymous with everything that was wrong with Christianity. This led me to write them off as forever lost to Christianity, mainly because of our blatant inability to respect one another and the religions we carry with us; and, on a personal note, not being able to get beyond "born again's" historical meanings. I guess that one of the greatest things about having prejudices is finding that moment when we are able to escape them...

The lectionary passage from this past Sunday was the famous text in John that gave "birth" to the idea about being born again. As I listened to a good sermon about this idea, and the need for progressives to reclaim it so that passion once again is portion of faith, and the rational becomes the radical, I heard something that disagreed with me. At the moment the words floated effortlessly into the congregational milieu, I knew they felt wrong to me. I could not agree with the idea that being born again meant that we have to die to something else.

There is nothing in the text that supports this idea, which leads me to believe that any juxtaposition of death and birth that we cling to today must have its rise in tradition. The only things that are set against one another in this text are the ideas of heaven and flesh, which if carried out to an extreme would give credence to the heretical idea of dualism. However, I am not concerned with the historical implications of a heretical dualism; instead, I want to introduce the thoughts that have once again allowed me to consider the term "born again" Christian.

First, when we juxtapose the ideas of birth and death we are saying that there is something about us that is not quite right. This something is so grievous that it can no longer live or dwell within us once we have become "born again." Furthermore, we must find some way of killing off that part of ourselves in order to live a faithful life. There are a number of difficulties with this idea. Death is final, it is penultimate act of a human life. When we choose death or when death chooses us there are no more choices to make. Life ends when death begins.

Choosing to equate the idea of being born again with death is choosing to believe that our current life is unworthy of saving. I cannot abide by that notion. Regardless of the extent of our depravity there is always a part of every human being that represents God in this world. To believe that the death of ourselves is required for new life is to believe that nothing in our lives is worthy of saving. Moreover, this "cold turkey" Christianity sets us up for failure from the get go. In fact, the grief and mourning that generally occurs with death is more likely to force us to return to the very things we were supposed to "die" to in the first place. Therefore I think it is high time to reclaim and reinterpret this idea of being born again.

The first thing I want to do is to claim the idea that being born again involves sex, or more precisely copulation and conception. I don’t know where or when we discovered that Christians should be ashamed of sex and furthermore I don’t really care. I just want us to realize that we are wrong about it and repent. Through sex the birth of a new life is possible; it is a mysterious and wonderful act that is part recreation and re-creation. It is only through the reclamation of the sacredness of sex and sexuality that we can even begin to understand what it means to be born again.

Conception is the act that creates new life. So, when we talk about being born again we are talking about re-conception rather than death. Furthermore, re-conception is not as cognitive as it sounds. Re-conception is an act of passion, a melding of spirit and flesh into a union that seeks to create something new through the love, tenderness and care that is a part of the sacredness of the act itself. In the contemporary world we have turned conception into a cognitive act or an act of science and robbed it of its mystery and passion. Conception has become one of two things in the modern world. It has either become a cognitive term that speaks of a rational imagination; or of the science of bringing life into the world. In our search for predictability we have turned a passionate and sacred act into a multi-billion dollar industry.

To be born again is to take part in a copulative act with God. There is a moment when the Spirit reaches out to us that we must passionately grab hold of and enter into willingly. In order to be born again, we must enter into an act of co-creation with the Creator. Flesh and spirit must sensuously grapple with one another and passionately embrace the possibilities that lay before them. The only way this can happen is if spirit and flesh are of the same substance. Rather than subordinating one to the other, both should have a say in the process. Much like the relationship between male and female, the relationship between spirit and flesh should be one of mutuality, love, respect and care. It is only through that kind of relationship that we can celebrate the conception or re-conception necessary for life and/or life abundantly.

In the end, death is not the beginning of new life, re-conception is. It is only through the beautiful, mysterious and wonderful act of copulation that life has any possibility of newness. To be born again is to be re-conceived. It is step freshly upon the earth again for the first time, seeing anew the possibilities for abundant life in the passionate embrace that co-creates a new vision on this earth. Being born again is not just about seeing though. Being born again means passionately embracing the possibilities of the world through new eyes, fresh limbs and a re-invigorated heart that is ready to engage in the practice of love, care, and respect that the world so desperately needs at this moment in time.

grace and peace

Irony or collusion

My spouse works at a local hospital here in Denver. The street on which this hospital rests houses two other hospitals (hospital row is its nickname).

I happened to be walking home from her work place yesterday when I noticed something odd. As I passed the hospitals, I noticed hot dog carts sitting out in front of two of them. The menus were filled with nitrate-rich processed meat-sicles, ranging from the innocuous American hot dog to Bratwurst to even (for the health conscious) a veggie dog. Along with these "parts is parts" meals the carts vendors sold potato chips and soft drinks and various other foods that have half-lives longer than my life expectancy.

Ironic isn't it? The places we go to heal from whatever ails us are also the places we can go to eat what will cause us to ail in the long run. Unfortunately, the lines were long and the green spaces were inhabited with people in long hospital gowns or worse yet, scrubs, eating the processed pleasure dogs.

It would seem, at least to me, that common sense would prevail and hospitals would search for ways to beacons of health rather than purveyors of empty calories. Then again, without the venders the hospitals would suffer and lose some of their clientele. Ahhh, the mighty bottom line, could the hospitals secretly enjoy the presence of these carts of culinary crap?

Actually, what this is indicative of is the cultural ethos that only treats or manages symptoms rather than seeking to do the hard work of fighting the disease. Now, I realize that labels are being placed on packages in order to better inform the consumer. However, all the labels do is tell people how badly they are eating. The only way to stop them from eating it is to treat the disease of ignorance. Information and knowledge are two entirely different things, and I have to wonder if we have confused to two, or at least merged them in some fashion.

There is no magic pill that cures ignorance; the only way to make a difference is to be different and to think differently. One of these days we might understand that seeking health, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, might provide a more satisfying life than a quick hot dog before we head into the hospital.

grace and peace

The Senate Debates Marriage

There are a number of things to talk about this day. However, what piques my interest is the Senate's move to open the floor for debate about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. They know they don't have the votes for it to pass, but they still want to have the debate in order to shore up their base of support for the November elections.

A kind of, "here, we've screwed most everything else up and wasted a lot of time and money, but we tried to ban gay marriage; that makes us okay, right?" The theological and the political are danger bedfellows. This leads me to wonder if there is any possibility for a future between these two important disciplines. I would say "yes" in general. However, given the current method of usage the marriage between these two is abusive at best.

I believe these two disciplines are married in a manner that can be described as the politically theological. This means that the primary modus operandi is political through which theology is then interpreted and applied. There are a number of problems with the method. First, it gives primacy to political concerns over theological concerns. The political culture in our country today is populated by fear, abuse and manipulation. For political gain, we will spin the meaning out of a subject (deconstruction) and then attempt to refill the concept with trivial applications that hold little or no value or grounding. When we do this with theological concepts it is called “relativism” and is eschewed by the common Christian. However when a politician does it, it is called appealing to a constituency. I call it pandering.

Take marriage for instance. The legal term, I believe, is a signification of a mutually agreeable union (a contract) between two people who seek to share lives, experiences, and property with one another. This is the political (civil) meaning as well. This legal and contractual view of marriage is the most relevant when it comes to history and tradition. Marriage, in the Christian community, was not formally conducted for many hundreds of years. Therefore, the civil meaning is the most historical and has undergone the most scrutiny throughout the ages (I doubt if every marriage in the Roman Empire was mutually agreeable).

Politically speaking, the civil meaning has been spun out and a trivial "Christian" meaning has replaced it. It is important to realize that the church has long recognized the importance and primacy of the civil contract of marriage. The theological importance of marriage is a latecomer to the dance, but nevertheless important to examine.

The theological meanings of marriage have their roots in two doctrines, the doctrine of creation and redemption (most of this information comes from the following source: Christian Marriage (1986) The office of worship for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Louisville, KY: The Westminster Press.). These two doctrines are applied in the following manner. First, "marriage is understood to be grounded in the doctrine of creation and thus the gift of God to all humanity" (p. 82). Second, "marriage is an issue of discipleship," whereby two individuals are contractually bound to one another and "allow their relationship with Christ to form the pattern for the covenant of marriage" (p. 82). To me, these two statements seem to be far away from the politically theological rhetoric that permeates the marriage debate.

In the politically theological realm, the roots of marriage as a civil contract are usurped and a fear-based theological justification replaces the historical meanings. Generally speaking, a theology of marriage has been constructed on heterosexist fears about gays and lesbians. Thus, the gift of God for all humanity is rationalized and replaced with a gift of God for some of humanity. Caveats about sexual orientation are added and gays and lesbians are demonized for committing to one another. Furthermore, by adding a fear-based theological meaning to marriage, the Christians that espouse it are no longer required to examine their own abuses of marriage. Heterosexuals are to be blamed for the problems and abuses of marriage. We have not honored the idea of covenant and discipleship, nor have we considered it a gift from God for all. Rather than examine this log that has created the broken family, we choose to skewer and lambaste the mote of gay and lesbian marriage. The politically theological does not work because it lacks responsibility, accountability and is devoid of theological, moral and ethical force.

I would propose that we reverse things and begin to examine policies through a lens of the theologically political. This imparts a primacy to theology as the governing impetus for examining policy. Therefore, we begin with theology, in this case the doctrines of creation and redemption and move to the political, the civil contract of marriage. Here is how I interpret this working.

The doctrine of creation is bound up in the idea of the Imago Dei, or the image of God which is said to be a part of all of humanity. Being bearers of this image, we all have particular rights, such as rights to food, to not be abused, to shelter, to love and be loved without fear, and so on. Bearing in mind that all are created in the image of God and each one of us in some way represents God on this earth, then the relationships and attachments we form bear this image as well. The gift of marriage from God through the doctrine of creation cannot support the exclusion of committed covenants between gay and lesbian partners, if we are to faithfully uphold one another as representatives of the Imago Dei. The doctrine of redemption as seen through discipleship is based on a commitment to the teachings and life of Christ. It is not dependent on sexual orientation; rather it is dependent upon the willingness to live under the constant umbrella of grace in a foreign world. Furthermore, unless one wants to limit God’s grace, then there is no theologically sound argument that would exclude gays and lesbians from the table as faithful witnesses in a hostile world.

Finally, as theologically political Christians we must apply the doctrines of creation and redemption to the civil contract of marriage. Rather than emptying it of its historical importance for the order of the state and applying vacuous fear-based theological constructs, we are to look upon the intent of the policy through the lenses of theology. In this case, a theologically sound view of marriage for Christians would be two people who, viewed as images of God and disciples of Christ, desire to covenant with one another, under the grace of God and authority of the state, in order to live full lives through the giving and receiving of their love for one another.

Theology and politics must mingle with one another if the world is to become a place of justice and peace. The question is, which discipline will lead and which discipline will follow...

grace and peace

A New Look

Some of the more frequent visitors to this blog may have noticed a slight change in the format. I have added a third column on the left that includes an ad or two and a couple of books that I am reading at the moment. Since I spend a good portion of my days involved in the intricacies of the written word I thought I might share a few of my favorites with you and little bit about why I believe them to be good reads. I have debated long and hard about the inclusion of ads in this space and you can see the decision that I have come to. I promise not to clutter the entire site with the buggers, but it can't hurt to have a couple around. Finally, if you are having trouble with the new layout, please let me know. My skills as an HTML editor are minimal and it took a lot of tweaking to get things looking decent. If there are problems let me know so that I can try and fix them.

Now, a couple of words about the books I have chosen...

God & Religion in the Postmodern World by David Ray Griffin

Grifin is a process theologian who has written several good books that border on being approachable. This is, by far, one of the easier books to read. Postmodernity has been weaving its way into the theology and structures of the church for a while. However, it is only now gaining a good bit more attention. The problems I have with the current renditions of postmodernity in the church are many. It has been used as a cover for relativism, casual theology and worship, and even nihilism in some forms.

Postmodernism is many things and it defies a conventional definition. Griffin's approach seeks to illuminate several doctrines through a particular postmodern lens. It is ambitious, but in the midst of his work there is a distinct call for people of varied theologies to sit at the table together and learn from and live with one another, all the while holding on to the tension present between their beliefs. This is a real attempt to visualize theology beyond the simple dogmatic phrases that have defined it in the modern era.

The Angry Christian by Andrew Lester

This is a book about pastoral care and theology. Furthermore, it is a book that seeks to reclaim anger as a vital component of the Christian life. Lester does a wonderful job of pulling together a vast swath information and research from a variety of disciplines in order to theologically construct a new meaning of anger for the lives of Christians. I have found a great deal of helpful information and practical skills in this book and would recommend it for ministers and laity alike. This is not the last time that I will recommend a book from Lester.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

This book occupies a permanent place on my bedside table. Truthfully, I have not finished it in the year that I have owned it. While I have multiple reasons for not finishing it, the first is that it is so rich in wisdom and practical application that I can read no more than a chapter or two at a time before needing to set it down and contemplate. Kabat-Zinn uses the meditative technique of mindfulness in order help people find and live full and meaningful lives. There is a deep sense of fullness that permeates the pages of the book. Whenever the opportunity comes, I look forward to picking it up and reading just a few pages.

These three books have enriched my life and understandings of the world and humanity. Should you choose to read them, I hope you find the same satisfaction.

grace and peace

Colorado State of Mind

As you cross the state line into Colorado something washes over your body. It's a thin film that exposes whatever idea about exercise or the outdoors you might have previously held as a farce. For me, vacations used to entail sitting quietly, reading a book or watching television or sleeping late. Occasionally, I would rise from the indention I created on the couch and go for a short walk or bask in the sunlight. If I was ambitious I would play golf or even make it too the beach for a brisk, but short, walk; serious outings generally revolved around food or shopping. However, all of that changed when we crested a hill and saw the purple snow-tipped mountains of Colorado jut into the horizon. Suddenly, the sky was bluer, the air more crisp, and with each breath we wanted to be outdoors, moving amongst the hills and trees. Vacations became destinations where we were compelled, no propelled, out into a new world. You don't just drive I-70 through the Rockies, you experience the mountains as your car thrusts you from valley to canyon to mountain pass. Your body itches and twitches as you take in the landscape. It has nothing to do with boredom or uncomfortability; rather you see a hill and want to climb it to discover what new views it holds or you discover a small creek that winds through a valley and you want to see where it takes you. I have never thought of an interstate as magical, but when you are on I-70 and you hit Vail Pass a novel view of the world explodes before you.

Just as my mind is growing and stretching from the theological explorations that doctoral work holds, my body is also experiencing new things again. I now weigh the same as I did on the day of my graduation from college, over ten years ago. I get up early and exercise almost every morning and am in better shape now than in any time in the past ten years. I awake each morning with a satisfying soreness that has more to do with pushing the limits of my body than with the inevitable creaks and groans that come with age (though there are those as well). When I lived on the east coast I was resigned to the idea that my waist size would inevitably increase an about an inch every two years. Today, I am swallowed by my pants and shorts; the thin layer of fat that occupied my waist has been eaten by that same Colorado film that pushes me towards the fresh air and mountains.

When I reflect on these physical transformations it pushes me to think about my life on the east coast, especially the pervasive mentality towards a sedentary lifestyle. What made it so easy for me to sit, rather than move? Furthermore, what is it about my life now that makes me more motivated to move? There are a number of easy things I can contribute as answers. I don't drink soft drinks anymore (I have had maybe six in the nine months we have lived here). I don’t eat at fast food restaurants as regularly as I did in Richmond. I cut down my caloric intake and introduced more fruit and vegetables into my diet (though not nearly enough, my wife would say). I eat several small meals throughout the day and one big one at dinner time. I exercise regularly. I see vast numbers of people exercising on a daily basis, riding bikes, jogging, or walking. I don't see nearly as many overweight or obese people on a daily basis. All of these things have contributed to my physical transformation over the past few months. However, I can think of two other reasons that are less obvious but equally important.

First, there is an aesthetic, a sense of beauty, at work in Colorado that I have not experienced elsewhere. I grew up around the mountains on the east coast, but no mountain range has ever captivated me like the Rockies. Where ever I wander I want to see the mountains. Their beauty beckons me, drawing me in like a moth to flame. Whether it is the sheer face of a canyon in western Colorado or the gentle rolling foothills that are closer to home, I find myself wanting to explore and touch the beauty that constantly befalls my eyes.

Second, I believe a satisfaction with my vocational pursuits has contributed to my physical changes. I believe that I have found my home, theologically and vocationally. I thoroughly enjoyed my work with the counseling center and congregation in Richmond, but I always felt like I needed something more. Here, I am satisfied in my own skin. I am writing about things that matter to me. I am exploring my creative side, examining the dark corners of my theological structures and bringing to light novel connections. I am comfortable enough to be me and to let others be themselves.

I hope that I will never again underestimate the power and feeling of a vocational home. My very life depends upon it, and it is from this home that I draw life and power. I won't be a sophist and say that Colorado is perfect; nor would I admit that it is a panacea for all that ails the world. However, for me, at this moment in time, it provides the shelter, the container, that allows me to reach out to a weary world and try and make a difference...

A deconstruction of sin: putting Calvin on the couch

This is the final piece to the paper I wrote; and for a moment my final word on sin. Whenever I begin to explore strictly theological themes I run the risk of being obtuse or irrelevant. I have tried to explain my points clearly, in approachable language and concepts. However, theology, especially good sound theology is difficult. Easy theology runs a greater risk of being damaging to community in the long-run. Furthermore, developing a lived coherent theology is important because it helps us have a coherent worldview that accounts for what we see and experience. Theology is most often the result of our experiences in life and how we see God working through ourselves and others. Lest we forget, theology is finally an exercise in surmising the presence of God in our midst, or the lack thereof in the case of sin...


Deconstruction is a critical theory often applied to texts in a manner where the critic engages in "undermining, subverting, exposing, undoing, transgressing, or demystifying… traditional ideas, traditional limits, traditional logic, authoritative readings, privileged readings, illusions of objectivity, mastery or consensus, the referential meaning of a text, or simply what the text asserts or says" (Ellis, 1988, p. 261). Furthermore, through the deconstructive process the critic does not put forth a new interpretation of the text, but instead "The traditional idea is… retained in order that we can focus on the act of subversion itself which, however, does not constitute a final rejection of that idea" (1988, p. 262). Deconstruction thus subverts the authority of a text while at the same time holding the text as authoritative. It is therefore a multi-layered reading of a text that seeks the subtleties within the text that undermine its authority. However, if the authority of the text is not retained then there is nothing to subvert and the deconstructionist could do nothing more than offer a critical analysis (Ellis, 1988, p. 263-264). Finally, deconstruction is a process that "hopes to neutralize the system—not by erecting another truth in its place (which would only re-establish an opposition) but—by laughing at it" (Gall, 1990, p. 415). In order to deconstruct John Calvin’s constructions of total depravity and original sin, I will put him through a fictional psychotherapeutic session.

Putting Calvin on the Couch

I imagine the following conversation taking place between John Calvin and his therapist after the final version of the Institutes of Christian Religion was completed.

Therapist (T): John, welcome back. Please have a seat, tell me how life is treating you.

John Calvin (JC): It is a fine day, although I am having trouble enjoying it.

T: You're not able to enjoy the day? Tell me about that.

JC: It is the same things that have been bothering me since day one. I can't seem to shake this feeling that I am letting someone down. The guilt is totally overwhelming and I just can't shake it (McNeill, 1960, p. 253). It's as though every time I try and think about who I am and what I want to do, I get overwhelmed with despair at how selfish and corrupt I have become.

T: It must be difficult to continually beat yourself up on the inside. You have been working hard to get to know yourself and it makes you feel depressed. I was just remembering some of our previous sessions and I have to wonder what would happen if you were to let yourself remember some of the good things you have done, that tell others who you are. I know you have this desire to be honest about your faults, but can't you also be honest about your strengths? Even you have admitted that "knowledge of ourselves lies first in considering what were given at creation and how generously God continues his favor towards us" (p. 242). That means we should consider our gifts as well as our faults, right John?

JC: Yes, I did say that. However, I said that to contrast how depraved we have become since sin was introduced into the world. Sin is inescapable and it hides God gifts from me.

T: Let's keep the conversation focused on you, instead of everyone. I want to hear you use the term "I" instead of "we." Totally depraved is such strong word. Total implies everything, and yet John you are able to recall what your gifts are and how they can be used for good in the world. Doesn't that mean that there are parts of us that are less affected by this despairing sinfulness? How can we know what is good and right if all we are is totally sinful and corrupt? Moreover, to call yourself depraved means that you are full of evil or immorality. Yet the life you have lived includes many good actions and desire to love God. Are those the actions of a totally depraved individual? All of this talk makes me wonder what would it be like if you considered yourself to be a vessel of a number of good, bad or neutral qualities? Even you have admitted to a "primal worthiness" (p. 242) that is a part of who you are. Moreover, you have told me on a number of occasions that "the mind restrains itself from sinning… because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord" (p. 43). I interpret that to mean that we are capable of doing good things out of love for God, can you see those possibilities?

JC: Sure, buried deep within me might be some of those good qualities, but as soon as I try and recall them I am painfully aware of the value I place on my gifts and then I tend "to be unduly credulous about them" (p. 243). My arrogance about my gifts leads me to believe that "Nothing, however slight, can be credited to [me] without depriving God of his honor, and… falling into ruin through brazen confidence" (p. 255). I just can't escape this vicious cycle of sin. Even when I consider these good things I feel like I am letting God down by relying on myself. See what I mean about feeling totally depraved, it's like no matter what I do I can't escape the reality of my situation. It is so depressing.

T: What I hear you say is that while you often feel overwhelmed by the amount of sin in your life, but there are also moments when you are able to comprehend something good about yourself. Even though this might lead you to down a path of where you feel proud or arrogant, it does raise an interesting point that counters your ideas about depravity being totally consuming. John, what becomes apparent to me in our conversation is that you not only see the depressing parts of your life, but you also see a glimmer of something good. Otherwise you wouldn’t know that you were so depraved of in the first place. Therefore, maybe you and everyone else are not totally depraved but instead you might be mostly or predominantly depraved, leaving some room for goodness to spring forth from within.

JC: I hear what you are saying and I want to agree, but I am afraid that if I give in to the idea that there are some good things about me, I will no longer be dependent on God's goodness and grace to do good things in the world.

T: I thought I heard you say something to the effect that you and God work together for good in the world. Is that correct?

JC: In a sense yes. I am saying that God's grace works through me to do good things in the world (p. 306-307).

T: Tell me how God could choose to work through such a corrupted vessel.

JC: Well, actually it is the grace that does the work; I am merely a servant of grace. I don’t initiate the action; God initiates it and compels me to act on its behalf. I can’t say why God chooses humans other than we are the pinnacle of creation and have rational capabilities that allow us to recognize our depravity.

T: I am not sure if I understand how such a corrupted vessel could even hear or interpret the grace of God. Yet, I often see you doing things that embody the love and grace experienced in Scripture and in the life of Jesus. I am not sure if this makes sense to you, John, but I wonder if we might find a new way of describing the state of humanity. The word total just seems so black and white, all or nothing, when the actions of human beings occupy a space that seems grayer. Could you see yourself occupying a gray area of life?

JC: Well, maybe, if it weren't for original sin. I really feel like I was born this way, the offspring of corrupt flesh and blood. I guess a really dark gray might work if I factored in being endowed with good gifts by God and the grace and redemption through Jesus.

T: Original sin, what does that mean to you?

JC: It's simple really. Adam and Eve were disobedient to God. As a result, their good nature was corrupted and everyone since that time has been the offspring of corrupted parents, inheriting this depravity I keep obsessing about (p. 251).

T: Wow, you have really thought this out. First it's total depravity and then I come to find out it is a part of your nature, inherited from two mythic characters in the Bible.

JC: Blasphemy!

T: John, settle down. I am merely stating one interpretation of Adam and Eve. What I am trying to say is that their story is a metaphor for humanity's relationship with God. In the end, we come out with similar conclusions although we take a different path to get there. We both understand that something went wrong with humanity's relationship with God and we have felt some form of distance between us since that time.

JC: If I weren't paying you, I'd get up and leave right now.

T: John, think about it for a moment. We are arriving at a similar conclusion, just taking different paths to get there. Think about my path for a moment. If the creation stories are mythic and represent a way of imagining our relationship with God, how does that change your idea of original sin?

JC: Well, the relationship would still be estranged, right? And, sin would still be a part of humanity. Only, with your way original sin wouldn't be an inherited feature from the nature of the parents. I guess that it would have to be passed down through some kind of communication though. Otherwise, we would all get better at being good, and I know that isn't happening.

T: Great job John! That is a wonderful reframing of original sin. Rather than an inherited nature or disposition, there might be a communicated sense of sinfulness through family, culture and society. Furthermore, maybe the Original in original sin isn’t so original after all.

JC: Huh?

T: Well, think about it this way. If the features aren't inherited, then babies aren't born with pervasive sinful dispositions. Instead they are taught disobedience by those they grow up around. Which leads me to think that if there isn't a predisposition to sinfulness, then sinfulness is just the replaying of others sins; there is nothing original about it! John, it has been wonderful seeing you again, but our time is about up, don't be a stranger.

JC: It's been good to see you as well. I will think about what you have said, but I'm not sure that it is going to change anything. If there is anything that I know, it is how deep sin runs in my life. Black or white or dark gray, original or not it’s always there and I just can't forget it.


John Calvin's concepts of total depravity and original sin have informed the life of the Presbyterian Church for many years. Through careful biblical and theological analysis he lays out a case that beckons the reader to know themselves and know themselves as unworthy before God. Through Calvin, an understanding of our dependence on God becomes easy to see in light of the totality of our corruption. Four hundred and fifty years later through the writings of popular pastors/theologians, Calvin's message has been either watered down or forgotten. Thoughts about sin are watered down by believing that God's purpose is to give us purpose, or they are destroyed through the power of positive thinking. This unfortunate circumstance has created a vacuum whereby Christians and systems are rarely held accountable for the actions they commit. By putting Calvin on the couch, I attempted to deconstruct his view of sin, showing both its limits and authority. There is no denying the estrangement humans feel from God and the endless searches to discover why. Maybe, through a revamped Calvin we can understand the depths of our depravity and gain some insight into the love of our Creator.

grace and peace...

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