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

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

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