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

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