Friday, March 25, 2011

Narcissistic Stockholm Syndrome 2*: Hostage Love

Part III can be read here.

Dirty Dirty Richphoto © 2010 Dan Queiroz | more info (via: Wylio)
I've started to consider the fact that there may be some twisted truth to the simplistic political canard of "The Politics of Envy." The American Dream (the myth that anyone in the US can be wealthy if he or she works hard and is patient) is so much a part of the collective consciousness of the American psyche - both individually and socially - that there is certainly a bit of affection for the things that the wealthy have.

But that leads more often to citizens buying crap we don't need in order to be more like them, even when we're sacrificing the things we DO need. It leads to rampant and bloody materialism, which only feeds into the hands of the capitalist power structure here. And that, in turn, not only makes them more wealthy, but it leaves those of us in the lower strata with that much more of a high ladder to climb up.

We are entrapped hostages who want nothing more than to be loved by our kidnappers.

So woe to her who suggests that maybe the wealthy should carry a fair share of the burden of carrying a structure wherein they derive their strength - thereby equalizing the structure just a bit.

In Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care, Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton tries to answer why, if wealth distribution is so off the charts, more poor Americans aren't considering wealth redistribution**:
The expansion of consumer credit in the United States has allowed middle class and poor Americans to live beyond their means, masking their lack of wealth by increasing their debt. We might think that people who have "zero net worth” have nothing. But in fact, having zero net worth increasingly means owning a lot (cars, televisions, even houses) – but also owing a lot. As a result people with zero net worth, and even negative net worth, can still feel that they are living the American dream, doing “better” than their parents did while keeping up with the Joneses.

Second, poorer Americans’ belief in social mobility – despite strong evidence of its rarity – causes negative reactions to policies that would seem to benefit them, like raising taxes on those who earn and own a lot more. Why would the poor oppose taxes on the wealthy? Because many believe that they, or at least their children, will eventually be wealthy, voting for taxes on the rich may feel like voting for taxes on themselves. As a result, even the word “redistribution” has negative connotations.

Well, "redistribution" is also shied from because of the whole "Redistribution means Communist!" meme going around the last seventy years or so. But I wanna pull out a truth that has gained some traction recently: The American Dream is a fallacy. It's a red herring. It's the idea that, "YOU TOO CAN BE AN ULTRATRILLIONAIRE IF YOU JUST WORK HARD ENOUGH!" The Joe The Plumber-line of economic political reasoning.

And if you dare question the Dream, you will be branded as a communist. Or as someone starting a class war. It may even be suggested that you, gasp!, hate the rich.

I really don't hate the rich. In some ways I pity them. In many ways they're just as much victims of their trappings as the rest of us are. In other ways, the rest of us are the ones suffering under their trappings, chafing under the handcuffs, wasting away in the corner of captivity.

But many of us don't seem to mind. Because, you see, our captors love us! ( ) It says so in the American Dream.

We devour and are bombarded by propaganda in the guise of glossy full-page magazine ads, id-directed commercials, and product-endorsed movies and television shows that convince us of the exact products we need in order to be just like the Elite Class.

It's such a barrage that we are not aware that our behavior and attitudes are so heavily influenced. We get lost in the oceans of illusions of reality shows about uberwealthy parasites who have no interest but to live in the utmost luxury built on others' sweat and broken skin.

We buy expensive rims, we engorge on the biggest, flattest-screened tv's, we upgrade our iPods/iPads/iPhones, smart phones every other month. We bury ourselves in boxes and boxes of appliances we never use, simply because they look like something our richer neighbors would have in their kitchens. We'll spend thousands on the newest games, hair do's, tennies. We dig our selves deep into our jobs, find ourselves lacking and depressed, and try to climb out by spending hundreds of dollars on designer clothes in a single afternoon. Hundreds of dollars we put on credit because we don't really have it, though we think we do.

In order to keep up our Jones with the Jones' and hold back the roving tides of shame and humiliation, the middle and working classes, when we can, spend more than we can afford to. We are mentally affected to splurge in order to be like our captors.

And we defend multi-millionaires and billionaires who's only interest in us is how to use us to garner more millions upon billions. To our detriment.

* Part I can be viewed at Broken Telegraph. Part III is on our very own blog.

**He means the other way around. We already have income and wealth redistribution, from the lower and middle classes to the upper classes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Odds We Like to Ends


I got the opportunity to write a guest post for my friend and hero Ian at Broken Telegraph this week. "Narcissistic Stockholm Syndrome: War Machine" is the first in a three part series to be completed within the week at this site.

I'm really grateful for the opportunity to share on someone else's site, especially a friend like Ian's. He first came to my attention by writing an article taking fellow American Christians to task for supporting torture. That's very rare, not just among Evangelicals, but in the US in this particular culture.

More than 2,000 U.S. Marines are on the ground in Libya.

WCTI-TV in New Bern reports those Marines, assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) at Camp Lejuene, are "preserving the sanctity of the city [of Ajdubiyah] and the safety of the civilians within it."

Capt. Timothy Patrick with the 26th MEU told the station: "In Libya right now they are doing exactly what we need them to do. They are doing what they are told, and right now that's protecting Libyan people against Qadhafi forces."

Well, we can say they're doing what they're told to do. But where were they in Sudan, or Bahrain, or Rwanda? What happened



Lupe's "Words I Never Said" - from LASER - checks Limbaugh, "the War on Terror", Media BS, the War on Education, Obama, Militant Islam, Israel, banks, and our own complain-y inaction. It's what CNN should be.

I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets
How much money does it take to really make a full clip
9/11 building 7 did they really pull it
Uhh, And a bunch of other cover ups
Your childs future was the first to go with budget cuts
If you think that hurts then, wait here comes the uppercut
The school was garbage in the first place, thats on the up and up
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the uppercrust
You get it then they move you so you never keeping up enough
If you turn on TV all you see’s a bunch of “what the f-cks”
Dude is dating so and so blabbering bout such and such
And that aint Jersey Shore, homie thats the news
And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth
Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit
Thats why I aint vote for him, next one either
I’ma part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful
And I believe in the people.

But he's not done yet:

Now you can say it ain't our fault if we never heard it
But if we know better than we probably deserve it
Jihad is not a holy war, wheres that in the worship?
Murdering is not Islam!
And you are not observant
And you are not a Muslim
Israel don’t take my side cause look how far you’ve pushed them
Walk with me into the ghetto, this where all the Kush went
Complain about the liquor store but what you drinking liquor for?
Complain about the gloom but when’d you pick a broom up?
Just listening to Pac aint gone make it stop
A rebel in your thoughts, aint gon make it halt
If you don’t become an actor you’ll never be a factor
Pills with million side effects
Take em when the pains felt
Wash them down with Diet soda!
Killin off your brain cells
Crooked banks around the World
Would gladly give a loan today
So if you ever miss payment
They can take your home away!

And then our complicity through our silence:

I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence
Fear is such a weak emotion thats why I despise it
We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
Sometimes I’m like the only person I feel safe to tell it to
I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you
Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath, inhale a few
My screams is finally getting free, my thoughts is finally yelling through



And finally, there's this too awesome picture, from Naked Pastor. I meditated on this this morning -- just so awesome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Own Personal Master of War

Our friend Rachel Held Evans asked yesterday how we live lives of non-violence in the face of so much wanton violence - especially as violence seems to be the only tool the American Empire knows how to do.

Of course, the problem with this is that we rarely question our own violence - or our complicity in the violence around us. I talked before about my boisterously violent imagination, but I guess I hadn't considered outlining solutions. Here's some of Rachel's considerations:
  • I can meditate on the teachings of Jesus.
  • I can refuse to be violent with my words.
  • I can study the imaginative work of peaceful activists like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • I can strive to internalize and exhibit the fruit of the spirit.
  • I can pray for our nation’s enemies.
  • I can educate myself on foreign policy.
  • I can practice being a peacemaker in small conflicts in order to prepare for larger ones.
  • I can control my temper.
  • I can love the people in my life that it is hardest for me to love, so that maybe one day I will be prepared to love actual enemies.
  • (And I can be grateful that, for now, I don’t really have any. )

I can be faithful in the small things in case one day I am trusted with something bigger.
End the © 2008 Myrrien | more info (via: Wylio)I think these are good focalizing and centralizing points. They help us to prepare the mind and the spirit for the long-haul of passive-resistance, of loving the enemy when the enemy may not be so lovable.

I'd like to consider a few other ways to reduce violence in the world and would like some further suggestions:

  • Write your senator, president, representative and tell them that war is never just.
  • Phone bank them to tell them to begin defunding the Dept of Defense (or the more accurate name of the "Department of Attax!").
  • Realize that our consumerist way of living both funds and necessitates war and violence against third world citizens.
  • Live local. Stop driving.
  • Walk, bike, share.
  • Buy local foods.
  • Buy less meats, and certainly fewer factory farmed meats.
  • Buy fewer clothes. Send your old ones to the cleaner for alterations. And buy them second hand. And then give back to the Salvation Army or other thrift store (but not one that sends them overseas, because that destroys native textile work) when you're done with them.
  • Call Obama and beg him to give back his Peace Medal.
  • Petition that no public school be run and indoctrinated by US military.
  • Ask to de-fund the CIA.
  • Reuse.
  • Recycle.
  • Renew.
  • Buy less crap. A lot less.
And now I'd like to hear some of your thoughts. I'll add to this list as we discuss this. Thanks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Authority to Question

My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?

Eugene Peterson on the Bell-Hell controversy:
I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.
The whole interview is short, and really worth a read for its concise power. But because of its conciseness, many of Bell's detractors seem overly-confused. So let me try to clarify.

Questions. Are. Biblical.

To not allow questions is un-Godly.

Peterson is not saying that if you don't agree with Rob Bell's conclusions, then you are a moron in need of a shrink. Nor is he arguing the time-worn Na-na-nana-boo-boo defense. Pastor Peterson is merely stating the fact that dogmatism has no room in a living, breathing community.

Disagreementphoto © 2009 Scott McLeod | more info (via: Wylio)

See, in the end it doesn't truly matter what our beliefs on hell are* - because they are not central to the Gospel. Jesus is. And Jesus and God are bigger than our questions, bigger than our doubts, bigger than our insecurities, and bigger than our securities.

The bible is God's story with us. And as it is the finite and limited and suffering and broken humanity coming into contact with the infinite and great and holy God, it leaves us with many, many questions. Not nice questions. Not tidy questions. Not easily answered questions. And certainly not binary, yes-or-no questions.

rika is © 2008 ryuu ji | more info (via: Wylio)Anybody who thinks differently either has his ears and eyes closed to the suffering of the world (think Japan. Think of the thousands dying this morning from starvation while we suffocate on pizza. Think of bombs or mines going off on children this afternoon. Think of cancer-survivors in your family. Think of abandoned and neglected on your block), or has her eyes and ears closed to half of the Bible.

The searing suffering of Job and the Psalms. The madness of Ecclesiastes. The Father of Nations who dared ask the Lord to spare Sodom. The Jesus who dared ask his Father to spare his fate.

To ask questions of authority - whether that authority is God or the Church Fathers or, in this case, a particular strain of Catholic and Protestant theology - is necessary. It's part of our Christian walk as we follow the steps of Jesus.

But to tell us that we can't ask questions?...

A place where there is certitude - as Peterson notes, perhaps a bit irritably - is when Jesus confronts the religious leaders of his day. Not for being lax, not for their questions. But because they put restrictions on the people which limit their access to God (whom Jesus himself delivers them to):
They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them...
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Matthew 23
A favorite passage of the Doctrinal Police, however, is in Galatians 1:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
But the immediate and proper context makes it clear that this isn't about points of doctrine (which is unfortunately how it became standardly interpreted in the Greek-and-Roman-influenced West), it's about more burdens between Jesus and his followers. For instance, in the next chapter we find this:
You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law...
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (NLT)
But of course you don't need to go there or the next chapter, since just before the curse verse is this gem:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.**
It's Christ - Jesus - who is in the center of this all. It's not Christ's gospel, per se. And it's certainly not, "My interpretation of the Bible." It's the Good News of the Ascension of the New and Real Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now: why do I care? I'm not a pastor. I don't have a financial stake in the Evangelical field. Why am I up at the Lordforsakenhourof 1:30am writing this?

I can't help it. Christians are my family - brothers and sisters. Even when we have spats. Even when I disagree strongly with my literal blood brothers, we're still familia. So I want to go beyond the simple talking points and certainly beyond the anger and frustration. (not so sure I can do so at 1:30, though...). Galatians 3 saiz:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
* I don't want to say they're not important. They are. But they're not the end-game. They're not the litmus test. There is no indication of that whatsoever in the Bible and to point to that being the case is stretching.
** All the translations are in NIV unless otherwise mentioned.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A non-letter regarding an Open Letter to an Open Letter for yet another Open Letter to Rob Bell

A friend of mine wrote a fairly quick (and very conservative, I thought) response to an article by a prominent blogger in the Reformed camp who wrote a rather dismissive post about preacher/author Rob Bell (that Bell will most likely never read. Or would not, if he knows what's good for him) on the heels of Bell's new book coming out and the video that shocked a nation of Neo-Reformed types (both of which can be seen here). And then another blogger wrote a response to my friend's response. Three open letters, actually. But the whole thing's a digression, a rabbit trail around the edges of parsings. Nobody outside Evangelicalism (and its grumpy cousin, Fundamentalism) is going to care, and only a small (but largely vocal) segment therein.

The basic run-down is that Rob Bell (one of the more prominent Evangelicals of a new generation) wrote a book on the character and grasp of Love and how that conquers the doctrine of eternal, everlasting, burning-fire-brimstone-and-worm-infested hell. Bell doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table, certainly not unorthodox. He's not arguing that there isn't justice, nor that there isn't some form of hell (although it may not be what most pew-fillers imagine it to be) - but that hasn't stopped Team Hell from being very, very angewy (my three year old's word) and upset nor from casting him as a heretic. Err, maybe a Heretic. Capital, bolded, and italicized 'H' and all.

And now that the book is coming out today and a few people did read it and opine on it, some bloggers are angewy that others have told them not to rush to judgment when they were so absolutely sure they had judgment to bestowthrust.

Here's the money shot, though, of the third generation response from Reformed Arsenal:
You see, this is not just a matter of academic theological objection. This is not just a matter of us disagreeing with the premises that Bell puts forward. This is a matter of truth, and more importantly than that... it is a matter of salvific truth. Millions of people will read Bell's book... hundreds of thousands of Christians will question the truth that they have been taught since they were young. Thousands of non-Christians will read this and find security in the fact that Christ saves them regardless of their allegience to them... thousands will plummet into hell, because contrary to what Mr Bell argues... it is real and it is terrible.

No, you know what is terrible? Fear-based preaching. A relationship based on fear. Fear-mongering. The only one we should fear (in any sense of the word, we should say reverence with some trembling) is God.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Perfect love expels all fear.
I John 4:16

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12:18-22 (NIV)

What Reformed Arsenal is advocating above is that people will not come to trust in Jesus because they will not be afraid of hell. The view of hell that RA believes in, he believes, saves. Not so much Jesus. But the fear of retribution and burning, now, that's what God is looking for!

Hellfirephoto © 2010 Keo 101 | more info (via: Wylio)
Jesus isn't enough? He isn't the Way, the Truth, and the Life? He isn't the center of the Gospel, of the Good News?

The teaching that the doctrine of hell is central to the gospel isn't just manipulation, it is idolatry.

I hope that some of these leaders and pastors repent of this manipulation and idolatry. I'm not, however, saying they're going to hell or leading billions to hell.

Though I'm sure in trying to control a population from Rob Bell, they're leading them straight to Rob Bell. In a hand basket.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Peter King and the Roost

White Americanized Christianity has led to the death of close to a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Which leads us to this interesting and depressing paradox. In order to continue doing what we're doing, in order to continue to get oil fuel and the objects of our consumptive love so cheaply, the United States continues to be involved in international issues in a way that's detrimental to those outside of the US (and quite a few within the US). Then, we try to do everything within our power to keep those chickens from coming home to roost, so to say.

So we bring violence to the homes of millions around the world, and then get upset because some of it manifests itself in the US. Not only that, but we tend to blame the wrong crowds - not just for the global violence, but for the homegrown violence as well. Reprehensible Reptile Peter King's HUAC hearings are, for all their wanton ugliness, not getting quite the press they deserve.

IMG_1639photo © 2011 longislandwins | more info(via: Wylio)

If we *really* wanted to tackle the radicalization of Islam, we'd stop giving radical leaders ammo with which to point at us (western, Christian, white culture):

But that would probably mean we'd need to change some habits...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Happy Sorrows!

It's raining outside this morning. Overcast, dark, sunless, drizzling like soft tears. It's fitting for Ash Wednesday.
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
Isaiah 53:2-5 (New Living Translation)

My faith tradition prides itself on not following tradition (which, oddly enough, makes another tradition all in itself), but I've been drawing closer to these ancient traditions in years of late. But as I was - tardily - contemplating if I should even attempt to run this Lenten season. I decided that I should for two reasons.
Pieta, Carlo Crivelliphoto © 2009 Kathleen | more info (via: Wylio)
First, despite the fact that I've had problems with the sin-centric approach of the Western Church for the last few years and that I'm moving from that perspective, I have to admit that sin is real, and that it needs to be grieved over. I sin. I hurt my wife, myself, my God, my daughter, my neighbors, my friends, my brothers, parents, and sometimes even you by my selfishness, my unthinking, my uncouth responses, my deliberate and sometimes accidental burning hatred, loose words, my penchant for violence, my wandering eye.

I'm also a part of a society that revels in sin. And as a result, I find I need to stand with the prophet Daniel in calling out the sins of my people. My shopping habits help to embolden a system that oppresses working class people in the US as well as virtual slaves outside of it. Our habits of entertainment are a trap-door to escape from true brutality, we ignore and exploit those that are far from us in either ideology, geography, or in skin-tone. I hear Jesus telling us that we need to repent for allowing a culture where we still have inquisitions. I seek to change my heart from complicated excuses for my selfishness that lead to leisure built on or expanding violence to a life of simplicity and grace (and maybe vegetables).

The second meditation of this season is on the Man of Sorrows himself. This is a core Christian teaching, that God has become human. That he is deeply familiar with our deepest sufferings. That what we have gone through, God has gone through. The faith of Christians is rooted not in a removed and God-from-on-high, but rather a God-among-us. He became dirty, homeless, penalized, beaten, brutally murdered under the current death penalty.

And he is deeply familiar with the sorrows and griefs and pain and heartaches of the single mother bagging our groceries and gearing up for her second job of the day, of the eight year old daughter sold into brothels, the ten year old son working twelve hour days stitching together shoes, the abuelita with osteoporosis, the neglected teenager, the rejected queer, the forgotten father.

He knows me in my depression and my rage and my doubts and fears.

He knows us; he walks with us.

He is deeply acquainted with us.


Additional note:
If you're looking for something tangible to do to alleviate the suffering of others during this season, please consider taking a part of my friend Kurt's campaign to raise money for Blood: Water Mission. $2 a day for the next forty days, to raise money for wells in Africa.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Something is Wrong in this Video of Christians Confronting a Muslim

Update below

Can you count with me the number of fallacies in this video?

Anti-Muslim Protestor Throws Crosses At Feet Of Man Praying By White House

Now, the truth of the matter is, we don't know why this man is praying here. From what little information gathered here, we don't know who he is, or why he's praying so close to the White House. Nor do we know why these protesters have shown up with signs. If somebody could fill in the blanks with actual facts, I'll give you a shiny new shiny.*

  • We do know that he is silently praying.
  • We know that he's showing formidable courage.
  • We know that some of the protesters are talking about the love of Jesus, but not demonstrating it. I don't know about you, but when I pray, I really don't care for people to tell me I'm backward and wasting my time. Or that I'm evil. Kind of why I have a hard time with much of the New Atheist crowd.
  • Why is the guy with two Israel flags thanking God for the 10/40 Window (basically Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia area that is largely Muslim and closed to Christian missionaries - and often hostile to native or converted Christians)? Is he trying to taunt this man? Wouldn't the Christian witness in Muslim communities and countries be better served by, I don't know, not enabling oppressive governments?
  • And we know that a few other protesters are telling this man - and other Muslims - to go to hell. And they've got signs to say that.
Apparently, the men gathered around the pray-er are there for a counter-protest. One group went to DC to protest the anti-Sharia Law laws, and another group (them) went to protest their protestation. The object of the mob direction in the middle of this video was not a part of either protest but regularly comes to pray in front of the White House. As he was doing so, the counter protesters (who were annoyed that the original protesters failed to show up and had nobody to yell at all day) circled around him and then began insulting his Starbucks coffee (sorry LKM) and yadda yadda yadda.

So, that makes me ask another question:
  • WTH? Why are the Christians attacking this man, who is not engaging with them? Shouldn't they clean house first? Shouldn't they focus on the man who brought a sign telling Muslims to go to hell? Wouldn't that be your first priority? Instead of circling him like a pack of godless vultures, maybe the Christians within this group should worry about converting the ugliness of the crowd that they're a part of?
*It must be actual factual. In other words, citations from Pam Geller and her satanic minions as to why the Mooslim is there (BECAUSE HE'S BLOWING UP THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!1111!!! WOLVERINEZ!!) are not viable. You will not get a shiny for that.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

LSR: Surprised By Hope: Beyond Hope, Beyond Pity, pt. 2

Second in three part series on NT Wright's views of hell (etc) as seen in Surprised by Hope (Part one here):

Judgment - the sovereign declaration that this is good and to be upheld and vindicated, and that is evil and to be condemned - is the only alternative to chaos. There are some things, quite a lot of them in fact, that one must not tolerate lest one merely collude with wickedness. We all know this perfectly well, yet we conveniently forget it whenever squeamishness or the demands of current opinion make it easier to go with the flow of social convention. The problem is that much theology, having lived for so long on the convenience food of an easygoing tolerance of everything, and "inclusivity" with as few boundaries as McWorld, has become depressingly flabby, unable to climb even the lower slopes of social and cultural judgment let alone the steep upper reaches of that judgment of which the early Christians spoke and wrote.

But judgment is necessary - unless we were to conclude, absurdly, that nothing much is wrong or, blasphemously, that God doesn't mind very much. In the justly famous phrase of Miroslav Volf, there must be "exclusion" before there can be "embrace": evil must be identified, named, and dealt with before there can be reconciliation. This is the basis on which Desmond Tutu has built his mind-blowing work on the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. And - this is the crunch - where those who have acted wickedly refuse to see the point, there can be no reconciliation, no embrace.

gavelphoto © 2007 elaine y | more info (via: Wylio)

God is utterly committed to set the world right in the end. This doctrine, like that of resurrection itself, is held firmly in place by the belief in God as creator, on the one side, and the belief in his goodness, on the other. And that setting right must necessarily involve the elimination of all that distorts God's good and lovely creation and in particular of all that defaces his image-bearing human creatures. Not to put too fine a point on it, there will be no barbed wire in the kingdom of God. And those whose whole being has become dependent upon barbed wire will have no place there either.

For "barbed wire," of course, read whichever catalog of awfulness you prefer: genocide, nuclear bombs, child prostitution, the arrogance of empire, the commodification of souls, the idolization of race. The New Testament has several such categories. functioning as red flashing lights to warn against going down a road that leads straight to a fenceless cliff. And in the analysis offered by early Christians from Paul onward, such patterns of behavior have three things to be said about them.

First, they all stem from the primal fault, which is idolatry, worshiping that which is not God as if it were. Second, they all show the telltale marks of the consequent fault, which is subhuman behavior, that is, the failure fully to reflect the image of God, that missing the mark as regards full, free, and genuine humanness for which the New Testament's regular word is hamartia, "sin." (Sin, we note, is not the breaking of arbitrary rules; rather, the rules are the thumbnail sketches of different types of dehumanizing behavior.) Third, it is perfectly possible, and it really does seem to happen in practice, that this idolatry and dehumanization become so endemic that in the life and chosen behavior of an individuals, and indeed of groups, that unless there is a specific turning away from such a way of life, those who persist are conniving at their own ultimate dehumanization...

But if there is indeed final condemnation for those who, by their idolatry, dehumanize themselves and drag others down with them, the account I have suggested of how this works in practice provides a somewhat different picture from those normally imagined...


I'll have to cut it there. I don't want to get sued by any publishers, as this blog is non-profit (so faaarrrr). In the next few days, I want to sum up Wright's imagination on what "hell" may entail, as well as heaven, etc. For now, a couple questions:

  1. What has been your impression of either of the two extreme views on hell - either in your own experience or with Wright's characterizations?
  2. What do you feel about the way Wright balances justice and mercy?
  3. Wright talks about the excluded, evil "Barbed wire". What do you feel about the idea that there are people who are so defined by their evil that they are excluded from heaven?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

LSR: Surprised By Hope: Beyond Hope, Beyond Pity, pt. 1

N.T. Wright Surprised by Hope:

The word hell conjures up an image gained more from medieval imagery than from the earliest Christian writings. Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in God, so many who were taught to think of hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire, or for that matter as a kind of torture chamber at the center of God's castle of heavenly delights, decided that when they stopped believing in that, so they stopped believing in hell. The first group decided that because they couldn't believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second decided that because they couldn't believe in childish images of hell, they must be universalists.

There are of course better reasons for becoming a universalist. Many who occupy one off those positions have gone by a much more sophisticated route than the ones I just described. But, at least at a popular level, it is not the serious early Christian doctrine of final judgement that has been rejected but rather one or other gross caricature.

The most common New Testament word sometimes translated by hell is Gehenna. Gehenna was a place, not just an idea: it was the rubbish heap outside the southwest corner of the old city of Jerusalem. There is to this day a valley at that point that bears the name Ge Hinnom... As with [Jesus'] talk about heaven, so with his talk of Gehenna: once Christian readers had been sufficiently removed from original meaning of the words, alternative images would come to mind, generated not by Jesus or the New Testament but by the stock of images, some of them extremely lurid, supplied by ancient and medieval folklore and imagination.

Fire Flamephoto © 2007 Nick Perla | more info (via: Wylio)

The point is that when Jesus was warning his hearers about Gehenna, he was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life they would burn in the next one. As with God's kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else. His message to his contemporaries was stark and (as we would say today) political. Unless they turned back from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing God's kingdom in their own terms, not least through armed revolt against Rome, then the Roman juggernaut would do what large, greedy, and ruthless empires have always done to smaller countries (not least in the Middle East) whose resources they covet or whose strategic location they are anxious to guard. Rome would turn Jerusalmen into a hideous, stinking extension of its own smoldering rubbish heap. When Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish," that is the primary meaning he had in mind.

It is therefore only by extension, and with difficulty, that we can extrapolate from the many gospel sayings that articulate this urgent, immediate warning to the deeper question of a warning about what may happen after death itself. The two parables that appear to address this question directly are, we should remember, parables, not actual descriptions of the afterlife. They use stock imagery from ancient Judaism, such as "Abraham's bosom," not to teach about what happens after death but to insist on justice and mercy within the present life. This is not to say that Jesus would have dissented from their implied picture of postmortem realities. It is, rather, to point out that to take the scene of Abraham, the Rich Man, and Lazarus literally is about as sensible as trying to find out the name of the Prodigal Son. Jesus simply didn't say very much about the future life; he was, after all, primarily concerned to announce that God's kingdom was coming "on earth as in heaven." He gave (as we have seen) no fresh teaching on the question of the resurrection apart from dark hints that it was going to happen, and happen soon, to one person ahead of everyone else; for the rest, he was content to reinforce the normal Jewish picture. In the same way, he was not concerned to give any fresh instruction on postmoretem judgment apart from the strange hints that it was going to be dramatically and horizontally anticipated in one particular way, in space-time history, within a generation.

Look ... a bishopphoto © 2007 Gareth Saunders | more info (via: Wylio)We cannot therefore look to Jesus's teaching for any fresh detail on whether there really are some who finally reject God and, as it were, have that rejection ratified. All the signs, of course, are that he went along with the normal first-century Jewish perception: there would indeed be such people, with the only surprise being the surprise experienced, by sheep and goats alike, at their fate and at the evidence on which it was based. And the early Christian writers go along with this. Hell, and final judgment, is not a major topic in the letters (though when it comes it is very important, as for instance in Romans 2:1-16); it is not mentioned at all in Acts; and the vivid pictures toward the end of the book of Revelation, while being extremely important, have always proved among the hardest parts of scripture to interpret with any certainty. All this should warn us against the cheerful double dogmatism that has bedeviled discussion of these topics -- the dogmatism, that is, both of the person who knows exactly who is and who isn't "going to hell" and of the universalist who is absolutely certain that there is no such place or that if there is it will, at the last, be empty.

... I remember, in one of my first tutorials in Oxford, being told by my tutor that he and many others believed that "though hell may exist, it will at the last be untenanted" -- in other words, that hell would turn out to be purgatory after all, an unpleasant preparation for eventual bliss. The merest mention of final judgment has been squeezed out of Christian consciousness in several denominations... by the cavalier omission of verses from public biblical reading...

But the worm has turned, theologically speaking, in the last twenty years. The failure of liberal optimism in Western society has been matched by the obvious failure of the equivalent liberal optimism in theology, driven as it was by the spirit of the age. It is a shame to have to rerun the story of nearly a hundred years ago, with Karl Barth furiously rejecting the liberal theology that had created the climate for the First World War, but it does sometimes feel as if that is what has happened. Faced with the Balkans, Rwanda, the Middle East, Darfur, and all kinds of other horrors that enlightened Western thought can neither explain nor alleviate, opinion in many quarters has... come to see that there must be such a thing as judgment.

(cont'd next post)

Some questions:
  1. What do you think of Wright's understanding and usage of Gehenna?
  2. If you know much of Wright's arguments in this book about the afterlife, how does that differ from how you have been taught that?
  3. The next post will continue to deal with the issue of justice, but how can you envision that God's justice may be different than the standard view of hell?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Greg Boyd on Eternal Judgment

Pastor and theologian Greg Boyd looks carefully at the verses used to justify the traditional view of hell (a place of eternal torment, where the worm never dies, etc.), and talks about how he envisions the Final Judgment.

Some, unfortunately, have already written off Boyd for some of his non-traditional views (Open Theism, which is not a view that I share. Nor, really, care to look into at this moment). But, first, we should take truth wherever we find it. All truth is God's truth. Second, however, and this is kind of central to my point, just because it's not traditional doesn't mean it isn't true, or that the person who brought up the non-traditional point-of-view is a false prophet and worthy of... well, hell.
A return ticket to Hellphoto © 2005 Aslak Raanes | more info (via: Wylio)
So please, take away about forty-five minutes and give it a good listen before dismissing it. Because, as I've come to learn, questions are good. And God is bigger than our questions.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Snapshot for the Month: pictures of easy bake of making cookies all of the pictures

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THREE times? Srsly?