The Taser's Edge


In the Sabbath Rest of Tom Bombadil
January 11, 2013, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Books, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Prayer, Spirituality, Theology, Worship | Tags:

Though the hobbits ate, as only famished hobbits can eat, there was no lack. The drink in their drinking-bowls seemed to be clear cold water, yet it went to their hearts like wine and set free their voices. The guests became suddenly aware that they were singing merrily, as if it were easier and more natural than talking.

The Lord of the Rings, Part One: The Fellowship of the Rings, Bk. I, Ch. 7



(Yet) A(nother) Response to Ross Douthat

Part I: A Furious Few Days in One Small Corner of the Interwebs:

The article that kicked it off:

The responses that rolled in:

And finally, far less Facebook-ed:

 

Part II: My Own Response

The worst of the responses to Douthat have failed to hear his argument. To be clear, contra Uffman and Butler Bass, he is NOT making the decades-old evangelical argument that the American mainline churches’ drop in attendance since the Cold War era is due to those churches’ lack of Christian conviction, values, faithfulness, etc. Not even the Southern Baptist Convention (shrinking symbol of American evangelicalism) leads with that argument any more.

The heart of Douthat’s op-ed instead comes at its end:

What should be wished for…is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence…the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism.

The only response that I have read that really hears this final point is AKM Adams. And it’s on this point that Douthat is completely right.

Part III: An Oddly Illustrative Juxtaposition

During my time at Duke Divinity, I served a year-long internship at a rural North Carolina United Methodist Church. Other populations have their Rotary or Kiwanis or Knights of Columbus, but rural North Carolinians have the Ruritan Club. Members get together a couple times or more each month, eat well, raise funds for various causes, sometimes join together in volunteer opportunities.

Almost every active member of the church was a Ruritan (or the spouse of a Ruritan), and almost every active Ruritan was an active member of one of the local churches. The two populations were virtually interchangeable, but what this meant is that the church could have no discipleship-oriented activities, service projects, classes, small groups, Bible studies, or worship services while the Ruritans were meeting or having an event.

For the lay and previous pastoral leadership of this particular congregation, this was not a problem. My own read is that this was not a conflation (as one might want to assume unfairly of rural North Carolinians) of being a good American and being a Christian. The conflation was between being a person who cared for others and being a Christian.

They are not the same.

Part IV: An Old Hope
The Episcopal Church in particular, but also other mainline denominations such as the UCC, as well as parts of the PCUSA, the UMC, and the ELCA (and sorry if I’m leaving out any) are just like the Ruritans. There are plenty of good things to be said about Ruritans, and there were plenty of good reasons for liberal Christians to be a non-violent witness at the Chicago G-8 Summit this year.

But because I’m a Christian, I am fool enough to believe that by the Holy Spirit, when a Ruritan serves a pint of Brunswick stew to another Ruritan, it can be Christ serving Brunswick stew. And when an Anabaptist Catholic Worker refuses to return the blows of an overzealous riot policeman, that can be Christ loving the world once again.

There is a difference in the Christian’s way of being in the world, because of what we believe about the triune God in the world, and because of the particular way that particular God has sought out our particular selves. This particularity is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God help us if we lose it, no matter how much our churches may shrink or grow.



The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go‘s protagonist and narrator, Todd Hewitt, is the last boy in the last village on his planet. Soon before his birth on New World, war had broken out between human settlers and the native Spackle. Although the human settlers of the planet managed to destroy the natives, it was not before they had been struck with a biological weapon which killed every woman and girl and which left the remaining men unable to stop hearing the unfiltered thoughts of one another as well as every dog, squirrel, cow, and crocodile on the entire planet.

As the single and final boy on the planet, Todd’s days are spent working as well as playing and hunting with his dog Manchee, particularly in the local swamps. One day, for the first time in his life, he hears…silence.  Its source? A human girl.

For his discovery, the men of his town decide they must kill him, and as he flees with the girl, his dog, and a long-hidden journal written by his mother into the wilderness of an entire planet, he is forced to realize that all he’s ever been told about his life and his people is a complete lie.

Read this book. It’s an original story, it is well-written, it is good speculative fiction, and it respects its younger target audience (while remaining very dark). And when Lionsgate releases the film version in a couple years, you’ll be able to quietly judge all those people scrambling onto the bandwagon at the last minute.



A Theological Twanscript

Please follow James K.A. Smith and me, but know first that we don’t actually know each other.



“O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!”: A Eucharistic Prayer of St. Francis
Let the whole of mankind tremble
     the whole world shake
     and the heavens exult
when Christ, the son of the living God,
     is [present] on the altar
     in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look, brothers, at the humility of God
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves, as well,
     that you may be exalted by Him.
Therefore,
     hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves
so that
He Who gives Himself totally to you
     may receive you totally.

from “A Letter to the Entire Order” in Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (Paulist Press: The Classics of Western Spirituality), trans. by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM and Ignatius C. Brady, OFM



And the Essential Ingredient…

We are now able to see the essential ingredient that makes psychotherapy effective and successful. It is not ‘unconditional positive regard,’ nor is it magical words, techniques or postures; it is human involvement and struggle. It is the willingness of the therapist to extend himself or herself for the purpose of nurturing the patient’s growth–willingness to go out on a limb, to truly involve oneself at an emotional level in the relationship, to actually struggle with the patient and with oneself. In short, the essential ingredient of successful deep and meaningful psychotherapy is love.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

This quote was striking to me because of how true it is for so many relationships, personal and professional: spouse and spouse, parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, pastor and parishioner. It’s also a very characteristic quote for Peck, with its existential overtones as he defines love.

Love is “human involvement and struggle,” which sounds like a good definition for human life, at least as we experience it.



Book Haul(-ah!)
March 15, 2012, 11:46 pm
Filed under: Books, Life | Tags: , ,
There’s a used bookstore between my bank and home, so when I cash a check…there is sometimes trouble:
  • Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories by Raymond Carver
  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Open Media Collection: 9-11; Media Control; Acts of Agression by Noam Chomsky
  • Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  • The Reinvention of Work by Matthew Fox
  • A Spirituality Named Compassion by Matthew Fox
  • Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Creating Deeper Connections by Henry Grayson
  • Receiving Love: Transform Your Relationship by Letting Yourself Be Loved by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
  • The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
  • Self-Analysis by Karen Horney
  • Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott
  • The Last Days of Louisiana Red by Ishmael Reed
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  • Zen Mind, Beginnner’s Mind: Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice by Shunryu Suzuki


I Pray that You Will Fall Out of Love

M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, doesn’t believe that “falling” in or out of love is really love at all. And he’s convincing (although it didn’t take much for me). Here, he makes an analogy between a couple continuing in love and a young child’s slow developmental discovery that it and the world are separate beings:

Just as reality intrudes upon the two-year-old’s fantasy of omnipotence so does reality intrude upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, individual will reassert itself. He wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to go to the movies; he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank; she wants a dishwasher. She wants to talk about her job; he wants to talk about his. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begins to come to the sickening realization that they are not one with the beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from the other’s. One by one, gradually or suddenly, the ego boundaries snap back into place; gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.

To me, although it might be depressing to some, it is incredibly hopeful that “falling in love” is not love, and that “falling out of love” is actually a requirement along the way to “real loving.” This makes love about growing up, not about being “young [and stupid] at heart.” It also makes love about taking personal responsibility. If love just “happens,” then we bear no responsibility, take no ownership, and neither are we responsible if we never love or fail to love. But if love is work, a taking up of responsibility, a part of maturation and growth and human adulthood, then it is the greatest work of our lives, worth every ounce of sweat and tears along the way.

If you are in a relationship right now, I hope and even pray that you fall out of love soon.

Finally, what about that “ego boundaries snap back into place” line? Surely (you may be thinking) the ego is exactly what’s getting in the way of so many relationships, with self-centeredness and all that. While selfishness is indeed a problem, the reality is also that you cannot love someone until you recognize them as an other. If you do not recognize their otherness, then you are not loving them as yourself, but only as if they were yourself, and you will inevitably try to control them, to assert your power over them. That is, you will be “loving” a lie; to see the other as yourself is an unreality. The other person is an other person, and only when you see the space between you can you embrace.

Ten out of ten people agree, sex with someone-not-yourself is just better.



The God from Whom I Repeatedly Flee

All theologizing, if worth its salt, must submit to the test of hospital gowns, droning television sets, and food spilled in a clumsy effort to eat. What can be said of God that may be spoken without shame in the presence of those who are dying?…I met a woman by the elevator each day whose mouth was always open wide, as if uttering a silent scream. In a bed down the hall lay a scarcely recognizable body, twisted by crippling arthritis–a man or woman I’d never met. Another woman cried out every few moments, desperately calling for help in an “emergency” that never ebbed. Who were these people?

They represented the God from whom I repeatedly flee. Hidden in the grave-clothes of death, this God remains unavailable to me in my anxious denial of aging and pain. He is good news only to those who are broken. But to them he’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, lurking in the shadows behind the nurses’ desk, promising life in the presence of death. This is the last place I might have sought him. I found myself wanting often to run from that gaping mouth, the twisted body, the cries that echoed through the halls. I resisted going to the nursing home. Yet at the same time, I was drawn there.

I know why Francis had to kiss the leper, why Mother Teresa reached out to those dying on the streets of Calcutta, why Jean Vanier gives himself without restraint to the handicapped. It has nothing to do with charity. It’s a concern to touch–and be touched by–the hidden Christ, the one found nowhere else so clearly. It’s a longing to reach out to the grotesque, stroking the bloodied head of a slain lamb as its image gradually changes into the fierce and kindly face of a Lion whose name is love.

-Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes



In all things, charity

I’ve often thought that the atmosphere of theological discourse on the internet is very similar to ages in the past. Others apparently agree…

Lutheran Insulter (or check out the original, Shakespearean Insulter)