The Taser's Edge

Tuesday Reading Roundup

City of God by Augustine of Hippo
Augustine continues tearing it up.  For me, it’s good timing, as I’ll be putting together a homily for Ash Wednesday in the next couple weeks, and he’s helping me to begin to understand what it means.  It’s not the most sunny picture of this life.  From Book XIII, Ch. 10:

In fact, from the moment a man begins to exist in this body which is destined to die, he is involved all the time in a process whose end is death.  For this is the end to which the life of continual change is all the time directed, if indeed we can give the name of life to this passage towards death.  There is no one, it goes without saying, who is not nearer to death this year than he was last year, nearer tomorrow than today, today than yesterday, who will not by and by be nearer than he is at this moment, or is not nearer at the present time than he was a little while ago.  Any space of time that we live through leaves us with so much less time to live, and the remainder decreases with every passing day; so that the whole of our lifetime is nothing but a race towards death, in which no one is allowed the slightest pause or any slackening of the pace.  All are driven on at the same speed, and hurried along the same road to the same goal…

Now if each man begins to die, that is to be ‘in death,’ from the moment when death – that is, the taking away of life – begins to happen in him…then everyone is in death from the moment that he begins his bodily existence.  For what else is going on, every day, every hour, every minute, but this process of death?

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
Crouch continues to hold my attention, although I have this sense that I’m not entirely tracking with him, so we’ll see if that firms up into something nameable.  Until then, a great thought from the guy…

As we’ve seen, Genesis 1-11 lays out culture as, on the whole, a downward trajectory from the Garden to the city: from God’s original good intention to a wholesale human rebellion against the world’s maker.  Suppose you knew nothing of the middle of the story – suppose your only Bible lacked everything between Genesis 12 and Revelation 20…”Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; and the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).  Ah! you’d think.  God is starting over again, just as he was tempted to do at the time of the flood…

But then you’d read Revelation 21:2: “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

The what?  The holy city?

Revelation 21:2 is the last thing a careful reader of Genesis 1-11 would expect: in the remade world, the center of God’s creative delight is not a garden but a city…Somehow the city, the embodiment of concentrated human culture, has been transformed from the site of sin and judgment to the ultimate expression of grace, a gift coming “down out of heaven from God”…

…when God walks among redeemed humanity at the end of the Bible’s story, he walks not just on garden paths but on city streets.

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
The title remains as lame as last week, except that now I’ve read that chapter, and, er, hmm, it’s apt.  Johnson is moving through this set of conversations, all in the service of helping couples develop healthy attachment relationships through being honest and open about their emotions.  Now, being me (and I don’t mean that as a bad thing), I’m beginning to think through not only what all this means for my own marriage, not only what it means for my own ministry of pastoral care and counseling, but also what attachment theory has to offer for how we understand our relationships with God.  All the same basic questions apply: Does God really love me?  Really care?  Am I really safe in God?  Will I be rejected?  Will I be accepted?  Do I really know who this God person is anyway?

In conclusion, as much as I’m liking what I’m reading, I need to read a good novel.  I’ve made a tiny start on Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but I’m not yet sure that it’s got me hooked.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

City of God by Augustine of Hippo
The first time I tried to read this was in high school.  Clearly that wasn’t going to work out.  The current attempt is probably about a year in the making (or more).  Part I was really interesting to the type of person that such things are interesting to (like me and others interested in Greek and Roman antiquity).  I started Part II today, and it is kind of amazing thus far…

When ‘God rested on the seventh day from all his works, and sanctified that day,’ this is not to be understood in any childish way, as if God had toiled at his work, seeing that ‘he spoke and they were made’ by a word which was intelligible and eternal [ed. note: JESUS! THE WORD!], not vocal and temporal.  No, the ‘rest of God’ means the rest of those who find their rest in him, just as ‘the joy of a house’ means the joy of those who rejoice in that house – even if it is not the house itself but something else which is responsible for the joy.  How much more appropriate it would be if in fact the house itself were to make the inhabitants glad by reason of its beauty.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
Interesting thing to read alongside City of God as Crouch’s work stands in that work’s direct shadow, with Crouch working toward an understanding of Christ, the church, and culture which is about creating culture (as opposed to the many other ways that Christians have tried to relate to wider culture in the past).

The writers of the Bible would have been the first to insist that human attempts at fashioning images of God are doomed to failure or worse.  But God, it seems, has no such limitation.  God himself makes an “image” of himself.  Humankind’s “images of God” are always deficient and destructive, the Hebrew Bible insists, but God’s own “image of God” is the summary of everything he has made, crowned with the words, “It was very good.”

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Sue Johnson
Cheesy title or not, this book is hip-hop-happening.  Its basic claim is that the take on what makes romantic relationships work which has been mainlined into American pop psychology and pop culture through sitcoms and romcoms (that ‘take’ being communication, communication, communication, all five words containing ‘com’ of course) doesn’t actually hold up.  Johnson argues (and has research to back it) that in the same way that infants have to form strong attachments with their mothers in order to thrive into adulthood, we continue to need to have strong bonding attachments in order to thrive.  All of our relationships, but particularly our most intimate ones, are marked by a need for healthy attachments which help us to feel safe and secure in all areas of our lives.

Two reasons that this sounds brilliant to me.  (1) Safety is the basic human need that I personally learned was necessary for every successful chaplaincy interaction I had during my chaplaincy residency, and which (I believe) I learned is necessary for every fruitful human interaction, period.  (2) This revision make clear how ideologically individualistic the “all codependency is harmful” school of psychology is.  The need for making adult attachments in order to be healthy individuals is much more in line with a Biblical theological anthropology of interdependency.

We have to dive below to discover the basic problem: these couples have disconnected emotionally; they don’t feel emotionally safe with each other.  What couples and therapists too often do not see is that most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection.  Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you, depend on you?  Are you there for me?