Archive for story

The return of the blog

tumblr_m9pb53vJjx1rnmfgho1_500After a long hiatus in blogging I have decided to warm up the keyboard and start blogging again. Any long term reader will immediately notice that the name of the blog has changed and with that maybe the direction of the blog as well.

Personally I think the new name “Theopoetics” better reflect the direction the blog has had for a long time and that the byline: Life is my religion also reflects this direction.

The return of the blog will start with a blog series that will unpack that very statement over the course of the next few months.

If you are familiar with the kind of theologians that move in more progressive circles (process theologians and radical Christianity etc) you will already be familiar with the term theopoetics. But for those of you who wonder here is the Wikipedia entry on theopoetics:

Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of poetic analysis, process theologynarrative theology, and postmodern philosophy. Originally developed by Stanley Hopper and David Leroy Miller in 1960s and furthered significantly by Amos Wilder with his 1976 text, Theopoetic: Theology and the Religious Imagination. Recently, there has been a revitalized interest with new work being done by Rubem AlvesCatherine KellerJohn CaputoPeter RollinsScott HollandMelanie MayMatt GuynnRoland FaberJason Derr, et al.

Theopoetics suggests that instead of trying to develop a “scientific” theory of God, as Systematic Theology attempts, theologians should instead try to find God through poetic articulations of their lived (“embodied”) experiences. It asks theologians to accept reality as a legitimate source of divine revelation and suggests that both the divine and the real are mysterious — that is, irreducible to literalist dogmas or scientific proofs.

Theopoetics makes significant use of “radical” and “ontological” metaphor to create a more fluid and less stringent referent for the Divine. One of the functions of theopoetics is to recalibrate theological perspectives, suggesting that theology can be more akin to poetry than physics. It belies the logical assertion of the Principle of Bivalence and stands in contrast to some rigid Biblical hermeneutics that suggest that each passage of scripture has only one, usually teleological, interpretation.

Whereas these strict, literalist approaches believe scripture and theology possess inerrant factual meaning and pay little attention to historicity, a theopoetic approach takes a positive position on faith statements that can be continuously reinterpreted. Theopoetics suggest that just as a poem can take on new meaning depending on the context in which the reader interprets it, texts and experiences of the Divine can and should take on new meaning depending on the changing situation of the individual.

 

 

On the mystery…

Yesterday we had the honour of having two good friends on furlough visit us at work. We sat down for an hour and talked about the church where they where now serving, life in general and much, much more.

In the middle of our conversation they told us an incredible story (and I mean that literally, a story that defies all logic and credibility) of a magical box that produces items out of nothing. I think we felt like other people feel when told of miraculous healings or when someone reads the bible and runs into the reason-defying stunts of Jesus. I remember feeling the same way when Wolfgang Simpson (a prominent person within the house church movement) told us about missionaries praying for and seeing the instant healing of a two headed baby in Africa.

When someone tells you a story about something that does not make sense (or doesn't make sense to you) we have some nifty go to responses. Politely nodding, while thinking, they are mad (I know this not to be true in this case). Trying to rationally explain the phenomenon away. Or decide that they would tell us what really happened if their daughter was not with us here (I better not make any comments about Santa or the Toothfairy either).

As we where talking I found myself deciding not to dismiss it as madness and not to try to reason it out scientifically, but to just let it be. I found myself wanting to believe in this fairy tale. Wanting it to be true of the world. Some may call this a naive denial of reality, but I would rather label it (if it must be labeled) a furious longing for the transcendent. If I can let it be and not pick it apart, I can let it, like Shrodinger's cat, both be true and not true until the box is opened.

It is like the last lines of Terry Pratchet's book “The Hogfather” where the protagonists narrowly escape the disaster of loosing the wagon that pull the sun up on the sky. “What would have happened”, they ask, “if we would have failed? Would the sun not rise tomorrow? Oh sure it would, but it would just have been a glowing ball of gas floating in space”.

Most of the time we are so quick to disarm and dismantle the mysterious that we never get to experience the beauty of the mythical, magical and simply unbelievable. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating blind unreasoned faith (anyone who knows me will testify that it is simply not my thing). I am merely suggesting that sometimes we need to accept the beauty and power of a story without having to defend or even consider the veracity and factuality of the tale but simply let the power of the story carry us to a different state of being, knowing and experiencing.

We simply need more myth, more mystery, more magic, more story in all our lives!

Jesus in drag

gou53966s

Why are you doing this? Why do you take such an interest in the LGBTQ and sexuality? The question has been asked of me many times. By my leaders, by the people in my congregation and by my family. In fact I think it was my brother who asked the million dollar question one day just after I had come out with my LGBTQ and the church series: “How many LGBTQ people do you have in your church?”

The truth is that I somehow knew that this was an issue that we had to deal with. Already at our Officers training (like seminary but for Salvation Army Officers) I started asking the questions. How are we to deal with the LGBTQ community? It seemed no one was particularly interested in even broaching the subject and the ones that did either did so with a love the sinner hate the sin attitude and some even sneered at me “Why should we talk about this, it’s not like they will join your church, and why would they want to join a club where they are not welcome?”

After receiving my orders and moving to Malmö it took one week before I was caught like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck: “What if two men asks you to marry them what would you say?” This, asked by a group of teenagers hanging about outside during the Malmö festival. I had no coherent or thought through answer, I believe I stumbled through some kind of: It’s complicated kind of response.

I realised I had to get my theology straight I had to reconcile what I knew in my heart to be true and how I read the bible. It was fishing for help in these issues that I stumbled into Tim. We met in the chatroom connected to Doug Paggit’s radio show, I do not remember how the conversation started but I do remember how it ended. Tim asked me if I wanted to talk about this over Skype and I answered that I would love to, it seemed it was hard to get anyone to actually have a constructive conversation about this that wasn’t just regurgitating old evangelical sound bytes.

The conversation with Tim was great, the fact that he didn’t try to convince me of anything helped. Not once did he try to say: “This is how you should read scripture.” He simply directed me to some great resources (Andrew Marin: Love Is an Orientation among others). But then he shared story after story about how he had encountered deep spirituality and loving worship within the LGBTQ community, this I think was important for me to hear as a recovering pentecostal fundamentalist. But nothing could have really prepared me for the shocking turn the conversation took next.

After having to swear on the record that I wouldn’t be recording our conversation Timothy told me about his project. How he also had found himself on a lonely desert journey and had decided that he once and for all had to deal with the inner Pharisee. That he had done this by coming out as gay (even though he was straight) to his friends, family and church. Here are his words about it:

The thing that truly astonished me with Tim’s story was that he was willing to literally walk a mile/a year in the shoes of the other (please learn more about Tim’s experiment and support his indiegogo campaign) . It is this uncomfortable truth that seems to trip me up wherever I go in my spiritual walk like a pair of shoes carelessly kicked of on the hallway carpet (always tripping you up on the way to the restroom). I am committed to work day and night for the human rights of others but am I willing to walk in their shoes and more importantly am I willing to know their pain. Not just know of their pain but to actually feel it?

I recently stumbled onto this disturbing quote from Jim Palmer‘s Divine Nobodies:

“I uncovered something unsettling about myself. I don’t really want a “relationship” with God. Here’s what I want. I want to share with God all I feel, all I need, all that grieves me, all that makes me happy, the puzzling things, the fun things, and the hard things, but I would prefer that God keep his stuff to himself. I don’t want to hear about his pain and share in his grief.”

That rings so true with me, I really want a shoulder to cry on but am I willing to bear the burden of the other, and am I willing to bear the burden of God?

Are you? Would you be willing to undergo persecution, ridicule just to know others? Would you walk the valley of death not for your own sake but just to know the other, to love them and maybe to realise that the other is not so different than yourself? If you won’t take it from me, please read more about Tim’s experiment and let it challenge you.

My conversation with Tim was, for me the first real step of this journey. I had been planning it for some time, checking out the catalogues, admiring the post cards, packing the bag but now I was ready to walk the walk inspired by Tim’s courage!

 

 

A mythical childlike faith

We have for some time, on my swedish blog, and in our corps, been excavating the Salvation Army’s doctrines. When you talk about the doctrines it easily becomes an abstract discussion far away from any reality we might live in.

-Why should it be so complicated? -Why do we find out and know everything?

The questions are justified, on the one hand, one can easily say: We can not know anything about God, if one claims to know something about god then you have created an idol. On the other hand, one could argue that we are both encouraged and invited by scripture to seek understanding and wisdom (sophia).

Some of those who advocate a blind acceptance of biblicism and any doctrines think we need to have a childlike faith (and with this they mean a non-questioning and innocent faith).

Rachel Held Evans writes in his book “Evolving in Monkey Town”:

Those who say that having childlike faith means not asking questions haven’t met too many children. Anyone who has kids or loves kids or has spent more than five minutes with kids knows that kids ask a lot of questions. Rarely are they satisfied with short answers, and rarely do they spend much time absorbing your response before moving on to the next “why?” or “how come?- Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

Children are a bit like Ronja Rumpnissar, “Voffö, Voffö fool?”

 

what they (children) really mean is, ‘That’s interesting to me. Let’s talk about that together. Tell me more, please.’ ” Questions are a child’s way of expressing love and trust. They are a child’s way of starting dialogue. They are a child’s way of saying, “I want to have a conversation with you.”

– Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

But the “asking questions” game quickly becomes tedious if one is to respond to the questions with quick and easy answers, this will make sure that the questions never end. We believe that the child wants answers, but what the child really wants is to have a conversation, intimacy, quality time. Therefore, the answer is not that important but the conversation is, or the road to the answer ….

Psychologists say that the best way to handle children in this stage of development is not to answer their questions directly but instead to tell them stories
– Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

Soon the little girl will become so lost in her father’s beautiful stories that she will forget she ever had a question to begin with — Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey town
– Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town

Perhaps this is the via mediabetween the biblicist /fundamentalist and the naturalistic/scientific way. To read and understand the biblical text as a mythical story.

 

We like children ask questions, and our God responds with mythical tale.

A myth is how things always are, but never where.
– Marcus Borg, Putting Away Childish things

“All stories are true. But some of them never happened.”
– James A. Owen, The Search for the Red Dragon

Our stories, our myths, our fairy tales affect us deeply. Scientists believe it is in our treasury of folk tales (which is an important part of our heritage, or rather what actually defines our culture) that we maintain who we are and the meaning of our lives. Somewhere instinctively we know that there is truth in story, truths hidden deep in our consciousness.

“Story is a primary language of experience. Telling and listening to a story has the same structure as our experience … The episodes of our lives take place one after another just like a story. One of the ways we know each other is by telling our stories. We live in stories”
– Steven A. Evans Quoting Boomershine in ‘Story telling Affecting worldview change’

Narrative is so important to us. We can only love other people by getting to know them, we can only know them by hearing and understanding their story. We can only invite other people to love us by inviting them into our story for to be known is to be loved, and to be loved is to be known.

Note how the woman at the well live in a depressingly small story (a corrosive story, Morrisy) and sneaks of to the well believing herself to be unlovable.

-Give me water, he says

– Are you really talking to me, she says, disbelief thick in her voice.

-Tell me your story, he implies

-I don’t have one, she lies

Caution spilling out of her very being. He then tells her, her story and her life is transformed, she is known, she is loved. She runs of to tell her new story!

-Listen, listen all and listen well, I met a man who told me my story, now come hear for yourselves.

And she becomes part of gods story, gods epic narrative encompassing time and space itself.

We all live in a story. We hear stories. We watch stories on TV and in the movies we attend. Stories are everywhere.
— Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure

The question is not: Do we really live in a story? The question is: Which story are we intentionally living in?
— Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure

September let go a long-held breath. She stared into the roiling black-violet soup, thinking furiously. The trouble was, September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act? If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end. But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies. Of course, we would like to tell her which. But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
— Catherynne Valente, The Girl who Circumnavigated fairyland in a vehicle of her own making

“I wonder what kind of tale we’ve fallen into, Mr. Frodo?”- JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers

What kind of story are you living in? What kind of stories do you read in the Bible?

What kind of story would you like to live in? What kind of story does the bible invite you to live in?

And perhaps most importantly, how would your life change if you lived in such a story?

“A genuine story will not leave us alone. It insists, sometimes in the most impolite terms, on changing us
— Ann Morisy quoting Taylor, Journying out

“Only another story can come alongside a prejudicial story and begin to melt a hardened convinced heart”
— Anne Morrisy, Journeying out

It is precisely here that the power of the biblical narrative resides (god’s power unto salvation?!). Regardless of what may be historically accurate or not, whether god created the world in seven days or if Jesus was really born from a virgin. Regardless of who wrote the text and for what purpose. When the Holy Spirit is allowed to use the biblical narrative to give our lives a new context, a new meta-narrative, then we re-think, re-pent, then we are rescued from our own tiny personal reality show and we are invited into God’s own story …

“The stories of God’s word serve as a catalyst for a new script, laying a foundation for a new worldview, resulting in life transformation”
— A. Steven Evans, ‘Story telling affecting worldview change’

Just by listening to God’s story we get to know God, and getting to know someone is to learn to love that someone.

Therefore, we, as young children must ask all our questions and see what stories God will tell us in response.

Sometimes through a bible passage, sometimes through our own lives, sometimes at the cinema, sometimes through a nice book and sometimes through someone else’s life.

Remember to press god for answers. Aske the why? the How? and the When?

This is our childlike way of saying, God I want to talk more about this tell me a story ….

and God responds, with stories, everywhere, all the time.

 

%d bloggers like this: