Archive for postmodernism

God is not a belief system

IMG_1117It is a simple truth really: god is god. God is not what we believe of god. God is not our theology or our doctrines. Since the dawn of time humans have had various ideas, religions, doctrines, theologies about god. God has remained god all that time. I will not say that god is unchanging, because I believe that god is love and love is a relational term, any living relation involves anyone involved in the relation changing in response to the other. So have we changed in response to the divine source, so has the divine source changed in response to our devotion, love and creativity. But having said that, our theologies and doctrines do not change the nature or the will of the divine.

Augustine said: If you have understood it, then it is not god. Anselm described god as always being more, greater, deeper than anything that we can imagine. Scripture supports this and shrouds the divine into mystery making sure that we can never nail down god (the popular joke is that we tried to nail god to a cross and he walked away). Faith and what the author of John calls eternal life (aionos zoe) cannot be grasped with the mind or the intellect. Forever it eludes even our most creative attempts.

No matter how much we would like to have god in a box, so that we could explain the divine, so that we can master the ultimate reality and explain the metaphysical in scientific terms, Jesus simply asks us to believe and follow. To believe is not as many people think to have a set of propositional statements that you hold true, rather believing is the act of trusting, loving in the absence of hard proof. You simply cannot believe with only your mind, you must be/love with your heart and your spool and your strength (body?) and your mind.

It is not up to me to tell you how it is, but I take this time to try to point at how it isn’t. The finger pointing to the moon must not be mistaken for the moon. In the same manner our theology, our doctrine, our tradition, our religion must not be confused with the divine. The divine is love, the divine is free the divine is not, in the words of C.S. Lewis, a tame lion.

The truth of the slippery slope

During the last couple of years many friends and people I do not yet know have told me to beware the slippery slope. They have in no uncertain terms let me know that if I start questioning the tradition bound given truths of the church that I would eventually loose my faith.

Today having wandered, slid, fallen, tumbled, run, surfed down this slippery slope I can say that it was all true.

Here are some of the things they told me about the slippery slope:
- You will loose your faith in the bible as absolute truth and authority
- You will loose your high view of Jesus
- You will loose your confidence in the church
- You will open your self up to the influence of other religions
- You will no longer be able to pray like you used to
- You will no longer be a christian

It is all true!

However what they didn’t tell me, and what I found was this:
- I have found a new and deeper love for the scriptures
- I have a new understanding of Jesus that is refreshing, renewing and transformative
- I have a newfound respect and love for authentic spiritual community
- I have found the light of truth and transformation in the most unlikely places
- I have found a new urgency, understanding and love for prayer
- I may no longer be a christian according certain criteria, but I have never followed Christ more closely.

on top of this I have also found:
- A sense of belonging and connectedness
- immense peace
- unparalleled freedom
- unconditional love
- scandalous grace
- deep joy

I have also found a love for myself and my neighbour I did not think possible. All in all, while the warnings of the slope have proven true the rewards have been literally out of this world!

What about Radical Salvationism?

Since I attended the conference on Radical Theology – Subvert the norm II, I have been asking myself what would a Radical Salvationism look like?

Then I stumbled across the following quote by Cadet Christopher Footer in JAC Issue #45:

wpid-Photo-19-aug-2011-1320.jpgThere is only one God, and there is only one Salvation Army. That army however is made of many people; and many people have many views. There are traditional Salvationists, Pentecostal Salvationists, radical Salvationists, neo-Salvationists, primitive-Salvationists… The list is endless. The focus of this paper is Primitive Salvationism, however it is important to state from the very beginning that these labels are just that, labels. Not everyone will fit neatly into a ‘Salvationist box’; and even when someone does fit into a box this does not mean they are incapable of stretching beyond the boundaries of that box. These labels should aid us in discovering who we are, and what we stand for; not constrict us from expressing ourselves to our God, and to those around us.

When I saw the labels Radcial Salvationist and Primitive Salvationist I felt a need to explore the difference between these two positions within Salvationism. I agree with Footer that these labels are just that, labels and must not restrict us in how or what we believe about god but must function as starting points for an ongoing conversation of what it means to explore your faith in a Salvationist context.

Since there is no authoritative source on what primitive salvationism or radical salvationism might be I will simply juxtapose some of the distinctives of both agains each other trying to remember all the while that the only real starting position for any salvationist theology is the doctrines of the Salvation Army and those doctrines claim in turn that the scriptures of the old and new testament is the only starting point for any life or practice of a salvationist.

So in trying to imagine what a radical salvationism (I posit here that there has been no real attempt to imagine this before as a cursory googling of the term yields mostly salvationists who by the term radical means extreme or committed salvationism as opposed to the philosophical stream of radicalism) as opposed to a primitive salvationism would look like that seems a good place to start, namely how we read the doctrines and the scriptures. Now I want to right at the beginning apologise for the reductionist way I will portray both modernism and post-modernism and many other concepts that I am well aware are much more complex than a simple blog post could ever do justice, but this is a simple blog post so you will have to restrain yourselves from pointing out that I have oversimplified these concept unless if by doing so I have missed the mark completely in which case: Flame away!

Before we get into the substance of this post, I also want to state that this is far from a finished line of thought. It is more of an experiment, an imaginary what if and a plea for others to consider the implications and submit their thoughts. So please blog about it and link here, comment on here, on twitter and Facebook.

I think the most fundamental difference between primitive and radical salvationism would be one of worldview. Primitive salvationism wholly embraces a modernistic worldview or maybe even a pre-modern victorian or imperialistic worldview. Whereas the radical salvationist perspective would be post-modern. This in turn colours how the two groups would approach and read both the SA Doctrines and the Scriptures of the old and new testament.

Scriptures and doctrines

The primitive salvationist would probably approach scripture as a biblicist and in a modernistic way be prone to treat both the biblical text and the doctrines of TSA as a legal document where you have access to indexed historical and absolute universal truth. It becomes a roadmap with a clear starting point and a decisive ending point. As scripture is viewed as hard truth, doctrines also become non-negotiables but the landmarks of the tradition by which one navigates. I will not be lured to address the inherent difficulties of biblicism but will refer to perhaps “the bible made impossible” by Christian Smith.

A radical salvationist approach would on the other hand be very different. The radical salvationist would approach scripture not as a legal document but rather as an eclectic collection of poetry, narrative, arguments and counter arguments. Maybe as a theological discourse one overhears and then interprets and deconstructs to reach for that which is unattainable, the event harboured in the name of god. Scripture would then not be the answer book of fundamentalism but the starting point for theological conversation and discourse. In a similar way the doctrines would be a starting point for conversation and deconstruction where one would be looking for the event of salvationism. Perhaps the main discourse would be, what is salvation, or the event of salvation and can one truly be saved unless all of creation is redeemed and saved or gathered up into that event which is harboured in the name of god.

The military metaphor

In primitive salvationism the military metaphor is embraced to the n:th degree. In some ways it could be said to be the hallmark of primitive salvationism, however that may be to over-simplify the issue. Primitive salvationism is all about the early leaders of the salvation army and to adhere to their words of wisdom as if they convey a method that transcends time and holds universal truth. Maybe because the early leaders words are saturated with the military metaphor, the metaphor itself becomes central to primitive salvationism.

A radical approach would need to deconstruct the metaphor and find what remains. Perhaps one could go to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s words and decide that the war we fight is the battle within every heart. Although the most probable outcome would be to discard the military metaphor as a quaint legacy of an imperialistic age and claim that “We are lovers not fighters”. The move then would be towards radical (both as in extreme and in the etymological sense of “to the roots)” social justice and a gospel of grace and love.

Social action

It may be in social action that the primitive salvationist and radical salvationist finally meet, in both approaches there would be a relentless commitment to social justice. The only difference I think is the motivation behind the action.

A primitive salvationist’s primary concern, as I understand it, would be to prepare the way for sharing the gospel. Now that may sound cynical but I truly believe that while love will be a great motivator, the primitive salvationists view on what is the greatest love gift, would be to share the good news of salvation for the soul as it must be if you truly believe in the eternal ongoing punishment of the wicked.

A radical salvationist would after deconstructing salvationism, I think, arrive at a holistic view of salvation where social justice is part of god’s ongoing redeeming and salvific work. Alternatively a radical salvationist view would be that the call to social justice is part of god’s insistence and that, as we are gods incarnation here, it is our work to do.

What is left

With such a radical emphasis on deconstruction and relativising of both depth and surface of salvationism one might ask what is left to form a rallying cry for this group of radical salvationists. What there is, is a relentless commitment to deconstruction. A realisation that what we see in salvationists is not all there is to salvationism. The concept holds something more, something deeper, the event that defies deconstruction. In search of this the radical salvationist will deconstruct, what we do, what we are, what we believe and what it looks like. Knowing that if the god that insists, insists there be a Salvation Army then there is more to that call than what has been articulated in the doctrines and articles of war. There is a truth that stirs, an event hidden in the words we use.

So we call out, not entirely sure what or who it is we call to, and yet we call from depths of our being for the other, come!

Deconstruction

John D. Caputo displacing logos with poetics

I often end up in conversations about deconstruction. Is it wise, they ask to deconstruct doctrinal and creedal statements, bible texts and above all is it wise to deconstruct god?

In the question, I find, there is a fear that deconstruction will somhow damage or break the idea or concept that is being deconstructed. There is an assumption that to deconstruct is to disparage or to criticise. With this, I disagree.

When I was a little boy I would break all my toys. My mom would despair and yell at me, did I not understand that these toys cost money, did I not realise that I could no longer play with these toys if I broke them, did I not realise that these toys could be valuable one day if I kept them in mint condition?

The seven year old me rapt with wonder just wanted to know how the toy worked, what made it tick? Something this cool on the outside must be even cooler on the inside.

It is true that I broke the toys, but had I had the knowledge and the right tools I may not have. Similarly the drive to deconstruct my faith comes from this unabated curiosity, how does it work? What makes it tick? Something this cool on the outside must be even cooler on the inside.

Jesus tells a parable of a man that finds a treasure in a field:

“God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. (Matthew 13:44 MSG)

This is deconstruction, to give up everything to find that precious something hidden within. Caputo talks about the event harboured in (for example the name of god), that deconstruction is graspeing at that event within the concept. It is that which we long for but can never fully reach, the now but not yet, here but not quite. It is our Roadrunner that we like Wiley Coyote just have to keep chasing after. Knowing fully that once it is fully known it is no longer that which we longed for.

So while the word deconstruction derives from the latin term destructo, which means to destroy and is in fact a biblical term from 1 Cor 1:19 (For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (I Corinthians 1:19 NKJV)), it is not destruction of the idea, concept, doctrine, creed or the destruction of god, it is the destruction of our assumptions and formulated opinions about it. It is a search for that numinous harboured within, the event. So when we deconstruct the name of god we are really searching for the event harboured in the name of god. It is the reverse engineering of language that we do because we know that “when we name a thing, it is no longer that thing”. It is the search for the divine by sifting through all that we say about the divine.

So when I start deconstructing, don't despair, don't yell at me. It is true that even though I now have the knowledge and the tools, I might still break it, but I would be breaking the concept not the event as the event in itself is unbreakable. I may break the name of god but I am unable to break the event harboured in the name of god. I may throw a shadow over the existence of god but I could never even get close to touching the insistance of god, the evocative lure of god, calling us into existence and leading us on.

 

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.

 

 

Christianity, faith or science?

It seems that most people are upset by uncertainty, and more specifically Christians get really upset if one where to say that we cannot know. I was taught when I first came into the church about this “blessed assurance”, to know that you know that you know that god is real/good/loving etc.

At the same time I was taught about faith and hope none of which speaks about any such knowledge or assurance. Conviction, yes, but not certainty. The very essence of having faith is to put our trust into what has yet to be proven. And for many of us, myself included that trust grows and deepens year after year as more and more of our experience points us in the direction of the divine.

I know that I have written it elsewhere, but I will stand firm claiming that once something is fully known we stop experiencing it, we stop being present to it and it fades out into yesterday. We then assume that the thing, the person simply is the same and we stop listening and interacting consciously. In a sense we kill the relationship when it is consummated (and by that I mean once we have fully explored the depths of it). The thing is no-one can be fully known ever, as people constantly changes. God does to, and even if we hold the belief that god does not change (not ever), we still hold that god is infinite and therefore to know god fully would take an infinite amount of time. So whether we actually believe god changes or not, the reality is still the same, we cannot know god fully. This is why we must trust, hope and have faith.

To believe (as we understand it, that is intellectually to be of the opinion that…) is a modern way of thinking, the etymology of the English word believe comes from to belove, to have a relationship to, to love to trust. In Swedish the word for faith (tro) comes from the word safe (trygg), to be safe with to trust. Either way it is not knowing for a fact.

Again I want to end with a beautiful poem from Tukaram:

Certainty undermines ones power, and turns happiness
into a long shot. Certainty confines

Dears there is nothing in your life that will not
change – Especially all your ideas about god.

Look at what the insanity of righteous knowledge can do:
crusade and maim thousands
in wanting to convert that which
is already gold
into gold.

Certainty can become an illness
that creates hate and
greed.

God once said to Tuka,

“Even I am ever changing -
I am ever beyond
Myself,

what I may have once put my seal on
may no longer be
the greatest
Truth”

 

Why tolerance is not good enough.

Tolerance has long been a hobby horse of many within the evangelical movement (to make fun of and hate it) and the liberal movement (to advocate it).

Recently my friend and former pastor Peter Baranowsky have been blogging about the book the new tolerance and it seems to me that Peter and possibly the authors of the book hav confused what tolerance means. The main argument seems to be that if you are to tolerate people's different point of views (because there is now ultimate truth according to the post-modern philosophy) you must also accept these views as your own.

My experience is however that this is not what tolerance means or what is the practice of tolerance. The traditional dichotomy is that according to conservatives tolerance is evil and should be avoided as you will be forced to accept unacceptable truths and the liberals argue that tolerance is good because it promotes love and understanding.

I want to argue that tolerance in general only lays the foundation for bigotry, hatred and holier-than-thou attitudes. Tolerance simply isn't good enough to be worth our time and effort.

To tolerate something is simply to allow it to co-exist while still not accepting it. To tolerate someone is to deign to co-exist with them as an act of charity on your part. The language of tolerance is always hierarchal in that condescending top down way. Next time you meet a friend try to “tolerate” their clothing:

Me: I am ok with you wearing that shirt, in fact I actually have several friends that wear shirts like that and I am ok with them. Even if I would never wear a shirt like that, I have no problem with you wearing it.

Friend: WTF?

How would your friend react?

Tolerance is neutral at best and can be pharisaical, bigoted and downright racist, sexist, homophobic etc. at it's worst. Tolerance is aimed at the periphery, on external qualities and behaviours instead of core issues like human value, dignity and sacredness. No, tolerance is simply not good enough by Christian standards.

Jesus commands us to love one another. Love is the standard by wich we must live and co-exist. The funny thing about love is that it does not require us to agree or to accept whatever external, peripheral value or behaviour as our own it only requires us to accept that this person is a living being, created in the image of god with the divine right to exercise their free will as am I, and as do I. Love is graceful, it accepts brokenness as brokenness. You are the person you are right now, just as you are, worthy of love and grace. This does not mean I want to be you or have your brokenness (I am quite busy with my own, thank you). It simply means that I get to live you regardless.

Me: I love you!

Friend: What do you think of my sweater?

Me: I hate it.

So I agree with the conservatives who say that tolerance is evil, not because it forces me to accept opinions I do not agree with, precisely the opposite, because it allows me to pretend to be nice and still judge them.

So I agree with the liberals we need to love our neighbours and grow in understanding when it comes to customs and ideas we are not familiar with but tolerance, I find, is not the way to go as it does not help me to love but rather builds a barrier where I do not need to even try to understand.

 

A larger container

energies

Often in these theological conversations we are presented with a set of polar opposites. Monica Coleman states in a recent Homebrew podcast that when presented with polarities in conversation all you need is a bigger container.

Think of the earth (or the Earth as Jeanine Slettom and John Cobb would have it), a globe with two opposite poles the Arctic and Antarctica on opposite sides of the globe. There is no way they can be reconciled (brought together) but they are in fact connected and together not only in that they are on the same planet but in the larger container of the universe, they are infinitely close and interconnected. Just as we are all connected or rather an integral part of the eco system of this planet.

In church, the larger container should be god, or maybe, to make it more applicable, love (god is love). This I think is Christ centred, Pauline, process theology. All of the created exist within godself so that god is always present and at the same time transcendent. God is intimately present in me, in you in everything and everybody. But because god is always present in everywhere and everybody it also means that god is always bigger than the present situation (conversation, polarised debate) we find ourselves in.

This also means that everyplace is holy, because god indwells it, and every person is holy, because god indwells them. This means that different opinions, or theologies (or maybe even religions) only need a bigger container to find that they are in fact intimately interconnected.

Exasperated Paul cries out, don’t you get it? You cannot say you love god and then turn around and hate your brother. If you are in love, you are swimming in this bigger container and have the opportunity to se how we are al interconnected and interdependent. Love is the true god-particle that binds us all together and gives us mass.

Why can’t our different theological perspectives be in the words of Bruce Epperly, contrasts, different colours and streams of thought rather than mutually exclusive polar opposites?

Done with Jesus …

We have just finished a three week deep study of Jesus (The historical Jesus, Jesus’ personality, Jesus’ message). It has been a profound experience as we have been allowed to re-examine and question some of the foundations of our beliefs, only to find a Jesus that can still surprise and unsettle us, no matter how many years we have been Christian.

We have gotten a chance to re-examine our images of Jesus, the virgin birth, Jesus scandalous message of grace and Jesus’ startling call to a third way of active, non-violent guerilla warfare.

Hopefully this study will give us fresh perspectives and a new strength to battle on against injustice for the dream of God to be realised here in Malmö.

If you missed the series you may be in luck, some of it may appear on my podcast in the near future (though it is in swedish). Or just make sure you come down and be part of the revolution as it happens. The Salvation Army in Malmö needs you.

 

The non religious fanatic

It is strange and almost humorous to watch Christer Sturmark argue against religious beliefs trying to sell the secular society as the only viable future of the world.

In todays article in expressen Sturmark attacks  religous beliefs with what can only be likened to a religious frenzy as he explains that humanistic values are the salvation for our society that has been opressed by religion for far to long.

I cannot help but wonder what country Christer Sturmark lives in seeing that the religious opression in Sweden that he is fighting consists mainly of a minister on Gotland running a school church liked by Christian, muslim and atheist alike (oh except for the one humanist that got angry) or the fight against the horrid gideon bibles in the Scandic hotel rooms (again one humanist was offended) and Scandic removes the bibles in 130 hotels while happily serving porn in every hotelroom. I would like to personally recommend Christer Sturmark to get one of Mackan Anderssons humanist kits so that he can evade the heavy religious opression in Sweden.

Further in the article Sturmark makes an argument that the 25 top placed countries in UNs human development index are the countries with least believers.  Sturmark also mentions young women dying in illegal abortions as a crime of the church and the spreading of HIV in Africa being the fault of the catholic church for not condoning condoms. Sturmarks own brand of twisted logic is disregarding other factors like monetary standard and that the general wellfare of the country  could have anything to do with how often human rights are violated. He also chooses to ignore the fact that the churches of the world stand for almost all social innovation and aid whereas the humanist might have made the most contributions towards a democratic society they are not in the lead of social welfare and aid to those who are hurting.

Sturmarks comes across as a anti religious fanatic using very religious language and I can only agree whith the opposition, Christer Sturmark is by his rethorics guilty of all those things that he is accusing the religious movement of doing.

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