This is the Real Magic

Brent said, “Hey–you’re always interpreting your dreams.  Here’s an idea–why not try something else. Why not interpret your everyday life as though IT were a dream, instead.  Say to yourself, ‘A plane’s flying overhead now–what does this mean?’ Say to yourself, ‘It’s raining so much lately–what does this mean?’ Say to yourself, ‘Today I though I had rediscoverd my long lost sister–but it turned out it was some one else instead. What does this mean?’ I think that makes life an easier thing.  I really do.” 

“…We were trained to believe our world wasn’t magic–simply because it was ours.  Why were we taught that magic was something that happened someplace else to other people?  Why couldn’t they have just told us, ‘Kids, this is as good as it gets. So soak it all up while you can’?”    

Taken from ‘Life After God’ by Douglas Coupland

God, rid me of God

I’m on a journey.  Since having left the wild and wacky world of “primitive Christianity” (house church with a splash of new-monasticism and a strong sprinkling of fundamentalism) I have essentially been searching high and low for a place to hang my hat.  It is taking me across some interesting places.  Many of the posts I’ve thrown up in the last several months are themed towards this.  It isn’t exactly a worldview, but I am attempting to come to grips with both the content and implications of the places where I am.  In response to a recent comment I posted the following, and I think it’s a fitting description of where I am currently and what interests me:

The Project: Religion With/Out Religion

For the past while, I’ve been attempting to find some sort of working model for what Bonhoeffer called “religionless Christianity” and Derrida called “religion without religion”. Those seem, to me, to be very important concepts–and they resonate with me, they speak to me. Can God be the good news of the religionless without converting them to being religionFULL?  I would say, yes…and I’m trying to flesh out what that means. Part of what my war on certainty has affirmed is that almost everything requires a choice–a value decision. There really isn’t anything that is just “plain truth”, no matter how much science (or their kissing cousins fundamentalists) believe so. They are choosing the narratives that make sense to them. I believe this is Polkinghornes point from my last blog post of quotes(by the way–his charge was, i believe, more or less leveled at rationalists who come up with a utilitarian model of a clocklike universe…that lacks any sort of life, beauty, mystery, or wonder…).

The (Un)Wholly Other

I have also been meditating on the im/possiblity of God.  Or rather the impossible as God.  One way of thinking about this is that God is wholly other. In other words, we mostly fail to see God. Our intellect, our very ability to perceive God, is what is ill-equipped to witness God. Another way of thinking about this is that our imaged thoughts of God do not allow for God. This is why Meister Eckhardt cries out, “God, rid me of God!” Our concepts of God prevent us from experiencing God…often. However, God cannot be wholly other…else we would miss God altogether. There is, admittedly, an element that lies within our constructs causing an awareness. We are not totally oblivious to God.  There are aspects of the unknowable which, surprisingly, are  knowable. 

Here comes the first critical choice…on one hand you could say that the human species has evolved this collective consciousness of God…it cannot exist without having an Other to live with…This view seems to say that there is a God construct that our survival instinct depends on.  But that is a supposition, an interpretation, and hardly the only assumption to be drawn (I would also add it’s not even an assumption that bears out in our normal existence.) Far more common sense, frankly, is that the thing which we desire, and can sense (if not altogether perceive) is communicated by that which desires us (and wishes us to sense it). Just as hunger testifies to the dependence on and the existence of food, so too our own awareness to the wholy other speaks of the wholly other which is in relationship to us.   This to me, makes God, once more–loving, relational, and personal. God as being, or more than being, or less than being (I don’t know) is engaged in whispering and wooing.  Our awareness describes not constructs but communication.  I recognize that this is as a subjective choice, a value decision…but to me it paints a much more beautiful picture than the other subjective choice that opts for the other side of things.

Loving Love

Having said that, I’ve taken up the Augustinian question, that Caputo alliterates, “who do I love when I love my God?” And I’m trying to find a working articulation of what exactly I mean when I speak of God. Personally, I am coming to the Johannian (as in the epistle writer) view, that the first name of God, is love. That love, in all its forms, pure love is God. Love is something intangeble…always drawing us into action, but never quite resolving in that event…it requires more of us. God is that which we desire, but also that which desires us and pulls and propells us towards the event of love. Love in this case is so deeply intimate that to describe it impersonal, or unrelational, would be to demote it. Love requires such relating and such personhood.

If God is Love…Then Who Are We?

“If Love is the first name of God, then ‘of God’ is the name of those who love”. We’re always looking for who’s in and who’s out… To me, love, is the dividing line…always. This is why a secular person who’s life is for the other, is always a religious or God filled life. And a religious person who is only for themselves and what they consider right and wrong is not at all religious and God filled. The people of God are those who are lovers.

The (non)Spiritual Journey

The spiritual journey then is discovering that love…both in terms of our own sense of Belovedness and in terms of being a channel through which that love may flow.

So…these are the places I am coming to…I’m using, perhaps, overly vague language…and doing so because I deeply believe that the Christinese that we have so often used, no longer has place in this world. It has lost the right to speak. it has, to often, been complicit in evil for to speak of lofty good. It’s words are poison. This is the project I’m attempting to develop. I recognize that both cardinals and ordinary Christians alike may not be very happy about the direction its going. I suppose that’s the price I’ll have to pay for thinking about Christianity without Christianity.  But, I have to try…I can do no other.

Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity, podcast

I’ve referenced Bonhoeffer’s “Letter’s and Paper’s From Prison”. It has, no doubt, been extremely influential on me of late.  There is a new book that has just come out dealing with this topic, hopefully I can review it soon.  However, Tripp Fuller of Homebrewed Christianity interviews the author.  This is such a brilliant interview. Jeffrey Pugh is articulate and articulates the times and events, as well as the heart of Bonhoeffer in this conversation.  If you’d like to learn more about this subject and important theologian, who did much to change the face of Christianity for the good, listen to this podcast

God is Dead

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?–Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no Sovereign holding the “whole world in his hands.” There is no longer any kind and benevolent Maker to encourage us towards a prophetic imagination. The Prince of Peace could not survive the ravages of war and blood and dirt.  There is no one listening on the other side of our prayers. There are no answers that will come if we just wait a little longer; no yes, or no, or maybe to emerge in a few moments.  God’s provision is gone.  God’s goodness is not there.  There is no hopeful tomorrow to pine after. No messiah coming again, for he has already come and look what we have done to him.  God is dead.  God is dead. God is dead.

But we are living still.  How then shall we live on this Good Friday?  Shall we sink into less than who God created us to be? Will we, in the presence of God have become mature adults, and in the death of God shrink backwards into spiritually retarded children?  Or will commit our essence into His hands even as he has forsaken us? Must we now become what you made us to be–fully grown sons and daughters of God?

God. Thank you for dying.  Thank you for forsaking us. Thank you for keeping your part of the promise and allowing us to, at last, grow up.  Today, We celebrate your death.

The devil and a bit of truth

The devil and his friend were walking down the road when they noticed a passer by pick something up off the ground.  The friend wondered aloud as to what the person had found.  Satan replied that they had picked up a piece of Truth.  His friend was chagrin, “You can’t just let people go around finding Truth, can you?  I mean, what kind of world would this be….?” 

The devil laughed out loud and calmly reassured his friend, “Oh don’t worry, they’ll just turn it into a belief…I’ve seen this a million times before!”  Somehow Satan’s friend didn’t look convinced to which the devil addressed his final comment, “Just ask Jesus.  He’s came into the world and embodied Truth and look what happened to him…his disciples just ended up founding Christianity!”

Relieved, the friend mused, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…nothing to be worried about I suppose.”

The Impossible Now–Part One

Not all that long ago I wrote an article about approaching life and faith with a sense of artistry. Art isn’t limited to painters and poets—that would be boring! Using a wide lens view, art is really just a practice where ordinary people apply authenticity, imagination and experiment to every corner of our lives. We need each of these elements as we encounter the present moment. Authenticity enables us to say it like it is—just as we feel right now. It’s the honest admission that we don’t have all the answers; we’re all cracked pots. It’s the acknowledgement of our own mundane messes. Imagination is the ability to rethink those obstacles, those immediate realities. Imagination looks at a dilapidated shanty and pronounces it to be a cottage or a bungalow. Imagination reshapes the landscape of the “here and now” with the “could be” and “what if.” Imagination is the engine that drives all great transformations. Finally, experiment is the leap of faith to attempt, to risk, to try—regardless of possible failure. An air of adventure clouds around an experimental person. Experiment lifts our honesty and our fantasy and places them on the solid ground of reality, if only for a moment. These qualities transform plumbers and politicians, mothers and millet grinders, car salesmen and cow herders into true artists.

Futures studies – an interdisciplinary field covering science, business, sociology, and psychology – tells us that there are actually a variety of types of futures. For the most part we’re used to dealing with what we might call “the relative future.” If we change our diet and exercise routine today, something will be different tomorrow as a result. The relative future is the future that is literally relative to what we are doing right now in the present. It’s the dent that we make on tomorrow, and the children of tomorrow, by the choices we make in this moment. In general we don’t consider the relative future enough. We still feel too much like little boats getting tossed around by the hurricane of fate, Sovereignty, or inevitability. Generally speaking, while our culture talks a lot about “freedom of choice” and the power of that freedom, most people doubt that they’re really going to make an impact. Consider the staggeringly small percentage of the population that actually determines a political election. The number one reason people give for not voting is because they don’t believe their vote will make a difference. It’s the same reason why people don’t make adequate retirement plans or start saving income when they’re young or even planning for next week’s agenda. Culturally we have an underdeveloped view of the relative future. It seems too unrealistic; too unrealized; too far away. Organizations and individuals must begin to take the future seriously in the immediate moment and use the qualities of the artist as the road map forward. Authenticity, imagination, and experiment are how we prepare for the future in the present. I believe these tools will be incredibly important tools for navigating the complexity of the 21st century. But I also believe they are inadequate.  There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face.

All I need is…

And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur (even if there were no God). And this is just what we do recognize – before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God.–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter’s and Papers from Prison

Recently I’ve been reading quite a bit of Bonhoeffer’s final compilation.  It is intimate and raw. It is the diary of a man caught up in realities that can scarcely be imagined. He is imprisoned; waiting for a trial that never comes; watching horrors from the Nazi’s, horrors from the liberating Allied troops as they indescriminantly dropped their bombs on Germany; the inhumanity of man, the decay of morals as survival took over.  His reaction is in some ways exactly what you would expect from a witness of such atrocity. But, the man also happened to be a theologian. And so his response is caught up in this grand lament, a wrestling with God. I find the letters incredibly compelling.

That having been said–I can’t help but wonder if Bonhoeffer was wrestling with issues that are a) not ours (clearly right?) and b) speaking from a modernist culture that had reduced God–in a way he was reeling from the explaning away of God.  Some of the things he assumes feel more like “the death of God” modernism that would later be the final conclusion of the defunct Protestant/enlightenment marriage. I don’t know–now I would say my questions are not how can we live in a religionless Christianity but a religionFULL Christianity. 

This brings to mind something I’ve been wrestling with too.  As I’ve come out of the house church movement I’ve been reflective of what the messages I bought into and propagated were exactly. One of them was reductionism/puritanism at its finest.  “If this isn’t in the New Testament then it shouldn’t exist”.  Or, even more beautiful but equally simplistic and positivist: “Take the world (and the institutional church with all its bells and smells) and give me JUST JESUS”.  At the end of the day one realizes that this means something very very different to countless people.  It’s a simplification. And one that truly people really don’t mean.  “Just Jesus” in the organic church world, for instance, means the system of no overt leadership, meeting in houses, and the demand that everyone “share” (typically through speaking).  What I’m saying is that if you say your about “just Jesus” it means something more than…well..just Jesus… Isn’t that funny?  It’s the same with the charismatic world, that statement can hide inside it tongues, gifts of the spirit, etc… On and on it goes. My point is that the reduction, the need to simplify to the lowest common denomenator is actually simply laziness, or self indulgent piety (in some cases).  But evangelical Christianity is, in some ways, built upon this, (see Paul Metzger’s fascinating book: “Consuming Jesus” for more on this). 

For many young evangelicals, I suspect, this is a primary (if unconscious) reason why they’re returning to “high church”.  Spirituality/church to the MAX.  Tired of the reductions we say (along with indie band Over the Rhine) “All I need is everything!”

And that’s how I feel these days…some days…like I can’t reduce what I need to a single “just give me ______” statement.  In fact, while I’m curious about Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity, I also don’t identify with it.  Christianity and Christ with it is too big to isolate from even religion. It and he must be everywhere and everything for it to be the reality of what is said of it, of the proclamations it makes.  There it is then…my reduction, “Just give me a gritty down to earth Jesus who I can find everywhere and in everything…All I need is ALL”.

Religion/less

if our final judgment must be that the Western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God–without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about God? In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

I love Bonhoeffer’s line of thinking here. I join his voice in asking what a religionless Christianity might look like. Although, I can’t help but think that asking the question is easier than living in the situation as we have it…a religionful Christianity.   Is it possible that we picture ouraselves as having “evolved” when it comes to this kind of question? That somehow we’re standing on new and uncharted grounds of cyncisim, critical deconstruction, and dis/belief? If we are under that illusion, I think that we might be forgetting that Isaac, the child of promise in the Abrahamic Covenant, means “Laughter”, and comes about, as a visible reminder of the founder of “the faithful’s” disbelief.  And, that Paul, certainly the founder of much of the cult of Christianity called, “the message about the cross” foolishness to Gentiles and a Stumbling block to Jews. In fact to at least one very notable Christian thinker, the gospel is the Paradox–”the unthinkable event of God the infinite, eternal One who became one of us.

Maybe the reality is far more perplexing than we care to imagine…To quote another passage of Bonhoeffer:

Who stands fast? Only the person whose final standard is not their Reason, their principles, their conscience, their freedom, or their virture, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegience to God–the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question of God…where are these responsible people?”

Perhaps the surprising, disillusioning, and embarrassing element of faith is that it is so damned disruptive to our normative way of doing business–of living life.  This is clearly the case when we stop asking the question with words and start “living the answer.”

At any rate, I think this is a pretty neccesary conversation to have today.

Faith and living in the moment

I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith…I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.–Bonhoeffer, from prison awaiting execusion, 1944

Faith isn’t turning a blind eye towards the earth while keeping a cross eye trained on heavenly issues, that’s avoidance.  Faith stares the hard moments squarely down and lives into the question, lives into the problem, lives into the area of concern.  Faith is being the answer to your own prayer.  Faith is walking…site unseen.  Faith isn’t waiting on God to work…it’s working and knowing that this is God. That’s what I’m learning today.

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