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.

The Impossible Now–Part Three

…we build Emergency Rooms…

Of course this doesn’t stop the im/possible from occurring again. Wildcard futures, the unexpected and unpredicted, keep on happening; but just not in the same way. If we can count on them, they are no longer miraculous; they would have crystallized into just another part of the natural world. The im/possible, in order to remain impossible, will always recede back into the swirling primordial waters of the edge of chaos where it awaits upsetting the apple cart another time, in a different way than before. Going back to the Exodus narrative we see this played out in several places. The absurd provision of manna, a sort of cake-like heavenly food (whose name literally means “what is it” and emphasizes the confusion such im/possible events leave us with) is a seminal occurrence in Hebrew literature. However, the manna’s presence ends as the Israelites cross over into Canaan. Most interpret this to mean that God’s miraculous provision was no longer needed in the light of the bounty of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, and so God withdrew the needless gift. But in another reading, the manna actually disappears just when they need it and can count on it the most. It’s been forty years that they’ve relied on manna from God-knows-where. In some ways the generation that grew up with manna pudding and manna tar-tar has no concept of how to hunt or gather, let alone cook, anything else. Their conquest of the land will take another entire generation—who doesn’t need a regular stock of food and supplies for such an undertaking, especially one such as this that they have learned to depend on? In a sense, the rug is being pulled out from under the Hebrews’ feet. The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable.

Content with content?

Content ain’t king any more… a Time article points out.  I’ve heard that axiom in countless applications.  It gets applied to website design, TV, news, church, spirituality, etc…  But it seems to be shifting.   While the Time article doesn’t get any further than investment priorities among affluent businesses, it may be the sign of a coming tsunami of change.

As people move further and further away from preset or well defined meanings in their life, there is the need to “diversify” into surface investments. Consider the cell phone and instant messaging. Gone are the days of the “personal chat” on phone, or the cup of tea face to face.   Texting is the dominant form of communication between those aged 9-24.  It’s appeal is massive.  This has led many people to speculate if “authentic” relationship is at a stand still. WRONG!!!  It’s only shifting in form.  If anything the last 40 years of relative isolationism and exestential anxiety are crumbling in front of the medium of texting, which makes it possible to relate and communicate quickly and with a vast extended network of “friends”.  If anything community is now being dished out in sample sized servings exponentially.  But it’s a different kind of community. It’s blippy. It’s hit and run. It’s guerrilla. It’s not cumbersome. It’s about outliers and the expanding fringe…less about the content heavy center. 

Spiritual leaders ought to take notice…people’s desire for authentic community will never have been greater than in the next 5-25 years; although their inability to endure the ups and downs of community will be equally great. They will also have never been as intolerant of anything over 5 minute monologues. Don’t even try to preach a sermon. No one will sit through it.

Truth be told…3/4 of my readers probably stopped reading after the first paragraph…the times are a changin…

…So God offers you a Gift…

Imagine that God speaks to you—we’re not talking about general revelation here, this is specific divine interruption.  He lets you know that he desires to give you a Gift, but because of “free will” it will need to be one of your own choosing.  Having said that you’re given two options:

 

1.) You can spend the rest of your life being absolutely certain about God, there will be no questions of faith or doubt. There will be an abiding sense of God’s presence and smile in all your ways…but everyone you meet will instantly begin to doubt the certainty of their own faith. They may or may not ever recover from that crisis.

OR

 

2). through you many of the wrongs in the world will be righted, justice and mercy and grace will be exhibited, the blind will see, the deaf will hear and the lame will walk…but you will cease to believe in God at all. You will even forget this conservation between yourself and the Most High…it will have been all in your imagination.

 

Which do you choose and why?

The Conversation is Changing

The conversation has, for me at least, changed.  

10 years ago, 5 years ago for that matter, these were questions that were circulated around, “what could happen if we had a church that ________?”  or “What if the church was a place where people just _______?”  It seemed like all of the talks that were being had dealt with the church; its composition, make up, and activities, etc…  

The end result of those conversations was a 6 year experiment in flat leadership (where everyone was perceived as functionally equal), open source (where everyone was able to contribute directionally, situationally, content wise), de-centralized (without any governing committee or person, decisions were made by consensus or not at all), communitarian and incarnational (where we attempted to BE the church rather than GO to church, living near each other to create opportunity for further exposure and relationship), organic (little structure, if any; constant reliance on the Spirit–eventually becoming synonymous with perpetual spontaneity)  and Christ centered (as opposed to “issues driven”, an entire focus on the person of God as opposed to the activities of God).

It’s interesting because today I hear many of the “hot” church planters (even Guru’s for that matter) toting these ideas around.  They, and many others we lived, are the sexy new methods.  Interestingly, for me, they are now (in some ways more than others) old hat…we lived them to their logical conclusion the ultimate extreme; we road tested them and found that some drove better than others.  

What’s funny is sitting at a restaurant or coffee shop with one of the new champions of these notions.  I’ll listen to their passionate and intense rhetoric about “following the Holy Spirit”/being spontaneous, tossing aside leadership roles in favor of function only models where everyone can be anything and everything, throwing out events and embracing incarnate organic church lifestyles…and then I yawn.  I’m bored.  Or those bizarre moments when I mention something as random as “growth” or throwing some sort of event or planning an “outreach” towards the community–only to be rebuked for my lack of Christ-centeredness (because of planning). In the end, the new guru’s are disappointed by me.  They don’t understand why I feel more comfortable in an brick and mortar institutional church (Mennonite, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox) or not in one at all (All faith embracing spirituality discussion groups/centers for transformation and mutual support).  Either way…the questions that I was asking, that are now being asked with a great degree of mundane regularity are not the ones that interest me any longer. And I really can’t explain that.

The goodness of God, the bigness/all expansiveness/(un)knowability of the Divine, the transformation of the entire person/locality/world, the life of justice/mercy/faith/and love practiced by individuals and collectives, art and hinting about things too big for cognitive expression, discovering a new way of thinking by living the question and embodying the certainties, surviving/coping/medicating/figuring out how to hope again, letting the symbol become the real (communion IS the reality…don’t kid yourself into thinking its only a shadow)…these are the thoughts that keep on coming back to me…The other stuff…well, I get it…I just am not there any more.

Oddly, I sense that a lot of the others–the ones who began asking those same questions around the same time–find themselves in the same place.  

For them also, it would seem, the conversation is shifting.  Interesting…I wonder where it goes next–if anywhere.

The Calling Card of Jesus (& Clarifications)

Several posts later…and a slough of comments…

Was Jesus political?  Was his message, in his day–to his disciples and the earliest communities of his apprentices–one that took him and them into radical collision with the Empire of their day?  Conversely, will that same message, if taken seriously by his friends and followers today, lead us into the same head on crash?  To me those questions, and those realities, touch not only individual lives, community lives, but also the life of the polis, the City–politics..not stopping there, but God wants it all, he loses nothing.

One e-friend of this blog commented that Jesus wasn’t political.  I can’t help but wonder if that may be a convenient perspective to hold.  While we can certainly look with hindsight at his ancient friends and say they heard him wrong, they (not we) heard him as a conquering and liberating King–(how wrong they were–if they only had our perspective they could have more appropriately discerned what or WHO they were really dealing with…a liberating King, certainly, but one of the soul…not of earthly situations…silly ancient friends of Jesus…)

Another friend commented, effectively, that our only hope is to be an eternal, non-temporal, non immediate, one.  Let’s not put our trust in changing political systems.  That last statement, I most heartily agree with.  I have no desire to replace one unjust Empire with an empire of my own making or choosing.  That’s not the answer.  Neither, however, is it appropriate to develop an “escapology theology”, pining away in this life for the one to come–never addressing the real issues that concern us (and seem, according to the great bulk of the Text, to concern YHWH). 

It is time then to hear, once again, Jesus words, reimagined in our day, reincarnated for our time and from His own, it was this scandalous message that burst onto the scene in Mark 1:14-16. This is Jesus’ calling card, then and now: 

The time has come! Rethink EVERYTHING! A radically new kind of empire is available–the empire of God has arrived! Believe this good news, and defect from ALL human imperial narratives, counternarratives, dual narratives, and withdrawal narratives. Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter into this new Way of living.

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation. Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming non-violent alternatives. Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.  Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us”, a new “we”, a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.  Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure as the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of the Creator.  Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people (including your enemies).  Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them NOT AS THEY HAVE DONE TO YOU–and not BEFORE THEY DO TO YOU–but as you wish they would do to you.

With these words, life in the Way of Jesus inaguarates a different way of living in the world. 

Someone else recently commented that we shouldn’t ever back down from our beliefs, this in response to my thoughts on “accomodating away” the things that may really matter.  I’m not really sure what they meant by that…To be honest, I’m not sure what I really meant by that.

The truth is I don’t care if you call yourself a Christian, go to church, believe in THE Church…those are abstract concepts that have little bearing in my life, or the lives of most of the people I know–the fact that some invest great meaning in them seems to me to be simply a distraction from actually living-a replacing of the Message with the messanger so as not to have to listen to the words that shake us and give rise to changing us. 

Whatever your reality–here’s the thing I no longer apologize for…

Jesus.

He was on to something.

The good dream of the Creator he described, with word and life, and invited friends and enemies to live into, is one that was relevant to his culture…and is still relevant AND radical for ours. 

Recently I invited a friend to join in a conversation where we, as friends of Jesus, actually take up a series of experiments dealing with living life in his Way, to actually take the words of Jesus seriously.  I loved their response…

“I’m afraid.”

Spoken like someone who truly has heard the call of the simple Jewish rabbi, the Master, inviting us into a whole new way of living–one that affects everything and leaves no system untouched, no stone unturned.

Accommodating away…

I’m an accommodator naturally.  That’s what I do.  It’s my own social fluidity.  And here’s what it means to me—if someone has a strong perspective, I back off mine.  Sometimes they don’t even have to have a strong one…I just back off…  In some ways this is a great thing; frankly I think people are too rigid about their “internal compass”, being real is, as cliché as it sounds, often just another way of being rude.  I have to wonder with some people, is it worth it?  Is this particular battlefield the one you want to die on?  So, like I said, this internal ebb and flow of being invested in a particular system of beliefs has come in useful.  It also has its disadvantages…distinctly.  And, I’m sure that we can think of about a thousand of them, but the most gripping personally is this…sometimes it leaves me wondering, “But what DO I believe?” 

 

Let’s step away from me for a sec. and look at the last 100 years in the protestant Christian community.  On one side you have the fundamentalists.  Certain words come to mind that have negative overtones for myself: dualistic thinking, rigid, low level process, either/or, dogmatic, isolationist, etc… Many of those groups have emphasized an esoteric system of believing—right thinking—in order to be a part of their club.  Any one who’s thought life diverges finds themselves teetering towards the tropical end of pre-eternity.    

 

Compare that with the liberal, often mainline, denominations.  In general a perception of them is an absolute refusal to speak with conviction on any subject.  It sometimes feels like they can almost be down right apologetic about being Christian…as if it is simply the stream they flow in because of tradition, if for no other reason.  And, many have complained that the mainline scholars out there currently are essentially “dressed up” atheists—advocating from the inside of Christianity for a church beyond belief.  The final analysis for many of the critics of such congregations is that they become accommodating to the point of annihilating their belief…in the end simply social action groups with very little reason for actually existing together since their over arching stories have been eroded. 

 

There are conversations now among mainline congregations about how to emerge from that stereotype.  Many are wondering how to speak with conviction, how to have a degree of certainty that isn’t simply willfully self imposed but is also truly believed.  This new type of thought suggests that there is a middle of the road, a third way, between dogmatism and denial. 

 

And it feels like I’m in that conversation…or at least personally that’s the conversation I want to be a part of and to hear. 

 

Because…it may just be possible to accommodate one’s way out of any faith at all…it probably wasn’t the intention…it probably just…well…happens in one of those ebb and flow conversations where the “other” says their story…and you no longer do. 

Early Morning Hymnal

  I’ve been starting my mornings and then continuing my days with poetry. Poems tend to hint at things that can’t be seen straight on.  They elucidate the hazy feeling of Being.  I for one struggle through them, feeling confined by their lines, symmetry, and schemes; only to be opened up to another world in reflection. Here are a couple of poems out of books I’ve been enjoying lately.

THE SEED CRACKED OPEN

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?”

That was before the seed 

Cracked open.

Now I am certain:

There are two of us housed 

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”  –Hafiz

 

We must not portray you in king’s robes,

you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes

we take the same gold for scepter and crown

that has disguised you through the ages.

piously we produce our images of you

till they stand around you like a thousand walls.

And when our hearts would simply open,

our fervent hands hide You.–Rilke

 

Amen.

A feeling…

Longing for some other language, for some geometry or glossolalia or primal scream, sweeps over me. I have every intention of falling on my knees and speaking L O U D L Y! 

There is a sense, as if I want to scream, “I’ve FOUND IT!!!” But of course what I really mean is that I have lost it.  Any sense of form or container feels like it’s been shattered.  The Beauty cannot be held–and that is why it is a painful and slippery Beautiful.  A song written, hardly authored by me but more or less through me, that I forget instantly and hear traces of melody in all other songs ever written–but never again THAT hymn, THAT anthem, THAT one that I remember.

And so there it is. I have found and misplaced and commit to remembering again that miraculous agonizing praise song to the One, the Mystery, the Singularity, the Beauty, the Anguish of Freedom, the spilling out and the flooding back again, the Hidden, the Other, the Ineffable…and I can’t think of too many words, they spill and splatter like tears on a page.  I sit, transfixed by the Artist and am content to write these words–they will be my kneeling, screaming, crying out in the tongues of men and of angels. And they are only for You.

God…Evolve…

Jack Miles, a noted ex-Jesuit author, in his extraordinary Pulitzer prize winning book “God: A Biography” presents the God of the Old Testament.  He examines YHWH from an entirely literary context, as if the Lord described were a character in a novel.  Miles applies the logic that every great character must adapt and change, and if this is true, he wonders if we see this in the central character of the Bible.  Yes, is his answer.

In a 500 page scholarly romp through the Old Testament Miles dances through the evolution of God, from childlike loneliness and need for self understanding which prompts creating a self portrait (imagine a painter who can only under themselves as they create on a canvas), to a fierce adolescent warrior God filled with unexplainable nationalistic fervor and favoritism, angrily crushing this nation and that people all so his special friends can secure a place for themselves.  He highlights boisterous God. Burly and vindictive God. Regretting and fretful God. Love sick God. Finally he concludes with Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Day’s, exhausted, weary from war and tired from testing his relationships…and then God is silent.

It’s a great book…one that will truly provoke thought and wrestling with the cultural icons we’ve erected regarding the knowledge of the Holy (I’m not saying I agree with any of it…still it will provoke thought)…but that’s not my point…

I want to reverse Miles’ picture.  What if it’s not man who has to endure God’s shifting maturation process…but God who endures ours?  As Lewis said, “We heard God but as though in a stutter” or through muffled ears.  God is forced to negotiate and even accept the catastrophic understanding that those who assumed to know Him held.  He is grieved as the tribes of Joshua’s account misinterpret His intentions and then annihilate their neighbors.  He is saddened as Israel develops imagery of a god of fire, mountain, wind, and war that resembles the baals more than it does his kind heart. He stares on as they learn to become professional worshipers of Him while completely neglecting the tenderness of His heart. And He waits…He speaks into the chaos…sometimes with clarity (Isaiah 53, 58, Amos, Micah, Hoseah)…and altogether too often is relegated to the sidelines while those who see Him most fail to show Him at all.

Viewed through those lenses the Old Testament becomes the saga of people who are coming to grips with a God who is remarkably “other”.  And they come to grips rather poorly.  Their story can be seen as anything but prescriptive…except perhaps how NOT to go about knowing God.  But really they were simply evolving…their ability to see God was developing.

As humans we cannot perceive things as they are but only as we see them to be, as we have context for them. It’s interesting that we actually fail to see certain objects because we have no “context” to understand them through. So it is throughout the history of God’s people.  In fact, they can hardly see Him except through their own biases.  Abraham cannot understand Him as the only God, his polytheistic mind cannot shore up the tension, so he calls him “God Most High” or “the high god”…one among many…highest, certainly, but only? Hardly.  Moses, and his biographers, whose understanding of Egyptian, Caananite, and Sumerian gods was greater than that of YHWH, find Him in mountain (Baal), in the fiery offering (Molek), and in the sacrifices of harvest (Isis).  Later, one prophet, Elijah, experiences a transcendent moment and understands more of God than any who have gone before him…not in the wind…not in the fire…not in the thunder…not on the mountain…but in the still small (and ever present) voice of spirit.  And what is actually happening in that moment is our vision of God is expanding…our context is growing…our sight and our hearing is improving.  By the end of the Old Testament the disastrous views of God have come crashing to a standstill.  They are spent.  Powerless and tired…And ready to be corrected…ready to be reinterpreted altogether with a characteristic turn of the phrase, “You have heard it said…but I tell you…”

Alright…so all that has me thinking…

What context am I putting onto God?  And though you don’t know what you don’t know…here’s one that I’ve been chewing on: I think that I know Him as the angry God who is perpetually against.

Surely this must be my view of God, because it is certainly how I have approached each successive spiritual movement in my own life.  Angry at secularism and science I cling to rationalism and the retreatist sacred (5 years spent in that tomb).  Angry at the institution and organized way of relating to God I devolve into primitive church, I deconstruct Him, His people, and His words (8 years spent in that tomb). What am I now angry at?  All that I have done before? Materialism? Consumerism? The world system? The Empire of the West? Recently a friend said something to me in the passion of a spiritual moment we were sharing concerning greater revelation about God’s Kingdom, “it’s so exciting that rather than being against the institution (organized church) we now have something to really be against…the world system“…and yes…that’s true…I believed it when he said it and I still do…but why, oh why is my god always against something? Why is he always demanding the holocaust of burnt offering and the devastation of other tribes and cities?  Is that the only context I have for Him?

Recently I posted about not wanting to be critical in my blog posts…I wanted to forge ahead and create fresh and new without reference to the distasteful (which I feel seems to be in vogue).  Someone told me that they imagined it’s just easier to be critical on a blog…it requires less energy and less creativity…just log on to what someone else is doing and start picking it apart…tadah! You’ve created a successful and popular blog entry.  But that’s just life…it’s easier to deconstruct, easier to devalue, easier to criticize, easier to be against than for.

And in the end…maybe my perception of God isn’t as highly evolved as it should be…maybe I’m back there with these other folks drawing my sword and looking for a better battle ax to use against the “heathens” (whoever happens to be on the other side of me at that moment).

I don’t know…I’m just so weary of dreams whose only reference points are failed realities…it requires so little…

Perhaps YHWH here and now will close this section of my life as he did the Old Testament, with silence…with waiting…with painful and agonizing emptiness…

Perhaps only then will I be ready to hear Him and see Him as He is…God with us…Immanuel…”The kingdom of God has come!”

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