Addiction to unlove

I’ve got a friend–but he really could be any of us, he could be me–who has been deeply wounded by years of addiction.  Underneath that issue are a meriad of others, the loss of a father at an early age, the upbringing by that father that was alternately over permissive and brutally exacting, the genetic imprinting of a lineage of users and abusers all of whom put on religious faces preaching like angels and sinning like satan.  Years of growing up in fundamentalist religion, suppression and repression and eventually depression, has buried itself in the lines on his face.  He, like many of us, and perhaps because of some of us, rejected institutionalized Christianity.  It made sense to do so.  It was the villain forcing him towards substance abuse.  He, and we, rationalized that the absence of religiosity would be the Presence of God–the changing, transforming Presence of God.  One can say what they want, that he didn’t try hard enough, that he didn’t go to enough meetings, or pursue as others of us did, but he feels he gave it his best shot…and he did.  Sadly, the god he was aquainted with was not enough to conquer the addiction he intimately knew.  

And the truth was that those of us who showed him this god were no better.  We were still locked in the system of hiding weakness, denying humanity (the worst and the best), and the deification of escapism.  The formation we provided was hardly one of tackling problems and wrestling with them, Jacob vs. the Angel of the Lord style.  No, ours was a transcendent deity fostering a transcendent focus on heaven and soul (or spirit).  Our wisdom sounded like novice Gnosticism: reject the material realm, lose yourself, loathe yourself…come to the place of your own darkness.  “Arrive.”  “Get yourself to that spot.”  “Once you’re there.” In the end, it didn’t work.  None of it did.  He drank more and with greater secrecy.  Again, religion had told him to hide it.  That’s exactly what he did.  He dropped out of our lives, though he lived in the same intentional community.  He was gone.  

I struggle with that reality, with what is now a memory.  I wonder if I’d handled it differently how things might be changed for him.  I really don’t know.  Even recently, when he and I have talked, I get the impression from him that his expectation of religion is no less than what he received.  And even as my spiritual realities have changed and can offer him distinct advantages over what he once heard, he tends to reject those claims.  He, oddly enough, holds fiercely to the old religious view points of his father and lately of his friends–that didn’t work for any of us then and still don’t work for him.  On one hand he rejects the fundamentalism of his past as a failed set of unrealities, on the other hand he refuses to allow it to expand or be expanded.  There is no alternative Christianity for him, or even spirituality.  There is only the dogmatic claims of a late 20th century Protestantism, caught up in it’s own post enlightenment PR.   The funny thing is…it’s a straw man argument for him…as long as he can beat up what no one is actually saying, he doesn’t have to address what is truly be said in this moment.

What is being said?  What is the quentisental difference (at least in me) from now to then?  

Belovedness.

The sacredness of humanity.  That below our brokeness, the scar of a thousand millennia of falls and choosing from trees we know better than to eat from, lies the substance of God.  The smile of God saying: it will be alright.  Weakness is beautiful.  Strength is profane.  You’re ok.  It’s going to be alright.  Not because you belong to this little group or slightly larger grouping of those who believe in like manner.  But because you are.  Being is belonging.  That God, not the devil, is in the details.  That faith is simply living.  I get it now, like I never have before, that my certitudes and platitudes, were not faith…they were science, and an artificial science at that.  Faith (and true science) is found more often in the inky blackness of the universe, the absence and the Void, the unKnowing and the hidden stillness of parabola or the unSeen but intimately felt reality of a billion trillion minute strings pulling the chords of the universe through Word and anthemic Song. 

 And you…you with all of your imperfections…you are gorgeous, just as you are.  You Truth, hidden beneath a murky milleau of Lie, is bursting to be seen; to tear out and kiss God as though embracing a mirror.

That’s what I wish I could communicate to him.  That’s what I’m starting to know…deeply…and, for me at least, it’s making all the difference.

Suspending Disbelief…an act of worship

  

Years ago I flirted with the charismatic world.  I suppose the farthest I ever got was Vineyard, which may only be like making it to second base, I really don’t know.  During Bible college I became pretty sickened by the rank intellectualism of the seminarians I was encountering and so became a champion of headless spirituality. Now you have to understand, I mean that in a positive way.  So much of Western Christianity is pure frontal lobe.  As Richard Rohr says, “it’s about 1/3 inch of 1/2 of your brain”.  Frankly, I think that there needs to be more heart and more hands within spirituality.  Head, I feel, can often get in the way…at least it has for me historically.  Alright, skip ahead several years.  Fly over the anti-intellectualism of my house church days.  Zip across most of my snobbish counter snobbery rhetoric.  Find me located in a much healthier place (I imagine), that appreciates all three aspects of the human organism.  Feeling has a place, as does choosing, and so also does processing, analyzing, questioning, thoughtful discourse.  Each of these are integral in a healthy integration of being incarnate (allowing All of God to reside in All of me).  In other words, full spirituality requires all of my capacities exercised to their fullest capacity.  That includes the intellect. In fact, I’m not sure if faith can exist without a healthy measure of doubt also in orbit.  True worship of the Divine includes, in a Job-like sense, the questioning of the Divine.  In fact, the picture we see in Job is one of a Holy community between GOD and Job filled with questions for one another.  An integral spirituality requires thought, consideration, and ultimately question.  This is a product, I would say, of the human intellect.  I also believe that to the best of our ability we are compelled to be ‘articulants’ of the Word made flesh.  We use the words we know to tell of the indescribable.  We strive for better words that give more full expression to the ineffable Mystery of God.  Language is also of a product of the human mind.  As we see with Adam, the naming of things, the giving birth to word and description, is fundamental to being human and being made in the image of God.  And finally we are compelled to be co-creators with God.  Creation involves imagination.  We are invited to imagine and RE-imagine new worlds or the world with new properties.  This is another element of the mind.  There are undoubtedly far more reasons than this to be thoughtful Christians, but for me 1)Question 2) Expression 3) Imagination are reason enough to cultivate a healthy appreciation of intellect among the trinity of the human soul.  

I’m saying this because I want no argument for what I’m about to say.  I want no one jumping out of the bushes and saying “Brittian wants us to ‘check our brains at the door'”.  Because I don’t.  I’m simply making a suggestion.

Back to the charismatic world.  I admire them. I admire them because regardless of their daily issues or uncertainties there is an assumption that God is active in the world, both at large and in their lives.  Not just any God, but the immanent God, the God who is HERE, the God who can overturn tables and hearts and bodies.  To many in that move, God can speak and WILL speak.  His voice is definite and deafening.  Maybe this only applies to their church services.  While the Presence undoubtedly springs from those events or meetings, the expectation flows into the fullness of living.  There is a casual expectation that God will be made visible and He will be known.  I deeply respect that.  Actually, I envy that.  I sort of think of it like this…if that isn’t the sort of God we are involved with then we should just move beyond God.  

Here’s my thought.  I’m bothered by the hyper critical intellectualism of post-mod melody making (worship services, etc.)  Many of us were frustrated by sit and soak Christianity where church became a spectator sport and we all watched Pastor Jimmy slam dunk another sermon (while we sat on our hands and listened to him have a great time).  Enter the dialogue styled talks of emergent gatherings or the small group anybody is free to share sessions of house church.  Awesome!!!  We weren’t sitting on the sidelines anymore, right?  Guess, what…I believe the same needs to happen with worship and song.  Just as the discussion in house churches or emerging churches requires an conscious engagement of the head, so this will require a conscious engagement of the heart.  

I envision a space of suspended disbelief…a momentary blip in time where we consciously interact with our emotions and allow our imaginations to be activated.  Psychology might call it, “silencing the internal critic”. Actually, all it really is is simply fully interacting with a moment, being present.  Charismatics might call it, “following the Spirit”.  Being in tune with the spirit and being moved by that.  This moment is a expectation of the glorious.  I imagine that it will take practice.  I imagine that it will take courage.  But I also imagine GOD will be there…powerful and present.  

Wanna try it with me?

when the plot falls apart.

Following along in the vein of “Story” I’ve had a further thought…

What happens if you’re watching Star Wars and the camera zooms in on Luke Skywalker…he’s summoning all power of the force to battle the Emperor when…BAM!  Bob, the mechanic, shoves Luke out of the way and co-opts the movie…around his plot?!?  Ridiculous right?  I mean, imagine, how boring is Star Wars when it’s central character gets side lined, and Bob–the mechanic who was simply meant to work on spaceships, suddenly becomes the main character.  Think of how mundane that story would be.  Maybe there would still be an epic struggle, but it would be in the background now, a subplot to the new central theme of “if Bob can repair the Galactic Cruiser today”.  Bottom line–it wouldn’t make for an interesting movie, let alone a trilogy or an empire of toys and comics.  Why?

Because plot is like a cart being pulled by the horse of the central character.  Think of Tom Sawyer.  I barely remember the book’s story as much as I remember who the story is about…Tom…

The movie Mission Impossible…it’s the story of a daring attempt for Ethan (played by Tom Cruise) to restore his name, to find out who the REAL bad guys are, and to bring them to justice…but the driving action is Ethan…the main character.

Without the main character–the plot falls apart…the cart doesn’t go anywhere unless it’s being pulled.

The critics are always saying this about big budget movies these days: “No one took the lead!” or “There was no compelling central character”.

So…you get it…

But the funny thing is…maybe we don’t get it…take the Bible for instance.

Who’s the main character?

And maybe you instantly answer: “God!”  And yes…that’s it!  He’s the central character…and that’s what we have to remember. Every story, each narrative, is an extension of His Story.  Every one else becomes a character helping lead His plot to fulfillment.  He is the star.

And it’s easy to know that…but what about approaching it story by story?  Take David and Goliath for instance. What’s it about?  The most true answer is: God…and probably more specifically how God champions the weak and overturns the proud and strong.  This is a reflection of God’s priorities.  But when was the last time you heard that message?  Instead, I’ve heard all my life…this is the “story of David and Goliath”…not God and Goliath. Hah!  See…it’s about David…for us…the central character in this story isn’t God, it’s David.  It’s about him using the tools he’s got on hand. It’s about his not wearing Saul’s armor. It’s about his trusting in God…etc…etc…and in that telling God is still there…but he’s sidelined. He’s Luke Skywalker pushed aside by Bob the Mechanic.

No wonder Scripture is boring to so many people.  No wonder we grossly misinterpret it.  No wonder it becomes a “me” centered promise book.  We’ve shoved the main character out of the picture.  And without the central forward mover…it’s just not a compelling story anymore.

I propose:

1)We plunge into the Story of God

2)We keep in mind that it’s a narrative about him…First that it’s a narrative first and foremost.  It is not a series of propositional truths and blanket statements. It is not a complex set of systematic doctrines.  It’s a story. And to quote Richard Rohr: “it’s all true and some of it really happened”…this means that the priority is not first historical, that’s secondary…the first priority is: what’s he doing? what does this reveal about his peculiar character and priorities? what are we learning about the nature and mission of God…etc…

3)We do all this in the context of community…where it can’t just be about me the individual…by virtue of it being interpreted in community it will automatically become  larger than us…

more to come and masucline spirituality.

more to come on “Does the Bible Make Sense?”–I promise,and other things also (I am just slammed for the time being)….but until then…

A quote from Richard Roh

This deals with the topic of Male Spirituality and is from his book called “From Wild Man to Wise Man“:

“A masculine spirituality emphasizes movement over stillness, action over theory, service to the world over religious discussion, speaking the truth over social niceties and doing justice instead of any self-serving (so-called) “charity”.  With the complementary masculine, spirituality becomes overly feminine (which is really a false feminine!) and is characterized by too much inwardness, preoccupation with relationships, a morass of unclarified feelings and religion as a security blanket. We will in fact be threatened by any daring Biblical faith and replace them with little schemes of salvation–“private holiness projects”. It just doesn’t work. It is anti gospel.  This prevents a journey to anyplace new, and fosters a constant protecting of the old.  It is a no-risk religion, just the opposite of Abraham, Moses, Paul and Jesus.

In my humble (masculine) opinion I believe much of the modern sophisticated church is swirling with a kind of neutered religion.  It is one of the main reasons that the doers, makers, shakers and change agents have largely given up on the church and Christians. As one very effective woman put it: “After a while you just get tired of the in-house jargon that goes nowhere.” A neuter spirituality is a trap to those of leisure, luxury, and self serving ideas. They have the option not to do, not to change, not long and thirst for justice.  It can take either a liberal or conservative form, but in either case, it becomes inoculated against any deep spiritual journey. That’s why I call it neuter.”

WOW!  That’s a mouthful…and I feel emasculated…

I wish I could get up the courage to ask to get my masculine spirituality back.

Does the Bible Make Sense?-Part 2

For those who long to take a serious journey with God the Bible becomes supremely important.  I know…I know…some of you, like me, who’ve taken a more mystical journey may question that assumption–but I would say that mystical/transendental response is actually part of a reaction to the frustrating challenges the Bible presents the seeker.

Besides apparent and minor inconsistencies such as date discrepancies, miscreant facts, and unharmonious genealogies, there are some major thematic challenges, but none so great as the dicotomy between the God of the Old Testament–full of wrath and judgement–and the God of the New Testament filled with grace and peace.

In short…how can the loving Father portrayed by His Son Jesus be the warrior YHWH who sanctions genocide and seems to have an affection for copious amounts of blood?

I think that our modern Christian (and non-Christian) culture offers several ways of dealing with this question.  I would like to present the ones that I’ve walked personally and currently inhabit. I’ll do this in stages starting with the most far removed from my current posture.

The first solution is the most popular: DENIAL.

Denial is the refusal to actually take on the question.  And it appears in a couple of different forms. First is the apparent “agnostic” or “doubter” version of denial–reasonable disbelief.  They might make the statement “I find it hard to believe in a God who does _______ and sanctions ________.”  (referring to some of the gorier moments in the OT or in the ultimate destination of carnage, Hell).  For this person, the agnostic questioner, the presentation of a historic Super Being who condones and often causes such immense violence and pain cannot be reconciled with the kinder gentler Father Friend who is “all about relationship”.  Rather than working out the hard applications or the even more challenging alternatives to a traditional view of these OT passages, they hang up their gloves and go play in a different gym.  This used to be me.  I couldn’t synthesize or hold in tension these distinctives, and I didn’t have the resources to understand these themes differently, so I simply eradicated them from my thought life imagining that if they weren’t real then I didn’t have to deal with them–which of course is true in a way. And really this is where so many agnostics are…asking the question and searching for answers and researching the query is just too much trouble–the easy way out is disbelief.

But I moved on…part of the reason is because it is just to hard to be an atheist (it’s also pretty arrogant. try telling 99.99999% of people who have ever lived all time that their core belief in “something beyond themselves” is actually wrong).  And while agnosticism (or the idea that “I know there is something beyond but I really don’t know what”–and am to lazy to seriously investigate beyond asking the same typical questions) is infinitly safer and more generous, eventually I found that Jesus, as presented in the gospels and then who’s teachings were radically followed in the book of Acts, was the highest truth that I had yet found and best typified the “good dream of the universe”.  So I began to once again pursue Christianity in a serious way…

Enter the second form of denial: IGNORING THE QUESTIONS ALTOGETHER.  I think this might be also labeled “blind faith”.  But I bet a far more interesting way of thinking about this might be found in the fact that most Christians have never read and certainly have not studied the Old Testament.  Go into any church–take a poll–“WHO HERE HAS READ THROUGH THE OLD TESTAMENT” (and for that matter “The New Testament” either)?  It’s sadly low.  I suspect it has something to do with the peculiarity of the book (the Bible) and the questions it instantly raises when we read it as outsiders and from our own cultural perspective (incredibly removed from the culture of the Bible).  Simply put:”if I don’t read it I don’t have to deal with it”…or even worse “if I don’t think about or talk about my faith outside of the most general terms possible then I won’t question and won’t doubt.”  And I get that…because that defined me for a lot of years… But here’s the problem with that line of unconscious reasoning: the questions still exist inwardly. And every time personal tragedy, pain, suffering, surprise, grief, or a disturbance in life as we know raises it’s ugly head we doubt and have no bedrock to stand upon–only a pile of questions which have shattered our “enjoyable” and “satisfactory faith”…this is precisely why so many Christians have ceased to be “practicing” Christians–dissapointment.  And a dissapointment which their resources (which have, as we already said, never dealt with the problems created by the peculiarity presented in the Scripture and in the Faith) have no ability to deal with.  Ignoring the questions will not make them go away.

Simply put: Denial will only work for so long.  The reactionary atheist,  the blissfully ignorant agnostic, and the normative faithfully blind “just give me Jesus” believer, will all end up at the same place–longing for more…needing more…and find themselves asking the same questions again and again.

Denial doesn’t work.

Once again…don’t put down your Scripture. Don’t write off the writing.  Don’t thoughtlessly throw out the theological wrestling.  Instead…let’s begin to identify new ways of seeing the issue at hand and engage the art and the science of seeing God’s incredible Story clearly…more on that to come.

A junkie’s greatest hits (part 2)

And the completed countdown…

Number 4: God’s Goal: Christ As All in All by Manfred Haller–There was a time when this would have dominated this list…it is still incredibly good; striking a tension between visionary Christology and prophetic criticism of current religious practices. Some of the most memorable quotes I know ring from this tome. Good reading…I used to buy extra copies and hand them out to friends…that good–really.

Number 3: Simply Christian by NT Wright–If I could buy a book for all my friends and say “read this…you will glimpse the heart of Christianity and rediscover what it means to be an apprentice to Jesus” it would be this one…sadly I’m too broke to buy one for all them…This book is theology at it’s best, shattering myths, crystalizing the discovery of God as He is and always shall be. It digs into the my heart and calls me onward and upward.

Number 2: Jesus Plan for a New World by Richard Rohr–When I saw the title I really knew I needed to read it…I knew it would change my reality. It did. It has. Rohr invites us into a contextualized understanding of the revolutionary Jesus who confronts the dominant regime of his day and longs to confront ours as well. The kingdom is sought first and only…it is taken by violence and we are to do violence (to the self life) in order to secure its presence…however it is a new sort of kingdom–devoid of competition and posturing, power and pretensions, where peace rules the day. I wish I could say it was in my library now but I loaned it to a friend who decided that rather than wait to get his own copy he would mark up and keep mine… ;)) It’s all good…I’m just glad to share the wealth of this one.

Number 1: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical by Shane Claiborne–As my wife said simply: “It’s a book about love”…really I don’t very many descriptions about this book. It was an extremely quick (page turning) read…and it left me with hazy visions and shadowy impressions–like a half blind man seeing men moving as trees…strange though–it had broken my numbness. I was left blubbering, over and over…I would sit next to my wife in bed and just sob…Simple stories–I can’t really even remember their point…except love…love…To me, this book is the must read of every Western Christian…I pray more than anything that it simply awakens our heart to the reality: “that a new world is necessary, possible, and already here”.

well that’s it for now…though these other guys telling me their top books has made me want to get out and start reading more again…which is what I shall do…I’m off to the bookstore right now…

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