+ Some Quotes +

A trinity of quotes today. 

One from a scientist. One from a philosopher. And the final from a priest. Somehow they speak to the foundation I sense I’m standing on. It is, to be sure, a weak foundation.  I’m not looking for a strong or obscenely certain one.  The weakness of the foundation is as weak as Love itself–something that calls to us, that draws us, urging us to be fall forward, to take the leap, propelling us ahead, but without force. In the end my affirmation is a simple one, to quote Gianni Vattimo when asked if he still “believed”, he answered “I believe so.”  I believe that I believe. 

You have a choice… I don’t think anyone can prove that God exists or that God doesn’t exist–we’re in an area far to deep for mere proof…a big fundamental question like belief in God (or disbelief) is not settled by a single argument. It’s too complicated for that. What one has to do is consider lots of different issues and see whether or not the answers one gets add up to a total picture that makes sense–but also gives meaning, beauty, depth, joy and hope.  In other words do you like the panting that you’ve just created or not?–Polkinghorne, pg 36


Who do I love when I love my God?  I love this question because it assumes that anybody worth their salt loves God. If you do not love God what good are you?  You are too caught up in the meanness of self-love and self-gratification to be worth a tinker’s damn. Your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps only at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you.  Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with real passion for something other than utilitarian gains, people who believe on something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding…but again, we must ask then “Who do I love when I love my God?”(Caputo, pg 2)


Dear friend, being beloved is the origin and fulfillment of the life of the spirit.  I say this because as soon as we catch a glimpse of this truth, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth and we will not rest until we rest in that truth.  From the moment we claim the truth of being beloved we are faced with the call to become who we are.  Becoming the Beloved is the spiritual journey we have to make. (Nouwen, pg 41)

An excerpt about belief:

I believe in God the way I believe in quarks, ” she said coolly. “People whose business it is to know about quantum physics or religion tell me that they have good reason to believe that quarks and God exist.  And they tell me that if I wanted to devote my life to learning what they’ve learned, I’d find quarks and God just like they did.”–From “the Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell, pg 110.

I assume that I am not an expert on quarks.  I assume I have very little to say on the matter. I haven’t studied it, I haven’t spent a lifetime of experiment and experience on the subject.  I don’t feel left out or stupid or unknowledgable or out of my league or judged or condemned or as if I should come up with something to say on the matter when in the presence of jargon talking physicists.  I simply sit, listen, and hope to glean what little I can, and I apply what little I’ve gained.  Why is it that we imagine religion, the religious question, differently? I suspect I know why.  I can’t help but wonder if because we create God in our own image, we expect ourselves to have an expert opinion on the matter.  And of course we are experts on God, because more often than not s/he is simply the glass ceiling of our own imagination, conveniently validating all of our preconceptions.

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”.

Fascinating Quote

It has been said that the highest praise of God consists in the denial of HIm by the atheist, who finds creation so perfect that he can dispense with a creator”–Marcel Proust (1921)

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.

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.