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

A Guest Appearence…

Recently my wife Jessie read a book that I was sent for review. Her thoughts on it were great and so she’s making a guest appearance here at sensualjesus.

Eve is a novel–but don’t let that throw you for a loop.  Like Richard Rohr says, “It’s all true, and some of it really happened.”  The fact is: I couldn’t put it down from the instant I started. Elissa Elliott, the author, did a wonderful job of painting a picture of who Eve could have been and the struggles her family could have gone through. The book is written from the perspectives of Eve and 3 of her daughters, Naava, Aya and Dara. Its story line alternates between flashbacks to life with Elohim (G-d…) in the Garden of Eden and then the journey that transpired after being tossed out. Honestly, and maybe surprisingly, I found myself easily relating to the woman of Eve and inwardly nodding, “Well yeah, I’ve also felt that way before”. As a wife, Eve argued with her husband, Adam. He could be annoying and push her buttons. Sometimes the attraction wasn’t there. But they continued to choose each other. As a mother, Eve was often times disappointed in her children’s actions and choices. She did and said hurtful things out of anger. She played favorites. She blamed herself for the way they turned out. But they were hers, so she loved and forgave them. Ultimately, Eve doubted God’s very existence, even when he had been so real to her in the Garden. She was angry at his absence. She often times lived in the past and what “could have been”, instead of dealing with the present here and now. She became depressed and tired. She had regrets. But she once again chose to love, she chose to forgive, and she chose to have faith. In the end, what makes this a great book is the same reason why the creation/Genesis narrative is a great story—because it’s True. It describes something that we all can identify with, but don’t want to identify too closely with, so we use stories to glance at it out of the corner of our eye.  I walk away thinking about the incredible word “choice”, and how I’ve never really associated it with other words like “grace” or “love” and most of all, “faith”. But maybe faith and volition have a lot more to do with each other than I’ve thought.  Like most folks who have been married can attest about love, faith also may be less of a feeling or a presence, and far more of a decision to move forward.  I would definitely recommend it.

MetaVista–there’s more than just seeing…

So…I’ve been reading a book called MetaVista, which has got me thinking…and looking around on the web for other people’s thoughts on it as well.  These folks said it way better than I could, so I’m going to quote them:

Metavista by Colin Greene and Martin Robinson, which has a lot to say about the importance of story in communicating faith within post-modern culture, surprised us by containing no stories!  They’re not alone in that of course, there is no shortage of people keen to tell us what needs to be done but not offering much in the way of either stories or models showing in practical terms what they’re on about.  That’s not to say that these two aren’t experts: they obviously are, and display evidence of their wide reading in (western) philosophy and social sciences in just about every sentence.  From that perspective, it’s a great book.  But as practical theologians we struggle a bit with the idea that theory comes first and that spiritual practice always starts with some kind of ideological basis.  Most Christians probably operate the other way round, starting with practice and then maybe reflecting on it all more analytically.  Like Gustav Gutierrez said, something about discipleship being the first act, theology the second.

This is really interesting isn’t it?  One of the goals of the book seems to be to get people to integrate story/narrative into their presentation of the good news of God.  So how do they get towards their end result?  Linear, non-narrative.

That raises interesting questions for me.  One of the realities I’m dealing with here is the organization and facilitation of a series of events that aim to investigate and affirm apprenticeship in the Way of Jesus.  We’re attempting to structure those events in such a way where only about 15-25% of the time is spent using speaching or monologue. There are so many more impacting ways of encountering and being affected by information than the lecture style: art/aesthetic, soundscapes, images, actions, singing, etc… And one of our first questions was, “how do we go about introducing this? maybe we should do some kind of a teaching on it?”  Isn’t that funny that this might be the first thought?  It was right there at the top of my impulses!  The very thing we wanted to get away from was the means we wanted to use to get away.  **

I do this all the time…”Let’s have a talk about taking action!”  Lol.

Confusing isn’t it?

And so we use war to bring peace.

We use angry and empassioned politicising to proclaim a way of love.

We use theology (thoughts) to bring us to praxis (action).

I can’t help but wonder if it’s easy to see the way forward but hard to live into it. It’s true for me.

**I’m pleased to say that we ended up deciding just to go for it…acknowledging that there would be challenges and possible disorientation but that was acceptable because it would be new…for EVERYONE!

Apologizing for God

I wondered out loud a short time ago if Christians should be more apologetic in their faith.  Not in the “apologetics” or argumentative wording…but literally, if we needed to ask forgiveness more.  Part of that question has to do with the millennia of being God’s PR agents, and getting it all wrong.  

It’s been a hardcore track record, with the obvious offenses getting mentioned first: the Crusades–and lest we lump all of them into one generous term, let’s just reference first “The Children’s Crusade” where upwards of 20,000-30,000 children or poor were led towards the battlefields in hopes of defeating the infidel.  The sanctification of war, first elucidated by a pagan emperor named Constantine, but quickly picked up by countless generations of the powerful, the noble, the strong, and the cunning who felt the ends justified the means.  The orthodox Christology of the KKK on the eve of their execution style slayings of case workers in the 1960’s.  The passivity of so called good men and women on the eve and then eye of the Holocaust in Germany, Lutheran and Catholic alike–evil has never had such a domesticated face as those who did nothing, least of which to speak out.  The genocide in Rwanda, the “most Christian nation in Africa”, 800,000 men, women, and children slaughtered in the span of a month.  On and on the hit parade comes.  For me, at least, the worst part is not the events themselves–though they are atrocious enough–but rather the self forgiving tip of the hat excusing of wrong doing, the lack of lament.  And all this has led to what a recent author has called “Searching for A Better God“. I admire that the book forgoes the pedantic argument of “does God exist” and goes straight to the heart of the matter, “What kind of God exists…can He be good?”

The author, Wade Bradshaw, asks several questions:

1) Is God Angry?

2) Is God Distant?

3 Is God a bully?

These questions, which I think are legitimate ways of evaluating the history of Christians, give a real opportunity for an apology–the discovery of a “better God” than the presentation we’ve known previously.  I can imagine being the author and saying, “Yes, God’s testier side has seemed to be emphasized” or “It’s true, there have been bullies who have claimed to be working for God…their God has looked like a bully.”  

Sadly, the author can’t bring himself to say it.  He invites us to revisit and rediscover God but, from what I received, not to reimagine or even recover a God that’s bigger than the caricature publicity he’s received thus far (certainly Bradley acknowledges the atrocities that people have laid at God’s feet are actual tragedies…NOT God…fallen, foolish creatures who lack a depth of encounter with the Divine–I don’t mean to suggest otherwise).   I feel that Bradley, along with many Christians might, answer his questions by saying, “yes, God is angry…yes, God is distant…yes, God is a bully…but give him another shot–he’s really a nice guy if you get to know him…well, at least most of the time”.  I could be wrong on that–and I actually appreciate the idea, still I imagine something a little different.

It might be high time for a repackaging of God.  Rather than hear him elucidated from the podium of privileged European dominance perhaps we should sit back and let other PR agents take over for a time.  Maybe its time to listen to feminist theologians, South American saints, African liberationists, Native American philosophers, Chinese church planters.  Maybe their cultural reinvisioning has relevance to our search for a better God.  Maybe we need their balance.  It is perhaps the greatest of all sins that the church is guilty of…it allowed the mutual excommunication of cultures perceived as lesser than one another.  Culture fragmented the corpus Christi and because of it…well, we may have created a cluster of events that we might just need to apologize for.  

I for one am game.

Not the Religious Type

Books come my way quite a bit these days…but I must say, this title, “Not the Religious Type”, intrigued me.  First, a little bit of back story.  Back in Bible college days I came across the seminal work, “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis.  I devoured it.  For the first time in my faith journey I felt as if there were REASONS to believe.  Looking back on it I’ve wondered if that REASON negated Faith (which is most often the absence of sight, of certainty).  However, I came to the perspective that Blaise Pascal articulated so well in his pithy little quote: “We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit”.  In other words, its alright to feel certain about some things.  And, indeed, that certainty may very well be in spite of evidence often, or at least independent of it.  Still, all of this to say that Mere Christianity has always held a fond place in my heart.  It’s heirs have not.  There are countless imitators, each of which ratchet up the certitudes, the historical evidence, the necessary proof, etc…And in my mind, they each take steps forward towards negating true belief.  So, when I see books that claim to be in the tradition of CS Lewis and “Mere Christianity”, I am instantly suspicious.  This book may be different though.

It’s written by a fellow who pastors a seemingly thriving fellowship right outside of MIT and Harvard in Boston.  That, in itself, is no great feat, but it does seem to be working for him.  A one time avowed atheist, Dave Schmeltzer, speaks the language of doubt with the best of them. He treads tenderly on the hallowed dirt of faith, ambiguity and mystery, while engaging that which we CAN know.  His education and extreme diversity of exposure and experience makes him capable of being conversant in current pop culture and events…something that instantly seems to set him apart of from those whose only relationship to the dominant paradigm is simply spying in order to conquer it.  He reads the New Yorker, Slate, and listens to and watches PBS.  He speaks my dialect.  

The book begins with a premise…the secular and the sacred need not be opposing elements. Because that is true the world need not be considered evil and God need not be considered exacting and rule bent.  Cliche, but still overwhelmingly true, God is about relationship, a passionate relationship with His creation. More importantly, the deeper the relationship, the more uncertainty and ambiguity plays a part.  Schmelzer highlights M. Scott Peck’s four stages of spiritual/emotional development.  He abbreviates stage four as the “mystical” stage and suggests that this stage moves in connection with the Divine Other, but tentatively…humbly…with doubt as a part of faith.  

You can see that stage 4 (mystical) is a stage filled with uncertainty to the same degree that stage two (rules based) is, by definition, filled with certainty.  Or, to put it differently, stage 4 [the highest] is about questions; stage two is about answers. In this way of thinking, stage 2 looks at truth from the outside, as if it were a book that can and must be mastered. Stage 4 looks at truth from smack-dab in the middle of it, as if truth is everywhere and will take a lifetime just to begin to traverse (which is the joy of it). 

This presentation allows for a beautiful steering away from the dualistic, linear way of thinking of liberal vs. conservative (rules based vs. rebellion).  It’s ok to stand LOST in the center of God as Truth and feel overwhelmed, even confused…when you’re that close, you see LESS clearly…but experience MORE fully.  Truly, wonderful.

He goes on to call Truth itself, relational, instead of propositional or abstract. This is similar to Tony Jones’ statements about Truth having, in the person of Jesus, needed a bath, maybe having lice, slept, ate/drank, loved…”Jesus didn’t claim to be a teacher of truth. He claimed to be Truth”.  Truth as a person is always on the move, is never static, and therefore the only way to encounter Truth is to be around the person (and I would insert, that Person’s people who become a community of mutual question).  

And here’s what I enjoyed most about this book…people.  The author fills the pages with names and faces. He, as if truly believing that Truth is relational, presents his truths relationally, in bursts of story.  That brings up a complaint about much of post Don Miller writing…everyone does the memoir schticknow …mostly, badly.  By badly, I mean that their stories are so point driven that they cease to be interesting STORIES!  Thankfully Schmelzer avoids this pitfall for the most part and his stories are actually interesting, rather than being drawn out battering rams for a theological point that everyone understands within the first sentence.  

One point of interest…”Not the Religious Type” offers an interesting spin on something that most “high minded” academically oriented head cases probably wouldn’t touch: hearing the voice of God.  Some of the narrative that surrounds it, about his tempestuous early dating relationship with his now wife, reads like Jeremiah or Job.  Dave screams at God.  God talks back.  God makes a deal Dave can’t refuse.  Dave gives God a timeline (or was it the other way around?).  Etc..  And that may sound like an affront to the “modern” moderation of Christians (such as myself), who hesitate to say, “God told me…” Truthfully, it is.  But, Dave suggests that over time, starting in small ways, as you relate to God in a way that suspends disbelief, we discover a place where God and man meet, where God speaks.  It’s as if doubt propels us towards a void, a void where the object of Faith compels us to know and be known.  Really, Schmelzer is saying, “Why not try it?”  He admits that speaking with God, hearing His voice, is a learned taste, it takes time and patience.  Very interesting…And I believe it too.  

Ok…some questions for Dave Scmelzer:

1.  Where’s the jumping off point?  When does doubt embrace certitude and take the existential, “leap of faith”?


2.  In a pluralistic society how do you hold your path loosely while still embracing it whole heartedly?


3.  Are we happier people for believing in God and embracing Christianity?


4.  Is the defining characteristic of Christianity grace?  If so, how are our lives transformed in more than an abstract way?  In what way does God’s good news for our spirit become good news for our marriage, neighborhood, environment, and global village?


All in all…a great book.  I recommend it.

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…