Monday, March 29, 2010

Out for a Few Days!

hope ya have a nice Easter/Passover/Spring Solstice, I am going to take a few days to rest up and collect with the family.

To set the mood, Sin Nombre by The Refreshments (one of the greatest bands of all time) always seems to be on my lips as i walk around. maybe because it holds the hope that i do in the line "You know the best that we can hope for is to be laughin' when we finally hit the ground"


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christ as Sacrifice, Christ as Victor

In my previous post where i revealed how big of a heretic i am, i stated later that i would clean up some inaccuracies on my part. This is that later. This post will divide up the sacrificial model of Anselm and posit the real Christus Victor model. both models have their pros and cons, and i will cover both.

The image of Christ as sacrifice is super old, prolly one of the oldest. the images pop up many times in the New Testament, featured heavily in Hebrews but also in the synoptics. it is also in the early church liturgy yet notably absent in the Didache, which i find really interesting... but i digress.

while the Pirate tried his best to offer up helpful metaphors for me, my prof did one better and offered up a section of the movie Dead Man Walking.

there is a part towards the end where the convict confesses to the nun. he starts off with some bravado he has had the whole movie yet acknowledges that he was a coward and thus was a victim by this other bully. however, the nun gently presses him and he finally admits guilt and responsibility for his actions. the nun forgives and the convict seeks forgiveness and notes that while his life was no good, maybe it will finally be of some good as his victim's family may take some comfort in his death. it hurts the nun to forgive as she finds a connection with a soon to be dead guy and it will hurt to see him die. it hurts the convict as it completely deconstructs his carefully held and constructed identity as a tough guy.

here's the kicker: in the view of sacrifice, God would be both the nun and the convict. the cross is the symbol of the connection between human guilt and divine perfection, love and empathy and repentance. Jesus as both divine and human becomes the rep of humans who need forgiveness as sinners and God who needs to forgive the wrongs done. Hurts humanity and God and the anguish on the cross symbolizes that.

this metaphor i can support more so than before. it gets strange when we ascribe Jesus as a substitute for us, as that gets legally strange, but to see Jesus as symbol of humanity, a representative of us, then that i can buy into. this requires a notion of a corporate self which Anselm and the early church would be operating with, yet we here in the Western 21st century might not get... but maybe, there are some connections for us.

just think of it like the government or sports team. if the government declares war on our behalf, then we are at war as a whole, whether we agree or not. if you listen closely to sports fans, they'll say strange things like "We WON!" but they weren't even on the team! They id. so closely that the team becomes the symbol for the city and everyone in it.

what does this say about God? the incarnation is a must in this theory. many divergent theologians come together here and state that this doesn't make God angry or any such thing, but those like Paul, Karl Barth, and even Paul Tillich (with his uber-abstract God) states that God is loving and merciful.

so in this instance the cross = the fact that love hurts. pain is the price of being in relationship and we are called to participate in this love and grace NOT thank God we got a substitute and we're off the hook and we can just believe and be fine (and buy Hummers, screw over the poor, and benefit from other's hard work, while giving those outside our faith a really hard time). i like this because i am in pain often due to my relationships... i'm always screwing something up or saying the wrong thing. even on this blog, i take pains to speak to others both inside and outside my faith tradition. there's a lot of forgiving and reconciling that goes on at a regular basis around here. this process involves sacrifice on both parts... of time to write responses, of giving up or questioning long held assumptions... so i understand this better now than the other...

the other view being, Gustaf Aulen in Christus Victor states that Christ as sacrifice is completely wrong! Aulen is Lutheran and so he went back to Luther and found that Luther too, didn't like this view held by Anselm. while this view is also scriptural and early "creedal" church Aulen was the first to give it a name.

Christus Victor = Christ victorious over sin and death and the devil. that is the "package" plaguing humanity and we need liberation from. this is heavily dependent on the Fall, original sin, and the idea of an objective and personified evil. the whole problem with the world is that we are at war, life is conflict, a battle between good and evil, angels and demons. Everyone else is pushed around by evil until Jesus comes and conquers it.

the best film to convey this idea is Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. take note of this "garden" scene. I've never watched the movie and doubt i will, and if you haven't all you need to do is watch this:

this is the whole movie in miniature. Jesus in agony, the devil being creepy, and humans behaving badly (either chickening out like the disciples or being corrupt like Judas and the Sadducees, or violent like the Romans).  God needs to win back humanity as we are powerless to do it ourselves. So God disguises Godself and is "born to die" and the devil, being smart in all other things in the domination of the world, doesn't recognize God in human form. So when the devil goes to claim another tasty soul, BAM! it's God who kicks some ass, liberates humanity and rules supreme.

this is Jesus as the Trojan Horse. Jesus as the fish hook, humanity is the bait, and when the devil latches on, it's curtains for him. the fishhook is an ancient symbol for Christ. so is Christ the boxer or Christ the gladiator.

here evil is an external presences where in Dead Man Walking, evil was internal. and isn't that the case, that laws and systems can be corrupt and unjust and thus catch people up in the cogs? aren't there things in society that you rail against stating "this isn't the way it's supposed to be!" but are powerless to change?

well that's me playing the advocate for this theory. i still have more problems with this one than with the sacrificial model.

critics of Aulen raised objections stating that he is just a failed manacheist or Zoroastrian, which his dueling Good-God/Bad God. this would make him a polytheist! plus what kind of creator lets evil sneak into the world? that's rather incompetent. and doesn't God take God's sweet time in making the correction? why didn't God just nuke evil from the start? and if Christ conquers sin/death/devil then why do we still have crappiness/death/and evil?

Aulen wasn't dumb, not by any means. if good comes from some cosmic "font of goodness" then why can't the bad come from a similar font? what would it mean if it came from the same font? entropy exists much like the south did after Gettysburg. They couldn't win, yet they still fought. same with many isolated islands on the Japanese side in WWII. They knew they lost yet fought into the mid-50s anyway.

so Aulen states that Good Friday shouldn't be the focus (like in those sacrificial folk), Saturday shouldn't either because that's when Jesus is turning over hell, but Easter is the true V-day. Worship them should be a victory celebration and proclamation until the cosmos and humanity catch onto this fact.

i don't like the spiritual warfare motif. i think Aulen had to have written this before the 20s because after he saw the Nazi conspiring with the Lutheran church, i don't think he would have held that view. the church is just an agent of institutional evil as anything else out there and with the European Catholic scandal going on, i really don't feel the need to argue this point.

i don't like the idea of God tricking or deceiving nor the idea of God being indebted to evil or Satan or some how accidentally letting evil into the world. i really don't think there is a perfected shalomic state we were supposed to be in from the start, i think we're supposed to grow and constantly work toward that goal.

and then insert the objections i had in the last post to this one... although i find myself more at peace with the sacrificial model now than i have been in a long, long time. once penal substitution is ruled out, i'm cool with it. Christus Victor, however, is a super-hero story transposed onto the scriptures. God the good defeats the evil Satan, evil genius and ruler of this world. i don't remember reading anywhere in the scriptures about how the devil came into being. that is more Catholic oral tradition than anything else. i wonder where that stuff came from.

Where I'm At:  I'm more of a Trinitarian than i thought. I like the play of internal and external evil, but i'm not choosing one over the other. i think both are problems we gotta deal with both individually and corporately. i'm not a dualist (or duelist in this case) and see how good people do bad things and bad people do good things and how good can come out of bad and vice versa. so i see how both models can't cover everything, but what system or theory can?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lee Barrett and Soren Kierkegaard

My Professor of Theology, Lee Barrett, wrote a book about Kierkegaard that is really good! Here's a review I wrote for class.
“To want to study Kierkegaard,” said Lee Barrett. “is really odd. He didn’t travel all that much, staying in and around Copenhagen, never really even making it to the Danish mainland save for two or three travels to Berlin. He wasn’t popular in his lifetime. He is not an easy read as he starts a story, interrupts it with a short unrelated novelette, and then keeps going. He does not stick to one genre, instead using many different types sometimes within the same story. He didn’t really do anything except write has he never had a job. He didn’t marry and although he fell deeply in love with a woman and told her that he couldn’t marry her because she would make him too happy, which he tried to explain to her. He’s simultaneously orthodox Lutheran yet a strong critic of the state Lutheran church. He is so difficult to figure out that his name is used as a synonym for obscure, mystifying reflections.”
            This seems like an odd thing for someone to say after writing a book about Kierkegaard.
            I recently attended a book signing and conversation with Lee Barrett in celebration of his new book, Kierkegaard. An Abingdom Pillars of Theology Book. Barrett explains that the reason to study Kierkegaard is that he is sort of like a Christian Socrates. He perseveres in destabilizing our comfortable lives, exposing the shallowness of our piety and unmasking our self-deceptions. He makes our life more difficult but also more honest and responsible. He may even get a few of his readers to be more faithful and loving, which Barrett states is what the entire corpus of Kierkegaard’s writing is meant to do.
            Barrett found Kierkegaard while in undergrad which should not be surprising as after World War II the US had discovered Kierkegaard and had embraced him; as evidenced by the beat generation. Since then, Barrett has lived through 2 announcements that the “Kierkegaard Craze” was over and dead, yet Soren keeps popping up. “There is a fascination with Kierkegaard because we can’t figure him out. He has been claimed by the deconstructionists, Neo-Orthodoxy, existentialists, and post-modernists.” Barrett stated. Yet Barrett doesn’t seek to categorize Kierkegaard in any of these movements in his book. His book’s purpose is to coach people on  how to make sense of Kierkegaard and invite the reader to read Kierkegaard’s work for themselves. “I can’t sneeze for you, I can’t blink for you, nor will I read Kierkegaard for you. All I want to do is coach you on how to read Kierkegaard for theological insight.” Barrett stated.
            What Barrett finds in Kierkegaard is a theology full of paradox and tension. Christianity as interpreted by Kierkegaard is simultaneously attractive and repulsive. At the core of Kierkegaard’s thought is an emphasis on radical, self-sacrificial love. This is love without boundaries and such a completely love of other than it’s a self-forgetting love. This is a love that will get you killed and it is what Jesus calls us into. “Picking up the cross isn’t going to be fun.” Barrett said. The criticism of the church of Kierkegaard’s time is that they equated this radical love into just being a good citizen and paying your taxes. The church dumbed it down and made it more palpable to the masses just as many in the faith do today. Faith always has an element of doubt for Kierkegaard that he found lacking in the state church. “Do we really want to love our neighbor as ourselves? Not really. And definitely not our enemies. In fact we’d rather draw lines between us in the church and them out there and fight over things,” Barrett stated. “Yet that’s what we’re called to do.” This should produce some guilt, some fear, some emotion into our piety and awaken the sleeper; which is what all of Kierkegaard’s shifty writing and genre changes sought to do to his readers.
            Kierkegaard also critiqued the rise of mass transit and modern thought. He feared that soon popular opinion would determine matters of religious truth. The yearning to be contemporary and fit in is actually an evasion of responsible existence and a capitulation to cultural necessity. Modern people do not really choose anything for themselves; they take no risks, and therefore have no deep passions. This undermines the individual’s struggle to determine what is good, true, and beautiful, and eradicates the moral tension from human life and therefore erodes the pathos that Christianity requires.
            It is no secret that I like both Lee Barrett and Kierkegaard. I really enjoyed listening to Barrett talk about Kierkegaard and then Chuck Melchert talking about how Barrett talks about Kierkegaard. It was a great learning experience all around. I learned that I too find Christianity repulsive and attractive at the same time. I have been taught that good pastors have strong boundaries yet wrestle with the Gospel and Jesus’ example. I find many streams of Christianity almost devoid of self-critique and largely impotent in its ability to challenge and confront the larger culture. It seems that the mainline denominations often sell out to intellectualism and forget the passionate part and the conservative churches do the opposite. A balance needs to be struck to bridge the space between head and heart. While doing so, the church can’t sell out for cultural values or a certain brand of political power. We are challenged to live in the tension. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Party of NO!

some thoughts from the good ol' unidactyl

with added commentary from a classmate who thought it was really funny... this is what you get when you're bored in class, do drawings, and then leave said notebook open to said drawing during break. ;-)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good News, old post, and other such things...

GOOD NEWS! This past Tuesday I went down and had a good meeting with my conference peeps and had a discussion on my ordination paper. Today, i received the news that:

Last night the Board affirmed our recommendation that Lucas be approved for an Ecclesiastical Council for Ordination Pending Call.

(Lucas is my "official" name)

So that's pretty freak'n sweet! The Ecc. Council will be sometime in June. Ordination pending call means that when I find a "call" or a church position, that is when I'll be ordained. exciting times!

Old Post: I did more reading on Christus Victor and have discovered my popular post of the same title is actually mislabeled. I talked about the satisfaction theory posited by Anselm while Christus Victor posited by Gustaf Aulen is in opposition to the satisfaction theory. I will do a new post soon about the differences and usually the two are mixed in Christian circles. I need to flesh both out and have done a little preliminary work in the old post as I have gone back and edited the old post. Going for accuracy as per Sabio's example.

Other Such Things: My Ohio Bobcats knocked off Georgetown in the first round! AWESOME!!!

The rule of Three: Book: John Dominic Crossan's Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

Movie: Kundun is a fantastic film about the Dali Lama's life. Great music and atmosphere and directed by Martin Scorsese. pretty awesome stuff.

Music: Getting in an Arizona state of mind, here's one song on heavy rotation aside from all the country-western stuff like "i'm an old cowhand"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Soda, Sacrifice, and Salvation

This Lent i gave up soda. or to put it another way, i am taking on the spiritual discipline of sacrificing soda from my diet.

"who cares?" you say. "it's just soda. not that big a deal."

part of the practice is to give up something you like. like for instance, if i gave up white chocolate, who cares? i rarely eat that and would leave me open to eating milk or dark chocolate. i LOVE soda! it's so GOOD and sugary and readily available! oh to feel those bubbles again, to taste the delicious chemical elixir... oh, where was i? since giving it up, i find it much harder to get through my readings or not to take a nap in the afternoon without my caffeine infusion. soda goes well with almost any meal as well, and if you want to eat at 5 Guys, Panera Bread, or Subway, soda is largely your option for beverage. and the sweetness goes so well with the saltiness of french fries. water or tea just don't have the same knock-out combo that soda has.

so it has been hard. not in a this is the end of my life kinda deal, not begging for daily bread, and definitely not triathlon hard,  but i do feel like i have a little insight into what some people go through when they give up smoking as i do get cravings... esp. when i see a Mountain Dew machine, bottle, or mental image... *drool* Moooouuntaiiin Deeeewwww... i would like to do the Dew, right now even, having that green can of goodness sitting next to me as i reflect on this practice would.... okay.. onto what i've learned.

i've learned that water is pretty tasty. that there are some exciting things going on in the world of juices, like Acia and Pom drinks. i've also learned about the nasty effects that soda, even just one a day, does to your body.

  • Too much phosphorus in your body leads to a reduction in calcium and magnesium, which are vital for a normal heart rate, nerve and muscle function,blood clotting, good bones and teeth. It can lead to tooth loss, damage your gums, cause osteoarthritis in adults and bone fractures in adolescents
  • Caffeine is also found in soda and is another easy way to lose calcium. Caffeine can also really mess with your sleep cycle and many researchers say that it is more addictive than heroin. 
  • Sugar in soda often comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is suspected to have a multitude of deleterious effects on the body. I have also found HFCS in many surprising things like Arizona Teas, Mott's Applesauce, Lemonade, Orange Juice, ground coffee, pulled-pork, BBQ sauce, and bread. HFCS are in many of the things we eat, and while i've been really looking at the labels to try to avoid this stuff, it's in nearly everything we buy.
my wife is also joining me in this spiritual exercise and in fact she's upped the practice. not only are we refraining from soda until Easter we are also refraining from eating at our fave. burger joint, 5 Guys Burgers and Fries. We eat there at least once a week and while the food is really really good, we are finding that it's not as good as we used to think it was when we ate there once a month or less. so in an effort to keep the mystique of 5 Guys, we're abstaining from it as well. maybe when we return we will find that we actually like a less greasy and soda-free diet.or maybe it'll be like eating there again for the first time. and maybe i can knock down my soda intake to a soda a week or so once i get through the withdrawal period. either way, i don't see a downside to this.

"okay, tooth-head," you say. "You've covered the soda and the sacrifice part, what's up with the salvation? do you think that this little exercise somehow saves you or makes you better than me cause you're doing it and i'm not? that either reinforces my view of egotistical Christians or makes me feel guilty about my own lack of spiritual discipline (because i don't know if i'm religious or not)."

this small exercise has helped me live a little bit more intentional. didn't Socrates state that the unexamined life isn't worth living? well, i would have never thought to have looked at soda because i love it and would rather not examine it. what i found wasn't so much new and shocking as i know soda is unhealthy, but what was shocking was HOW unhealthy and the extent of the problems that can be caused were. it caused me to change up how, where, and what i eat. i have just a little wider awareness now. isn't that on the road to salvation?

i mean the greatest stuff can come if people just stop and reflect on their actions for just a second. some republicans may see that they really aren't adding anything helpful to the political discourse by just saying no all the time.

Tea-Partyer's would see that they were awfully silent during the Bush years and that their silence caused us to get where we are at now and maybe they might discover that they are anti-intellectual and  possibly racist in many of their assumptions.

Liberals would see that they have lost touch with their base of blue-collar workers and would work on connecting to others.

Christians would see that this discipline is hard and how comfortable they live here in the States. they may see how they have been acting elites and tribal and not like the servants they are called to be. they would see the use of these ancient Liturgical practices that our rich tradition offers and see that their faith has gotten too escapist. they would stop using faith as an escape from fear for  when we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. and hope is a good thing to have.

or maybe nothing will change cause people don't change so why bother trying to change through this stupid exercise? well, that sounds hopeless. and i gave up hopelessness a few Lents ago.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Prodigal Problem

The parable of the prodigal son is quite possibly one of Jesus’ greatest hits. I think it shows Jesus’ true genius as a story teller as we all can relate to either the prodigal son or the older brother. It could easily have been called the “tale of two brothers.” But what does this story really mean? What does it tell us about the kingdom of heaven that it is supposed to be describing?

Let’s start with the first son, the younger son known as the prodigal.

We are not told why he decides to leave, but he demands his share of the inheritance and leaves. Kenneth Bailey, a scholar of Middle Eastern Culture, states that this idea would make a first century audience outraged. To demand an inheritance is pretty much wishing the father were dead! Jesus’ audience would have been immediately hostile to this character. The father would be perfectly justified in banishing this brat forever with no inheritance. However, the son gets the money and leaves with no trouble from his dad.

Maybe some of us can relate to this character. We feel like we can take over the world, that we are independent and need no one’s help and if it were offered we’d prolly resent it. We can achieve our own goals and destinies thank you very much and as soon as the world notices me, I’m going to be a rock star, or a movie star, or even someone like Paris Hilton who is famous and everyone knows her but we’re not sure why we know her.

But things don’t work out like that. The son fritters away the inheritance and has to eke out an existence as a swineherder. Even the pigs seem to manage better than he does. It is likely that Jesus’ audience wouldn’t have felt the least bit sorry for him. Serves him right, they’d think. That’ll teach him. Yet the son has a change of heart, in a beautiful bit of poetry, the author of Luke writes in Greek “The son came to himself.” He remembered who he was and decided that if he was going to tend pigs for the rest of his life and live in humiliation, he would rather do it at home with people he knew. So he came back.

Here is where many Christians really connect to the story. They talk about their born again experience. Some even remembering the exact time and date that they came back to the family. When I was a chaplain in the hospital this past fall I heard a few of these stories. One man was in for a knee replacement and stated that while he was in a lot of pain, it was nowhere close to the amount of pain he caused his family. You see he was a drug addict and had been in and out of rehab many times. He had many siblings and had been staying at his sister’s for a few weeks and everything was going great. He knew he had to get it right this time because this was prolly the last sibling that would take him in.

One day the sister gives her brother $50 to go get groceries as she couldn’t get to the store with all her kid’s events going on, you know soccer practice, dance recitals and such. So the guy goes out with his list and is feeling pretty good as he knows he’s trusted and has responsibility to feed the family. He’s feeling so good that he thinks that it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a little six pack on the way to the store. Just to celebrate. What harm could it do? Needless to say he never made it to the grocery store. He spends three days drunk and walking the streets. He doesn’t sleep, he doesn’t really eat, he just drinks. It is when he’s in an adult-video store with a bag of heroin that he “comes to himself.” He told me, laying there in his hospital bed, that as he looked up to the ceiling right before putting the needle in his veins that he saw blood on the ceiling. Little dots and splatters right over his head on the ceiling.

He said the blood spots meant that other people had come here before and shot heroin into their veins like he was about to. He said it was at that moment that he could no longer deny the reality of his situation. He had failed himself, his sister and her family, and all of his siblings and parents. He had learned that he lacked the wisdom, the strength, and the resources to fend for himself and to fight the addiction, just like those who had made the blood spots before him. It was right there where he said yes to Jesus, spent 6 months in rehab, and came out clean. He has been an evangelical Christian now for 10 years and has been clean ever since. He has reunited with his family and makes a ritual of bringing some bread or snacks over to his sister’s house  at least once a week so he won’t forget what he did.

In evangelical cultures, we often hear of these dramatic conversions, but we also hear about them at Trinity. Why, don’t we say every week that “No matter where you’ve been, no matter where you’re going, right now, during this hour you’re home?” That appeals to the born-agains in the crowd, the prodigals who left and then came back. Maybe we didn’t listen in Sunday school and found we needed some guidance after college. Maybe many of us were just bored with church until a friend brought us along to this one that’s not like anything we thought church could be! This place is fun! People laugh in service! Sing great songs, clap! And most of all people care about one another and what’s going on in the world.

The prodigal’s father does the unexpected here, just as Trinity does to many people, maybe even did to us. When the father saw the return of the son, he runs out and hugs and kisses him. He welcomes him home without asking where he has been. He offers a hug and not a lecture. Here the son’s journey was not simply geographical, it was relational. There is a spiritual homecoming in this moment and it’s very powerful.

Well….That’s all fine well and good but what about those of us who have been in church our whole lives? It’s nice that people realize that they need God in their lives but what about those of us who never left? Who have always believed in God? Those of us in the “once born crowd?”

What about those of us who identify with the older brother?

I sure can relate to the older brother. I would be mad too, seeing my wayward brother come home after wishing my beloved father dead. He deserved everything he got and more! Where’s the justice?! This line of reasoning, applied to the hospital story sounds like this: Well, I didn’t have to shoot up heroin to know it’s a bad idea. I never had to leave church to find out how cool it is. I never had this silly “born again” experience and frankly I think that these people are making it up for attention. How are we to know if they are serious and if they will stick around this time?

It’s kinda like that relative who always shows up late if they show up at all. This person could be a sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, whoever, that when you throw a party, your parents and grandparents seem to have their eye on the door the whole time before this person shows up. It’s almost like you’re not even in the room. When this prodigal person shows up, they are the center of attention. After the party, none of the remarks are made about the prep that went into the food, the decorations, the great guest list, and let’s not forget the amazing iTunes playlist you spent hours on. All that is said about the party is how nice that prodigal Patty or Paul showed up.

WOW.. now that I think about it, this all sounds really bitter, resentful, and angry. So maybe both sons were lost… The first went to look for freedom and happiness in a distant country and got lost doing so but the older one who stayed home also became a lost man. On the outside he did all the things a good son is supposed to do, but inside, he wandered away from his father. He did his duty, worked hard every day, and fulfilled his obligations but became increasingly unhappy and unfree.

I am an oldest child. Oldest kids, psychologically speaking, often feel like they have to be the role-model. They seek to please and are obedient and dutiful, so says the Bowen Family Systems profile, but there are exceptions. Their biggest fear is that they will be a disappointment to their parents. They develop a certain envy toward their younger brothers and sisters who seem to be less concerned about pleasing and much freer to do their own thing. I confess this as my own nature, as I have a fascination for those who buck the rules. I never had the courage to simply run away. In some ways, I envy the prodigals.

How do I know the prodigal’s brother thought this? Where do I read in the text that all this was going through the older brother’s head and heart? It’s right at the moment when he is confronted by the father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, an anger erupts and boils to the surface. In that moment, when he leaves the party and heads outside it becomes glaringly obvious that a resentful, proud, unkind person; one that had remained deeply hidden comes out. The older brother represents the Pharisees and Scribes in this story, those convinced of their righteousness while Jesus was hanging out with sinners.
Why is there so much resentment among the just and the righteous? There is so much judgment, condemnation, and prejudice among the saints. There is so much frozen anger among we who are concerned about avoiding sin. We have the mindset and the ethical knowledge to act as guides and help people, but instead we point fingers. We get on our soap boxes instead of down in the trenches.

Who are you in the story? The repenting prodigal or the bitter older brother? Reminder, there is no happy ending to this story, we don’t know if the prodigal cleaned up his act or if the older brother came back to the party. Well, maybe that points to a third option, being the father.

This whole story started in response to Pharisees and scribes complaint that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They had to face the facts and choose how they would respond to God’s love for the sinners. So the third option is being the father. Whether we are the younger son or the older, Jesus is calling us to become the father. The father offers grace and forgiveness. He understands both of his sons and calls them both home, into a relationship with one another. Just as Jesus did to those sinners and saints in his world, leper and Pharisee, tax collectors and scribes, Gentiles and Jews all ate at one table.

Maybe, if you’re an older child, you're worried that Jesus is giving people permission to go out and do all kinds of terrible things as long as they walk in afterward and take the free gift of God's forgiveness. I don’t think it works like that. Once prodigals experience this type of love, you don’t forget. Jesus has the father say only one thing to the older brother: "Cut that out! We're not playing good boys and bad boys anymore. Your brother was dead and he's alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.”

That’s the name of the game from here on out, resurrection. That’s good news! Now we can say, No Matter where you’ve been, no matter where you’re going, right now, because of this hour, we can throw aside our judgment and become the father, and welcome each other home. AMEN.


Capon, Robert. Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace. Grand Rapids, MI : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997.
McGrath, Alister. Redemption. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2006.
Nouwen, Henri. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A story of homecoming. New York: Double Day, 1992.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Satisfaction Theory and Christus Victor

In this post i will reveal how big of a heretic i am, but before i do i would like to focus on a little picture i found at as a preface.

The Satisfaction Theory along with Christus Victor are considered the prime view of the atonement. The Satisfaction Theory is called the "classic view" by Aulen and it was best articulated by Anselm of Canterbury in the 1100s. It is the one i have the most trouble with and I've always pushed against it. Even in Catholic school where I pretty much accepted everything the teacher said, when it came to this view of atonement and even the doctrine of original sin, i questioned pushed and just couldn't accept it. One or two times a letter went home with my mom, but I always got A's in religion. so i kinda feel like the kid who the teacher is writing about who is bucking authority. so this post seeks showcase the "classic view" briefly and put in my two cents on where i have trouble with it. the purpose of this post is to seek understanding of this view and have someone address the plot holes within this theory. i'm open, but skeptical.

Aulen states that the subject of the atonement is absolutely central in Christian theology and it is directly related to the nature of God (page 12). Indeed, i think this is correct because every religion sets up a problem for the world and then provides the solution. in the 'classic view' the problem is that humankind is sinful and sin affects the order of the universe. God needs satisfaction for this but humans can't provide it, because God and sin are supposedly infinite and humans are finite. So God in Christ reconciles the world by becoming human and satisfying the justice needed.

Christus Victor however, states that humanity is in bondage to sin/death/devil and the solution is for God/Jesus or God in Jesus to come down and destroy sin/death and free captive humanity from sin/death/devil. I do the slashes as this is the whole package facing mankind and has some important nuances within it. that being said, i'll lay out where Aulen gets this idea.

Irenaeus is the first dude to really tackle this problem. granted the images of atonement are indeed found within the gospels (specifically John) and the epistles (specifically Paul, Hebrews, and Peter) and the early hymns and liturgies of the church. why? well, it is my prof Lee Barrett's idea that theology is parasitic on religious life. the life, hymns and songs, happen first, the emotional/subjective experience; and then along comes theology to figure out what it all means. kinda like science (WARNING WARNING: science analogy about to be used! ;-)) where events occur naturally and the scientist comes along later to establish the how's and why's; the purpose of the subjective action.

Irenaeus was the first to articulate that the early church looked at Christ's death and resurrection and said "hey, i kinda feel forgiven. let's sing about it!" Irenaeus picks up on the Pauline and Johannine writings and sees there's some direct connection with the thought of Christ as victor over sin and death. The devil has some objective existence, lord of sin and death, and having deceived mankind in the garden has gained dominion over them. God being perfectly just, somehow honors this pact and seeks to free humanity from it. Since God finds mankind under the condemnation of the Law, God delivers mankind from the powers of evil and reconciled the world to Himself [sic] and God becomes both the reconciler and the reconciled.

Aulen traces the thoughts of Irenaeus through the patristic traditions and through Protestant thought as well. adding to this idea through fancy nuances like God attains his purpose by internal, not external means, he overcomes evil not by an almighty fiat but by putting something of his own through a divine self-oblation (Great Catechism ch. 26). all of these thoughts rest on the doctrine of the fall and a dualistic understanding of the world where "darkness cannot endure when the light shines nor can death remain in being where Life is active."

there is the start of my problems.

1. if the fall is not in the Jewish understanding of the story of Genesis, then how can this stand? if Genesis is just a story, then how can it have any genetic binding on the souls of people?

2. how did this concept of the devil come into being? where in scripture is the fall of Satan? where can i find this story in rabbinic thought? Islam has a cool story of Ibis and how in parts Ibis/Satan is a jinn or jealous of God's love for humanity or even working on behalf of God to tempt the faithful and test them (like in some strains of Judaism). is the devil co-equal with God? is this some Zoroastrian version of Christianity?

3. I don't agree with the dualistic idea that darkness can't be around light. aren't they not connected? isn't it the shadows that define light? aren't life and death two aspects of a spectrum and while we live we are yet actively dying, subjecting to the natural law of entropy?

so those are just the start of my questions. i have other concerns too, like the idea of how we were ransomed by God yet many weren't aware of the fact we were in bondage in the first place! shouldn't a memo have been sent to all the other religions?

Dear Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Shitos, Taoists, and Gentile-masses,
Hi, this is God. Not god or gods, but the great beyond that all of your avatars point to. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but y'all are in bondage. But don't worry! I'm coming down there and atoning for your sins and freeing you from Satan, who got a little too attached to his work. This will both be really cool, cause I'll give you things like the beattitudes and some parables, as well as get to fire Satan (which will be great cause now it'll give another angel a chance to win the office's March Maddness Bracket, Gabriel is really excited at this). Oh, one caveat, you have to believe both that you're in bondage and that this guy Yeshua of Nazareth is me (which he'll never come out and say directly, cause you know, I'm freaky mysterious like that).
Eternal Love,
In class we're going to discuss this and hopefully i can get some clarity and some help connecting the dots. Aulen didn't help here. in fact, he made it worse. too many assumptions going into this theory for it to hold up in light of science and what we know about the world today. it is too reliant on tradition and an outdated metaphysic of angels, demons, and heavenly hosty sorta stuff.

i can affirm the basic concept of a Divine Love which cannot be imprisoned in categories of merit and of justice and thus breaks them into pieces. THAT i get! that is what i feel these images and metaphors point to but fear that they are hopelessly outdated and bear really bad fruit. Just read the Proverbs of Ashes to see what the model of self-sacrificial love can do... esp. in terms of sexism! but that subject is a whole other post. i think that's enough ranting for now.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


"I am here to recruit you" -Harvey Milk

We recently discussed evangelism and it's role in the church in class. I thought it was a full discussion and really cool. we used William Abraham's book "The Logic of Evangelism" as a starting point.

The book was written in ’89 and 20 years later, it’s still really relevant and brings up some great questions and problems with certain models and definitions of evangelism.

The most common definition is Evangelism as pure proclamation. the pro's of this style is that it is not results based and allows the work of God to happen. namely that if people don't listen, the evangelical would just knock the dust off his or her shoes and continue on just as in Matt 10:1-16. however, the problems here out weigh the pros as it dismisses the idea of the MAKE disciples of all nations command that implies a bit of formation. there is a disconnect between the ideas of preaching and teaching and tends to emphasize preaching as in "crazy street corner guy" like Brother Jed.

The Pirate did a great job on articulating the difference between Evangelism and Proselytizing in this post.

Another definition of Evangelism is using certain techniques or methods of church growth. This approach is cool cause it values insights of Social Sciences and looks to what people are doing in context. There's an emphasis to the here and now and not to the 'great beyond' and a practical approach. however, the downside is that many church growth leaders, namely the mega-church pastors,  have become pretentious concerning what they have achieved. Growth has led to some questionable things including: Harvest theology, theological disarray, shallowness and indifference.

Yet Abraham proposes that evangelism is an initiation into the Kingdom of God. It's actively seeking participation that is communal, intellectual, moral, experiential, operational, and disciplinary. It does not seek to simplify complex things so that they are easily handled. it involves formation and communal action and individual responsibility.

I enjoyed our reading of this book and the in class discussion. so often Christians throw around Evangelism without thought to what it means. it was helpful and i would like to put my own two cents in here.

At Trinity, there is a sign that hangs in Nancy’s office that says “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” Like Harvey Milk stated at the top, I'm here to recruit you. Like an apple tree, my purpose here isn't to produce apples, it's to produce another apple tree. 

wait, wait... did I just recently write on Sabio's blog that i'm not here to convert anyone? right! well, isn't that contradictory to what you just wrote in the paragraph above? no, let me explain:

An apple tree drops a ton of apples in the hopes that they will be eaten and the seed will be spread around. I have a diverse set of readers here and they are reading my dribble and considering it and responding to it both negatively and positively. each discussion helps both people sharpen their own views and become a better person within their own tradition. if a reader meets another person who has similar thoughts that are expressed here, it is my hope to be networked with. i want to change the image of a monolithic Christianity. i want ppl to get the idea that there are other types of Christians out there than the pop-understanding. 

if these words jive with someone, it is my hope to be a resource in their journey. but it's not an active conversion experience, it's a passive one. much different than the "by the sword" or "slash and burn" method used by active evangelists. it's organic, based in love, and on the principles of Natural Church Development

I hope to steer away from the modernist viruses in the church which resulted in conquest and control models, mechanism, analytic reductionism, individualism, organizationalism, and consumerism. i find myself in the "wide-stream" the generous orthodoxy of Christianity and i love it. yet i see the faults certain traditions have. like a river, parts can be too deep, too muddy, too shallow, and some are filled with garbage. should there be some determining ethos to say "this image of Jesus should be in bounds, while this Neo-Nazi Jesus is unacceptable" yes. how can we do that? well, aren't we called to judge a tree by it's fruits. if a particular image causes people to hate their neighbor, why isn't that image out of bounds?

in conclusion to this long rant based on a great class, i would like to say that i'm not here to convert you. i'm here to recruit you to the idea that there are other Christians out there. that maybe you'd like to be a friend to these type of Christians, that there is value to a community like this, that service is a good thing regardless of the grounds for it, and history and tradition is important for followers of various principles, systems, and philosophies. I hope to sprout some new apple trees yet will not be discourage that they aren't Lindon Apples and that's it's okay if there are some Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Sabio's, Jay Bird, John T, Yael, and other types of apple trees out there... or even if they are orange trees. or whatever.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Otterbein is a Cool Dude

The UCC for me is the first Denomination that is post-denominational. When you take four unlike streams and combine them into a movement that has been going 50 years strong, there must me something special behind it. There must a great history of doing this. This Generous Orthodoxy that the UCC represents can be traced all the way back to the 1700s in the man Philip William Otterbein.

Philip William Otterbein was born on June 3, 1726 with a fraternal twin, in the town of Dillenberg, Germany. He attended seminary in Germany. He was trained in “Federal Theology” which was in contrast to the predestination theology of John Calvin. Otterbein believed that human beings can make faith decisions that emphasize free will. "What God offers and what Christians need is an interiorly experienced faith relation which permits God to release his power in the continuing transformation of the believer's life."

He went to America landing in NY in 1752 and began ministry in Lancaster, PA. Otterbein and his missionary colleagues faced a period of decline in the religious commitment of the diverse population. During the struggle for American independence and the Revolutionary War, "only about five percent (one in twenty) of the colonial population openly professed religious faith or admitted church relationship." We too are facing a period of decline after being the “Church on the Green” for so long in the 1950s to the 1970s. In a time of closing and fracturing churches, we’d do well to learn from Otterbein’s example.

Otterbein left the Lancaster Church in 1758, apparently disillusioned that the congregation did not achieve the spiritual growth he had envisioned. Otterbein accepted a call to the church in York in 1765. In 1774, Otterbein received a call to the German Reformed Church in Baltimore, a church deeply troubled with division. The church eventually split and there were two churches. One was German Reformed while the other eventually became United Brethren. The biggest emphasis in the new church was on the personal experience of salvation but Otterbein, however; tried to remain faithful to both churches. He found ways to respond in innovative ways to the spiritual needs of both congregations.

Although he was a charismatic leader of an evangelical movement that became a separate denomination, remained a minister of the German Reformed Church until his death. Even now, he is claimed with esteem by both the German Reformed Church and its successor, the United Church of Christ, and by the United Brethren, those continuing as a separate denomination and those who, as part of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, came into the United Methodist Church. It was his "scholarly pietism" wish to maintain "a double relation" with both congregations that is most notable.

Otterbein's concern for vital Christianity within the local church did not cause Otterbein to ignore the larger bond of unity among Christians. He invited everyone to “commune with us at the Lord's Table, although they have not been members of our church, shall be admitted by consent of the Vestry, provided that nothing can be alleged against their walk of life; and more especially, when it is known that they are seeking their salvation.” These words do not represent an indifference to matters of polity, but a subordination of diverse polities to the higher value of common life in Jesus Christ. They are consistent with Otterbein's view of classes in the local church and denominations in the larger church, as ecclesiolae in ecclesia, or little churches within the ecumenical church. In his preaching at the great meetings he often said, "I ask you not to leave your church; I only ask you to forsake your sins."

Otterbein was a moderate in doctrinal disputes. Even his disagreement with Calvin on predestination was expressed with humility and sensitivity. He explained to the synod in Holland: “To tell the truth I cannot side with Calvin in this case. I believe that God is love and that he desires the welfare of all his creatures. I may be permitted to explain myself more clearly. I believe in election, but cannot persuade myself that God has absolutely and without condition predestined some to perdition.” Otterbein's view of the relation of the gospel to social issues was liberal for his time. Personal faith was judged meaningless if it did not bear the fruits of righteousness in daily life. Otterbein thought that cognitive Christianity was deficient. He declared: The question is not whether one has heard or learned something about Christ and his death, or whether one can talk about it, but whether one has experienced the death of Jesus Christ in the putting to death and riddance of the old man [woman]. . . Consequently, if these things are yet strange to you, then your Christianity is merely appearance, imagination, shadow tricks.”

We are awash in apathy, doctrinal disputes, and theological pissing contests. We lose sight that we fight our own fellow Christians. Otterbein would remind us that we are united in Christ, and any division we make is a false one. He would also remind us that we can’t reach salvation by our works, but we can show our salvation by our good works.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Step One Done!

I am on step closer to ordination. My local congregation graciously accepted my call and asked really great questions about the ordination paper... through which i had a bad bout of seminarian's disease and had long, complex answers for things that should have been shorter. that being said, they agreed to forward me onto the committee on ministry, meeting set for March 16th at 11 a.m.

so yay!

i've been reading a lot of Christology and Islam books for class. more Steinke and such... and also listening to The Silversun Pickups

and watching movies like Zombieland, The Hangover, and The Hurt Locker. I enjoyed all of them!

so there's your update, what are y'all watching, reading, and listening to?