For Earth Day, I encourage you to go outdoors and find ten gifts of creation to enjoy. Here are mine:
1. A cardinal was singing at dawn this morning just outside my window.
2. The sunrise was gorgeous in my neighborhood this morning.
3. Right now, the sun is shining on the new leaves - copper red - on a sea grape bush outside my window.
4. Plum-sized mangoes are hanging on the trees near me.
5. A flock of ibises flew overhead.
6. A swallow-tailed kite - one of the world's most graceful and beautiful birds - was soaring overhead a while ago.
7. The beautiful green of spring grasses.
8. The morning breeze.
9. An anole sunning itself on a branch.
10. Noticing how the days are getting longer here in the northern hemisphere as the point of sunrise moves north …
What are your ten? Or five? Or even three? You can post them on my Facebook page…
Later on, when you must be indoors, take ten or fifteen minutes here:
Please help spread the word. The book releases June 10, and I've been told it will help the book's release if you wait and purchase it that week. Thanks for your support! More information here.
Here's the Q:
Brian, you have truly been one of the people that have brought my faith back to life in recent years. Thank you! One of the results is that my theology has become radically incarnational.
Now I have an observation about the issue of LGBT relationships and I would like you to tell me if I am anywhere in the ballpark or have hit a foul ball.
The Jewish prohibition on same sex relationships, as I understand it, is/was based on the notion that propagation was essential – every couple was thought to be capable of bringing forth the Messiah. For this reason (not to mention the really important role of offspring in agrarian economies), barrenness was considered a bad thing (often a curse).
In Jesus (and Paul), God has revealed him/herself as acting “incarnationally” (through the people gathered in his name) rather than “theistically” (the Giant Hand reaching out of the cloud). Yes, I know this is oversimplifying things quite a bit, but this could really get wordy.
So, if we are supposed to be about “putting skin on God”, wouldn’t it follow that if a committed, loving, faithful same-sex relationship accomplishes this, it would be rather difficult to argue it was somehow “wrong”?
So, which side of the foul pole is this going? Thanks for taking the time to read this.
When you identify "the Jewish prohibition" and when you associate the Jewish mind with "the Giant Hand," you unintentionally become part of a huge problem that we Christians have been creating for centuries. My friend Paul Rauschenbusch sums up the problem quite well here:
Most of us Christians don't even realize we're doing this. We forget that when Jesus and Paul criticized elements of Judaism, they were doing so as Jews themselves. They weren't outsiders attacking "the other;" they were insiders critiquing "us." They weren't part of a powerful majority religion stigmatizing a vulnerable minority religion: they were a vulnerable part of that vulnerable minority religion critiquing elites who were more powerful than they.
I'm sad to say I've made this mistake so many times myself … trying to make a positive point about Christianity by making a negative contrast with Judaism. It's only in the last few years that I've become more sensitive to the issue, and even very recently I've unintentionally repeated the mistake.
That us-them approach led to centuries of Jewish suffering in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, plus the added injustices being visited on the Palestinians today (both Muslim and Christian) as an indirect consequence of centuries of Christian antisemitism. For that reason, I think all Christians of conscience need to give up this way of argumentation for good. We need to make it clear that the problem is not and never was "Judaism" - the problem is and was hostile, elitist, exclusive, self-interested religion of all kinds, of which Christianity itself has provided no shortage of examples.
On to your positive point ... I think you're right: a "radically incarnational" theology is profoundly important and radically changes the way we see the world. It moves us beyond the patriarchy, chauvinism, and clannism/tribalism/nationalism/racism that so often characterize religion (including Christianity!) … It dares proclaim that God's Spirit indwells women and men, the young and the old, people of every race and culture, Jew and Gentile, the married and the single, and yes, heterosexuals and others (like, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch about whom I wrote in A New Kind of Christianity).
What might happen if every Easter we celebrated the resurrection not merely as the resuscitation of a single corpse nearly two millennia ago, but more - as the ongoing resurrection of all humanity through Christ? Easter could be the annual affirmation of our ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, from fear to faith, from hostility to love, from a culture of consumption to a culture of stewardship and generosity . . . and in all these ways and more, from death to life. What if our celebration of Easter was so radical in its meaning that it tempted tyrants and dictators everywhere to make it illegal, because it represents the ultimate scandal: an annual call for creative and peaceful insurrection against all status quos based on fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence? What if we never stopped making Easter claims about Jesus in AD 33, but always continued by making Easter claims on us today - declaring that now is the time to be raised from the deadness of fear, hostility, exclusion, and violence to walk in what Paul called "newness of life"? What if Easter was about our ongoing resurrection "in Christ" - in a new humanity marked by a strong-benevolent identity as Christ-embodying peacemakers, enemy lovers, offense forgivers, boundary crossers, and movement builders? What kind of character would this kind of liturgical year form in us? How might the world be changed because of it?
Last week, we talked about God’s new design for human communities. Today we get into how we’re going to make it happen. Here’s our strategy:
We’re going to love the wrong people.
Whatever culture/community you’re in, it holds together because of shared hatred for someone, someone you blame for your community’s biggest problems. Your job is to find that someone, and be a friend to them.
I was quite happy to read a second one of your books, "A Generous Orthodoxy." I just wanted to comment though on the anti-foundationalist aspect of your thinking in application to scripture. I personally think that the anti-foundationalism of Richard Rorty and Cornel West based on the neo-pragmatism of Charles S. Peirce is better than the post-modernism of the structuralists. Peirce rejects the Cartesian starting point for knowledge and says that all knowledge is mediated by signs (words in part) which go in an unending direction toward no beginning foundation. One concept is understood only in terms of other concepts. But Peirce also adopts an epistemological realism which means that signs do point to something real in the world and in certain areas of knowledge, we need to be exact, particularly in the physical sciences. Paul Ricoeur, the French Christian philosopher who wrote extensively on Biblical Hermeneutics while writing other works on philosophical hermeneutics said that the sign and symbol of the text speaks to the Jungian archetypes in the unconscious and unleashes power. I would add to this that this is unlike structuralism which sees all knowledge as socially constructed and a kind of myth-making not necessarily pointing to anything real in the world. My final comment is that to filter ancient Hebrew thinking through a Greek-influenced progression of philosophical thinking in the West does a disservice to the text even though I just did that. The midrash of the ancient Hebrews, including during Jesus' time, was non-literalist enough and yet in some areas literal enough to stand on its own.Thanks for your comments. I agreed with everything you wrote except your assumption that I am "anti-foundationalist." I'm not sure what you mean by that. I would be more comfortable with "post-foundationalist" - the approach described so well in the work of theologians John Franke and Stan Grenz, and practiced online by John Sobert Sylvest. Post- is not anti-, but rather seeks to work in light of, but not necessarily within the limits of, what has gone before. Not sure which of my other books you've read, but in my more recent works, you'll find me joining you in an attempt to read Hebrew texts without filtering them through later categories of Greek philosophical thought. I'm not a professional philosopher, obviously, but I try to be as informed philosophically as I can be - and the philosophers you mention (from Pierce to Ricoeur) have been of great help to me. If you haven't read Dan Stiver's Theology After Ricoeur, I think you'd enjoy it a great deal.
The scandal of Easter was not simply that a supernatural event occurred. Minds in the ancient world weren't divided by the rigid natural-supernatural dualism that forms modern minds. In those days miracles were notable not for defying the laws of nature (a concept that was unknown until recent centuries), but for conveying an unexpected meaning or message through an unusual or unexplainable medium. What was the scandalous meaning conveyed by the resurrection of Jesus?
It was not simply that a dead man was raised. It was who the raised man was. Someone rejected, mocked, condemned, and executed by both the political and religious establishments was raised. A convicted outlaw, troublemaker, and rabble rouser was raised. A condemned blasphemer and lawbreaker was raised. A nonviolent nonconformist who included the outcasts - and therefore became an outcast - was raised. What does that mean about the authoritative institutions that condemned him? What does that mean about his nonconformist message and nonviolent ways?
When I wrote Everything Must Change, I hoped I was overstating the magnitude of our global crises …
Planet: We are sucking out resources and pumping out wastes faster than the earth can handle, thus heating, killing, and destabilizing our planet in a suicidal way.
Poverty: Our economic and political systems favor the super-elite minority and disfavor the vast majority in ways that inevitably contribute to political instability, social conflict, petty crime, organized crime, mass migration, political corruption, war, and terrorism.
Peace: Given ecological and economic unsustainability, the likelihood of intra-national and international violence skyrockets, all in a world where conventional, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons are at available.
Religion: Our religious communities typically distract us from these crises with relatively trivial issues, or they intensify these crises, right when we need them to show a better way.
But I was not exaggerating when I called our current system a suicide machine. The recent update about the gravity of the global climate crisis, taken together with Exxon's disgusting response, tell us that we are … screwed, as Derrick Jensen states powerfully:
But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.
Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.
To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.
There is a day in the church year when we let all our false hopes wither and die. Jesus is in the grave and there is no hope. It is a day of doubt. Despair. Disillusionment. Silence. It is not a day of waiting. It is a day of the opposite of waiting. It is a day of defeat. Here is a meditation on (Un)Holy Saturday from my upcoming book. It places us imaginatively among the disciples on Saturday ...
That’s too much to believe today. Today, we sink in our doubt. Today we drown in our despair. Today we are pulled down, down, down, in our pain and disappointment. Today we allow ourselves to question everything about the story we have been told.
Creation? Maybe God made this world, or maybe it’s all a cruel, meaningless joke.
Crisis? Maybe violence and hate are just the way of the world. Maybe they’re not an intrusion or anomaly; maybe they’re the way things are and will always, always be.
Calling? Forget about being blessed to be a blessing. Today we lie low and nurse our wounds. It is a dangerous world out there. We would be wise to stay inside and lock all doors.
Captivity? Who cares if Moses succeeded in getting our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt? Jesus failed, and there’s no Moses for us now. We’re still captives, worse off than we were before that crazy Galilean came and raised our hopes.
Conquest? If the most violent win and the nonviolent are killed, what kind of world is it?
Conversation? Today it seems that the skeptics and doubters were right. There’s nothing to say except, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” Today’s lament feels like the only sure truth in all the sacred Scriptures!
Christ? What Christ? He lies in a grave, cold and dead, and with him, all our hopes for a better way to be alive. Let the women prepare to embalm his corpse, if they can find it. Probably the Romans tore it to pieces and fed the fragments to the dogs.
On Good Friday and (Un)holy Saturday, the question for those of us who know what happens on Sunday is this: will the hopes that resurrect on Easter be false hopes that "bind us to unlivable situations and real possibilities," or will they be true hopes, good hopes, the real hopes beyond the false hopes that motivate us to life-changing, world-changing, hope-against-hope action?
This is from my book Everything Must Change:
The cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal. . . . Rome uses crosses to expose and pronounce a death sentence on rebels; Jesus uses the cross to expose Roman violence and religious complicity with it, while pronouncing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. His cross doesn't represent a "shock and awe" display of power as Roman crucifixions were intended to do, but rather represents a "reverence and awe" display of God's willingness to accept rejection and mistreatment, and then respond with forgiveness, reconciliation, and resurrection. In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants.
If, as Dominic Crossan says, the Roman motto is peace through victory, or peace through the destruction of enemies, or peace through domination . . . then for Jesus the motto is peace through nonviolent justice, peace through the forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace. If in the violent narratives of Rome the victorious are blessed - which means that the most heavily armed, the most willing to kill, and the most aggressive and dominant are blessed - then in the framing story of the kingdom of God, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed are the peacemakers, and blessed are those who are willing to suffer for doing good. In this light, these aren't simply greeting-card sentiments, but rather ways of starkly contrasting Jesus' framing story with the narratives and counternarratives of his day.
A reader writes ...
I heard you speak this morning in Fort Wayne and I just want to thank you. You hear this a lot, I am sure, but reading you fills a void in my soul because I know that I am not alone. Thank you so much.
… This morning you asked the question, with the hope that someone would research it as to how the word Diakaios got mistranslated as righteous in English translation so much, especially in the book of Romans. (nice run on sentence, eh?)
So here is my question: Do you think that maybe King James himself instructed the scholars to do this in order to justify imperialism? If we are "the righteous," instead of "the just," then what we do to other cultures is okay because now they are always "the other" and less favored by God.
The second question goes to our frustration as pastors trying to preach reconciliation instead of dominion. I wonder if this imperialistic translation has been used to justify "the doctrine of the empire" instead of proclaiming "the good news of the Kingdom." Most of what seems to divide us in US Churches is the assumed patriotism that Christianity implies -a narrative falsely disseminated by too many Christian media sources. But we are in a culture where power is shifting at an alarming rate, and churches that "prosper" are those who capitalize on the fear of that loss of power. How do we proclaim good news to those who are feeling weaker and weaker when the political rhetoric is stacked against us?
I wrote an unworthy piece about diakios on my own blog: http://revnerd.blogspot.com/2011/06/dikaios-right-word-translated-wrong-way.html and thanks to you, I updated the use of the word righteous in Romans specifically with the term "restorative justice." It just makes more sense.
But as to your main point … I agree: "interpretation by translation" of justice/righteousness - and also atonement/reconciliation, by the way - have huge impacts on our understanding. It's amazing how much changes when we question just those two interpretive choices made by translators of many English versions. Thanks for your courage in speaking up. If more and more of us have the courage to differ graciously, other minds and hearts will begin to change, just as yours and mine have begun to do. As you said in your blog, the Bible makes so much more sense in that new light.
You shall not wash my feet, I said.
My reaction was visceral, reflexive, furious.
I couldn't then say why I was so offended
By his self-humiliation.
But now I see.
If he, Rabbi and Leader, would abandon
All protocols of propriety,
What would it mean for us, for me?
I had my heart set upon a throne,
Right next to his,
Preferably to his right,
With Zebedee's sons, my rivals,
Put in their places on his left.
I was ambitious. I am even now.
What does it do to my ambition
To make the top the bottom,
The leader the servant,
And the last the first?
Where could this lead?
Will women dare to aspire
To be seen as our equals?
Will the outsiders stand on level ground
With the pure, the righteous, the orthodox?
Will circumcision, sacrifice, priesthood, temple
Count for nothing?
Doesn't he know?
The cosmos is hierarchical.
There are kings at the top and slaves at the bottom,
Fathers and sons, men and women, teachers and students,
Older and younger ...
No sane man would unsettle that order.
It is divinely ordained.
So, yes, I was offended.
When he pressed me,
Said my feet must be washed
Or I had no part with him. So
I wrestled again to be first,
Seizing on this:
I will be first in being served!
And so I demanded to be washed
More than the others, head to toe.
But no. He saw through my game, and
Would not comply.
As he washed my feet and allowed me no special place,
I burned within.
Later, the burning flared: I will never abandon you! I said.
All the others might falter, but not I!
He told me the cock would mock my boast.
I hated him. I resented him. I thought he hated me.
Yet I loved him.
Serve one another as I have served you, he said.
Love one another as I have loved you, he said.
If his wild ways succeed,
All this world's order will be undone
And some new order will come.
I see why Judas has been so concerned.
Here's the Q:
My husband and I have read several of your books, including Secret Message of Jesus, Generous Orthodoxy, and Everything Must Change. I left the church over a decade ago for many of the same issues you so eloquently describe, and since a vibrant spirituality was always the most defining characteristic of my life, I have been bereft ever since. Now, after reading your books, I am experiencing a welcome spiritual awakening. I would love to have a community in which to grow and learn. Do you know how I can find people or churches in the Knoxville TN area who are practicing Christianity as you describe it?
Thank you for your brave and insightful books! I have been deeply enriched by them, and inspired to rekindle my languishing faith. I am finally beginning to feel like a whole human again. God Bless You!
In the meantime, I hope you'll consider forming what I call a learning circle … getting a few people together for a meal every week to start doing for one another what we wish someone would do for us: create space for vibrant spirituality, community, and action. My upcoming book is really a handbook for such spontaneous, self-organizing communities. It will be available soon (June 10). I'm so glad you haven't given up on rekindling your faith!
Here's the Q:
I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I feel a need to explain myself thoroughly. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist -- that is, I don't believe in God, but I can't say that with absolute certainty. So by your definition, I have made some sort of leap of faith toward atheism.
I've been reading Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense at the insistence of my mother, who raised me in the evangelical Protestantism that I abandoned in college. I like to keep an open mind, and I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your book. You are certainly no Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment because, well, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are [not my cup of tea].
I got to your section on Uncertainty Principles -- including a quote from Albert Einstein -- and I wanted to ask you about this excerpt on pp. 61-62 in my paperback:Ironically, an unreflective person person is 100 percent certain of a lot more than a highly reflective one, because a highly reflective person eventually recognizes a number of "uncertainty principles," including these: 1. That the "laws of logic" -- the software that thought runs on -- must be accepted on faith, being unprovable (since you have to assume them in order to prove them, which tends to not prove anything!): Thus all thought is ultimately based on a kind of faith!
I don't think I can take that step with you. Let me give you an example: it has been said that our nearly universal acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4 is an act of faith. But is it really?
Every single character in that equation is a linguistic symbol that we have agreed upon as a culture (as with any language) to represent a very tangible, demonstrable thing. A Mandarin speaker could just as easily write a line with the same meaning that looked completely different. But the principles of that are not faith -- they are what you might describe as a "mundane fact," as almost any primary school teacher will tell you when they teach lessons on counting and basic arithmetic. If I put (what I call) "two" oranges on the table, I can count that there are two. If I then count two more and add (the + sign) them to the existing two, I can count them all, and I will arrive at four..at least if I'm speaking English properly. It takes no faith whatsoever to accept that, only a tacit willingness to agree to speak the same language that everyone else is speaking so that you can communicate with one another. Once we do that (again, as an agreement on language, not as faith), then we can build more complex thoughts on this understanding, demonstrating our logic each step of the way like a proof table in geometry class.
So the great thing about real science is that it's repeatable and testable and, when it discovers new information that might contradict the old understanding, it is flexible enough to adjust and refine. Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...as we saw in this week's debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.
Of course, you're quite right that we all deal in "practical certainty," but to describe that as faith is misleading. I recently bought a new car, and I'm the type of consumer who researches purchases extensively before making them. I chose my particular make and model of car because it had a strong reputation for reliability based on very large samples of data collected by Consumer Reports, which is a magazine that earns no profits and accepts no advertisements that might bias their findings. It's not a perfect guide, and it's not the only one I used, but it seems to be the most trustworthy.
Was that a guarantee that my car would be reliable? No, I made a bet based on probabilities, and it's certainly possible that I could lose that bet and get a lemon. My feelings toward this manufacturer are not matters of faith, they are matters of statistical confidence -- and I certainly don't see them as infallible. If their quality and reliability scores were to decline in future years, I would decide to switch to another manufacturer for my next car...I have switched brands before.
So relative certainty is not the same thing as faith -- it's an acknowledgement that we are making a "best guess," and hopefully we are making informed decisions. That's how I feel about these bigger questions too -- like whether God exists and, if so, what God is like. Do I trust the words of ancient people who also wrote about talking serpents and donkeys and people being swallowed by fish and living to tell about it? People whose accounts of our origins are so demonstrably incorrect, as Bill Nye demonstrated this week? People who wrote that God ordered King Saul to slaughter the Amalekite women, children, infants and animals?
The problem with faith in that sense is that it's subjective -- it cannot be disproven. Anyone can say anything on faith...who is to argue that it doesn't make sense? According to the Bible, we're supposed to live by faith and NOT by sight, or we're supposed to have faith like children or sheep. But if my sight tells me something different, should I ignore or discredit that as Ken Ham does?
So, I strive to live a life without faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.
What do you think?
I was especially intrigued by your statement:
Science is self-correcting, but faith is not...
In that way, I would hope I could say (almost quoting you):
So, I strive to live a life of good and honest faith...where I act only on the best information that I have, where I'm willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I'm willing to adjust to new information...wherever it leads me.
I've found it impossible to reduce my curiosity to the kind of mundane 2 + 2 = 4 information that is self-evident, undoubtable, and virtually certain. That kind of information tends to be the kind that helps us survive and function physically, but doesn't help so much with the deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and value. You might say that people can't (over the long run?) live on the bread of disprovable data alone …
Having said that, though, with all the religious claims out there - from those of 6-day creationists to climate deniers to would-be terrorists awaiting virgins in heaven to some of the folks who regularly tell me I'm going to burn in hell for disagreeing with their understanding of God - I am highly sympathetic to your desire to be skeptical and careful. That's why, in the book, I spent a lot of time trying to distinguish between what I called "bad faith" and "good faith."