newthingsold

The wise man is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things both new and old.

Month: January, 2014

America’s Largest Annual Simultaneous Worship Service

Broncos and Seahawks. It should be mentioned that one of my students was shocked to find out the proper spelling is actually “bronCHos”.

This Sunday evening, millions of people around the country will gather in person, at their radios, or huddle around television sets, while many others around the world will look on in bemusement as America partakes in its largest worship service of the year: the Super Bowl.  This will of course be followed up a short time later by the world’s largest worship service: the Olympics.  While many a fundamentalist will decry the Super Bowl, my contention is that the Super Bowl is a vital aspect to life in America, bringing to light a state of the human condition which many seemingly are oblivious to, or refuse to acknowledge.

Man was made for community.  We have cliche expressions such as: “No man is an island”, or “Man does not live in a bubble.”  The  Bible discusses the idea that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2).  There is an innate sense in man to connect with others.  One of the most important aspects of the Super Bowl is the ability for people to connect in that context.  It provides complete strangers the chance to strike up a conversation on a topic which both parties are bound to have at least a mild interest.  There is the friendly sense of competition when people wear the opposing teams’ colors and see each other in passing.  And then, in one particular city each year, for one night a stadium becomes the country’s largest mega-church, hosting the big game itself.

At this point, the question will probably arise that sounds something like this: “Why don’t people realize that the Church can fulfill this need for community which people so clearly desire?”  It can’t.  If the Church would be honest with itself, there is no feasible way for It to be able to maintain (if it could cultivate) this level of communal connectivity.  The Church is made up of humans with their flaws and imperfections.  What the Super Bowl has going for it is that it is only a one-weekend event; even the people who do not support either team will still watch for the commercials.  And if the Church were more like a Super Bowl atmosphere, would we really see people wearing the colors of the opposing sides?  Until Jesus returns (whatever that looks like), Man couldn’t sustain a united effort like that if it tried.

Let us embrace the Super Bowl for what it is: the opportunity for America to come together to celebrate and enjoy life together.  In the Super Bowl, what we should not see is a blatant example of American decadence and idolatry, but the desire for human-to-human connection in a setting that at least for a short time can actually accomplish it.

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On mysticism, via a Caputo-Chestertonian Tangent.

            The books I have been reading lately have brought to my attention a life truth I have been aware of for a while: I live a secret, a secret which I share with many other people who believe in (a) God: for the few answers I have from wrestling with The Bible, I have many more questions which outweigh the amount of answers.  Every revelation (big theological word for insight gained through Holy Spirit from reading a text from The Bible), turns into three additional questions.  Example: in Exodus 32:9, God is ready to harshly punish (who knows to what extent, death?) the Israelites because they are  “stiff-necked people”.  God wanted to punish them severely because He wanted a people to be completely His, not following any/every other god (revelation).  But then come the questions:

1.  Why would God be surprised by Israel’s antics if they kept questioning Moses as they traveled through the desert even after they had seen God work?

2.  Why would God have left the Israelites unsupervised for so long while meeting Moses?

3.  If encounters with God on a mountain were so powerful as to change his countenance, why would Moses have responded so violently as to break the stone tablets he was bringing down from God when the situation obviously proved that Israel definitely needed them?  

            Experiences like these are the common result for me from seeking and trying to pursue God through reading The Bible.  But the bigger question still is why would I want to perpetually subject myself to this type of frustration day in and day out?  G.K. Chesterton expresses it best like this: “Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity” (Orthodoxy, 1908).  In a world where man and God are connected through a chiasmus insistence-existence (Caputo, The Insistence of God, 2013), an existentially-complex text such as The Bible is necessary.  The mystery that propels the authentic seeker into Scripture will never be solved, despite what he or she does to try making the pieces fit.  Our existence hangs on the idea of an insistent God, and this idea is further emphasized by a book such as The Bible.

Perhaps. Faith and Doubt are a Mobius Strip.

                  I started reading The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps by John D. Caputo.  In the first chapter, Caputo states that “‘Perhaps’ is not the safety of indecision but a radical risk, for nothing guarantees that things will turn out well, that what is coming will not be a disaster'” (p.5).  In the first chapter, Caputo draws a line of distinction between the words “perhaps” and “possible”.  In short, possible reflects a safe way to express doubts.  Perhaps reflects something riskier, which reflects a true sense of hope.

                  Sometimes I tend to wax metaphysical and discuss internal experiences.  Other times, I tend to lean towards a basic approach explained by Peter Rollins: God does not exist, but brings all in to existence; God is not sublime, but makes things Sublime; God is not meaningful, but gives all things meaning.  In any case, I concede that the word “perhaps” overshadows it all.  But the good news of salvation is not that if you invest in “faith” you can get into Heaven; the good news is that we are loved in order to love a broken world.  Perhaps points to the things that are uncertain because true Christian belief is intended to be lived out in the present.   

As I have started reading the book, it’s brought me back to the debate I observed on Tony Jones’s “Theoblogy” about one of his reasons for belief and the uproar that followed.  How do you respond to the question of belief in (a) God and how do you respond when presented with evidence to prove the fault in your logic for believing that is just as circumstantial as evidence against?

How Do We Win a War We Can’t Win

           

            John L. Allen, Jr. presents a bleak picture of the persecution of the global Church in his new book, The Global War on Christians. Bleak may be an understatement, but the word stands.  The facts, anecdotes, and connections between the two are tools that Allen incorporates into a three-part narrative that includes an overview of Christian persecution in various other continents, a section that addresses various myths regarding Christian persecution worldwide, and a third and final section regarding what we as believers especially in the West can do to help abate the issue. It is clear to the reader that Allen has done his homework.

For all the drastic images painted of contemporary martyrs and dire circumstances for the Church in (apparently) anywhere other than America, I did not quite connect with this book. There are two underlying theses in this book:

1) The Church is experiencing global persecution and we need to draw attention to it/ support our brothers and sisters in the faith; and

2) We need to take steps to prevent this “global war” from continuing. I agree that Christians should stand alongside the hurting and afflicted, especially our own.

An individual who seeks to accomplish the two end goals of this book is an admirable person. What I wonder is can the Church effectively put an end to persecution?  Jesus makes the statement that people will hate Christians (Mark 13:13); as long as there are Christians, there will be hatred for Christians.  While I can easily buy in to the idea of supporting and coming alongside the suffering and afflicted, and I can even be convinced to promote a world where there is 100% religious tolerance, but I struggle to believe that persecution for the Christian Church can ever be stopped.

Does this mentality make me a lackluster Christian who has already lost the “fight”?  I would love some thoughts on this.

 

I received my copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for reviewing it.  The thoughts and ponderings contained here are mine.

Another Reason for Belief: Building on a Post from @jonestony

Yesterday, Tony Jones wrote a blog post discussing one of the reasons why he is a Christian.  It was not written as a statement of systematic theology, but simply a personal explanation of one facet to his faith equation.  While some of his statements could be viewed as less-than-generous generalizations about the atheist community, his post made sense.  At least from my point of view.

The backlash which he received from others in the blogosphere was less than generous.  In the midst of reading comments from others and viewing the negative response to my comment from those same individuals who were less than kind to Tony, I found another reason for belief demonstrated in the ensuing conversation.  In reading the comments from some vocal atheists, I could not help but notice how negative, demeaning, and downright rude many of them were.  While Jones did his best to respond courteously to negative remarks, it was obvious that he was coming to his wits end.  He never lost his cool though.  Others who are a part of the “believer” faction, responded in similar kind or even more politely and graciously than Tony.

Whether or not any Christian who responded to Jones’s post presented a logical defense is beside the point.  It comes down to how the “believers” presented themselves in a polite, positive manner and how that starkly contrasted the negative revilement of those who did not share Jones’s opinion, who thought his position foolish and illogical.  The fact that any resemblance to love and joy was absent from those who took a negative stance to Tony’s post demonstrates to me that there has to be something real that makes a difference between the two sides and their perspective worldviews.

The Bible states that God is love (I am too lazy to grab my Bible and give you the reference, so highlight that quote and Google it if  you don’t believe me that it is in there).  And if a community of believers who state that they believe in a God demonstrate a characteristic like love, and atheists who state they do not believe in a “god” and do not demonstrate love, ultimately the un-defense would lead me to side with the theists, whether or not I ultimately did believe in God and Christ (which I do).

In the end, this reminds me of a parable from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in his book Either/Or, which I leave to close off this post:

THE HAPPY CONFLAGRATION

What happens to those who try to warn the present age?It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought is was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.

The Theology of Columbo.

I love the Bible; if I were not a Christian, I would still love the book.  This week, thanks to the wonders of Netflix, my wife and I have begun exploring the wonders of Peter Falk’s trademark character: Columbo.  That is excluding, of course, his probably just as important character “Grandpa” from The Princess Bride.    And it was while watching the third episode of the series, “Dead Weight”, that I had the thought: “Columbo is like the Bible.”  It makes perfect sense, I know.

Through a Judeo-Christian Biblical lens, one can analyze the tenets Columbo.  To the reader who has never experienced Columbo, here is the basic premise of most episodes.  The viewer sees a crime committed at the beginning of the episode.  From the onset, the viewer knows who the criminal is, thereby removing the phenomenon of the “who-dun-it?”, and transforming it into a “how-does-he-solve-it?”.  As viewers, people go into a new episode believing that Columbo will always solve the case and restore the balance, no matter how bleak or confusing the situation.  And he does it in the most gentle, patient, caring manner that effectively accomplishes the task, and infuriates the character who is guilty.  And in the end, Columbo always solves the case.  The excitement, however, is going through the episode to figure out how Columbo is going to close the case.

We can see how the story of the Bible is reflected in Columbo.  In Genesis, the reader is introduced to God, Adam, Eve, and the serpent.  From the beginning we see how the serpent causes problems.  If we skip to the end of Revelation, we see how God restores all things.  Throughout the rest of Genesis and through Revelation, we are given clues as God uses various individuals as his agents to work towards moving everything closer to the glorious ending.  Along the way, we as readers find different clues contained within the sacred Scriptures and then get to wrestle with, agree and disagree with each other as to how to interpret them as to whether they are or are not significant to the ending.  The exciting thing for us that we are located somewhere after the book of Jude, so we are in the middle of watching to see whether, and/or how, God will restore all things and whether it is or is  not what we expected.

The writers of Columbo include red herrings along the way which are meant to distract the viewer; clues which seem significant to the viewer and lead us towards one conclusion, only to have a turn in the plot happen, proving our interpretations as false.  The Bible is the same way.  God institutes sacrifices in Leviticus, which makes it appear that this is the way to reconcile ourselves to Him.  Then in Amos (among other places), God says that sacrifices are useless without justice and mercy.  So then it seems that showing charity to others is how we gain approval from God.

Then Jesus shows up, shows mercy and charity to everyone, gets executed (and experiences the absence of Himself [a topic for another time]), showing that is not about what any of us do, but about the fact that through grace we are accepted, no matter what.  Then Paul in Galatians writes about how are saved by grace through faith.  But then Paul in Ephesians and the apostle James point out that the saving by grace is to enable us to do good works.  And then there’s this whole judgment thing.  And all these clues leave us as readers to realize that the end hasn’t happened yet; therefore, what we need to do is use the text as a guide, but realize that the moment that we maybe pinpoint one aspect of Scripture as the thing, that it may be the red herring.  We know, however, that the answer is in there somewhere.

The Bible is my favorite book.  Columbo is becoming one of my favorite tv shows.  Looking at the key components of both makes me see why I am starting to appreciate one, and it is because I have appreciated the other for so long.  Unfortunately, life is not like an episode of Columbo.  Life is messy, complicated, and because God has not provided an ending in real life, there is no way for it to wrap up neatly like an episode of Columbo.