Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Collection of Autobiographical Posts

Autobiographical Posts

One of my goals as a writer is to open myself up to the world. It seem all but impossible that I could write a blog that wasn't largely autobiographical. This is a collection of posts about my life and my reflection upon it as a theologian, and a human being.

Theological DJ-ing

The Gospel According To Metallica

Tree Frog Quandary

Small Spiritual Victories

I Am Sorry…

Oh Wretched Man That I Am

Health Concerns & The Value Of A Life

A Quandary of Youth Ministry

Dark Nights…

When A Life Comes Down To A Moment


A Humbling Mission Trip Experience

Back From Another Mission Trip

Reflections on WICKED

The New Book I’m Reading

The Aftermath of Mission Trip

The Meaning of My Life?

Reflections On The Mission Trip

Away From Keyboard

The Pain of a Broken Father/Son Relationship

Aftershocks of a Writing Session

A Passing Thought On A Wonderful Dream

Hope For The Future

A Lesson From My Dog

The Phenomenon of Being Too Dumb For One’s Gifts

Being A Christian And A Nerd

The Youth Group I Lead

Trusting The Crazy

A Depressing Christian Tract

The Cloud of Unknowing

My Lesson Plan on Humor

Preparing For Spiritual Warfare

The Full Jedi Armor of God

On The Death of My Dog

My Quandary

Fighting the Demon of Anger

Playing In The Sand

A Terrifying But True Dream

On Horror Movies

My Mystical Cycle

Finding God In The Conversation

The Great Shift

Peace Within The Storm

Artlissa Rouse’s Eulogy

A Wedding Homily

A Reflection On Music

Theological DJ-Ing

I am not a very original thinker, by my own lights. I come up with very little actually original material. What I seem to be good at is quoting the right people at the right time. I am more like a DJ than an original musician. I take bits here and bits there and build something new, though not necessarily original. Ideas to me are like bits of beauty, nodules of truth that one samples and then puts together in some kind of coherent whole. I hope my sampling is of some enjoyment, edification, and instruction for some people.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Re-Post From Facebook: The Gospel According To Metallica

Please see my links and find the youtube link for the song. If I tagged you it is because I thought you in particular might get something out of it.

This song has always struck me as the best representative of an important Biblical insight and intuition, something that undergirds the religious dimension of life in general, by my lights. The image of the wanderer is a recurring theme in the Bible. From Abraham to the Jews' life in exodus and exile, through the various images of the prophets, and finally in Jesus Himself, the idea that the religious life is a life of wandering is almost insisted upon in much of scripture. To live the life of faith is to have no final home in this world. It is a life void of proximate security, where the need to control and guarantee one's own existence is abandoned. Russell Pregeant talks about this as the life of 'risk and venture', a life where we step out into uncertainty and adventure, not knowing what will come next, but taking life however it comes and trusting that the adventure we enter into is grounded in the universe as such. It is living as if the universe is not indifferent to the life of risk and venture. Jesus insists on this over and over again in scripture, especially through the parables. Matthew 8:19-22 reads:

' ...a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."
Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." '

Here we see a radically departure from the normal movements of society, and an life void of the need to ground itself in security and safety, a life of true risk and venture. The same ideas can be found in Luke 12:13-21 and Matthew 25:14-30. And a related sentiment is struck by Alfred N Whitehead in RELIGION IN THE MAKING:

"Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. It runs through three stages, if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion.

Thus religion is solitariness; and if you are never solitary, you are never religious. Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behaviour, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms...The great religious conceptions which haunt the imaginations of civilized mankind are scenes of solitariness: Prometheus chained to his rock, Mahomet brooding in the desert, the meditations of the Buddha, the solitary Man on the Cross. It belongs to the depth of the religious spirit to have felt forsaken, even by God."

It is about taking a risk and walking out into uncertainty, taking life as it comes and not conforming the normal patterns of the world. Could anything express this better than WHEREVER I MAY ROAM? The words and music communicate a life where the normal patterns are indeed thrown off and a life of risk and venture is embraced. Life is hard but a place of adventure, where nothing is certain but the world is trusted with almost reckless abandon, and no proximate security or safety or control is sought. Hetfield says he is stripped of 'all but pride', craves the dust in his throat, says that from society's point of view he is a roamer, a wanderer, a vagabond, is freed of all ties. This last line is reminiscient of Jesus' injunction to 'let the dead bury the dead', a throwing off of the normal Jewish familial responsibilities that were the very foundation of the society to which He spoke. Further, the song speaks of 'adapting to the unknown' and growing up under 'wandering stars'. I have never heard a song that more succinctly reflected this basic religious insight, and it is for that reason the song is almost a hymn for me.

But that is not all. Also like the Bible, there is a sense that one learns to 'trust' in this life, to give oneself
over to it, to form a kind of relationship with the life of risk and venture. The "Road" that determines life, is also the 'Bride' of the wanderer. And one walks down it taking whatever comes. The earth is one's 'throne', a place where one is at home. As Jesus CALLS us to step into uncertainty, risk, venture and ADventure, the road CALLS and welcomes Hetfield into this life of wandering.

And the sacrifice of a life of proximate security, paradoxically, opens one up to a kind of Ultimate Security that can be found no other way. In the Parable of the Talents (see: the aforementioned Matthew passage), the risk-takers are rewarded richly, given kingdoms to rule over. The one who sells all they have purchases 'the pearl of great price', (Matthew 13:45-46), the wanderers in the desert find the Promised Land, and perhaps the best sum up is Jesus famous line that, 'those who lose their lives will find it' (Matthew 16:25). In the song, the slow, foreboading action of the guitar that accompanies the description of the life of wandering gives way to a powerful, upbeat demonstration of the benefits of that life: true freedom (to 'take ones time anywhere' or 'speak one's mind anywhere'), and those who forsake this life, remain a 'slave to the game', and perhaps most interestingly Hetfield talks of being 'by himself but not alone'. In the Bible and other religious traditions, too, the need to guarantee proximate security, to act only in certainty and to avoid risky venture is to forgoe Ultimate Security, and really to live in fear and INsecurity, to remain a kind of slave. It is by living the life of risky venture, by living out the human adventure and all that entails good and bad, trusting that such a quest is grounded in the nature of things, that one finds the security that so often eludes one when one is trying to create a life of safety and security through control. It is by giving up the quest to guarantee all one's needs that one discover what one really needs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Everything Is Illuminated In The Light of The Past

My Monday Night Bible Study group finished its study using the film EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. My Bible studies are really like movie-Bible clubs, where we use television and films, and try to find ways in which the things we watch might illuminate various parts of the Bible. The film EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is absolutely dynamite. It is about a young Jewish man who goes over to the Ukraine to find his roots, guided by a funny but deranged family. It is hilarious, it is sad, it is moving, and it is particularly meaningful.

Without giving too much of the plot away, the central theme is all about the way the past exists alongside us in the present. The film commends to its viewers a definite belief in transcendence, in some kind of Source of meaning and value. In the film, the past itself...memory, consequence, and things created in former times... is in some sense transcendent, a source of meaning and value. One may almost say that the film suggests that the past itself is God.

One cannot deny that there is an insight here. It is not incidental that one of the most common features of some of the most ancient religions is ancestor worship and veneration. We are naturally attracted to old and ancient things. Who among us has not seen an old picture of a grandparent, some ancient ruin, or learned some historical fact, and not felt a sense of something if the very encounter with the past is an encounter with Something Great.

Religions are most effective when they have an ancient history. The attraction to the ancient and the old is not feeds right into one of the 'mundane religious experiences' I have so often spoken and written about (alongside humor, play, hope, meaning, our experience of good and evil, innocence, etc.) The experience of the ancient itself is the experience of something transcendent. The past is not just a passing something. It lives alongside us. I've seen no more beautiful, intricate, and moving examination of this fact than the film EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED.

We need links to our past. Belief as a component of cultural identification is something that is often derided nowadays, at least among Christians and secularists. 'You shouldn't believe just because that is what your parents did'... this is what we are told and there is some truth in that. But it is only a partial truth. For faith, commitment, these things do accompany a cultural context, and one's own cultural experience is going to be limited without them. If human life fully lived is lived within such a context, then might not faith as a part of a fully lived cultural experience be justified?

Robert Wright and Robert Pollack once had an exchange about this that stuck with me:
"Robert Pollack: No but no but that this is what makes religion so difficult to talk about as a scientist. These things are valuable conversations but they will not stop me from praying tomorrow and when I pray I will not I will not have proof that I'm I'm not wasting my time but I will bet that way and in so doing if Dawkins says I'm following another kind of (()) trap so be it. I don't feel that way. I accept the threat that the failure to feel that way is the victory of that mean but I'll bet this way and I'll bet this way partly because I want to and partly because as a mortal being I have a certain irreducible regard and respect for my ancestors and for other people's ancestors who have held to these irrational beliefs. I feel some obligation not to drop that ball.

Wright: So it's it's to some extent an act of cultural fidelity.

Robert Pollack: Correct.

Wright: Ok.

Robert Pollack: I think I think it has to be Robert because because a religion of one is not a religion. I think all religions grow as social... they are if they emerge nomadically the emerge from societies they don't they are stimulated by individual revelation but religious structures that last through time are cultural artifacts that last by shared teaching parent-teacher by vertical transmission as well as horizontal transmission and and so I'm the recipient of all of those. Look I guess another way to put it is as we are all in our genomes the carriers of thousands of dead sequences that get into the germ line and therefore must be replicated in our species so also probably culturally where the transmitters are thousands of dead ideas that we're stuck with and it's my bet that this ideas not dead. That's the only difference I have with Dawkins."

I think that, in the end, my own approach to God helps make sense of this sense of connection with the past, with the past itself having some transcendent meaning and/or value. For to me God is, in part, the repository of all past experience. If God 'remembers' everything we are, and that which is of value in the world, both from an objective and subjective perspective, is retained in the mind or life of God, then through our relationship with God, we have a relationship with that past. That which illuminates life, really is that which came before, for God's eternally growing self is the eternal retention of all that happens that is right and good in the world. It is God's role as immortalizer, that makes all of this make sense.

For truly, the most important part of anyone's life is their own internal subjective experience. It is the moment of being me, doing this thing, feeling this way, that really has value. I care less about my own memory of someone than that they remember me. And our seeking to connect with the past through story and art is really an attempt to grab onto, however dimly, that subjective experience which seems to, from our own earthly perspective, fall into nothingness.

If God remembers all I was and am, then my own subjectivity does not actually pass that way. It passes into eternity, and eternity is not some inert memory bank, but a living God, who stands with us, walks along side us, and through that experience we share, here and now, with all that came before. Our own memory is thus a sacrament, pointing to something deeper and more cosmic. As someone who thinks all phenomenal conscious experience is such a sacrament, that makes a lot of sense to me.

I end with a Christological reflection. For Jesus to me reveals and makes clear this Divine reality. Jesus shows us a God upon whom all of reality is 'impressed'. Every good, every bad, does not fade away, but finds expression in the very self of God. If the moment is divinized, then illumination of what is, always comes from what once was. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Collection of Posts On Christology


Despite the liberal nature of much of my theology, one thing that I have in commmon with the most rigid of Christian orthodoxy is my deep Christocentrism. Everything for me is about Jesus and what He teaches us about God. This is a collection of post on Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, and related issues.

The Universe As Christic

The Gospel According To Biff

Miniature Jesus

The Quest For The Historical Jesus

Its All About Christ

Jesus & The Trinity

The Syro-Phoenician Woman

Christology In Job

The World Cruciform

Easter Reflection

Veronica & Simon

The Unexceptional Christ

Jesus & Light 1-3

Alpha & Omega

A Scandalous Christianity

A Cosmic Incarnation

The Universe As Christic

I've written that I think that Christ is like the character of the universe. That the Son of the Trinity is the Universe taken as a whole, the character of the selfhood of creation. It is like the universe has a self and that self is itself God. It is the Father pouring Himself into physical reality. Now a thing is more than the some of its parts. To attribute properties of parts to properties of the whole is to commit the fallacy of composition. The fact that parts of the universe are sinful and evil does not mean that The Son is sinful and evil. Evil is like a disease in the body of the Son, taken on willingly so the universe can be more than an undifferentiated that individual things can have room to live and grow.

Jesus Christ is the Son made Incarnate in HUMAN flesh. But the Incarnation is not only a human event, the whole of creation is God Incarnate, I think. Jesus is the human instantiation of a cosmic reality, the reality of God become physical. This is just the natural outgrowth of early Christian beliefs about the Logos and Jesus as the Logos become flesh. My own book of the Trinity teases these ideas out in more detail.

It is the Son in whom we live and move and have our being. The Father is that which is becoming incarnated in the Son. Always becoming Incarnated, forever in a process of Incarnation, for the infinite pouring into the finite would have this kind of appearance. The Holy Spirit is the link between the two, it is the act of  the Father becoming the Son. The Father is the character, the Universe the Character expressed, Jesus that expressed character in a particular form, completed in human flesh. These are just the sketches of ideas. But I think there is something to them.

Creation "Out of Nothing"

There are problems with thinking of God creating ex nihilo, or 'out of nothing'. For 'nothing' is used as a substantive in that sentence or statement, when in reality it is a 'negative quantifier'. One way to think of God creating 'out of nothing' is to say that it is not the case that there is anything other than God out of which God created. With this understanding in view, we can see that in fact God does create 'out of something'...Himself. God creates out of God's self. This makes a lot of sense to me, and is line with a Trinitarian view of God, I think.

Getting Focused- More On Divine Creation

So my thoughts yesterday on creation were a little muddled. Here is a focused list of ways in which we might envision God interacting with the universe.

Emanation- Creation is the result of a refraction of the glory of God. The created order is an inevitable expression of the Divine character. God and the universe are closely connected on this model, but creation is not the result of some free willed act of God. Creation is just an inevitable outpouring of God's glory.

Construction- God is like a clock-builder, designing and constructing the universe.

Artistic Expression- The universe is like a work of art or more accurately like a poem or song.

Motherhood- God is like a woman and the universe like her womb.

Incarnational- The universe is the result of God becoming incarnate. God 'pours himself into' some other and thereby creates the universe.

Inspirational/Persuasive- God empowers each being and gives it options, but does not force the options upon the individual. God's creative act is the giving of freedom and of an inspired direction.

Divine Withdrawal- God creates by shrinking Himself and making room for creation. Think about a parent helping to guide a child by giving that child freedom and space to self-create.

What other models can you think of?

A Collection of Posts: Atheism, Theism, Faith & Reason

 A Collection of Posts: Atheism, Theism, Faith, & Reason I post often on the issues of apologetics and the relationship between faith and reason. Here find a collection of posts on the nature of faith, the limits of science, and the conflict between philosophical atheism and theism.

*Caution* On Objective Morality & Scientism

On Going One God Further

The Quandary of Atheism

The Paradox of Experiencing God

Alain De Botton's School of Life For Atheists

A Guest Post by Chris Lee & A Response

More On The Nagel Controversy

Antiques & Eternity

I Take My Silly Seriously

The Abstract & The Concrete

A Reflection On The Ontological Argument

An Ontological Argument For Free Will

On Other Gods

Putnam's Argument Against Naturalism

On Passion

Atheist Meaning

A Critique of Penn Gilette's Atheist 10 Commandments

The Yin-Yang of Faith & Reason

Trust, God & Understanding

The Quandary of Beauty & Wonder

The Naive Moral Argument

It Means Something

On The Big Bang Theory

My Grand Apologetics Project: 1-8 + Conclusion

The Physical & The Mental

On Intelligence & Faith

On First Causes & Explanations

The Divine In The Aesthetic

The Quest For The Historical Jesus

On Miracles

Tree of Life Movie


A Religious Rorshach: PAN'S LABYRINTH

The Pledge of Allegiance

The New Book I'm Reading

Fear, Hope & The Present Moment

Addicted To God

What Is Wisdom

The Fight For Faith

Miserable And Easy Or Happy And Difficult

On A Non-Believing Parent

A Giant Headache

Ancient Truths Revealed

Andre Bazin

The Fool's Faith

Love Boldly

The Pain of Truth

A Good Addiction

A Touch of Madness

Religion & The Environment

Living & Believing

Why We Need Revelation

Proving God Exists

Childhood & Maturity

Trusting The Crazy

A World Without Fairies

A Depressing Christian Tract

Snobbish Advice

The Language Barrier In Theology

The Language of Life

On A Worldly Christianity

Meet Alvin Plantinga

No Reason Needed

The Healing Power of Purpose

A Biological Parable

Annoying People

The Gift of Faith

Religion & Morality

Must-Needs of the Soul

The Holy Fool


On Humor

What is Love/Faith?

Modern Christianity's Problem

The Problem of Mercy & Justice

Freedom, Mind & The Universe

Fact, Fiction & History

Niebuhr Quote (Long)

The Unproven Ground

The Religious & Human Journey

Guest Post by Jamie Nguyen On A Non-Believing Parent

Cost/Benefit Analysis

The Justification For Faith

Science and Divine Revelation

The Real Adventure

A Red Dwarf & Doctor Who World

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Models of Divine Creation

My new theology text book has a list of different ways that God's role as 'creator' has traditionally been envisioned. It talks of Divine Emanation Theory, wherein creation is like a light that emanates from God's glory. It discusses Divine Artistry Theory, wherein creation is like an art work God is working on. It talks of the Divine Clockmaker Theory, where God acts as designer or builder.

These are all good models of divine activity, and they have their place, but I thought some of the more interesting and relevant models were left out. For instance, the Jews have a tradition wherein God creates the universe by withdrawing Himself. It is like God makes room for the universe to grow by giving it as much space as possible. God kind of 'shrinks down' and gives the universe room to grow.

There is the model of God acting in and through Himself. Think of a mother and a womb. I've argued elsewhere that this is an important and powerful model that preserves a more feminine and maternal flavor while making sense of God as primary of the universe yet intimately connected to it.

My own quest is to try to take these last two models and find a way to meld them with another, that of Divine Incarnation Theory. In this model, God creates by 'pouring Himself into' the universe. The whole cosmic story is then a story of God becoming incarnate into the world. In fact, I think that this model flows naturally from belief in Jesus' incarnation and modern understandings of physics and biology. We are a part of the whole story of creation, the entire 'flow' of the universe. If every person is a part of that cosmic narrative, then so is Jesus. Thus the story of the universe is the story of God becoming incarnate.

Such a model of God 'pouring Himself into' the universe makes sense of the size and grandeur of creation, as well as the lengths of time involved. It also incorporates insights from Divine Withdrawal Theory, since a finite universe receiving an infinite God will be ever-growing. There would be a never-ending evolutionary process as the physical responds to the in-pouring of the Ultimate Spirit.

Yet, I think there must be some sense in which this 'other' into which God pours Himself is also somehow divine. Not as another god alongside God, but as a part of the divine trinity. In this sense, the Trinity becomes vital since it allows us to understand how God is 'pouring Himself into' creation, and yet all things are created within and by God. The physical universe is within God's very being, and God is ever-expanding to make room for this growing creation. And yet, that entire creation is the result of Spiritual and The Infinite becoming incarnate in the physical and finite.

These are just some rough ideas, but hopefully you can see what I'm driving at. At the very least, it becomes clear there are many models that help us understand how God acts as Creator. Of course none are perfect and all only give a part of the truth. That is just the result of the finite mind contemplating eternity. More on all of this later.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

From The Book MYSTERY WITHOUT MAGIC by Russell Pregeant

From MYSTERY WITHOUT MAGIC by Russell Pregeant

"I would judge a religion this way," the psychology professor said. "If it expands your horizons, opens you up to new possibilities, it is good; if it narrows your field of vision it is destructive." I thought of his words as I read an anecdote of Lynn Andrews in a book that recounts her experiences as an apprentice to Agnes Whistling Elk, a medicine woman of the Cree in Canada:

Agnes turned. Her face was red-brown against the green, windy day. "Lynn, what do you believe in?"
I was surprised at the abrupt question.
"What do I believe in?"
"Yes, tell me." She smiled at me with a special glint in her eyes.
"Well, I believe in being honest."
Agnes laughed softly. She placed a small rock on the earth in front of me.
"Go on, what else?"
"I believe in being good at what I do."
Giggling, Agnes placed another rock alongside the other one.
I went on to describe to her all of my important political and ethical values. By the time I had finished, there was quite a large mound of rocks.
"What does that mean?" I asked indicating the pile.
"Those rocks represent each of your beliefs...You must see that you sit on those rocks as if you were a mother hatching them. You must see that you are not free because you will never leave your nest of self-ignorance...There is your nest. You can spend the rest of your life hatching that if you want to. Those eggs will be the boundaries of your experience."
She toed the edge of the rockpile with her moccasins. "There is one egg that you would do well to hatch-- one that is in harmony with the Great Spirit. It is the sacred rock at the center of the hoop. Hatch the sacred rock and you will hatch the queen bird that rips her talons through all barriers to perception..."
She picked up one of the rocks. "This is that part of you that believes in being honest. Yet only one who has shattered the egg of truth and falsehood can be honest. You mother that egg as though it contains a precious child--you brood over counterfeit eggs. Can you throw these children away one by one?"
"No" I said "My beliefs represent who I am. They represent a kind of truth to me. How could I throw them away?"
"You better. You must realize that you are not free. Walk the sacred path and hatch the limitless egg."

Both the story of the call of Abraham and the Parable of the Talents speak about "God"...It is important now to see that the actual function of "God" in these stories is not at all to provide comfort or securit in the escapist sense but rather to encourage venturesome an courageous action. It is in fact closely parallel to the function of the Tao in philosophical Taoism. To follow "God" in this mode is not to hold tightly to unquestioned beliefs; it is more like "walking the sacred path" and "hatching the limitless egg." Far from pandering to human insecurities with the offer of a haven from the terrors of existence and far from counseling conformity, the traditions we have examined actually proclaim that there can be no ultimate guarantee about the action we take and that the search for an absolute security ends in paralysis that negates life should be evident that there are at least some forms of religious insight that are neither other-worldly escapism nor the neurotic imagination's attempt at false security. In at least some instances, religious insight directs our attention to the task of living creatively and meaningfully within the world.

One may of course ask by what right we may assume that venturesome existence is better than conformity and why the particular vision of the authentic style of life presented in these stories and sayings is better than some alternative vision...

As to why a venturesome and courageous mode of exisence should be chosen, there ultimately is no REASON that can be given. The matter remains a question of insight and intuition. There is no compelling logic and certainly no set of ovservable facts by which to authenticate the truth of such a vision. There is only the inherent appeal, or lack of it, to the human imagination.

Why embark on a journey that offers no guarantees? Why break with our present understanding of things, whether it is a conventional religious perspective, a general belief in the worth of human life, or a committed refusal to believe in anything? It makes sense to do so only to the extent that the calls to such a lifestyle touch a sensitive nerve somewhere in our awareness, somehow excite our imagination, in some way offer a sense of promise that makes the risks worthwile. Why break with a pattern of existence in which we are at least relatively comfortable? There is no reason-- unless we are, perhaps in a dim and indefinable way, uncomfortable with our comfort, limited by our beliefs, encapsulaed by our doctrine, and weary of rock-eggs. "This I was taught, this I believe." There is no refutation for this position--- only some irritating question. Do you REALLY believe what you were taught? Does it really tie together the many strands of your life and provide a genuine sense of passion for the life you live? Do your beliefs in fact open up a future to you, expand your horizons, or do they narrow your experience and bind you to the past?

"I find no reason to believe in anything." There is no way out of this paralysis apart from some kind of risk. We would all like to be able to say "Ah, yes. That is a convincing argument; the evidence is indeed overwhelming; now I can make a decision." But the person who takes this attitude has, paradoxically, the same problem as the one who says "this I was taught, this I believe". For in each case we have the conception of religious faith as some kind of absolute certainty-- as definite, hard and fase knowledge that cannot be shaken. One must, in the final analysis, choose between the stultifying comfort of neutrality-- this too, is a rock egg and one that CANNOT hatch-- and the risk of commitment that promises 'adventure'.

There is thus no 'reason' to approach life as venture-- apart from the dawning insight that all life is risk of some sort anyway and that neither the merely conventionally religious nor the uncommitted person really succeeds in avoiding life's perils; each merely forfeits the excitement of life before the buzzer even sounds. But neither is there in the call of life as venture the barrier entailed in appeals to belief in supernatural realities or events. Nor is there anything arbitrary in the appeal to venture, as such, for it is an appeal to life as we all already know it. The question is whether life, secular life, does not contain within it some beckoning toward meaning, some inkling of a sacred path, or mystery, some implicit demand that we take it with ultimate seriousness and seek its depth dimension-- even if this means abandoning the more immediately comfortable patterns of thought and action that shape our vision of the world.

To the extant, of course, that we recognize a beckoning toward meaning and find the call to break away appealing, we are also searching for something better in life. We are searching for a greater truth than we have as yet been able to find, and it is meaningful to speak of such a search as a quest for a deeper kind of security. But there is all the difference in the world between an ultimate security that is not only found but also maintained through venture and an immediate kind of security that is possessed only through the denial of risk. The truly venturesome pattern of existence is thus fully paradoxical. It accepts only that kind of security that demands no visible guarantees and holds within it the insecurity that comes with the knowledge that we cannot prove the ground upon which we stand. Yet within these limitations it issues a promise loud and clear: "seek, and you shall find" (Matthew 7:7).

Re-Post From Facebook: On God's Purposes

Part of the attraction of religion is it makes sense of the experiential content of what Carl Jung called 'synchronicity', its that sense that you are destined or fated to do something, the sense that, through it all, 'God has a plan'. The success of the purpose-driven movement is a testament to how powerful a part of the religious experience this is. But as a person who believes that God is an 'Open' God, who does not know all that will happen in the future, and is responsive to human choices and actions, can I have any place for this in my system? Is my religion of Cosmic Surprise and Adventure capable of making sense of the experience of destiny? I think so.

Parents have plans for their children. They plan for their children to do well, to be all they can be, to succeed in life, to be happy, to find fulfillment. They make plans and undertake actions to make this more likely. They save for college, they try to be the best parents they can be, they focus on their children, they act to help make their plan a reality. But a parent cannot force their own image of 'the good' upon the child. They cannot decide before hand what the child will do for a living, what kind of person they will marry, how many children they will have. To force one's own conception of the good life upon a child is not to really love the child as something independent of oneself, but rather only to use the child as a route to ego justification, it is to love the child incompletely. And to love a child in such a way is a risk, it entails the possibility that the child can indeed hurt themselves, the parent, or other people. Such is the risk of freedom-providing love. But it remains true that the parent CAN have plans for their children, just not the kind of plans that remove the child's freedom, rather they must be plans that increase a child's freedom.

There is a character of life that we all want expressed within those we lead. There is something it means to be a 'decent person' a person of integrity, a mensch, etc. But there are oh so many ways to express that character. There are so many KINDS of decent people, such a plethora of possible expressions of good character. I've met so many different ways goodness expresses itself. To somehow box in the character of life within one particular expression of it, is to in fact remove that character one seeks. Because creative self-expression is an essential part of the good life. It makes sense to plan and hope that the people one influences will adopt that certain character of the good, but it makes little sense to kill that very character by forcing a certain vision of how it MUST be upon it.

God is becoming incarnate in the universe, or rather more or less incarnate, every day. God calls the universe to express His Character, but HOW that character is expressed isn't predetermined. And indeed as the Universe expresses that character in new ways. God Himself changes, by sharing in those experiences, God's form is transformed by the adventure of the universe, but the Universe is conditioned by God's changeless, powerful character. God indeed has a plan for the Universe in the overall, just as He has a plan for me in the overall, that plan being the expression of the Divine Character, to experience 'The Good' to be fulfilled, to find happiness, to discover my true self, to share in the adventure of life in love and faith, etc, etc. But HOW that character is expressed, how the adventure will proceed, is in no way demanded or predetermined. And there is something else. In every moment, God has a vision (or rather visionS) of how the universe could proceed in such a way that it could indeed express His Character. God presents me with ideal possibilitiies, ways the world could be more divine, given the facts on the ground as they are now. These ideal possibilities are callings, God calling me to a better way. To fulfill these possibilities, is in a very real way to fulfill my destiny, my fate. When God sees a path that is important to the fulfillment of myself and 'The World' He 'lights that path up' and leads me to it, He sees for me, in that one moment, a possible destiny, that would be a genuine fulfillment of His plan for my life. But those possibilities, those paths, change given the events here 'on the ground'. A friend needs a kidney, God calls me to donate my own, I feel and experience the call. But my fear and doubt and self-centeredness keep me from acting, the friend dies, I can now no longer be called to that act. That act is closed to me forever, by the facts on the ground, God can no longer call me to it. But God will now, given the changes on the facts on the ground, call me to something else. My fate, my destiny...changes.

So one can fully retain all the valuable insights of the image of the Absolutely Sovereign God and incorporate them into a theology of God as Suffering Servant, as Crucified and Rising Christ, as Companion and Friend.

Re-Post From Facebook: On Relationship & God

"Better to die on our feet than live on our knees." This old expression came up in a conversation I was keeping up with. Reflecting on it brought up some interesting thoughts. In human relationships, there are often three paradigms one will encounter. I experienced this recently in some counseling I was doing. One is a dynamic of infantile dependence. One person or another, or both, in a relationship is still stuck in a childish pattern of basing all they are on the decisions of another person. They have no truly developed self, but really are only an extension of the person they are with. Extreme forms of this form patterns of co-dependency. When children are dependent, it is not a bad thing. It is an expression of an essential truth: children cannot be all they can be absent a strong driving force, a parent, protecting and guiding them every step of the way. A child who is dependent is not missing out on anything: they are being all they can be. It is their experimentation with dependency, being dependent on different people in different ways at different times, that moves them into a place where they can begin to form their own identity in abstraction from that of other people. But in adults, there is a higher possibility. One can be something more than a dependent child. Something truly unique and special could be given to the world, in the form of a responsible self, but instead one runs away from the self because one fears responsibility. The degradation between what that person could be and what they are, is in a real sense sinful. Whitehead put it best, "Thus evil promotes its own elimination by destruction, or delegation, or by elevation. But in its own nature it is unstable. It must be noted that the state of degradation to which evil leads, when accomplished, is not in itself evil, except by comparison with what might have been. A hog is not an evil beast, but when a man is degraded to the level of a hog, with the accompanying atrophy of finer elements, he is no more evil than a hog. The evil of the final degradation lies in the comparison of what is with what might have been. During the process of degradation the comparison is an evil for the man himself, and at its final stage it remains an evil for others. "

At a later stage of life, in adolescence, the person begins to experiment with independence. This leads, to varying degrees to a state of immature independence. It is the sense that my life is my own, and I make it on my own terms, and I resent the seeming arbitrary limits that others place on me. This is not a bad thing, adolescent independence is a necessary 'running away' from the infantile dependence that so limited them a children. It is an awareness of responsibility and possibilities, the possibilities that self-creation can really open one to. But adolescent independence is in the final analysis incapable of genuine relationship. It can find its source of life only in its own choices, and thereby lacks the ability to experience genuine moral freedom that can only come from mutual growth. In point of fact it acts upon a misunderstanding of self. Realizing that self-creativity is possible, it takes the self to be the individuated experience of concrescence, it takes the self to be that which is taking the various strands of experience it encounters and brings them together to create something new. But individuality and selfhood are not identical. Hopefully, and I've seen this happen more often than not, this individuating period takes place within a context of experimenting with various relationships, and with more expansive conceptions of self. In other words, it takes place within a community. And that community can help shape the individuating experience into one that is more honest, more aware of its real self, and often mutes the immaturity of adolescent independence and begins the move to honest, mature INTERDEPENDENCE.

Mature interdependence is inclusive of, but also transcends, the earlier stages of relationship. It is self-creative, in the sense that it seeks a creative expression that is truly unique and not absolute dependent on any one other source. But it is a creative expression that is aware that WHAT it is helping to create is bigger than itself. It realizes that its own creativity is part of a larger creative project, of which it is one part. It realizes responsibility to others, and recognizes that its own self-fulfillment can only take place when others, too are fulfilled. It realizes that it truly needs other people, but that they also need it, him, her, whatever. But the self realizes that, in the final analysis, part of what it gives to the whole is its own real enjoyment, its own fulfillment of creative potential. And so it does not seek simply to use and to shirk responsibility, but it seeks responsibility with others. This paradigm of mature interdepenence is the goal of genuine human relationship.

But it must be remembered that this goal is always one that to varying degrees eludes us, except at moments. My teenage friends need not be offended when I talk of adolescent independence. It is not a label that implies that ALL adolescents suffer from it but only that it is in adolescence that it first becomes a real option. No, these patterns of human relationship afflict ALL people at one time or another, and we all have to continue the quest away from destructive patterns and toward the goal of mature interdependence.

And this brings me to the statement "better to die on our feet than live on our knees". The latter image, of a mealy-mouthed dependency, constantly attributing all that happens to God, begging for each and everything we have, shirking genuine responsibility, expecting from God all things and thinking we have nothing of our own to give, is the very image of childish dependence. And I agree we've had enough of that. It is the paradigm of religion that has dominated and continues to dominate in much of the world to this day. And I'm sick of it as much as anyone. But the alternative vision strikes me as better but still incomplete. "Living on our feet" is the false image of the self-sufficient person, who relies on nothing else and needs nothing else. It is the self in isolation, never dependent on anyone for anything, the atomized self only knowing its own hopes and plans and dreams for itself and the world, inclusive of as small a circle as possible. Never truly vulnerable, it lacks the full breadth of human experience, incapable of being aware of itself as part of a totality, it creates itself not knowing what it is it creates. Secular culture, the attitude that we have left God behind and no longer need anything Higher than ourselves to solve our problems, abounds in this conception. The last 300 years or so it has held primary power at least in the public forum in the west. Mankind is trapped individually by an image of total lost-ness and dependency and communally by an illusion of self-sufficiency.

But over the last 100 years or so some pockets of a new paradigm of Relationship with the Universe has emerged. It is the image of mature INTERDEPENDENCE. It recognizes that human life is lived sometimes on our feet, and sometimes on our knees. That we as a people need to recognize our interconnectendess and to find our own real good in the fulfillment of the Whole of Things. It recognizes a Higher Power, but sees that Higher Power not as totally self-sufficient. It recognizes a God who inded NEEDS human beings for things. Not for its own existence, but to make its exisitence 'more'. In the same way that I genuinely need and want my wife to make my life complete, but know I could survive and find new ways of fulfillment if I ever lost her, however changed and hurt I may be. This image of God is not completely absent in the Bible, in fact all three paradigms of relationship are present within scripture. Certainly, though, this is the most muted. But there are particularly Christian images: Simon the Cyrene, Peter walking on water, Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, the Lamb Slain From the Foundation of the World, that can help us experience and understand this new universal relationship. It finally sees life as the Cross that we have to help bare, and the Ressurection we all can share in if we do so. There is something you can give God that He can find and retain no other way, a creative act, which is a part of a Greater Creative Act, that can fulfill God is a special and unique way. Religious life at its best is recognizing that indeed I need God, but that God also needs me, and that I need God to need me, and God needs me to need Him. It is the grounding out of the highest relational value we have in the very heart of existence. For me, any other philosophy or religion is necessarily incomplete. I've found no greater form of life than this: to recognize a Higher Power that shares in my life and I in Him, in a mature relationship geared towards making this world a better place.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quotable- The Soldier's Prayer

“I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.


Josey: You be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.
Josey: (spits tobacco) I'm Josey Wales.
Ten Bears: I have heard. You're the Gray Rider. You would not make peace with the Blue Coats. You may go in peace. Josey: I reckon not. Got nowhere to go.
Ten Bears: Then you will die.
Josey: I came here to die with you. Or live with you. Dying ain't so hard for men like you and me, it's living that's hard; when all you ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don't live together, people live together. With governments you don't always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well I've come here to give you either one, or get either one from you. I came here like this so you'll know my word of death is true. And that my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now, we'll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring when the grass turns green and the Comanche moves north, he can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That's my word of life.
Ten Bears: And your word of death?
Josey: It's here in my pistols, there in your rifles. I'm here for either one.
Ten Bears: These things you say we will have, we already have.
Josey: That's true. I ain't promising you nothing extra. I'm just giving you life and you're giving me life. And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another.
Ten Bears: It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues. There is iron in your word of death for all Comanche to see. And so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron, it must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life. (he takes his knife and cuts his hand. Josey does the same and they grasp each others hand.) So shall it be. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Collection of Posts On Suffering

 One of the most important topics I deal with is the problems of evil and innocent suffering. How we reconcile faith in a good and loving God with the facts of a sinful and suffering world is a question every thoughtful Christian should engage in. I have tried to do this. This is a collection of those attempts.

The Right Christian Response to Suffering

Lying About The Book of Job

Life Is Pain

What God Does For Us

The Right Christian Response To Suffering (?)

Things Christians Should Never Say

A Must-Read Article

A Thought Experiment On Amnesia

Me Vs Kirk Cameron

It Is A Question of Agony

The Pain of the Truth

The Sufferer

Theology In Light of the Holocaust

The Suffering Servant

On The Vulnerable God

The Suffering Arc of the Bible

The Gospel According To Earl (on Karma)

Housekeeping Issues

You may have noticed that most of my posts have been dominated by post collections. I am doing this so I can get everything categorized so newcomers can more easily find stuff they are interested in, and so long-time readers can more easily find old posts that they want to re-visit. My plan is to have everything categorized by the end of October, and then each month update the lists. The problem is that this takes up all the time I have set aside to blog. The only additional composing I have time for is comic book reviews, since they don't take much work, and re-posts from Facebook. This will continue the next week or so. I apologize for the inconvenience, but once it is done, it will make this blog a better site to visit, I think. I hope you are able to peruse what I put up and find some old stuff you have forgotten, I know I have. I also will try to get up as much original material I have while this is going on. Thank you all for your readership and your patience.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One-Post Wednesday: Re-Post From FACEBOOK: The First Sign of Biblical Ineptitude

I was listening to this atheist on the radio promote his anti-religion book. He claimed he'd spent the last two years studying the Bible and religion, to the tune of 80 hours a week. One of the first things out of his mouth was that the Bible does not 'teach' free will and that the Old Testament does not teach 'the immortality of the soul'. This was enough to put me off. One of the biggest sign someone doesn't really have much training when it come so the Bible is when they claim that 'The Bible' 'says' or 'teaches', anything at all. The Bible is not a book, its a collection of books, many of which are themselves a collection of oral traditions and earlier written works. If someone comes to you telling you what 'The Bible' teaches on this or that issue, you can pretty much suspect they don't know much of anything when it comes to the Bible. To give an example contradicting just one point the thinker made:

"Sirach 15:11-20
Say not: "It was God's doing that I fell away"; for what he hates he does not do.
Say not: "It was he who set me astray"; for he has no need of wicked man.
Abominable wickedness the LORD hates, he does not let it befall those who fear him.
When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice.
If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will.
There are set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God see all he has made; he understands man's every deed.
No man does he command to sin, to none does he give strength for lies."

Ok that seems pretty unambiguous. And it is not completely an isolated example. There are, in fact, many Biblical passages suggesting or implying free will. There are many more that deny free will. The truth of the 'Biblical witness' on the matter is much more complicated than simply stating 'what the Bible says'. The Bible is, in fact, a collection of arguments, from various groups, concerning what conclusions we should draw from our experiences of God and our experience of ourselves. The Bible is an *anthology*, first and foremost. If someone isn't up front about this, or doesn't emphasize it in their thinking about the Bible, then they can't have thought much about it in any real significant way, at all.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Collection of Quotables, Etc

Quotables & One-Liners

I have tried to put some stuff on here that is quick and thought

provoking, funny, or entertaining. Here is a collection of these

types of posts.

The Proper Christian Response to Suffering

GK Chesterton

Kazoh Kitamori

Frederich Nietzsche


The Buddha & Dylan Thomas

Brent Michaels

Mel Brooks

A Prayer For International Talk Like A Pirate Day

On Age

Hilary Putnam

A Philosopher's Tale

On Passion

Anonymous (Funny)

Snickers & God

A Preview

On Knowing The Bible

Increased Activity

Turning The Key


From Highlander 2

On Moses


On "Our Owners"

On Consumerism

From the Film THEY LIVE


Off-Hand Questions


Bob Marley

On Images

From Tim Burton's SLEEPY HOLLOW

A Joke

Nathaniel Ayers

On Great Art

st. Augustine

Swenson & Turvey

Youth Minister Meme

On "The Obvious"


On Leisure & Struggle

Rene Girard

On The Goodness of Creation

On Humility

Inpsirational Lines From Songs

Undeserved Love

On A Sinful Mankind

On Trash Art

Richard Feynman

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Pop Music Stations of the Cross

On Impermanence

Don Quixote

Two Extremes

On The Numinous


The "One Thing"

Long Whitehead Quote

Blaise Pascal

Theology In Surprising Places

An Important Question

A Question On Work & Play

Clint Eastwood


Question On Jesus' Self-Knowledge

Question On Empowering

Question On Prayer

On Following Dreams

On Animal Ethics

On De-Mythologization

On The Name El-Shaddai

A Question About "Religionless Christianity"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Question About Purgatory

On A comic Book Bible

A Question About The Problem of Evil

On Living Truly

A Question About Trouble In The Bible

Edgar Allen Poe

A Question About The Church

Grant Morrison


Ben Skyles


Theresa Avila

Georbe Scialaba

On Self-Discovery

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

William James

The Incredible Hulk

On The Argument From Evil