Search

Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Category

History

Intensifying Cycles

Being a professor is amazing. I am grateful for the opportunity and I am enjoying it so much. Do I miss being in pastoral ministry? Yes. Would I be a pastor again? Absolutely. Am I called to help the next generation of women & men find their way into ministry in the church? Yes!

Since my last post I have had 2 sets of intense conversations about the degree & type distinction – the first centers around the internet and the second relates to 9/11.

We live in a politically turbulent time and many people harken back to the 60’s/1968. This is a 100% valid claim. Many people alluded to the similarities and made a case that our current environment/situation is even worse than it was back then. Those who like to quote that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ shrug these similarities off by talking about how things are cyclical and how people like to hit the panic button but in the end we figure it out and things just keep on going.

That might all be true. The differences that I want to account for, however, are three-fold:

  1. the internet
  2. 24 hour news cycle
  3. increased cynicism, distrust, and discouragement

The growing disillusionment with the system, the fatigue from the constant barrage or coverage, and the crisis overload of manufactured spectacle causes me to ask …

Is it possible that our political, economic, racial, domestic, foreign, and environmental concerns are not just different in degree from 1968 but are in fact a new type or different kind of crisis?

I at least want to be open to the possibility that we have crossed into a different sort of quagmire and that we don’t want to simple shrug that off with a ‘this happens every generation or so‘ kind of mentality. Which brings me to the second point.

9/11 was a watershed. It just so happens that the readings for all 3 of my classes this week are from the 1990’s. I can not overstate how old they all sounded. It was like they were from a different era. I started pastoring in the 90’s and every time I talk about the changes that I have seen in just those 20 years, people laugh in recognition of how quickly things have moved.

Invariably the nothing new under the sun crowd says that God is still on the throne and that things have been changing since Bible times.

I just want to be open to the possibility that we have crossed into a different era. Between the internet, airline travel, farming practices (industrial agro), constant media, the global war on terror (not a country) and 1,000 other factors … the change is coming not incrementally any more – but exponentially.

Something is definitely different. That can not be questioned. The question is, “is it different in degree only, or is it different in kind?”

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Q is for the Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Quest for the Historical Jesus is a topic that I am both annoyed and intrigued by. Chalk this reaction up to my evangelical upbringing but I am like a high-schooler in the midst of drama. Q-Quest

“They drive me nuts, I hate listening to them talk! … What did they say? Tell me everything.”
I am both attracted to and repelled by the work and findings of this movement.

Before we go any further, lets see how others Justo L. González introduces it:

Historical Jesus: Often contrasted with “the Christ of faith,” the phrase “historical Jesus” is somewhat ambiguous, for sometimes it refers to those things about Jesus that can be proved through rigorous historical research, and sometimes it simply means the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase itself, “historical Jesus,” was popularized by the title of the English translation of a hook by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910). In this book, Schweitzer reviewed a process, begun by Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), which sought to discover the Jesus behind the Gospels by means of the newly developed tools of historical research. After reviewing this quest of almost two centuries, Schweitzer concluded that what each of the scholars involved had discovered was not in fact Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in the first century, but rather a modern image of Jesus, as much informed by modern bourgeois perspectives as by historical research itself.

Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1905-1916). Kindle Edition.

González goes on to explain that much of the quest was abandoned after Schweitzer’s findings but has recently reappeared in a minimalist expression (what are the bare facts that can be validated?).

Grenz is clear about this historical quest – that its proponents think Jesus:

  • never made any messianic claim
  • never predicted his death or resurrection
  • never instituted the *sacraments now followed by the church.

All of this was “projected onto him by his disciples, the Gospel writers and the early church. The true historical Jesus, in contrast, preached a simple, largely ethical message as capsulized in the dictum of the “fatherhood of God” and the “brotherhood of humankind.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1089-1093). Kindle Edition.

A modern manifestation of this quest is seen in the Jesus Seminar.
You can hear our podcast about with John Dominic Crossan from this past May.

I am deeply indebted to those in Historical Jesus research. I never knew any of this stuff (like Empire) as an evangelical pastor. It has been both eye-opening and disorienting (not to mention the theological whiplash).
I have problems with so many of the conclusions reached but am so grateful for the depth of engagement and sincerity of scholarship. My faith has been enriched and informed in ways I could never have imagined.

There is just something about the whole enterprise that gets under my skin and rubs me the wrong way. It is possible to be grateful for a pebble in your shoe as you journey?

Even as I write this I am thinking, “I don’t like where you take this… but I need to know what you know. I just want to draw different conclusions than you do.”

This, of course, is the danger of venturing outside your comfort zone.

Artwork for this series by Jesse Turri

Imagining a ‘Nation’ part 2

In part 1 I introduced a theme/thesis for this series of posts:

  • ‘Nation’ is both sovereign and transcendent. 
  • ‘Nation’ is both a social imaginary and an emergent reality.

Charles Taylor utilizes the term ‘social imaginary’ to refer to god-like capacity described by Anderson.  The term encompasses a threefold meaning:

  1. First is the way that ordinary people “imagine” their surroundings both in theory and in images, stories, and legends.
  2. Second is the general acceptance and participation in the imaginary by a population and not simply the theories dominated by a small elite.
  3. Third is empowerment provided from the imaginary for widely shared practices and a sense of legitimization.[1]

These three aspects, illustrated as legs on a table, provide a stability upon which both national identity and personal belonging rest. Expectations for behavior and vessels of meaning are then hosted within that conception.

One impact of this capacity to conceptualize national identity and belonging is in answer to the question “what would make someone be willing to die for their country?” Anderson proposes a model of historic drift where sovereignty, which had previously been located in either religion or king (or both), has shifted decisively to the Nation in recent centuries. This is a dramatic innovation and recognizing nationality as a valid location for sovereignty has significantly altered matters related to loyalty, sacrifice and belonging.

Anderson proposes a definition of the nation as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” The distinction of imagined because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them”.

Communities are limited because there must be some distinguishing demarcation outside of which are other communities (nations), which provide both competition and opportunities for cooperation. This distinction provides a vital function as classifications such as all of us are difficult without the contrast inherent within the project of establishing communities. It is difficult to conceptualize amorphous membership in groups such as everyone and all.

Communities are imagined as sovereign “because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.” [2]  The dissolving social order of caste and class provided more level (if desperately unequal in reality) conception of both membership and participation for the mass of the population. This perceived leveling and opening gave rise to a new capacity for sacrifice on behalf of the imagined entity – an entity that was not solely and externally located in eternity or beyond, but in an ideal which one was associated (belonged) and participated and was thus responsible. To die for a religion (God) or a King was to reinforce that social order which established the hierarchical strata. Locating sovereignty within the conception of Nation – however dispersed and elusive – was a profound change.

In 1922 Carl Schmitt wrote his famous work Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. In this book he makes two extraordinary claims: the first is that sovereign lies with the one who has the power to make the exception, the second is that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”[3]  In 2011 Paul Kahn wrote an engagement of Schmitt’s work with four new chapters on the same subject. Kahn’s work is helpful in understanding this initial shift under consideration.

The capacity for the state to ask for this kind of sacrifices, the power to pardon – which is a remnant of Kingly authority, and the symbolic notion of a flag that needed to be defended are all remnants of a religious notion. The very word sovereign is borrowed from religious vocabulary.  Kahn explains:

Political theology today is best thought of as an effort to describe the social imaginary of the political… (arguing) that secularization, as the displacement of the sacred from the world of experience, never won, even though the church may have lost. The politics of the modern nation-state indeed rejected the church but simultaneously offered a new site of sacred experience.[4]

In this framing, we understand the constitution as the product of a popular sovereign, one to which we belong and participate. The constitution (law) is the result of an extraordinary act (revolution).  Kahn sees this as a deeply theological conception. It is born out of a (extraordinary/divine) moment; it produces a sacred center – the popular sovereign. The constitution is then the remnant that is left behind from that extraordinary moment. church

You can begin to see why the constitution is often thought of and talked about as an inspired document (sacred text) and why those who were responsible for it’s creation (founding fathers) are celebrated at patriarchs.[5]

If Schmitt is right – even partially – then all of these similarities are neither trivial nor inconsequential.

            The power of the state to ask for death in order to preserve itself and the capacity of people to willingly offer their lives in defense of that conception is profound. The notion of the sovereign holding the power of exception goes all the way from the individual being pardoned (as referenced earlier) to modern realities impacting all of humanity.

The President has the ability to launch nuclear weapons if he or she was to view that the national interest was in jeopardy. Kahn uses this to illustrate his point.

  • What are we saying about the nation that we are willing to jeopardize human heath, the planet, and subsequent generations for its defense?
  • What could possibly be above human health and planetary environmental conditions?

The answer is ‘only something that is of ultimate concern’.  The modern conception of the state is thus a result of religious conceptions and has replaced (in some sense) religion as the location of sovereignty one is willing to ultimately sacrifice and die for. Nation is a construct of transcendent meaning found in an imagined community.[6]

In the next post we round the corner (part 3)  toward Jihad v. McWorld (part 4)


[1] Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 23.

[2] Anderson, Imagined Communities, 8.

[3] Paul W. Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Reprint (Columbia University Press, 2012), location 37.

[4] Ibid., 360.

[5] CBC Ideas part 5

[6] It is not difficult within this framing to view contemporary movements such as the Tea Party as merely an extreme example of a group calling for a romanticized notion of an imagined past or legacy.

Imagining a ‘Nation’ part 1

Watching the Olympics was different for me this time. During the past four years I have been in a PhD program and have burrowed down into topics that have deeply impacted me.  Within one of my cognate fields (non-core studies) I addressed the issue of nationalism and the modern imaginary.

The news about events that are currently unfolding in the Ukraine-Crimea has given new attention to the old alliances and tensions golden age of nationalism – something that many thought we have moved past in the new global economy / world market-place.

In the posts that follow (8 total) you will find a common theme:

  • ‘Nation’ is both sovereign and transcendent. 
  • ‘Nation’ is both a social imaginary and an emergent reality.

We will start with the ‘social imaginary’, move to Jihad v. McWorld in part 4 and finish up with ‘Body and Embodied Practices’.

I resonate deeply with Madan Sarup when after reflecting on and talking to many people about identity he comments that:

The intersections between ‘race’, gender, class, nation and religion, (show) that identity is not something we find, or have once for all. Identity is a process, and that is why it is difficult to grasp it.[1]

There are many disparate elements that contribute to the construction of one’s identity.  This paper will engage both the historic shift from pre-modern conceptions of community/tribe/family to modern expression of nationality as well as a secondary (and subsequent) shift from identity as ‘given’ to a more fluid and transitory notion. These two shifts provide a conceptual and narrative framework for addressing the contemporary context of social imaginaries and the hyper-real. The paper concludes with an exploration of the possibilities of embodied practices providing a location for identity and belonging.

Modern Social Imaginaries and Imagined Communities

Charles Taylor (2004) and Benedict Anderson (updated edition from 2006) take a macro-perspective to the issue of social conception of self and national identity.

In this way ‘national identity’ is a helpful entry point from which to examine social conceptions of self.

It is important to distinguish the massive shift that human belonging has undergone in recent centuries.[2] Long before we get the implications of social media, technological advancements, global consumer culture or changes in political, economic, or cultural realities since the Enlightenment, we need to acknowledge the epic change that has resulted since antiquity when it comes to:

What today we would call the “identity” of the human being in those earlier societies. Because their most important actions were the doing of whole groups (tribe, clan, subtribe, lineage), articulated in a certain way (the actions were led by chiefs, shamans, masters of the fishing spear), they couldn’t conceive themselves as potentially disconnected from this social matrix. It would probably never even occur to them to try.”[3]

This drastic shift in both personal and corporate conceptualization is significant for our addressing the potential understanding of another current shift being examined. The transition from pre-modern conceptions like Taylor is describing to modern frameworks of nation, and ones belonging within that national structure, is essential to establish before an analysis can be drawn for a potentially post-national social construct.

Taylor points our that

an American will never meet, or even know the names of more than a handful of his 240,000,000-odd fellow-Americans. He has no idea of what they are up to at any one time. But he has complete confidence in their steady, anonymous, simultaneous activity.[4] 

This reality occurs, obviously, nowhere outside of the reader’s imaginary and exists entirely in their capacity to conceptualize it as such. To say a sentence such as “Americans are _____.” (brave, selfish, innovative, etc.) is impossible. Such a sentence would have to incorporate both a person like myself, and someone I have never come into contact with – for instance a Latino single teenage mom in Florida who has dropped out of school. She and I might have little in common outside the capacity of the speaker to conceptualize both our connectedness within the imaginary and our relative shared embeddeness within a society. This society would be loose and expansive (regionally) at best. The sentence then is impossible outside of the speaker’s imaginary.

Come back for part 2 where the imaginary becomes sovereign and transcendent. 

[1] Madan Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh University Press, 1996), 28.

[2] It is an oft quoted maxim the two great errors to be avoided when dealing with cultural history is on the one hand to assume that people of the ancient past were entirely like us and secondly, to make the mistake in thinking that they were nothing like us.  Both are ‘gutters’ (to use a bowling analogy) to be avoided in this present examination.

[3] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Duke University Press Books, 2003), 54.

[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, New Edition (Verso, 2006), 26.

 

’12 Years A Slave’ and the Cross of Christ

by Bo Sanders 

12 Years A Slave is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen. The cinematic elements compliment the twisted and troubling plot to create a riveting experience for the viewer.  What follows is a theological reflection – for a more formal review of the movie check out Pop Theology by Ryan Parker.  Ryan and I also recorded a podcast that will be released this evening. 12-years-a-slave-poster-405x600

Based on a true story, the plight of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a journey from the good life as a free black man in the North to the hellish existence of a slave in the deep South. Visual artist-turned-director Steve McQueen frames the narrative in stunning cinematography and a unique pacing that reflects the twists and turns in the story.

12 Years A Slave is one of those rare movies that impacts you emotionally and challenges the assumptions you carried into the theatre. The journey of the main character sticks with you and causes you to ask questions that you know deep down need to be examined.

I expect that this movie will be one of those rare films that trigger a much-needed cultural conversation. Issues of race and America’s haunting legacy of slavery and native reservation are never far from our national consciousness. Race is often front and center in the nightly news and on the margins of most national conversations.

While we know that something is amiss, we may not know how to approach the topic. We want to have a conversation but we may be unsure about how to proceed.

From the controversies surrounding the election of President Barack Obama to the George Zimmerman trial to the ongoing ‘stop and frisk’ policy debate in the New York City mayoral election, there is an awareness that race matters (to borrow a sentiment from Cornel West’s book title) but a perpetually unsatisfying confusion about how to access the underlying issues.

For Christians, perhaps the best way to address these issues is via the cross of Christ.  In his newest book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, famed theologian James Cone equates the cross and the lynching tree: “though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy.”

This is poignant because Solomon Northup first witnesses and then experiences the lynching tree in 12 Years a Slave. The lynching tree is the ultimate weapon of intimidation employed by the same slave owners who claimed the name of Christ, but who preached from the Christian Bible to their slaves in order to justify their cruelties.

For Cone,

“what is at stake is the credibility and promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society.”

There are plenty of movies that are as fleeting and significant as the popcorn one eats during it. 12 Years A Slave is a different kind of movie. It has substance and is capable of being a touch-point for a significant cultural conversation.

“Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy”.  – Cone

If we can talk about a movie like 12 Years A Slave in light of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, we may be able to begin to have a much-needed constructive and reconciling cultural conversation about race in America.

The election of President Obama was not the end of racism in America. As the 50th anniversary of ‘the March on Washington’ showed, we still live in a deeply divided country where race and the legacy of racist policies and attitudes have a lasting effect and are an ever-present reality.

America is also a deeply religious country and Christianity is the dominant religion. The irony, and the opportunity, resides in that fact that the symbol of the cross is so central to Christian imagery. There is great hope there, if only we would take it seriously and see what the Salvadoran martyr Ignacia Ellacurio called “the crucified peoples of history.”.

You can listen to my conversation with Ryan on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast here.

Innovation, Context and History in Christianity

I was away on a youth service trip last week and upon my return had the opportunity to listen to the Barry Taylor podcast from the previous week’s live show. It sounded great and I was sorry to have missed it.

About 23 minutes in to The Theology of Rock, Barry Taylor talks about the play between the universal nature of music and the highly contextual nature of styles and genres. He points out that while music is said to be universal, actual songs and individual expression are very particular and specifically located. They come from a place and in a time and that lyrics – while they may get the lion’s share of attention – are nearly inconsequential in some respects to understanding what is going on in the music.

Lyrics are often an afterthought and may even be antagonistic to what is going on in the music itself. This was a fascinating point and it sent my brain on wild series of connections and contrasts in theology.

My background is in contextual theology and as I stated two weeks ago in my post about the Creeds as contextual documents (or time/place snapshots) they are neither universal nor timeless. Christian expressions – even the early Creeds – are both radically located and time-bound. Now, the objection is always that ‘they were not intended to be so – the authors surely believed them to be universal and for all times’.  While it may be true that writers of the creeds, or the Reformers or systematic theologians in general may be under that impression, we see the historical flaw in that line of thinking.

 We see now that all theology and thus theological expression are contextual expression that are uniquely located and particularly time specific. It’s not just the language (Greek or Latin or German) that needs to be translated but the ideas, concepts and content itself needs to be translated and renovated.

I would like to put forward a proposition to help us unravel the tangled web of theological history and frame – in a positive way – a path forward. I am suggesting that we acknowledge that we are always braiding or weaving a fabric from at least 3 strands:

  •  History and Tradition: Theology and other Christian expressions don’t happen in a vacuum. We never start with a blank slate. We never get back to zero – and we are not supposed to! We are part of long history with much tradition and we are to honor that even while continuing out along the trajectory provided.
  •  Context and Location: All truth is both received and expressed in cultural containers that come with inherent lenses through which we interpret what we see, experience and receive. Our job is to acknowledge and incorporate this understand as we engage our culture, place, and time in a meaningful way that is faithful to the tradition, based on the historic precedent, and aware of our modern realities.
  •  Innovation and Expression: Nothing stays the same. We are fooling ourselves if we pretend otherwise. Language – even about God, technology, and society are fluid realities that call for us to adjust, revisit, and renovate our understandings and activities. Christianity is uniquely designed to adapt and evolve. We are not only called to it but are empowered with a unique set of tools embedded within the Gospels and Acts of the early Church.

The trick is to stop reducing down things down to simply one element in our thinking. That reductive move is death to both understanding and applying the very message that we are talking about!  [read Lamin Sanneh’s Whose Religion is Christianity?: the Gospel beyond the West  for more]

 It is not simply history or tradition. People who extract content without accounting for historical context or timely innovation are in grave danger of importing and imposing collateral damage every time and in every place they do so. If we do not acknowledge the particular time and unique context from which any expression emerged, then we are willfully blind to the cultural constraints and societal containers that framed the content.

 It is not merely context. We are not free to disregard the precedent of the past. The entire project of theological reflection and Christian expression is in dialogue with the historic tradition. If one wants to do something else, that is fine – I get that – but to do theology is to submit to some level of constraint within the forms and disciplines employed.

 It is not only innovation. We do need to, in fact we must, engage our time and world as it is. We can no longer afford to  retreat into a romanticized imagined past (like the radical orthodox). But neither can we simply disregard the tradition and act as if we ourselves are not cultural creatures and products of socialization and cultural-religious conditioning. We are not free to do whatever we want. The entire enterprise is to be in dialogue with the tradition, to acknowledge the contextual nature of all truth and to engage our time and place appropriately based on that.

Theology is not simply history or tradition. It is not merely context. It is not only innovation. Christian theology is a dynamic interplay between these three elements (not to mention issues of power that effected formation of things like the early Creeds). We are foolish to ignore them historically and our work is impotent if we don’t acknowledge them and joyfully incorporate them in our work today.

We do well when we incorporate the long tradition into our context and allow for an appropriate level of innovation that honors the trajectory of the tradition and provides a continuity with the precedent of the past.

-Bo Sanders 

May your Kingdom Come … to an end

I might be done with kingdom language – not the dynamic of God’s power or God’s interaction with the world – just the word ‘kingdom’ and its imperial implications. It comes with too much baggage, it is so antiquated, and it is masculine in the way that is unhelpful.*
Here are three reasons that we have permission to move on if we were so inclined:

  • Jesus didn’t use the word.

It might seem simplistic but Jesus didn’t speak English and there is nothing magical about the English word ‘kingdom’. The New Testament uses the phrase Basileia Theou. Maybe we should just go back to that. We keep words like ‘koinonia’ and ‘selah’ in their original form so maybe we could just say when Jesus did and let it go untranslated. Then people would have to reconstruct what the concept means without importing all of their preconceived impressions.

  • The age of kings is over.

I can not believe the hysteria that occurred around the ‘royal wedding’ of Prince William to Kate Middleton – especially by Americans. Just the name the House of Commons makes me wince. I am so glad that the Age of Kings is over. Divine Right would be laughable to me … if I didn’t know how much sway it held for so long. Regardless, those days are over and maybe it is time to update our language about God’s ways as well.

  • The power of pronouns.

Even those who acknowledge that the nature of language is symbolic and metaphorical – even those who recognize that God language is not univocal – can get thrown off if one refers to God as ‘She’.  Even those who know that it is only a pronoun that functions as a place holder want to be careful about the antecedent to the pronoun.  This might be a limitation for a move toward a counter-Queendom, a more inclusive Kin-dom or a non-authoritarian Common/wealth.

There will be some obstacle to overcome.
Number one among them will that ‘it is in the Bible’. Let me say two things:
A) I love that it is in the Bible. It was powerful imagery for its day and it says something really important about God.
B) The authors of scripture conceptualized of God’s work in a way that was relevant to their time. Maybe we should as well.

Another problem I see is Christmas pageants. What will be do when we quote passages like Isaiah 9:7 which get translated into english as “His kingdom will have no end”. But I think it would be fine to have passages like this along side the shepherds and the manger (both are virtual artifacts of an agrarian society)  – as long as it was not our primary (or only) way of articulating and conceptualizing the work of God in the world.

One last thing to suggest: Jesus was in a context that was dominated by Empire. He positioned his vision and language in contrast/opposition to it. But is that our predominant contemporary element? I would suggest that in a venue of Global Capitalism  it may be more appropriate and powerful to speak of the Economy of God.

* I always have to clarify that as a man, I am not anti-masculine. I really like being a man – it’s just that only using masculine terms may have been helpful for clarity when Genesis 1-3 was written, it has become unclear and unhelpful. The hegemonic patriarchy of religious language is pitiful to hold onto and especially when it is done in a univocal way.

Religion: revision renovation and revival

Religions need revision. This is even true of made up ones! Scientology has been in the news over the past months for all the wrong reasons: splinter groups, rival factions, money issues, coercive strategies for intimidating dissenters, and even heated theological debates. [check out last week’s Time article for instance]

And this is religion where we have writings of the founder.  In fact, one of the original tenets of the religion (started just 50 years ago) was that nothing was allowed to be changed in the future. This stands is stark contrast to Christianity where we don’t have any writings of the founder (thank God) and have a model that is incarnational – which means that the religion is inherently contextual and translatable. [read Lamin Sanneh’s books like Who’s Religion is Christianity? and Translating the Message if you want to see a contemporary contrast with Islam – like ours, a religion based on revelation.]

All religion needs revision – or re-visiting, re-imagining, and reviving. Some people object to this much needed procedure. The arguments tend to fall in two broad divisions.

1) Those who object to deconstruction because it feels like destruction. This is understandable because when you hold dear something sacred, it is precious and worth protecting.

I would simply argue that like any house or house of worship, if it is going to continue to be useful, it will need to go under renovation – a re-examining with a critical lens (deconstruction) is actually a loving act of clearing room for the renovations  that need to happen.

If we didn’t love it and intend to live in it, we would walk away, burn it down, or blow it up.

2) The second objection seems to be more theoretical, less sentimental but equally as defensive. It comes from those who object by saying “that is not what those who came before would have recognized as the faith” or “those who ________  (wrote the creeds, were reformers, etc.) thought that they were doing something that you now say they did not accomplish (making meta-physical statements, producing a once for all systematic theology, etc.)

In this case, I would simply argue, with Bernard of Chartres, that we are dwarves who stand on the shoulders of giants. We have a perspective that they did not have. Ours then in a 2nd order reflection on their 1st order activity. They were in the arena, we are in the balcony. This sets up two tensions: A) it is not possible to do what they did nor is it possible to disregard it  B) you know a tree by it’s fruit and we now see that they may not have done what they thought they were doing at the time.

This is the critical element. We are part of a living tradition that lives out faith in community – communities that are radically located in particular times and places. Our tradition proclaims an incarnational gospel and orients around a living word of God. That is, both conceptually and practically, an ongoing model of revision, renovation and revival. In these ways our faith stands in distinct contrast to other religions – especially made up ones.

Freedom Isn’t Free

On this holiday when we remember those who served and died, there are so many interesting things that get presented and portrayed in regards to our national storyline. Some of them are valiant and deep, others are pithy and cliched. There is one, however, that gets used pretty flippantly and after I hear it a dozen times or so, it starts to grate on me a little bit.

“Freedom isn’t free”. You see on T-shirts, bumper stickers and hear it is discussions about past wars. I get it. I see what is behind the saying.
No, freedom isn’t free – not in this world of selfish sin (on a small scale) and dominating Empire (on a big scale) but I think that it is important to make two clarifications about this saying.

Freedom is not solely the result of our military – and freedom is not all our military does.

  • The first one is important to clarify because in our Military Industrial Complex (Dwight Eisenhower warned of it and those who profit from it in his farewell speech), our the freedom that we enjoy is not bestowed  by military action. That is not the source of our freedoms.
  • The second one is important to clarify because freedom is not the only business that America’s foreign policy participates in. The US involvement in S. America, Asia, Africa and Europe is not simply explained as a ‘force for freedom’. There is a lot more going on than just a heart for global democracy.

I think this is appropriate to address on occasions like Memorial Day. It is not dishonoring to those who served and died to use our freedoms in order to call for accountability for America’s addiction to militarism or to examine America’s foreign policy.

Seen from my point of view – it is downright honoring to utilize my freedom this way and it demonstrates an appreciation for the exact freedom that allows me to spend time on this day off to do so.

In fact, I think that the only thing that is not honoring to their sacrifice is to spend the day sales shopping or at a BBQ and to not think about these things at all.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑