Monday, October 29, 2007

The Hole Shaped God

No, this post has nothing to do with Courtney Love.

Until Translucent tips us off to video interview with N.T. Wright;
she mentioned one of his "side points":

"If you start out by talking about a 'God-shaped hole,' you run the risk of ending up with a hole-shaped God."

Most of you will catch the (perhaps apocryphal) Pascal quote referenced..

Most will also know the line as later borrowed by the Bonoman (opening lines of U2's "Mofo" below).

It all called to mind this Tolstoy parable:


by Leo Tolstoy
"Fable and Fairy Tales"

A Mouse was living under the granary. In the floor of the granary there was a little hole, and the grain fell down through it. The Mouse had an easy life of it, but she wanted to brag of her ease : she gnawed a larger hole in the floor, and invited other mice.

" Conie to a feast with me," said she ; " there will be plenty to eat for everybody."

When she brought the mice, she saw there was no hole. The peasant had noticed the big hole in the floor, and had stopped it up.

Interpreting Sigur Ros tongues

Wow, the official video for this Sigur Ros classic, sure will intrigue those from our church who "interpreted" it impressionistically a few years go...see:

Sigur Ros @ Church: is there a problem with that?

for context, then watch the video:

The Wonder Working Power of Porno and Democracy..not

(Qualifier for this post;I am sick today. Which I mention so my fan base can pray for me.
And to apologize in advance: I know it's not well written, I am spaced out: but lucid enough to be moved by the topic.)

++"Moral absolutism, which rejects compromise, can be a virtue in extreme situations, but becomes a misfortune when government aspires to it. It is often a mask for hypocrisy, always the means of discriminating against others. … That is why the democrat-skeptic does not trust moral absolutes in politics. He prefers compromise. For him this is not moral relativism. It is an act of faith in compromise as democracy's daily bread."

-Adam Michnik, quoted in "Why Adam Michnik Is Afraid of Theocracy
Confessions of a Democrat-Skeptic, " by Agnieszka Tennant

++"Turn this song into a prayer..Compromise is not a dirty word...Twenty nine people (killed by terrorism( is too many.)" -Bono, See below from 3:15ff

"Why do you Christians put out so many pornographic movies?"

It was a perfectly understandable and appropriate question for an Arab Muslim to ask an American Christian!

My friend was in the waiting room to get a passport, and began chatting with a Muslim.
Once he learned that my friend was a pastor, he felt comfortable enough to tentatively venture, "Can I ask you a question; something I have never understood about Christianity?"

"Sure!," my friend responded; intrigued, unaware that what she would heard next was
"Why do you Christians put out so many pornographic movies?"

In a traditional Muslim mindset/worldview, Church equals state. The government is governed by the dominant religion. That Muslim, from his worldview (and likely encouraged by so many American televangelists proclaiming "The United States is a Christian nation"), correctly and simply syllogized:

"1. America is a Christian nation.

2.It exports porn.

3. This doesn't add up."

A delightful dialogue opened up. This gentleman heard for the first time what we in the US all know (or should) :Not everyone who loves in America is a Christian. And it is not an officially (thank God) Christian nation. And so everything that is exported from America is approved by every Christian living there, nor should every product be construed as a Christian product.

He simply didn't know.

Don't hear what I'm not saying, but..

This is partly why 9/11 happened.

This morning's Wall Street Journal (Doesn't every churchculture vulture and U2 fan worth their salt and blog, daily read the Journal? zzzzzzzzz) summarized a helpful piece from the Boston Globe:

"Forget ‘Democracy,’ Muslim Reformers Want ‘Justice’"
As rallying cries, neither “freedom” nor “democracy” have gained much traction in the Muslim world. But “justice” has, explains Shahan Mufti in the Boston Globe. Traditional staples of Western rhetoric such as “liberty” frequently suffer in translation or else are taken to be insincere. But “justice” (”adl” in Arabic, “insaf” in Persian) has associations with the Koran that can give notions like freedom and fairness a specifically Islamic, home-grown slant. It thus resonates with many people in society who otherwise have little in common politically, says Mr. Mufti, a free-lance journalist based in Pakistan. For the middle class, justice means the ending of bureaucratic corruption. For the economically depressed, it means fighting social imbalances. For the religious, it connotes the fulfillment of God’s will. The most famous example is Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, which has combined a call for social justice with an Islamic ethos. Similarly, the Justice and Development Party of Morocco and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party in Indonesia have connected their anticorruption programs to their Islamic roots.

This needed to be said, and has not been heard. I am afraid Michael Novak's book.
The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable,
though insightful on many points, unfortuntately missed the main point.
Let me put it this way: a more accurate thesis for a title would be
"Since the Hunger for Liberty (at least the way Westerners define it) is NOT universal, the clash of civilizations IS Inevitable (unless Westerners really become culturally sensitive)."

President Bush's well-meaning mission to bring Western democracy to the world cannot work, as it is based on a faulty assumption that the entire world wants...deep down...Western style freedom/liberty/democracy. I hope it was one of his speechwriters, and not the man himself, who penned the now famous/infamous line: "the wonder working power of democracy" . Has no one else noticed that this is an obvious allusion to the hymn "Nothing But the Blood," with"democracy" squarely substituted for " the blood of Jesus".

A book closer to the truth, "Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage" ,by British Christian Mac Pierce, reminds that those in the "rest"of the world "have the sensation that everything they hold dear and sacred is being rolled over by an economic and cultural juggernaut that doesn't even know it's doing it . . . and wouldn't understand why what it's destroying is important or of value."

The Booklist review of this book summarizes:

The root cause of non-Western nations' anger toward the West lies not in economics, religion, or foreign policy, church historian and business-studies teacher Pearse says, but in modern Western culture, which traditional societies see as barbarism. Specifically, they see in the West societies that forget ancestors, derogate religion, exalt triviality (sports, entertainment, fashion), endorse sexual shamelessness, deprecate family, and discard honor. Westerners are surprised to be called barbarians, because they associate barbarism almost exclusively with dirt and cruelty. To reduce Western surprise, Pearse probes the beliefs that eventuate in the qualities non-Westerners decry. Those doctrines include modern personal integrity (being "true to oneself"), human rights, progress, impartiality or equality of treatment, "imagined communities" (e.g., nation, class), and industrial efficiency. The practical consequences of these beliefs are social atomization; personal irresponsibility; dehumanizing impersonality; and other wounds to traditional families, communities, and conceptions of the person. Perhaps the West itself is dying of modernism through declining birthrates and increasing dependence on immigration in all Western countries. Westerners ought to become normal again, and Pearse urges revivals of belief and behavior in the West that more closely approximate those of "the Rest." This is no "fundamentalist" altar-call harangue, however, but possibly the best, most intelligent, most humane brief argument that the West, rather than the Rest, needs reform. link

I'll never forget seeing the first photos in the newspaper of Iraqi government leaders, with their Western mentors literally at the table, raising hands to vote, thinking "This is not going to work." If the Arab world had a built-in desire to "vote," maybe....but they don't. And that's not's just different.

Not to mention...but I will! this blog is not a democracy.I can mention what I want(:....Leonard Sweet's reminder (see "From Catacomb to Basilica: The Dilemma of Oldline Protestantism') that "Majority rules in Scripture is never the rule."
And in this context, I cannot not mention Erwin McManus's hilarious "committee of buzzards."

So often we in the west are accidentally (at best) or eagerly (at worst) ethnocentric. Time for a temple tantrum.

A question to ponder; against a centered-set backdrop, would be "How has God embedded in an Arab or Muslim mindset/worldview their analogous "Peace Child"; their version of the truly universal hunger or the (carefully/prayerfully defined) liberty/freedom/justice that Kingdom of God ushers in through Jesus Christ.

So how intriguing that the Boston Globe suggests that Muslims can "rally" around a cry for justicemore than they are drawn towards Western democracy/empire.

As Christians (not even as Americans ..yet), aren't we supposed to have something to do with justice? Or is that a forbidden "liberal" topic and pursuit?

"The very Kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17)

Don't hear what I'm not saying: Support terrorism. Of course not, give me a break.

The rest of that Scripture offers a triad of virtues that constitute the Kingdom; the other two are shalom and joy.

That has nothing to do with murder...or abandoning essentials of the faith....or demonizing democracy.
And Bono is not pop culture antichrist or sloppy universalist to suggest we can coexist, by the way.

Let the talks begin.

They haven't yet.

A few more resources below, especially the first, by the editor of the international version of Newsweek, , and himself of Middle Eastern background (Now there's a radical idea, to actually read some of these "foreigners.")

Sunday, October 28, 2007

spirit and structures

"It is no easier to live in community after twenty years than it was at the start; on the contrary, in fact. People are always a little naive when they enter community; they have many illusions and they also have the grace they need to pull them away from an individual and egotistical life. People who have been traveling for twenty years in community know that it isn't easy. They are very conscious of their own limitations and those of others. They know the full weight of their own egoism. The essence of the challenge to a growing community is to adapt its structures so that they go on enabling the growth of individuals and do not simply conserve a tradition, still less a form of authority and a prestige. These days, we tend to see spirit and structures as being in opposition to each other. The challenge is to create structures which serve the spirit and the growth of people and which are themselves nourishing. There is a way of exercising authority, of discerning and even of running the finances which is in the spirit of the Gospel and the Beatitudes and so makes these tasks sources of life.

-Jean Vanier

Community and Growth, pp. 107-108A

Saturday, October 27, 2007



by the dressed,
i zag towards naked clinging

honesty amens ruthless prayers
commends unsteepled friendship
and shakes a few nations

yank me into my dangerous nest-home
where Dove tails
flags burn
and Kingdom falls

The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

"..unlike the sale of a commodity, the giving of a gift tends to establish a relationship between the parties involved. Furthermore, when gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake, and a kind of decentralized cohesiveness emerges... I began to realize that a description of gift exchange might offer me the language, the way of speaking, through which I could address the situation of creative artists...

" possess is to give....Scarcity appears when wealth cannot flow."

" exchange is erotic commerce, opposing eros to logos ..A market economy is an emanation of logos."

"The point is that a conversion, in the general sense, cannot be settled on ahead of time. We can't predict the fruits of our labor; we can't even know if we'll really go through with it. Gratitude requires an unpaid debt, and we will be motivated to proceed only so long as the debt is felt. If we stop feeling indebted, we quit, and rightly so. To sell a transformative gift therefore falsifies the relationship; it implies that the return gift has been made when in fact it can't be made until the transformation is finished. A prepaid fee suspends the weight of the gift and de-potentiates it as an agent of change. Therapies and spiritual systems delivered through the market will therefore tend to draw the energy required for conversion from an aversion to pain rather than from an attraction to a higher state."

- Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property


Friday, October 26, 2007

a Psalm of Bruce

...a Psalm of Bruce...Cockburn, that is:

'Ive seen a high cairn kissed by holy wind
Seen a mirror pool cut by golden fins
Seen alleys where they hide the truth of cities
The mad whose blessing you must accept without pity

I've stood in airports guarded glass and chrome
Walked rifled roads and landmined loam
Seen a forest in flames right down to the road
Burned in love till I've seen my heart explode

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters

Across the concrete fields of man
Sun ray like a camera pans
Some will run and some will stand
Everything is bullshit but the open hand

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?

You've been leading me
Beside strange waters
Streams of

Strange Waters - Bruce Cockburn

beautiful lights in the night
But where is my pastureland in these dark valleys?
If I loose my grip, will I take flight?
-"Strange Waters," Bruce Cockburn

(more on Bruce: Cockburn's Pomo Broken WheelTheology)
This is a kind of psalm that could've only written by David..or someone who said " I became a Christian, and my marriage fell apart."

"MegaChristChurch Rules!!!!!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

let gatherings evolve from nothingness

Len says:

"We really let our own gatherings evolve from nothingness."

That's all we have to start from anyway..

It this all "seems unseemly" and "sounds unsound,"


  • God the Creator's Middle Name...and creation format... is Ex Nihilo, so "church" form (not norm) must start (be created) at Formless and Void/Ground Zero...especially if it is ever to hope to be create-ive, and re-creative.....
  • "God has chosen.. the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are." -1 Cor 1.28
  • "The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything " (if as this research finds, "Time and space are as elastic as bungee cords," then any church we want to be/do in time and space....and in a certain time and particular place, ideally should be, as well.

Indecision 08

"1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T Colbert" is the
"Fastest Growing Facebook group to 500,000 in the history of Facebook!"

St Andy Warhol: Communion Soup &Transubstantiating the Culture

"Thus, even as a rich and famous man, whenever he could, he would go to help feed the homeless at the church of Heavenly Rest on 90th Street. 'Andy would fix the coffee, serve the food, and help clean up. He was truly a friend of these friendless people. He loved these forgotten people of New York and they loved him back,' one witness recounts. Warhol did not keep these gestures of his secret. On the contrary, every so often he would try to drag one of his reluctant friends to this kitchen for the poor. And once they were inside, he did not allow any protesting, commenting, 'If we are here, it is because we wanted to be here.' Later, in his diary, he left a trace of this experience: 'It is a different world. You see people with ugly teeth. And we are used to all these people with perfect teeth.' (link)


Below is an excerpt from an amazing article (originally from Regeneration (RIP), found on an amazing Catholic website, "Godspy." Be sure to read the whole thing.


More than one seemingly religious person's secret sins have been exposed at their death; Warhol's secrets were that he went to church and served at a soup kitchen.

By James Romaine

.....Do these religious revelations offer insight into Warhol's art? They do; perhaps more than has yet been appreciated by either the art or Christian worlds. Warhol's consumer imagery at first seems obsessed with the external world of contemporary culture to the exclusion of the internal life of faith. But there is also a persistent longing for something more, a hunger that is evident in the last Self-portrait and, most famously, in those cans of Campbell's soup.

In order to see this religious dimension, we must regain our sense of the sacramental—the use of material things as vehicles for encountering the divine and enabling eternity to break into time and space. Warhol's pop art, often criticized as mere regurgitation of advertising, actually displaces images from their original context in the commercial world, transporting them to the realm of art, collapsing the distance between the two, and creating new associations and meanings.

The Campbell's soup can, one of Warhol's most famous motifs, thus becomes another self-portrait of the artist. The can, like Warhol's public persona, is cool, metallic, machine-made, impenetrable, a mirror of its surroundings. These qualities, superficial though they are, nevertheless seduce the eye.

But what completes this self-portrait are the can's contents; they should be the most significant part, but actually have very little in common with the can's exterior. Soup, a warm source of nourishment, is a sensitive element that will not survive long outside of a protective container. Hidden beneath supermarket imagery, Warhol's faith is sealed for protection.

While carefully keeping himself secure inside, Warhol succeeded in making everyone believe that the soup can should be the focus of attention. Some have become enraptured by their own reflection on its metallic surface. Others have complained that Warhol and his art are hollow. Very few have attempted to open the can and find out what's inside.

Warhol's creative gift was an ability to bring subjects into spiritual equilibrium. He treated ultra-glamorous movie stars and anonymous police arrest photos with the same combination of contempt and envy. Warhol used consumer items more than just as mirrors of his time.

What seems to have attracted him to Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell's soup cans, as in 200 Campbell's Soup Cans, was a sense of comfort, belonging, and equality.

Warhol admitted that one reason he was attracted to the imagery of Campbell's soup was that he had eaten Campbell's soup nearly every day as a boy. Soup, of course, is a nearly global icon of home, but Campbell's is a distinctly American icon.

For Warhol, growing up in a poor immigrant family struggling to find its place in a new homeland, Campbell's soup probably offered a reassuring sense of belonging.

Warhol loved mass consumer imagery because of its equilibrating powers. "Coke is Coke," he once said, "and no matter how rich you are you can't get a better one than the one the homeless woman on the corner is drinking."

Living in New York City, Warhol undoubtedly experienced the way cities have of exaggerating the distance between wealth and poverty even while juxtaposing them. Perhaps reinforced by the piety and poverty of his childhood, Warhol may have looked forward to the equality of heaven, with the mechanical nature of his work forecasting an eternal destiny.

Warhol's strategy of representing heaven by repeated images has been linked to Byzantine icons, which limit individual creativity in favor of a standardized form. Warhol's work has a certain hypnotic rhythm, not unlike the rosary. This repetition also suggests that the image could extend infinitely, giving us a glimpse into eternity through everyday reality.

200 Campbell's Soup Cans celebrates more than social egalitarianism. But in a critique of America's emergent consumer religion, 200 Campbell's Soup Cans also joins a long artistic tradition of vanitas images, in which lavish displays of wealth are offset by reminders of life's fleeting nature and the inevitable final judgment.

Warhol's references to religious themes increased throughout his career, culminating in his most overtly religious and plainly sacramental works, patterned after Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. Warhol made more than one hundred works based on Leonardo's image, but until recently these works received very little attention.

Many things may have drawn Warhol to the Last Supper, including the fact that Warhol's own art often dealt with food as a symbol of heaven.

Warhol's Catholicism asserted the miracle of transubstantiation, in which food—bread and wine—becomes a heavenly substance. Warhol may have accessed Leonardo's imagery to set himself within a certain tradition of religious art.

Leonardo brought out the classical and realist artist in Warhol, even though the meaning of "classical" and "real" had radically changed in the five hundred years separating them. Leonardo's breakthroughs in artistic perspective had radically brought the Christ figure into the viewer's world; Warhol brought Leonardo down off the wall, and in so doing brought Christ and the sacrament of the Eucharist into his world.

Indeed, Warhol's interest in Campbell's soup and the Last Supper are linked. Remember, Warhol said that his attraction to Campbell's soup was that he had eaten it every day as a child. Warhol's brother recalled that
a reproduction of the Last Supper hung on their family's kitchen wall. As Warhol sat eating his soup, he ate under the watchful presence of Christ..

-James Romaine it all

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Naked Friends & a Circle of Perverts

C.S. LEWIS, "The Four Loves" Chapter Two:
In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about any one else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for an anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts. This love (essentially) ignores not only our physical bodies but that whole embodiment which consists of our family, job, past and connections. At home, besides being Peter or Jane, we also bear a general character; husband or wife, brother or sister, chief, colleague or subordinate. Not among our Friends. It is an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds.
Eros will have naked bodies: Friendship naked personalities..


Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold

certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour—in ten minutes—these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men “after our own heart.” Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread. The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of “the brethren” and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them. But a circle of criminals, cranks, or perverts survives in just the same way; by becoming deaf to the opinion of the outer world, by discounting it as the chatter of outsiders who “don’t understand,” of the “conventional,” “the bourgeois,” the “Establishment,” of prigs,prudes and humbugs...

..Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice. It is ambivalent. It makes good men better and bad men worse. It would be a waste of time to elaborate the point. What concerns us is not to expatiate on the badness of bad Friendships but to become aware of the possible danger in good ones. This love, like the other natural loves, has its congenital liability to a particular disease.

C.S. LEWIS, "The Four Loves" Chapter Two


"What the hell is IT"?

"When you eat right through it you see everything alive/
it is inside the spirit, with enough grit to survive/
If you think that it's pretentious, you've been taken for a ride/
Look across the mirror; before you chose, decide/
IT is here. IT is now"
-Peter Gabriel/Genesis "IT"

"Charles Wallace, come away from IT; I love you!"
-Meg, in "A Wrinkle in Time"

Among the many unintended, unfortunate legacies of the King James Version,
the "It-ness" of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, of course, another huge problem)

The Jehovah's Witnesses  do nor capitalize Holy Spirit, as they teach that he is an impersonal influence, not a Person.

No need to debate the finer nuances of Greek grammar (I have a Greek grandpa, too!)
modalism, and trinitarian theology at this point. Suffice to say that Jesus clearly intended us to understand the Holy Spirit ("another helper just like me") as personal, and thus a Person.
If you want some extracurricular fun, I can talk with you about the modern concept of personhood as applied to God (I had a fantastic seminary class with Larry Wood dealing with this; see especially Moltmann's amazing "Trinity and The Kingdom")..

But right now I want to talk about ITness...specifically the character/personage/Person (?) named "IT" in two works of art(book and music) I would hope all would be conversant with:

Madeleine L'Engle's
"A Wrinkle in Time"


The (albeit a bit bloated and pretentious...which may be the point) Genesis CD/production/rock opera (written by Peter Gabriel):

"The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"


Of course!

It would be overly reductionistic to say "IT" in "Wrinkle in Time" is the Devil,
                               and "IT" in "Lamb Lies Down" is God...

..but that interpretive grid is what got me thinking about ITness itself. In both works, IT is an impersonal force, but one that is definitely aligned with Satan or God.

A quick googling of "itness," (he laughed, knowing someone has smoked, drinked and philosophized thusly) doesn't catch much.. ("Did you mean: 'fitness'?," Googlegod asked me) I'll start stroking me beard and pondering Davelike into what is so spiritually significant/troubling about Itness...starting with the obvious impersonality that characterizes ..uh, much of institutionalkklesia..

(Here is the wikiscoop on "Wrinkle" and here are some annotated notes on the Lamb, as well as a nod here at its fairly obvious Christ figure and Christian implications) embedded Matrixlike throughout)....

Join me as we ask that million dollar question that the classic Saturday Night Live skit asked; namely
and literally:

"What the hell is it?

(video here)
And as we pursue that task, may the Force...uh, Holy Spirit...the Person be with you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Indecent Exposure: Show MeYour Beard; I'll Show You Mine..

  • "When you're writing a song you sort of, as John Lennon put it, you sit down with your guitar and open a vein and whatever comes out comes out." -Bono
  • "If writing's a beard on loss...I wear my own beard." -Jonathan Lechem
  • "See my beard..Ain't it weird...Don't be sceered...It's just a beard" -George Carlin
  • "And if I show you my dark side, would you still hold me tonight?" -Pink Floyd

At a time when the emerging church is defined (in part, of course),
by the serious (?) debate over the appropriate type of beard to sport..

(see "Goatee or Soul Patch")

along comes one of those bearded non-Christian prophets
(Jonathan Lethem) writing "The Disappointment Artist, " a new (to me) book with a brilliant chapter entitled:

"The Beards"
(I was thrilled to find a pre-publication of this chapter online, and it is from this PDF version that I quote throughout)

I love (hate?) writing which helps us navigate the knotty role of self-disclosure/transparency, especially in the life of pastorfaith and churchkklesia (aided by architects and accidental theologians like Buckminster Fuller in works like:
"Ideas and Integrites: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure")

And in the life of INFP (emphasis on the introvert's lively

Click to view my Personality Profile pageinterior life, and occasional apparent extroversion a smokescreen for narcissism..ouch)
pastor types like me. Suffice to say this is an issue close to home.


And too close for comfort.

Which is precisely the point.

Partly because the writer grew up in my generation; with my music, the book (which views life and selfhood through the lens of books, movies and music) resonates remarkably and painfully well with me. And since I have been recently been revisiting and re-reviewing some of the definitive music of my earlier era and current soul (plundering for Godhauntedness and soulpsyche implcations), this quote nailed me:

"I rarely listen to Chet Baker anymore. I haven't read Bradbury or Brautigan since I was a child, partly becaiuse I'm afraid of what I'll find, partly because they have been inscribed on the interior surface of the eyes through which I read others."

I gulped as I read that, and remembered with terrified delight how much I gleaned from a seminary paper (!) I wrote on...well, Ray Bradbury, an author I hadn't touched since childhood (and later met and prayed for here). What kept me afraid of fantasy writing of "going there" ? I joked with my prof about buying the book in a brown paper bag and smuggling it as contraband into the hallowed halls of the sacredseminary.

It was porn.

Or juvenile.

Or a mirror.

Those three are all the same thing, anyway.

I never literally lost a mother, as Lethem did during the 70's. But as Letham recalled how Pink Floyd pastored him through the grief (all due to a hippie friend of his dad's initiating him into a drug-induced, headphone-enhanced apophatic experience of euphrigasmic Floydmusicmass) I wondered/plundered what I had lost unawares. And I grieved at not grieving:

Bob had given me a gift. It was as though he’d said,
"Jonathan, the time for you to pretend you are an adult
among adults is through for the night. You’re a charming
kid and we like you very much, but the strain is showing.
So quit pretending you understand things you only half
understand, and return yourself to wonderment, to
masturbation, to dreaming."

In recollection, the shiny, self-pitying grandeur of Pink
Floyd is among the uneasiest tokens of my teen-age
tastes. A year or two later, I’d give myself to the band’s
paranoiac epic "The Wall," memorizing and debating lyrics
in the company of friends my own age. With my pals Joel
and Donna, I made a pilgrimage to the Nassau Coliseum
to see Pink Floyd play the double album live while sharing
the stage with a fake wall, which was destroyed at the
show’s onset by a fake airplane and rebuilt throughout the
evening. Then we slumbered in a stoned fever, heads
lolling on one another’s shoulders, as we rode home on
the Long Island Rail Road. Yet Pink Floyd was at odds
with the musical tastes I’d cultivated, those more along
punk lines, and requiring Talking Heads- or Elvis
Costello-style ironies to deflate the sort of hippie pieties
that thrived, unmistakably, beneath Pink Floyd’s wounded

Such self-conscious posturing (my own, I mean, not Elvis
Costello’s) doesn’t stand a chance against the kind of
helpless love I still feel if I play "Shine On You Crazy
Diamond, Parts 1-5," especially on headphones. This was
a group that had lost its genius and its spiritual center, and
had had to carry on. And, paradoxically, its masterpiece
(for that was what I believed "Shine On You Crazy
Diamond" to be) had been achieved without his help, but in
his honor. Syd Barrett wasn’t dead, but "Shine On You
Crazy Diamond" was memorial art. It suggested that I
didn’t have to fall into ruin to exemplify the cost of losing
someone as enormous as Judith Lethem. My surviving
Judith’s death would in no way be to her dishonor. I’d only
owe her a great song.

I read that and (almost) wept.
I considered that I did owe my mother a song (
"No sad songs allowed").
But instead I showed her something else; something the author in the last chapter devastatatingly suggests we all wear:

a beard.

This image takes a page (literally) from Woody Allen:

In "Broadway Danny Rose," Woody Allen plays a theatrical
agent whose star performer, a married singer, is carrying on an affair. In order to protect the singer, Allen escorts the
girlfriend around town, allowing them to be mistaken for a
couple in order to provide his client with deniability. When
this leads to disaster, and threats of death (the girlfriend is
a mafioso’s ex-moll), Allen begs off. "I’m the beard," he
says. "I’m only the beard!"

Allen’s use gave new currency to this vivid term, often
used to describe the heterosexual escort of a secretly gay
movie star: the beard. A cloak on passions that those who
required a beard might be unwilling to discuss or even
consider, the beard was itself a figure of power and
mystery. For we are revealed not only as our disguises slip
or are abandoned but in the nature of the disguises we
choose. Pretenses are always insufficient,
overcompensatory, or both. Masks melt into our faces and
become impossible to remove precisely at the instant we
realized they were transparent all along.

More generally, my obsessiveness about books, songs,
and films was a beard on growing up, which I didn’t want
to catch myself doing. I wanted it behind me even as it was
ahead of me. This exertion of will--if I’d seen more Godard
films than any adult I knew, or read more books by
Norman Mailer, then maybe I’d have proved something,
even if I didn’t understand them--was also an act of
sensory deprivation, of self-abnegation. The two--will and
deprivation--were weirdly compatible. I tried to obliterate
my teen-age years in movie theatres because my teen-age
years both embarrassed and saddened me. Between
double features of French films, between putting down one
book and picking up the next, I’d glance at my wristwatch
to see if I was in my twenties yet
No, I didn't write this book. But it's mine. After that last except, I'm feeling a bit vulnerable.

Am I am in my twenties

Finally, the book title itself:

Attempting to burrow and disappear into the admiration of
certain works of art, I tried to make such deep and pure
identification that my integrity as a human self would
become optional, a vestige of my relationship to the art. I
wanted to submit and submerge, even to die a little. I
developed a preference, among others, for art that
required endurance, that mimicked a galactic endlessness
and wore out the nonbelievers. By ignoring my hunger or
my need to use the bathroom during a three-hour movie by
Kubrick or Tarkovsky, I’d voted against my body, with its
undeniable pangs and griefs, in favor of a self composed
of eyeballs and brain, floating in the void of pure art. If I
wasn’t afraid of this kind of dissolution, I shouldn’t be afraid
of death, so I’d be an evolutionary step ahead.

By trying to export myself into a place that didn’t fully exist,
I was asking works of art to bear my expectation that they
could be better than life, that they could redeem life. I
asked too much of them: I asked them also to be both
safer than life and fuller, a better family. That, they couldn’t
be. At the depths I’d plumb them, so many perfectly
sufficient works of art became thin, anemic. I sucked the
juice out of what I loved until I found myself in a desert,
sucking rocks for water.

This was especially true of anything that assumed a
posture of minimalism or perfectionism, or of chilly,
intellectual grandeur. Hence my rage at Stanley Kubrick,
Don DeLillo, Jean-Luc Godard, and Talking Heads. The
artists who seemed to promise the most were the ones
who’d created art that stirred me while seeming to absent
themselves from emotional risk--so these were the ones
that were capable of failing my needs most violently. It was
as though in their coolness these artists had sensed my
oversized needs and turned away, flinching from what I’d
asked them to feel on my behalf. I blamed them, anyway.
My declaring a writer or musician or director my favorite, it
seemed, contained a kind of suicide pact for my own

The disappointment artist was me.

And then the book closes with an X-ray of...perhaps...why I am really writing this, right now. Maybe exposes once for all why anyone writes, at all.

Which means I can't possibly comment after the quote. I'll sign off now.
And vow not to write another word.

Until I'm twenty (again) and can grow a proper beard and blog.

Buy the book.

Here it is:

Since then, I believe it would be fair to say, I’ve been in a
hurry. Writing is another meditation that’s also a frantic
compensation. As if wearing headphones, I’m putting
some of myself to sleep, rushing to the end of my days:
there’s a death wish in reducing life to watching one’s
fingers twitch on the alphabet. I’m as pathetic as that kid
watching double features alone, but also as vain. Writing’s
an aggression on the world of books, one reader’s bullying
attempt to make himself known to others like him. My
heroes Greene, Dick, and Highsmith left many dozens of
novels; I’m on pace to write, at best, ten or twelve of the
things. Still, I’m building my shelf. Like the comedian
Steven Wright, who said, "I have a large seashell
collection, which I keep scattered on beaches around the
world," my teen-age room is still expanding, like the
universe itself. If writing’s a beard on loss, then, like some
character drawn by Dr. Seuss, I live in my own beard.

Really, what’s one supposed to say when the mask comes
off? Is there an etiquette I’m breaking with? John Lennon
recorded a song, for his first album after the breakup of the
Beatles (what a grand beard that was, art and
companionship blended together, and the worshipping
world at his feet!), called "My Mummy’s Dead." I suppose
this is my version of that song. I sing it now in order to quit
singing it. Mine has been a paltry beard, anyway, the
peach-fuzzy kind a fifteen-

year-old grows, so you still see
the childish face beneath. Each of my novels, antic as they
sometimes are, is fuelled by loss. I find myself speaking
about my mother’s death everywhere I go in this world.

Someone once said that every good poem’s true subject is
death, yet to write more than one poem you’d better find a
way to forget you heard that. If life itself is, after all, only a
beard for death, why couldn’t the reverse be true as well?

"Culture is evil" yada yada

whose post "culture can be far more powerful than Scripture" I previously bragged on,
in the wonderful post called "culture wars blood diamonds and h richard niebuhr oh my!" ,
that of course stirred up a few fundies (or what U2 call sqeakies)..

..should be read..
(in the post above where he finds that the gospel is subversive enough to drop into a "secular" movie
(Guess God still has a gold tooth).

Besides, anyone whose username is a hat tip to a classicMichael Knott song/CD must be tight and right with God Almighty..

..or at least with me and Saint Guiness..

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Context is Everything: Programmed by Books we haven't read

I am glad St. Mackan asked about my post a few days ago which consisted only of an out of context quote, I wanted to provide the context, and here it is.

As we say here in the States, Mackan: "My bad."

My amazing professor Bob Lyon always said, and the MacMan (who even put it on a T!) still doth say:

"Context is everything."

The paraphrased quote at hand(by another seminary professor of mine):

Most of us are programmed by books we never read.

George Hunter, Radical Outreach: The Recovery of Apostolic Ministry and Evangelism ,p. 105

The context:

He was specifically lamenting that so many pastors, without even knowing or reading the book that such theology was based on (Richard Baxter's 1656 classic, "The Reformed Pastor"), have adopted/been taught such theology. Namely, and stated extremely, the view is that pastors do all the work, and the laity are just there to listen to you. Hunter recommends that we take a page from another Book that we have hopefully read (The Bible, which makes the priesthood of all believers quite foundational) ; as well as John Wesley's books, which journal well what happens when the so-called "laity" are empowered.

He also applies the "Most of us are programmed by books we never read"principle to other disciplines. A most obvious example is physics: We are still informed by a Newtonian worldview, when Einstein/relativity/quantum theory/string theory has rocked that old mindset. To cross disciplines, this revolution/shift of wineskins in physics holds profound implications for theology , as Len sweet, Len Hjalmarson and Margaret Wheatley have creatively explored.

Every field of study has its seminal textbooks, some hundreds of years old; and most which have a lot to offer and are indeed classic (as Baxter..he got a lot beautifully right). But most have never literally read them; Just been"by default hugely influenced by them (trough their graduate school' s secondary source texts)

"Protestant Christianity's equivalent of Darwin's 'Origin of Species'-for understanding who we are--and Newton's 'Principia'--for understanding our place in the scheme of things,and how the (church) world works--is Baxter" (p.105)

Another way of saying this then, is "The mind can only take pictures using the film with which its been loaded." (quote by Richard Rohr, hat tip to Len).

Basic to a postmodern epistemology is a (healthy) questioning of our lenses and our "texts" (as Derrida used the term, a "text" could be anything, not just a literal book).

It's also a helpful question in overcoming ethnocentrism.

Lord, help us to know how we have been programmed. We may need deprogramming, deconstruction, or even a kick in the butt. Amen.

Hebrews and Celts Help Our Sexy and Violent Prayers

"In regard to 'the Kingdom,' whatever the rabbis understood by it, the feeling was so strong, that it was said, 'Any prayer which makes no mention of the Kingdom is no prayer at all.'"
-Edersheim, "The Temple," p. 118.

What a delightful and loaded quote with which to springboard  into our discussion of Hebraic-Jewish and Celtic paradigms for wrestling with



 (Ah, at last, Scott Jones says; finally a post about both sax and violins).

First, though, why is the quote loaded and leaded? For one, it assumes Kingdom/Basilea is "felt" before it is intellectually "understood" (if ever). No need to rehearse in this context the appropriate and necessary warnings about overemphasis on 'feeling.' Points well taken, but the point that's hardly ever shaken is how fundamental feeling/emotion/psuche/heart is to the process of being "enKingdomed" (Tom Fuller's delightful term).

"A feeling's so much stronger than a thought," Bono has said and sung. In the song "Vertigo, " God's love is not only "teaching me to kneel," but providing "something i can feel." (okay, "feeeeeeeeeeeel!!") This is no throwaway pop culture theology, even though it is purposely embedded in an unusually pop-py song for U2 (this is a group who stealths some of their deepest theology into ridiculously unlikely vessels...witness the ponderings on the search for God/Kingdom via sexualty of "Discoteque," and the classic pop ditty based on and modeling eloquently an ancient rabbbinic form of sexuality-elevating prayer, "Elevation.")

Secondly, it of course reminds us, as Dallas Willard (and Len Hjalmarson here)has articulated so well, "the gospel is not that Jesus died on the cross for my sins; it is the Gospel of the Kingdom." (Heresy hunters, read Willard and context, and memorize Matthew 4:17 three times before firing shots).

On to the promised implications for sex and violence.

Either a thoroughgoing Hebraic understanding/feeling of the Kingdom, or a Celtic understanding/feeling of the same Kingdom (are the two the same phenomenon? Len needs to pursue that thesis, I will buy the book) will refuse to separate what God has joined together:

 Kingdom and sex.

 We are not gnostics! We must dual against dualism! It's time (kairos) to return (per Alan Hirsch, "The Forgotten Ways," pp 84, 91) to a holistic "following of Jesus in the light of the Hebraic understanding of life. And it all starts with Israel's basic confession, called the Shema ['Hear, O Israel, the ONE..']...The Hebraic perspective draws a direct correlation from any and every aspect of life to the eternal purposes of God...To say this more explicitly, there is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview."

When good evangelicals must..stuff and sublimate sexuality, such will surface somewhere less appropriate, more violently, and well, less kosher. Is this why we in the Western church are obsexxed? Does this explain our pastors' habitual "committing adultery in the heart" with the woman in the 22nd pew

Why are pastors/evangelists such sexperts? And does this exegete all too well why we are inevitably violent and lusting/seeking empire/conquest at all costs?

John A. Sanford:

In the thoughtful book 'Eros on Crutches,' (the author) suggests that psychopathic behavior comes from a deficiency of Eros, hence an inabilty to love, with a resultant lack of personal or social morality..

..It seems that (Hitler's) mother's physician was a Dr. Edward Bloch, who was Jewish. Dr Bloch, acting largely under pressure from Hitler

Before you discount Sandford as being overly Freudian, consider that the thesis may not be Freudian, but Hebraic/Celtic...and biblical. Sometimes a cigar is a penis...or a gun (same thing?)

And consider if this provocative and popular thesis should be weighed when wondering why two of the groups which most facilited much of the Holocaust were:

Protestants and Catholics!

And wonder if this is why Wolfang Simson seems so right: "Orphans rule the world!"



"I wanted to know Jesus, but you gave me a library"

"I wanted to know Jesus, and you gave me a library!"

This devastating line that Jackie Pullinger once heard,
and I just read,
amazingly nails our adventures in missing the point,
apologetically speaking.

Here's the story. Jackie is a missionary in the Walled City of Hong Kong. She writes:

One of the boys prayed that he desired to follow Jesus. In misguided fervor, I gave him a copy of St.John's gospel, scripture notes on St.John, a booklet entitled 'Now You Are a Christian' and another, 'The Way Ahead.'

I did not see him for two years and felt hurt and concrened for his spiritual well being. When I saw him again I asked why he had been avoiding me so long. He looked embarrassed (and said):

"I wanted to know Jesus, and you gave me a library.
-Jackie Pullinger, "Chasing the Dragon,"p.77
The other tragic punchline:
He was literally illiterate!

Note only is this would most of us do in "misguided fervor"(hand hungry potential converts books and tracts instead of bread and Jesus), the boy's indicting quote is almost interchangeable with Bono's line, "I wanted to meet God; but you sold me religion" (read about it here, and watch it in the opening seconds below;it is an amazing moment in concert)

These two quotes are also paralleled by Charlie Brown (another great theologian)'s classic Halloween experience, "I got a rock." (Watch it below)

Stones,not bread...biblically speaking.

So,in light of this triad of quotes;
my question, always pushing toward pasrallels that are unobvious,:
How do the parallel factors in each sentence's equation equate and (chiastically) define each other?

In other words:

"I wanted ________, but (on the other hand), you gave me ________"

  • First blank: How are "knowing Jesus," "meeting God" and "wanting an appropriate Halloween treat" synonymous or Venned?
  • Second blank: How are "library", "religion" and "a rock" theologically related in their overlapping semantic domains?

Have fun...and just to get kickstarted, I see Jackie's desire to give a library as related to "religion" in the following way.

In the conservagelical world we are often biblioaters. (see First Church of Binitarian Biblilolaters and More bibliolatry)

Ask a fundy: Just ask a fundie sometime ,"Which would you rather give up, if you had to pick one: God or the Bible?"

Some actually hesitate.


The "library over Jesus" factor also reminds me of how we prioritize word over image, missing the apologetic boost that postmodern EPIC times have given us. We should be comfortable presenting Jesus as Image of God(Col. 1:15) through parable, art, or song BEFORE we "preach" with/evangelize with written words, or even tell about Jesus being Word. More on this in the articles Inspiration of Scripture: Images over words and First Church of Binitarian Biblilolaters.

Talk to me..

Monday, October 15, 2007

"I cast you out, foul spirit of effectiveness!'

"...the word 'effective' has led many churches astray. Because our goal is that God's power and purposes be at work through our weaknesses, we can concentrate not on the results, but the means in the very gifts of God's taberbacling...

As Yoder Nefeld points out, 'this is why alternative cultural forces of truth, justice and peace are so important. When they are yielded by a community that is in Christ; then its very life is exorcistic.'

The church's call is to exorcism, not effectiveness.
Perhaps one of the most recalcitrant spirits that needs to be exorcised is that of needing to be effective."

Friday, October 12, 2007

"couldn't hit a bull on the ass with a banjo"

"... one edifying thought experiment (there are many such) consists of William Tyndale paying a tumultuous visit to Tyndale House, publishers of the inane Left Behind series. One pictures broken windows, crying secretaries, sirens, a major scene, an arrest, and a board meeting the next day with the suits and haircuts trying to decide if they should press charges against this very troubled man. At the end they decide to just make him pay for the damage he did to the sign out front -- the sign that had his name on it. This is an obvious point, but a certain kind of mind still misses it. This is because a certain kind of mind couldn't hit a bull on the ass with a banjo"

-A Serrated Edge, p. 40, Douglas Wilson

beer, menstruation, hooters, johnny depp, cigars

How's that for some random keywords from this random page of awesome posts on the "shift happens" forum? Click a title and Enjoy:

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0 Guest 966 Thu J19, 2006 4:37 pm
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