Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trinity as model for church...and computers

(cartoon credit, link)

Nowadays, when the emphasis is more on conversation and culture than doctrine;
it almost sounds old school to some to call for a renewed focus on the doctrine of the Trinity..

..but those of us who "believe" this doctrine definitely assume it's not just that,
but life and relationship..
..and somehow foundational to everything else we do, say and pray.

>Having been moved for years by Moltmann's "The Trinity and the Kingdom,"

>and captured in recent years by Eugene Peterson's writings
"Trinity is the most comprehensive and integrative framework that we have for understanding and participating in the Christian life."

>and Capon's clever take (often comparing the Trinity to three Jewish guys in conversation):
"Before anything was made, it was all already done within the Trinity. The whole thing was accomplished before it started... Pure monotheism is dangerous. The doctrine of the Trinity embraces the paradox of mutuality in God himself without violating the unity of God—because it can only be presented as a paradox and a mystery. Paradox can take you on trips that religion can’t even buy a ticket for." link

...and look what I just found by googling: a 1975 (!)article in People Magazine (!!) which applies the concept of Trinity to Capon himself (!!!):

"Father Capon Is a Talented Trinity: Writer, Priest and Gourmet Chef"

>and Steve Seamands'most recent book, which allows us to see Trinity as practical theology
"The doctrine of the Trinity with its seeming logical contradiction that God is one being in three persons, invites those of us in ministry not to resolve the tension but to live with paradox….Approaching life and ministry as a mystery to be entered instead of a problem to be solved opens us to hidden meanings…beyond our categories and calculations”

...leads me to

>>Len Hjalmarson's recent helpful posts on Trinity related to Frost and Hirsch's "ReJesus"

>>and these two ranadom and unrelated (yeah, right!) quotes:

1)"Theologian Kevin Giles..says that the Trinity 'is the model on which ecclesiology should be formulated. On this premise, the inner life of the Trinity provides a pattern, a model, an echo, or an icon of the Christian communal existence in the world.'

Simply put , the Trinity is the paradigm for the church's native expression."
-Frank Viola, "Reimagining Church," p. 36


2)"William McLaughlin, an astrophysicist..., says..'The doctrine of the Trinity represents a revolutionary form of logic which is ideal for new forms of computer systems.'...Instead of one master control chip, a Trinity computer would have three...(such) would be adept at intuition... non hierarchical authority...and lateral thinking, otherwise known as fuzzy logic, where the solution to a problem lies outside the system being studied."
-Adrian Berry, "Galileo and the Dolphins," 172-174.

"On the Side of the Angels"

Fill in the blanks in the two sentences below with your first instinct (or the most obvious popular answer), and then get back to me:
  • "Christians are too worldy; one of the main ways this is evidenced is by the way they_______________"
  • "The principal reason why the church has failed to make disciples of all nations is _____________________"

Of course, the "theologically correct" and conservagelical answers to #1 are:

  • they see the same movies non-Christians too, they dress like the world, they are lackadaiscal about church attendance, they don't witness enough etc etc yada yada.....

Of course, the "theologically correct" and conservagelical answers to #2 are:

  • they see the same movies non-Christians too, they dress like the world, they are lackadaiscal about church attendance, they don't witness enough etc etc yada yada.....

Which is why it was refreshing to hear Joseph D'Souza and Benedict Rogers, in "On the Side of the Angels" suggest that the answer to both is indeed the same, but the answer is:



More specifically, they offer that the best answer to #1 is:

  • we react only after a disaster has occurred-and sometimes not even then. (23)

...and that the answer to #2 is:

  • the church itself has in so many ways failed to live and teach fully all that Christ commanded in (the)areas (of) racism, corruption, economic exploitation, colonization, caste discrimination, paternalism, dehumanization and the oppression of women through the sex trade and various other means (174)

All this really grinds against my training.
Which is partly why all this is true.

As evangelical pastors in our mainline denomination, we often complained that all we heard about in pronouncements from headquarters were social justice issues. And we were most often right. But I am also sure that our reactionary mindset fostered in me a truncated gospel.

We are not gnostic.
But we are sometimes more famous/infamous for what we are against than what/who we are for. (see "Grab a Twinkie and think: does Dr. Dobson care?")

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, " Jesus said,
"to lead sinners into a personal prayer of salvation"

Uh, no....:

"...to preach good news to the poor
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed."

Isn't that the (dreaded) "liberal agenda"?

It's simply Luke 4:18.

It's the simple message of "On the Side of the Angels:Justice, Human Rights and Kingdom Mission."

For years, we participated in the "International day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church."
Amd we still do. There is great biblical precedent for such.
Don't read me as soft here;
when a Christian pastor friend of mine in Peru tells of having a gun in his face and being asked to deny Jesus, I cannot turn away.

But in recent years I have wondered how we cannot not also mention the persecutions and injustices against believers in other religions..

and believers in no religions?

Why can I turn away then?>

D'Souza (who lives in India, and relays firsthand accounts of persecution of the Dalit)and Roberts tackle this extremely well.

The story of how the line "we're one, but not the same" in U2's "One" came about; that
these are the words Bono wrote in a note he wrote to Dalai Lama, respectfully declining an invitation to a meeting celebrating spiritual "sameness" always calls me back to center,

When the Dalai Lama was invited to speak in the Washington National Cathedral, Christians in the United States launched a protest campaign--mentioning nothing about the underlying suffering about the people in Tibet. There are indeed profound theological differences between Christianity and Buddhism, and certainly if the Dalai Lama were invited to conduct a religious ceremony within a specifically Christian context, there would be justifiable concerns about the synchronistic theology of his hosts .

But the manner in which we express those concerns, and the way we relate to other religious groups being oppressed is of critical importance.

It is quote ironic that the two U2 songs most often categorized (by Christians) as being songs
"about heaven" --"Where the Streets Have No Name" and "Walk On"---are indeed about heaven,
but also about justice issues in (respectively)Africa and Myanmar. The radical "both-and" cannot be torn asunder. Such would be divorce, and do violence to the gospel.
(See "Your favorite song about heaven is NOT "I Can Only Imagine")

The book is eminently practical: lots of real-life stories and examples of what one can do to live out a "mission as advocacy" worldview.

Several haunting case studies (ex. Why is it that of all Christians, the Pentecostals (a movement birthed in a prayer by a black man, a denomination formed in passion for racial inclusiveness and rights) was complicit in apartheid? p118-19) challenge and stretch us to fall back into line, and onto the side of the angels.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"A New Kind Of Conversation"

Even though young people hardly ever do email anymore;
they text
(see Leadership Journal 12/08, "Emailing is so 2006")..

And even though blogging is maybe "modern"
and perhaps past its peak;
it's Facebook or Twitter/micro-blogging
(see "Blogging? So 2006!"),

I obviously still believe in blogging...

and even recently read

"A New Kind Of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith,"

an intriguing 2006 (!! (: ) book (orginally posted as a blog):

"While postmodernism is typically discussed in traditional book form--an edited volume with essays--the format of this book seeks to place the discussion in a form that is consistent with its content. Using the motif of the blog, A New Kind of Conversation is an experimental book that enters into this conversation with five evangelical leaders (Brian McLaren, Bruce Ellis Benson, Ellen Haroutunian, Mabiala Kenzon, and Myron Bradley Penner) acting as the primary bloggers."
A bit skeptical of the title (capitalizing on McLaren title similarity) and format at first, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it. Not just because the "bloggers" and "commenters" helpfully interact with each other..

...but because several times one of them suceeded wonderfully in the primary task of the book: helping us grasp what the postmodern shift means for the church.
I'll simply share some of my favorite moments where this happens
related to topics I believe are key to the shift:

metanarrative, simulacra, bibliotary and spiritual formation/education.

On metanarrative, Robinson addresses a huge misunderstanding of a phrase invoked as the very heart of postmodernity:

"So often one hears Lyotard's famous summary of postmodernity as "incredulity toward metanarratives" as postmoderns aren't interested in any grand metanarrative at all. ..The Bible of course is a grand metanarrative. What many Christians are reacting against in postmodernity is not Lyotard's definition of postmodernity, but a neo-Lyotardism that takes this rather complex understanding of 'metanarrative' and simplifies it to meaning 'we must be suspicious of all grand stories.' ..but let's get Lyotard right...(What he actually ) said is that postmodernity is ultimately skeptical when anybody presents a grand story and then sayts it is true because Reason proves it to be so."
-Bob Robinson, p, 20

Bruce Ellis Benson (pages 7-8) is also helpful clarifying the metannaratives issue (as is James K.A. Smith in "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church"

On simulacra, Penner nails it:

"North American evangelical subculture--with its televised programs and church services, its theme parks and bumper stickers, and like paraphernalia; and its ability to turn anything remotely related to Christianity into a consumer product--is waiting for a sustained sociological-theological anaylsis in terms of Baudrillard's categories as a nihilistic fixation on simulacra and hyperreality."
(Mylon Bradley Penner, p.38)
I have written much on simulacra here.

I have also written much on biblolatry (here ),
but Penner says it more concisely and with a punch:

"We evangelicals often run perilously close to validating the charge from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters who find the Protestant emphasis on Scripture a form of 'bibliolatry.'
We need, in other words, a view of Scripture that captures and embodies the truth that'The Holy Scriptures are the highway signs: Christ is the way.'"
-Penner, p. 90

Finally on spiritual formation/education...
I recently taught (if that is the right word anymore...that is precisely the point) a course on leadership for Latin American Bibkle Instiutiute; we used Leonard Sweet's postmodern-sensitive "Summoned to Lead,"
and I allowed "experimental" final projects: instead of a typical research paper or final exam, I allowed more creative projects.
They excelled (photo). It beat spitting out answers crammed into short term memory onto an exam sheet,
Instead, we were greatly impacted (and will remember our "finals" the rest if our lives as we were exposed to holy art..one brother even wrote a song). This was spiritual formation,
and academic integrity.

Which brings us to Scot McKnight's comments in the book:

"there has come in our day a new understanding of education, which is in part much of what is going on in all spiritual formation perceptions by Christians, and this new understanding of education is more after a holistic telos. In other words, we are no longer permitted as professors to 'inform' students simply by 'lecturing' to them and then 'testing' to see if they have 'learned' what they should know. More and more, the outcome-based educational theory asks us to decribe what we want our students to be able to 'do' when they finish our course or our major or school, and then everything has to be shaped to develop these outcomes if we wish to be genuinely an educational institution.


Check out this book; it will be of great use..in 2006 (:
....and beyond.

Friday, December 26, 2008

apotropaic church

This quote:
"Anyhow, here’s a great word: apotrope . A commentator over at Edge of the West noted that much of American conservative speech (the blaming of the poor, for example) can be explained as apotropaic gestures, like making the sign of the cross to ward off harm.".
-link, and HT to Beth for the tip on this blog

..makes me wonder how often we do this...in the name of Jesus, of course.

I googled for a picture, and look what I found!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"I Think My Wife's a Calvinist"

a little ditty a guy Brandon wrote for his wife:

"I Think My Wife's a Calvinist":

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Do Not Press This Red Dot

Get more games like this at ArcadeU!
hat tip: Sivin Kit

Rick Warren will rewrite "Purpose Driven Church" to mention me

Rick Warren:

"If you look up the word 'entertain' in a dictionary, you'll find this definition:
'capturing and holding the attention for an extended period of time'.
I don't know a preacher who doesn't want to do that."
- Purpose Driven Church, p231.

I am that preacher. (:

I am not called to do that , and will refuse to try.

By "that," I mean not the "capture and hold attention"part.
I work hard at that, you can even call me an entertainer.

I mean the "extended period of time" bit.
God, deliver me from that.
I prefer church as the Bible depicts it:
When that happens, Jesus can "capture and hold their attention for an extended period of time."

More on "no extended sermons,please":

P.S. That Warren quote was found in the comments of a post on U2 Church by Pack Hughes, "Performance: Its not a dirty word"

we need more heresy

David Hayward, the (always) "naked pastor," notes:

I’ve met recently with a couple of friends who have left the local church and the faith as well. I love them, totally respect them, and listen hard to what they are saying. I’m interested in what they are reading and what they believe now. I’m fascinated by it. I think it is important for me to listen to what they believe and why. I think it is crucial to listen to what Hitchens and Harris and Dawkins are saying. I think it is necessary for me to listen to what science is saying. Evolutionists. Mystics. New Agers. Universalists. Syncretists. Neo-Gnostics. Everyone.

....You know, in the earliest church, the Fathers contested with people with differing views as though they were a diverse and dissenting part of the larger community. I think, for instance, Irenaeus, when he challenged the Gnostics, betrayed a humble deference toward them. At the earliest point there was no clear line of division that separated the “heretics” from the “orthodox”. This came later with the councils and creeds. They mingled together in the same communities and churches. I personally think it is important to work towards a clear theology. Faith seeks understanding. But I also believe it is important and even required by charity to permit all voices an audience and to see all people and opinions as typical of a diverse community striving towards love and health.

When you think of it, when Paul said in the Corinthian correspondence that one prophet should speak; then when another stands up to speak the first one should be quiet and sit down; and that the content of what they say is held up to scrutiny, discerned and judged by the community… wasn’t Paul implicitly giving room for heresy? The root of heresy literally means an opinion that is contrary to another. Later it came to mean a belief that is contrary to the orthodox doctrine or the most popularly held opinion. I think we need to listen to more apparently “heretical” views because I personally believe that much of what is popularly held as true is in fact false and needs to be challenged by opposing views.

-David Hayward, Differences, Dissent and Division

church should look "as much like the world as it can manage"

"The church is not an enclave of refugees from the world; it is the sacrament of God's presence in the world by the Mystery of the incarnation. It's not supposed to look as little like the world as possible but as much like the world as it can manage. Otherwise, the world will never be able to recognize, in such a parochial culling of supposedly sinless humanity, anything even vaguely resembling its true face. It will just go on seeing in us the same old unforgiving face that already greets it in the mirror every morning. For the fellowship of the baptized is simply the world in all its sinfulness, dampened by the waters of forgiveness."
-Robert Farrar Capon, The Astonished Heart
Read more

"It’s Not Heretical, It’s Just Not Powerful"

St.Mark has nailed it again, in a post called:

"It’s Not Heretical, It’s Just Not Powerful"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

simulacra-kklesia (part 8): sex in elevators (in church)

I am sure these two news videos from the Fresno Beehive below (article here)
will get lots of plays and attention.

Naked women as commercials usually do.

I go through that intersection above nearly every day;
somehow I missed these women.
But you know I couldn't have if I had seen them.

That's the point.

(Editors note: I am sure some people think I am obsexxed and talk about sex too much on this blog. You need to know that the sexuality/spirituality connection is one..and only one...of six stated categories for this blog...and the one I likely post on least.
So sorry if I offend you for the wrong reason, but one of the reasons we are in the mess we are in in church and culture is "You can't talk about sex in church."

Well, as Rob Bell has asked:
" where do you WANT to talk about it?"

Ok, back to the "sex post" at hand).

It is no secret and surprise that sex sells.

(There are two reasons Vance Packard and Bryan Wilson Keys found subliminal sex messages..sometimes even the word s-e-x itself spelled out... in ads:

We tend to see sex everywhere.

Sometimes it's there!)

It should be a shame that

sex sells in church!

..or maybe we have to start where people are...(:

...you know, whatever it takes to get them in the
door (:

Actually, whatever it takes to get them in the elevator (more on that in a bit).

Not only do we shepherds sexualize the sheep,
we sex-up mission trips
(see " Pepsi, Sex, Elevation...& Mission Trips That Are Actually Missional")

...and Jesus:

One church even had a "My Lame Sex Life" series:

It might be best if the church could at least "use" sex evangelistically in a healthy way!
Can't we lean to appreciate and appropriate a creative, non-salacious approach...
without unnecessary titillation
(We all know why people go to the beach anyway!)?
Maybe in doing so, by confessing and naming our starting point, we can subvert and convert our obsexxion with selling and seduction..
...all with a holy sense of humor and honor:

Why let Adbusters have all the fun (their 'ad' below speaks volumes, and far more truth in one image than a thousand words by most of us preachers), and the corner on smacking satanic simulacra where it starts?

Our church has held up plenty of "free carwash" signs....the catch is they were actually free! (no money accepted).

We have yet to try a
sign that reads "topless carwash"..
even if its one with a catch like this:

How about truth in advertising
(or is that phrase always oxy the moronic?)

What to do with all this simulacra-erotica??

Elevate it.

We can only start where people are.

(Editor's note: Now of course we move into one of my six stated topics which has merited far more posts than sex ever has: U2. Just take a look at the wordcloud on the right: U2 is mentioned more than Jesus...uh, oh. Well, at least it wasn't sex that rated that high!!(:.....)

I have posted quite a bit on U2's song "Elevation" as a study in the classic rabbinic technique of prayer called elevation.

I have recently found other rabbis who make the connection:

"Prayer never asks for anything for oneself; strictly speaking, it makes no demands at all, but is an elevation of the soul. This describes true prayer."

-Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kuk: Prayer as the Elevation of Desire

He's not a rabbi (?), but anyone writing a book called "BUYOLOGY: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy What We Buy" deserves to speak to the church, helping us "get" why we are in the shape we're in:

Lindstrom, a marketing guru who advises everyone from fast-food companies to drugmakers, partnered with Oxford scientists to conduct a three-year, $7 million study scanning the brains of 2,000 people while they were shown various marketing strategies. What they found surprised them. In one of the most startling examples, the researchers scanned brains while the subjects were exposed to images of popular brands and religious icons.

Lindstrom wrote: "The room went dark and the images began to flicker past: A bottle of Coca-Cola. The Pope. An iPod. A can of Red Bull. Rosary beads. A Ferrari sports car. The eBay logo. Mother Teresa. An American Express card. The BP sign. A photograph of children playing. The Microsoft logo."

When Lindstrom and the researchers analyzed the results, they noted that strong brands fired up activity in parts of the brain controlling memory, emotion and decision-making.

That was expected.

But then they compared those results with what happened when the subjects looked at religious images. To their surprise, "their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity," Lindstrom wrote. "Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects' brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted to religious icons and figures."

This essentially means that when people line up outside Apple stores for the latest iPhone, they are not just hankering to get the latest gadget -- they are pretty much having a religious experience, too....
LINK: How Marketing Tricks You, and How to Beat It

Maybe we can't avoid some semblance of selling Jesus.
At least we are called to re-imagine how we image, icon, and (gulp), "brand" him...
lensing and testing all our (horrors) church commercials and (semi-graven and projected) images through Scripture and Spirit.

We might even be able to bless actually talking about sex in church (he sarcastically said);
if not hiring those two gals at the top of the page to promote a VBS or two (joke!)

How about "church ads" that admit and poke fun at our obsexxion with obsexxion,
and then having named it..
we can start dealing with it
elevating it
bringing it to Jesus , like everything else.

The catch is this could look really cheap and chessy.

That's the risk we take embracing simulacra to break the back of simulacra-olatry.

As usual, and as we have established in this series, it's best to do all this with song.

A much lesser known,
and highly misunderstood when known ("It's glorifying the watching of sexy images"),
U2 song, "Baby Face"
tackles all this head on.

Another U2 song
"Even Better Than the Real Thing,"
does this well, as Wathrall has well discussed.
Here the band entered simulacra to elevate it.

I appreciate Brian McLaren's attempt to offer the church some worship songs that subvert cmmercialism and indivdulalism, but we just can't sing 'em in our church.
Maybe he should start writing about sex.

Next thing you know Switchfoot, a band of Christians, will be letting Victoria's Secret use one of their songs as an ad!!

Does that sell sex, our does that say that Christians are just real,
and that the lyric just might subtly elevate their lust and convert their simulacra and soul?

I tend to think it's taking the elevator to the world, instead of waiting for them to come to us.

In this scene from the classic film "sex lies and videotape," the line arises,
"Why do these tapes all have women's names on them?":

The truth is:
Every 'tape' (as in 'tapes' we play in our mind)
that nearly every man brings to church with him,
has women's names on them....even if he's never seen a pornographic image.

Pornography always drives technology
and everything we do is technology,

When we make images, we often sexualize them
When we watch images, we often worship them.

When we make images, we often worship them.
When we worship iamges, we often sexualize them.

We worship golden calves/calfs.

Who will deliver us fom this body of death/sex?
(on the death/sex connection)

Jesus, of course.

If only we'd get in the elevator instead of denying the elevator exists

We have to let people in on the ground floor; that is, where they are.

It's true of any building: Anyone who enters elsewhere is likely entering illegally.


Our church used to meet on the 6th floor of the tallest skyscraper between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But everyone entered the building on the ground floor..

...and got in the elevator.

People come to "church" with sex on the brain, brainswashed by a week of ads.
Let them come: sexed up, simulcara-ed up, icons and all:

An icon isn’t just a symbolic representation of the real; it’s a simulation. The sacred image is a “visible theology,” incarnating a portion of the spiritual reality residing behind or beyond the image. Eventually the icon, instead of pointing beyond itself to the fullness of the real, itself became the focus of attention as the repository of holiness. So the statue replaces the saint, the cathedral replaces heaven, the priest replaces Christ, the church-state alliance replaces the Kingdom of God. Eventually all of life takes place within a reality made up entirely of simulacra, a reality in which the images permanently take the place of the originals. The presence of God can be withdrawn entirely without affecting the real power of the simulacra to fascinate and to dominate. Even the imagination becomes dominated by the simulacra: the saint is like the statues, the kingdom is like the church, Jesus is like the priest. The order is reversed between the original reality and its simulation. The simulacra become hyperreal, serving as the model for the real.

In Baudrillard’s perhaps most important writing, “The Precession of Simulacra[71] he discusses “the simulacrum of divinity” asking, “What becomes of divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra?” When divinity reveals itself in images, multiple images, an alteration of some kind takes place. “Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology?” Or does something else happen, something more dislodging and drastic? When divinity is revealed in icons, “is it volatized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination—the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God?” Is God, as Idea, lost in his own iconography? Baudrillard says this is the very issue that frightened the Iconoclasts in the debate of their day.


“This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. This is precisely because they predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear – that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum – from this came the urge to destroy the images. If they had believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn’t conceal anything at all.”
Link: The Divine Irreference of Images
Posted by ktismatic

Here's a secret about simulacra which subverts simulacra by acknowledging it,
and thus allowing it to flow into elevation:
Once elevation starts happening,
a fluidity happens in lyrics which can be healing
(recall Gaye's "Sexual Healing," a snippet of which U2 often looped into concert versions of "Mysterious Ways," which itself is another song of elevation: "She moves in mysterious ways" becomes "Spirit moves in mysterious ways," as the temptress belly-dancer disappears).

In a delightful article about the song "Yahweh," Karen Lindell offers:

"But the lines I listen to over and over again are the following plea/prayer, which in my mind I'm singing to U2 as well as to Yahweh/God."

It's no wonder she calls such a transaction "Elevate and uplift."

Who is talking to who in some "spiritual songs"?

God to us?
Us to God?
The singer to us?
Us to the singer?

Maybe the pronouns in truly elevating sings are flexible enough to address all the above.

Who is the "you/You" in "With or Without You"?
Who is calling who 'gorgeous' in the Violet Burning song of that name?

Recall Wathrall's chapter, excerpted in part 3 of this series:

It's very tempting to understand U2's exemplary postmodern song (on which, in good postmodern fashion, I shall isolate and focus on here), "Even Better Than the Real Thing," as a celebration of the very postmodern condition Baudillard characterizes as the triumph of the simulacra. How else are we to understand the song's oft-repeated eponymous chorus--but as an embrace (whether ironic or not) of a world were we come to prefer surfaces to depths, images to reality, sex to love,the fake to the genuine... There is no way around it. That is precisely the uncircumventable risk U2 took.. ...If one insists on hearing the song as addressed to a specific lover,then it seems to celebrate sex above love. However, when these same lyrics are heard as addressed to an audience, specifically a live audience, the meaning of these words is radically realigned: Now the implication is U2's relation to the audience is "even better than the real thing," not in the simulcratriumphalizing sense.......but in a profound sense of communal love which is "even better" than genine personal love..-meralizing from thein the Symoosium, by ents ense.... Heard in this communal register, the erotic meaning of the lyric, "I'm gonna make you sing" has when...adressed to a partucular lover becomes transformed, elevated into a celebration of communal singing as an ecstatic experience that transcends even the feeling of real love between individuals

We close with more from Karen Lindell on "Yahweh":

U2's "Yahweh" is a prayer unlike any I grew up with as a Catholic. I've hailed Mary and talked to that hallowed father named "Art" in heaven endless times. Usually, I was just reciting words I'd memorized but didn't understand.


Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing.

I take these lines literally. For the past 20 years, I have suffered from anorexia. I've recovered and relapsed countless times, including six long stays in eating-disorder treatment centers, so I truly have been stranded in skin and bones, without much of a soul, flesh or anything that was a sign of life.

Anorexia, like alcoholism, drug abuse, overeating or any addiction, is a way to numb out and not feel anything, whether it's pain, joy or something in between.

But you can't listen to U2's music and not feel.
I fear that one can listen to much church music and not feel.

If so, we miss the elevator completely;
and stay in the simulacra that we came to a worship gathering to shed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

suspended space and donut structure

Pete Rollins talks to Phyllis Tickle on
suspended space and donut structure,
as well as how the role of the leader is to refuse to be a leader:

The rest of the series is posted here

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"What do you believe is the most important doctrine in the Bible?"

Lisa, at The Uprising, posts:

Someone asked:

What do you believe is the most important doctrine in the Bible?

My answer:

Whichever one God is presently highlighting to the Church.

simulacra-kklesia (part 7): Jesus steals for Christmas

"Well, this year we might be forced under duress to celebrate the feast of Jesus’ humble birth with honesty! Our economic meltdown is showing for all to see what our real gods have been. It is not the Lord of Israel or his Son that we love, nearly as much as we do our limitless growth, our right to empire, our actual obligation to consume, and our sense of entitlement to this clearly limited planet.'

This may be the first year we have the opportunity to save Christmas from the Simulcra it has become; it's time to invoke the fidelity of betrayal and quit copying our copies of copies.

It could be we never get church beyond belief until we get beyond belief.

Crank the simlacra amp up to 11,
so we can dial it back down, and steal it back.
It might just spontaneously combust.

The Advent Conspiracy has been a helpful tool to encourage our churchtribe to detox from commercialism of Christmas .

As subversive as the Conspiracy may seem, everyone knows intuitively that it is simply Christians calling us back to Christian sanity.

That's all needed and good.

But maybe it's too Christian to work(:

Sometimes the most compelling appeals back, are actually are those that partner with, or even originate from, for lack of better terms, non-Christian tribes.


>The amazing Richard Rohr (linked often on blogs like this), a Catholic,
asks "Is Christmas Christian" in a Jewish magazine, Tikkun ("A Jewish Magazine, an Interfaith Movement"), He confesses up front, "As a Franciscan priest, I think I have the right to ask that question. Frankly, it is much easier to ask in a non-Christian owned magazine!"

>The intriguing Rev. Billy and his church:

The Church of Stop Shopping is an activist performance group based in New York City, led by Reverend Billy, the stage name of Bill Talen. Using the form of a revival meeting, on sidewalks and in chain stores, Reverend Billy and his gospel choir exhort consumers to abandon the products of large corporations and mass media; the group also preaches a broader message of economic justice, environmental protection, and anti-militarism, protesting sweatshops and the Iraq War. Though it continues its street theatre activities, the Church has also appeared on stage and has toured internationally...
Though Talen does not call himself a Christian, he says that Reverend Billy is not a parody of a preacher, but a real preacher; he describes his church's spiritual message as "put the Odd back in God."
Each year, Reverend Billy and his choir attends and performs at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

Sounds part Zoo TV of course; and sounds prophetic. Here of course the subversion is channeled through a Holy Fool vehicle. Who took the Odd out anyway?

>Of course U2's recent subtle, sly converting of Greg Lake's Christmas song
is a classic example of using "non-Christian" material to preach to the choir...and anyone else listening who's fed up with Christmas and/or Christians/

And besides, who commercialized Christmas anyway? Rohr tells:

Frankly, we must confess that it was likely our founder, St. Francis (1182-1226), who began to make Christmas the sentimental celebration that it has become, although his intention was never at all in the direction it has taken. He was the great lover of poverty and simplicity, and would be aghast at the consumer- and group-defining feast that Christmas has become. He merely replicated the drama of the stable with live animals and music.
For Francis and the early Franciscans, “incarnation was already redemption,” and the feast of Christmas said that God was saying yes to humanity in the enfleshment of his Son in our midst. If that were true, then all questions of inherent dignity, worthiness, and belovedness were resolved once and forever—and for everything that was human, material, physical, and in the whole of creation. That’s why Francis liked animals and nature, praising the sun, moon, and stars, like some New Ager from
California. It was all good and chosen and beautiful if God came among us “as Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
But groups need and create their identity symbols, and the celebration of Christmas became the big one for Christian Europe, just as Jewish people need Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Muslims need Ramadan and pilgrimage. The trouble is that the meaning became group-defining instead of life-transforming. As we say today, it got “off message”! It was no longer God’s choice of the whole, but God’s choice of us! (In fairness, most religions make the same mistake at lower levels of transformation).
At those lower levels of civil religion or any religion as a “belonging system,” the original meaning is always lost and often even morphs into its exact opposite. Strange and sad, isn’t it? In this case, the self-emptying of God into humble and poor humanity (Philippians 2:7) became an excuse for us to fill, consume, dominate, use, and spend at staggering levels for ourselves. In fact, the days leading up to December 25 are the economic engine around which the entire business economy measures itself in Christian-influenced countries. One might think that the fasting of Ramadan and Yom Kippur might have been a much clearer act of solidarity with the actual mystery celebrated.

Ouch and amen. And thank you.

And probably no surprise that Rohr notes:

"In Christian circles, when I call these false gods into question, I am invariably criticized on other grounds of heresy and church protocols, almost so we do not have to look at what our real loyalties have been and are."

Hmm..maybe Christ is calling Christians to spend more time out of "Christian circles," where its easier for God to communicate his subversion of simulacra. At Christmastime, it is good to get out of bounded setism, so that maybe together, along with some wonderful Jews, non-Christian pastors, and even some prophetic atheists...we can "put Christ back in Christmas." (:

Why let Adbusters have all the fun....and do all the Kingdom work without us?

Michael Pritzl: "When I read the Bible, I find I relate more to the sinners than I do to the saints."

Paul Raushenbush: "Sometimes intra-faith dialogue is much harder than interfaith."

So what can be done..as we saints and aints collaborate?
Can we conspire to steal Advent back?
That last line of couse is a reference to Bono's famous introduction of U2's cover of "Helter Skelter":

"This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we're
stealing it back."

As in:

"This (Advent) is season Christians stole from Christ, we (Christians and non-Christians) are stealing it back (by simply doing what Jesus would do at Christmastime!)"

Or better yet, as Rohr changes the agent of the stealing, and ends his article with real reality:

Maybe our humble Jesus is stealing our idols from us, and inviting us back into his Bethlehem stable.

"intra faith dialogue is much harder than interfaith"

"Sometimes intra faith dialogue is much harder than interfaith"
-Paul Raushenbush,
in the December 17, 2008 comments here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"i find i relate more to the sinners than i do to the saints"

"When i read the Bible, i find i relate more to the sinners than i do to the saints,"
he said.

Is that OK?
Is that as it should be
(as long as it is understood as it should be?)?

Watch this clip of The Violet Burning's classic "Song of the Harlot."

If it doesn't move you at
all, that's OK.
But you may be on the wrong blog (try a site that can't offend you, like this one).

I have been overwhelmed by this song/praying with it since its first appearance in 1992.
Thanks to Diane for the original tip: I might not even be alive without this band;
(even though they almost killed me once ..see this).
On a snowy day in Chicago, as the first Gulf War was breaking out, Diane handed me a cassette, suggesting I might like this new band.

To say she was right is a huge understatement. Every day since then has been somehow tethered to that day.

Oh, by the way, this song (inevitably) includes the "w" word:
the whore at Your feet."

Again, that is as it should be,
if you interpret it as it was meant to be.

More on whores, holy and otherwise:

Yes, we had this band at our church..how could we not.

The singer cannot not pray through guitar.

Bless 'em, send 'em money.

And a bonus:
a very different song here from the very different next (1996) album

(see: the most listenable "unlistenable" album ever made),

but a psalm indeed.

Though it sounds like the desperate cry of someone not sure they are a sinner or saint.

Is that OK?

simulacra-kklesia (part 6): pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

This clip captures it (video screens in church) for me

Actually, we should pay no attention to the big image on the church screen!
Pay every attention to the real broken man who tried to project a big image.
He's not really a "very bad man,"...but it may not be a good thing to do.

The E-Bay Atheist, when visiting churches, couldn't help but notice that whenever a church projected the preacher's image on a screen, a congregation member watched him or her on the screen....even when he or she was out from behind the pulpit and standing inches of them; even talking to them!

"I believe certain technologies preclude incarnational ministry. And the reason I believe that is because God became embodied in Jesus. And embodiment means human physical touch; presence. And there are certain technologies that disembody us, like video."

-Shane Hipps

Organic: weird carrots and taking crap

Ever wonder why some of us organic church-types look something like this? --->

Some pictures paint a thousand words. This pic and its caption
("Organic growth-it isn't pretty"),
from Grace's post says it all. But read the post, too!

Related..Len's classic paper touching on Doug Paggitt's "organic gardening" model of leadership..especially suggestion #1; "take crap."
(Sorry, no photo for that phrase).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

simulacra-kklesia (part 5/cinco): todo es duende y spiritual

I don't know why I like reading Watchman Nee in Spanish.

Maybe because it's knowing the work was translated from Chinese into English and then into Spanish made the product either:

-a copy of a copy of a copy at least three generations removed from the original...thus having lost much in translation


-by some Spiritaneous serendipity saved from "lost in translation" or simulacra, and in a sense "even better than the real thing,"

I am not the scholar to judge, but intuitively, it feels like it reads the writer's heart.

So i picked up Pascal's Pensees in Spanish. At our gathering Sunday, it was there on the coffee table as the rabbi dude and I were talking. I opened the book to a random "pensee," (#648) and read:

"Dos errores: 1. Tomar todas cosas literalmente. 2.Tomar todas cosas spiritualmente."


"Two errors: 1. To take everything literally. 2. To take everything spiritually."

Of course, this was originally written in French, so we face a similar third gen factor.
But I bet the translation worked. Spanish is closer to French than my ruddy English, anyway.

Tweaking the language a bit, but hopefully meaning the same thing:

Either we believe

it's all spiritual

or we believe

everything is spiritual.

The second is life; the first death.

"It's all spiritual" is the old/new docetic/gnostic heresy. Can't go there, matter matters.
"God likes matter, " C.S. Lewis said, "he made it."

"Everything is spiritual" is good theology (See the Rob Bell videos by this title here. It's good TV, if not quite Zoo TV)and duels dualism.

I would venture that music is the primary means of
overcoming simulacratic (and socratic) nature of our times and church.
Only then will we hear and feel the need to pray God yanks us out of our commercialism and complacency.

But not just any music.

Musical metaphor that is:

  1. lament (see Well-Ended Stories That Don't End Well)

  2. honest
  3. spiritual

as opposed the the normative and formative repertoire of church as usual:

  1. happy-clappy (hear Bono speak to this is a delightful and devastating audio quote here:
    and then dare to pray Jesus' gut-wreneching prayer here: ""The Lord Be With You...Even When He’s Not")

  2. untruthful (see CCM makes you lie)
  3. religious (Our only real enemy, the one who came to "steal, kill and destroy" in the context of John 10:10 is not the devil...he is nowhere mentioned in that section, no matter what we preachers have told you...but the religious person/false teacher.)
All three need to be refused and defused. Maybe we can get started by reading (singing along to in full MacPhisto drag):
Back to the top:

Maybe the Spanish language/culture is the key anyway. A careful reading of this post on

might suggest that a Spanish mindset inherently "gets" that religion lies;
and that holy simulacra can lead us to the One who leads us into all truth.

The well known playful pun on the word 'papa':

--"pope" and/or "potato"--

may be telling that Sapir and Whorf were right.

One more helpful Spanish connection

At their worst, U2 comes off with bombastic pretension. At their best, they achieve what very few artists in any genre can: they create work with a sustained intensity that transforms the particular into the universal. U2 has that rare ability to communicate what the late Spanish writer, Frederico Garcia Lorca called 'duende'; that "mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains" (In Search of Duende, 1998, New Directions.)

"I have heard an old master guitarist say: 'Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.' Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action."
Searching for the duende in the music of U2 may seem like the ultimate form of sycophancy or pretension, but as Miles Davis once so elegantly riffed, so what? No other band from the past two decades has so consistently given listeners reason to believe in the transcendental power of rock 'n' roll. U2 has the primacy of duende's "creative action" to thank for it.
..Lorca believed duende recreated familiar forms:
"The duende's arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old
Planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm."

...Few other bands come close to these dizzy heights. "Sometimes" is pure duende.
Lorca also stated "with duende it is easier to love and understand, and one can be sure of being loved and understood." U2 acknowledges that "tonight", as in other moments, weakness may overcome strength, but that's OK- everyone has those moments. It's in this realization that "Sometimes" crosses from the particular to the universal, cutting deep into the heart's core to pull out an emotional response that has nothing to do with Bono's father, but everything to do with our shared vulnerability as fragile living beings.
Music of this caliber and class feels as primal as shelter and food. U2 is keeping duende alive in their sound. All we can do is listen. by David Kootnikoff ,

Twice the writer observed U2's movement from particular into universal, as characteristic of duende. You may remember that Wathrall noted this same progression (and its opposite) about the band and found it characteristic of post-simulacra elevation.
Maybe they're the same thing:

It's very tempting to understand U2's exemplary postmodern song (on which, in good postmodern fashion, I shall isolate and focus on here), "Even Better Than the Real Thing," as a celebration of the very postmodern condition Baudillard characterizes as the triumph of the simulacra.....but heard in this communal register, the erotic meaning of the lyric, "I'm gonna make you sing" has when...addressed to a particular lover becomes transformed, elevated into a celebration of communal singing as an ecstatic experience that transcends even the feeling of real love between individuals (This universalization of love-by which U2 seeks to transmute the entire audience into a belived--works, as Plato decribes in The Symposium by generalizing from the particular; it is thus striking that Bono sometimes performs the same gesture in reverse; by bringing a particular audience member on the stage to sing to her personally, as a particularization of the general audience he seeks to reach through her. With the very idea of an esctatic experience transcending personal love, we tread, I would suggest, into the territory of the holy.....Christianity itself was born out of such a fundamental attunement of universal love....without imposing borders. (91-93)

So more on that in parte siete of this series manana..

Oye, there may be uno, dos, tres, catorce parts to this after all.