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Monthly Archives: July 2012
Let’s go back now to a series that I’ve begun last winter but left unfinished, about fallibility of language (find part I and part II here, as well as the apophatic interlude featuring our Friend Rollins) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes. This was not (as you would expect from a postmodern like me) from a postmodern viewpoint, but I started from the thought of G.K. Chesterton and mostly from the classical Orthodox tradition, on which I was reading a quite good book, and the church fathers.
I have been writing about the fallibility of language, and about how difficult it is to speak about God, as a created being. One of the most important things here is that we as Christians are in the first place not just expected to know about God (which requires human language) but after all and more important, we are to know God Himself. Christianity is not a gnostic sect in which we are saved by mere knowledge, but a restored relationship with the Source of all Creation (‘God’) through Christ… And relationality entails a completely different sort of ‘knowing’ than academic publishing!
I could say a lot about this, but other people have said much more intelligent things about this subject than I’ll ever do. I do know that in certain protestant circles knowledge of God by any form of ‘personal experience’ is frowned upon, while other traditions, from the Charismatics and Quakers to the Eastern Orthodox, see it as normative in very different ways. Surely, not only experience is important,without wisdom and guidance we don’t even know what we’re following, so we need reason, tradition, scripture and experience or are in problems. But experience is in no way unimportant here. Let’s for example go back to the Orthodox tradition, where speaking about God is considered to be utterly impossible by one who has not experienced God:
Personal experience is requisite to any valid talk about God, from an Orthodox perspective. Such mystical experience of God in the divine energies not only draws us to God, it also confirms within us the appropriateness of both positive and negative theology. We must speak about God because we are Christian; but we must also rise above these concepts, because God is transcendent. Personal experience of God draws us into union with him about whom theology speaks. Without that experience, any such talk about God is vacuous and presumptuous, according to Orthodoxy. (Payton, Light from the East, p 84)
We have to notice here that the goal surely is not just to talk of God, or to be able to make money by writing books about God; He is the Ultimate Reality… And the goal of our life is to be united to Him, and outside of Him we or anything else cannot even exist…
I got a gut feeling that the more we experience of God, the less we will be able to talk about it and the less intellectual systems we will be able to proclaim with absolute modern certainty… Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds of the middle ages, wasn’t able to write anymore after a mystical experience with Christ. When they asked him to resume his writing works, he said that he couldn’t because ‘”all that I have written seems like straw to me”
And this leaves us not with less, but with even more problems in speaking about God, and the paradox of Peter Rollins:
“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking”
Which might make it quite complicating, but who did ever say that it was easy??? It isn’t, and I have a long Way to go here, and maybe not much right to say anything about God… Who just IS beyond all we can say or understand…
What’s your experience here?
And now for something completely different, before I go back to the problem of fallible language and our modern pretence of being able to know everything, which is also the basis for a lot of evangelical theology.
Roger Olson, quite interesting bible scholar who (unlike me) proudly wears the label of ‘Arminian’, makes a very interesting remark in a blog post, that is very interesting as a standalone paragraph, and quite unrelated to the book about Emperor Constantine that he’s criticising, and that raises some interesting poinst for me.
To what extent should we let historical figures off the hook just because of the cultural context and the times in which they lived—especially when they claimed to be Christians and had their Bibles and read them? Should we excuse Zwingli for having the Zurich city council torture Hubmaier? By all accounts Zwingli stood in the torture chamber and demanded that Hubmaier, who had come to Zurich at Zwingli’s invitation for a debate assuming protection, recant his Anabaptist views. And, of course, Zwingli fully supported the drowning of Anabaptist men and women. Shall we say “Well, those were harsh times?” I don’t think so. Either Zwingli is in hell or he had to go through a purgatory-like process before entering heaven. If you don’t believe in anything like purgatory (even C. S. Lewis’ highly Protestantized version), I don’t see how you can avoid putting Zwingli in hell.
The first one is Zwingli himself, one of the big names among the protestant reformers who has been almost a footnote in my church history lessons. I’ve always felt that I disliked his very low view on sacraments, and wondered if tendencies towards a very low and reduced view of the sacrament of bread and wine among evangelicals and pentecostal can be traced back to him, but I’ve never known much about the guy… The story of the tortured Anabaptists is completely new to me, and quite disgusting, and it reminds me of the story of Calvin and Servetus. Which is also a horrible story, as there are too much of them in the history of Christianity, while Christ taught us other things… The question of whether those people are in hell is not one I have to answer, but just letting such people go directly to heaven, people who did great deeds of evil while being a Christian without repenting for them, would be a big problem.
Heaven (whatever that is, I would think the resurrection on the New Earth is the most biblical view) would cease to be heaven in any meaningful with such guests as residents… So the question becomes not what we would do in our theology with those historical figures, but how would an unrepentant killer of heretics ever be part of something that’s even remotely heaven?
So that brings us to Olson’s note about purgatory. He’s been writing about the topic more (see here for example if you want to know more about what he calls ‘C.S. Lewis’ highly protestantized version’) and he clarifies in the comments with “My idea of purgatory is that, if it exists, it would be educative and corrective, not punitive.” I don’t know much about the afterlife, but I do know that most people who die, even if they have not been killing fellow believers or other stuff like that, are not perfect, and not fit for heaven. so I suppose there needs to be some ‘correction’ (which might be over time or in a moment) but the correction is needed in any way. Even if Christians might be forgiven, but they are still tainted by sin and they do horrible things. We need the good thing that has begun in us to be perfected, to just be able to be with God forever…
(Which is why I don’t like theologies that seem to take sin as merely a legal problem, or an offence to God, and not something needs to be destroyed in our lives and all of Creation, not just forgiven afterwards. Sin is a real destructive problem,and just being forgiven without being changed does not make sense. Just being declared ‘innocent’ when we are changed in nothing but our legal status (which is only changed because God does not see us when he looks at us but Jesus, as some would say) sin has not been defeated, and our redemption is a lie unless the only problem is that God needs to put sinners in hell, making God more of a problem than sin…)
I know this is more of an unstructured rant, so if you have more input, please help me…
[trigger warning: stuff perceived as weird misogyny and rape]
This is a elaboration of what I said in my last post (Read it to understand what I’m talking about…) because the more I think about it, the less sense some things seem to make, and the less I understand the conflicting message of the Gospel Coalition about ‘authority’ in marriage. So after the problems of language, definition and connotation, let’s go back to the real issue discussed here. Some things sound quite contradictory for me, specially when the idea the Gospel Coalition wants to promote is “I am a proponent of marriages that mutually edify, marital sex that is mutually submissive, and Christian relationships in general that “serve and protect” rather than “devour.”” What I read in the GC post Rachel quoted points in a totally different direction actually, at least it does to me as an outsider and non-initiated in the weird world of American ‘complementarianism’, even when I try to read it otherwise, and even if the post is supposed to be against the “50 Shades of Grey and other modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission.”…
There are much more things that shock me in the short post than the problematic assertion that “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.“, that Wilson himself supposes to be the main problem (which is quite problematic indeed, when we remember that colonizing and conquering left half of our planet in ruins after we Westerners got better weapons and more lnowledge in the last 500 years..).
He says that “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party.”, but I have no idea at all what he means with this cloudy sentence except that it’s though that he seems to be squeezing in the name of a perceived enemy (‘egalitarianism’) that he seems to associate with ‘modern celebrations of perverted sexual authority/submission’, probably to assert their own identity against it and blame it for the evils of the ’50 shades’ stuff.
So exactly how is it that t’he sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasury party’? As far as I know it is evident that sex both partners are equally naked and vulnerable, and surely ‘the sexual act’ needs 2 different bodies doing different things, so it could be said that the two lovers ‘complement’ each other. But I don’t see how a healthy view of sex could not mean in those differences to still have a mutual giving and receiving at the same time. So as for ‘pleasuring’ the other in ‘the sexual act, isn’t it logical that man and woman in their different ways do give everything to give themselves to their partner? In that way the description ‘egalitarian pleasuring party’ is a very good one, and the other way to understand the phrase (2 people doing exact the same thing) is just impossible and nonsense.
But there is more, what I find even more disturbing is the following:
But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine.
Firstly, I am a man and I don’t have rape fantasies, I don’t even understand them, and I don’t want anyone to tell me that they would be normal for people that don’t subscribe to your views on what I can only read as dominion. I am as uninterested in all this authority stuff as I am in rape… As an egalitarian (vaguely, sometimes terms like this carry too much baggage in polarised discussions like this one) I could conclude that these ‘bondage and submission’ games and ’50 shades’ stuff are the unhealthy outcome of an unhealthy system in which endless power plays and dominion damage people… That may be as wrong as Wilson’s theorizing, but to me it seems quite plausible from my kind of view… And connecting this authority-in-sex-gone-wrong just does not make any sense. Sorry.
Btw, aAll this authority-stuff when emphasized all the time will just frustrate people. And especially with a theology that makes 50% of the population supposed to be ‘leaders’ (just because they possess XY chromosomes and a penis) you create a lot of frustration, since having 50% leaders makes most of those ‘leaders’ only leaders in name, with a completely insignificant ‘leadership’, so I can imagine them working that out on their spouses and families, the only place where they can pretend to be the leaders they are only in theory. But again, this is just theorizing in thin air, as much as Wilson is doing in the above quote.
Dominion and powerplay from both sides of the line are not something I enjoy, those things always take a lot of energy that could be used anywhere. It makes me quite frustrated when I encounter people who are too bent on both dominating or being dominated. I probably am a personally ‘naturally egalitarian’ person, and I don’t feel the need to express neither authority not submission towards other human beings; I like relationships as an equal person. (Yes, I will submit to someone if they know more about the job we’re doing, or lead if I am more qualified, but that is a question of role, not of person)
And what the next paragraph means in real life, I can only guess, I understand the words, but they don’t convey anything coherent to me, except when the authority and submission are mutual, which is (as far as I know) the egalitarian point of view that they don’t like :
True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.”
Like I said earlier, the only healthy view of sex that I can understand (and that the Gospel coalition seems to want to affirm) is one of mutual self-giving and receiving, which would mean both mutual authority and mutual giving up all authority towards the other. And to be frank, I do not understand at all why anyone would have authority in sex at all, sex is playful, more like a game you do together… If there is any authority in a game, it’s or defining rules made by it’s Maker, or rules that both the players follow together. I just don’t see how ‘authority’ of the man over the woman would ever work without getting abusive. (And I would see it even less if I believed in Calvinist total depravity)
If you want to talk about authority in sex as a Christian, you should speak about mutual submission to the others authority, and to Gods laws (for example the law of doing everything in love and not abusing the other and pushing the partner to do something they don’t want)
Now, one thing that might be forgotten in this discussion is that the Gospel Coalition seems to have a completely different view of how authority works than I have. I would think all Christian authority is based in self-giving, in giving up yourself as Jesus did on the cross. All this talk about authority seems to propagate (to me as outsider) seems to be quite opposite to that, and (at least to me) seems like asserting the importance of dominion and control of certain people over others, and not at all self-giving in love. So I wonder if there’s a underlying problem in theological worldview and definitions… All this talk about submission and authority just gives me the impression of dominion and control, even if they say the whole time that they don’t mean it that way….
(And I always thought that ‘submission’ was the translation of the word ‘Islam’, not of the the core of Christianity. Self-giving love, like Jesus showed on the cross, may be a better candidate here…)
Now to be short about the 50 shades stuff that the original post reacted to, I don’t know anything about it and I choose to remain unknowing about such things. And like I said already, I agree that rape fantasies and actually all forms of control in sex are sinful… But the problem here is that all this talk of authority and submission for an outsider like me does not promote anything but the idea of sexual control of men over women. If that is not what they mean, they need to use other words and explain what they mean differently… To me they are contradicting each other all the time…
what do you people think?
[trigger warning: quotes that could be percieved as more than rather misogynistic]
Yes, I’m still alive. I’ve been in a quasi-internetless place with a lot of trees, bungalows, and a subtropical swimming paradise, in a French-speaking part of this little kingdom by the sea. (Well, internetless is exagerrated I can always go to the bar where they have free wifi, but I choose to be almost disconnected this week.) I will be back this weekend and there will be some blogposts lined up for the following week.
And now I’m here in the bar reading up some blogs that I’ve missed (backsliding into my regular addictions…) And I’m back in the fireline of a very frustrating discussion again again when I’m reading a Rachel Held Evans post reacting to the Gospel coalition, and a reaction from TGC that I find quite weird. The issue is (again) patriarchy and complementarianism perceived as pure misogyny.Still Wilson says:
Here’s a question for critics of the piece: You want these words not to mean a forceful, degrading domination of women, yes? And here is Wilson saying he does not mean them in that way. So why not accept that? Or, instead of insisting they mean the opposite of what he says he meant by them, why not just call him a liar? That’s a quicker line to draw.
And when I try to understand both sides, I’m afraid that no matter how your defending exegesis is, a sentence like this will be sexist, misogynist and quite problematic to most people I know:
however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
I does not in any way describe my views or experience with marriage nor sex, and it sounds not like anything biblical to me either. Maybe in certain neo-reformed or fundamentalist worldviews these words can be taken as non-sexist, as Wilson thinks he does. And I do know there are complementarians with good marriages…
But honestly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot read this kind of statements otherwise as sexism towards both sexes (yes, as a man I find this way of thinking degrading towards myself as much as to my wife!), and as the description of a mentality that would describe everything I know about loving male-female relationships. The only way I can interpret this is as pure one-sided dominion from the male side.
But I really try to understand how people could think otherwise, and I can’t. In the end we come to the same problem with words as with stories, like I noted in an earlier post. Whoever you are, you and your tradition cannot control how words will be perceived by others. You and your tradition cannot decide on what a word means, and what connotations it bears to others...
Which reminds me of a discussion about the world ‘tolerance’. Some see it as the most desired goal in society, and as a very positive mentality everyone should have, while others see it as unloving, merely tolerating everything because we have to. So, define your terms if you speak to someone with another worldview, but don’t expect that they read or hear something the way you do. And yet, no matter how you try, there’s a limit to understanding someone else worldview when views are opposing. And I’m in no way able to read that quote otherwise than sexist rapist-mentality. And I did try… It just conflicts with everything I know about love…
(And I’m not speaking as a feminist here, but merely as the lover and friend I am in my marriage, and as someone who tries to find a way to live out Christian self-giving love in every relationship… I just am not able to see how it would go together with what those complementarians describe… )
what do you think
This one is from the Holy Fathers page on facebook:
Truth is not a thought, not a word, not a relationship between things, not a law. Truth is a Person. It is a Being which exceeds all beings and gives life to all. If you seek truth with love and for the sake of love, she will reveal the light of His face to you inasmuch as you are able to bear it without being burned.
(St. Nicholas of Serbia, Thoughts on Good and Evil)
I’m still reading my second time through ‘the Christ on the mount’ by E. stanley Jones, which has already inspired some posts here and here, but before I’ll get to that I want to share something I found this on a post on the unequally yoked blog (yes, that atheist blogger who became catholic because of her faith in absolute morality. Read the whole blog for more on her story, or start here, she’s much better in telling it herself…), under the name of the ‘Litany of Gendlin’.
What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
It made me think, and I do think there’s a step missing (our interpretation of Truth, and the limitations of our mind and language to capture it) but indeed, Truth, or truth is already there, and nothing will make it go away.
The question is whether we are able to see what’s true, and what’s not. The same can be said about what’s natural. What if we are conditioned, in this fallen and broken world, to find natural and true things that are actually neither? What if we need a new heart and a new mind to be even able to see what’s true, and natural like it was meant to be?
The greatest need of modern Christianity is the rediscovery of the Sermon on the Mount as the only practical way to live. Now we have an undertone of doubt and fear that it is not workable. We feel that it is trying to give human nature a bent that it will not take ; it is trying to force something on us for which human nature is not made, Housman puts it in these lines :
“And since, my soul? we cannot flee
To Saturn or to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
Those foreign laws of God and man.”
Are the principles laid down in the Sermon on the Mount foreign laws? Are they something ‘tfor which we are not made? It would seem so at first sight, Chesterton says that on the first reading you feel that it turns everything upside ‘down, but the second time you read it you discover that it turns everything right side up. The first time you read it you feel that it is impossible, the second time, you feel that nothing else is possible The more I have pondered on this way of life, the more 1 am persuaded that instead of all the moral impossibilities lying in the Sermon on the Mount, as we often think, the fact is that all the moral possibilities lie here, and all the impossibilities lie outside. We have become so naturalized in other ways of life that this way seems foreign.
As someone who has been reading the Sermon on the Mount, and meditating on its content quite a lot lately (but not nearly enough) I am slowly realising that Jones and Chesterton are right. Even if I’m nowhere in this, nothing else makes sense but this scandalous love that includes our enemies!
Years ago I said that I wanted to find out how to live ‘the great commandment’ and love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and my neighbor as myself. I don’t think any follower of Christ can get around that question actually. And the more I read the gospels and the sermon on the mount, the more I see that I’m still nowhere, but also that nothing else makes sense…
The Truth is out there, we have to align ourselves with it, with Him, who is the Way…
Lord, teach us