Tag Archives: following Christ

Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?


cavemanWhen I read certain Christian publications, especially from American sources, I get the weird notion (tell me if I’m making straw man arguments here, I’d be glad to hear that all of this is a criticism of something that does not exist) that man, as opposed to woman, is both ‘hardwired’ to be

A.) The natural leader, who should lead in the family and in society!
and
B.) An utterly weak creature, who cannot control himself, even the sight of a strange woman in bikini will make him stumble.

Maybe this sounds logical to some people, but I do fail see any logic in it myself, and I find both options completely incompatible with each other, and also forms of quite unhealthily exaggerating and generalizing. If man is such a weak creature as B says, don not in a million years let him lead, please! Or let him and the woman lead together. But sorry, to me this makes no sense at all.

Old-fashioned patriarchy in the highly praised classical cultures may not have been the best system to live in if you were a woman, a slave or a child (a Roman ‘Pater familias’ sometimes even had the right to kill all of those whenever he wanted!), at least there was some kind of internal logic, although based on false facts: The old Greek (and some of the Church fathers influenced by them) believed that man only was a rational being, who could exercise self-control and virtues, and for that reason man was seen as superior to woman, who was seen as irrational, weak, lustful and dangerous. So it was the man who was seen as strong and virtuous, and therefore the man was the leader.

(Note also that the Christian religion was looked down upon by Romans exactly because it was considered, as Celsus said, “a religion of women, children and slaves”! Never heard any of the ‘masculinity in the church’ preacher ever talk about that though… )

Now compare this to the supposed logic of modern fundamentalist neo-patriarcy: The woman is seen as almost asexual in a way (the man is always initiating, the woman follows) and having no sexual desire of herself sometimes except in bad cases, but just dangerous by being what she is. In talk about relationships it seems to be always the boy who wants to go to far and too fast and the girl that needs to be the one who slows down.
Okay, some women can be dangerous seductresses, but apart from that it’s mostly even ignored or denied that women have a sex drive and are actually a lot like men. And anyway, according to this idea, above all it is the man who is weak, without self-control, and ultimately powerless against temptation, even unwilled temptation from a woman who dresses too short, so no woman should show some skin to not tempt this poor weak creature. Nor would the Greek or Romans recognise this as a man of any sorts…

What a weak wimp of a creature this man is, and how pitiful such a weak-willed being is. I wouldn’t let such a being even babysit my pet mouse if the poor thing would still be alive. And yet it still is this man who is supposed to always be the leader according to those who hold such views, apparently.

One would ask why, if we men as ‘visual beings’ are not even in the possibility of seeing a ‘sexy’ woman without having lustful thoughts or even controlling our deeds. (Note that here we go into very dangerous territory, this way of thought could lead to rape apologies and other abominations) Should he even be allowed to walk out alone on the street, with billboards using half-naked female bodies to sell random product not related to female humans at all on every corner? Maybe men should be protected and kept at home, and kept away from all women, and all women who would enter a place where men are should cover up.

We’re just to weak people, sorry. Lock us up, it’s not the women’s fault, they just are what the are. But men are just weak, keep them away from civilized humanity, and please, don’t give them any power at all.

(A side note, I never understood how people stressing an ‘every human is completely evil and cannot be trusted’ form of the theology of ‘total depravity’ can believe in strong hierarchical structures where fallen human beings are given quite a lot of power and responsibility and no-one should question them. The more depraved man is supposed to be, the more we need a system in which no man has too much power. No man (and I use it in a gender-inclusive sense here) can be trusted if we really are completely depraved! Balancing, dividing and delegating power should be a first concern for anyone who takes total depravity serious!)

Now, as we all know, luckily both thought systems A and B are quite wrong on some points:

To start, men nor women are completely weak creatures who have no chance of ever exercising self-control. And yes, I do believe men can have more self-control than post-Freudian-synchretizing Christian fundamentalists make them out to be. Although this might be not the easiest thing in a world where men are indeed conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to react to images of women’s bodies with sexual interest. We will indeed become very visually and dominated by what’s called ‘the male gaze’, and those things might not be originally ‘hard-wired’ in our brains, but our habits and conditionings do have form us and even alter our brain!

Ah, neuroplasticity is such a great thing, isn’t it? We aren’t hard-wired as some believe at all, but our wiring system forms when we grow up, and could develop in a lot of different ways. And even if we’re adults we can make new patterns and brain connections (Yes, it’s better to learn to play music as a kid, but sometimes there are examples of people who get an instrument later in their lives and learn to play music and make amazing stuff, like blues singer T-model Ford) and re-wiring is possible, but not easy, and in some cases it will always be a weaker spot and a temptation. I once read somewhere that people might need half of the time they spent in a bad habit or a relationship to really get over it…

This also means that a man who’s ‘trained in virtue’, or for example a Kung Fu master, who has been working on self-control, is a wholly different being than us postmodern Western wimps who believe the lies that we cannot say no to temptation and only know a world in which people just ‘follow their instincts’, (Even that expression is nonsense, most of the time we have a lot of incompatible instincts telling us to do completely opposite things, and it’s still our reason or something else that chooses between them, not our instincts themselves that lead us!)

And indeed, feeling attraction in itself might be unavoidable sometimes, but we can choose how it develops and what we do. If all patterns we have made are to just ‘go with the flow’ it might seem irresistible, but that’s because we’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy that might even have been written onto the hardware our internal system. Which makes it not that easy to fight, but still that doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility…;

Also, as a Christian, it’s nonsense to say that we are to love everybody, be good to everyone, and then make an exception for those whom we find attractive in the wrong situation. Aren’t we supposed to be mature enough anyway to cope with such things without running away from such a thing? No, they are human beings made in Gods image just like us, and we have to learn to see that, and respect them just like every other person. Attraction should not trump anything, au contraire, love, and respect, and friendship should trump whatever wrong intentions we might have when we feel misplaced attraction.

After all, attraction without love should not be acted upon because it dehumanizes. And if we are led by love and respect, we will see more interesting things in a person than that misplaced attraction alone.

So, man is not a creature to give absolute responsibility, but neither is he the untrustworthy animal some make him out to be. And a man in Christ, and even a virtuous man in any tradition who has formed the right habits, is not going to be led by the first impulse or instinct that comes up, and can do some quite impressive things sometimes. But it’s the same with a woman.

(And if you noticed that I didn’t say much about  A, I find the ‘every man is a leader’ idea so ridiculous that I didn’t even put much energy in it; and that  even apart from the ‘every woman is a follower’ bit that’s equally stupid. Let’s just note that the idea of a leader becomes quite devalued when 50% of the population is said to be one. Especially when there’ a lot of women leaders too… And a lot of men who should never in their lives be ‘leaders’ of anything at all)

And in the end it depends on our personality, our character and our calling whether we are to be a leader or not. Some men and women are good leaders, some are not, and will have other callings. Which is not something lower at all. The body needs both the eyes and the kidneys, and the nostrils and the pancreas…

Let’s all take up the responsibility we’ve been given, and do it together, and not be fooled by fundamentalism of pop-Freudianism that paralyses us and says we can’t do it, nor by any false ideology that says we shouldn’t be working together in this. Together is how it goes, as brothers and sisters! And whatever we do, let’s do it in love for the other, respecting the full humanity of each other. (Even the ones we don’t agree with that have despicable ideas!)

And let us not forget as Christians what the fruits of the Spirit are:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Are those not one of the basic characteristics of both men and women that profess to follow Christ? (Among other things as loving neigbors and enemies, and caring for the least, and not wanting to be leaders but servants?)

(And let us not mock nor belittle nor disbelieve in them, blaspheming the Spirit is a serious thing!)

Peace

Bram

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It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)


For those who missed part 1, this is part 2 of my reaction to the viral ‘hating religion but loving Jesus’-video that everybody even remotely christian and even their atheist bulldog seem to be posting on facebook nowadays. Part one, in which I elaborated on definitions of the word ‘religion’ is here, and should probably be read before this one…

After the semantics it’s time to go to a problem that’s way more serious, and dig deeper in the message itself: It seems like Jeff Bethke makes his way of being a christian, and thus the gospel, antithetic to everything he denounces as ‘religion’ (which seems to be all that can go wrong with Christianity, and all he dislikes about some other christian groups) which makes the word ‘religion’ useless.

So let’s look at some of Bethke’s statements:

Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.

I still do not know what Bethke’s definition is of religion, but it seems like his ‘religion’ is something really really bad nonetheless, and actually a very good scapegoat to dump all the problems of Christianity and the rest of the world on, sometimes leaping into ridiculous exaggerations. The above part is a good example.

I disagree completely with some of his statements… Religion is not the infection. Or doesn’t he agree that God himself instituted the religion of the Jews? Which would be very strange for a bible-believing evangelical, like he seems to be. Okay, religion did get infected with a lot of bad things (just like the Christian religion) but the problem was not ‘religion’ but the things infecting it. It’s a very weird deduction actually… Will you get rid of your child when it has a disease?

But it goes a lot further:

This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans,
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own,
Not based on my efforts, but Christ’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that’s why we call it grace.
While being murdered he yelled “father forgive them, they know not what they do”,
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
He paid for all your sin, and then buried it in the tomb,
Which is why im kneeling at the cross now saying come on there’s room
So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it,
Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it.

I know the “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man” theme, and there’s something to that, but still I don’t completely agree. It’s easy to say, but in the end the Jewish religion was also instituted by God when He, and not some evil people or delusional demons, but God Himself gave the laws to Moses! So I don’t see his logic why he can renounce and literally resent religion as a whole here, or proclaim Jesus and religion two different clans. And Jesus never abolished the laws, he fulfilled them, transcended them. But He surely never went denouncing them as evil. And religion-bashing is not the way to further the gospel.

It almost looks like the problem of the new atheists. They see a problem with fundamentalist religion and so keep the fundamentalism and ditch the religion. The anti-religion rhetoric does put all the blame on whatever ‘religion’ is supposed to be and then declared Jesus something completely different.

But there is something more that’s troubling in his approach. Now look at the above presentation of the gospel? What’s missing?

Firstly, like more evangelicals tend to do, the resurrection is completely ignored for some weird reasons, as if a ‘good Friday only gospel’ will ever be complete. But let’s not go into that, and also skip the idea that ‘Jesus thought of me’ while on the cross for now… And how he sees the ‘it’ that has been finished at the cross as ‘religion’ is beyond me.

But now we come to probably the weak point of common ‘born-again theology’. We are born-again because our sins (or the punishment for it) have been taken away by Jesus on the cross and now it’s all finished…. But that’s just the beginning. We have a whole life of growth before us. Being a spiritual baby alone is not enough. It’s even quite risky, babies are vulnerable beings that cannot survive without aid from others, and that are meant to grow into adulthood. (so they can make babies themselves, spiritually I mean) We are saved, and we are being saved, the bible used both, and they must be in tension. Salvation is not one moment, but an ongoing process that will never be perfected in this life, and something we have to bring to the world around us.

Sin is not just a problem that needs to be forgiven, Jesus destroyed the Power of sin, the infection that the fall brought has been recapitulated when He overcame the powers of evil, sin and death which were not strong enough to take him. Sin is something much more serious than just an offence to God, it’s a destructive force that pervades the whole universe…

Jesus didn’t finish all things at the cross, he started them. The resurrection was the beginning of the New heaven and earth. We are not just reconciled to God, but called out to proclaim the Kingdom of God ourselves. We gain a whole new life in Him, we are called to follow Him and further that Life in this fallen world. Which means action and a changed life, and the word ‘relationship’ implies that too.

And this is the last big problem with the ‘relationship with Jesus’ idea, which is actually quite troubling if you think about it. Sarah Moon has pointed to it in her excellent blog post. The view on relationships one would derive from this theology would be a very defunct one. Firstly nothing at all is said about what the relationship with Christ means in the poem, so we have to read between the lines if we want to know what he means. The hints in the beginning where he describes what religion is not are not that bad, but there’s no connection at all to the main dish, which is the atonement theory in the end, that seems to trump all, and doesn’t even try to say what our part is. 

There seems to be not that much about how to maintain the relationship in this view. Don’t we need to do certain things to keep a relationship healthy. Just accepting something from someone will never makes us lovers as far as I know… And being ‘in love’ with Jesus all the time is not a relationship. A relationship requires effort, interaction, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears…

In the words of Sarah who expressed it more eloquently:

Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.

This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling  on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.

I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.

Let’s get off our asses and love.

What do you all think?

Shalom

Bram

A call to subversive Love!!!


hi readers

I will start with a quote from Zack’s response to my last post on cross-gender friendshios (which is worth reading, giving a good explanation of the things I was talking about, from the perception of the culture he was born into):

We don’t often find Jesus bending over backwards to not offend His culture. On the contrary, He went against the grain precisely to demonstrate how backwards their culture was, and to reveal to them what God’s love looks like in society.

That’s the context in which I would place the whole subject of cross-gender friendships, but this topic of subversive love is so much broader that this, and it must have a central place in our Christian life if we want it to make any sense at all. Jesus, Paul and the early Christianity did not only summarise the whole law in the ‘Love God above all and you neigbor as yourself’, but they also lived that way, which was not just a choice, but also an orientation, and a lifestyle, a transformation, a whole new way of being and relating to the world.

So when we look again at the story of the woman at the well (see john 4), we clearly see this revolutionary way of lovingly relating at work. No jewish rabbi at that time would ever even think about being seen with a woman of questionable reputation, even if she wouldn’t have been samaritan. There was a great segregation of the sexes, and a looking down on sinners, and the way Jews reacted to samaritans would be considered racist by todays standards. But against all those cultural taboos, Jesus just talked to her, in a friendly and egalitarian way. No matter how we try, we will not realise how subversive and not done such a thing was. And we are called to follow Jesus and do likewise as He did.

The well-meaning intentions of people who are abstaining from stuff like being seen with people of the other sex or sinners or other wrong company might stem from an honest trying to do good, but it’s far away from Jesus’ teachings and example. And it may be much closer to the one kind of people Jesus always rebuked: the religious elite of his time, like the pharisees and sadducees. He was the one who hung out with sinners and the pariahs of his age, with litteral lepers and traitors of Gods chosen people. We are not called to carefully watch our reputation, we are called to embody christs love, and we are called blessed when we are persecuted for that (see the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5)

In our christian communities we should be one, without distinctions based on race, gender, age, musical preference or social class. Neither greek or Jew, male or female as St-Paul calls it. The first christians lived that way, and so did countless other christian communities in all kinds of situations in the last 2000 years, from old to new monastics, from anabaptists to Jesus people communes. And those communities were not only focussed to keep thier love inwards, but also to sharing it with the world, with hospitality, generosity, charity.

A comment here is that, while I do believe that we have to contextualise the gospel and translate it into each culture we are in ourselves, we do not have to let the culture and it’s definitions and taboos, or even definitions alter the gospel. Au contraire, we should let the gospel transform the culture, just as we need to be transformed ourselves! We come as we are, but no way that we will stay as we are, otherwise our good news does not make any sense at all…

And this may come down to something you could call christian anarchism, or better Love-archy. We don’t listen to then written or unwritten rules that try to put boundaries on our love, just like Jesus who talked with the woman at the well as if it wasn’t special at all to do such a thing…

And I know that I fall short in any way. Both in my personal life and in communal life with my brothers and sisters in christ, and I want to repent of that. I don’t want to see the prayer of st-Francis as inspirational but faraway from my daily life. I don’t want 1 Cor 13 and verses like ‘perfect love drives out all fear’ to be hypothetical theory, but I want to learn how to live them.

This is my new motto for my life:

I want to learn how to love, the rest are details.

will you guide me, Spirit of love?

will you join me, my brothers and sisters?

will you be my all, Christ?

shalom

Bram


ps, for some inspiration go look at the revolt collective or read shane Claiborne’s book ‘the irresistible revolution’. Or look at those countless hero’s and examples that we have in the history of our faith who lived a life of subversive love. We are surrounded by a witness cloud!!

the fossilisation of Christian tradition…


so what’s the core of Christianity? Go to 10 different Christians and there are 10 different stories. Go to 10 churches and you get maybe 10 different ways of telling it. Which is not necessarily a problem: everybody has his own unique way of telling the story that is much bigger than us… Everybody has his own context, in which God intervenes in another way. The things Christ done on earth were already so much that all the books of the world could contain them, so what about what He’s done in all those places in all those years after that…

I think all christians agree that we have the bible, but then the next question is: what should we do with it? how should we read id? And then we take this verse here, and this idea there, and build theologies on them… And in the end we come with some systemathic theology or some fundamentals and stuff. and no it’s not an exact translation of the bible into our systemathic thinking, but it mostly can be proved with this, verse here, and then this verse, so it’s biblical. And so it’s important… Problem is that pastor A sys X; and church B says Y, and theology C says Z, and they are all not compatible and yet al very biblical… And that’s when christianity gets very exhausting: you have to be very unhealthily post-modern to accept all these stories that are all built on ‘the truth of the bible’ as equally true and all leading to the God of the bible…  And on the other hand it is very unhealthily modern to think that these 5 point or this list of dogmas is all there is to say about the gospel, and that it would totally sum up the bible…

Now, it’s true that every time and culture has its own contextualisation of the gospel. he gospel must be explained in terms the people can understand, and lived in a way that Christians can be salt and light in that particular place where they are…

Something new happens, and maybe God does something, and people built their own structures around that. I guess that’s unavoidable ti a certain degree, but the problem is that in the end the structures and systems take over, and the dynamics get static, and in the end the Holy Spirit has no place to move anymore (so He may start a totally new movement in this stagen totally opposed to the old one…) But the old tradition then is in danger of just getting fossilised…

So in this 2000 years we have accumulated fossilised tradition. I won’t say that a lot of it is initially started as a movement of the Spirit itself, but lots of it are not relevant anymore, and more of an obstacle between us and Christ than that they’re very helpfull… What to do with them?

I would say that all that does not lead to a life closer to the following of Christ should not be given too much time and credit… We should worship God, and not try to just uphold any human tradition…

So maybe it’s always time to rethink all those old ‘fundamentals’ and ‘lists of doctrines’ from older ages that may be based on the bible (but also on a historical context. That’s what I like about fresh expressions that I meet in the blogosphere like ‘the doctrines of grace‘ (the acronym BEERS instead of the old ‘calvinistic’ TULIP) or the ‘five fundamergent fundamentals’. We need that, if we want the bible to be living and if we don’t wat to get fossilised…

Now one note: the other opposite of fossilised tradition is as evil. We have to see that we stand in that Big Tradition, and that we need it, even when there are dangers attached to it. If we throw everything over board and we try to reinvent the wheel and the warm water we are really really really stupid too. Surely we can and should learn from all those Christians and followers of Jesus in other times and places. But we should never let one tradition be absolute. The incarnation of Gods will in Jesus, not a human construction of ideas and practices…

shalom

Bram

blast from the past 1: work, sex, love and God…


hi all you imaginary readers;

Since  I’m starting with using this english blog, so I thought it could be interesting to repost some older posts I made on some other sites. This one is from the few attempts I once had to use my myspace as a blog, from april 21, 2007, not too long after my marriage. for a soundtrack listen to my songs the beauty in this innocence and  feelings say nothing (love is the first law) which can be downloaded free from last.fm (Warning: crappy lo-fi and weird music!!)

date: saturday, april 21, 2007
title: work, sex, love and God…
originally posted on http://www.myspace.com/bramc

and Oh yeah…

My life has been changing so fast: I’m a grown-up man now… I’ve got a job, I’ve got a wife… I’ve made it now!! I’m someone finally would some people say… And yet I’m wondering, wondering about something, as if I’m missing something, maybe missing everything…

Oh yeah, work is important. When people ask you what you do to earn money they might even derive your identity from the answer… I basicaly just take care for the green in the city because I need the money to live with my little family… But I’m happy with this job because at least I do something that makes the world a little better… even if it’s just about working with plants and trees in this city…

Hmm… I once collected bags of garbage on the street formy money, and it was maybe the most useful thing I ever did for which I did to get paid! If people would not do that for some weeks the world would be a big garbage belt!!! Sometimes the most dirty jobs are more important than the big jobs people look up to in this world… But hey, doctors and teachers were slaves in the roman empire…

I don’t believe that a ‘job’ should be your identity… it is important to do things that make the diference… Paid or unpaid… Am I the guy who does the lawn in the stuyvenbergpark, or an I the weirdo who sings ‘father I am tired’, a song of which people tell me they can relate to, but of which i’ve never made any money. Or am I just the friend, the lover, the guy who tries to be a follower of Christ? I don’t know :s

All I wanna be known for is the love that I give!!!! The rest should be just details!!!

about sex then… It is so over-hyped in this world, but I’ve never been interested in it the way the world sells it. I never experienced it that way either…

Call me naieve for my perception of it, but here’s my point of view on sex: I’ve been single all my of life, and I had never even kissed a girl before I started the relationship with she who is my wife now… People don’t believe me when I tell it but it feels natural to me, just to discover everything together… she’s my best friend, she’s my lover, she’s the biggest present God ever gave me, and she will never be replaceable. I am very well aware that such a thing can only happen once in a lifetime. And that it sounds alien to lots of people too if you tell about such thing…

Love is something weird: It is strange when someone really loves you like she loves me… It is strange when she knows everything about you, including all the dark thangs that you hate about yourself, and still loves you more than you can understand… The Eros stuff is just a part of it, and the love would still be there without sex and it would still be complete in a sexless world… Sex is a part of our relationship, and because it is something we have discovered together, it can only be a part of me and her, and not something on itself… And still it is just an expression of something deeper… It is giving yourself, litterally becoming one, and being so vulnerable without being hurt….

When you are loved in such a complete way, and then you feel at the same that God does love you with a love even bigger than this love which seems to be beyond compare and in which you float away, you cannot do a thing but just drown in it…

Love is what matters… Not money, not your job, not sex… Love is the first law!!! The love that you have given will be what matters in the end!!!!

shalom

Bram