Archives for: November 2008

I love sleep

We spend a third of our lives in sleep, yet so often ignore it as an unimportant aspect of what defines us.

Now go read an author like Hobson who argues:

Dreaming, then, is not like delirium. It is delirium. Dreaming is not a model of a psychosis. It is a psychosis. It's just a healthy one.

What if Heaven is more like sleep than wakefulness? What if it's more like delirium?

Permalink 11/20/08 11:22:00 pm, by fumanchu Email , 78 words, Categories: Misc , 4 comments »

Maximizing Church says:

Since there is a limit on the time we can serve, we need to
look for maximum effectiveness. Structuring our ministries
around our giftedness will help us do that. Knowing where
we are spiritually gifted will help us know where to put
our focus, energy, and time. It will show us where we
should plug into ministry.

Maximum effectiveness. What a modern, Western concept. Super-size my spirituality! Everything else is maximized these days, why not my gifts? I find it interesting that the word "maximize" is present in the 1913 Webster's Dictionary but not the 1828 version [1]. The word "maximum" certainly is, but in my guess, that word has always meant "apogee"--the limit of a function, the peak of achievement with a corresponding descent from that height. The maximum was an observed property, not a manufactured one. It is only in the last hundred years or so that we have begun to maximize as a verb--that is, to increase output to the highest degree and keep it there. Brewer's entry seems to support that theory:

The greatest and the least amount; as, the maximum profits
or exports, and the minimum profits or exports; the maximum
and minimum price of corn during the year. The terms are
also employed in mathematics.

Proving this would be a good Master's Thesis.

What happens when we turn church into management? We cut people out that don't fit our optimum model because they keep us from maximizing our effectiveness. We have all the gifts and all the faith and all the service, but have not love. What a waste.

Permalink 11/20/08 06:48:42 pm, by fumanchu Email , 292 words, Categories: Misc , 2 comments »

Objective Christianity

I've been bothered ever since I started Foucault's The Hermeneutics of the Subject, in which he says, almost offhand:

We will call "philosophy" the form of thought that asks what it is that enables the subject to have access to the truth and which attempts to determine the conditions and limits of the subject's access to the truth. If we call this "philosophy", then I think we could call "spirituality" the search, practice, and experience through which the subject carries out the necessary transformations on himself in order to have access to the truth.

Sigh The more I think about this, the more I come to the conclusion that Western Christianity has abandoned "spirituality" and valued only "philosophy". That is, our churches have become so focused on the objective truth (which we call "theology"), that we have forgotten that discipleship requires subjective transformation. We have come to the conclusion that being a good church member depends on what we know (things anyone and everyone can know equally), not how we ourselves have changed (in ways that not everyone can change equally, since not everyone has the same history). I keep seeing "church life" made up of classes, seminars, and sermons, with only lip-service to testimony, repentance, and discipleship.

I was reminded of this in yet another context today, when our senior pastor mentioned he had seminary professors that actively encouraged their clergy students to foster a distance between themselves and their congregations--don't play favorites; don't make "friends". What a difference from the life of Jesus, who favored three and especially loved one of his disciples.

Why do we do this?

I think we've been duped. We've had "objectivity" hammered into our brains at every opportunity: education, science, business, parenting, law, social interaction, war, markets, fashion, even art and poetry. We've been taught to manage everything, to the point that even our nuclear families are now all chiefs and no indians. Having conflict with your boss? Manage it! Having a fight with your spouse? Manage it! Your child? Manage it (together)! Anger issues? Manage it! Boredom? Manage it! And by "manage" here I mean we are told to step outside ourselves and objectively analyze our lives as if we were an slightly-interested observer. But there are dangers to applying management techniques too often and too strongly.

I recall a recent meeting of church leaders where the question was asked, "why do we want more people in our Sunday morning services?" The answers were all management answers: "we want more trained parishioners to help run all of our cool programs." Nobody said, "we care about all people and want them to meet Jesus and become mature in him." Too many chiefs and not enough indians.

I'm going to cut this short so I can publish it now. More later. This is a capital-T Theme for me these days.

Permalink 11/20/08 06:39:33 pm, by fumanchu Email , 490 words, Categories: Misc , 394 comments »

Abominable Practices

Leviticus 18 and 20--what a crazy couple of chapters. Here God vocally, in first person, declares those practices which are worthy of death. It's interesting that the entire set is bookended and shot through with a strict separation between Israel and everyone else, especially the Egyptians under whom they had previously lived, and the Canaanites whose land they would shortly be occupying. All of the admonishments are wrapped in, and expressed in, the vocabulary of holiness in the sense of separation: God has called out this people to be different. First, there are injunctions against sex with family members and various other sexual impurities, then an oddly-sandwiched reference to sacrificing children to Molech, and in the same breath, profanity; then finally, homosexuality and sex with animals.

Then we hit another bookend that says:

Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants.

I'm just mentioning this in passing hoping someone can shed some light on the anthropomorphization of the land.

But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you.

Now it gets interesting. First of all, we have the word Tow'ebah, which is translated into English as "abomination" = ab + omen = "move away from a bad omen". Usually I steer away from etymologies of words in the target language, since they often possess semantic facets which the original words did not, and can lead interpretation astray. But in this case, I wonder how much the Hebrew word carried the sense of disgust and foreboding, and whether God experiences emotions like that (which, the more I read Damasio, the more I wonder whether God has/needs a body with which to emote).

Regardless of the corporeity of God, it's certainly true that these practices in Lev 18 and 20 deserve death. So the next crazy thing to note about these chapters is that it's one of the most crystal-clear examples of an issue on which God contradicts himself. Or, at least, Jesus contradicts God. In John 8:

"Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" ...And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."

Aside: I'm aware of the questions about the authenticity of the Pericope Adulteræ (John 7:53-8:11). I'm sticking with it.

So on the one hand, we have God saying "keep My statutes and My judgments (κριματα)" declaring adultery to be one of the few abominations, that which causes defilement on a geologic scale, and which is worthy of death. On the other, Jesus hands out no punishment to, and even refuses to verbally condemn, (κατακρινω) an adulteress. Hmmm. Something's gotta give.

Where I'm leaning for now is the historical approach: God really did act in linear history, and the environment, needs, and injunctions of one society (15th century Israel fleeing Egypt and overthrowing Canaan) may be different from those of another (1st century Israel in subjugation to Rome). Specifically, I notice that Leviticus says "you...shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien". That is, the geographically focused, isolated, homogeneous people of God are supposed to enforce these interdictions on people of other cultures in their midst. Given an absolute social authority over a people, the majority is encouraged to exercise that authority over the minority population.

Syncretistic Rome, on the other hand, forced Israelites, especially in Jerusalem, to interact with other cultures much more often and involuntarily. Rome would not have long allowed the Jews to impose their own law on the aliens of that day: Syrians, Greeks, or Romans. It is in this context that Jesus chooses not to condemn and deliver a final punishment. Perhaps looking forward to a geographically dispersed, intermingled, heterogeneous people of God (those "in Christ") he chooses here to actively persuade people against enforcing his own purity laws on the woman in front of him, an "alien" with respect to his new kingdom. He does not condone the behavior, of course. But pay attention to the change in methodology; rather than exercising his ascribed authority as the primordial Judge and meting out physical punishment for her past, he instead exercises his achieved authority over the woman (achieved by saving her life) and verbally commands discipline for her future.

I look at the U.S.A. today and I see a culture much more heterogeneous than homogeneous. This is certainly true in terms of ethnicity, is even more mixed in terms of shared cultural behaviors and values, and possesses the additional overlay of God's kingdom drawing members from all ethnicities and cultures. There may have been a time when the set of members of our nation mostly overlapped the set of Christians (and was mostly coterminous with the set of White Europeans); at that time, it may have been advantageous to prefer Levitical methods to prevent defilement of the society. In my opinion, that time is past; that time has been past for at least 2000 years. It's comforting to think of God as wholly outside of time, but our collective experience of him at least is bound by a linear time and God's actions within it. In that sense, God limited himself by creating Time. Within those limits, I think the book of Hebrews shows quite clearly that the New Covenant is better than the Old, and that we should prefer the contract of Jesus over that of Moses. Further, I think that new contract allows us to operate with the methods of Jesus, and that, for our time, those methods are better than those given to Moses. The Law of Moses was an operational scaffold destined to be torn down; Jesus brought the Jeet Kune Do of spirituality by replacing the static Law with the dynamic Spirit.

So sexual sins, worship of idols, profanity, and child sacrifice are all abominable practices. God is disgusted with them. I don't think that has changed in 3500 years. What has changed is the best known method for dealing with such sins. No longer are we called to purify the land or society by capitally punishing everyone, whether inside our out of the people of God, by exercising corporate ascribed authority. Instead we are called to the much more difficult task of achieving personal authority through our care and protection of the lost one, persuading the zealous traditionalist to abandon their campaign of blind righteousness over thoughtful love, and then using that authority to command obedience to God.

Permalink 11/02/08 02:36:50 pm, by fumanchu Email , 1236 words, Categories: Misc , 1 comment »