Me and the Fishes


Yesterday I got an email from someone who had particular questions related to some of my views about theology and God as mentioned in the video below.

They were interesting to me and so I'm replying publicly here for you all as well.

How do these answers sit with you? Are they things you'd say of yourself as well? Am I a loon?

I think that your imagery of us being fish and God being the water we are in lines up with what Paul spoke about on Mars Hill. "In Him we live and move and have our being." The analogy of the fish not being able to see the water (or itself) clearly in the mirror also lines up with Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. "For now we see through a mirror, dimly." Does that work for you?
Exactly. In fact, in an earlier iteration of explanation I had included Paul's Mars Hill note as well as Meister Eckhardt's “I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.” 

It seems you think Theology is man made. True?
Yup. Though the truths that they refer/point towards are simply the way things are ordered under God, our models for that ordering are only that, models, and those models are indeed made by humanity. Inspired at times, sure, but crafted by limited by human minds. 

It seems that you think that in our current state of existence we are incapable of "really" knowing God. True?
Yeesh… A lot hangs on "really" doesn't it? Hmmmm… I think I would say that it is not possible to know God in God's fullness. I'm thinking here of things like Isa 55:6-9, especially, the balance between "… he may be found; call on him while he is near…" and  "'my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." That is, of course there is a nearness and a knowledge of God. Praises! 

In there very least we have scripture by which God's work is recorded, and I believe that we still have the gift of the Spirit which Jesus said he would send from the Father.  And/but…  I believe we commit a sin of hubris when we claim to know God or God's will in its complete fullness. That is, God's Goodness, Beauty, Love, Being etc. is so profound that our words will never be sufficient to capture the essence or the nature of our reliance upon that Holy power.

It seems that you think that God does not "reach out" to communicate with the "fish" living inside of Him. True?
Disagree entirely. It's just that sometime we don't get the message well, or don't slow down enough to listen.

You seem to come from a "liberal", "man-centered" approach to Christianity and theology. True?
Since you seem to be a fair-minded person, and this question (to me) seems very much the same as the first one, I'll assume that there is something to it other than that which I already hit on. I think that "Liberal" as a categorical term is fitting regarding my approach to Biblical Scholarship, yes. Here what I'm thinking of (via the handy-dandy wikipedia) is something like:
"Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an undogmatic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs."

In terms of being "man-centered"… well, that bears some thinking… 

I do tend to think that there is something particular about humanity that is different that the rest of Creation, so I tend to be humano-centric in the sense that I don't think we are just the same as rocks or water, but I doubt that was what you were suggesting… Perhaps you can explain more what you mean about that and I can better answer you.

Elaine Scarry’s “On Beauty and Being Just”

As part of my reading project to get more acquainted with the field of aesthetics, I read this weird little number from Elaine ScarryOn Beauty and Being Just.

Cribbing from wikipedia, I know that Scarry is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, which means at least some other people think she knows a thing or three about aesthetics. For my purposes though – that is, thinking more seriously about the body and its experience(s) as the primary site of theological thought –  this book was elusive. Wild, weird, and a bit fun, yes. But still elusive.


From Pages 111-113

At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to Simone Weil, requires us "to give up our imaginary position as the center…  A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions and psychological impressions." Weil speaks matter-of-factly, often without illustration, implicitly requiring readers to test the truth of her assertion against their own experience. Her account is always deeply somatic: what happens, happens to our bodies. When we come upon beautiful things—the tiny mauve-orange-blue moth on the brick, Augustine's cake, a sentence about innocence in Hampshire—they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space; or they form "ladders reaching toward the beauty of the world,” or they lift us (as though by the air currents of someone else's sweeping), letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us.

The radical decentering we undergo in the presence of the beautiful is also described by Iris Murdoch in a 1967 lecture called "The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts." As this title indicates, her subject is goodness, not beauty. "Ethics," Murdoch writes, "should not be merely an analysis of ordinary mediocre conduct, it should be a hypothesis about good conduct and about how this can be achieved." How we make choices, how we act, is deeply connected to states of consciousness, and so "anything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivity and realism is to be connected with virtue.” Murdoch then specifies the single best or most “obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for 'unselfing' and that is what is popularly called beauty.”









Why Creeds? (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last part of a short piece I used as a pre-semester reading when I was co-teaching a seminary theology 101 course. The sections on theology are here and here, and the first two on creeds are here and here. this last one makes more sense in the context of what came before, but how you spend your time on the interwebs is up to you.



I once had a professor of contemporary American poetry that made clear the distinction between opinion and justification. To the topic of poetic interpretation he remarked – day one of the semester – something to the following effect:

I do not ever want to hear the phrase “I can't explain it, but that's just how I see it.” You are, of course, utterly entitled to your opinion about what a poem “means.” However, if your position cannot be articulated, justified, or supported, you should be clear that you are doing yourself no favors. Are you still entitled to maintain that opinion? Certainly, but know that you are divorcing yourself from any broader discourse and dialogue by clinging to the “wordless specialness” of your isolated sense of things. Will you make mistakes and oversimplifications in your analysis if you do try? Without a doubt. But if you do not at least attempt to flesh out your position, you should be under no illusion that others will give ear to your interpretation. In terms of this class, I am interested in hearing your opinion only in as much as it is paired with a justification that others can try on for themselves. Let people in to your way of seeing. Practice trying to get it worded right. Practice letting people in. That is what we will be doing here.



Aesthetics, Embodiment, Dualism, and a Reading List


Info about Kant's Aesthetics is here and here.


My Reading List

Berleant, Arnold. “Aesthetic Embodiment.” Online here.

Thiessen, Gesa Elsbeth.Theological Aesthetics: A Reader

Johnson, Mark.The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding.

Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just.

Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory.

Kehl, Medard.The Von Balthasar Reader.

Oliver, Kelly. Ed. Psychoanalysis, Aesthetics, and Politics in the Work of Julia Kristeva.

Crowther, Paul. Art and Embodiment: From Aesthetics to Self-Consciousness.

Thom Stark and The Human Faces of God


I met Thom Stark at 2010's American Academy of Religion and was excited to hear that he had a book out. His The Human Faces of God is an unapologetic critique of biblical inerrancy, earnest engagement with the text, and (apparently) is making a big splash in Bible circles.  The video will give you a great sense of Thom, but for a small taste here he is in his own words from a recent comment on a blog. Folks who frequent The Image of Fish will find ready thematic ties between Thom's work and my own.

As is clear to anyone who reads the book, the kind of Christian faith I articulate is not at all “the Christian faith” as traditionally understood. I don’t believe in having doctrines; I don’t believe in giving assent to metaphysical propositions. Rather, I want to critically appropriate the vocabulary and grammar of all traditions (beginning with my own), in order to better understand the world and ourselves. Part of the way we do that is by condemning aspects of our traditions, but in doing so, recognizing that those condemnable perspectives linger, in various ways, within our modern “progressive” selves.

As I’ve said around and about the place, all God-talk is poetic, not scientific; evocative, not descriptive. So in that last chapter I’m using some vocabulary from my tradition to articulate a coming out of an architectonic religion of dogmatic propositions into a way of acting upon the world through dialogue and conversation with the endless Others, that we’ll find are really little different from ourselves. 

From the blog Unreasonable Faith

Origen and Allegory



Alrighty. So this is my first foray into history hunting for hope.  As I mentioned in a post a bit ago, I am hoping that others with join me in this exploration of tradition.  The video on that link explains the thrust of my invitation more fully, but suffice it to say that I would love to hear from folks about how it is their scholarship feeds a contemporary living faith.  If you have notions about how that might happen, or examples of it happening, send them along.  Either in the comments below, or via direct contact with me. Anywho…

So the above flick is about Origen, and the sources referenced in it are below in the order of their appearance.


Diana Butler Bass

A People's History of Christianity. pg. 18

Biographical Info on Origen

Robert Rainy's The Ancient Catholic Church From The Accession Of Trajan To The Fourth General Council. pg. 168–9

Mark Edwards

"Origen on Christ, Tropology, and Exegesis" in Metaphor, Allegory, and the Classical Tradition. pg. 240

Otto Piper

In Theology Today. Jan. 1960

Hans Urs Von Balthasar / Origen

Origen, Spirit, and Fire. pg. 103


On First Principle 4:3:5, referenced in Graham Keith's "Can Anything Good Come out of Allegory?" pg. 28

John Clark Smith

The Ancient Wisdom of Origen. pg. 214

Historical Hunting for Vitality, Hospitality, and Hope


Among the Progressive Christian circles of which I am typically involved, theological stances range widely, from a version of Universalism that looks askance on traditional Christian language to a form of exploration with "ancient-future" practices and traditions.  Common throughout these encounters though is the pesky question of what to do with tradition(s).

Whether it be the various flavors of orthodox thought (not even needing a captial "O" here) asking us to maintain certain types of historical interpretation and practice, or radical post-Christian theology suggesting we ought to jettison that which has come before, a significant challenge that faces the modern Christian is to figure out where we stand in relation to the rest of the Christian stream, including the part of that stream that predates us by decades and centuries.

Into this mix, Diana Butler Bass steps with her 2009 book, A People's History of Christianity.  A compelling read, Bass's text riffs off of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States with the claim that regardles of what side of the religious aisle you are on, chance are that "the history" and tradition in which you think you need to place yourself is not the only story.  That is, whether you want to reject it or embrace it, Bass suggests the questions to ask are not about rejection or acceptance, but about the "it." What history exactly are you embracing? Rejecting? Is that the only history there is? In rejecting much of Christian Tradition do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? In accepting only once perspective on the past do we miss out on equally true means to depth in faith? Yes indeed, to both, says Bass.

The problem, she claims, is that "the" history that most of us refer to as Christian history is a story of domination and conquest, and while that certainly is present within the tradition, there are also many other storied streams that flow right up to the present, paralleling narratives of compulsion with ones of compassion.  Once we become aware of this she contends, then we can look to history with a different eye, finding the traces of thought and action that are often overlooked.  Doing this then allows us to search out moments and events that, upon contemporary reflection, might become sites of "a vital, hopeful, hospitable, and open faith — a faith that can heal, reconcile, and bring peace." This compelling articulation leads me to an invitation.  

In the next few post on TIoF, I will be engaging in my own hunt for hope in history AND I would love to hear about your own: where do you find vitality, hope, and hospitality in moments, figures, events, or streams of thought from the past?  Put another way, what particulars of your understanding of tradition point you towards a living faith today and how do they do that? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or, even better, your own blog posts that you share. Writing, video, music, photography… you name it and I'd love to see and share it.

The Death of the Death of God OR “Gott ist tot” ist tot


I'll preface all this by noting that what follows is thoroughly not a tracing of the Death of God Theology or Philosophy; mostly it is my perspectives on the whole "God is Dead," thing as it currently stands.  As such, if you are unfamiliar with the "Death of God," thing, the names Friedrich Nietzsche, William Hamilton, or Thomas J. J. Altizer, you might want to check out the wikipedia article on it, and then poke around on the web for a bit.  There is a lot to read about it around.

Also of note: I am not in favor of jettisoning tradition because it is tradition.  I think there is a place for denominational work.  I'm not sure what that place is exactly, but that has more to do with my ignorance of ecumenical geography than it does with any theological position.




Clarification of Terms

Given the hot topic that "death of God" theology was, and is, it seems worth considering what is actually meant by the phrase.  More particularly, I want to express what I mean by the phrase, and why I think it is an idea with which it is worth grappling. After a brief consideration of what I mean by the phrase I will explore some of the related topics that provide some of the foundation upon which theological grappling may well take place. 

When I refer to the death of God I refer to my sense that (1) Our conceptualizations of God and the word God itself are in need of substantive reformulation.  People have been so swayed by unfaithfulness, judgment, and oppression that terms which resulting in one feeling a century ago sometimes drive people in the opposite direction in the present.  (2) Our traditional liturgies and theologies need to be renewed because they do not adequately speak to the experience and condition of contemporary people of faith.  This is not to be done for the sake of popularity or so as to avoid controversy, but rather because certain ways of thinking about, and naming, the Divine that may have previously "worked" to inspire, drive, and comfort people no longer provide sustenance or succor.  It is not so much that God is dead as that our naming of God no longer seems appropriate or fitting: (3) Our techniques for naming God ought to die.  And be renewed.  The classical traditions and methods still surely point to an abiding reality, but they do so in a way similar to calling a grown man named Timothy "Little Tim-Tim." There must be a better way to point to our faith and practice than what has been done.  Or, in the very least, it is worth the attempt to discover if there is a way.

The InterVarsity Dictionary of Theology entry for "Death of God" closes with  the following question.  "If we agree that God is too transcendent to be described in words, or too immanent for his acts to be distinguished from those of nature and man, then what do we have but a dead, or non-existent God?"  There is such a great wealth of ideas in this question that it seemed worth exploring it in detail for what might recovered in answering it.


Too Transcendent

That God is too transcendent to be described in words is a notion I often encounter, especially among progressive Christians, who often extend the idea by commenting that we shouldn't even be expected to be able to describe God because God is such a mysterious force/being/presence.  The results of thinking such as this is that God is left as an utterly amorphous, vague idea, an abstracted mystery that then allows for some very dubious theology to be done.

For Progressive people of faith, I feel very strongly that the desire to leave God almost entirely unarticulated comes as a response to an over-articulated demand for God to be a particular way coming from a more vocal Christian Right.  More or less, what I am suggesting is that the fuzzy theology of many liberal Christians is a sociological result of the  hardline, aggressive stance of some conservative Christians.  Because "they" are clear in their theological tenets and sometimes act in ways that we feel are judgmental and inappropriate, and "we" do not want to be like that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, jettisoning not only judgment, but also clarity.  

One of the struggles that I believe we face is that even the language we use to talk about talking about God is marred with the marks of a Hellenization that does not well suit the numinous.  When we postulate that God may be too transcendent, we seem to be articulating a vision of God that is somehow fixed "out there," something akin a quasi-Platonic Form of Divinity.  Indeed, Plato's description of the Form of Beauty seems not too far removed from how many talk about God: "It is not anywhere in another thing, as in an animal, or in earth, or in heaven, or in anything else, but itself by itself with itself" (The Symposium, 211b).  That is, the transcendent Form is so far removed from our world and our experience of the world that the best we can hope to do is experience some lesser reproduction of the thing.  The result of this thinking then, is that the best we can do when attempting to articulate something transcendent is hope to name some flawed copy of the thing we actually sought to speak.  I reject this construction.

Given that Hellenized thought is so profoundly foundational to Western education, culture, and theology, it would be naive to presume any capacity to be able to reject it wholesale and still be considered to be in conversation with the tradition, so I reject it knowing that I will hereafter always stand as a possible hypocrite to my own claims, knowing that I can easily far into the type of categorical and Wholly Other thinking that I am dismissing.  That being said, I think that what is called for is not a rejection of talk about God because God is unnameable, but a rejection of colonizing talk about God because God's name has been used to oppress and destroy.  We are called not to abandon attempts to name our experience, but to acknowledge that our attempts will be provisional and contextual, not eternal and utterly accurate.


Too Immanent

The fear that God becomes undifferentiateable from the natural world seems to be a hold over from a fear of the physical.  Rather than issues of Immanence and Transcendence being opposite ends of a theological continuum, I believe they are both a response to those same Hellenization processes which thrust God out into the aether.  When God is a bounded being that can be intellectually placed somewhere  – even if that where is "beyond all experience" –  then any claim to God being present in the physical world is simultaneously a claim to placing God within reach.  The issue, it seems to me, is not about whether God is "here" or "there," but that fact that we think God is categorically place-able in anything.  

The phrase  "too immanent for his acts to be distinguished from those of nature and man," suggests that if God is seen to be immanent, then somehow we will lose the capacity to discern God at all.  But what then of the God of Scripture? Of Liturgy?  Would we not still experience a sense of communion in prayer even if we did allow ourselves to panentheistically name the Pretense as present in the world?  Where and when did God inform us that we lived in a polarized world where things are only made in two shades?

A key seems to be in remembering that in Jesus Christ we have the bridging mediator that guides us to the cross and the rebirth in which the heavens and earth converge.  The Holy Spirit which persists is our guide  in present days.  A guide into new territory which has yet to be named.


The Death

Essentially, what I would like to call for, to proclaim, is that "death of God" theology has died.  That is, it no longer captivates, inspires, accurately speaks to the condition of contemporary people of faith, etc.  Rather than a consistent fixation of the end of an era of classical God-talk, I am much more interested in its renewal.  It strikes me that the task of the theologian is always four-fold: Recover, reclaim, cast off, and create.  There is certainly a wealth of information and passion to be recovered within the traditional modes of theological discourse, and some of it ought to be reclaimed for its use in building up the true church of believers in the Body of Christ. And some of it needs to be jettisoned as a nothing more than a historical, philosophical artifact and vestige.

I am interested in that which comes after the casting off of old clothes, the encounter with the open air after centuries of enclosure.  What wondrous words might we find to articulate our sense of the Divine in this world?  What a glorious bricolage we may find.  


Again for the First Time


A review of Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination

Referencing: Revised Second Addition, 2001 Augsburg Fortress


       A classic in the field of Biblical Studies and homiletics for years, Brueggemann's 1978 magnum opus still is rich with material for consideration and reflection. Composed of a series of lectures, the contents of this small book are so well-cited in progressive Christian academia that sometimes reading it can feel clichéd.  This, however, is not a mark of dull and reused writing on behalf of Brueggemann, but rather a testament to the degree that his text has been influential in the field.  As such, it bears reconsideration in its own right, not held to our vague sense of it as a useful book, but to the particulars that the text offers.

Early in the book Brueggemann articulates his claim: "The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. Thus I suggest that prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated” (3). In this short paragraph Brueggemann lifts up profoundly consequential aspects of the prophetic message: it helps to imaginatively craft a new world, speaks directly to contemporary (dis)ease, and is emboldening and subversive.

Brueggemann understands the Biblical prophet's task to be is the same as today's preacher: we are called to prophetic imagination, not just Biblical education or Christian vocabulary appropriation. For him, it is our task to shake people from their anesthetized state of numbing acquiescence to  Empire; accept the reality of pain, suffering, and death; realize that this is a means beyond this darkness; and energize people to envision and enact anti-Imperial change.  Key to Brueggemann's subversion though is a core of joy.  This is not Battle in Seattle Anarcho-Socialists throwing bricks through the windows of Starbucks, it is a "hope-filled language of prophecy, [which cuts] through the royal despair and hopelessness, [with] the language of amazement. It is a language that engages the community in new discernments and celebrations just when it had nearly given up and had nothing to celebrate" (67).

In a day and age when most of what we do – including a very significant portion of theological training and education –  is focused on occupation and application instead of innovation and inspired vocation, Brueggemann's conceptualization of the prophet subverts even this, with prophetic work being akin to that of a capital "A" Artist.  Our task as prophets is to insist that "imagination must come before implementation" (40), acknowledging that the "poetic imagination is the last way left in which to challenge and conflict the dominant reality" (40).  Here I find myself breaking somewhat with Brueggemann in the minor sense that I do not think there was ever any other way to liberatively challenge oppressive systems than with acknowledgement, imagination, and action.

Brueggemann's treatment of the texts from which he draws, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, is clear on the importance of emotional connection to situations, the revelatory power of accepted anguish and amazement, and joy and grief (e.g. 79). Brueggemann comes to the conclusion that prophetic work "brings together the internalization of pain with external transformation" (91), and that "all functions of the church can and should be prophetic voices that serve to criticize the dominant culture around us while energizing the faithful" (125). This commitment to acknowledging anguish seems much stronger in the text then when I had last worked with it, and it is a useful thing to consider. Moreover, it is essential for Brueggemann that we not remain in some mire of pure pathos either: the act of acknowledging suffering is part of the same gesture which wakes us to the reality that there are cites of someday subversion everywhere that find ourselves participating in injustice.  Bruggemann's prophet points us toward that day and encourages us along the way until we arrive. 

On the Road Theopoetics

Lots of things in this one…

The QUIP Quaker Writers conference was held to coincide with the release of this book (which I have a few things in).

The Center for Process Studies at Claremont hosted the Theopoetics and the Divine Manifold conference , at which, most academically noteable for me (at this moment), were Catherine Keller, Vince Colapietro, and Mat Lopresti.  

While there I gave a presentation in conjunction with the paper I delivered working with my ideas about a Heraldic Gospel.

Then I spent time at Whittier First Friends Church.

Ethics, Eschatology, and Avatar

I recently saw the film “Avatar,” prompted by lots of press and the opportunity to spend time with my family, who also wanted to see it.  Long story short?  Pretty good movie if I’m just thinking about it as a movie.  Fairly concerning if I think about it with my theologian hat on.  Why? Two reasons.

1) It enforces a belief in the myth of redemptive violence while ostensibly trying to the cause of environmental protection.

In discussing the film, director James Cameron has commented that

I’m not trying to make people feel guilty… I just want them to internalize a sense of respect and a sense of taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth.. and I think this film can do that by creating an emotional reaction.

What worries me is that Cameron’s “taking responsibility” amounts to killing the people who don’t have a sense of respect.  Now I know that it is a fictional fantasy, and that I might be taking it all too seriously, but it just seems as if it unnecessarily weaves support of the myth of redemptive violence into notions of stewardship. [An article by Walter Wink about the myth of redemptive violence is here.]  Given the internal logic of the film, were the protagonists justified?  Sure.  Does such justification exist in our own story?  I think not.

2) It suggests an eschatology of hope that entails the physical intercession of some Divine force that allows the “good guys” to continue just as before, just without the “bad guys” around any more to bug them.

As a Member of the Religious Society of Friends, I’m more of a proponent of what we call a “realized eschatology,” what more evangelical/emergenty folk seem to refer to as some form of Kingdom Theology.  I don’t think everyone is obligated to believe this, however it seems to be worth noting as it contributes to my concern for some hope of a future wherein the direct intercession of the Divine defeats all my enemies for me, and I am left to my paradise in peace.

Cameron’s Avatar portrays the god of the protagonists as some magical force which can intercede on behalf Her people, and whose direct intercession is necessary to continue.

I do not think that there is a direct correlation between such cinematic suggestions and individual theological thought, however I do believe that our perceptions of the Divine are influenced by the media we consume.  Thus, while I doubt anyone walked away thinking verbatim that “I can’t wait till God returns and destroys all the [INSERT HATED GROUP] and I get to live exactly as I was before I met them,” I do think that the amazing appeal of this film plays on our fanciful hopes that, in fact, just such a thing will happen.

I’m not opposed to magical thinking in films, but when the film is an explicit attempt to sway the hearts and minds of folks in this world for the sake of engaged change, I find the reliance on magical thinking to be yet another impediment to finding ways forward that are not coercive or fanciful.

I am reminded of a passage in Theodore Jennings’ The Liturgy of Liberation,

If violence is the symptom of despair then the sporadic and systematic violence that charecterizes our world betrays an epidemic of dispair. We despair of justice, we despair of reason, we despair of the other person and so we destroy the other person, and we prepare to be destroyed by the other person ourselves.  In short, we despair.  We are without hope for ourselves, for the other, for our world.

If it is only through some belief that our enemies will be swept away by the wrath of a God-figure that we manage to find some measure of hope, then perhaps despair has indeed won out.  I, for one, though, still tend to think there is yet another way forward.

Interpretive Communities, a Request, and a Heraldic Gospel

On a recent video from the Transforming Theology project, Phillip Clayton asked Tony Jones how the internet and Google have been at work changing theology. Jones replied that it allows for a greater, more broad based, access to information, and forum for feedback.  I agree.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Jonathan Brink writes about uncertainty, truth, interpretation, and Stephen Colbert’s interview with the Conservative Bible Project guy.  Those are all things I love thinking about.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Blake Huggins writes about Jurgen Moltmann, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Chris Rosenbrough commented that “… these are first and foremost the questions that need to be asked and definitively answered and those answers are found no where else than in the inerrant and inspired text of scripture.”  Blake replied that “… I think it is impossible for anyone to simple “begin in the text” or pose the question “what does the text say?” I don’t think the text or us as readers exist in a vacuum.”  This reminds me of Stanley Fish’s comment that “”strictly speaking, getting ‘back-to-the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its production.”

In a serendipitous convergence of things, this very day I finished writing a piece called “Towards a Heraldic Gospel: From Monorthodox Doctrine to Theopoetic Perspectives on Revelation and Repentance.”  It addresses all the things that Jonathan, Blake, and Chris were discussing, and I wonder, if, in the spirit of the Tony Jones and Phillip Clayton conversation, real people are interested in chomping down on some theology with me and giving it a read. That’s my request: given that you are a hyper-extended community of interpretation that might actually be interested in theology, is there anyone out there who would be interested in chatting?

There have been a few great back and forths on The Image of Fish already, and I thought it might be worth testing the waters to see if this larger scale communique would be received as well.

Anyone who would be interested and giving it a read can download it directly here.  If anyone does bite, I’d love to do a back and forth via skype for a few minutes so that it could get posted here as well… Comments are good too though.

“strictly speaking, getting ‘backto-
the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text
demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its

“It Is” and “It Means”

I’m still several posts away from actually addressing the importance of community in individual interpretation, but it appears I am one step closer. What I am interested in for this post has been inspired by a number of relatively unrelated pieces of information I have recently come across:

  • A story from Stanley Fish’s book, Is There a Text in This Class?, in which a group of well-intentioned students is able to “interpret” the meaning of a “Medieval Christian Iconographic Poem,” which is actually just a list of names.
  • A news item about Jesus appearing on an iron, featuring the 44-year-old Mary Jo Coady, who was raised Catholic. She and her two college-age daughters agree that the image looks like Jesus and is proof that “he’s listening.”
  • A (closely paraphrased) tongue-in-cheek quote from James H. Evans Jr. : “Any time an image of Jesus immerges on a potato chip, iron, or cave wall, I have the same question: Not whether it is Jesus or not, but why is it that every appearance of a 30 year-old bearded man is presumed to be Jesus. Why not Che Guevara?”

What I’m working with certainly isn’t a new thought as such, either for me or for the world, however it has had a certain grip on me as of late and so I’m putting it out there.  The guts of it are in a statement and two corresponding questions:

S: Often we confuse our interpretation of something with the thing itself.

Q1: What would change in the world if we said that some of the things we “know” to be true might just seem true to us?

Q2: Is anything lost if we give up saying we know things for sure?

Given how broad the questions are I think it is important to emphasize that I do not intend them to be rhetorical.  In particular I wonder about the second.  To some degree this has been popping up because I recently began reading Carl Raschke’s book, GLOBOChrist. I haven’t finished it yet, but right in its forward, James K.A. Smith hits on something that I have found to be absolutely true, “Contrary to those who espouse a postmodern account of mission or evangelism as a cover for engaging in “transformative dialogue” (or various other technical translations of kumbaya), the core argument of GloboChrist suggests that the church’s missional task in postmodernity is inevitably a vocation of conflict.”

As someone who uses the phrase “transformative dialogue,” often and is actually an employee of an organization whose very name is The Transformative Language Arts Network, I am under direct, and appropriate, fire.  How earnest am I being when I say that other viewpoints are just as good as mine? Do I really believe that or am I just saying that to cover over the fact that some hard things to deal with are just irreconcilable?

Now, I’m not even sure that Q1 is even remotely a realistic possibilty, and wouldn’t even know where (NVC notwithstanding) to begin institutionalizing it, but it doesn’t seem that radical, because the might in it still leaves open the possibility that the things we believe are, in fact, completely and absolutely true.  It doesn’t say nothing is true, just opens up the possibility that we might be misguided.

Regardless of feasibility of the first, Q2 fascinates me all the more because a part of me feels like I’m missing something.  I don’t seem to feel like admitting that my own knowledge is contingent seems to be a problem most of the time, but maybe by doing so there’s something I’m not experiencing… like I’ve inserted this philosophical and phenomonological safety epoche’ to buffer myself from the more strident emotions and firmer commitments of the world.  Perhaps if I was more assertive I would feel differently about things.  Maybe I’m missing out because I’m “hedging my bets.”    Hmmmm…. more fodder for the grist mill I suppose.  The only thing to do is keep on keeping on.  Which reminds me:

I’ve got some lunch to eat.