Why Bother with Theology?

The oft captivating Blake Huggins at (Ir)religiosity has prompted me once again.  I encourage folks to go give his post "The task of the theologian: responsibility for God," a read and/or check out my thoughts on a very similar topic below.

 

What do we Gain with a Doctrine of God? 

What do we accomplish in the development of a Doctrine of God? With ecclesiology we find ourselves left with the suggestions of worship, the role of the church, and the relationship of Church to world. With Doctrine of Humanity we investigate theological anthropology and move towards some sense of our ultimate purpose, how we might be called to be in relation to one another and the world, and potentially, the ground of a Christian ethic. What then, does Doctrine of God provide us with? I believe that the answer lies in the way of C.S. Lewis's comment that, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." The best of our Doctrines of God provide us with a way to consider the Divine in such a manner that also allows us to make some greater sense of the world and our various experiences within it.

 

Our articulations of the Divine must simultaneously be a commentary on our own condition as well as a means of hope for something more. In some sense, we run the risk of imbuing God with our own ideas, falling into Feurbach's accusation that our constructs of God are always just projections of the values we hold most dear, rendering God as nothing but an objectified and created container that holds our collective virtues. Of course, on the other side, explaining God as somehow beyond everything of this world also runs into problems as it relegates the Divine to a distant and disconnected horizon.

 

I do not want to locate God solely within the known world and our experience, as we can too easily define God in our image instead of vice-versa. Similarly, I am resistant to the idea that God is entirely beyond our experience as well, a God which would force an articulation of the nature of God to be greater than our experience, a wholly other God. With both of these extremes offering something to the person of faith, and with either possessing its own potential pitfalls, it behooves us to consider how we might incorporate these positions into one articulation of God and God's nature, and in so doing, explore the role and purpose of a well-crafted Doctrine of God.


 

Divine Resonance

If our explication of the nature of the Divine somehow places God fully beyond human access, then God becomes available only beyond life. If, conversely, it is the case that God's valency is experiential, then our models and articulations of the Divine ought to provide for this to be the case. Those who see this move as heretical often have a sense of the role of theology and doctrine of God that differs substantially from mine. While many feel as if knowing and proclaiming the redemptive truth of God is central to a Christian life, I have some significant suspicion of those who insist on their interpretation as the only valid approach, as if their sense of God is ultimate and complete. I agree with Tripp Fuller that, "in an unfinished universe it is unreasonable to think a theology is finished." What we know of God is contextual, personal, and ever capable of change. To say that God is ever changing may seem to fly in the face of the eternal nature of God, and yet I believe that there is some grounds for it, which I would like to articulate via analogy, of all things, to chemistry.

 

Asked what H2O is, most people will answer water. They are correct, and there is more to the story than their response. Formed the other way around, "H2O" as an answer to the question "What is water?" is not wholly correct. Imagine two molecules of water, each with two atoms of hydrogen associated to a larger atom of oxygen. What we have discovered is that even in a container of "pure" water, the reality is that a collection of H2O molecules do not remain simply a collection of H2Os. Instead, they begin to interact with one another, resulting in one of the two oxygen atoms taking a hydrogen atom from the other, an event which chemists notate as 2 H2O <–> H3O+ + OH and refer to as the "self-ionization" of water. Essentially, even though water is H2O, that is, two hydrogen atoms and and one oxygen atom, water does not ever actually exist in a pure H2O form: it is constantly in a state of resonance, transition, and relation: that state of oscillation in process between H3O+ and OHis what we refer to as H2O, as water. So too is God: somewhere between transcendent and immanent; personal and eternal; and any number of other seeming contradictions.

 

By extension then, our task as theologians is not to name God as a fixed God that is and always will be, but to describe God in a such a way that captures some of the Divine nature as it is in the process of becoming something other than what we have named it. This is not to say that God is becoming something ungodlike any more than it is to say that water is not water-like simply because we always thought it was just H2O. The function of a Doctrine of God is to provide a sketch of how it is that God is at some middle point of becoming something more than we thought it was, but not so far afield that it is unrecognizable; two molecules of water do not self-ionize into wombats: they stay water-related, just further afield than we first thought. There is enough sense of continuity between H3O+ and OHsuch that it makes sense to call a mixture of those things H2O, even though what we have discovered challenges our sense of what exactly that wet stuff is.

As we scientifically name water as H2O because that is the state in between its two poles of existence, so too can we conceive of God, with the noted exception that while water "self-ionizes" into two distinct parts, each of which is qualitatively identifiable, quantifiable, and fixed, God seems to be formed of more parts than we can name. Yes Father, yes Son, yes Holy Spirit, and yes also Alpha and Omega; Love and Light; and Living Water and Word. Yes, yes, and infinite becoming yes.


 

The Truth of the Daily

If I ask someone to tell me what water is and they say that water is something you drink, that doesn't mean they got it wrong. Even though there are other things that we drink as well, that certainly is one of the things that water is. Too often we associate truth with abstract generality so that when someone speaks to the particulars of their experience we discount, or devalue their commentary in light of more totalizing and structural methodologies.

 

Understanding and/or relating to some aspect of the Divine does not entail understanding and/or relating to the entirety of God. If you ask my wife if she knows me, she is sure to say yes, and you would think nothing of it. Of course she knows me. And yet there are thoughts I think, things I see, and stories I have heard that she has no knowledge of. That doesn't mean she does not know me: it means than I am more than that which she knows. I see no reason why this should not be the case with God as well. We articulate God's qualities not to limit or ascribe finitude to that which is more than that, but as an offering and invitation to others that they might respond in kind, lending their voices to a conversation which is both the echo of ancient words and the renewal of current hope.

 

I see the task of a theologian as one akin to a poet's: to capture some sense of the moment in such stunning detail — by tone, image, sound, example, etc — that upon reflection, some echo of that moment is called forth in the other. In the writings of George Fox, he repeatedly called for Christians "to answer to that of God in all." As a theologian, I understand my role as an articulator of the Divine that I perceive in the world, an answering call that hopefully encourages other to do the same.  

Communal Discernment and the Religious Society of Friends

 

 

Related Online Resources

The set of handouts I reference in the video are all put together in this PDF which we sometimes use.

The reference I make to Bruce Epperly's wonderful consideration of creativity and agency is part of his paper, Infinite Freedom, Creativity, and Love: The Adventures of a Non-competitive God, specifically at the beginning of the second page.

A longer video my wife Kristina and I made about Discernment and Spiritual Practices within the Religious Society of Friends as part of our educational series, the Jewels of Quakerism. Not directly about Discernment Circles or Clearness Committees, but potentially of interest.

Relatedly, I want to thank the Fund for Theological Education for the opportunities granted to me as a result of the Ministry Fellowship.

The Holy Spirit and Us

 

Patheos blog article on the Holy Spirit.

Phil Wyman's Four Square No More Blog post.

The Transform Gathering East Coast page.

Informational films I've made (with Kristina) about Quakerism are here.

Tony Jones' post about Pentecostalism and the Emergent Church is here.

Sam Laurent's profile (almost to the bottom of the page) from Drew is here.

Sarah Walker-Cleaveland is currently working on some pneumatology stuff and her home page is here.

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.

Theology After Google Presentations

This first video is my presentation on the first night of the Theology after Google conference.


 

This is Barry Taylor's (whose blog is here) on the last day, and for me, it felt like what he added was in a beautiful resonance with my thoughts.

 

I'm still trying to figure out exactly why, but after Barry finished I commented that I felt like I had met a theological brother.  

TAG Reflections

First, I'm sorry for such poor (and poorly aimed) video quality.  If it helps, just ignore the visual and listen like a podcast.  That will fix the problem and you won't have to be exposed to my ridiculously expressive eyebrows.

Next:

I have a more formal, written reflection about the event, here, on a spot that the Emergent Village folk asked me to do.

Bob Cornwall's TAG thoughts are here on his blog, Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

Ken Silva's thoughts on my presentation are here, on his blog Apprising Ministires.

 

Jonathan Brink's post referenced is here.

Joshua Case's (of the Nick and Josh Podcast) reflections, though not identical to his closing remarks, are here.

And Brian Shope wrote about Missio Dei after TAG in a way that was clarifying for me here, at his blog, Pacing the Cage.

 

And yes, I am aware that all these links go to work by men.  And yes, that makes me sad.  

Theology After Google

 

 

Via their website:

 

 

Why “theology after Google”?

Progressive Christian theologians have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg: books, academic articles, sermons, and so forth. We aren't making effective use of the new technologies, social media, and social networking. When it comes to effective communication of message, the Religious Right is running circles around us.

Hence the urgent need for a conference to empower pastors, laypeople, and the up-and-coming theologians of the next generation to do “theology after Google,” theology for a Google-shaped world. Thanks to the Ford funding, we’ve been able to assemble a stellar team of cultural creatives and experts in the new modes of communication. We are also inviting a selection of senior theologians, and well as some of the younger theologians (call them “theobloggers”) whose use of the new media (blogging, podcasts, YouTube posts) is already earning them large followings and high levels of influence. For two and a half days, in workshops and in hands-on sessions, in lectures and over drinks, these leading figures will be at your disposal to teach you everything they know.

 

The Theology After Google conference is coming up this week, and I thought that folks might be interested in some of my contributions there. (They're bringing me in as one of those theobloggers)  Particularly: Members of the Religious Society of Friends, folks interested in theopoetics, and hermeneutics nerds. The full schedule is here, and is all set to Pacific Standard Time. 

The main setup is like TED talks, and will all be live streaming here: tinyurl.com/tag10stream .

Please interact, and as I said in the vid, shoot me any comments that you think are relevant.  Fun times.

A Question: Friesen, the Internet, and Heretical Cultism

I recently received the following email and figured that since I was going to reply anyway, I might as well post about it and see if others have opinions they want to share.  Please give the questions below a read and weigh in if you have any thoughts about them.  I’d be interested for sure, and I imagine that Christopher (who is doing his PhD on matters related to this) would be too.

I recently read the book ‘Thy Kingdom Connected‘ by Dwight Friesen out of Mars Hill and wanted to get more insight on a theory developed in chapter 4 of the book ‘Connective Leaders’. On page 85 Friesen writes that in addition to allowing new and often fringe voices to the conversation (which very much follows Bruce Bimber’s theory of accelerated pluralism), the Internet also connects these groups beyond themselves, thus mediating their extreme, thereby keeping them from developing ‘totalitarian, heretical, cultish tone(s)’. This last bit here is quite an important development as it neatly extends Bimber’s theory of ‘accelerated pluralism’, at least as far as it pertains to religious organizations. I am wondering if you believe this to be more or less exclusive to religious groups and/or other bodies with high levels of social capital? Is so, why? If not, why not? Is the presence of face-to-face in-person contact/meet-ups (church going) important? And perhaps most importantly, why do you think this moderation takes place?

NOTES:

Bimber here is a reference to Bimber, Bruce. 1998. ‘The Internet and Political Transformation: Populism, Community and Accelerated Pluralism.’ Polity XXXI (1): 133-160.

For a quick version of this, see below, from the University of Iowa’s e-democracy pages:

The fragmentation of American political discourse into narrow interests preceded the Internet but the medium accelerates the tendency. As citizens turn away from conventional channels of political participation, will they substitute new political forms, or retreat into private spheres of atomized interests? What happens to serendipity and community, cross-cutting issues, and process?

Bimber calls this process “accelerated pluralism”, and it does seem to be a general characteristic of on-line life, political and otherwise. Just as urbanization affords exposure to a wider range of experiences but allows greater social segmentation, electronic media can further fragment civic society by microtargetting people in increasingly individualized affinity groups. In Norris’ words, “virtual democracy looks more like anarchy than ABC news.”

Can cyber-space complete the transformation from village to urban cliques, permitting disembodied interests to aggregate electronically?

Oh, the off-camera commentary was from my housemate Michelle Long, and the swing dance community I mentioned was http://yehoodi.com/ .

I’d love to hear other thoughts on these questions.

Source: https://amcrest.com/ip-cameras.html

Top Ten Myths about Emerging Church

Short list (for posterity’s sake) of Tony Jones‘ list of Top Ten Myths about the Emerging Church, delivered at Emergence Now at Columbia Theological Seminary January 27, 2010, and reported real time via Bruce Reyes-Chow (who is there as well) through Twitter with @breyeschow.

#1 “Emergence is just about theological debates and publishing contracts.”

#2 “Emergence only appeals to younger people.”

#3 “Emergence is a reformation of evangelicalism.”

#4 “Emergence does not believe in authority.”

#5 “Emergence is confined to the American church and white guys.”

#6 “Emergence doesn’t appreciate church history.”

#7 “Emergence has a spokesperson.”

#8 “Emergence is a new way to ‘do church’.”

#8.5 “Pomomusings is the official blog of the emergent church.”

#9 “Emergence is anti-denominational”

#10 “Emergence is trying to put the conventional church out of business.”

UPDATE 1/27 : Tony posted the slides from yesterday’s talk here.

McLuhan, Media, and Ministers

As part of the Transforming Theology Project over at Claremont, Tripp Fuller and Phillip Clayton are teaching a class called “Theology After Google.”  Given the content of the course, Tripp has been interacting with the Twitterverse and Blogosphere as part of the course content and prep.  He recently suggested that I throw a little somethin somethin together around the topic of the medium and message for modern ministers.  This video is that.

“The medium is the message” is probably the most oft-quoted line from Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan.  I bumped into McLuhan’s work years ago in my studies in communications theory and was utterly bowled over by his insight, wit, and bizarre eccentricity.  Heck, the title of this blog is even because of him.  Anywho, the issue (one of them anyway) with McLuhan is that he never wrote “the book” on anything. He never got all of his ideas into one place and came down definitively on anything, instead favoring short questions and comments that he called “probes.”  The fact that he did this intentionally makes it no less frustrating for same.  He said it was because The Print Age and linear, visual-rational, thinking was closing to be replaced with The Electronic Age’s emphasis on connective thought.  Consequently, his writing, even though published in the 50’s and 60’s  reads more like what would happen if you published the results of a 12 hour web-surfing spree, rather than a finely honed theoretically work.  That point of all this is to say that not as many academics have given him the credit I think he deserves because he wasn’t playing by the rules.  This (of course) I love.

Here I’m trying to re-articulate his probes “the medium is the message,” and of “retribalization” in the context of theology, specifically theology after Google.

I may or may not come back here and add to the text of this post, but I think I fairly well said what I needed to in the video, so please let me know if things are unclear, or if you would like a further articulation of something I said.  I am more than willing to clarify if I can.  Happy viewing, and please comment below.

Related Readings

Great read about how Google might be changing the way we think, “I Google, Therefore I Know.”

An interesting essay which has a long section about McLuhan’s retribalization is here.

An interpretation of  “the medium is the message” from a more “pure McLuhan” standpoint is here.

An article connecting McLuhan and hermeneutics is here.

Less related, but also of note:

An article dealing with McLuhan and revisionist theology is here.

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
production”

“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.