A river whose waters make glad


Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Imagine the absolute collapse of the everything, the entire material order — the earth giving way, the mountains falling into the sea, the ‘sea’ and its mythical powers engulfing God-given order. Chaos returns. This is the fundamental upheaval of the created order. In the midst of a return to primeval chaos, what would your state of mind be? What would you say to your kids as the world disappeared underneath your (and their) feet? The Psalmist here is either insane or he knows something we don’t, for he describes in the midst of such upheaval “a river whose streams make glad.” God is in her, he says. She will not fail. We may be in hell. We may be engulfed in universal collapse. We may be exiled and tortured, imprisoned and beaten for years in a Romanian prison, or gored on bulls. But it matters not what we are in. It matters what is in us. “God is in her,” he assures, “she will not fail.” And the Psalmist doesn’t leave the collapse of the world in vv. 2-3 to write these words. He’s still in that collapse. The mountains and sea are a single foaming chaos surging and swallowing all that is. Chaos is his address. And in this chaos he is glad.

How? Where do the undisturbed waters of this river flow? Well, here they’re flowing in and through a world devoured by chaos. What is their source? Now that is a different question. “Be still,” he says, “and know that I am God.” In the quiet of silent prayer — there is the gladdening river, there is the table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23), there is the joy which is “unspeakable and full of glory” (1Pet 1), the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 3), the knowledge of a love that transcends knowing (Eph 3), the forthcoming incomparable glory (Rom 8.18).

When every evidence of God’s presence and goodness disappears from the horizon, when the mountains are cast into the “sea” and its “waters roar and foam” as every dependable structure of our world is swallowed and digested, and when even the horizon disappears, there remain other waters (waters other than the “sea”), waters whose ability to “make glad” transcend choas. Psalm 46 is the Rom 8.31-39 of the Old Testament (“Nothing can separate us from the experience of the love of God in Christ”).

(Picture here.)

Tenderly cradled in free-fall

Thank you Kayla Jean Mueller. Theology at its best. Not angry or in the throes of despair. Rather, secure in an experience of love which your captivity could not silence or deconstruct. Now to get the rest of us who aren’t in anything like the circumstances you were in to know the abiding peace of mind you possessed. God have mercy on us all.

Portions of the letter she left her family:

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator because there was literally no one else, and by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free-fall…

I have been shown in darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness and surrender to God as well and have formed a bond of love and support among one another….

No, not that infinity

infiniti_essence_1_09If you’re unfamiliar with the ideas of St. Gregory of Nyssa regarding the believer’s unending progression into God, Fr Aidan discusses it in Meditating on Moses: The Infinity of Virute. It’s a wonderful thought—our perfection is a never-ending adventure into God. Heaven may be a resting place from the particular struggles and temptations of the present and from our proclivity to weakness and failure. But with respect to our perfection—i.e., the fulfillment of our natures—heaven is anything but the end of the road. It is an infinitely extended beginning of sorts, an unending adventure in God of his own infinite beauties, the perfect union into one final experienced rest both of being presently satiated and hungry for more. But this hunger for more is not deferment of the good. It express no failure of God to satisfy. Rather, it is the satisfaction of an expanding desire for God. Think of opening a present to find that the gift inside in addition to being more than you could imagine also contains its own gift which contains yet another and so on ad infinitum.

I won’t park here on the implications this has for apatheia as we’ve tried to express it here and why those who deny it are left with a view of their own eternal rest in God as the static repetition of the finite. In the end you reap what you sow.

(Picture here)

Addiction and Virtue

514y7p46juL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (2011) is a wonderful book—equally educational/informative and challenging. I’ve shared his basic insights but never did the interdisciplinary work he has behind his arguments. So I’m happy be reading him. I don’t have a background in working with those in Recovery but ministry opportunities and needs three years ago placed me in the thick of leading our local church’s Recovery program. I faced a big learning curve, but I have to say that it was exactly the context I needed to bring together the theological and practical on the dynamic processes of human transformation and spiritual formation.

Had I stumbled into Dunnington three years ago, I don’t know that I would have been in a place to digest or integrate it, certainly not as I’m presently able. See what you think from his Preface below. There are issues and questions at play that we’ll be discussing in Loder and Willard.

Recent years have witnessed a massive growth of research on addiction. In 1962, when the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies was moved to Rutgers University, it was the only research institution of its kind. Today approximately one hundred addiction research centers are housed at major universities across the United States. Most of the work is being done by natural and social scientists. Theologians have written comparatively little on addiction, philosophers even less.

This book inserts philosophy and theology into the investigations taking place within the field of “addiction studies.” I argue that efforts to understand and ameliorate addictive behavior have been unnecessarily limited by scientific accounts of addiction. In particular, because so much of the public discourse on addiction is conducted in scientifically reductive terms, many Christians who rightly sense the spiritual significance of addiction are unable to articular this significance in theologically substantive ways. This book is an attempt to provide such an articulation.

The book defends three broad theses. First, it demonstrates that philosophical analysis of human action is required to clear up many of the conceptual confusions that plague the discourse of addiction studies. Within that discourse, addiction is construed as either a disease or a type of willful choice. Neither of those categories is adequate to the phenomenon of addiction. For instance, the disease concept obscures the extent to which persons may be expected to take responsibility for their addictions, and the choice concept obscures the distinctiveness of the addictive experience. This book argues that the category of “habit” is indispensable for charting an intelligible path between the muddled polarities of “disease” and “choice.” The category of habit permits us to describe addiction in a noncontradictory way, without doing violence to the testimonies of persons with addictions.

Human persons develop habits in order to facilitate the pursuit of specific human goods. Thus, if addiction is appropriately characterized as a type of human habit, we may ask about the specific kinds of goods that draw persons into habits of addiction. This is a strange way of speaking; we are so gripped by the destructive effects of addiction that we are not accustomed to considering its constructive appeal. The second broad thesis of the book is that the prevalence and power of addiction indicates the extent to which a society fails to provide nonaddictive modes of acquiring certain kinds of goods necessary to human welfare. Addiction is therefore an embodied critique of the culture which sustains it. I propose that addiction as we understand it is a peculiarly modern habit, and that addiction can be viewed a s mirror reflecting back to us aspects of modern culture that we tend to overlook or suppress. Persons with sever addictions are among those contemporary prophets that we ignore to our own demise, for they show us who we truly are.

Christians must heed prophets. Christians, therefore, are called to appropriately describe the addictive experience and to consider how the church may be complicit in the production of a culture of addiction. To this end, the book endeavors to place addiction within a theological framework. The third broad thesis that the book defends is that the theological category of sin can deepen and extend our understanding of addiction. Addiction is not identical to sin, but neither can it be separated from sin. The power of addiction cannot be adequately appraised until addiction is understood as a misguided enactment of our quest for right relationship with God. I argue that addiction is in fact a sort of counterfeit worship. Thus, although it is true that the church has much to learn from recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, it is also true that the church has much to offer to the recovery movement and indeed to all of us who struggle with addiction…

The first chapter sets the stage by responding to the suspicion and prejudice that is likely to confront any attempt to speak of addiction “philosophically.” The prevailing view of the general public, the media, and the majority of those working within the addiction-recovery movement is that addiction is a disease and that, therefore, addiction is a topic for investigation by scientists and physicians but not by philosophers or theologians I content that attempts to describe addiction exclusively in the language of science—as “disease”—are bound to fail since they rest on a basic conceptual confusion about what is constitutive of voluntary action.

Chapters two and three develop the view that addiction is neither a disease nor a choice but rather a habit. I am interested in asking what the experience of being addicted can teach us about the complexity of human action, and conversely, how a careful analysis of certain aspects of human agency can illuminate some of the more perplexing elements of addictive experience…

Chapter four argue that, contrary to popular belief, addiction is not concerned primarily with sensible goods (hedonic pleasures) but rather with moral and intellectual goods, and chapter five explores the idea that the habit of addiction may be a response to a peculiarly modern lack of certain kinds of moral and intellectual goods. The strategy changes here, from the systematic unfolding of a philosophy of human action in chapters two and three to a more far-ranging and (inevitably) speculative exercise in philosophy of culture.

Chapter six moves into theological territory and addresses the question of whether or not we learn anything of descriptive or normative import by thinking about addiction in terms of the category of sin. Conversely, the chapter considers how our understanding of sin, including the doctrine of original sin, is enriched by our understanding of addiction. Chapter seven is concerned with the relationship between addictive behavior and worship. It contends that addiction offers a powerful response to the modern loss of transcendence. Finally, in chapter eight, I explore the relationship between the church and addiction by proposing what sort of church would be necessary to offer an alternative way of life more compelling than the addicted life.

Life’s rhythms are within your heart inscribed

1916248_282565954983_6380428_nOccasionally we like to share a poem or composition. I have ‘life poems’ for each of my four kids (shared Jessica’s back here). Today I’d like to share David’s.

David and his wife Lauren recently moved up to the Twin Cities from Texas and are in our basement for a few weeks until they find a home. He’s worship leader at a nearby church. He drove us crazy as a kid, first banging away in the attic on a drum set (and the kitchen cupboards), then piano and guitar. Great heart for God. A true troubadour. So I thought I’d share my reflections on David.



Life’s Rhythms Are Within Your Heart Inscribed

David, life’s rhythms are within your heart inscribed,
Where melodies and chords therein abide,
As once on lonely fields and in an unknown king,
Both earth and sky were blessed and voice was raised to sing.
Son, do not fear the weight of such a name,
With all its faded glory and the shadow of its fame;
Goliaths slain and yet exaltation and regret
Lay left and right your path ‘ore which the sun shall set
As upon us all it must; but you my Son fear not that day,
Let your steps match the rhythms of your heart come what may.
Where others fear the depths of waters far from shore
And spend their days in ignorance of, or dreaming for, more;
Let your voice and song resound from where Horizon dwells,
From where the soul pursues its path beneath the stars on ocean swells;
There is your home, a place of such repose,
Amid the storms which threaten not a heart that knows
It rests within the One who made these all,
Whose voice in every wind and ocean spray does call.
From your first days you felt the beat of life’s persuasion,
Drummed it out as could be heard regardless of occasion;
As life’s tempos would permit you kept pace with every measure
Interpreting some grand theme within and therein lay your treasure.
Now recall the themes are not your own, derive they from an ancient source
Which called the cosmos into being and steadies it upon its course,
And now in you erupts in quintessential phrase,
Arpeggios of love all set ablaze.
Love’s staff and measure, her signature and themes
Take shape within your mind and are born inside your dreams.
Oh how true it is, more than I can here describe,
That life’s rhythms, Son, are within your heart inscribed.

Setting our sights 2015

close-up-chiselGreg Boyd’s Trinity & Process has been a dietary staple for Dwayne and me here since we started nearly two years ago. It was one of the burdens of this site to argue that open theism, as it has generally been promoted, has a deficient understanding of divine transcendence and that nothing about the open view of the future requires this deficiency. Much of the past two years here has been spent advocating a more robust view of divine transcendence consistent with the open view of the future. And as we’ve seen, this “more robust” concept turns on an axis whose north and south poles are apatheia (as we’ve tried to articulate it) and Chalcedonian Christology. It’s our view that Trinity & Process plays its part here by making very plausible the integration of traditional/classical and more process values and intuitions. All this is past news now. We’ve nothing new to add.

In chatting about where to venture next, Dwayne and I agree enough has been said about Trinity & Process to establish our point in that regard. Time to move on. And though we do espouse an open view of the future and divine epistemic openness regarding the future, we no longer explicitly promote “open theism” since in the end we were unable to establish the essentials of its theological vision. So while we’ll continue to reflect theologically in terms of an open future (libertarian freedom and divine epistemic openness) we’re not particularly invested in open theism as a theological movement. That may change. In the meantime…

loder_from_fac_book…We’re interested in spiritual formation within an open worldview and the truth of Chalcedon. And in this respect James Loder (1931-2011) has been on our back burner for some time. His work has influenced us both deeply, though Dwayne’s far more in touch with his thought than I am. So we’ll be making Loder a main focus this year. If you’re unfamiliar with him, I hope something we say will inspire you to ponder his work. No need for me to summarize his bio. It’s all available online. He was a well-known and beloved member of Princeton’s faculty (practical theology) for decades. His fundamental insights have to do with the relation of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit in ways that respect the sciences (psychology) and the dynamics of human development and transformation. His three main published books are  The Transforming Moment (1981, 1989), The Knight’s Move (1992) and The Logic of the Spirit (1998). For a helpful introduction see this. I suspect we’ll be discussing Fowler, NesterukFrankl and Dallas Willard among others. Should be a fun year exploring the nature of the concrete, lived experience of Chalcedonian Christology. We won’t be especially concerned to defend Chalcedon. We’ll pretty much assume it. What we wish to explore is the living of it.

To whet your appetite, here’s a wonderful passage of Loder’s from The Transforming Moment:

…to lay hold on that remarkable intelligibility by which one’s fragmentary existence becomes the bearer of the whole, that intelligibility through which all things have been made—to lay hold on that by faith is to touch the ark of the covenant, it is to hear “the sound of a mighty wind,” as “the roar of the New Jerusalem” and it is to die.

Who wants to die so that the uncreated light and life of God may indwell human flesh and turn everything we do into the work of God’s Spirit?

Holy in its nature, the life of the Spirit is stunning in its impact; the depths of its mysterious centered silence remains unmoved, intensely personal, even in its rush through the walls of the upper room, its pause to console, its power to disclose and to heal, and its provocation to joy and exuberant praise.

If we do die, then all that we saw in Him and in ourselves because of Him as He sat at table with us, now becomes in our death the transformation of ordinary existence. We become in our individual and common life the outer expression of His invisible nature, including the darkness of dereliction as well as the light of the transfiguration—that by which condemnation is condemned, false light is itself falsified, and daily life is a continuing intra-mundane ecstasy.

Who will die to bear witness to the inner life of God, to become an expression of this higher order? Not many—or perhaps, in another way, somewhere inside, all of us know we are supposed to die. In moments of deeply centered reflection we know the death instinct is not biological but teleological—we have been given life so as to die for what is so much more important than our own lives. If we just knew a bit more—if we could just put our hand and touch it, to be sure we are not being deceived.