Gollum the Evangelical

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Dwayne and I as a rule don’t devote space here to politics. But it’s hard to see someone you love lose their mind. Pastor John Pavlovitz expresses his disappointment over and assessment of evangelicalism’s support of Trump and we concur entirely with his perspective. And we say that as evangelicals.

With the news of evangelical leader James Dobson’s endorsement of Trump, the rising tide of Sadducean support submerges me. I cannot avoid concluding that evangelicals as a cultural-religious phenomenon (or faith tradition, to the extent 100 years can be called a tradition) are no longer teetering upon the precipice of irrelevance in danger of losing their credibility and voice. We are beyond that as a tribe. We have leapt off the edge and are in free fall. It’s over for us as a cultural and prophetic voice calling people to a rational, transformative faith and worldview. We are no longer a voice in the wilderness. Our address is Jerusalem, Main Street, c/o Caiaphas and Annas. We have nothing of moral consequence to say to the world.

Like Gollum falling into the bowels of Mount Doom with the Ring of Power in his hand, smiling and happy as he fell but oblivious to his fate, evangelicals descend, smiling and rejoicing with the Presidency (let’s give it to their man) in their hands, into their consuming desire.

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Expanding your vocabulary can be dangerous

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Just getting into Gregory Rocca’s Speaking the Incomprehensible God: Thomas Aquinas on the Interplay of Positive and Negative Theology, wanting to keep growing in the conversation about language and God-talk. In the opening pages, he summarizes the vocabulary used to express divine transcendence in the formative years of the Church. The main sources of these concepts, argued by Jean Daniélou, are Hellenistic Judaism, Middle Platonism, and Gnosticism (an interesting range of sources). Rocca reviews the vocabulary/conceptual contribution of each of these sources (pretty much focusing on negative names as expressed in the alpha privative; no mention of concepts for transcendence using the “hyper” prefix [Eph. 3:19’s hyperballousan, knowing love that “surpasses” knowing]).

It is no surprise that these key philosophical terms make their way into the New Testament. Rocca lists them (p. 8). There’s no avoiding their presence and function within biblical language and worldview. Even if you’re not an Orthodox (and I am not) and are not especially inclined to apophaticism (indeed, many are explicitly critical of it), there’s no pretending these terms don’t occupy an important place in the apostolic lingua franca. Consider the list:

  • aoratos (invisible), from Romans 1:20, where Paul states that the invisible things of God are known from the visible things of creation; the same word appears in Colossians 1:15, where Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God.
  • arrētos (ineffable [a concept I was once told was purely pagan and unbiblical]), from 2 Corinthians 12:4, where Paul describes how he was caught up in rapture to paradise and heard ineffable words. [One could add aneklalēto (unspeakable) of 1 Peter 1:8, where we exalt in joy unspeakable.]
  • anekdiēgētos (indescribable), from 2 Corinthians 9:15, where Paul praises God for his indescribable gift of grace.
  • anexereunētos (unsearchable), from Romans 11:33, which is a doxological statement declaring to be unsearchable the judgments of God concerning the fall and eventual restoration of Israel.
  • anexichniastos (untraceable or uninvestigable), from Romans 11:33, occurring as a general synonym for anexereunetos; it also occurs in Ephesians 3:8, which mentions the privilege of preaching to the Gentiles the gospel of the uninvestigable riches of Christ.
  • athanasia (immortality), from 1 Timothy 6:16, a doxology claiming that God alone has immortality.
  • aprositos (inaccessible), from 1 Timothy 6:16, a doxology starting that God dwells in light inaccessible.

Check yo prostate

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To those who collapse biblical faith and hope into American exceptionalism and a particular sociopolitical agenda, Dwayne rhymes the times for us.

American Evangelicalism is apostate,
Need to get that behind checked, like a prostate
Examination; it’s an aberration.
Holy prostitution claiming divine inspiration.
False prophesy, aiming for theocracy,
But only hitting the mark of idolatrous aristocracy.
Preachers of the Word making Faustian bargains
Using holy jargon,
But beyond godly margins.
Lord, separate the real from the fakin’,
Sift the world, take it and give it a good shakin’.
Help us discern, keep us from unnecessary snares,
Time to learn who’s of the wheat or of the tares.
(Dwayne Polk)

Hart-Norman on morality

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I shared a portion of Hart’s comments re: consciousness. Toward the end of their discussion, Norman asks DBH about the proper grounds for morality, namely, whether some transcendent good is required to intelligibly ground morality. Normal doesn’t think any such transcendent ground is necessary. Hart responds:

“You say that what counts is compassion/charity. Why does it ‘count’? I’m asking this in a formal sense, not in a moral or emotional sense. It counts because in addition to that groundedness in sympathy, without which a moral life is impossible, there’s something else that can translate that into an imperative that goes beyond [recording break], and I’m talking about just the structure of moral desire. I’m not saying the good is necessarily there. I’m just saying how we encounter the world. It’s like the old issue with John Rawls, the political philosopher, his theory of justice—we can achieve a just society if we withdrawal to an original position where we pretend that we don’t know how we’re situated in society and then try [from there] to construct the just society. It’s an eminently sensible approach. The problem is he can’t account from within that system for the moral impulse to make that initial withdrawal. And so the question for me is, What happens in the structure of moral desire? (Just as in the structure of aesthetic desire, the desire for the truth…) And I’m saying you’re not going to be able to give an account of it. It simply rests in the facts on the ground. There will always be that element that’s found nowhere within the ensemble of natural facts, which is a transcendental structure. It’s an ecstatic movement towards that which is not simply concrete but that which allows you to see the concrete. “The light of the good,” is what Plato talks about, and I like that image. It allows you to see it as more than a momentary ebullition of emotion, sense, or impulse. But again, it’s the structure of moral desire that I’m talking about. How we encounter moral desire. How we experience moral desire.”

Objecting to Hart’s complaint that having compassion without any appeal to a transcendental moral ground is ‘not enough’, Norman asks how contemplation of a Platonic ideal helps? Hart responds:

“[W]hen I say it’s ‘not enough’, I mean it’s not enough as an actual phenomenological description of what we’re doing. I’m not recommending contemplation of Platonic ideals as the path to the moral life. I’m saying that horizon is already implicit in our moral desire and our moral action. You point to that when you say we’re trying to construct a more sophisticated and refined ethos on the basis of this experience of sympathy, and [you] talk about justice and honesty. Well, justice and honesty then become other names for obligation that makes itself felt even in at times, in spite of, the absence of sympathy.”

Cursed is he who judged by us hangs on a tree

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A poem on the Cross based on John 16.31-33

Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

You will leave me, but He won’t.
You feel abandoned, but I don’t.
You’ve heard it said “Cursed is he
Who judged by us hangs on a tree.”
“Father, forgive them,” is what I said.
You expect despair instead.
But the gospel there was writ by me
In the language of Our unity.
“But,” you ask, “What sort of diction
Would utter cries of dereliction?”
“There he’s Fatherless!” you surmise.
But I was ne’er alone. Surprise!
Come closer then and take a look,
I got those words from your own Book!
I suffered what drives you insane,
Drank it down, all the pain,
From inside it all to you to say,
“I am my Father’s anyway!”
Did you really think that Hell,
Would God’s defeat know how to spell?
Not in all eternity
Could conceivability
Conjure up a way to severe
Son from Father. No, not ever.

(Tom Belt)

When you talk it gets light

Darkness

For friends I know who are in a dark place.

I promised a passage from Benner’s Presence and Encounter, which I’m presently (pun intended) reading. Just a paragraph or two:

Sigmund Freud tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me! I’m frightened because it is so dark.” His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me?” “That doesn’t matter,” replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.” This child was not afraid of the dark but of the absence of someone he loved. What he needed to feel secure was presence. We all need the same; knowing presence is the ground of this basic sense of safety for all of us. (Emphasis mine)

A couple of pages later Benner adds:

Because humans are hardwired for presence, we will always be vulnerable to absence. Even Jesus knew this vulnerability. Nowhere was this more clearly expressed than in his cry of anguish from the cross when he sensed God having forsaken him. Jesus, like us, had to learn that the apparent absence of God is actually a face of the real presence of God. If the stable knowing of the presence of the one he called Father—the presence that so characterized the rest of his life—could be threatened at such a point as this, who are we to expect that we will ever be immune from such vulnerability?

Carefully then. I don’t really know Benner’s theology, specifically his Christology, well enough to draw any final conclusion from this. One could read him here as agreeing that the Son is abandoned by the Father in some absolute sense that rends the divine nature itself. That would not be a view I’d share. But one can also read him as affirming simply that the Father gives Jesus over to the same circumstances we universally associate with such abandonment. Why would the Father do that? As we’ve suggested: to demonstrate not that in Christ God becomes to the truth of our despair, but to expose that despair as illusory and false, to “talk to us in, or from, the dark.”

I suggest this is what the Cross is (among other things): God talking to us in/from the dark, a darkness we are afraid of but which Jesus faced on our behalf without surrendering (as we do) to the belief that the darkness can become all there is.

What does Jesus say of his immanent suffering? John 16:31-33 (which I’ve explored before):

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Emphasis mine)

Crucial verses. On these I earlier offered:

That pretty much rules out the divine abandonment view. Besides explicitly declaring that his Father would be with him in his upcoming ordeal, Jesus’ point (v. 33) is that how God would be with him on the Cross would ground their own peace in upcoming afflictions as a consequence of his having overcome the world. That is, how the Father would be with Jesus in his suffering is how the Father is with us in ours.

Let us remind ourselves, lastly, of Hebrews 12.1-3, which describes Jesus as enduring the Cross, even despising its shame. What kind of presence of mind could possess such a perspective on such suffering as to despise its shame? If Jesus is despising the shame of the Cross, he’s not succumbing to its threatening narrative. “For the joy set before him” he endures. Permit me another quote from an earlier post:

“Enduring” can only describe some persisting feature of Jesus’ conscious experience which the Cross could not wrest from him or define away, some unsurrendered belief the truth of which constitutes the saving power of the Cross as such. What can this be but Jesus’ confident and unfailing belief regarding his deepest sense of identity and purpose and the sustained conviction that he would again celebrate the joy of its truth—the truth of who he was and why he came?

This is how I take Benner’s second quoted paragraph there, as warning us that we are not exempt from experiencing within the created ordering of things every possible evidence for the truth of our worst fear, namely, that we really are, or we can be, alone and abandoned. But Jesus, rather than becoming the truth of such despair, disarms the power of the darkness to impose such a narrative upon us and he talks to us from the darkness. And when he talks, it gets light because his talking is light.

If I believe in you

7d2c2cebce4f220b413dc55d766c0ad2The 1975 (English alternative rock band), released a CD (entitled—hang on—“I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it”) this year which includes the single “If I believe in you.” Very interesting heart-cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got a God-shaped hole that’s infected
And I’m petrified of being alone
It’s pathetic, I know
And I toss and I turn in my bed
It’s just like I lost my head (lost my head)
And if I believe you, would that make it stop?
If I told you I need you, is that what you want?
I’m broken and bleeding, and begging for help
And I’m asking you Jesus, show yourself
I thought I’d met you once or twice but that was just because the dabs
Were nice and opening up my mind
showing me consciousness is primary
In the universe and I had a revelation
I’ll be your child if you insist
I mean, if it was you that made my body you probably shouldn’t have made
Me atheist
I’m a lesbian kiss
I’m an evangelist
And “If you don’t wanna go to hell then, Miss,
you better start selling this”
And if I believe you, would that make it stop?
If I told you I need you, is that what you want?
I’m broken and bleeding, and begging for help
And I’m asking you Jesus, show yourself
If I’m lost, then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost now then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost now then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost then how can I find myself?
Then how can I find myself?
If I’m lost now then how can I find myself?
Yeah, yeah, yeah
If I’m lost now then how can I find myself?
Yeah, yeah