Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bloggo ergo Cogito? (ergo sum?)

Back when I started bloggging in March of 2006, I set up a series of blogging rules, with the idea that I would add more as they come to me.

So, here is another one
9.) When you run out of things to say, sit down and shut up.

I've always kept a list of things I wanted to blog about, and I always told myself that when that list was empty, I would stop blogging. The last post was the last thing in my list. It's time to close her down.

But let's be honest, the blog isn't quite as fresh and interesting as it used to be. The posts have gotten longer and more theoretical, and, not surprisingly, fewer people have read and commented. The blogging that I've done lately has spun off into irrelevancy. It's time to sit down and shut up.

After one last observation, that is.

Descarte thought that the only way he could know, without a doubt, that he was real and not being deceived by a powerful demon was that he was able to think. He reasoned that as long as he could think, he knew he existed - "cogito ergo sum" - I think, therefore I am.

I have some friends in Minneapolis who say that they cannot think unless they are also writing. They blog so they can think (bloggo ergo cogito). When we're having conversations, they say stuff like "I put a post on my blog about this", which makes me laugh because they would rather me read their blog than sit with me and talk about something. I suppose I should just go to their blog to see if they exist (ergo sum?). Who needs real-life when you have Web 2.0?

My point is that I don't want my friends to forget I exist because I've stopped blogging. I started this blog experiment with the hope it would help me keep in contact with old (and new) friends. I still want that.

On another note, I find myself thinking quite apart from my blog. One day, if I get a really good idea that is worth sharing, I'll try to put it on Jesus Manifesto, or some other such place.

Okay, NOW I've run out of things to say. I'm sitting down and shutting up. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lessons from Sem 6: Christianity for Grown-ups

This is my last post in the "Lessons from Sem" series. It might not seem like it, but I had all the topics outlined before I even started the series, it's just taken me a long time to get them fleshed out, and this post was the worst. Remember - I'm a tortoise, not a hare. This the longest post I've had by far, and I cut out a lot - what remains only scratches the surface. This topic is just too big - it might make a better book than blog post.

The stark reality for all kinds of churches in the western world is that 20 and 30 somethings (now creeping into 40-somethings) are conspicuously absent. Heck, I'm in my 30s, which is well into adult territory, and often feel like the young kid in my church - especially as I get more involved. Young adults - specifically young men - are absent in church. This is more true in conservative evangelical churches than other groups, but it holds true across the board.

As I look back on my later college years, and the years between college and seminary, I realize that I was in a place where I was struggling to make sense out of the God I was taught about in my childhood. You know, the God who is a little like Santa Claus, in that if you were really good and prayed right, you might get what you ask for. The God who peered down on us from above, simultaneously waiting to destroy us in wrath and save us in love. The God who created a world in seven days that also looks millions of years old. The God who (according to some) decreed everything from the beginning of time, yet is somehow not responsible for it.

During my later teenage years, I couldn't find a lot of good answers to my questions in church, so I looked for them outside of church - in scripture, history, philosophy, and even fiction books. The result is that I came to very different conclusions about God than what I was taught in church. Yet, in my conservative evangelical tradition, a difference of opinion was usually not very well tolerated. I heard "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." more often than I should have. I was insulted and demeaned for my questions from a deacon teaching one of my youth sunday school classes. So, I silently turned my questions inward. My self-confidence suffered. I did (and still do) often wonder if it's me, not them, that's the heretic in matters of faith. I often wonder if maybe I'm the one that's wrong.

But as life went on and I struggled with problems with my friends, problems with my job, problems with my wife, and problems with my faith, the god of my childhood didn't seem up to the task of making any sort of meaningful difference in my life. The faith of my youth was anemic, anti-intellectual, sickeningly ascetic, and over piously dogmatic. Deep, powerful questions and searching were incompatible with the tools I was given. Some personal experiences continued to fuel me, but I knew there had to be more life in it than there appeared to be.

During this time, a couple of things occurred to me. First, that when I was told as a youth "You just can't do it without God" was a lie. The reality is that people do it without God every day, all the time, all around the world. The reality is that when people leave the anesthesia of church life, they find all kinds of pleasures that make them feel good, and free, and alive. In some very tangible ways, these pleasures make them feel human. I wondered, is this all wrong? Furthermore, the reality is that when people go to college and learn the historical evidence of the earth's age, and of the findings of anthropology, of psychology, and of biology, that Christianity is too easily mistaken as magical nonsense. When you factor in hard issues of how the Bible came to be, historical issues with the Old Testament and ancient near east literature, why should a person privilege the Bible and the tenants of Christianity over scientific forms of knowing?

I'm not a fan of John Shelby Spong, but as he talks about the absence of young adults in the church, he has some very cogent words to say:

"So what happened to the God who was thought to live just above the sky, keeping record books, invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will? The God who sent sickness and weather patterns to punish individuals? Because that's what we believed...The God they meet in church is simply not big enough for the world they inhabit."

The second thing that occurred to me is that the story of the Bible (with some exceptions) doesn't really include any kids. Instead, the stories are written about, for, and to adults. They are written about career fishermen, about murderous pharisees who have a miraculous conversion. They are written about old men who suddenly feel called by a strange God to move away from home. They are written about wealthy family men who tragically have everything taken away from them. They are written about an adult Jesus. Sure, the adult focus may be cultural, but I'm convinced there is something there.

Seminary opened my eyes to that something. Seminary opened my eyes to the fact that these questions that I've forcefully kept silent have an important place in the life of faith. Far from being a force to retard my faith, the questions are an expression of it - they are a way in which I show that my faith is alive - that, like Israel, I wrestle with God and won't let go until He blesses me. Seminary taught me that meaningful and deep questions mean that a person is serious about how deeply they want Christ to impact their life. Far from being apathy, the searching demonstrates commitment.

Seminary taught me that issues like personal transformation, and the use of the scripture, and concepts like forgiveness, love, and cosmology can't be properly understood by a set of rules - even rules written on two stone tablets. The reality is that Christianity is for grown-ups who are past the stage where rules and regulations are enough. Christianity is for people who can penetrate the evolutionary concept of power, and understand what it means when Christ asks us to be born again. As much a we try, no set of rules can encompass what it means to be a Christian - but instead the rules should give way to a relationship with God and with others that mediates the presence of Christ, through the Spirit, to people in the world.

Seminary confirmed my notions that the Christian conception of Spirit isn't a ghost that can be explained like some Scooby-Do cartoon, but is the all-encompassing origin and orienter of all creation. The Spirit isn't something that is in a different domain than science, but it is the origin of the universe, of matter, and of the creaturely questions that ask how the universe works. The Spirit is complex, wild, and unbounded, and it creates in us the very questions to which we seek answers as it creates in us the need to understand the truth of our situation. The Spirit is the condition in which we, as creatures, seek.

And the truth of the situation is that, for better or for worse, we are creatures bound to bodies. At least on earth, talk about "spirit" and "flesh" as if they can ever be separated is foolish. We are material beings, and if we are to believe the Bible, will be material beings for eternity. The pleasures of this life are meant to be enjoyed - we are designed so that experiences make us feel alive. It should tell us something that sensory deprivation is considered torture. The Christian message is that experiences don't give eternal life, but that salvation is found in the inversion of power, in giving all we have to the poor and following Christ in his self-sacrificial way of experiencing life in the world.

Christianity for grown-ups understands that salvation is not found in a book, or in a denomination, or even in saying and believing the right thing. A lot of people I interact with might say, "Duh! Of course Christianity is for grown-ups!", but my perspective is that most Christians don't treat it that way - they seem to treat it like something they believe because they have to. They treat it like something they do because they don't know any other way, and like it is something that unravels if too closely examined. Christianity for grown-ups is more robust than that. The Christian way is complex and nuanced - it is a relationship with the infinite God of creation that orients in unexpected ways, and that calls us to put aside childish things while at the same time forcing us to acknowledge that our understanding of God will always be child-like in its adequacy.

One of the lessons that seminary taught me is that, far from being a magical or ignorant religion, Christianity is for grown-ups.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


One of these days, I think I would like to get a doctorate. I would love to teach and do research and rub elbows with smart people who are at the top of their field.

Since I graduated from seminary, I've been thinking on and off about grad school. One of the things I've heard both professors and doctoral students say is that you need to have a pretty good idea of what you can contribute to the field before you go into it. My problem is that I'm not sure I have much to contribute - I don't have much to say that hasn't been said before.

In psychology, when a person has goals they can't give up on, yet have no idea how to influence their environment to achieve those results, they are said to use the virtue of courage.

When I think of courage, I'm reminded of these quotes by Thomas Merton, who famously said:
"Why should I desire anything that cannot give me God? Why should I fear anything that cannot take God from me?"

Problem is, I have little grasp on what it is that gives me God. How does anyone influence their environment to give them God? Is it even possible? Or do we instead simply grope around for truth and meaning and salvation, hoping that God, in response, will reach out and grip us?

"A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."

Sometimes I wonder, as I search around for God, if I really serve the right master. Am I more interested in making sure everyone agrees with my theology and my reading of the Bible than I am about the narrow way? Am I more concerned that I will get fired for trying to make sense out of God in our postmodern world than I am about trying follow God's work in the world? Am I more concerned about what my family might think than about making the gospel actually good news? Sometimes this tension between the spiritual and not-spiritual threatens to tear me apart.

I'm reminded of Jeremiah's prayer:
"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?"

This race with the footmen of our fears makes us over in the image of what we desire. We want to be liked, have stability, and have peace with our detractors. But the shape that life takes is one of complacency and impotency. I don't want alleviation of my fears to be the end I am shaped by. I want to be made in the image of the God who terrifies me, yet in whom I find delight.

"Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how."

How can someone be shaped by something they can't grasp or control? How can someone be made in the image of that which they grope after? Courage.

Putting aside the fears of life - of running with the footmen - and deciding that something is more important than the fears and anxieties we face is the epitome of courage. Courage is the virtue we use when all our other tools are stripped away and we simply grope after what we ultimately desire above all else.

I'm not sure what comes next is any easier - it seems to me that horses come after the footmen, but should I be any more afraid of them?


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lesson from Sem 5: Ammo for the war

Contradiction is the end result of any stereotype. I mean, sooner or later you'll find a smart blond, or a black guy that likes to swim, or an old person who likes to drive fast. You might even find a Baptist who is reflective, but that's a stretch. My college sociology textbook said we use stereotypes because they are convenient, not because they are universal. I haven't yet found a reason to disagree with that.

This lesson from sem will be a bit of a contradiction of Lesson from Sem 3: Classmate disappointment. Don't get me wrong, that post was accurate, but tends toward a stereotypical view of all my classmates as stupid and lazy. Reality, of course, is more complicated.

When I went to seminary, I was hoping to be taught things I didn't know. At the same time, I thought I had a pretty good grip on the things I did know. When I learned things that didn't mesh with what I thought I knew, it was a signal that I should look more closely into what I was holding on to. During this journey, I let many things go. It was a scary and uneasy time of purgation. And ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the Christian journey on the narrow way of salvation is one of fear and trembling. This realization, I believe, is the beginning of wisdom.

One of my favorite New Testament scholars is Scot McKnight. He runs a blog called "Jesus Creed" that I have linked on the left. He has jokingly referred to teaching at a seminary as "working at a 'Semitary'", but there are teeth behind the joke. A lot of students file into grad school with everything figured out. They know what they know, and no matter how many logical arguments, philosophical trends, or historical facts you throw at them, they will not be swayed. These kinds of students are like the living dead, petrified in their system of beliefs, unwilling and unable to take a fresh look at the Bible, or their church, or their theology.

I'm not entirely sure why people like this go to seminary, since they already have everything figured out, but I can tell you the result. Instead learning the importance of new ideas, these students learn how to defend against the new ideas. Seminary time becomes a place where battle skills are sharpened for the impending war with liberals, Roman Catholics, pagans, and atheists. Instead of learning the fascinating history behind sacramental theology (communion and baptism, to name a few), these students learn the history so that they can poke holes in it, dismantle it, and put their system in its place. Instead of exploring and being disturbed by the critique of postmodernism, these students build sturdy defenses around the holes and the gaps in their own system, they scour the Bible to gather scriptural support for their beliefs to defend against any attacks, and they develop preemptive rhetoric to belittle and stymie their opponents.

I can think of a couple of examples, most of which are too long to blog about, but in one of my classes, we were discussing what happened on the cross. Yes, Jesus died, but what did that accomplish? The Bible speaks of it in a couple of different ways, but probably the most dominant way the Bible speaks of it is the "penal substitutionary model". Essentially, the model means that some punishment was required for the sin of individuals and humanity as a whole, and that Jesus was our substitute for that punishment. Jesus took our place as God poured out the wrath He harbored for humanity. The penal substitutionary model was the primary one used by Luther and Calvin in the protestant reformation, which is probably the reason it is the only one most protestant Christians are familiar with. And, trust me when I tell you, there are lots of Christians that believe the penal substitutionary model is the ONLY valid way to think about the cross.

But the Bible has other models for Jesus' work on the cross. So, one of the students asked a very fair question: "Can a person be a true, Bible believing Christian and not use the penal substitutionary model as their primary way of thinking about the cross?" The reply from those who were dogmatic about penal substitution was disappointing, but predictable. "Sure, it is possible to read and believe the Bible, and then to contradict what it says." In essence, this preemptive statement shuts down the conversation in a pretty heinous way. We weren't just having a debate among Christians about the meaning of the cross, we were instead calling each other hypocrites and heretics.

The lesson I took from all this was that many Christian leaders don't go to seminary to learn about what they don't know. They don't go to gain wisdom and understanding that is rooted in knowledge. They go to gain ammo for the impending spiritual war, or "Battle for the Bible", or to defend against the "attack on the family".

I'm not saying those things are bad. On the contrary, I think both family and scripture are very important. But scripture indicates that wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, and is characterized by peacefulness, reasonableness, and mercy, none of which are compatible with a petrified theology or war-like behavior.

With that in mind, I fear real wisdom in our Christian leaders will be in short supply.

What do you think? Do Christian leaders seem more war-like than they should? Does wisdom seem to be in short supply?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Theosis and Love

Maunday Thursday is the day Christians remember the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the last supper: "A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

There is a long tradition in Christianity of something called theosis - which means "making divine". Essentially, the idea is that participation within the love of Christ - of loving others as he loved us - causes us to become god-like.

Most of the Christians I know get uncomfortable when I talk about theosis - of becoming divine, but the earliest theologians of the church thought theosis is a very important part of understanding what Christianity is about. They said crazy stuff like:

"God became human so humans would become gods." (Athanasius, 4th Century)

"...the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, became what we are, that he might bring to us even what He is Himself." (Iranaeus, 2nd Century)

I suspect the discomfort with theosis is because the idea of human divinity seems like blasphemy. Humans instead should be relegated to distorted and corrupt creatures. But what would happen if we began to take the teachings of these early church fathers seriously - that Christ brought to us what He is Himself, and heals our wounds as part of the forgiveness we are offered?

No early church father seriously thought that we would become God. But they did believe we would become divine. St. John of the Cross puts it best, "[We become divine] not because the soul will come to have the capacity of God, for that is impossible; but because all that it is will become like to God, for which cause it will be called, and will be, God by participation." (16th Century)

Maunday Thursday reminds us that we are God by participation. That we love as Christ loved. That we sacrifice ourselves as Christ sacrificed. That we take up our Cross, being the vandalized images of God that we are, and look forward to our rebirth as divine creatures. We are called, with this command to love, to be God by participation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Strange Participation

My love of Christian holidays sometimes makes me think I should start attending a church that practices high liturgy. Participating in something like like Episcopal, Lutheran, or Catholic liturgy would work, but then I would run into other problems.

As Easter approaches, I find myself dwelling on the drama that led up to the cross. From the glorious entry on Palm Sunday, into the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Holy Days. The stress of Maunday Thursday in which Christ offered the last supper, was arrested and tried unjustly. The despair of Good Friday, as the one heralded as the messiah was killed by the Roman invaders, and the earth shook. The panic of Holy Saturday as Jesus' followers wondered what to do next, leaderless and abandoned. Then, the joy and confusion of Easter Sunday, when the women found the stone rolled away and Jesus returned to life.

This story should draw us in like the great drama that it is. We should, year after year, find ourselves part of the story, hoping for the impossible on Palm Sunday, being crushed on Good Friday, and being ignited anew on Easter Sunday. The story should be so close to us that we feel like we participate in it as if it was happening today. But instead the pattern in our protestant churches is that we participate in this cosmic drama as if it is ancient history and so incredibly distant from us that we struggle to find how it is relevant to our lives today.

It seems to me that Christians experience a detached sort of participation in the events surrounding Easter, or even the Lord's Supper, for that matter. In the tradition in which I was raised, the meaning of the Lord's Supper was "whatever it represent to you". Participation was some sort of personal reflection on remembering who Christ was. When you keep in mind the story that goes with Easter or the Lord's Supper, mere personal reflection is a weak participation.

The events of Easter, and the events of the Last Supper should draw us into the life of Christ. They should remind us of the love he showed, of the life he lived, of the commands he gave, and of the life we should therefore live. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we partake in his life. But this partaking is more than just eating the food - it is participating in his life (1 Cor 10:16). More than just some vague remembrance of things that happened a long time ago, Easter is about participation in the life of Christ through his body and his blood so that we take on the mantle of being good news to the world. Participation in Christ is active, remembrance is drawing the past into our way of acting and thinking today so that we can participate with God in creating the future. The beauty of it all is when we find strength to participate in Christ's work - his love, his sufferings, and his glorification - and gather together it do it, he is there, too, participating with us. To me, at least, this sort of strange participation is what the Easter season is all about.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Brief Pondering About Time

I love to think about concepts like time and space and their impact on things like theology and anthropology and sociology.

For instance, when Acts talks about Jesus ascending into the clouds to sit at the right hand of the father, I often find myself wondering how that worked. It seems to me that Jesus would have either exploded or suffocated as he rose in altitude, and even if by some supernatural intervention he did not, I wonder where he went. Our telescopes can see pretty far, and there is nothing around us resembling heaven for a long, long way. I guess he could have moved really, really fast, at speeds approaching the speed of light (or faster?), but then he would have experienced relativistic effects. Perhaps that is why Jesus can say he is coming back "soon" - from the standpoint of someone moving so fast, his return would not seem like a long time at all. But I digress.

A random phrase someone used in a meeting today triggered a thought I'd like to share, but to outline the thought I need to give a lesson in evolutionary epistemology. Don't worry - it won't hurt, and might actually be interesting.

As a sweeping generalization, evolutionary biologists tend to think that evolution has produced in higher lifeforms an accurate view of reality. Sure, we might be not be able to see into the infrared spectrum, or hear hypersonic frequencies, or feel the motion of the earth, but in general that information which our senses gives us and our consciousness determines is real is, in fact, an accurate reflection of reality. (Drugs, mental illness, and love not withstanding, of course.)

This seems reasonable, if I see a green field in front of me, there is every reason for me to believe that, in reality, there is a green field in front of me. Likewise, if I see a ferocious predator in front of me, there is every reason to believe there is a ferocious predator in front of me. My consciousness would then kick in and tell me to run away before I get eaten. Evolutionary biologists contend that the forces of evolution blindly select for those characteristics that accurately present reality, and therefore can be trusted.

Christian philosophers, like Alvin Plantinga, see a chink this logic, however. Dr. Plantinga contends that blind forces do not care whether or not reality is accurately represented. Lets use the example of the ferocious predator. All natural selection cares about is the survival of the individual, not the accuracy of perception. So, if I see a ferocious predator, and my consciousness kicks and tells me that if I run away, he will be my friend, then natural selection has achieved its goal. My perception is wrong (the predator will never be my friend), but the result it produces ensures survival. In other words, Plantinga believes that, if evolution is true, then our abilities are not necessarily designed to accurately describe reality, but instead to ensure survival.

Here's where time comes in. We all should perceive time as running one way. (If you don't, let me know. I have some questions.) No one to my knowledge has seen it run backwards. Yet there is no currently known reason in physics why it should run one way. (There's a lot of speculation involving stuff like entropy determining the arrow of time, but suffice it to say that there is a lot of disagreement about that.) Yet despite the fact that time doesn't seem to HAVE to run one way, we ALWAYS perceive it to run one way. What if it doesn't? What if the design of our faculties is such that we automatically ignore the hiccups that happen in time and see things always running one way? What if, at least in this pocket of space-time, survival is only dependent upon stuff that follows the arrow of time that we perceive, and all other information cannot be detected by our current equipment? What if?

The reason this captured me has to do with death. I'm not sure what happens to people between death and the judgment. Careful study shows that the Bible is at best ambiguous about it, and at worst in contradiction about where we go when we die. But if our perception of time is screwed up, then all the pieces can be made to fit. In fact, other things about how God might interact with us start to make sense, too. (See this post for some possibilities. Which, by the way, is my favorite of all the posts I have written.) We could very well close our eyes in death, and skip through time to the point of being resurrected. Everyone would enter eternity at the same "point", though their deaths are separated by large amount of "time".

In any case, I thought it was cool. So, the next time I'm around and you see my mind wander off somewhere, I'm probably thinking about something like this.

(Disclaimer: I realize the perception problem can be solved by denying evolution. I also realize you get on a slippery slope with saying our perception of time might be wrong. But ultimately I've been convinced by the arguments of Plantiga, Christian biologists (e.g., Collins, Miller), modern theologians (e.g., McGrath, Polkinghorn, Peacocke), and contemporary cosmology that the answer to evolution and reality is more complicated than taking Genesis 1&2 literally.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I read an article a couple of months ago about open source vs closed source software. You can read the article here. I read a lot, and it is rare anymore that I am exposed to something new, but this article got me to thinking.

When I surf the internet or talk to my friends who are computer nerds, I hear a lot about open sourced platforms. Almost universally, open sourced things are considered a positive. From Wikipedia to Linux distros to Firefox to OpenOffice to GIMP to LAME and a whole lot more that I can't think of right now. There's certainly no denying their utility. I use Wikipedia almost daily, and really like Firefox.

Don't get me wrong, I like open sourced material, but the stark reality of open source is that it retards innovation. Let's think about it - have the most intriguing products of the past couple of years come out of open sourced labs, or closed source labs? Think about things like MP3s, the Wii, World of Warcraft, Photoshop, digital cameras, BluRay, the Roomba. These things are the product of a very closed development process. Even Apple, one of the most respected and innovative companies on the planet with products like the iPod, the iPhone, Macbook, etc is probably the most closed development lab around. You don't see stuff like this coming from the open source community.

Apple, and Microsoft, and Photoshop compete with free because they are willing to spend the time and money to make a product innovative. This doesn't seem to happen when open source developers simply invest their mindshare into a product and not their livelihood. Innovation happens when you can break with the past way of doing things and head in a new direction. That's true with hardware or software platforms, like the Smartcar or GarageBand, but is also true of other types of platforms. Products from closed companies compete with the "free" open stuff because they are better, and, arguably, worth the premium. Almost universally, open source is incremental, not innovative, and no matter how you slice it, open source will always be fatally dependent on what came before.

To me, this insight into the nature of Open Source material has interesting implications for the way Christians and churches operate. Do you think it relates? How?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Boys and Girls are Biologically Different

In a stunning paper released this week by researchers at Northwest University and the University of Haifa, it was revealed that differences in language skills between girls and boys appears biological, rather than social, in nature. The full article can be found here.

For the first time, it seems, there is robust data to suggest that the brains of girls actually operate differently than the brains of boys. In the two groups, not only did different parts of the brain become active when using language skills, the level of activity in those parts of the brain differed drastically.

"Our data indicates that boys and girls are biologically different," said Dr. Obvious, one of the co-authors of the study. "This is exciting because it suggests that there might be other biological differences between boys and girls, perhaps even at the level of chromosomes. Who knows how these differences will manifest themselves in the phenotype? There may be actual physical differences between boys and girls due to their underlying biology."

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers performed tests measuring the brain activity of those doing spelling or writing language tasks. What they found was that the brain area associated with abstract thought worked the hardest in girls, and the area associated with sensory perception worked the hardest in boys.

"Dude, it was so boring," moaned Quintin, a 13 year old boy who took part in the study. "After about 30 minutes, all I could think about was a hot beef'n cheddar from Arby's. I wanted it so bad I could taste it, but I would have settled for some ding-dongs."

"I loved the words and phrases," bubbled Patty, an 11 year old girl who also took part in the testing. "They made me think of a pasture in Ireland or maybe Wisconsin where there is a girl who lives on a farm and is in love with a boy who looks like Zac Efron. He really likes her, too, but they don't know it and end up asking other people to the dance. They spend the whole night ignoring each other until both of their dates get sick, and they have to dance together for the final song. During that dance, they look into each other's eyes, and realize how deeply they care for each other. But just before they kiss, someone runs in and says that the Jones' barn is on fire and the guy who looks like Zac gets called off to help put it out," Patty sighed. "You know, sorta like Anne of Green Gables, but with the guy from High School Musical. He is sooo hot."

"What's really amazing about these results is that they held true even though we controlled for things like age, gender, and performance accuracy," said Dr. Bozzo, lead researcher and director of the center for language science. When asked if the study controlled for the crazy thoughts that zip through the head of a child at an alarming frequency, Dr. Bozzo replied that they had not yet proven such a thing even exists.

"The results of this study do not in any way undermine the hard work we have done to prove we are just as capable as men on any and every level," said Sarah Paxson, junior political science major and president of the Feminine Equality League at Northwest University, when asked about the implications of the study. "If anything it shows that we bring needed insight into a world dominated by the confused thinking of men."

When also asked about the implication of the study, Brian Landman, a sophomore biology major shouted, "Eat it, you PC hippies!" as he waved a copy of the study over his head. "Eat it and then iron my shirt. Wooooo! Sigma Phi!"

Monday, March 03, 2008

Postmodern Devotion

I consider myself postmodern. Kinda. Maybe postmodern with a squirt of empiricism and sympathy for foundationalism. And a good healthy dose of global skepticism. That is, I consider myself all those things if I thought labels could describe me; I hate labels.

In other words, I consider myself postmodern.

For me, postmodern leanings are a constant battle to figure out the truth of a thing - to figure out how to make it subjective and meaningful to me as a single individual. The postmodern battle for truth is complicated.

As I daily embark upon the narrow way, I've recently come to reflect on what it means to be devoted to something. In the Christian faith, it is not uncommon to hear calls to "simple", "pure", "undivided", or "sincere" devotion. To be honest, I have no idea what that means.

Devotion, it seems, is anything but simple. If devotion were as easy as just saying you were devoted, then the word wouldn't have any meaning. We could all be devoted to whatever we wanted to be, by merely speaking the words. But that's not devotion. Even a casual observer would realize I'm not devoted to my wife if I cheat on her, even if I say with the loudest voice that I am devoted. It seems that devotion is more than wearing a label, or pledging allegiance. It seems that devotion must be a more extensive act.

So is devotion where your mind and effort dwells to the exclusion of other things? Can a person be devoted to clinical depression, or to substance addiction? Should a person who is ensnared by that which they hate, be called "devoted" to their misery? Returning, over and over again, to things you hate is a sign of a split mind. That seems more like addiction than devotion. On the other hand, being single-mindedly devoted to things you enjoy, to the exclusion of other things, like your friends, or your family, or your personal identity feels more like obsession than devotion. It seems that devotion is a more balanced act than that.

Is devotion doing what it takes to accomplish the good things you desire? After all, when you love someone, wouldn't you do whatever it takes to make them happy? But the ugly side of this is that happiness can be a fake - a manufactured reality based on false promises. Anyone can tell a sincere lie to further a cause. Devotion must be more substantial than that. It must be courageous enough to speak the truth in love, but also realistic enough to realize that devotion is much deeper than words alone. Devotion, it seems, must come from within and spread, in a certain way, to what is outside yourself.

What if real devotion is complicated in its origin and multi-layered in its approach? What if it is more than words spoken and actions taken, since any of these, on their own, can be a lie?

Devotion, it seems to me, is not a prospective act, in which I say I'm devoted and then prove it to you later. Instead, it is a retrospective act in which I look back and see unmistakable trail of devotion. Devotion isn't words spoken or actions taken. Devotion is a life lived, colored by the complicated past that drives a person to unite heart, mind, and strength. Devotion can only be seen in the rear view mirror. Perhaps that's why a person is said to be "devoted"- which is a past-tense word.

So as I wake up each morning, and wonder what a person devoted to the narrow way does today, I know that future devotion can only be approached with fear and trembling. This, it seems, is our daily postmodern devotion.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


My uncle and friend died a week ago today.

He was more than a mere uncle, though. He was a world-class pianist, a vintage VW mechanic, a whiz at electronics, an explorer, a thinker, a man of God, and a good friend.

When I was in college, Uncle Steve and Aunt Beth lived about an hour away. I would come to visit them to get my clothes washed, have a meal, and participate in whatever crazy scheme Uncle Steve had going on at the time. And there was always something going on - working on an old car, rehabbing an old pinball machine, grilling 100 chicken quarters, helping someone move - something. There always seemed to be things he got himself into that were simultaneously hilarious and awful. People had a lot of memories of Uncle Steve.

I went through some hard times in college, and even though he was busy with his own interests and his own family, he took time to visit with me and make sure I was okay. At the time, I didn't appreciate that enough.

As I look back at Uncle Steve, it occurs to me that his exploring spirit was an effort in knowing. He didn't just look at a map and say he "knew" a place. He didn't read notes on a page and say he "knew" the music. And he didn't just talk with a person and say he "knew" them. He explored. He was interested in the side roads, the hole-in-the-wall places that only the locals knew about. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and exploring the tops of mountains. He was interested in making music musical, of having it express emotion and devotion. He didn't just know how to play piano - he knew the piano. He didn't just lead the music, he developed a connection between the music and the hearer. In the same way, it seems to me, he wanted to know people in a way that was deep and meaningful, and worked to make that happen. He wanted connection.

At his wake, people poured in for hours. I've never seen anything like it. And at his funeral, the theme of connection was evident. So many people were touched by him, and will remember him fondly. I know I will.

I despise platitudes, if for no other reason than they try to soothe the act of mourning. Ecclesiastes teaches differently:

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure."

I'm frequently guilty of knowing about things and people rather than knowing things and people. As my heart goes through this time of mourning, I pray that my mind will be drawn back, time and time again, to what it means to reach for connection.

Sleep in peace, my dear uncle.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Back when I lived in North Carolina, I used to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway at least a couple of times a month. My memory is a little foggy from that time, but my recollection is that there is an overlook on the parkway called the Black Mountain overlook, which is pictured here.

According to the plaque that is at the overlook, the forest around the Black Mountains was in very poor health in the late 1800's. Many non-native species had invaded the forest, fungal diseases and insect infestations had run rampant, and the soil was eroding at a startling rate. The government agency taking care of the forest didn't know what to do. Nothing they tried seem to work. So, one day in the early 1900's they set the whole thing on fire and let it burn to the ground. Then, in a bold move, they decided to leave it alone for 30 years to see what happens.

Their gutsy move payed off, because it is now, as you can see, it is a beautiful, healthy forest.

Sometimes I think about this story of the forest on the Black Mountains when I read the Old Testament, and God is spoken of as a wrathful and jealous fire that consumes everything in His path, leaving behind something better. Sometimes this fire is spoken of in more positive terms, as being a "refiners fire", but it still seems to conjure up images of things being forcefully burned away. This stream of thought is quite prominent in the Old Testament - consummation means burning away bad things.

But as I've pondered Luke 9:51-56, I've become less convinced we think about consummation the right way. In this passage, Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem, and visiting villages along the way. One village - a Samaritan one - refused to let him enter. In response, James and John said,
"Lord, do you want us to command fire down from heaven and consume them?"
to which Jesus scolded them and replied,
"You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

Starting with the Old Testament prophets and continuing into the New Testament, the subtle theme of mother-child or, more prominently, husband-wife relationship has started to dominate over the "fire" images used to describe our relationship to God. This theme gets slipped quietly into the prophets, slowly rising in crescendo through the New Testament until the final image is of the Church as the bride of Christ. (Feel free to inject "eewws" here as you realize that Christ is also your brother.)

Here is my point. Perhaps consummation and fire are not so much about "burning" things away, as if we can enter heaven by burning away all the bad things in us. Perhaps instead consummation and fire are about intensification in relationship.

People who fall in love don't just force themselves to love the other person. Instead, they become infatuated with each other, which leads to stages of intensification. Flirting becomes dating. Holding hands ensures. Private stories are shared. Kissing happens. A conversation occurs to determine "where this relationship is going". Somewhere in there a major fight happens, but you don't leave each other because your life just isn't the same without the other. Love blossoms. Blah, blah, blah. And, if we follow this story to its normal end, a true act of consummation occurs. Not because the parts that didn't love you were burned away - that would be more like rape. But, in the ideal case, because one was consumed with the other to the point they wanted to share intimate things.

That's not to say that things are always rosy - sometimes intensification is more like a crucible than a joy-ride. I could go on for pages and pages about what it means to intensify in relationship, but, at least for me, the story of God's consuming action is so much more about the silver than about the dross.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Inside the fire

I'm a mystic mudblood. I come from a family, a faith tradition, and a career that, at best, frowns upon mystical talk. Yet, I remain convinced that there lays a way of knowing beyond what is apparent to the senses or the intellect.

Some time ago, I was thinking about Moses' encounter with the burning bush. This bush burned, but was not consumed. Moses found this strange, and ventured over to this thing to see what was going on. In the process, he experienced something life-shifting.

As I thought more about this story, the idea of the "holy ground" around the bush began to intrigue me. Pretty much every day of the week, this ground around the bush was normal earth - nothing special. But in the Moses story, the presence of the bush and the ground were superseded by the presence of God in that place, making the land Holy Ground. And, as Moses approached this Holy Ground, he encountered God in a way that put his checkered past into perspective, and defined his trajectory into the future. Being in the very presence of the fire changed Moses.

Yet despite the fire, the bush was not consumed. Even though the fire and the presence of God superseded the presence of the bush, the bush still remained. The union of the bush and God left the bush still bush-like, and God still divine.

It might not seem like much, but this was a bit of a breakthrough for me. Let me explain.

Very often I struggle with how to describe the way in which God, through the Holy Spirit, changes those who encounter him. The tradition in which I was raised seemed to focus on a more demanding or crushing action. God demands submission, and if he doesn't get submission, he punishes and crushes the resistance by sending the Holy Spirit to "convict" people. This action on the part of God drives those fearful of Him into behaviors that purge whatever they feel is evil, not worthy, or unholy. This purging takes many forms - from throwing away "secular" music, to prohibiting kids from reading or watching "magical" material, to general withdrawal from culture. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is legalism, in which the way we avoid God's crushing activity is by doing things tied directly to the Bible. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is self-loathing that stems from never being able to be "right" before a Holy God.

But the image of the burning bush seems to shift this view of God. Instead of crushing us, as He could have done with that bush, God woos us- He calls us and encounters us. Normal as we are -normal as the bush was - His presence on us in the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, changes our normalness, our unworthiness, and our unholiness into Holy Ground. In the process, it shifts us - it ignites us, just as it seems to have ignited something in Moses.

So, God's presence brings me fire, yet does not consume and crush me. Yet for those who find their center in the One Who Is True, the presence and thoughts of God fill their every breath. In this manner (here comes the mystical part) "I" am consumed, but I am not consumed. My thoughts and anxieties shift from selfishness and self-preservation - the "I" - to something outside of myself. As the reality of being found in God - of being a brother of Christ, of realizing that true power gives itself away - begins to sink in, "I" is no longer the focal point of my interaction in the world. Instead, I become consumed with the work of God, which gives itself sacrificially in love towards others. My thoughts are still my own, but no longer focused on me.

This way of thinking has led Paul to make a lot more sense to me:
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Paul, it seems, speaks of himself as not living, yet living. It seems these are the peculiar thoughts of those who find themselves inside the fire of God's work, but not consumed. In a mystical way, we become the burning bush.

Being consumed with the work of God in the world leads to what appears to be some strange behaviors. But just as the bizarre behavior of the bush attracted attention, and led to an encounter with God that changed the trajectory of those who approached, I find myself wondering if the bizarre consummation of Christians should accomplish the same thing.

I also wonder how often we, as Christians, choose to find ourselves outside the fire, looking from a great distance at those bushes that burn, but are not consumed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Giant Ichneumon Wasp

See that guy? He's called a Giant Ichneumon Wasp. He wants to bite your head off and lay babies in your stomach.

He also loves to scare you. Especially when you are cutting down a tree in your back yard during the summer and he suddenly appears without warning, crawling towards you as if unafraid, sure that your feeble attempts at personal defense will fail. He knows that his corn-dog-like size and wasp-like appearance will paralyze you with fright. He also knows he is vaguely tiger-colored, which means he is one bad dude. You will be unable to run away. You will be his.

You eye what appears to be a 3-inch stinger, knowing that if you run, you will expose your back, allowing him to sting you in the spinal cord, resulting in instant full-body paralysis. But if you stand there, he will probably gouge out your eyes right before kicking you in the genitals. Your mind races. You've never seen any insect like this, but you know his wasp-like appearance and vague scorpion rear-end mean danger. You also know that he knows this. You sink in despair as you realize he is winning the psychological battle.

Then, you remember that you have this in your hand. You remember that you have opposable thumbs, and have harnessed the power of electricity. You realize that you are not in some Pleistocene time where giant insects rule the world, but that you are in the 'burbs. You realize that you are wearing the worn-out t-shirt and faded levi's of the weekend warrior.

You take your formidable suburban scimitar and strike down the giant ichneumon wasp with all your might, destroying a small portion of a birch tree in the process. The wily insect is quick, but not quick enough, for he is torn asunder by the multiple whirling knives of your blade. As for the tree - it is no matter. You were cutting it down anyway.

You bask in the radiant glory of defeating the giant ichneumon wasp, saving yourself and your family from their terrible paralyzing sting, and being made into incubators for their young. You are the Bobby Fisher to their Russian chess match of corn-dogged sized fear and tiger-stripped intimidation.

Then, you find out that "he" was really a "she", and that she is quite harmless and really sorta cool.

Then you realize that you are a giant tool.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Look dude, all I know is the sky turned purple. After that I don't ask questions. Just...make myself a salad and move on.

Let's face it, I grew up watching television, specifically science fiction and fantasy. Things like Star Trek, The X-Files, Batman, Spiderman, Hercules, Twilight Zone, Buck Rogers, The Greatest American Hero, My Favorite Martian, Buffy, Tales from the Crypt, and a whole bunch more I can't think of right now. I simply love episodic fantasy.

Right now, Lost is my favorite. For the last couple of weeks, Mel and I have been watch every episode in preparation for the season premier, which just so happens to be tonight (on ABC, 7:00 ct). To say that I've been looking forward to this would be an understatement. To quote a friend, "I'm chuffed".

Dude, I know how this works. This is gonna end with you and me running through the jungle, screaming and crying. He catches me first because I'm heavy and I get cramps.

I don't exactly know what I like about Lost. What's not to like? The writing is great, the acting is good, the storylines are appropriately credible, and you grow to generally like each and every character - even the bad ones.

Something else I like is the humor. Peppered into this gritty story about plane-crash survivors living on a genuinely freaky island who's previous inhabitants seem to have it out for them are jokes that are legitimately funny. And at the same time, oh so true.

No, John, unfortunately we don't have a code for "There's a man in my closet with a gun to my daughter's head". Although...we obviously should.

Lost also seems to take itself seriously in just the right amounts. Characters aren't afraid of telling each other how stupid their decisions were. The characters are fallible, gritty, and in search of something. Being on the island turns their wandering into a journey.

Two days after I found out I had a fatal tumor on my spine...a spinal surgeon fell out of the sky. And if that's not proof of God, I don't know what is.

Something else I like is that the story is metaphysical. While even the causal watcher can see the "man of science vs man of faith" motif being played out, the more subtle overtones of the debate are also present. The answer between science and faith in real life is tricky and complex; neither is wrong, and neither is right. Lost, at least in my view, plays to this subtlety well. The right questions are always asked at the right time, and the answer is always murky. Sometimes this murkiness leads to violence and anger, sometimes it leads to peace - sometimes it leads to both.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A satirical Christmas reflection

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It was with God in the beginning.

Through it all things were made; without it nothing was made that has been made. In it was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through it all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he only came as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was about to be printed.

It was in the world, and though the world was made through it, the world did not recognize it. It came to that which was its own, but its own did not receive it. Yet to all who received it, to those who believed what they read, it gave the right to become children of God - children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision nor a husbands will, but born of God.

The Word was written on paper, and could be bought in top-grain leather. We have seen it's glory, the glory of its remarkable translation, which came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John testifies about it. He cries out saying, "This is that of whom I said, 'This that comes after me has surpassed me because of its remarkable cross-referencing system.'" From the fullness of it's text we have received one blessing after another. For the law was written down by Moses; grace and truth came through the King James Version only. No one has ever seen God, but we don't need to because we have this awesome book, which sat on the Father's nightstand, and has made Him known.

Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ".

They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you a rep from Zondervan?"
He said, "I am not."
"Are you a Gideon?"
He answered, "No".

Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

John replied in the worlds of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of the one calling the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord'"

Now some of the pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor a rep from Zondervan, nor a Gideon?"

"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know how to read. It is the one that comes after me, the pages of which I am not worthy to thumb through."

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A poem of Hope

Below is a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Starting from my teenage years, I've resonated with this poem in many ways. Lately, it has been on my mind more than usual.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!

March 4,1946

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mixtape Lives

After the train wreck that was the last post, I think I need to offer a bit of a corrective and (hopefully) clarification. This post is a bit hastily baked, so be kind. Remember, I'm more of a tortoise than a hare.

I don't think anyone can seriously argue that humans aren't creatures who integrate. By our very nature, we emerge from the pressures of our environment - of our family, community, and culture. We are creatures who define ourselves through relationship with that which is other.

In practical terms, this means that I don't know who I am without the sum of my experiences. I don't know who I am without everything that has happened in my life up until now, including my relationship with you. And, like it or not, you don't know who you are without me. We inform each other, and in so doing make each other who we are. This shouldn't be news to anyone.

These lives that we create with each other are mixtapes, made up of our experiences, relationships, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. Each of our mixtapes are as unique as our faces or our fingerprints, and might even be connected to them. Yet our mixtape never stands alone. No matter how hard I try, songs on my mixtape are your songs, taken from your mixtape, though they are made over in my image. Or, to put it another way, the threads in my life tapestry are lifted from my interaction with others, and arranged as I see fit. And, in turn, others lift songs and threads from me. This is simply the reality of being human.

Which brings me to a quote from Darrell Jadock in 1990:
"The problem here is not that one's worldview or experience influences one's reading of the text, because that is inescapable. The problem is instead that the text is made to conform to the world view or codified experience and thereby loses its integrity and its ability to challenge and confront our present priorities, including even our most noble aspirations."

My argument in Mixtape Letters is that we must strive to uphold the integrity of the thing we are approaching, in order to truly hear what it has to say - to find it's "point".

But once we have the point what should we do?

It seems to me that our inevitable response to the challenge and confrontation the point brings is to enter into a dance of integrating experiences and relationships and points into our own mixtape lives. The dance is not bad, on the contrary. It's just that we need to allow room for someone or something to teach us a new dance, or to correct the dance we're currently dancing. Sometimes we have to listen to another mixtape, as hard as we can, while turning down our own. (In other words, we start with as close to the original point as we can get, and then integrate that point into our own context.)

Sometimes, as I enter the dance of integrating, I find things that are simply incompatible with who I am and what I hold dear. In that case, I might reject the point. In most cases, though, I just reject the parts I don't like, and keep the stuff I do like. There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems to me that I have to be honest with myself about the fact that I just did something to alter the original point as I form it over in my own image.

I believe that God has invited all of creation into this dance since the beginning of time. It is a dance that occurs in the very atoms that make up the universe, and a dance that God, as trinity, dances as well. In fact, His very being is what allows the dance to exist. As time passes away and this universe runs out of the energy to dance, it is also my belief that God will remember my unique but transient mixtape life, and invite me into a different dance - one in which I will get the chance to learn an infinite number of new steps as I dance with the Trinity for eternity.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mixtape Letters

This summer, one of the toys I got was a Zune MP3 player. Like all Microsoft products, it has some problems, but all in all, I really like it. Plus, I got it for cheap, and that makes me happy.

With my Zune came a free two-week subscription to Zune Marketplace, which is basically like all-you-can-eat iTunes. Any songs I downloaded from Zune Marketplace would play as long as I was still subscribed, which after 2 weeks became no-longer-free.

Being the music lover that I am, I started furiously downloading whatever I wanted. A little Billy Joel here, a little Kanye West there. A smidge of Mercy Me, a bunch of Moby. A sample of Fergie, a plateful of Pink. A scoop of U2, a handful of Linkin Park. You get the idea.

But I noticed something interesting. At the end of my time on Zune Pass, I had only downloaded one album intact. For the rest of the material I downloaded, I only had a smattering of individual songs, which I had combined into finely tuned playlists. Basically, I had a bunch of mixtapes that I had cobbled together to satisfy my particular tastes. Screw the artist and the concept of an "album", I want track #4 only, and then I want to put it with track #10 of something completely different. Because, you know, it's all about me.

Some artists, like Radiohead, won't let you download individual tracks, because they view their albums as a cohesive whole. They won't submit to the demands of consumers, which take only what they want, when they want it, and discard the rest. With Radiohead you have to submit to the tapestry they create, rather than the tapestry you, as the consumer, want to create for yourself.

Unfortunately, this same consumeristic mindset invades our faith. All too often we, as Christians, don't read books like Genesis or Matthew as if they are a tapestry of their own, demanding to be read as a cohesive, stand alone whole. Instead, we take particular chapters and verses out, and use them as we please. We read only chapter 3:23-24, or 17:24-28 rather than wrestling with the fact that the whole book means something larger than those verses. We mix them together into playlists that make us feel predictable ways about ourselves, or about God.

All too often, we blur together bible stories until they have no distinctive context. This is especially true at Christmas. The story about Joseph being told to marry Mary? Only in Matthew. The story about Mary being told she would give birth as a virgin? Only in Luke. The story about the Magi following the star and bringing gifts? Only in Matthew. The story about the shepherds seeing angels and coming to worship Jesus? Only in Luke. The idea that the word became flesh and dwelt among us? Only in John. Most Christmas stories, though, are the ultimate mixtape of all these stories crammed together. In fact, I would bet most of us can't even conceive of the Christmas story without the mixtape. We have, in fact, designed our own tapestry.

I recently saw this happening with Genesis as well. Instead of reading Genesis as it's own tapestry, threads and verses from other tapestries were pulled out by preference and applied to particular verses of Genesis. What results is a tapestry of our own making, apart from what a book is actually trying to say. We, in fact, become more interested in our own mixtape letter than an actual Biblical letter. And in so doing, we get caught, once again, in the curse of folk theology.

I wonder, as I interact with christians in my church and at my work, what would happen if we let the confusing parts of Genesis, or of the prophets, or of Matthew actually confuse and disturb us through the unique tapestry they weave, rather than calming ourselves with a well constructed security blanket? What would happen if we looked at the Bible more as an art gallery about God and humanity - with each painting standing alone, yet somehow related to its neighbor- rather than a single smeared image?

What would happen if we ditched the mixtape letters? Can we? Should we?