I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thinking about Gratitude

prayer at its very core is an intentional being-with god. just being with; not demanding anything at all. prayer is listening, and it is silence, and being still while allowing oneself to be held, and transformed.....

prayer and gratitude are both ways of being in the world. they are not activities we do; they aren't even attitudes we aquire. they are shifts in our very way of being. ((to use the big words.) to learn a posture of gratitude is to accept a shift in one's ontology--or maybe i should say a realignment with one's original ontology.)

in this way, gratitude is infinitely harder than we imagine because it requires so much more of us than noticing pleasant occurances and being thankful for them.....

- Tamie, Thinking about Gratitude

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the blogosphere. You make my life better, so much gratitude.

I've been traveling (and preparing to travel) since the beginning of this week, so I've been out of the blog loop....I will catch up, though, but 'twill be hit and miss for the next two weeks. I'm taking some time to enjoy the south before returning to the dark and cold Indiana countryside. My first stop was in Memphis, en route to Houston, TX, where I will be spending a Thanksgiving. Then it is over to Temple, TX to see my brother, his wife, and their new addition, Camille. From there, I am swinging over to Flagstaff, AZ to see my good friend Tamie. Flagstaff will be the base camp, and will be doing some traveling around the southwest: Tucson, Mexico, and maybe see some of the Grand Canyon. When I come back in December, 'twill be time for tax season again.

Here are a few pics. of the family flag football game this morning.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Endless mimetic spiritual desire - Or, How to never become a person of faith

I have a few more posts on the church and Christianity that I would like to share, and hopefully discuss with others....I hope that my intense negativity is not viewed too threateningly. In other words, I often fear that my negative posts are construed as primarily my opportunity to vent personal anger/bitterness/angst. While I do not deny that my exit from institutionalized Christianity has created no small internal turmoil, if I felt that vengeance was my primary motivation, then I would shut up and post about something else; however, I do think that in the previous post and in the ones to come, there are some important theoretical, spiritual, and existential issues to discuss.

It is almost a given that the era of institutional Christianity is over. The important discussion point is to ask what is next. (For example, my next post will discuss the end of the "emergent church" and some possible implications.)

Previously, I discussed the issue of apathy: where does apathy come from? Perhaps it comes (in part) from excess--being saturated. Are we apathetic in the churches because we are saturated with "Jesus" and "Christian" stuff? My main point was to suggest that we have lost the "the knowledge of God" because of saturation with the knowledge of God. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about destroying things that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. My thought is that it is "knowledge of God," itself that is eroding our knowledge of God.

I was recently listening to an interview with Rene Girard. Girard is the father of theories of "mimetic desire." Simply put, he suggests that our desires are never (or in most cases) for the object itself, rather, we want what we want because others want it. Our desires for things are primarily based on wanting what others desire, such that we rarely pursue the thing itself--even if we decieve ourselves into thinking that such is the case. Fashion is an obvious example: we wear things that appeal to us because we see others desiring those clothes.

Remember some of the crazy outfits Brad Pitt wore in Fight Club??? They were ridiculous by fashion standards at the time, but as soon as the movie hit the big time, clothing sellers found a demand, and one label even produced a separate "Fight Club" clothing line.

Girard's theory is fascinating and also complex. (For more, there is a good Wikipedia article on Girard, and our friend John Doyle (aka, Ktismatics) also previously posted on Girard, with some interesting commentary by myself and others.)

Without delving into the complexities, however, I'm sure you can see the link to our contemporary American advertising and marketing matrix, which Girard himself mentions in the interview: we desire the stuff that others desire. So, advertising focuses not on selling us a "thing"--that's stupid--they sell us a desire to be like the people who use the product.

About halfway through the interview, Girard begins to discuss Coca-cola. They sell the soft drink, says Girard, by showing the kinds of people who drink Coke: beautiful people on beaches who can't wear very much clothing because they have such perfect figures.

But Girard goes further, and he makes an interesting point. He says there is a "sacramental" aspect to Coca-cola: we drink the product to participate in the transformation. Sound familiar? Lord's supper, Eucharist, partake of the body of Christ, baptism, come out of the water and into new life? The sacrament of participating in the product sold to us by advertisers ushers us into a transformation.

John's (Ktismatics') above-mentioned post quotes Girard on this topic, essentially: we desire the being of others. Why? For one thing, it is because our being isn't good enough. We need to latch onto something else. But, I think, it is more than that. There is also a slothful element, as well: we don't want to engage in the process of becoming, of establishing our own being and working it out as a life process.

Our mass-media corporate culture is always there to sell us more desires....there's always something more to want, because the cool kids are always wearing new clothes.

Let's take this into the realm of our American Christian life. The multi-billion dollar Christian corporate machines operate on the same basis as other advertisers: stir up mimetic desire. Don't you want to have a fuller Christian life, like these best-selling authors, who also attach handy workbooks and just released this new DVD? Don't you want to have the worship experiences of these contemporary Christian music artists? Don't you want the security of knowing the right Christian doctrine, like these "biblical" Christian teachers?

It's a business of creating continual desire; it's no different than any other corporation: there's always something new to desire. We can continually put off the faith-process of becoming by purchasing the latest Christian product.

How about the local church? Surely the scene is better here, is it not? I say no. I think the local church does the same thing: there's always a new sermon each Sunday, always a new musical worship experience, always a new "ministry" or "program." It's still mimetic desire. We live our spirituality through others. Once again, the process of personal becoming that is at the heart of faith is eternally delayed by our almost voyeuristic need to watch others perform their faith on stage. It's show biz.....Mimetic desire.

So, our churches become sacraments to be a part of the institution, part of the crowd--to participate in the spiritual desires of others. What church most certainly is not is a participation in the life of Christ. Endlessly running after the spiritual desires of others results in never becoming a person of faith.

My point here, is not to condemn Christian corporations or the church or to suggest that any corporate Christian purchase is immoral or wrong--that's too easy. The point is to develop a self-awareness of what it means to participate in a process of endless, mimetic desire and to discuss the consequences. Hence, I think it is obvious that this is not a uniquely "Christian" discussion. We are discussing the 21st century "self" in an age where media uses mimetic desire to shape and form the self.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Apathy and the knowledge of God

The following is from the script of the film Donnie Darko:

Ms. Pomeroy sits across from Principal Cole.

I'm sorry, Karen, this is a
specialised school. We don't think
the methods you've undertaken here
are appropriate.

(trying to contain
her anger)
With all due respect, sir, what
specifically about my methods do you
find inappropriate?

Principal Cole stares at her for a moment.

I don't have to get myself into a
debate about this, Karen, I believe
I have made myself clear.

You call this... clarity? I don't
think you have a clue what it's really
like to communicate with these kids.
You don't think that they can smell
your bullshit from a mile away? Every
day that goes by... that we fail
to... inspire them... is another
moment that we all lose. And we are
losing them to apathy, and this...
prescribed nonsense. They are slipping

I am sorry that you have failed. Now
if you'll excuse me, I have another
appointment. You can finish out the

(Script from IMSD)




What are the signs of American apathy? And the ramifications?

As I see it, there are three areas of apathy within the institutional church. The first is a preference for services and routine rather than community. By "community," I mean a kind of community that mirrors the early church in Acts, where believers are found sharing their lives together: spending long times in fellowship over meals and even selling their possessions and having their stuff in common--a clear violation of the truths of capitalism that we hold to be self-evident!

The second area of apathy is a general tendency to become so absorbed in the American lifestyle that there is no real vision for radically changing the world. Third, I would say there is a definite lack of freedom. That is, the church--like the greater culture--seems more interested in conforming and manipulating the self so that it meets its end goals and advances its values. In this context, creativity, originality, intellectual exploration, and dynamic vision are viewed with suspicion. (Cf. Tamie's recent post on the artist and priest.) In many contexts, not changing is viewed as a virtue.

But such apathy is not really unique to the church, is it? In many ways, apathy in the church is only a reflection of the apathy that is uniquely American. In fact, the three areas of apathy mentioned above (isolation/anti-community, lack of vision for world change, and conformity/manipulation of the un-free self) are manifested regularly in the culture at large.

What is the cause?

Well, that's a difficult question--a complex question, really, with no simple answer. However, might I suggest that one problem is that of saturation. Saturation? Yes, the idea that if a person has too much of a good thing, they tend to not appreciate it. That which is good becomes common and dull. Dullness leads to boredom and apathy.

In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about demolishing "every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God." Might it be that we live in a world, particularly in the U.S. of A., where we are so saturated with the knowledge of God that God has become meaningless and dull?

I would suggest that one of the greatest spiritual tragedies of our time is that the Bible is history's #1 best seller. (See Wikipedia) The knowledge of God is everywhere in America. On Sunday mornings, sermons pollute the airwaves--preachers who take some of the most meaningful aspects of life and in the typical American sitcom style, they reduce these meaningful discussions down to a simple three point sermon with application points. We have multi-billion dollar industries dedicated to providing Christian music, literature, and multi-media. Multi-billion dollar industries! And we still think we need to get the message out????

I'm not saying that no good can come of all of this, I'm just saying that less is more. I am convinced that in 21st century America, the greatest obstacle to the knowledge of God is the knowledge of God itself. Knowledge of God is cheap and easy: go to church, listen to the radio, get a podcast, pop in a cd, turn on the television. And our Christian American leaders boldly continue "preaching the word," as if more information is going to make a difference in this over-saturated society. They seem to think that if only the world had the "right" message, then America would shake off its apathy. But they only add to the cacophony and noise.

Maybe it's time to for a fast. If we really value the knowledge of God, maybe it's time to protect it by hiding it.

Is mass media the new swine pit into which we cast our pearls? Is it a saturation that contributes to our apathetic faith?

And what is the connection between religious apathy and apathy in the American culture??? Has religion followed culture, or has the culture followed religion on this issue? I think it is quite probably that the church has taken the apathetic leadership role. That is, the apathy we find in Donnie Darko might be a result of the American culture following the church. I think this is particularly the case due to how closely church and culture were connected in the American life of the past.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Did God write the Bible?

Or, perhaps more to the point, Should we call God an "author" of the Scriptures?

Yes, that's a much better question.

Interestingly, enough, while many conservative Christians here in the U.S. of A. would adamantly affirm that God authored the Bible, the Bible itself doesn't really seem concerned to make the point. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is never a statement that identifies God as "author" of the Scriptures.

I remember a few years back in one of my seminary classes (at a very conservative seminary), we were in the midst of a class discussion. Someone referred to God as the "author" of Scripture. So, I casually asked the question, "Is God the author of Scripture." The class (including the Prof.) started laughing; they thought I was provided dry comedy relief, in the distinctive Erdman style. However, they quickly realized I was, in fact serious, and we continued with the discussion for only a short while longer. Most in the classroom quite obviously hadn't considered whether God should be considered an "author" of the Bible.

"But what about 2 Timothy 3:16, Jon!??! What about it??!! Huh! Huh!"

Yes, good friend. 2 Timothy states that all Scripture is theopneustos, meaning "God-breathed." So, what does that mean? Well, honestly, it isn't clear! This is the only instance the term theopneustos is used in the New Testament. It is obviously a metaphor, but a metaphor for what? Authorship? I don't know. I'm not convinced. That all Scripture contains a "breath" of God is one thing...to say that this means God had a hand in the writing process. I don't, friend. Should we stretch the term "breath" and look for an exhaustive definition? Or should we simply appreciate the ambiguity of a good metaphor?

Also, my good 2 Timothy 3:16 friend, bear in mind the context of the metaphor: the Bible has some good practical use. In other words, the idea of Scripture being breathed by God relates to its pragmatic value. I find the Scriptures far more useful when approaching them as a pluralistic perspective on life and faith.

What are the implications of dropping the idea that God is the "author" of the text. While I do not as of yet have anything resembling an exhaustive philosophy of the Bible to give you, there are a few points that seem rather clear to me.

First, let's say that the Bible is written by men. It is most naturally read as a conglomeration of diverse writings. "God-breathed," yes. "Written" by God....let's say "no."

Second, the Bible is highly contextual. It contains perspectives relevant to the issues that people faced in their day. So, for example, according to OT law, if a dude rapes a girl, his "punishment" is that he has to buy the girl and make her his wife. Well, for that day it was probably a good law, considering how badly women were treated. But by our standards today (according to our 21st century American context), this is a ridiculous law! The Bible deals most primarily (but certainly not exclusively) with issues closely related to the context of the day.

Third, the theology found in Scripture is highly pluralistic (even contradictory I would say, though some would disagree!). This third point kind of follows from the first two. One example of this seems to be the character of God. God might be unchanging according to one perspective in one book of the Scripture, but in another, he is shown to respond to what we do and even to change his mind.

Fourth, the Bible itself shows a movement and a progression. The most blatant example would obviously be the New Testament writers recontextualizing the Old Testament to better "fit" and to better understand the event of the coming of the Messiah. That is why some of the "proof texts" that you see in the NT don't seem to fit (at all!) the original context from whence they were plucked! The concern of the NT writers was to BOTH find continuity with the OT but to go beyond it and address the issues of their day and the new challenges and opportunities available to the faithful.

Fifth, in light of all of the above, I think that the point of reading and applying the Bible today is to recognize the need to continue to recontextualize the Scripture, to realize that the power of the written text is primarily to focus our attentions on the current day and to think critically about the unique issues and questions that we face. If there is a "constant" or an "absolute" in all of this, it would have to be the presence of the Spirit of God--the "living and active Word of God" as the book of Hebrews says.

To say that the text is "God-breathed" then, is not to say that it has all the answers to today's questions (evolution, abortion, homosexuality, women's rights and status, sexual ethics, pornography, etc.). The text is certainly a guide, and a very important one; but the primary connection is not to the text itself, but to the God of the text. Karl Barth said that the Bible is not the revelation of God but the record of the revelation of God. I kind of like that thought and approach. For Barth (and others), the Word of God becomes the Word of God as it is proclaimed in the contemporary context. The text, then, seems to become more dynamic.

What say you? What are the various implications if we drop the terminology of God being the "author" of the Scriptures?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Indiana today

So, I'm back in Indiana. I arrived back from Germany last night. I know you may think that I am a helpless case, but I realized when I got back how much I missed the American media--watching Sports Center, football (of the American variety), endless sitcoms, movies, and of course coverage of the current election.....and....speaking of the election....goodness gracious! Indiana is a player again! I'm so intrigued. Obama just finished voting in Illinois, and he is on his way to Indianapolis. That's right, my friends, Obama is making his final pitch on the final day in Indiana. He's coming to a state that is staunchly Red Republican, because the campaign thinks he can win it. Amazing. Really. There's a part of me that doesn't even believe that such a thing is possible; mostly it is hard to believe because I live in a very conservative area of Indiana.

They are currently speculating that if Indiana goes to Obama, then the election is over. Indiana finishes their voting first. Indiana always votes Republican; typically they are the first to light up Red. So, whatever happens here will help get an early and significant idea of how the race is going to shape up.

In other news, I had a great trip. It was tons of fun. I will post more pictures and do a bit more blogging as I go along. Right now there are some black squirrels scurrying about in my yard, and I've got to do some unpacking and work out. The work outs have been on hold, apart from some friendly push up competitions with our couchsurfing hosts in Vienna.