Desire is neutral in the abstract, but not in the real world. Its good or evil is determined not simply by its object but also by the desirers motivations. Desire is mimetic. It’s harder to live in densely populated areas for this reason. This also explains why our happiness is predicated to highly on our success relative to our neighbours. In a densely populated area your neighbours are both more numerous and more varied.
You could say that these thoughts about desire explain the root of almost all rivalry and therefore violence. In fact, I find very little to disagree with here:
Girard describes this as a process of triangulation. We see somebody desiring an object. Due to imitation I begin to desire the same object. And with both of us desiring the same object a rivalry forms between us. This–mimetic rivalry–is the root cause of violence.
The church has always been a counterculture of sorts. It serves a very useful function when it goes against the grain, when it challenges the assumptions of the culture. The church is strongly periodic in this respect. It sort of gravitates to the countercultural pole and then moves away for a while.
Regardless, the church needs to present a challenge to the culture. Just as a Christian understanding of metaphysics presents a challenge to Plato and other dualistic systems, just as a Christian understanding of morality presents a challenge to a world that doesn’t want to see anything as evil, just as a Christian understanding of mortality and the afterlife presents a challenge to the existing paradigm of temporality and meaninglessness, the church also presents a challenge to the culture’s view of sexuality.
Jesus challenges a rich young man with the prospect of losing his identity, of giving away all his money. The young man can’t do this, because he is defined in the first instance defined by his desire for wealth. If you can’t submit your money to the will of Christ, you can’t enter the kingdom. If you can’t part with who you are and what you want to do, you can’t enter the kingdom.
Jesus also challenges a culture that believes you are defined in the first instance by your sexuality. If you can’t submit your sexuality to the will of Christ, you can’t enter the kingdom. As Jesus says, “Go and sin no more”.
Having no ideology is hard, maybe impossible. Having no ideology but Christ is harder still.
Jesus does not filter his blessings through the mesh of conservatism, Keynesian fiscal policy, a particular political party, trickle-down economics, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, or any of the political baggage you may have picked up from your parents, your region, or your county.
Jesus does not change the world through politics. He doesn’t change it through earthly power. He makes the world new by washing of regeneration. He changes hearts and minds with his blood. He doesn’t require the right political climate or ideological persuasion to do it. He makes the world new regardless.
Conflation of blessing with conservatism is sin. Conflation of blessing with anything other than Christ is sin. It is idolatry.
This is something that the church around the world needs to repent of. We need to repent of setting up false gods, false Christs, and seeking our blessings through them. Time and time again these false saviors fail to provide the ample blessings they promised. Time and time again we raise up new idols to replace the fallen.
It’s high time we learned that there is no true blessing and no true salvation outside of Christ, and started thinking about how to have no ideology but him.
Christianity is Trinitarian. This fact informs everything we think about and all that we do. I know we probably don’t spend enough time contemplating this (I certainly don’t), but there it is. We trace our orthodoxy back to the Trinity all the time, like finding the source of a great river. But we must also trace our orthopraxy there as well. The well-head is, as always, the three-in-one.
One aspect of this is the Trinity dwelling in community. The persons commune with each other constantly. Perhaps “community” is a bit of a weak word to describe this, but it’s the best we have.
It turns out that we humans dwell in community as well. The most important being the church, not simply communing with the saints of the past through study and tradition, but community on a more local and visceral level.
This is one of those basic things we tend to forget. Because it’s so basic. We figure it just happens. And for the most part it does, except when it doesn’t.
If you don’t try to build community, your church is going to be transient. It’s going to be like an inn, with people stopping by only in passing. It won’t seem real and organic. It will seem fake, glossy, and superficial.
People, after all, make the difference.
Real, organic, deeply-rooted community survives all kinds of things. Changes in leadership, bad preaching, what have you.
You don’t define your church as a place. It might be rooted to a building or a particular school gym or someone’s house, but it’s not a place. It’s a group of people. The direction the church takes determines the kind of people that will show up. It determines the sort of community that will be built or will build itself.
This is such a fundamental thing that you won’t notice it when it’s there. But you will when it’s not. We are made to fellowship, to exist in community. This is part of us bearing the image of God, that we see to do what he does. We seek his level, imperfectly, a corrupted, broken attempt, but we try nonetheless.
One thing I struggle with–a thing I think I’ll always struggle with–is how to do justice to scripture. More to the point, how am I getting in the way? Am I imposing my own biases on it? Is my worldview filtering something out that should be left in or vice versa?
This is where the sort of casual interpretation of scripture I see so much of can do real damage, real violence to what the text is trying to convey. There’s a reason a lot of deep study goes into reading and (one hopes) preaching. A plain-text reading of scripture, asking “what does it mean?” by looking at the words and gleaning from that, isn’t enough.
On the other hand, there’s a violence that can be done to the text by over-interpretation. I understand that scripture interprets scripture, as any hermeneutics student worth his or her salt can tell you, but there’s a great danger in reducing the revealed word of God to a bunch of propositional statements (especially the ones you’re already inclined to agree with) and then filtering the text through those statements. Anyone who’s ever even casually glanced at systematics should notice this: Both Calvinist and Arminian scholars do exactly the same thing with different verses. You minimise when necessary to the detriment of a holistic understanding. It’s not enough to, for instance, elevate passages that speak of predestination and use them as proof texts to filter out passages that speak (clearly and plainly) of free will and choice.
Usually around this point someone starts talking about balance. I’m going to leave that alone for now, but I hate talking about balance and moderation and pendulums and ditches one can fall into. Casual interpretation and systematics aren’t points on a spectrum. A person can’t place himself squarely in the middle of those two concepts and drift off to sleep.
In fact, I think the most pressing interpretive question is not simply “what does the text say” or “what does the text mean” but instead “what did the author intend” and “how would his listeners have taken that”.
As you can see, we’re going to need to become students of history and not just students of scripture as scripture in some Platonic, isolated, hermetically sealed sort of way. The Bible was written in a certain place at a certain time by people with a certain worldview.
And we think very differently from them. Even in something as foundational as cosmology, a first-century Jew (for instance) would have a very different concept of what the universe looks like from us today with computers and telescopes. Where we accept (with the notable exception of a few very loud crackpots on the internet) that the earth is round, that it goes around the sun, and that the universe is a very, very large place, a first-century Jew might have said that the sky was curved like a dome that rests on the pillars of the earth, all of which kept out the great seas upon which the world floated. Something like that.
When we ask modern questions about the science of a Great Flood, such as “where did all that water come from?”, we’re asking a question that brings into very fine resolution the differences between us and them. For the writer of Genesis, this is obvious. The water came from the great deep. The oceans beneath the world. For us, it’s an unsettling question as there’s simply not that much water on the earth. How we view the Great Flood and how Old Testament Jews might view it are two separate things. Where we might very easily conclude that the Great Flood is an event with little historical basis, they would have viewed is as a quite literal event.
Consider even directionality. The idea that heaven is up and hell is down is for the most part figurative speech for us today. We don’t actually think heaven is up in the sky, and we don’t think that hell is in the centre of the earth. When we talk about direction we’re using distinctly Jewish language without realising it but omitting the Jewish literal meaning. When the Hebrews talked about heaven being up and hell being down, they meant it literally. Heaven was in the sky, hell was in the depths of the earth.
This is the curse of language in the Bible: We use scriptural language, attach our own meaning to it, and forget what the original authors might have meant.
Worldview is like that. Sometimes I think that worldview is like looking through a stained glass window. It’s very easy to see the picture you’ve become accustomed to seeing instead of the real world beyond the glass.
Take for instance the now-infamous Love passage in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul sets up a bunch of ridiculous situations (no-one has ever spoken with the tongues of men and angels) and uses the hyperbole to make a point.
What we tend to see in that passage is Paul asking us to find a balance between love and other things, much like one might want to find a balance between work and life. Except of course that nowhere in the passage does Paul, the writer, ask us to find balance. He just says, “Have love”. Any reading, any exposition that tries to read balance into the passage does great violence to the text. It simple doesn’t say that. Our brains, steeped in Platonic concepts of the spiritual vs the physical, read that concept into the text.
In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find a chapter, verse, or book in the Bible that asks for balance. I’m pretty sure a bunch of religious leaders thought Jesus was a little off-balance with his teachings. He doesn’t seem like a guy caught up with the idea of finding an acceptable ratio of riches to kingdom seeking, if you know what I mean.
There are so many things that we do this to. Faith and works becomes faith vs works. Truth and love becomes truth vs love. We flatten the scripture out. We make the Bible two-dimensional. We read a pendulum swing into the text. But of course we can’t do that. You can’t position yourself directly between love and faith (wherever that might be) and figure you’ll be okay. You can’t speak a little bit of truth and a little bit of love and think you’ve done a good job. Truth must be infused with love, and love must be informed by truth. Faith and works don’t get separated. You have both or you have neither. The difference between saying both-and and either-or is quite a big one, and an important one.
It’s the difference between saying “I have a soul and I have a body”, which is really just a statement of account, or a schematic, and saying “I am a soul and a body”, which is a statement of identity and really a lot closer to the truth. You don’t get to separate your soul from your body. Even at the end of times, there will be a resurrection. God’s design always include physicality. Wherever Jesus is now, in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God, you can feel his scars because he has a body. It’s a glorified body, but it’s a body. This is a radically different picture of heaven from our harps-and-wings version. And it’s an important difference. Ignoring the difference or talking about heaven as a place we go to when we die does, again, a great deal of violence to heaven as reality, earth as reality, and their eventual coming together as the culmination of Jesus’ work on the Cross and our work of kingdom building here on earth.
I don’t think I can say it better than CS Lewis did, though. When Eustace says that stars in our world are great balls of gas and fire, Ramandu tells him that yes, that’s what they’re made of, but that’s not what they are. You do violence to a star by considering it as the sum of its components, reading your own scientific-based worldview onto the existence of stars. They are, after all, more than you can see just by looking.
The same, I think, can be said of the scriptures. It’s why, after all these years, it’s such a fascinating book.
ht to Hubbsy for the prompt to write.
I’d like to pick on the church for a while, if that’s alright. Specifically the church in our age. Every church in every age has its problems, mostly sharing them with the culture it’s in, and ours is no exception. So I’ll go right ahead and say it:
I don’t want to be entertained in church.
Really. I don’t. It’s probably the least appropriate space for entertainment. I can live with politics as entertainment, with news as entertainment, with public debate entertainment, but I can’t live with church as entertainment. I can shut off the TV, I can vote a certain way, and I can withdraw from the public square, but I can’t stop going to church.
It’s essential, right? “You can’t have God as your father without the church as your mother” and all that. It’s the point we constantly try to make, that what we’re doing is important. We’re getting in touch with the God who is there.
So what does it say about God if we act as if people might get bored and leave all the time?
I am already entertained everywhere else. By Sunday, I am sick to death of being amused and pandered to. Everywhere I go, someone is competing for my attention. They are clever, witty, funny, insightful, and to-the-point.
You don’t have to compete for my attention in church. I’m already there. You don’t have to lure me back. I’ll come back every Sunday as long as you’re creating a space for interaction with Heaven. I’ll be there as long as it’s real, as long as it’s about something important, as long as you’re telling me the truth.
That’s a nerve not many people can touch these days.
Church can do that.
I think we’ve lost a lot of the beauty of sanctity and holiness. There’s a mystery about Roman Catholic cathedrals that suggests you are stepping into a place steeped in something other. That you could have an encounter there. That the skin between the world of us and the world of God is fraying terribly and wonderfully thin.
There’s no place for entertainment there. If you don’t go, it’s not because you’re bored, but because you know deep in that part of your brain that knows these things that if you see God you will die.
The cathedral is a reflection of that Old Testament idea that God is really big and important and awesome.
Our current church vision is that God is a bit drab and humdrum and needs some special effects to get people interested.
But we don’t need cathedrals to bring that idea across. We don’t need to throw out our screens and our guitars. We don’t even need to have a complicated liturgy. What we really need is to turn down the lights, turn down the volume, and just knock off the antics. We need to act like what we’re doing is important, because it is.
If we love God, we love the church. And we don’t come glibly before God. We don’t try to dress him up. Instead we try to strip ourselves down, get rid of the junk that’s getting in the way, and meet with him.
One last thing: Churches generally suck at entertainment. Don’t try it. It’s embarrassing and awkward.
I’m sick to death of fighting for things. There, I’ve said it.
I’ve stood on the same picket lines as many of you have and held the same sign and fought the same battle… and gotten nowhere at all. We haven’t toppled the abortion edifice. We haven’t changed many (or even any) minds. Look: it isn’t doing any good. We’re not making any progress here.
We live in a post-Christian culture. We really do. It’s no good pretending that the culture we live in is on some sort of axis, about to tip, and if we pull really hard maybe we can make things swing back our way.
The political and social means are out of our hands now. We’re the fringe. We’re the minority. In those realms, our time is past. This is the way it is; get over it already.
It’s time to move on to something worthwhile. Something transformative. It’s time to jettison these old tired ideas that Jesus’ will can be legislated. It’s time to get back to the core of our mission here.
I like to ask this question: How does change come about? What happens when you change your mind? What makes you do that?
For me, I change my mind when I am persuaded to do so; this can take a long time, but like Paul, I can faithfully say that I have been persuaded that Jesus is the Christ. Yet in order to be persuaded of that, I had to hear about it. In order to hear about it, someone had to say it. And in order for someone to say it, they had to believe, but also personify what they believed.
It took a community of believers deeply interested in living the truth to convince me that it was in fact the truth. You know what? I don’t think this is uncommon.
When I changed my mind, I changed my lifestyle. When I changed my mind, a bunch of old stuff went out the window. I got some new perspectives.
There is this dialectic between the heart and the mind, as I see it. If we think something, our actions probably follow; if we act a certain way, our minds follow as well.
This is why I think politics and social change, though important, will never advance the faith. They reach only a certain part of a person. A sign that says that abortion is evil, which it is, does nothing to persuade a heart that life is sacred and it is our duty to protect the weakest members of our society. A sign simple says what it says. A law is meant to be broken. A government agency is a faceless agent of change.
Heart and mind change will do the trick, though. Would a nation of Christian people simply accept abortion as a right? Or that gayness is acceptable or even desirable? Or whatever other issue you could name?
So, yes, I’m sick to death of fighting for things. Is it okay that I simply want to live a life of love instead? I want to love my wife, I want to love my church, I want to love my neighbour, and I want to love God. If that makes me some sort of hippie liberal reject, so be it. I have good company, I think, with Jesus and all.
I don’t think I’ve ever addressed this issue on my blog before. Let me fix that now.
Abortion is abhorrent. Especially late-term and partial-birth abortion. At that stage of pregnancy you can’t mistake it: This is a baby. It moves on its own. It has a brain, a heart, nerves, blood, and all the stuff of life.
Early term abortion is a bit different, depending on how early you’re talking. You can say that sperm plus egg equals human with a soul, but of course you can’t really build a convincing scriptural case from that. The only passages that really speak to the issue are poetic passages that approach it tangentially while speaking to something else. Again, not convincing.
Ironically for modern Christians, I think their case is built more on science than on scripture. I say this because — and this is a whole other post — modern Christians are become increasingly science-phobic as science attacks the creation poem found in Genesis 1.
We can see inside a womb like never before. We can view the stages of pregnancy with at least a certain amount of clarity.
In any case, we can say definitively that the life of the body is in the blood. One of the central narratives of the Jewish law is that blood is sacred. So we can say that a human child in the womb is alive (and thus has a soul) when it has blood in its veins. This is a crude rule of thumb, but it seems pretty solid.
Still, abortion is abhorrent and just plain wrong. But it’s also mind-boggling. In a world chock-full of devices and methods and medications to prevent pregnancy, how does someone still get pregnant by accident? You have to either be wilfully ignorant or be the victim of a cruel confluence of extremely unlikely events. (Watch Laura and I be the victims of a cruel confluence of events because I said that!) There should be no need for abortion these days. Women may have the right to choose a contraceptive, but they should not have the right to choose to kill a person. Women do not simply arbitrarily get to pick when they feel their baby is a human.
If you get pregnant and you don’t want to be pregnant, at least live with the consequences and give the child up for adoption or something like that.
- Chris asks a good question via Twitter: Is there a way to do church without burning leaders out? I think the answer comes back to something Joel Main and I talked about the other week. There are different ways to do church. We assume that church always revolves around a couple guys, but is that really how it has to work? What if the church is more of a collaborative environment where more people get involved? And what if instead of creating programs and activities with the implicit goal of getting people involved in peripheral matters, why not embed them at the heart of the whole thing? Of course the quality will go down as people with varying talent levels get involved, but church isn’t a stage show or some kind of theatre. Maybe sacrificing some polish would be a good thing. If it spared people’s marriages and drew people in and made authentic community.
- I’m beginning to hate the word “authentic”. It’s so over-used — and by me, too, yes — that the word itself seems inauthentic. Which makes me wonder if what we mean when we say “authentic” is actually just “cool”. That thing that as soon as it become mainstream becomes uncool. Or unauthentic.
- There are people I usually like a great deal who turn into raging idiots around politics. They become incensed that “their party” is being “attacked” and so they go on the offensive and “defend” them. This is true of both Republicans and Democrats, both Liberals and Conservatives, but it seems to be worse with those who mix religion and politics. More to the point, people who genuinely believe that the Republican party is another arm for the body of Christ seem to get more upset when their precious idol is under attack. I don’t know why this is. I know and respect many Republicans and Democrats who don’t do this. I know many who are measured and rational. But there’s always a few who seem to think they’re helping. But they’re not. They’re making arses of themselves.
- Today I’m going to have some sort of burger for lunch. But because I took public transit — which really isn’t public, as I still had to pay for it: Why do I have to pay for public transit but not public healthcare? — I’ll have to walk there. I need an hour lunch break for exactly that reason.
- I went to Nick’s profession of faith yesterday. It strikes me that before any of us go after the Catholic church for whatever doctrinal failings that branch of Christendom may espouse, we should clean up our own houses first. Especially when we’re still perpetuating a bunch of baroque rituals whose purposes are exemplary but whose roots are not in scripture. Even when you know the rituals aren’t grounded in scripture, and you can say as much. You can know what you like and say what you like but what you do is what matters. If you tacitly or implicitly put something on the level of scripture, you have absolutely no right to speak up against those who do so vocally and in the open.
- I am hungry!
- Laura and I went into Toronto for a while on Saturday and just walked around for a long time. It was fun: We don’t go to Toronto enough, it seems, even though we live on the border of Mississauga and Toronto. All this to say that one day I would very much like to live in downtown Toronto. Maybe not something as posh as Queen’s Quay, but something close to everything. It’s a grand city. Or, as Torontonians seem to blather on about, it’s a world-class city.
- And that’s it folks! Also, I hope Obama wins. He’s the lesser of two evils, and I’m a great fan of rhetoric. Ever since I watched the West Wing, it seems, and developed a peripatetic crush on Aaron Sorkin.
- Here we go again!
- One of the great tragedies of the modern church is that we’ve for the most part lost the language of covenant. We still have some of the ideas. But there’s hope. Imagine, if you will, the power of context and the power of covenant wedded to each other; perhaps this is an unholy union of the ancient and the post-modern, but which covenant doesn’t have context? The church and God in the context of his schema of salvation; the covenant of marriage in the context of God and the church’s covenant; these are powerful concepts.
- Share the Well is — and I hate to say this, as much as love Long Line of Leavers — probably the best Caedmon’s Call album ever. So many years and I still love CC. It’s true. I’ve listened to them longer than I’ve been a Christian.
- I’ve heard it said that if God seems distant it’s probably because you’ve drawn away; the implicit assumption is, of course, that God is static and that he always wants to be close. In light of scripture, does this seem true? Are there not many people in scripture who were desperate to draw close to God only to find him still distant? I think when we talk about God we need to remember that he’s also a person, or a Person if you will, who has thoughts higher than ours and a plan greater than we can understand. God’s not static. He moves, we move, it’s the grand danse (as you may have heard said). If God seems distant and you don’t understand why — if you want to draw near and nothing happens — all you can say is that there is a reason. It’s almost blase in its simplicity. But there is a reason. Sometimes you don’t get to understand, sometimes you do, but there’s always a reason.
- It’s hard to synthesise the appalling poverty most of the world labours in and the almost limitless prosperity we enjoy. The question is, of course, at what point does prosperity become a curse? This very blog begs ask that question: I have enough money to buy a computer and enough free time to contribute this ocean of dross that is the internet. How much time do I spend feeding the hungry and how much time do I spend feeding my own various hungers? How much should I?
- Candace is getting baptised on Saturday, which is totally awesome. Baptisms are amazing things, no matter which side of the spectrum you fall on. It’s a powerful symbol no matter how you look on it. I’m a paedobatist by preference, but anyone who fulfils God’s command to baptise is terrific in my books. I have a special bit of confusion for “Reformed Baptist” (decide which side you’re on, you freaks!) who seem to have forgotten that Reformed theology leads inexorably to the baptism of children, but hey, it’s all good.
- It seems to me that a little introspection and self-knowledge is a good thing, but a http://www.aldaily.com/lot leads to confusion. Maybe it’s because people function on a sort of quantum level: You measure yourself enough and you change. Then you have to start over again and it becomes a full-time occupation. And not a fun one.
- Beer is proof that God loves us; dentist are proof he can change his mind.
- I’m less three teeth, by the way.
- You ever have it where you say, “It can’t get any better than this?” and then it does? Yeah. I got that. It’s called marriage. I’m an incurable optimist, it’s true.
- This is probably the best thing I have in my feeds.
- It seems every nation has its legacy to overcome. US, India, China, all the big ones.