Walking Theology

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. ~Søren Kierkegaard

Theology is, of course, meant to be a walking form of life, even as it is undertaken by Jesus. The two on the road to Emmaus are not going to end up in Emmaus and Jesus is certainly not going to Emmaus. The walk and the discovery unfold together, just as being a disciple of Jesus always does. The two, at first, have a set destiny, and then the talk becomes a destiny, as Jesus explains how the narrative journey of the Old Testament is an ongoing travel narrative in which this very walk figures as explanation. When they arrive at their evenings lodging it is at once a terminal point and a reversal of their journey – as afterward they head back to Jerusalem. They have walked nowhere in particular and only thus have they discovered where they are going. This comes at the end of their walk, and the “burning” lesson of the journey sets them on the edge of recognition. It is only when the travelers sit and Jesus breaks bread that they are able to ingest the lesson of who he is. The walk and the discovery go together as journey and sustenance must. Continue reading “Walking Theology”

The Cross as Spectacle or Model

Idolatrous religion, by definition, is focused on an image and is made for the eyes. In Buddhism, the size and sheer spectacle of the religion is key. We lived near the world’s largest Buddha in Japan– one you can walk in and which even has public toilets (in the Buddha). The power of the religion is to be felt in its visual presentation – bigger is better as the intent is to overwhelm the visual field. Idolatrous religion feeds what the psychotherapist, Jacques Lacan, calls “scopophilia.” The love of looking is definitive of a form of human subjectivity in which the libido or desire is set upon attaining an object in the visual field. The idolatrous and the pornographic play the same role in holding out a lure or object which can only heighten desire in the looking and can never satisfy it. Idolatrous religion, in its employment of the phallic symbol (or in Japan what is literally a “penis idol”) points directly to sexual empowerment. The sexual, though, in idolatrous religion, as in human desire, is a vehicle of a more basic desire which is the driving force constituting a form of subjectivity. Continue reading “The Cross as Spectacle or Model”

Learning to Breathe: Is Your Religion Making You Sick?

John Cheyne writes of epidemics of insanity among Christians desiring to be more holy. Obsession with sin, blasphemy, and fear that one had somehow committed the unpardonable sin has been a prime cause of insanity.1 Pietistic melancholy, Methodist quests for perfection ending in mental breakdown, narratives of lives revolving in and out of asylums due to the disease of religion, seem to point to a literal aggravation of the human disease rather than healing. Scott Peck’s advice to many of his patients, though he was a Christian, was to shed their religion as it was making them sick. Continue reading “Learning to Breathe: Is Your Religion Making You Sick?”

Salvation as Assurance Not Insurance

Disease is sometimes best diagnosed in its exaggerated or most prominent form. Jesus healed the blind to illustrate the universal predicament of blindness, which he could cure. Freud worked with severe hysterics and neurotics presuming they manifest a universal problem. They were often those wealthy enough to take the time and money to pay for diagnosis and recognition of their ailment. Today’s super-rich, likewise, display the dis-ease of the time as they have enough disposable income to address their deepest fears. The January issue of the “New Yorker” traces the movement of survivalism, from the odd ball individualists holed up in Alaska, to the super-rich among technology executives and hedge-fund managers. One of their number estimates that some 50% of this group are preparing for a potential apocalypse. These centi-millionaires and billionaires portray an exaggerated form of the universal disease. They describe the fear – or “sheer terror” – of being left without basic necessities should American culture break down. They exhibit a basic fear, which due to their vast wealth allows them to act on these fears. Continue reading “Salvation as Assurance Not Insurance”

The Christianity of an Empty Word

I have been forced by the circumstance of life to acknowledge there are two forms of Christianity which cannot abide together. There is a Christianity which is observable as a distinct form of life and there is the religion which people join. In one form, “Christ has died so that we do not have to” and in the other is the recognition that we are to imitate Christ. It is not simply that there is a problem with Christians who transgress (evil Christians, mean Christians, unloving Christians); rather there is a transgressive form of Christianity which colludes with those who crucify. Continue reading “The Christianity of an Empty Word”

Finding the Cross in the Lynching Tree

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees1

The photograph of the lynching in Marion Indiana of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith haunted and then inspired Abel Meeropol to describe the event in verse. His poem, set to music and recorded by Billie Holiday, is a poignant depiction of the “American Holocaust.” Continue reading “Finding the Cross in the Lynching Tree”

What Is The Proper Christian Response To Evil Government?

As we enter this confusing period in our nation, the response and responsibility of Christians to government is being brought front and center. Rethinking the Christian role in Empire may prove to be the silver lining to the cloud of the present chaos. It was under the darkest of circumstances, after all, that Paul outlined the responsibility of Christians to the state. During the period in which Nero ruled Rome, Christians, by their very existence, were thought to be a danger to the Empire. Paul provides instruction as to how to proceed in light of the fact that Jesus has been slain and Paul himself will shortly be murdered. Continue reading “What Is The Proper Christian Response To Evil Government?”

Shame: Has It Returned or Have We Been Deluded by Pride?

Andy Crouch, in a recent Christianity Today article, announces the return of shame to western culture:

“From online bullying to Twitter takedowns, shame is becoming a dominant force in the West. Thankfully, the Bible is full of language about shame. It’s just that most Westerners don’t see it.”1 Continue reading “Shame: Has It Returned or Have We Been Deluded by Pride?”

The Lie of Modernity and the Truth of Christ

Some things can be missed, not because they are small or inconsequential, but because they are pervasive and all-encompassing. The forest of modernity obscured by the trees (scientism, ontotheology, rationalism, etc.) has been the focus – perhaps even the discovery – of postmodern philosophy and cultural theory. Jean Baudrillard has described it in terms of simulacra – which “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.” As the psychoanalyst and cultural theorist Jacques Lacan has described it, the truth is that which inheres in a lie. Jacques Derrida has summed up his understanding with the idea that there is nothing outside of the text. Slavoj Žižek has described human subjectivity as founded in a primordial deception, but as with Baudrillard, the lie is the necessary primordial condition for the human subject to arise. Peter Berger has described culture and religion as a process of projection or externalization, reification, and internalization, in which culture is simply the continually generated environment which humans create and which, in turn, shapes them. What these thinkers share is the notion that reality, culture, religion, human subjectivity, and even truth, are ultimately a human construct and this is made absolutely clear in their deconstruction of modernity. Continue reading “The Lie of Modernity and the Truth of Christ”

My Life in Theology

Karl Wallenda, the famous wire walker, described his time on the wire as that point when he was really living and everything else as waiting. This comes close to describing my relationship to theology. Theology is simply talk of God. As I see it, two things make up the key elements of the Christian life – the walk (or following Christ) and the talk of God along the way. Though the walk and the talk cannot be clearly delineated, it might be said that the talk is at once the impetus for the walk and what informs the walk. When I am talking of God as I am walking along the way I feel that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. It is my equivalent of being on the wire. This is not something peculiar to me or to a certain class of Christians; rather I think this is precisely where the deep joy of the Christian life enters in and it is to be the feeling and attitude of every Christian.

In the story, The Fiddler on the Roof, Topol dreams of sitting in the synagogue discussing the finer points of Torah with the rabbis – he dreams of a life in which he did not have to milk his cows and go about the business of making a living. It is not that Christianity relieves us of this responsibility but milking the cows and making a living are no longer definitive of who we are and what we are about. Christianity is not a supplement to our main activity of earning a living but has become our main activity. “Doing theology” is one way of describing the content of this activity.

The writer of Hebrews describes the activity of the Christian in the way Topol dreams. The Sabbath or seventh day activity is not simply one of the days in the week for the Christian but we have entered into the Sabbath – Today we have entered into His rest. Our life is no longer defined by the six days of work which make up ordinary time but we have entered that special time in which God has ceased His labor so as to take up redemptive activity – the very point of human history. So too, we are to cease one kind of labor and activity and we are to enter into redemptive activity. In this time the Words of life fill our conversation and our thoughts and are definitive of our relationships. “Redeeming the time” does not mean we become frantic to accomplish more work. It means we have entered into Sabbath time and we have been relieved of the heavy burden constituting the work and life of those outside of this time. Deep conversation about God (and the various modes that conversing might take – witnessing, teaching, preaching) – or taking up the Word of God and walking is the Sabbath activity we are to be about. “Theology” describes this process (for me it is a verb or practice – it always contains a doing).

The question of whether one needs to do theology to be a Christian is like the question if one needs to eat to be human. You can go without for a while but the fact that you are here means you have already dipped into the bowl. You may be living off of the processed, manufactured, or synthetic stuff. You may be consuming and passing along undigested material. Milk demands no awareness on the part of the infant that consumes it. The meat requires serious preparation, lots of chewing and digestion, and is best done with a host of companions around a large table. Theology is the feast which binds the fellowship together and it is that joyous occasion in which we partake in the meat of the Word. We might have our popcorn friends with whom we discuss entertainment (the perennial inanities of those consumed by hoops and goals). True friendship forms around the meaty sustenance of the Word.

Theology, as the dialogue which is our primary engagement as Christians, speaks of the necessity of a dynamic synthesizing (of Old and New, apostolic teaching and tradition, of Jew and Gentile, male and female, and ultimately of all things). Theology was once known as the “Queen of the sciences” as all knowledge was brought together in the foundation of Christ. The University was formed with the understanding that there is a uniform theological understanding into which all knowledge can be integrated. Theology is the means of integration and the point where the synthesis is realized. As Nicholas Lash has described it,

To think as a Christian is to try to understand the stellar spaces, the arrangements of micro-organisms and DNA molecules, the history of Tibet, the operation of economic markets, toothache, King Lear, the CIA, and grandma’s cooking—or, as Aquinas put it, all things’—in relation to that uttering, utterance and enactment of God which they express and represent. To act as a Christian is to work with, to alter or, if need be, to endure all things in conformity with that understanding.

This synthesizing point ultimately involves the synthesis of persons into a unified understanding and united body. As the Word is exegeted we are drawn together through conversing over the Word into the Word. The first theological conversation demonstrates the process.

In the case of the walk to Emmaus, Christ is the exegete, the means of exegesis, and recognition of the resurrected Christ is the end of the process. The law is made to come alive as it is synthesized or understood through the person and work of Christ explained by Christ. Christ is not absent from the exegetical synthesis taking place. He is not a static object added onto the Old Book. He is there with them in the walk and the talk and who He is becomes clear when they break bread together. So too in the present; who He is becomes clear in the walk and talk that unfolds between us and the promise is that He is there in our midst. We are joined together as friends through the Word in the Body of Christ. As we break bread together, the real presence of Christ is there in his Body constituted through the brothers and sisters on our right and left.

The great joy of my life (I do not mean to sound as if it is coming to a close) has been the friendships that have formed and which I continue to enjoy which are focused on a continual exegesis of the Word. The conversation constitutes the deepest of relationships as we are joined together in an unfolding of who Christ is. My vision of heaven – the move from glory to glory in Paul’s description – would be friends setting out together on a walk which would be filled with conversation burning with the recognition that another was there in our midst. The expectation would be that at the end of this walk we will break bread together and we will definitively recognize the One on whom our conversation has centered.