Why Hello There, Friends…


I’m baaaaaaack. At least for a little bit. I’ve been working on a podcast with my awesome friend, Jared.  Maybe you’ve heard of it; it’s called Life of Philosophy and it’s a pretty great, more NSFW side of me that you might only get out of me at the bar. That’s what gets the bulk of my blogosphere/internet publishing focus these days (and updating my Goodreads account sometimes), but as of late, some stuff has been tumbling around in my head that’s not really suited to Jared and I’s spirited quoting of Nietzsche and discussion of obscure movies. Therefore, I’m going to treat this as a sort of side project from time to time, tossing around stuff that’s more religious in nature than what I do at LoP, hopefully sooner rather than later. Be on the lookout for some new content!



A Pause in the Conversation

It’s always sad to acknowledge when you’ve moved on from something, or that you’ve outgrown it. It nags at you until you do, though, asking you why you don’t dedicate more time or interest, and you owe to that thing to be honest about where you are and formally let it go.

That being said, I’m letting go of this blog.

It’s been good to me for the last five years, but I’ve gotten pretty bored with writing book reviews and not having the time to really engage the texts I’m getting. Therefore, this site will be left dormant for an indefinite period of time. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll come back to this place and take it up again when I have the time and ideas to hash out.

This doesn’t mean I’m done reading or blogging though. If you want to follow what I’m reading, I’m on Goodreads, so find me there and friend me if you like. As for blogging, I have an idea for one that won’t take up much time and that kind of excites me, so if that gets off the ground, I’ll post a link here.

Until next time, droogs.

Review of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

charles-marsh-coverI often have wondered what kind of work we would have seen from Bonhoeffer if he hadn’t been executed three weeks prior to the liberation of his concentration camp in 1945. Ethics is the last manuscript we have from him, and Letters and Papers from Prison sheds light on some of the final ideas he was having about “religionless Christianity” and “a world come of age,” leaving us bewildered at the most enigmatic theologian of the 21st century.  We’re stuck with what he have, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t something to be said of the life he lived.

If you buy a copy of one of his works new today, you’ll get a fifteen page biography of sorts in the front, touching on a little bit of his childhood, his time in New York, and his work under the Nazis, leading up to a botched assassination attempt, imprisonment, and death. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, but it fails to shed light on the depth of context that Bonhoeffer draws from.

I’m also not sure I know what’s supposed to make a good biography. It seems today that we can reconstruct what a person was like by merely choosing which aspects of a life to focus on. Those aforementioned bio-blurbs almost make Bonhoeffer sound like someone who didn’t learn true theology until he came to New York (‘MURICA). There’s also Eric Metaxas’ biography, which seems to make him out to be more about espionage and assassination of Hitler than it is about theology (I haven’t read it, but this is a common criticism I hear). What I think I can say, however, is that Marsh’s work Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents the most real Bonhoeffer I’ve ever read about, and that’s what makes a good biography, to me.

Marsh’s work is dense. Let’s get that out of the way. If there’s a detail he wants you to know about, he stuck it in there. You’ll know the names of the most important theological scholars at Friedrich-Willhems University in Berlin and what their focuses were because that’s who Bonhoeffer learned from. You’ll know all about his time as a vicar in Barcelona, the details of the seminary at Finkenwalde, the Confessing Church, everything. If you want to truly know a person, you have to know where they came from, and Marsh kills it.

Marsh also pulls no punches; he has no problem showing the life of privilege Bonhoeffer came from, or how he exhibited some scary nationalistic tendencies during his doctoral work. He explores inner torment, faults in personality, and any other shortcoming Bonhoeffer might have displayed, but displays them right next to his achievements. In short, he makes Bonhoeffer human. This is also where Marsh’s research shines through; you’d think he’d have interviewed Bonhoeffer in person, then went through all his stuff to fact-check the things he said. Not a stone unturned.

No biography goes without some speculation though, and Marsh’s particular examination isn’t without controversy. He spends time taking a look at Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Ebherhard Bethge, a fellow member of the monastic community at Finkenwalde, whom Bonhoeffer was inseparable from. The two men lived together, shared a joint bank account, signed Christmas cards as from “Eberhard and Dietrich,” and caused an arched eyebrow to many of Bonhoeffer’s family members. Now, I coudn’t care less, but the examination of this relationship has caused something of an uproar in conservative circles, who find it appalling that their beloved Bonhoeffer might have been gay.  I say read about it for yourself and get over it.  Again, Marsh isn’t out to whitewash or destroy Bonhoeffer; he’s aiming to tell the whole truth.  It doesn’t change the massive impact the man has had on 20th- and 21st-century theology one bit.

Overall, I find Marsh’s work to be positively excellent, if not perhaps a bit exhausting at times.  Go check it out.


I received this book for review purposes from the SpeakEasy, run by Mike Morrell.

Review: Flipped by Doug Pagitt


I kind of feel bad about this…

My relationship to the Emergent church has been…well…I don’t know what it’s been. Guys like Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne*, and Donald Miller really wrecked my thinking during college, I thought Brian McLaren was okay, and today I would say I find some inspiration from Rachel Held Evans* and Phyllis Tickle. I never felt SUPER connected to them, even though I’m not sure why.

(*Yes, I know.  These two aren’t technically “emergent,” but they hang out with them a LOT).

Doug Pagitt was one of the Emergent folks who I just never got around to. By the time I had finished with Claiborne’s Jesus For President, I broke off from reading things like that and went on a mysticism bent with Thomas Merton.  That being said, I know nothing of Pagitt’s writings outside of this one, and have only heard an interview of him once or twice.

Maybe that’s why I don’t feel so good about this review, because, well, I kind of hated this book, and for all I’ve heard about Pagitt, I expected a LOT better.

Before I get into that, let me just say that, from what I do know about Pagitt, he seems like a nice guy, pretty knowledgeable, and a good pastor. The contents of this book, if read as individual ideas, aren’t bad at all. It’s just…

Look, having a degree in theological studies can really ruin things for you. You sit in church and pick sermons apart.  If you are teaching or preaching, it’s hell because you can’t stop critiquing yourself.  You, because of the things you learned in Bible school, rip things to shreds, and you’re not even trying to.  You just do.

That’s what I did with every page in this book.  For example:

I am using the Bible as my main point of reference.  I know there are great commentaries and studies of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.  But I wanted to stick with the Bible in order to take a clearer look at what the Gospels say about Jesus.

Now, this probably doesn’t sound like a problem to you.  More Jesus; yay! Except…not. Conservative writers pull this crap all the time when they talk about “getting back to Bible,” or “needing more Jesus.” What, exactly, does it mean to get back to the Bible?  Are you going to read it like an evangelical inerrantist?  Are you going to apply historical criticism?  What Jesus are you referring to here? Pagitt, from the very beginning, implies that he’s examining these things in some sort of vacuum, like he hasn’t been influenced in some way by the movement he helped found.  It doesn’t help that the Bible verses he DOES reference he puts in his own words.  I’m all for contemporary language, but that just borders on arrogance right there.

Then there’s the “Flip”(I HATE that word now.  It’s like the word “moist” is to some people. Doug Pagitt ruined the word flip for me).  Pagitt centers the book around an experience he had a few years back where a supposed change in his thinking where he stopped thinking about God as a “separate, single subject.” From there, he goes Apostle Paul at Athens on us and talks about how we exist in God.  My professor in college put it like this:

God is nothing in that he is no-thing. God can’t be anything. God is existence itself, being itself, and we exist in God.

Pagitt stresses this idea throughout the rest of the book.  Again, no problem with this idea; it’s just that I’ve heard this over and over again and I wonder if it’s really as revolutionary as Pagitt’s making it out to be. It might make some people mad (anyone who hates the idea of panentheism in particular), but it’s not going to strike everyone so deeply as it did him (though, to his credit, he acknowledges this.)

I think my final gripe is just how…well…simple this book sounds, and I mean that even for people who aren’t very theological, too. It’s already pretty obvious that my background is going to prevent me from really getting much out of it, but it almost sounds pandering at some points, like that pastor who refuses to be real with you when you’re having coffee, like he can’t help seeing you as a member of his flock.

I’m not going to totally denounce this book; there’s some good nuggets of truth and interesting ideas to mull over, and Doug really does try to treat the reader as at least semi-intelligent, but the book did next to nothing for me.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes through Blogging for Books


Review: Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe

41Wl+0lbjXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You can’t get very far in progressive Christian circles without hearing someone talk about Rene Girard at some point. He’s provided a lot of inspiration for many pastors and theologians today with his work in mimetic theory. The trouble is, however, is that mimetic theory, like lots of theories pertaining to humans, is really confusing.

To this I say: Thank God for Andre Rabe.

Desire Found Me is the answer to the two of you checking on this blog every now and then that have wondered on a daily basis, “Is there an easier way to understand Rene Girard? I won’t sleep until I find it!” Well, my friends, you can now rest easy in the knowledge that such a text exists.  Rabe does an excellent job unpacking the ideas of Girard ranging from a wide swath of Girard’s already myriad works and distills it down into a flavor-packed serving for Christians looking for understanding of what mimetic theory can do to enhance their faith.  Rabe’s style is comforting and welcoming, as if he were taking the reader on a spiritual journey, one where one comes to understand Jesus in a new light.  He reads the Biblical narratives in light of Girard’s work to help the reader make better sense of the Creation Story, the system of sacrifice in Leviticus, and the Atonement found in the Crucifixion.

All in all, an excellent piece of work.

I have received a copy of this book for review from Speakeasy Promotions.

Easter Sunday Sunrise Reflection

Here’s the text of my sunrise service reflection. Enjoy!

Becoming an Easter Church

Luke 4:16-21
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is on this day we as Christians take a moment to remember the event that changed the very course of history: the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. On this day, emerging from the tomb of a rich man who sympathized with His teachings and followers, Jesus made the kingdom of God, the liberation of the oppressed, the exaltation of the poor, and the redemption of all creation a reality.  It became more than just the words of some radical rabbi from Nazareth, a town no one would willingly admit they hailed from, more than the magic tricks and “healings” of some mystic traveling about like the thousands of other “Messiahs” of that day, more than one more failed revolution crushed by the might of the Roman empire.  It is on this day that we found that God loved creation so much, that God truly came down in the form of a humble man, lived among us, and flung our prison doors wide open.

I chose to use the passage for today over traditional Easter texts for a reason: it is because in Nazareth on that Sabbath day that Jesus made clear his intentions for his ministry: bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Jesus obviously did this on purpose, and knew full well the trouble He would land himself in for proclaiming the Scripture’s fulfillment.  He is taking his place as more than a prophet, but as the very bringer of hope and liberation, not just messenger or herald, but the liberator in flesh.  From this moment forward, this is not only what we see Jesus teaching through his sermons and parables, but also living out through the miracles He performs and the company He keeps, all of which ran in opposition to the authorities of His day, both religious (the Pharisees and Sadducees) and political (King Herod and Caesar). It was these actions that branded Him an enemy of the State, and brought him to the violent death of a revolutionary, which we observed on Good Friday.

It is the events of THIS day, however, that bring Jesus’ life and death to fulfillment, which set him apart from the rest, that make Jesus our true Savior. With the Resurrection, Jesus not only conquered death, but conquered the powers that be in a way that no one ever imagined, No longer captive bound and double ironed, we stand before God liberated and free, the resurrection being God’s warm embrace of His creation, letting us know that we are loved and forgiven, and made to love and forgive.

Today is a day of joy!  Lent has ended. We can now confidently proclaim from the mountaintops, “Alleluia!  He is risen!” and return to eating chocolate and drinking soda!  In reality, today is even more important for Christians than Christmas; you cannot have Christmas without an Easter! However, today is much more than a time for rejoicing, but a time to self-examination and looking toward the future.  You see, in setting the captives free, Jesus also left us with work to be done.  The resurrection comes with a caveat of sorts, one of the most beautiful catches in human history.  With the glorious redemption of the resurrection, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “As I have done, so must you do as well.”  The resurrection’s effects are universal, but they are carried out in God’s people.  As the year of the Lord’s favor was first proclaimed in Christ, so it should also be proclaimed through us. Easter, therefore, is also a time to ask, “We are set free by the resurrection; how, then are we being an Easter Church?”

My reflection today is also inspired by Oscar Romero, former archbishop of El Salvador and outspoken advocate for the poor and oppressed of his country, who was assassinated by the ruling government for being such a strong advocate of the poor (and opponent of the ruling party). It was he who, in his first pastoral letter, challenged the churches in his diocese to be Easter churches, a concept I find to be inspiring and challenging.  What Romero pushed his diocese to realize is that this hope we hold in Christ, that we are given through the events of Easter, has real implications here in this world.  The kingdom of God is more than just some far-off pie-in-the-sky when you die fairy tale; it is a present reality that the Church has the capacity to bring about, that the Church is commanded to bring about!

However, what Romero found, and what I continue to find, is how much following the teachings of Jesus makes you look very strange, different, and threatening to the rest of the world. The love we have in Christ and our obedience to His commands and teachings often will pit us against the ruling party, and has the potential to make us very unpopular with this world, perhaps even with other members of the church.  These ideas were what got Oscar Romero assassinated.  Why?  Because to live a life of Christ is to let in the same spirit of God that fell on Jesus in that synagogue, the one that proclaims the same things that Christ proclaimed, and that spirit speaks truth and acts out of love in the face of authority, no matter the consequences.  That spirit is still in the Church, groaning to be heard, beckoning us to let her use us as God wills.

We are called to be liberators, chain-breakers, healers, and hope-givers.  We are given the task of setting the world to rights by the One who set US to rights, and it is high time we began acting like it.  Today, we celebrate the new life and hope given to us by Jesus Christ.  Shout it from the rooftops!  Act like you’re redeemed, for Pete’s sake! He is risen indeed! However, it is also time to prepare ourselves to take this hope and joy into the world, to be the hands and feet of Jesus here in Middletown, in Harrisburg and Lancaster, and to the very ends of the Earth.   Jesus taught us that God not only loves us, but also that God wishes to be among us.  How much more can we let God be among us than by flinging wide the doors of the church and going out to be with those whom God wishes to be with?

Let us pray.

Reflections on The End of Religion? Conference at Villanova University

10690191_10152644176968526_6704518752837277458_nI returned on Saturday from an overnight trip to Villanova University where I was attending a conference on postmodern theology called “The End of Religion? Faith in a Postmodern Age.” I was ecstatic to be in attendance, not only because I never get the opportunity to attend such things (and when I do, something happens at the last minute to prevent my departure), but also because I’ve been digging deep into radical theology in the last few months, so to get to hang out with a bunch of other theology nerds and listen to great scholars like Jeffrey Robbins, Merold Westphal, J. Aaron Simmons, and, of course, John Caputo, was an excellent experience for me.

I’ll sum up my reflections in four points here…

1. Religion has ended many times, and begins anew with each ending. Robbins took a good look at the progression of Christianity from the death of Jesus up to the present age, showing the shifts in thinking from apocalypticism to the need for church structure to the establishment of the creeds.  As the ages changed, so did the church, and so it will change with this world come of age.

2. Being in dialogue with postmodernism doesn’t mean you’re going to wholesale reject ontotheology, or, for the sake of this post, anything articulating metaphysical ideas about God (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). I kind of knew this already, thanks to Homebrewed Christianity, but in particular I drew this from Aaron Simmons’ talk. He opted to keep his paper more personal than technical (though his capacity for philosophical language shone through), and discussed his journey between the camps of being a Christian (where members of this tribe are wary of his postmodernism) and being postmodern (where members of this tribe are wary of his Christianity, particularly Pentecostalism). To have feet in both camps will generate confusion, but bridging the gap is necessary.

3. Radical theology isn’t as parasitic as it likes to think it is. It certainly functions as critic and antagonist toward confessional theologies, but it isn’t trying to rid the world of them, or even come up with its own ontotheology.  Jeffrey Robbins’ talk discussed RT’s need to embrace ontotheology rather than avoid it, using the work of Catherine Malabou to make the statement, “God is not dead; God is plastic.”  While Malabou’s understanding might not be entirely Whiteheadian, Robbins makes a very cataphatic (rather than apophatic) statement that sounds very much like Process theology. Even Caputo made statements about the necessity of the creeds, which, for him, function at least as carrying on the memory of Jesus.  RT and its use of deconstruction are not meant to destroy, but will serve to at least burn away the chaff of our belief structures.

4. Radical theology has the ability to empower…when it is properly translated. One of my own frustrations with RT is its tendency to position itself in the ivory tower of academia and use academic language, and that was true of this event in a few ways as well. One of the best things Greg Horton, the moderator, did during panel discussions was have them take sixty seconds to define terms or names they had used so that people watching could know the significance or meaning of those words.  By doing this, Horton brought RT out of its tower for a little while, and made it more real. This event as a whole was successful in doing that. I must also give credit (again) to Aaron Simmons, who speaks with a more pastoral than academic tone, making his dialogue with postmodernism very down to earth, and Merold Westphal, who worked hard to speak in plain language, even with his definition of ontotheology. These two created a nice contrast to the talks of Robbins and Caputo, who were very technical and ethereal, respectively (and respectfully).

Overall, I’d say every church needs someone in dialogue with postmodernism, and I don’t mean trying to disprove it.  The world has moved into the 21st century whether the Church likes it or not, and we cannot go back.  It is time we learned to listen to men and women of postmodern philosophy and the voices it has spawned in order that we may learn how we have faith in this world come of age.

Wednesday State of the Blog(ger)


…is being retired. Why do you care what I’m reading?

Look, this is supposed to be a theology blog. Will I tell you where my thoughts are coming from? Of course, because I like to cite my sources (if I have an original thought, you’ll know it). What I don’t want to do is brag to you that I’m juggling five different books every day. What good is that? Fugghedaboutit!

Anyway, I’m still here. I haven’t made much time for this, mostly because, well, I haven’t wanted to. It’s hard to force this, because I need to take the time to formulate my thoughts, reflect on what I’m reading, then try to convey to you what I’m thinking. I’ve been lazy as of late, so I haven’t wanted to put the effort in.

Now I do, even if it’s just for me. Don’t ask why; I don’t feel like putting it all out there for you.

That being said, what HAVE I been reading? Well, I’ve unfortunately not stuck to my original plan to stick with reading not-white dudes (but I did get a good bit of that in), because I’ve been deep in a radical theology binge because this coming weekend is The End of Religion? Conference at Villanova University featuring the likes of John Caputo, Merold Westphal, Aaron Simmonds, and Jeffrey Robbins, and I AM STOKED!! It’s the first time in three years I’ve gotten the opportunity to attend a conference of any theological caliber whatsoever without my wife having a relative die and me having to cancel (though it is two days away…anything could happen). I’ve been drinking in a lot of Caputo, but also a little Robbins and some Westphal in preparation (so I can say, “Hey! Your book was really great and I think you’re really great!), and I’ve really been digging what I’m hearing!

Blog posts reflecting on my radical theology binge forthcoming; afterwards, I’m hoping to dig back in with not reading white dudes (though Catharine Malabou is a name I keep seeing thrown about in the radical theology world that I’d like to check out). Until then, know that I’m here. :D

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Book-Review-The-MartianI’m a wannabe science nerd. I love listening to Neil Degrasse Tyson’s podcast, I’ve made an attempt at reading Stephen Hawking, and I actually know more constellations than just the Big Dipper. The problem is I suck at science. I wish I had actually put more effort in during high school (said everyone ever) and tried to learn more of this stuff if only so I understood it better today.

This is part of the reason why I enjoy books like The Martian. It’s packed with all kinds of science-y goodness, including astronomy, chemistry, a little physics, and even some botany (in a Martian context, of course). There’s enough science here to keep me feeling smart and plenty of story to keep me entertained.

Oh, right, the STORY. I should tell you about that.

The Martian is the story of one Mark Watney, a mechanical engineer/botanist assigned to Mars Mission Ares 3 (in this book we’ve been to Mars three times already). Everything’s going great for Mark and crew when a freak accident happens knocking Mark unconscious in the middle of a violent dust storm. His crew, thinking him dead, evacuates Mars and heads home, leaving Mark stranded on Mars with no communications and enough food to last him a year. The rest of the book is him working out how he’s going to survive, get in touch with NASA, and maybe even get off Mars.

It’s a simple plot, but that’s all you need. The story flows between characters (yes, there’s more than one) by way of different formats, focusing primarily on Mark’s log entries during his time on Mars, his communications with NASA by way of a Rover computer, and actual conversation (I don’t know the literary terms for what I’m describing, so help me out if you do!). Weir does a great job not sticking to one specific format for too long as well, keeping you focused on one character long enough before you get bored.

As I mentioned above, there’s a LOT of science in this book. Weir himself is one huge science nerd, and it shows. Mark details his plans for survival in a very thought-out manner, explaining chemical processes and mechanical structures like I would expect an engineer to do, but he doesn’t do it to the point where you get lost in the weeds. He thinks like an astronaut is trained to think, and it makes me realize that I am NOT cut out to be an astronaut. Huge respect to the men and women on the ISS right here, man. You guys are FAR more intelligent than I.

What surprised me was how not philosophical this novel was. I expected it to be a lot of morose reflection on loneliness and existence. I mean, that’s what I’d do if I were stranded on a desert island, let alone Mars. Weir doesn’t even touch the stuff! There’s one point where NASA has figured out Mark’s alive, and one of the directors is marveling at the situation, saying, “I wonder what’s going through his mind right now.” Cut to Mark’s log: “How does Aquaman have the ability to control whales? They’re mammals! That doesn’t even make sense!” This sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Mark’s too busy surviving to be bothered by existential angst. He might touch on it for a sentence or two, just to say “I’d give anything to talk to a human being right now,” then get back to whatever it was he was doing. He never dwells on it, and I think that makes for an excellent piece of character development. Mark is the kind of guy who’d rather respond to difficulty with humor and soldier on through the pain, rather than getting stuck in the reflective mud of loneliness, and that works.

Overall, excellent work, Andy Weir. I could not put this book down!

2015 Rules For Reading and Blogging

I’m not going to do a reading challenge or a selected TBR list. Why not? Because, typically, those haven’t worked out so well for me. They’re too high of a goal, apparently, because I always find myself distracted from the list in question by something else on my shelf that looks interesting. Therefore, why bother?

Instead, I intend to set up a few rules for my reading this year, rooted in personal goals of my own.

1. Read more diversely (I’ll explain why in another post). The way I plan on going about this is by a 3:1 ratio. Read a book by a white guy? Read three books by people who are either not white or not guys (or both!). White guys have ruled writing for millenia; time to make some room for everyone else.

2. Read more of my own books. Three years ago I forbade myself from buying books for one straight year, and though I’m not imposing that rule this year, I’m going to try to avoid it as much as possible and save the cash for trips I have coming up this year. Again, going to use the 3:1 rule. Buy/borrow a book? Read three of my own.*

*This might conflict with rule #1, given that I only have 30-ish books by people who aren’t white dudes. I’ll probably run through my non-white guy stuff, then just start borrowing from the library.

3. Blog twice a week. I’m thinking Tuesdays and Fridays.

4. No reviews, just thoughts. This is supposed to be about theology found in everything, so let’s work toward that.

So that’s what we’re looking at for this year. Nothing too simple; nothing too complex.  I think I can set these as goals and produce some meaningful material.  Let’s have some fun!

*UPDATE* If you are looking for a reading plan/challenge of your own, the folks over at Book Riot have a great one this year.  I will most likely draw from this for my own reading throughout the year.