The Magic Murder Bag, and Looking Ahead

I forgot to post this on Wednesday…

**THE MAGIC MURDER BAG**

On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process by Catherine Keller
The Descent into Hell by Thomas J.J. Altizer
Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

*On Deck*

Unity and Reform by Nicholas de Cusa
The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming by Catherine Keller
The Martian by Andy Weir

There’s one book that stands in a sort of limbo right now: A Scandalous Providence by E. Frank Tupper. I got this book just over a year ago, and it’s been put on and put off my reading list. It’s super intimidating, but I’m going to shove it back into my bag here directly and tackle it hardcore.

So that’s what I’m reading at the moment, and I don’t intend to change that up come the new year. I might consider some sort of reading plan for the new year, but nothing super specific. I’d like to read more diversely (theology is a heck of a lot of white dudes), and focus more on my own library (even though the libraries around here have some pretty good stuff). All the same, I don’t think I want this to be about my reading list. I want to get back to discussing theology some more; there’s plenty of book reviewers out there on the blogosphere, and it bores me anyway.

I’ll keep letting you know what’s on the list though; that’s the future librarian in me. :)

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Christmas Eve State of the Blog(ger)

tumblr_inline_mov2a0g2sn1qz4rgpYeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ve been away for awhile.  Sooper sorry about that (yeah, not really).

Look, droogs, I started blogging four years ago with the secret (even to me) hope that this would become a job. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not still possible, but definitely not in the way that I’ve been blogging as of late. And you know what?  That’s fine with me.

Obviously, I’m still reading like a fiend; I just haven’t taken much time to sit down and be all like, “Hey, here’s how this applies to theology.”  I don’t think I was doing that very much before; I was just writing book reviews, and as much as I love to share my opinions with people and sound like I might be smart, that gets pretty boring after too long and makes me feel like I’m just spinning my wheels.

I stepped away from this because, frankly, it was stressing me out. In addition to writing quasi-intellectual book reviews (which may be too generous), I was trying to set up reading plans, not meeting them, then feeling like a crappy person because I didn’t meet my goals. This is a vicious cycle in most parts of my life, and blogging is no exception.  What I’m trying to do in response is not be so hard on myself, to be OK with a little failure in my life and be a better person overall.  I’d like the scorecard to have more wins than losses on it, but a perfect record just doesn’t matter as much as I might think it does in the grand scheme of things.

I might keep blogging, I might not. I’m trying it back on for size right now, seeing if it still fits me. I will say that Monday’s post (the Atwood piece) felt pretty good, felt more like what I had in mind for this Everything is Theology theme than just a bunch of book reviews. I will still be posting those every now and then if I keep this going in an effort to meet contractual obligations with places like the Speakeasy and Blogging for Books, but I’d really rather things look something like they did on Monday.

Other than all this, my life’s okay. And I’m okay with okay (at least right now).

Review: The Footloose American by Brian Kevin

Footloose-American-cover-medI really enjoy reading travel books from time to time.  I don’t get out of Harrisburg much, so living vicariously through someone else’s adventures in another country (or even within the US) is a nice way to forget where I’m at.  That’s what books are, right?

That being said, if this book had been marketed to me in this way, I think I would have skipped over it.

The Footloose American is one man’s journey through South America following in the footsteps of Hunter Thompson, who took a similar journey before he started to make it big as a journalist (pre-Rum Diary days even). Kevin takes us across the continent, giving excellent details on culture, history, and people as he crosses through Colombia and other countries, all the while speaking from time to time, about his inspiration, Thompson.

If there’s one criticism of this book that I’d offer, it’s that it’s not very much about Hunter Thompson and more about Brian Kevin (and, of course, South America).  I can see why there’d be some difficulty here, given that Kevin’s lesser known as an author (though his writings are pretty damn good, in my opinion), so having Thompson on the cover certainly will help draw more readership,  Let’s be clear, though: Kevin’s admiration of Thompson shines through, not as if he idolizes the famous journalist, but as if he wishes to make himself better as a result of reading his writings, and that is itself admirable.

So really, there’s not much to criticize. Check it out; it’s an excellent read.

No, You Can’t Have a New One (Spoiler Warning)

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:19-21

 

I recently finished reading the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam trilogy, The Year of the Flood.  It’s an excellent book and an excellent series, though the quality of Atwood’s writings is not my focus here.  One of the key characters of the book, a cult leader by the name of Adam One, asked a pointed question which I’ve not been able to shake from my mind due to its eschatological implications.

Adam One’s group is a religious movement that blends science and religion with a heavy focus on environmentalism and veganism. They hold a deep reverence for scientific research, tempered with strict religious ethics, meaning they are in direct opposition to the culture around them. Therefore, their saints are a mixture of religious mystics and leaders in scientific discovery, a wonderfully tense and eclectic mixture of the harmony they see between science and faith.  However, despite their efforts at being green and vegan, they find themselves dying at the hands of a pandemic created by the very corporations they oppose. Adam One, however, welcomes death, viewing the extinction of humanity as key to God’s plan to renew the Earth, saying, “There have been some religions in the past that have said that God would return and get rid of the old Earth and create a new one, but why would God give us a new Earth when we have treated the current one so poorly?”

Adam One’s thoughts on humanity and its troubled relationship with the Earth are not as uncommon as you might think; it dates back as far as the ancient Greeks, who weren’t exactly confident that man’s existence was such a good thing.  These days, however, we seem to to be pretty damn sure that we’re the best thing to happen to this planet since the last Ice Age.  Nevertheless, Adam One’s question haunts us. Why would God give us a shot at a new world when we’ve done such a piss-poor job with this one?  Should he even consider such a thing?

People often say that God doesn’t give up on humanity, say it has something to do with grace and love, but then why did God “give up” on countless extinct species of animals, his creations, at the hands of humanity, also his creations?  Creation was subject to destruction by mankind, and waits to be set free from this bondage.  That passage in Romans above is often interpreted to mean eagerness, excitement, but in light of man’s oppression of the created world, I feel as if it could be read with less positive tones.

We’ve all heard the classic problem of evil: “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?”  Evangelicals have many answers to this question, most of them involving some sort of divine plan that we just need to trust God about, but the saddest part of this question is that it’s very misdirected. What we often mean when we ask it is “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to us?” Our own suffering notwithstanding, it’s a very self-centered question to ask.  What we ought to be asking is, “How can good creations allow/cause such bad things to happen to the rest of God’s creation?” We can’t simply throw our hands up and hope no one notices the blood dripping from them; we remain at fault for much of the evil in this world, and our tendency to throw the blame back on God is a flat-out denial of our own guilt.

God’s question to Eve following her and Adam’s consumption of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was, “What have you done?” This question echoes throughout the course of history, with every life taken in cold blood (what have you done?), every species that goes extinct (what have you done?), every oil spill (what have you done?), every man-made disaster (what have you done?). The Fall fractured more than just our personal relationships with God (as if that were all that were on the table for redemption), it fractured our relationship with the Earth.  It’s as if we’ve added an addendum to Genesis 1:31; “And God saw all that he had made and it was very good. [Then Man saw all that God had made and said, this belongs to me alone and I will use it for my gain]”

I agree very much with Adam One that we do not deserve a new Earth when we have done such a bad job caring for the one that we have. You may think me radical, perhaps extreme, but if we are so undeserving of the love of God we’ve squandered on our selfishness, would we not be equally undeserving of his other gifts as well?  If you can take God’s love and grace seriously, why can’t you take God’s tangible gifts seriously as well?

Four Years Later

WordPress tells me it’s been four years since I started here. As I sit here, sipping an IPA and watching Arrow, I realize that it’s been an interesting four years…

  1. This blog has gone from personal reflection to a nonviolence focus to book challenges back to personal reflection
  2. I freakin’ got married.
  3. My best man freakin’ got married, and I reflected on it more than my own wedding.
  4. I got sick of nonviolence and took on a book challenge (which I did pretty well at).
  5. I started ANOTHER book challenge (which I abandoned).
  6. I wandered this year pretty aimlessly while “rebooting” my purpose and completely ignoring whatever reading projects I set up (sorry, Bonhoeffer).
  7. I paid off all my student loans.
  8. I decided to not go to seminary.
  9. I decided to pursue a degree in library sciences.
  10. I last posted about three weeks ago, and the one before that was just me feeling angry.

It might come as no surprise that I’ve had some difficulty dealing with life in general as of late.  This blog is very much a projection of myself (I mean, it does all revolve around MY life and MY opinions on things), and as of late, I haven’t felt much like talking about anything, let alone theology.  I’m not quite sure where my head is, but it doesn’t seem to be much of anywhere.  I’m still reading, make no mistake; I’m reading even more now than I was before.

But no theology.

Droogs, theology is easily my second love behind my wife, but sometimes I get a little bored with her.  There are many, many interesting things in the world speaking truth to life (the root of what theology is, in my mind), and I like listening to those voices.  As of late, though, I’ve had no desire to write about those voices.  Besides, as the last four years have shown, I usually wind up abandoning this blog at this time of year anyway.  It’s always for different reasons, but this year, it’s been to get things off my plate.  I took on far too many things in the last six weeks, and the blog is just one of those things that I would rather put on hold than some of the other commitments I’ve made in an effort to maintain my sanity.

Now, if I can alter some of the things that inspire my insanity, then we’ll be onto something. :)

 

Unity: A Red Flag of a Church Buzzword

Strength_Through_Unity_by_wilde1980I get concerned when people discuss the need for church unity. The iea of a unified church actually bothers me, because, despite protests to the contrary unity seems very often to lead to uniformity when it is stressed as essential. there is no program or plan of action that can guarantee unity, at least in the sense of a harmonious group of people that comes together around a common goal, and even then, I am war of common goals. Common goals unite people, no doubt, but the nature of those goals requires critique and scrutiny.

For example, many in the progressive/emergent Christianity camp stress a focus on the coming of the Kingdom of God and the need of the church to help bring it about. The question then becomes one’s perspective on what the Kingdom of God actually IS. Is it a political reality that the Jews of the first century sought to install after the Messiah overthrew the Romans? Is it the failed eschatological vision of a maned named Jesus of Nazareth, who operated in the same first-century context, sought liberation for the oppressed, and led to his martyrdom at the hands of a society that deemed him an insurgent and a blasphemer? Is it some ideal spelled our for a rabbi’s followers to enact beyond the influence of society? Worst of all, is it as the American forefathers aw it: a divine grant to manifest destiny over the New World?

The kingdom of God has meant many things to many groups of Christians, some with benevolent intentions, others with imperialist drive (though they wouldn’t have called it that). It is the same with unity. In many ways, the kingdom of God is supposed to be the “unified” church (I think), yet we do not know what it means to be united, what we should unite under, or how to keep said unity without unity without exclusivity.  We think the answer is simple, and say things such as, “We just need more Jesus in the church,” or “we need to get back to the Bible,” as if the problem lies not in our perspectives on our faith, but in some failed program initiative we attempted to install.

It is worth noting that this is no issue with conservative Christianity, which sets its doctrine and demands adherence thereto. Exclusivism is not a problem in these churches; you either stick to the rules or get out. Of course, this rigidity only gives the illusion of unity; the recent events at Mars Hill Church in Seattle will serve as example enough how unity under doctrine (or moreso under a megalomaniacal pastor, in their case) crumbles quickly the second anyone tries to raise attention to its faults.  The community itself will be unified, in a sense, but deviation from groupthink leads to a quick exit for dissenters.

No, It is those of us who reject this ideology that find ourselves in this predicament.  We do not desire to be united under doctrine, a set of yes’s and no’s to assent to to define us, knowing that our thoughts do not define who we really are.  Nor do we desire to be unified under a list of actions we think we ought to be doing as Christians, such as food banks and giving to charity, programs designed to make us feel better while doing nothing to expose us to the systems of power we all participate in.  We know that any attempts to institutionalize unity or to act in the name of your idea of unity, you’ve failed.  Why?  Because unity has no center of power.  It brings all involved to ground level and cannot function with the elevation of one individual over another.   Just as in the kingdom of God, in unity, the last are first and the first are last, and we rid ourselves of all our possessions to possess the one pearl of great price.

Unity is neither created or destroyed; it is something realized in the midst of people who see their own baggage and turn to help each other carry it. If we’d stop worrying about unity and worrying about each other a bit more, we might just find unity in our midst.

 

Sunday Night Frustration of the Blog(ger)

I’m forcing myself to write just for the sake of writing. The urge to dump an expansive and profane vocabulary is strong.

This weekend, I’ve accomplished next to nothing. Most folks says you need down time like this. Good for the soul, they say…but I don’t exactly share the sentiment. There was MUCH to be done this past week, but a touch of the flu set me back a good bit. Yesterday and today were meant to get me caught up…and it just didn’t happen. No excuses, no good reason. I just spent most of the weekend with my nose in a book, at first for enjoyment, then mostly just because I wanted to say I finished a 415-page book in one day.  I spent most of the weekend cranky, or getting crankier by having to hide my crankiness.

You ever find yourself just angry and prickly for no apparent reason? Of course you have; you’re a human being.  Well, that’s how I felt this weekend, and it’s how I feel now. I’m tired, I’m not tired, I’m griping about my problems to an unforgiving blogosphere, all while I watch back episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and wait for my laundry to finish drying. Trying to get over it only exacerbates my mood, as does the fact that I have to get up in a few hours for a 12-hour shift.  Even the few things I did do this weekend are not enough to offer solace and comfort to my angry brain.

I am mad, and I have nothing to finger as the culprit.

I want to blame myself for not getting things done, for not having seventeen blog posts lined up so I could get more stuff done that isn’t for this blog. I want to blame my coming down off the flu, blame the couple of beers I had Friday night. I don’t know what finding a scapegoat would actually do for my agitation, though; wouldn’t change my irritation.   Everything just…sucks right now, and not like in a “I’m so sad” way, but a “everything is getting on my nerves” way. Did the universe suddenly decide to annoy me? Did God say, “I shall send a spirit of irritability on Patrick for my own amusement”?  What happened in the space between the ether and reality that my otherwise not-frustrated self?

The answer remains elusive, and my dryer indicates that it is time for me to fold the rest of my clothes.  There’s a little relief in venting here, I will admit, but I think it’s mostly my body just checking out entirely, telling me, “Screw it, dude.  Let’s go to bed.”  And that’s that.  The source of my irascibility will not reveal itself, nor will I discover it sitting here watching Anthony eat food that I’d much prefer to be eating over the stale popcorn I’ve been munching on for three hours now.

Until my cantankerousness settles, droogs, piss off. :)

 

Suffering in the Path of Disicpleship

As many progressives are wonttumblr_mj88inc4aw1rnzcl1o1_500 to point out, the American church likes to think of itself as oppressed and persecuted.  It kinds sounds something like this…

Blah blah blah…keep Christ in Christmas…

Blah blah blah…culture wars…moving away from our place as a Christian nation…

Yeah, you’ve heard it before.  MOVING ON…

 

Bonhoeffer’s fourth chapter of TCOD is entitled “Discipleship and the Cross,” and functions as an examination of the need for suffering in the path of discipleship with Christ. We are commanded in the Scriptures to do as Christ did and to “take up our crosses,” essentially, to endure the same suffering as Christ did.  What does it mean, though, to be a 21st century American Christian and to suffer?  Do we even know what that really means?  Certainly we face adversity and struggle, but do we truly know what it means to face the persecution that the Early Church faced?  To be dragged from our homes before the courts, to be demanded to recant our faiths?  Do we know what it means to be a religious minority in our context, to have our children beheaded alongside us for our beliefs at the hands of religious extremists?

To locate my own context, as a white-American Christian, I do not know what it means to take up my cross.  I would argue that if you locate yourself in the same context, you don’t either.  You might have gone through hard times, financially, emotionally, etc., you may have been made fun of at some point for your beliefs, but you do not know what it means to be persecuted for your faith.  “Taking up our cross”  is not “an ordinary, everyday calamity…one of the trials and tribulations of this life.”  If you cannot see the distinction between an ordinary life and a life lived for Christ, then you do not know the rejection and shame experienced in taking up your cross.

Where, then, do we learn to take up our crosses in the 21st century?  We bear our cross in our dedication to the law of Christ, to the coming of the kingdom of God, a law located in the commands of law and forgiveness, a kingdom located in the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, and those named in the Beatitudes as blessed, those who are covered by the train of God’s robe, who Christ came to set free.  If we are to “submit to suffering and  rejection at the hands of men, ” as we are commanded, we must lower ourselves out of our privilege and take up solidarity with those whom the church has declared as outcast.   Because the church has become a center of power and oppression, rather than the thorn in the side of those in power, we cannot continue to think we would know what suffering is until we see with our own eyes the suffering we inflict on others.

That is what it means to take up our crosses in the 21st century.  It’s not found in culture wars or keeping ourselves as the dominating religion in this nation, but in the people Jesus came for: the sick, rather than the healthy.  We are the Pharisees who place heavy yokes on the necks of the American population.  We will not know suffering until we see this.

Interlude: Getting Past Bonhoeffer’s Language and Seeing the Common Vision

obey-picI need to interrupt my regularly scheduled blogging to rant about something so I can continue reading and enjoying The Cost of Disicpleship. It’s been bugging me quite a bit since the beginning (I blame my progressive/anarchist leanings), but some of Bonhoeffer’s language just bugs the crap out of me, particularly his use of the word “obedience.”  There’s other stuff as well (his exclusive use of the male gender, for example), but we’re going to give him a pass on this; it was a different time and a different era.

When I hear then word “obedience,” The first thing I think of is Shepard Fairey’s “Obey”street art. I think of Big Brother. I think of abusive sky gods manipulating humanity to their own oppressive and arbitrary rules.  The long and short of it: I don’t think of good things when I hear the word obedience. It speaks of oppression, blind ignorance, dictatorship, and fear.

It baffles me further that Bonhoeffer kept to such terms in his own context as well, given that he was writing this at the rise of, oh, I don’t know, THE THIRD REICH, the very epitome of crushing oppression and evil.  Perhaps ol’ Dietrich wasn’t interested in the connotations behind the word and more inclined to keep to tradition here (there’s a win for your conservative co-opters of his writings), or, I’m sad to admit, the problem could also lie with me.

I hate it when that happens.  Not that I’m willing to admit it quite yet…

OK, maybe we try and understand what Bonhoeffer means when he pushes us for “single-minded obedience.”  When Bonhoeffer was taking the rich young ruler story to task in chapter 3, it seemed to me that what he wanted the reader to understand was that utter dedication to Christ was key above all else (Duh, right?).  That complete devotion is something all of us are capable of; it’s not just reserved for monks in monasteries or priests in rectories. The thing for me, though, is that I’ve come to not view this as a matter of “obedience,” but partnership.

In a way, though, Bonhoeffer and I are talking about the exact same thing.  Although I view my relationship with God as a “partnership,” I still obey the commands Jesus set forth (well, as best I can, anyway). I’m doing what this guy said 2000 years ago because I believe what he said and told us to do can actually, you know, DO SOMETHING for our world (maybe even change it!).  Dietrich saw the same thing!  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that single-minded obedience could save our world, even his own world, where hope had faded to a faint glimmer in the eyes of a few rebels who opposed a ruthless monster.

Whatever I want to call it, no matter how uncomfortable I am with the term obedience, I can’t help but see exactly what Bonhoeffer wanted for the world he existed in, and want the same thing for mine: a single-minded desire for the Kingdom of God to manifest here and now.   What that looks like is far more straightforward than we let ourselves believe, even though we like to argue about it all the time.   I don’t know how much Dietrich and I would have agreed on everything, but I count myself as his brother in Christ all the same because we want to see the sick healed, the poor uplifted, and the hurting comforted, no matter what we choose to call it.

 

Review: The Old-Fashioned by Robert Simonson

9781607745358I like alcohol. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter (and if you don’t, you should).  I owe much of this to my alma mater, who deprives her students of access to alcoholic beverages in the name of Jesus (notthatI’mbitteroranythingOHSHUTUP!). Not long after graduation, I set on a course of craft beer sampling and enjoying that left my mind quite altered (temporarily and permanently).  However, I never dabbled much into mixed drinks or hard liquor.  Most of the bars around Harrisburg (with maybe two or three notable exceptions) here aren’t exactly going to be making great cocktails; most of them are overloaded with cheap ice and next to no liquor and costs about $7 a pop.  Screw that.

However, upon my personal discovery of the awesome AMC show Mad Men, I decided to take it upon myself to try out an old-fashioned. First one came from the super awesome bartender at Appalachian Brewing Company named Tom.   He worked hard to make a quality cocktail while sticking to the traditional recipe (not that I knew this at the time), and the result was wonderful.

Then I got my tab, and, despite enjoying a tasty drink, decided to refrain, given my limited budget.

This has not diminished my enjoyment of an old-fashioned from time to time, though I knew little about the history/recipe of the cocktail prior to receiving Robert Simonson’s book The Old-Fashioned. I’m always one for a little history, so I happily cracked it open and settled in for what turned out to be a fascinating history of not just the drink, but also commentary on drinking practices coming up into the 21st century.  I was surprised as well to find a whole MESS of recipes in the second half of the book, all of them takes on the old-fashioned, old AND new. The only downside to these recipes is that they’re usually made up of some pretty expensive whiskeys (for quality, I assume), and I’m, well, broke (damn student loans).

Simonson’s style of writing is pretty great too.  It’s easy to read, not pompous or elitist (though he is that way for his old-fashioneds, and I”m totally OK with that).  It’s kind of like sitting down for drinks with a history teacher who actually has interest in the cool parts of history.  He can also tell you about the essentials of home bar tending and cocktail mixing in a way that makes you actually want to do it.

Overall, good stuff if you’re into drinking.  If I ever get to the point of having my own bar in my home, this’ll be right next to whatever recipe books I get.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.