idolatry (worship) and economics (community)

Other resources: anglobaptist and scandal of particularity’s recent sermons (thanks to anglo for the link) and theopraxis’ continuing thoughts are all very helpful and challenging for this discussion-they’re keeping it practical.

now, just a this blog is called “for the time being”, hold all these ideas and formulations provisionally, always ready to learn and grow. But for now I’m going to defend my pairing of community/worship for a little bit longer to see where it goes.

both anglobaptist and jen mention the “Body” in their sermons referring to the Body of Christ, the Chirst. Anglobaptist asked in the comments below if Community/Body would be a better option. Now, of course the Body metaphor is exceedingly important to Paul in his letter and should be given due consideration, esp. because many times its used in conjunctio with “peace” (eph.4; col 3:15). But, the metaphor of the body is genernerally used in conjunction with spiritual gifts, and used in such a way to perpetuate individualism. “We are all specially given a particular gift to use in the church” sounds more like a group of indepentent contractors or consultants coming into work on a project. Also, Paul deploys the use of the Body metaphor in the context of community worship in 1 Cor. 12-14.

Now other support: There is quite a naturally linking of worship and community in the most pivotal chapter in Romans 12. Also, when we look at the monarchy in the OT there is a connention b/w idolary (worship) and economics (community). Solomon looses the kingdom b/c of idolatry and then his son sinks into economic oppression, see 1 kings 11-12. and concerning “allegience” (which Jen skillfully discusses in her sermon), when we think about the imperial cult of Rome (which linked worship of Caesar with social/community control) and how Paul stands agains against this putting Christ at the center of our allegiances calling us new citizens. And lastly, it seems natural and helpful to look at the Torah through the lens of community and worship and the interplay of both.

So that’s my brief defense…but i do realize that throughout this discussion it has all been rather abstract/ephemeral, and that while I define what I meant by “individual” I haven’t really done that with community or worship, so I’ll do that soon. Also, how do we keep community from being oppressive is a question that still needs answering…

reply to anglobaptist

community, individualism, and worship. This week i’m been trying to think through issues of community, individualism, and worship by replacing the typical pairing of community/individual with community/worship. After a couple rounds in the comments anglobaptist posed this question…

“I think we ask for liturgy to do too much. I really do. So, I am struggling with your dialectic. If community and worship are the poles, what do you do with individuals? This is an age of individuals like it or not, theologically appropriate or not. So, our churches function as such…right or wrong. How do you, personally, deal with the individual that approaches you “on behalf of others” to declare your worship empty or troublesome?

My first pass at this question is to distinguish b/w “individuals” and “persons” (using both in a some what technical manner) “Individuals” were created in the Enlightenment as an singular ego standing outside of tradition and community, separated from social bonds, attaining to universal reason, and “individuals are created by our capitalist consumerism as people with insatiable needs, desires, cravings which require satisfaction, and where “choice” is everythink. Too often our communities are merely a collection of these individuals.

But we need to move people beyond being individuals to being persons made in the image of God, relating as such–i.e. persons in relationship, not isolated individuals. (more on this see theopraxis 03/02/04 post)

So the wrong question is “how do we incorporate individuals into community?”

The right questions is “how do we take individuals and make the persons again?”

If we ask the first question we will properly conceive of worship or community. So practically and pastorally, we need to always be pealing back to lays of individualism, pointing people toward Christ the true person (or true “man” to be less PC), and creating communal and worshipful practices that facilitate this transformation. So this is my answer to the first question of “what to do with individuals..?”

The second question deals with individual tastes and expressions within community and worship. How do we keep liturgy organicly linked to the community and the individual so that it is not alienating to either one. This touches on the ever important question of the cultural effect of the church, which is huge. Just as there is not a timeless expression of the gospel, so too there is not a timeless liturgy. So we don’t want to impose it from on high. It must be a true expression of the people. But liturgy, as well as theology, as well as the church, should be a counter-cultural movement of following Jesus. Or as I would rather put it, the church is a “culture of fulfillment,” being the expression of the highest hopes and dreams of a people. I’m still thinking through this aspect as I read 3rd world theologies, but I’ll make that last point clear someday…

my last point is that worship and community are eschatological concepts, always progressing toward the consumation of Creation. They are not static and shouldn’t leave us unchanged.

so, what have I missed now? what are my blindspot? so much more could be said…

How Baffling

How baffling youare, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

And where should I go?

–from The God Who Comes by carlo carretto–

I just came across this and thought it appropriate for this lenten season. I’ll probably be writing less until after Easter.

the subversion of community

the subversion of community: Psalm 15. Communities become places to fix individuals (such that the community exists so the needs of individuals can be met) or the goals of the community replaces the individual (such that the individual must denied her desires/needs). These are the typical poles of community/individual.

But as I said before, the true poles are community and worship. As we look at worship the contours of community with appear. As we gaze at community, we will gather the lines of true worship.

The individual was created when man disengaged from community (from a relationship with the Communal (Triune) God), resulting in alienated/antagonistic relationships among God and mankind, and between mankind. The poles of community/individual assume a fundamental (ontological) violence which governs relationships (even all of reality). But starting w/ the goodness of creation (including mankind) Christians assume a fundamental peace in creation that has been disrupted leading to antagonism. The only way back toward this peace/shalon beyond the violence b/w the community and individual, and between individual (competing) communities is through a prophetic connection with our Creator, which is through worship.

What I mean is not the sunday morning “worship” of singing, reading Scripture, preaching, etc. Too often this just becomes the simulacra of community, the gathering of individuals (but not necessarily). Let’s turn to Psalm 15 which started all this in me this week. It begins with the question of worship, the presence/connection of God. “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on you holy hill?” Answering this question is a one sentence (going on for five verse) explain the practices of community: people should act righteously, speak truthfully/ not lie or slander, be good neighbors/not cheat, keep promises, and share money. The short psalm end by bring in the individual, “He who does these tings will never be shaken.” At the beginning is a question of worship; at the end is a statement concering the individual, with community tying them securely together. And this is nothing new for the OT prophets continually linked the true worship God with the practices of the people; rites and rituals enacted without righteous relationships are considered vain.

How do we stand against/within a Consumer Capitalism, splintering us into indvidual needs and markets? How do we seek and sustan economic justices amid “communities” of class/race/gender? How do we display an alternative to the Power of desire, the will to dominate through individual choices? How can we sustain unity amid diversity? We won’t through the dialectics of community/individual. But as we worship/reconnect with God through worship, as we reorient our direction toward peace instead of violence, as we enter into the communal practices of forgiveness, truth, love, gift-giving, sacrifice (which is true worship) then we will see community flourish, growings spontaneously, organically in the soil of life shared together. Only then will artifical community, its synthetic copy, be seen as it really is. We need to replace the plastic flowers (of simulated community) which we placed around our churches to give it more life, with real plants. Only the will we become of subversive community witnessing of the kindgom.

So, community/individual or community/worship? What have I missed? What do we do now? What is over/under-stated?

the shadow of community

Community is like the sun. The more we stare at it the less we see. Or rather, community is like Happiness, which if pursued outright always escapes us, leaving a narcissistic void (much like most discusions of worship seem to miss the essence).

Rather than a direct apprehesion or formation of community, we must think more tangentally. What environment leads toward community? What soil is needed? Which nutrients can we add? We can’t build community industrially; only prepare for its blooming organically.

In the discussion their are two dialetical poles that we circle around: the community and the individual; the collective and the singular (which comes to us through the modern political tension of state and citizen: one keeps order and limits freedom; the other expects freedom and creates disorder.) But these are not opposites, merely the division of a single concept. Man is communal; individuals only come into existence when we forget this, or rebel against it. The individual was created at the Fall. But to be truly human is to be communal, in the image of the Triune God.

Because of this, it is my contention that the true dialectic poles are community and worship. Each is the shadow of the other; only through staring at one can we gather the outlines of the other. But more on this tomorrow.

For more thoughts see another post on community at theoprasix and the article “the cost of community.”

the simulacra of community

the simulacra of community: the gathering of individuals. where is community? What does it look like? too often our search for community ends in a cheap simulation, a simulacra, and the church is most complicit in this illusion. Churches aren’t called “Church” anymore; they’re called “communities” of Christ, faith, friendship, whatever you want. Yet rarely is community reached? Why? Because we reach for the ideal of community without its practices. It’s like trying to be spiritual without the spiritual disciplines.

our theraputic culture treats community as the merely as the place to repair/fix/reaffirm individuals (this is best seen in our bible studies and prayer groups). Statements like “I want a community that will let me be me…” continue the individualized/privatized nature of our culture. The self-help culture has clothed itself in the garb of Christian community to legitemate a shallow narcissism. The concrete practices of community- forgiveness, reconcilation, repentance, and sacrifice- are foriegn to our culture that tries to build community around the motto that “I’m OK and you’re OK.” They want a nice (simulated) community, but Christianity offers a messy (real) community.

So what does this have to say about those in the emerging church who perpetuate/multiply ad infinitum descrete subcultures in the name of relevant community? Is the emerging church a technologically advanced simulation of community? or the real deal? (see theopraxis and jason clark for more along these lines)

these thoughts prompted by “Embodying Forgiveness“; and for more on this see post-community and tells me what you think

imagination and insanity

imagination and insanity: allow me several brilliant quotes from the first chapter of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as I move on to my point. “These is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination , is dangerous to man’s mental balance… (but) imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason…Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” and lastly, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

While are the beginning of the 20th century of Chesterton it was a big deal, but the recovery of imagination is nothing revolutionary here are the beginning of the 21st century. The analogical (metaphoric) has supplanted the logical (literal) as the foundation of cognition, the dynamics of imagination and scientific discover is common place, and imagination and volition are tightly bound together…etc, etc.

The question for us is whether we have appropriated a mystical imagination, or a deconstructive one. Let me explain by another quote, “Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity…The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.”

Too often I hear all this talk about being de-centerded, centerless, the return of the margin, but we do this in the strictly deconstructivist manner. We revel in the void of the center, thinking that we have escaped modernity and its foundations. But tarrying in the void is still the gesture of immanence, a false sense of transcendence. We imagine the void, not the mystery, and continue in insanity.

The center that hold all things in place is not the absence of center, but the fullness of mystery. That which we know by can’t explain; that elusive presence called the incarnation.

The Revolution of God’s Death, II.

The Revolution of God’s Death, II. Last night, with several friends over, we again discussed mel gibson’s “the passion of the Christ”, particularly its vivid depiction of Jesus’ suffering. It promoted the only one among us to have seen it to rethink this theology of suffering (or lack of) in light of this filmic depiction. Now, the sad irony was not lost on him, nor anyone else, that it took a film (a hyper-real medium) for us white/affluent/Western Christians to experience of the suffering of the one we follow, while the rest of Christendom (2/3 world, non-western Christianity) suffers, even repeats/completes the passion of Christ, in their own bodies daily.

We were also discussing, agian, much of the conservative Christian response to this film, trying to make it an evangelical tool rather than an artistic meditation on the meaning/event of Christ. And again, we discussed the sad irony that Christians in the West rely on a hyper-real presentation of the life of Jesus (a third party depiction) to tell our story, to reveal it to the world. Doesn’t that mean we have already cease to be the body of Christ, that we have lost the Spirit of Christ, when our actions don’t tell his story. The Church in Southern Christianity doesn’t need mel gibson to present for them the “suffering servant”, the scapegoat of those in power, the innocent victim, because they gather up that story in their lives. Third world Christians live, and therefore witness to, the passion of Christ most everyday. They are the most persecuted people on earth (even though the media doesn’t report it and our universities would like us to think that Christinity is the cause of much global oppession, not its victim). They are the literal body of Christ; they bear his marks on their bodies; they present his story to all who see them.

So, where does this leave us. It certain doesn’t mean we disparage or boycott “the passion of the Christ”. Maybe instead of making it an evangelistic tool for the pagan, it should been seen as penance/repentance for the believer.

He died so that we might live. Does that translate into, he suffered so we might be comfortable? Or he revolted so we might be the status quo? No! Let the revolution of God’s death continue, and with all machocism aside, let it be borne out in our very bodies.

The Revolution of God’s Death, I, from G.K. Chesterton to Slavoj Zizek:

The State of Emergency Called Love by Slavoj Zizek from lacanian ink.

[…] Chesterton is fully aware that it is not enough for God to separate man from Himself so that mankind will love Him–this separation HAS to be reflected back into God Himself, so that God is abandoned BY HIMSELF:

“When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”(2)

Because of this overlapping between man’s isolation from God and God’s isolation FROM HIMSELF, Christianity is “terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king.”(3) Chesterton is fully aware that we are thereby approaching “a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss /…/ a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt.”(4) In the standard form of atheism, God dies for men who stop believing in Him; in Christianity, God dies for himself.


2 Chesterton, G. K, Orthodoxy, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1995, p. 139.

3 ibid

4 ibid

grid book blog :: A Primer on Postmodernism

Postmodern Primer: I agree in general with Grenz’s summary of the postmodern ethos. In the first chapter is a brief outline of the book: references Enlightenment/Modernity, then the shift to Postmodernity, and ending with a brief exhortation to Evangelicals not to be the last defenders of modernity. His brief references to Derrida, Foucault, and Rorty introduce the main players of postmodern thought whose influence will be explored later. In the second chapter Grenz surveys the cultural landscape of Postmodernity (film-fiction-art-architecture-thearte). All very interesting and insightful.

But instead of a detailed summary of the chapters, let me outline some of the questions that I’ll asking Grenz throughout the book. 1) Are we going to make a distinction between postmodernity (cultural/social manifestations) and postmodernism (intellectual/philosophical) [David Lyon’s makes this distinction in Postmodernity, p. 9.]? And if we do are we being consistent with the implications? I don’t think we need to stick to that distinction linguistically (b/c most people use them interchangeably), but I think we should be aware that there is a difference, and I think that in general Grenz investigates the philosophical aspects rather than the cultural. 2) Also (about labeling), are we really entering a postmodern age, or one that is better defined as hyper-modernity, or late-capitalism? 3) And with all the talk about being de-centered, how can we talk about postmodernity in a holistic manner? What I mean is that many whom Grenz heralds as postmodern theorists won’t dare call themselves that because to define the postmodern is to enter the world of totalization and historical periodization which most of them reject from the start. I however think that (provisional) totalizing is not an absolute evil and I’m quite comfortable with it.

I’ll end with two links that continue the attempt to define the postmodern. The first is Brian McLaren, The Three Postmodernisms (an post-evangelical, emerging Christian thinker) and the second is by Mick Underwood, Postmodernism: introduction (a cultural studies professor in England)