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)

movements

emerging movements, or having already lost the church: if you read no farther, just go to this article by Wendell Berry article, In Distrust of Movements. It talks about movements, ecomonics, and conservation; all things we should be thinking about. (thanks to Brian McLaren for pointing me to it).

now concerning movements, particularly the movement variously called the “emerging church”: currently andrew jones is working on a definition (or the impossiblity of one since “defining” is overly modern), tim bednar suggests that the “emerging church” is a movement, or at least should try to be one, b/c of our potential influence on society and culture, which we should harnass and use. Alan Creech objects to being grouped into “movement” b/c there are no leaders, no enough sameness (theologically and practically). While i think this is a meaningful conversation, and many point in the direction that i’m headed, i think that our talk of “movements” already suggest a fundamental mistep (as if there is a movement into culture, politics, society which can be preconceived).

It is my contention that we only talk about movements and the like b/c we have already lost the revolutionary nature of being the church, the subversive economics of the Eucharist, the political intrerpellation of Baptism, and the radical constition of community in forgiveness and love. Talking of different movements within the church already forgets this (mega-church, seeker-church, pomo-church) unlike the movements of the church like parts of the Civil Rights Movement which did something, and let everyone else define it. Let us talk about churches and forget about movements.

Creation as Communion, and it’s Lack

prompted by a good friend joe myers’ post on “the root of sin”, as well as the thoughts below about jason clark’s essay concerning “being human“, and my preparation to preach on Jesus as the Logos, here is a little blurb on creation and redemption.

joe asks, “What if the root of sin is good–not evil? What if sin is the excessive and unhealthy ways we express the passion of the soul?” Now this naturally puts sin in the realm of desire and volition, but I don’t want to go there for now because that is the well trodden realm of “where does evil come from?… From our free-will” kind of argument. Rather, I want to trace out more of the creation aspect of it.

My initial comment on his post was, “I absolutely love this. what an affirmation of God’s good creation. our passions and desire are good, just misdirected and excessive. yet, from where does this excess come? from where the misdirection, the “bendness”? It is a lack, a void, a privation of the good, it is good subtracted from…maybe the root of evil is Nothing, the desire for nothing rather than the Something of God’s creation.”

Let’s start with evil as Nothing, or the idea that evil is the privation of Good. One of the earliest proponents of this view is Augustine in his On the Nature of the Good and The Enchiridion. It goes something like this…Creation is good by definition b/c God is Good and is the Creator. Creation derives its existence God. All natural beings are good by nature according to their creation. What we call evil is a corrupted nature, yet due to its continuing existence is still good to an extent. As he says, “No nature is evil so far as it is naturally existent. Nothing is evil in anything save a diminishing of good. If the good is so far diminished as to be utterly consumed, just a there is no good left so there is no existence left.” Therefore, evil is the privation of good, the corruption of good, such that evil really is Nothing, it is the Lack of Something. That’s why I said evil is the desire for Nothing rather than the Something of God’s creation.

Now, moving on to Athanasius, another Church Father… Athanasius organically connects this conception of evil as privation with the doctrine of creation out of nothing, particularly man’s creation. For him, because everything is made out of nothing, called into existence by the Word of God (Christ), everything is therefore mortal, or tending back toward nothing again. It seems that Athanasius didn’t see creation as naturally eternal after creation, but always slipping back toward non-existence (which is an interesting premonition of the laws of thermo-dynamics). Now, concerning man, while by nature mortal, or corruptible, we were granted incorrabptability as the image of God, partaking of the Divine life, as he says, “For because the Word dwelling in them, even their natural corruption did not prevail.” Yet, man rejected God and through their transgression was turning back to his natural state, for “just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also…they might expect their own corruption into nothing.” So, having been granted both a mortal (corruptible) life and a divine (incorruptible) life, man is tending back toward a mortal life, or rather a mortal death. Athanasius’ main point here is that the Word created mankind and gave him a divine life, and that the Fall into Death is not imposed by God as a punishment, rather the Fall into Death is man severing his connection to life, to his very being. Man is now slipping into nothing, the void. Or to reframe the discussion, as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas would, the question is not that of existence but of communion. In the fall man made his existence (as something) his sole point of reference, neglecting his previous relationship (communion) with God, and so goes the title of his book, “Being as Communion.”

Which brings us to the Incarnation… For Athanasius it is fitting that the Divine Word, through whom all was created out of nothing, through whom man was raised from his natural state, it is fitting that the Divine Word should himself come into creation as a man so that His original creation would not be utterly lost. He came in order to re-create what was turning into nothing. The Word, the creative/revealing principle of God, came into corruptible nature in order to gather back man into incorruptibility through His own body. Which, as Jason was saying, Jesus came to make us truly human again, to re-create us, not as an escape from creation (into heaven) but as the continuing gift of grace, which is creation. From this perspective there is nothing supernatural about redemption/salvation, but eminently natural. Redemption is God’s re-articulation of Something (in the Word) rather than Nothing.

(one caveat concerning this notion…one of the major problems of beginning like this with an idea of evil as privation is that it might quickly end up promoting a lack of engagement with evil. The poor and oppressed might say “If evil is nothing, why do I see it everywhere?” or they might accuse me of creating a doctrine which sustain the status quo of the powerful because “what is is good” which will never lead toward rectifying evil. Which doesn’t mean that “sin as privation” lacks an eschatological perspective, just that I need to explore it more….)

well that is enough for now, what do you all think?

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”

was shown at a private screening at Willow Creek Community Church. I’m not really going to discuss the film at present (that will happen soon). Rather I have to comment on its use in the evangelical Christian community, and the irony of it…

From what I can tell, Mel Gibson has basically put he latin mass and the stations of the cross into a cinematic performance. It will be released on Feb. 25th (ash Wednesday), effectively opening the Lenten season of reflection and penance before Easter. Did I mention Gibson is a faithful Catholic?

Now, because Evangelical are both addicted to “cultural works” and liturgically ignorant, the evangelical community is gearing up for an evangelism explosion, using this film to connect with unbelievers. This was epitomized in during Bill Hybils interview with Gibson when he suggested to the 4,500 pastors in attendance that they might think of planning a sermon series that corresponded with the movie, so they could ‘relevantly’ make use of the film. (don’t get me started about how evangelicals (ab)use art in/as evangelism).

Now, only because a film made by a Roman Catholic, can evangelicals enter into the liturgical calendar, and yet not know it. The irony is simple: evangelicals are taking cues from a Catholic; and they are only thinking liturgically (on accident) b/c they want to make use of a movie. Historically the Church always preached through “The Passion” of Christ every Lenten season. Maybe we should just get back to that and politely let Gibson’s “The Passion” explain itself.

I was going to writes something about Mel Gibson’s “Passion” and Bill Hybil @ Willow Creek interview at a screening here in Chicago, but I just found out that my house is “unlivalble” due to toxic fumes, so I’ll try later on this next week.

I’ve recently become friends with an Emergent coordinator from England who is working on his Doctor of Ministry: Leadership in the Emerging Culture. This essay writen by Jason Clark’s focuses on our need to recover the doctrine of creation in relation to redemption, Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience

after reading it, hear are some of my thoughts (which I also sent to Jason). If you have any thought to add please do, even if you just have to catch the drift from my comments, although jason does a good job historically, worth reading.)

the turn back toward creation is great, absolutely necessary. Reading Webber’s ancient-future faith set me on the track of creation-incarnation-recreation rather than creation-fall-redemption. It has been shaping my thinking ever since. Also, your outlining of the debilitating effects of a narrowly defined “substitutionary atonement” are also right on the mark. I have been struggling with that similar gospel of “sin management” ever since high school. The eschatological aspects of creation and redemption are also very helpful. The focus on creation and redemption make much more sense of OT prophecies than Dispensationalism ever did to me.

I have two comments, not really critiques, just suggestions for further exploration…

1) Your link between creation and spiritual formation is definitely worth discussion/recovering, but it seems that this question is really one of justification and sanctification. If we are forensically, legally justified before God (through Christ’s substitutionary atonement which you alluded to) then why do we talk about sanctification? So while a recovery of creation (a doctrine of creation) certainly goes a long way to rectify this situation, we must focus on God’s plan work this redemption through a particular community, His covenant people. We only have a dichotomy b/w justification and sanctification b/c of the Reformation misunderstanding of Paul and the Judaism’s relationship to the Law. As N.T Wright says in What Saint Paul Really Said, “The purpose of the covenant was never simply that the Creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the rest of the world. The covenant was there to deal with the sin, and bring about the salvation, of the world.” And most of what Paul was talking about in his doctrine of “justification by faith” concerned not how people get saved (soteriology), but do we know people are part of the covenant community (ecclesiology). Anyway…I agree with you that most Churches aren’t read to work through these issues. I’m teaching a pre-baptismal class in our small church plant and I’m trying to work through all these creation/salvation/redemption/conversion issues as we go.

2) the turn back toward creation is also a turn back toward the Creator, implying the question, Who is the Creator? Which then bring us to what man is, or “Being Human” as you but it. As many might do, we could start from ontology, discussing God impersonally as the ground of being. We could start from ethics, discussing God impersonally as the standard of the Good, or we could start from the perspective of Uncause Cause, etc,etc. But this doesn’t begin where Scripture begins, with as a personal God. In relation to theology, if YHWH is personal, and the theologian is a person, then theology is a conversation, a dialogue, a disagreement, or even a misunderstanding between persons, toward which practice is it ultimate goal and expression, elevating prayer and worship as ground of theology/izing. And as you said, being human then is a question of being like Christ who is human to perfection, rather than just being divine. But more could be said about all that…

Living into Your Baptism

At a conference about 3 years ago, I heard Robert Webber say that he was still trying to live into his baptism. At the time I didn’t quite get it what he meant. Now, however, while teaching through our churches pre-baptismal class (partically making it up as we go) Webber’s statement is becoming much clearer. Unlike the Evangelical tradition I come from which puts all stock in the conversion experience, making baptism optional, I now see baptism as the culmination of conversion, as the only reference point really worth talking about. (our church already counts baptisms instead of “decisions.”)

Many of the concepts covered by our “conversion” seem to be related to baptism in the new testamt. In the NT it seems baptism is the definitive symbol of crossing over from death to life, from sin to forgiveness. Baptism is the definitive symbol/statement of our union with Christ, our participation in his life through our own death. Baptism symbolizes our spiritual death and resurrection, our identification with Jesus, through our bodies, physically, materially, particularly.

Baptism is a shifting of alligiences, a changing of identities. Only through death can we become something else, and God in his wisdom did not leave it up to our inner subjectivites, our private psychological experience as this definite moment, but physically enacts this death and resurrection on our bodies, or our little pieces of the universe, the only thing that I can really call my own, my own body. Conversion is great, a decision to repent is great, but let us live into our baptism. Let us be marked into a new life. It marks our bodies and our psyches, a reference point we can look back at, a landmark to lead us. Let us put off the old self and put on the new. Let us live into our baptism.