Two books and two beauties.

Having just finished reading the Justice of God (by James Dunn) and The Fragile Absolute (by Zizek) I am continuing to shed my old evangelical understanding of “justification by faith”, having it revitalized by a New Perspective on Paul theologian and a Marxist/Psychoanalytic atheist.

I’ll be offering a short summary of Dunn’s book soon, since my summary here will double for the one I’ll give to our justice/mercy ministry. And I should write about Zizek b/c it will help me understand him (b/c i barely do).

Also, two beautiful things:

1) last week Tim White (our Liturgist) put together an amazing Advent piece for our worship service (a slideshow accompanied by music/monologue) which drew me into the very Reality of the Second coming. One of the few truly artistic uses of projected images in church.

2) the art piece by Brian Christiansen (our arts director), called the “waiting room,” sitting within our sanctuary, inviting us into our existence between the advents.

and these are just some of the beautiful things i have with me…

breaking from the solipsism of this blog, a posting by joe myers prompted me to reflect…

he asked “I can’t help but wonder if we, those of us who participate in the postmodern conversation, are looking for ‘Woodstock.’ As we struggle for the future, will there be a defining moment that marks the beginning of the end?

We all desire for this—a place to say, “this is where it happened, this is where ‘it’ took place.” Or do we?

This “defining moment” all too often happens in the past, rarely in the present. It is only when we are telling our story, our own history, that we can adequately see those moments, events, or places for what they are. Our backwards gaze through time teaches us their true value.

And those ‘moments’ which occur in the present are generally not fully understood until the future. Adding layer after layer of meaning, time propels them, and us, significantly through our lives. The ‘love’ of a high school sweetheart expands into the ‘love’ of courtship/marriage. And this ‘love’ grows as marriage continues, and augments toward a ‘love’ encompassing children, which then reflects back and grows the ‘love’ for one’s own parents. So when is the ‘defining moment’ for the love between husband and wife? Where is the ‘moment’ without reference to all these other moments? Our forward glance through time ensures that each ‘moment’ is really more than it actually is. And again, in backward gaze the ‘love’ of a high school sweet heart is properly placed and appreciated.

And isn’t the hope for such a “moment” a longing for certainty and stability, a longing we have cast off as postmoderns? The stabilizing moment, the clearing in the forest, where everything is revealed, and our course/direction is verified. Isn’t this navigating by modern apparatuses? Are we hoping for a collection of moments by which our ‘progress’ can be judged? When does one age end and another begin? For “one does not leave the epoch whose closure one can outline. The movements of belonging or not belonging to the epoch are too subtle, the illusions in that regard are too easy, for us to make a definite judgment”(Derrida of grammatology p.12).

So what is our ‘time’? What is our ‘moment’?

Should we look any farther than the birth of Christ (the Incarnation), or his death and resurrection? Are these events in the past not definitive enough to shape our present?

Should we look any farther than the future Coming of Christ (the Consumation/Recreation)? Is this event not enough to gather all our present ‘moments’ into itself, preparing them all for a final revelation?

So no, in the midst of our postmodern conversation, there will never be a defining moment, we have already been given ‘moments’ enough to navigate by. Time (the collection of moments) has been invaded by Eternity (the Moment) and that is enough.

(but of course, we will continue having “definitive” experiences/moments/event in our lives as Jesus draws us into His Moment, and let him be praised for it. but let’s not hope for them too much)

brief outline/reflection on Marxism (via a selective reading of Marxism: Philosophy and Economics and the Marx-Engels Reader).

my purpose for this: having just read through Zizek’s The Fagile Absolute, I realized that I knew very little about Marxism, or Marxist cultural analysis, so I thought that I ought to learn a little bit, providing myself with a tool to understand “where” we culturally—this “where” being the cultural line intersecting with the “when” of our religious tradition positioning our identity. (see my posts on media/cultural studies below for this-and really I need to explain this better) anyway…I think Marxism will be one tool among many we attempt to de-westernize the Church here in America, which has to lead through a critique of capitalism, so that we can live in, but not of, capitalism.


helpful: 1) Theory of ideology/oppression can lead to ridiculous conclusion, but is a helpful way of understanding the world. Christians are constantly doing ideology critique of culture (i.e. looking for sin, pointing toward the true “spiritual” understanding of history, claiming certain practices as idolatrous.) 2) As a critique of capitalism- we too often assume that capitalism is God’s gift to humanity, but capitalism forms us into certain kinds of people with desire/passion/inclination which are opposed to God’s Kingdom. So we need this critique. But Marxism has the same anthropology and telos as Capitalism, it is really just parasitic, not able to move beyond capitalism. But more on that with Zizek. Only the church can over-come, or properly augment capitalism. 3) Marxism opens our eye to class conflict as relationship, rather then just through wealth. 4) Marxism thinks historically, from past to future, helping us move beyond an ahistorical modern perspective. (although of course there are many others who help us do this.)

flaws: 1) law of progress through revolution too modernist. The dialectical approach seeing metamorphic change in culture for the better is destroyed in Leninism. 2) While flaunting a communalism, it is only for the purposes of “actualized the potential” of every individual. Therefore Marx is an individualism, just like Nietzsche and Keirkegaard. 3) Collectivized industry stifles technological “innovation” and innovation leads toward the betterment of masses, which is the goal of Communism, so it goal (the actualization of individuals) is contradicted by its means (collectivized industry). oops…4) Marxist anthropology is based in pleasure seeking of individualists.

directions: 1) how can Marxism address a post-industrial society with a financial/creative/service economy? 2) I need to look more into the coupling of Marxism and psycho-analysis as a tool of ideology critique.(again leads back to Zizek) 3) Look into the shift from ‘alienated’ laborer to ‘alienated’ consumer (this will lead through Baudrillard).

Existentialist: Marx wrote just after Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, and just before Nietzsche. I mention these authors/thinkers b/c Marx is very existential in his outlook, i.e. the existing individual is the point of reference, particularly the laborer. This is especially seen is his “Thesis on Feuerbach” where he briefly positions himself between idealism (Hegel) and his retooled materialism. “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism…is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not as subjectively.” This sounds similar to Kierkegaards ‘truth is subjectivety’ and the general “existentialist” concern to overthrow the privileged position of contemplation, replacing it with involvement/practice as the place of truth.

The method of investigation is “dialectical.” The world is conceived as a complex process, not as a complex grouping of things to look at. This method never looks at the “appearance” of things, but their “essence”, b/c the appearance lacks the understanding of what came before, and where the process is going. (An acorn can’t be properly comprehended without reference to the oak). Or as Thomas Sowell comments, “The dialectical approach rejects uncritical acceptance of existing empirical appearances, and seeks instead the inner pattern from which these appearances derive and evolve.”


This methodology lead into the buzz word “ideology” because ideologies keep people fixed on the appearances, rather than the essence. So there could be the ideology that “technology makes our lives better.” But this is a myth because really the whole pursuit of technology is make production more efficient and faster, so that produce can be made faster, and therefore cheap, which will lead toward more profits. But this increase efficiency is not passed onto the laborer (instead of working 8 hour, you can just work 6 everday). Rather, we are all expected to work the same amount of hours, just producing more. So really, technology doesn’t make our lives better, or more leisurely, just fast and fast. Anyway, that’s what a Marxist might say. The point is that “ideologies” legitimize the rule class’s control/power. This Marxist theme has been coupled with Nietzsche’s will to power, and generalized to just about every situation these days. Recently this theme of uncovering the hidden meaning of history/culture, and it’s hidden ideologies, has been linked with psycho-analysis for the obvious similarities of trying to uncover/lay bare the unconscious. I’ll probably get back to this linking when I read through Zizek again.


A very useful distinction: use-value and exchange-value. use-value is inherent in an object, or product; a chair for sitting in, a light for reading by. They have uses for man connected to their physical properties, such that if they lost them, they would no longer be useful (i.e. if a chair lost a leg, it would be use-less). exchange-value is only a “relationship” between objects or produces, i.e. what can it be equally exchange for? (50 light bulbs for one chair). So, an apartment building has a use-value to all who live there, it is their house and home. But to the landlord it only has exchange-value, a means of income. So if he can increase his income but jacking up the rent or by evacuating the building and selling it, then he will, not matter what the effect to the use-value. (example taken from Urban Fortunes: A Political Economy of Place). This might have implication for how we evaluate our practices in church: is what we do actually useful, or does it just have some sort of exchange-value. Is discipleship happening which is useful, or just an exchanged of pleasantries to make us feel better?

(if you made all the way to the bottom the you are awesome or totally crazy, and you are certainly someone who I should engage with…post a comment)

Now I feel somewhat ready for “is God a capitalist?”. and I probably won’t post until after that.

“The philosphers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

Karl Marx, 1845 (Thesis on Feuerbach)

Just switch theologian for philosopher…, but of course, interpretation in half the battle (or the whole battle depending on how postmodern you are…)

I’m still doing some reading on Marxism, so I’ll post something when I’m finished with my little research. I’m beefing up for the next up/rooted gathering, “Is God a Capitalist?”

back to the matrix

now, just focusing on the themes of sacrifice and self-giving, esp. on Neo’s part, let’s see what the Matrix has to say about itself. In the second movie, Matrix Reloaded, the Architect tells us the matrix always needs to be balanced, all the variables taken care of. The need of free choice for humans create written into the matrix which created a problem for the Architect b/c it create a variable that could only be contained by allow “the one” to appear from time to time. But when this “one” appeared he would bring balance back to the matrix, equalizing the equation.

Now, at the end of the second movie we see that Neo does something that no other “one” did through his free choice, throwing everything off. So we might conclude that he transcended the “logic” of the matrix, throwing it permanently out of balance. A vindication of free choice and human potential? But in the last movie the Oracle tells us that Neo created Smith and that Smith was really the “negative” of Neo, his mirror or double. This double in Smith is reeking havoc, not just for the humans, but all the machines/programs.

So while all the humans are fight the machines, Neo is fighting himself, i.e. Smith in the Matrix having made a deal with the Machines that if he gets rid of Smith the machines will make peace. Skipping to the end, we see Neo stop fighting and is assimilated into Smith, a “self-giving sacrifice” of one so that the many might live, right? Well yes, because somehow Smith is kill, and the Machines let up there fight. But this is not the logic of the Cross at all.

From the account given by the Oracle, Smith is the double of Neo—if Neo is yin then Smith is yan—and the given what the Architect said about balancing the equation, we see that Neo never really transcended the logic of the Matrix, he just displaced out of the program, into the really world. But the logic is the same, there must be balance, and since Neo created the imbalance initially by killing/creating agent Smith, his sacrifice is the reinstatement of the logic of Balance (Karma?), not the breaking free from it. So, yes sacrificed himself, and created a tentative end to the war, but he did not fundamentally change the rules of the war. And this is really the problem with using Neo’s sacrifice as an allusion to Christ’s b/c Christ’s sacrifice changed the rules of war, and transcended the logic of balance through his self-giving for others. and really the flipside of this self-giving is the “incarnation” of the totally Other for man, from outside the system, which is totally absent from the Matrix. given all this, Christians should not go about claiming this as example of Christ because 1) it totally devalues what Christ actually did, 2) it totally misses the point of Balance, which is more Eastern than Christian. (I would claim Memento as a Christian movie way before i did the matrix)

now all that to say that I actually really liked the matrix for what they are, esp. the first movie. The multicultural integration of characters, the empowerment of women, a critique of hyper-reality and consumerism (these movies really lend themselves to a Marxist reading of liberation/revolution than a Christian one of salvation) are all great and appreciated. But could we please move beyond superficial moralizing of a movie (art in general) or an equally superficial “gospelizing” of art. We to be able to understand and appreciate a work of art according to its own terms before evaluating according to Christian ones. This will keep us from doing violence to the “creation” of others, valuing them as co-creators with the Creator.

“Matrix” as not a christian movie.

I don’t have much time before I have to feed Soren (my 5 five month old son).

I absolutely love this friend of mine as my own family, I’ve seen his two sons grow up and everything, he is great, but unfortunately last night he was the perfect icon of all that is wrong w/ evangelical cultural interpretation of culture and I just. He relentlessly reinterpreted “Matrix Revolutions” (and really the whole trilogy) as representing the Gospel. According to him, Neo is a Christ figure, the matrix is the fallen world, the Agents are temptation, and Neo’s sacrificial death frees mankind, etc. (these are basically his words).

Now, this is certainly reading into the “intentions” of the film beyond even the explicit “christian” imagery of sacrifice/death resurrection/trinity etc. And this does violence to the text. We should value the creation of any text, rather than just read them the way that we want to (in order to “evangelize” or something like that.) anyway, i’m still in process about the right way to articulate a theological cultural hermeneutic (i’m not sure if that’s the best way to think of it. the cultural studies question).

all this to say that the “matrix” in my opinion is an “eastern” tale of a salvation rather than a Christian one. The logic of sacrifice and balance in the matrix has very little affinity to the gospel, and any allusions to the contrary cheapen the work of Christ and the Incarnation. But I’ll have to leave this interpretation for tomorrow. anyway, we all to figure out how to think through questions of culture together so that we’re not just moralizing or inserting the gospel everywhere, thereby making it into nothing.

Lines of convergence: global-urban-postmodern

During seminary, as i began to think through the emerging church, i worked through questions of the postmodern, to urban concerns, ending with global ponderings. But through that process i’ve seen that the order of priority for me, and I propose for the emerging church conversation, should move from the Global, to the Urban, and then only to the Postmodern.

Why Global? all sorts of reasons. 1) while we have reached the end of modernity, we will never move beyond it while only looking throughwestern ideas (even pomo critiques); because if we truly believe all this stuff about the “marginal” and the critique of power, and the importance of “multiculturalism” then we have to listen to those marginal/multicultural voices-Latin America, Africa, Asia- within the church and outside it; ecomonics-politics-culture have gone global, but isn’t the only truly global body the Church? and if we really believe the West is the new mission field, then shouldn’t we listen to those who know more about missions than we do. And lastly, not eveyone is talking about pomo, and for the emerging church to be more than an anglo-middle class concern it must figure out how to be part of the entire emerging global church.

So we should be asking “What it means to be a global Christian?” How can our theology be enriched by global Christian perpectives? What are global practices and trends that we in the West are connected with/responsible for and how should we then relate with/on behalf of our brothers and sisters around the world (this is an economic issues and a justice/righteousness issue). How can we have relationships within african/latin american/asia christians that will effect two-way enrichment, understanding and accountability? And what about racism next door?

Why urban? 1) Because the globe is going urban. 2) and the evangelical church abandoned urban centers for suburban/rural ones (while feeling marginalized in culture they physically marginalized themselves by where they lived. Why do all evangelical roads lead to Colorado Springs instead of NY?) and mainline churches have lost much of their voice in urban cities. And urban centers are a small taste of the global, concentrating questions of multiculturalsim/pluralism/racism.

So we shouldbe asking “What does it mean to be an urban Church, an urban Christian?” How can/does the urban and suburban related- and how might it in the Church? What are the economic issues, esp. for the poor/underpriveleged? and how is race of factor in poverty and how is the Church perpectuating or solving sturctural racism and the oppression of the poor? What is ‘gentrification’ and is it good or bad? How does technology play a role in all this, and what about the media? We must ask serious questions of class, race, and gender, if we are move beyond where the modern church got stuck. (for more on this see the brief “Post-Community“).

Why postmodern? isn’t it obvious? But really the question is “how should the church relate to postmodernity?” as stephen long says, “The postmodern only helps us rightly understand the modern, not move beyond it.” For long, only the church moves beyond postmodernity. But philosophically and culturally things are changing in the West, and since this is my context, and the context of what goes on in the emerging church conversation, naturally we must do our best to understand it as a process of de-modernizing the Church in the West. But from a global perspective this is de-westernizing the Church of west, just as Africa is de-westernizing the African church from the Western Missions movement (which brought the gospel, but a gospel fused to western ideals).


After moving beyond a rationalistic faith, reducing everything to impersonal propositions and a privatized faith, we start looking alternative expressions of faith. So we find “Celtic” Christianity, with its emphasis on nature, body and spirit, its prayers, etc,…or we go all the way back to the “Fathers” b/c their cultural situation is much like our own and therefore we have a lot to learn from them. This is a type historical approach still only traces through “western” faith. Instead of going through history to find conversation partners, we should go global. African and Asian Christians never became disconnected with nature, or had a dualistic notion of man, and therefore are just as valuable to us as the “celts”, even more because we can actually dialogue with them. The third world Church has lived in a condition similar to the Father for a long time and are therefore much farther along then us in “living” it. Let’s talk with them about it. It is great to over come our historical amnesia, but we also overcome our miopic vision.


So, even though our immediate context is “postmodern” we must continually broaden our horizens toward the the urban and the global church if this conversation is going to be more than navel gazing.

Chapter Three of the search to belong (in my haste i jumped from chaps 2 to 4 w/o 3, so here it is.)


Based out of Edward Hall’s identification of the four spaces of human interaction, Joe broadens Hall’s schematic to include not only questions of culture and communication, but of community and belonging. We experience belonging in all four spaces of human interaction: public, social, personal, intimate.

Unlike animals, our conception of space is all a matter of perspective. Being physically close to someone doesn’t mean that person is in intimate “space” as a crowded elevator would reveal. So the spaces referred to from now on are the spaces intersecting physical and mental.


Because public space is the least understood/appreciated Joe spends the most time here. “Public belonging happens when we connect through outside influences. It isn’t about connecting person to person; it is about sharing a common experience”(p.41). A common experience might be a sporting event, a concert, political rally, or worship service. The key to understanding public space is to see that it is an extrinsic motivating or organizing principle to people’s belonging. While they may not know each others names, they are there for a similar reason focused on a similar event. So when the crowd starts cheering during the great play and you high five everyone around you, you are belonging and making connections in public space. This connection and belong happens during the daily routine- you wake up, get your coffee, say “hi” to your neighbors, the clerk, or the guard at your office, etc.

Public space however is not necessarily a place for strangers. Strangers are ones who don’t connect; those who connect are “public belongers” (p. 42). So there is a difference b/w anonymity and being a stranger. People don’t want to be strangers when they come into church, even if they want to be anonymous. And it doesn’t mean that people are disconnected or on the fringes if they only belong in the public space, nor do we need to feel like we must move people into a different space. As long as our worship service/church life doesn’t make people feel like strangers, but moves them into a space of belonging, then that connection should be counted a success and celebrated.

Social“In many ways, social belonging is the ‘small talk’ of our relationships”(p.45). Just because a small group never goes beyond casual dialogue, or a bible study’s most valuable time is the conversation before and after (instead of the “compelling” teaching) we should not judge them failures. People need to make connections on the social level. We connect through sharing “snapshots” of who we are.

This space is important for three reasons. First, it is where we make neighbor relationships. This type of relationships is where you can ask for small favors and exchange “small talk.” This used to happen with actual neighbors, but even if they aren’t your actual neighbors, we all still need these relationships which create a “neighborhood” of belonging. Second, this is a safe selection space to decide whether to move people into a different space. This selection process happens b/c, thirdly, in this space we offer context specific “snapshots” of who we are and who we are becoming. This space is not merely a bridge b/w public space and personal space, but a space where we are continually discovering ourselves and others, nurturing neighborly relationships.

Personal“Personal space is where we connect through sharing private- though not “naked”- experiences, feeling, and thought”(p.47). Those that we connect with in this space are “close friends.” There is, however, much confusion in this space b/c many time we think of it as intimate space, but really it isn’t because we aren’t sharing our inner most, naked thoughts, feelings, ideas. And when we then want to talk about those relationships where we do share our naked selves, we don’t have a category for it.


This is where we share our “naked” thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Too often we make this the “mecca” of belonging, community, and relationships, but this is too over-value intimate space. How would life be if every person we knew we knew intimately? It would be awful and over whelming.

Healthy Community

To achieve healthy community Joe points out that we must have “harmonious connections within all four spaces. Harmony means more public belonging than social. More social than personal. And very few intimate…A healthy strategy for those working to build community entails allowing people to make significant relationships in all four spaces—all four. It means permitting people to belong in the space they want or need to belong. Insisting that real, authentic, true community happens only when people get “close” is a synthetic view of reality and may actually be harmful”(p.51-52). Our goal should be to invite strangers in so that they are no longer strangers. Our goal is not to invite them in to be ‘intimate’. We should invite people into the family, allowing them to belong, connect, and enter community the way they need to. (For how this is accomplished see my summary of chapter four on Monday, Nov 17.)

Chapter Four of the Search to Belong (continued from Thu Nov 6th.)

Jumping into chapter four we hear Joe asking, “Why do we promote small groups as the most significant way to build community and congregation? Why have they become a fad of our time? Why do we lead our congregants to believe that small groups deliver the community they seek?” The effects of this is to promote only two possible environments of belonging in the church- either the public (worship service) or the intimate (small group), thereby excluding healthy belonging in all four spaces of public, social, personal, intimate. What we need is a healthy balance, a harmony, b/w all four space in our lives, at Church, and even with God.


This first of all means that we need to understand and have “competencies” in all four spaces. (The competencies outlined in this section are worth the price of the book, but too detailed for me to outline.) The point here is that some people may be competent in one space, but not in another. They therefore might value personal space more than public, thinking that real life only happens in personal space, not in public. But this might reveal a lack in their own public competencies (which is how I spent much of my life, bashing “small talk” b/c it didn’t connect with “real life.” But actually I’m just really bad at small talk and am therefore incompetence in the public space.)

Spontaneity and Environment

Next, it is important to understand that community emerges within all four spaces, and that this happens spontaneously. Belonging/community cannot be forced or programmed, it just comes about spontaneously. We need to move away from “forced belonging” where we have expectations of intimacy, moving people inappropriately from one space to another, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly (and therefore confusing and manipulative). Given this, “If we would concentrate upon facilitating the environment instead of the result, we might see healthy, spontaneous community emerge…we must switch from being group programmers to becoming group environmentalists.” We must pay better attention to the environment, we must cultivate the soil from which healthy community will grow, rather than engineer the results in a synthetic fashion. And this primarily means growing people’s competencies so they can form healthy connections, and creating a harmonious ratio b/w the spaces.


The last implication of this shift from being programmers to environmentalist is a change in how we measure success. It is very easy to measure how many are in small groups, or attend our larger, public worship services, but very difficult to measure spontaneous, healthy connections or the sense of belonging people have. These connections are measured through stories. This also changes our definition of “congregation” allowing for whoever tells a story connecting with a church/group to count as part of the congregation, even if they never, or rarely, attend.

The next chapter concerns how people/relationship can move in and out of the space. until then…

Growth (units) or Growth (tissue)

I was recently talking with a friend, who is also a worship leader, about sound equipment, particularly in-ears (headphone/ear-piece monitors, instead of floor monitors). Because they are right in the ear I asked how he could hear the congregation worshipping. He said that they have to mike the congregation and run the sound through the monitor so he can hear them. They also run the sound of the congregation back through the main speakers (so the congregation can hear itself singing, a somewhat typical practice for large churches). He said that this helped “fill the room,” and by that he meant that it would feel as if more people singing than were really present, hopefully leading toward more people actually being there in the future (or at least that those being there won’t feel like its empty). (this is definitely an example of virtual worship, see below at the nov 3rd and 5th posts.)

This illustrates the difference between capitalistic growth of units and the organic growth of tissue. As I mentioned in my last post (tuesday nov 11), maybe pastors should think of themselves as mothers/mid-wives nurturing the “body,” an actual body that grows through the maturing of tissue in the balanced relations of each section of the body, not a corporate/economic body which grows by the production of units or the accumulation of “members”, especially “productive members.” The example above is an indication that we too often substitute organic “growth” for capitalistic “growth” while thinking that we are retaining biblical growth. We can tweak some technological effects, add some hype and get some growth (how many church plants grow from 10 to 300 in a year) through these means, but is that really growth? Isn’t rampant growth in a tissue cancerous? Where is the time for normal/healthy growth?

I’m currently reading “The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?” by Slavoj Zizek, a postmodern Maxist (read atheistic political materialist) and I think it triggers some of the thoughts above.