Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Best Companies Ever

In this blog I have critiqued the nation-state system and capitalism- favoring the counter logic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


I too am a sinner and there are a few companies that I think ROCK! These companies represent the best of innovation-embody beauty and strive for perfection in their products. In short- they make products that don't just dominate markets- they create new ones; changing the way live our lives.

These Companies are :


Friday, 18 December 2009

California Christmas Delight

Christmas time is here,
No snow, but sun and cheer
No sleigh bells ringing or church bells singing
But to light and joy, we are all clinging

Mike and Jen’s hot tub beckons
A fair trade for frigid air I reckon

Snowscapes sculpted by the winds are traded
For palm trees and bowls of roses paraded

No icicles hanging in jagged array
Yet the food and merriment goes without say

So it is, a California Christmas delight
Where the very memories of past Christmas’ might
Only blind us too all that is true
Joys of true Christmas, found here with you.

Jovial laughing, skating, sledding and more
The old ways of Christmas fade into just lore
Where old snowy December’s
Drift and fog and mire in forgot
But sorrow we do not set loose,
For here the Christmas feast is Alive, Fear not!
For it was not to snowy hills that Jesus was born
He was not surrounded with deer, bear and moose

But it was a desert plane that welcomed
All heavens opening up, pronouncing, “ The King is here”

A desert, quite cold in the night, but warm in the day
Not so unlike California- Ill say
So it is our California Christmas delight
To share more in what that first Christmas was like!

Those east coasters can keep all that snow
Keep all their cold air and frost toe
Where you can’t feel your ears should you forget a hat

Because Here in California is where Christmas is at.
So it is, a California Christmas delight
Where the very memories of past Christmas’ might
Only blind us too all that is true
Joys of true Christmas, found here with you!

Thursday, 17 December 2009


What is hope but the beauty of the impossible.
Fading whispers of the dream that could never be
And yet is more beautiful in its impossibility

For where the ocean roars and horrid beasts of our nightmares roam
The cracks and creavases of our whole being resound in a constant and impossible reality

We dare not whisper it,
It is too beautiful to hope and fail
Too much to long for upon the empty contours of our world

And yet it shows itself
Breaking in, flaming and true and whole
Announcing itself as more than our dreams could ever belay

Here the despair is all too near
Carrying with it the radical potency of what we deem indubitable

What is hope but the fantasy, that which we can never truly expect
It is too beautiful to speak
Too beautiful for our eyes to take hold of

Yet it takes hold of us
Making itself known as the good beyond our fears and plots and expectations.

Hope that conquers the trouble of our soul
It sits and breaths into us anew- light and love
Not in those places we expect the most,
But in those places we despair the most

Monday, 2 November 2009

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save!

Isaiah 59:(1-4)9-19
[See, the LORD's hand is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one brings suit justly,
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.]
Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope like the blind along a wall,
groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among the vigorous as though we were dead.
We all growl like bears;
like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the LORD,
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.
According to their deeds, so will he repay;
wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render requital.
So those in the west shall fear the name of the LORD,
and those in the east, his glory;
for he will come like a pent-up stream
that the wind of the LORD drives on.

Brandon Walsh

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save!

The New Testament calls us to die to the world and be raised into the Body of Christ, becoming a new reality. In Eucharist the Church sign acts unity, our oneness in the flesh as well as in spirit.
That is what Scripture tells us.
That is what our prayer books and Manuals testify to.

Yet in 1994 the people of Rwanda, a group that is statistically 90% Christian, took the elements on Easter, and three days later began to kill each other with machetes. In the years preceding these bloody circumstances people marveled at Christianity’s widespread adoption in the country. Some used it as a model for future evangelism. And despite them being the Church, despite them sign acting their unity in Christ they turned on each other in bloodshed.

But we don’t have to look across oceans to see the brokenness of the Church. Here in San Diego there are Churches that are suing each other for their land. How many of our bothers and sisters in Christ go hungry on the streets of San Diego? It is easy to write off our world as being broken and fallen, but when we see the Body of Christ, the Church, in shambles we cry out LORD WHY?!



The words of the Prophet Isaiah call out to us from this text.

The Book of Isaiah tells us a story about Israel, but from the perspective of God’s messenger. The story goes like this.
1) God calls Isa. To preach judgment to the people of Israel. – And Israel does what they do best; ignore God’s warning.
2) The Babylonian Army invades Jerusalem, destroys the Temple and drags the Israelites off into Exile.
3) Isaiah tells the Israelites that God has not forgotten them, and that one day God will save them and send them back to Israel.
4) Seventy Years later the Israelites witness the Army of Cyrus conquer Babylon. Cyrus sends the Israelites back to Jerusalem.

For seventy years the Israelites were strangers in a foreign land. As they were growing up their families would tell them of the old Kingdom, stories of the greatness of the Temple and the beauty of Israel. I can almost picture the scene, where children were kissed goodnight and told that one-day God would save them and bring them home.

Then it happens, the mighty conqueror Cyrus is raised up as God’s tool for the destruction of Babylon; it must have been a dream come true. Their Salvation had finally come. God’s Judgment of God’s people was over…

They packed up their things and venture off to see the land that their parents and grandparents had told them of. A land flowing with milk and Honey! I land where young David’s kill Goliath.

But when they get to Jerusalem it is desolate. Is their Salvation leaving the great city of Babylon to see this pile of broken rubble?? They start to rebuild the city, but they people of Israel soon find themselves in the midst of war, and political destabilization. They fall into disobedience and take matters into their own hands, acting like everyone else in order that they survive, crying out GOD IS THIS THE SALVATION YOU PROMISED US?! LORD HAVE YOU NOT RELEASED US FROM YOUR JUDGEMENT?

To which the Prophet Isaiah replies:

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save! It is your Sins that separate you from your GOD.

The Prophet leans into his pulpit and says “Your SIN is the thing messing you up- you are wondering why things are not going so well and you still have blood on your hands! You Beg God “WHY?” with your tongue one moment and with that same tongue murmur deceit the next.”

Then the prophet starts to confess for his community-

“Heck- We can all see, our eyes work but we are acting like blind people – groping around as if we were impaired somehow.

We know what Truth is, We God’s People, know what righteousness looks like and still we are violent! Still we are liars!

We act like Bears, roaring for Justice and still eating each other…expecting that Justice will just fall into our laps as we lick our lips.”

Then turning upwards the Prophet Repents,

“LORD, we have sinned against you. We have sinned against you, we acknowledge our iniquities – how badly we have messed up.

Our Sin makes us turn from Justice, God. And even when someone does try to be righteous, they become prey to our system of injustice.


If the Prophet had ended there this would be a very different message. However there are two words my good Friend Zach Ellis once repeated in a sermon that change everything- BUT GOD

“ But God saw this- God saw and acted
God will come to make new those who repent.
God will send a Redeemer for those who repent.

Note that the prophet uses the past tense- showing his total confidence in the coming salvation of God, but also pointing his people to the salvation God has already completed in freeing them from Exile.

God does not leave God’s people, he sends them the prophet to lead them in repentance- and into the fullness of Salvation when one day “The Redeemer” will come.

But that Redeemer has come! Come as God in flesh- the Savior of the world Jesus Christ!

The Church claims that in Christ it enters the narrative of Israel. So then, when the text speaks of a suffering servant, or The Redeemer, the Church can say that God’s fulfillment of this Prophet’s words are in the person of its savior. In light of the Cross-and the hope of resurrection, this text speaks to YHWH’s people anew.

So when We – The Church- The Body of Christ have been freed from our Exile of Death, but do not live up to the holiness we are called to…


To which the prophet replies:
“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short of save.”

We too are an obstinate people. Like Israel we are a sinful People.
Like Israel we see the holiness of God and still stumble as if blind.
Like the remnant people of Israel we beg for explanation, a while we have sinful blood on our hands. We are given the Holy Spirit and we still participate in a world that sets up bitter systems of injustice. All the while Christians wait for God to renew us, trusting “cheap grace” to replace repentance.

Recently I brought my Youth group to a retreat run by the Diocese. On the surface it seemed like your typical weekend, equipped with acoustic guitar music and emotional singing. Yet as the weekend progressed I realized that the message being preached was this… “Sin is not loving yourself- Jesus Loves you and forgives you- you need to feel God’s love for you and know that you are beautiful in God’s sight.”

At no point were the kids called to REPENT, at no point were they charged with their sin. This truly is cheap grace, a grace that seems sugary sweet and at the same time will give you cavities.

Bonheoffer Spoke about this “cheap grace” in describing Nazi Germany. The German church preached it as a justification for their Genocide.

Like Israel we long for God to fix everything for us, without turning our hearts to God. Yet we do not have a Deus ex Machina- a God that comes in to erase our blunders

But God…

But God saw that God’s church participates in a world without Justice! God sent the Spirit that will not depart from us.

Before the Church in Rwanda slaughtered, before the Church of England justified colonialism, before the Church in Galatia was deceived. God had already moved for the ultimate salvation of God’s people.

Like the People of Israel we must repent! Like the people of Israel we must wash our hands of our violence and cry out to God for Forgiveness.

- Because one day the Redeemer will come again. May we repent of our sin- turn to God and reach out to the world- to the Body of Christ in Love.

Lord Forgive us your Church, for you have already moved mightily on our behalf.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Glorified in Particularity

“In the beginning was the Word,” so ring the words of John proclaiming that through the divine logoß all creation came into being. That same divine logoß took on flesh and dwelt among us that we may know the love of God the father and be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, freed from death and given new life in Christ.
I think that it is also fitting that we call scripture the word of the Lord, for in this word we come to know the Gospel of Christ, the counter logic of the Kingdom and the Life everlasting. Yet too many here miss something, they miss that it is not within the text that the true Word dwells, it is in the Body of Christ. That body, which was broken, given over to death , invites us to die, to rise and become one in Christ. It is from this Body of Christ that we have received the text, which testifies to God’s everlasting faithfulness. The Bible reveals to us the Nature of God and the sinfulness of man; not in axioms or propositions but by weaving the fabric of our reality up into the ultimate Truth which is God.
If a man loves a woman and desires to tell her that love, would he write her a propositional analysis of his acute euphoria? NO! The lover would speak in lyrical potency his love, and in so doing this love is made manifest to her. So just as through God’s Divine Logos creation came into being, through The Body of Christ God speaks to us with the lyrical composition of a lover. With jealousy, fury and passion God’s word calls us to repentance.
This love note of God’s, made palpable through the Church, is only the witness to God’s love, not the salvation itself. The Bible is not A Priori, because we are not a people who are A Prioi. We live and bleed our own experience and particularity into this text. The authors wrote within their particularity and we also read within our particularity. Yet the scriptures are not mired in our own carnal realities, but are glorified in them. God’s calling does not sound in spite of our pitfalls and struggles but rather because of them. When the Logos became flesh in Christ, he was not the holy one of God in spite of his flesh, but rather the scandalous particularity of Christ is what shows us God.
The Bible, our canon, our Scripture, must always and forever be bound tightly to our Body of Christ. The Bible is from God through the Body, for the Body and in the Body finds its Glory.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Reflections on Preaching

Galatians 1:6-9 (New American Standard Bible)

Perversion of the Gospel

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;
7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

9As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

Whenever I read a passage like this I am reminded of two things. First the reality of evil, and second how insidious it is. "Oh foolish Galatians" Paul proclaims! How could you see before you Christ portrayed as crucified and settle for this mud? You were given Gold and you showed off dirt instead. It is so easy for us to look back on the accommodated Gospel of this early church and realize how faulty it is, and yet we too are pulled away from the Gospel of Christ. The evil of this world slinks into our good intentions and proclaims good antidotes and warming words. Words of affirmation and soft soothing, all the while the brutality of our own call to the feet of the crucified Lord are lost. How quickly can we water down the Gospel that once struck us deep with sober repentance and exchange it for mere wise words. Yet Paul leaves no ambiguity; there is no Gospel that can be preached but that of Christ. Christ Crucified, Christ Resurrected and Christ who's spirit gives us even now breath with which to preach. Any other will be accursed.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

May the Lord Have Mercy

The day was just like any other in seventh grade. I was laughing with friends and having what then seemed very adult conversation when the loud speaker rattled my jovial reality. It took a moment before I realized that the voice of Bruce Decher, the Vice Principal of South Meadow School, lacked his normal dry wit. He told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

My father picked me up from School shaken. The authority he carries with him was shriveled and his voice was to soft to be his own. What was to me a distant tragedy, was for my father a palpable execution of a close friend.

I watched as our world mourned, and as our mourning fermented into rage. As the songs in memory of the lost simultaneously became the marching orders to a battle ahead. "How dare they do this to US?" To the Red White and Blue? We were all called to reenlist our allegiance.

It is so easy to lose onself up into such a force of passion. When confronted with evil so abruptly, so ruthlessly, everything in us wishes to be the right to combat such a wrong. We stand up against the emerging "them" responsible and make our stand-unified. How could such chaos be left unanswered- and how else could we answer but with flesh, steel and smart bombs?

The "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave..." those words still make my heart swell and skin bump up. And yet, as we turn to the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks of, we cower. Hating mother and father? Use the weak to confound the great? The sinner to rebuke the saint? The love of one's enemy over the safety of one's cheek? Do these words stir us to excitement? Do they make us swell with belonging; or do they force us to equivocate? Do they make us stammer and downplay these silly and unpractical words?

Are we so quick to forget that fear and death bind us no longer, that in the bloodied, beaten rabble rouser Jesus, we see death and also God? Are we amnesic to the reality that we are called, chosen and set apart by God to witness to the truth of Christ set within our bodies, our hearts and our minds? True bravery is this; to look into the evil of our violent world and laugh, not so to diminish the tragedy of our sin but to rejoice in the conquest of our resurrection in Christ.

St. Francis once saw "holy" wars being waged; blood spilt and lives maimed. Did he run to the safety; No! He followed the audacity of Christ's Spirit with no weapon but folded hands of prayer and the words of the Lord emanating from his tongue. Even as western armies failed to conquer with steel, he was able to find audience with the King of the Muslims; proclaiming Christ crucified.

Whenever we hear chatter of pacifism our defenses rise and pragmatic concerns burt out. "What about Hitler? What about this? What about that?" If we live as dead to ourselves and within Christ's bodied, sustained into eternity, why do we not ask such questions of War? Why do we not beg and plead for another way? Why do we not demand another cure, another act of love that we can offer up, or embers to heap upon their head so that "they" might be folded into Grace. If we live according to the Spirit, as members of the Kingdom of God, should we not hunger for reconciliation and not for vengeance? Should we not cry, "Lord forgive them for they know not what they do?"

Jesus Christ prayed as his body was beaten. We who eat that body, who are that body, should also long for the redemption of those who persecute us. Even if we call ourselves "Just War" Christians, we should still speak of war as such an atrocity, that the mere word makes us nauseous. But instead it fills my mind with images of grander, courage, strength and conviction.

What have I, dare I say we, become when words of patriotism stir us more deeply than the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
May the Lord have mercy on us for our treason against the Kingdom.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Declaring Jesus: Mark 8:22-26 as the Interpretive Lens for Proclaiming a Messiah

Brandon J. Walsh

Mark 8:22-26

And they went into Bethsaida and they brought to him a blind man and asked that he touch him.
And taking the hand of the blind man he brought him out of the village, and spit into his eyes, put his hands on him and asked him.
“Do you see?” And looking up he said I see humans which are like trees, I see them walking around.
Then again he put his hands upon his eyes and looked intently and was restored to sight and he saw clearly all things.
And he sent him to his house saying : into the city you must not go.
(person translation)


The healings of Jesus have been a cause for hope for many Christians throughout history. The power of God to reach into the hopeless and stir renewal is gripping. In Mark 8:22-26 the reader, or listener, finds an odd account where Jesus seems unable to heal a blind man initially. I will argue that this account foreshadows Peters proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God, and is purposely written to draw attention to itself.

Overview of The Gospel of Mark:
The Gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest written Gospel by the majority of New Testament Scholarship. This is due to its length; theological content and other factors influenced by redaction criticism. While some have postulated that the Gospel of Mark is a rough stringing together of various anonymous oral traditions, the Gospel’s coherent story and layers of potent narrative necessitate literary unity and purpose. The audience of Mark would have been living in a time of bitter persecution and political unrest after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. The Gospel of Mark is written to affirm this community’s faith and reassure them that their sacrifice was in direct continuity with the suffering of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
The basic outline of the Gospel narrative is as follows:
1. The Baptism and Ministry within Galilee. (1:1 – 8:22)
a. Jesus as Prophet/ miracle worker announcing the Kingdom of God.
2. Moving from Miracle Worker to Messiah. ( 8:22- 10:52)
a. Jesus reinterprets the meaning of Messiah and prepares the disciples for the passion. This section is begun and ended by two healings of blind men, including the pericope dealt with in this exegesis.
b. Includes Peters declaration that Jesus is the Christ, predictions of Jesus’ death, as well as healings and the Transfiguration.

3. Ministry and Death of Jesus in Jerusalem (10:53 – 16:8)
a. This includes the Passion, and the culminating declaration that Jesus is the Son of God by a Roman Centurion.
The pericope that this paper exegetes is highly significant within its placement. It is the introduction to the new section, and the precursor to the proclamation of Jesus as Christ by Peter.

This passage is the story of a miracle. Jesus is walking through a town when his disciples bring him a man who is blind, so he takes the man outside of the city and spits into his eye. Jesus then asks the man if he can see. Yet the man sees only in part, he sees men walking around like trees. Jesus then lays his hands on man once again and the blind man is completely healed. Jesus instructs him not to go back into the town.
This pericope is of paramount importance, revealing the social implications of the Kingdom of God, while providing a metaphorical forecast of the events to follow. To understand how this episode functions within the greater narrative world of Mark it must be examined as a unit. It follows, or is rather a derivation from a formula that has been developed in Mark. This formula is what David Rhoads calls a healing “type scene.” This type scene is a formula that is developed throughout a narrative and uses repetition to instill certain character functions. A simplified healing type scene as developed in the Mark’s gospel is as such.
A) Jesus enters a new place (town, region or setting)
B) Jesus is presented a sick/ lame/ demon possessed person and
C) The person is healed by Jesus immediately.
D) Jesus tells those around him to remain silent about his deed.
We see this pattern exemplified in a narrative that closely precedes this healing in chapter 8. Jesus heals a man who is deaf and mostly mute in chapter 7 and this account follows this type scene. Jesus A) goes to the sea (7:31) then B) is presented a deaf man (7:32). C) Jesus heals the man by spitting on his fingers and placing them in the man’s ears (7:33-35) then D) Jesus commands people not to say anything (7:36.) There are several variations on Mark’s basic type scene model, but since this healing account is closest in proximity to the healing account in chapter 8 I will argue that it is the best healing narrative by which to draw contrasts.
The healing, or double healing of the blind man in chapter 8 diverges from this type cast in several ways. Primarily when Jesus attempts to heal the blind man he fails to do so completely at first. Instead Jesus does something uncharacteristic, he asks the man “can you see?” In chapter 7 Jesus simply pronounces the man’s ears to “be opened.” The man recounts a strange mangling of perception where he sees men like trees walking. Jesus then touches the confused man and heals him completely. Then tells him to not go into the city, which could be to keep the healing a secret.
The importance of this pericope’s divergence from the typecast is that it emphasizes its importance.
“ On the one hand the type scene sets up a pattern of repetition for the reader. On the other hand, variation in a type scene introduces new elements into the story.”
These variations in this case become unique entities within the passage, and thus through their apparent discontinuity call for special attention to be paid to this specific text. Yet because it retains its referential structure from this healing type scene it also retains the motifs that accompany this structure; namely the rejection of social cleanliness.
Within second temple Judaism there was an ethic of holiness and cleanliness. This structure was built upon Torah as a defensive mechanism. In exile the Jews experienced what Dr. Steve Dintman calls a crisis of narrative. The Jews thought that God would never let his chosen people be over run by pagans, yet when this occurred they sought after an explanation for their loss. Much of the Deuteronomistic writings in the Old Testament deal with this very question, and conclude that the basis of their exile was due to their cultural assimilation and national impurity. As a result during the second temple period the Pharisees sought to fight defend Israel from impurity and to push the “unclean” elements out from the society. This understanding was only intensified by the onslaught of Hellenism during the inter-testamental period, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes spilt the blood of a pig in the temple.
To understand the healings of Jesus within Mark, including the healing of the blind man in chapter 8, a cursory understanding of cleanliness and purity is necessitated. As previously mentioned the hierarchy and economy of purity was a defensive mechanism devoted to maintaining the holiness of the Temple and the people of God. According to anthropologist Mary Douglas , the Leviticus laws were representations of order versus chaos. The world of God was orderly and those things that broke out of given classifications were impure due to their neglect of “normality.” Pigs were thus unclean because they do not have cloven hooves. In like manner people who were either born with a deformity or sick were deemed sinners, unclean and thus excluded from the framework of Judaism. This is seen in John 9:1 when Jesus encounters another blind man and his disciples ask "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” To have eyes, but not be able to see was a categorical disconnect from society and God. Bodily fluids were also deemed impure when they were out of the body, because they were not in their classified location.
As Jesus touches the lame and sick, he is essentially rejecting the economy of purity set up by the Pharisees. In the case of the blind man in chapter 8 there is a particularly poignant irony in the fact that Jesus actually spits on this man. This misplacement of a bodily fluid would have made the man even more unclean, yet the action is vindicated as the purity system is rejected in these miraculous healings. These miracles in Mark are a major vehicle by which Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God. “Each healing reinforces, enriches, and expands our understanding of the power of the kingdom.”
This passage from Mark 8 maintains this rich proclamation of the Kingdom of God. But unlike the other healings in Mark this particular account is designed to draw attention to itself. If taken out of the co-text and context this pericope is almost humorously strange and it is meant to be.
To interpret this text out of the co-text could be likened to understanding the purpose of a finger without examining the hand and person that it is attached to. This text opens a hinging section of the Gospel, and these notable changes from the type cast are markers for new section.
In the first eight chapters of Mark Jesus is established as a prophet who is proclaiming the Kingdom of God and miracle worker who inaugurates it. Yet this is by no means necessitates the title Messiah. In Mark there is a motif commonly known as the “messianic secret.” Even though Mark lets his readers/ listeners know that Jesus is the “Son of God” in the beginning of chapter one, the characters within the narrative are on a journey of discovering Jesus’ role within the narrative of Israel. As Jesus is healing people throughout the first chapters of Mark he continually tells them to be quiet because the he must first redefine the characteristics of Messiah. As this story is placed directly before Peter’s confession that Jesus is Messiah, this seemingly confusing story of the blind man’s double healing can be viewed as a forecast of what is to come in the next half of Mark’s Gospel.
According to Elizabeth Malbon’s 1993 article, “Mark's Gospel presents its hearer/reader with echoes and foreshadowing -to use both an aural and a visual metaphor…” This passage in Mark 8 provides a subtle microcosm for the hearer for what was about to transpire in the proclamation of Peter.
Jesus asks his disciples who they say that he is, and in what is possibly the most famous line in the Gospel of Mark, Peter replies, “ You are the Christ” (8:29). This moment is a false climax, an incomplete revelatory moment, and is shown as such when Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he must be killed. Just as the blind man sees trees walking around, in his initial “healing” so Peter sees Jesus as the Christ. Labeling Jesus as Messiah without redefining the understanding of who Messiah is as useful as the blind mans warped perception of reality. The Gospel author has made this story stick out so harshly so that it may be used as an interpretive tool for the coming event.
For Mark the death of Jesus is also that which validates his anointing as Messiah. To Peter the Messiah was the one who was going to overthrow Rome, and would take the control by conquest in terms of the already presumed power structure. However, just as Jesus was rejecting the economy of purity within second temple Judaism, so he was also rejecting the power and honor economy within the Roman Empire. The Messianic Secret is not that Jesus is messiah, but rather what Messiah’s role would entail.
The Apostles remain within this state of half vision or misunderstood reality until the end of the Gospel. Joel B. Green states of the disciples that,
“They have continued to operate with an unreconstructed view of the world; that is, they have not yet fully embraced the new view of the world… and the meaning of suffering in relation to God’s redemptive purpose…”
The fullness of sight is only restored by the proclamation of an unlikely person. In Mark 15, as Jesus dies on the Cross, naked and humiliated, the Roman Centurion declares “surely this man was the Son of God” (15:38)
This is the point of full sight. When there is a total recognition of an inverted value system within the Kingdom of God. So much so that the one who is called Son of God, is the one who is most shamed and tortured within the power economy of Rome. The only true understanding of Christ includes, and in fact makes central, the suffering and Crucifixion.
Thus the plurality of the healing account in Mark 8 is made manifest. It serves as a marker to the new section to come, as an announcement of the inclusion of those called unclean. All the while revealing, through its discontinuity to the type scene, a microcosm of how the Messianic Secret is disclosed.
This secret has bloody implications. By the end of this narrative the implication is death, as Jesus has told his disciples: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (8:33-35.) To the earliest Christians this was not a vague platitude for moral rigor, but rather a literal call to destruction. To the persecuted community of Christians in the latter part of the first century, these words would have would have found resonance. After the War with Rome had destroyed the Temple, there was a period of tremendous political unrest. The emperor Nero had ordered for the brutal persecution of Christians in Rome, and the early martyrs such as Polycarp and Theclea had become near bedtime stories for the early church. To the hearers of Mark the Gospel’s call to destruction is seen theologically only insofar as it is denying the power structures of the roman patronage system.
Those encountering the Gospel in the first centuries would have actually have been walking through the understanding Messiah in their own lives. In this context it is not inappropriate to associate the blindness of the man in Mark 8 with that of the first hearer of the Gospel. It would have been an introduction to a new way of understanding messiah, not just to the characters within the narrative, but also to the audience that is following their journey. As they begin to see that Jesus may be messiah, they are shown that they are still blind and must be healed both of their blindness to Jesus’ Identity, as well as their inaccurate presumptions associated with Messiah. When at the end of the Gospel of Mark Mary and her companions flee the empty tomb in fear, they essentially bring the Message of Jesus directly to the audience, who too is running in fear. Yet this fear is subdued in the understanding that in death to this world’s authoritarian structure, there is birth and life into the Kingdom of God.

Canonical Context:
This text does two main things. 1) Affirms the inclusion of the weak into the Kingdom of God via miracle, and 2) alludes to a Cross-centered Messiah and subsequent discipleship. There are many other texts within both the Old Testament and New Testament that perform similar function.
The miracles themselves are echoes or allusions the prophets such as Elijah, Jeremiah and Moses. Graham Stanton asserts that both Mark and Luke make clear allusions to these prophetic traditions by modeling healing accounts after well known miracles performed by the Prophets. A good example of this is found in Luke 4 where Jesus raises the widow’s son back to life, closely paralleling 1 Kings 17:8-24 where Elijah raises the son of a widow.
When the Prophets performed these miracles it was a sign of Gods anointing, but was also a sign for the people of Israel to repent from their sins and turn to God. In like manner the healings of Jesus show both his anointing and are a sign for Israel to repent and turn from the kingdom of this world and accept the Kingdom of God. John also uses these miracles as evidence pointing towards the Kingdom of God, in fact he calls them (σημειον): signs. They lead to faith in Christ and manifest his Glory.
The purpose of this healing in Chapter 8 is also a forecast to a need for real sight, one encompassing a cross centered Messiah. The correlation between Christ’s death and Messianic title are also drawn within the writings of Paul. In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes: “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” This reveals his understanding that the Cross is the cornerstone to Jesus’ title of Christ.

This pericope is designed to stand out by not following Mark’s established type scene. The story of Jesus having to heal a man twice makes the reader inquisitive. When examined carefully this passage illustrates the spiritual significance of the proclamation to come. When Peter declares that Jesus is the “Son of God” he does not fully understand what this entails, just as the blind man is not fully healed when he sees men walking around like trees.
To understand the real meaning of Messiah one must accept the horrible torture and death of Jesus. It is only when the title of Son of God is together with this horrible suffering do we see fully.

I lost the official Bibliography for this work, and footnotes do not work for this setting, but I will provide one by request.

Acts of Theclea -
David Rhoads, “Jesus and the Syrophenician Woman” pp. 69-70.
David Rhoads “Crossing Boundaries,” pp. 154.
Graham Stanton; “Healings and Exorcisms,” 234.
Elizabeth Malbon “Echoes and Foreshadowings in Mark 4-8 Reading and Rereading,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 112, No. 2, (Summer, 1993), pp. 211.

Joel B. Green “Death of Jesus and the Ways of God.”
Robert H. Stein “Studying the Synoptic Gospels Origin and Interpretation,” pp. 141.

Keith F. Nickle “The Synoptic Gospels : An Introduction” pp. 76. Even if Mark were written pre -70 the primary audience would have read this gospel in light of post 70 events.

Learning to Be Faithful: The Church and Paul’s Life-and-Death Gospel

The Following is a Summary of "Paul Among the Postliberals" by Douglas Harink

“In the cosmic war for this new creation, the world created and ordered by the rebellious powers and principalities of “the present age” had to be invaded by the one Creator God of Israel and Reordered to his purposes.”-236

In the introduction to this ambitious and stimulating book, Harink establishes his project as one of theology primarily, though it draws extensively upon the field of Biblical studies. Harink seeks to reinterpret Paul in light of post-liberal and post-modern thinkers such as Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. The book is broken down into five chapters represent a concept or doctrine that Harink finds pivotal to Paul’s theology. Thus each chapter builds towards the fifth which both examines Paul’s cultural setting as well as our own. Harink does this so that Paul’s radical call to be participants in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, standing in the faith of Jesus, might again be taken up and formative for the church.
The first section engages what protestants have deemed the paramount concern of the apostle Paul; Justification. While Harink does not negate the importance of Justification he rejects the fundamental dichotomy presumed by nearly all interpreters after Luther. The Paul of Luther arises, in large part, out of a faulty interpretation of the Greek phrase Pistis Christou. This phrase is within the genitive case, and thus should be translated the Faith of Christ, Yet since Luther, who translated this phrase as Faith in Christ. This difference is the foundation for the misconception Harink approaches, though it is not the sole issue at work within the generally accepted Pauline narrative, which reads Paul as contrasting “works righteousness” with an objective “Faith in Christ.” Thus setting up a primarily anthropocentric (albeit one with a forceful theologic) understanding of Salvation. One must move cognitively toward God and place our Faith in Jesus, who is the Son of God. In this way we are no longer bound to the law, but rather given “grace” to grant us eternity. In this framing, the individual is the one who has the faith (even if it is a gift from God) in order to place that Faith objectively upon Jesus Christ. Rather Harink asserts that the Faith of Christ is rather the faithfulness God works out in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In order to reconfigure Justification, Harink will look to post-liberals Barth, Hauerwas and Yoder.
In Barth’s commentary on Romans Harink sees a more promising evaluation of Pauline justification. Barth writes that “ The faithfulness of God is established when we meet the Christ in Jesus.” So faith is first a move of God, displayed in the obedience of Jesus, even unto the cross and then vindicated in the resurrection. This is apocalyptic, an action that is decisive. It “dissolves the world” and at the same time constitutes the New Creation that God inaugurates in the resurrection of Christ. Yet it is not only the faithfulness of Jesus, “Jesus Christ becomes also the pattern of human faithfulness…” It is thus the movement toward the imitation of Christ. “In effect, Barth’s entire doctrine of reconciliation is an exposition of the meaning of the Pauline phrases in Christ and In the Holy Spirit.”
Next Harink turns to Yoder, who reads Paul’s Justification as one element of a thoroughly sociopolitical gospel. The classic protestant reading of Paul is as “legal fiction” where God declares one righteous (imputed.) Yoder forces us to see that the “immediate” effect of Justification is not the righteous individual, but rather the ekklhsia. Harink finishes this chapter on Justification by engaging Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas brakes down the barrier between works and faith, by tearing down the barrier between doctrine and ethics. Indeed the protestant reformation has created a false dichotomy between works and faith. This initial chapter paves the way for the subsequent chapters challenging the church to reject a Paul of the individual, and recover a Paul, which calls us to the faithfulness of Jesus that will justify the nations.
Subsequently we see the nature of the church, as an apocalyptic polity, emerge. Harink begins with Hauerwas who reminds us that “we are in a life-and-death struggle with the world.” It is this struggle, namely today with liberal democracy that this chapter reads side by side with Galatians. The “Apocalypse” or “revelation” is Jesus Christ, who through faithful death and resurrection shows us the world as it truly is, “there is no reality that transcends the reality of Jesus Christ.” In Galatians we see this apocalyptic message “ The whole point of Paul’s Letter is to expose in the light of God’s apocalypse of Jesus Christ that this other gospel is false and as such stands under God’s judgment.” Paul is focused on Christ, who reconstructs all reality. In the same way Hauerwas asserts that the narrative of the liberal democratic nation can subtly imperialize the Church (by putting it in an antiseptic vacuum) and triumph over it. The answer to this is the apocalyptic reality of Jesus Christ.
As we are now constituted by the ultimate reality of Jesus Christ, the Church must be engaged as a new polity. This is the reading of John Howard Yoder; Harink explores, test and ultimately promotes this reading of Paul. The Church becomes the christocentric witness of a people who are called out to live lives counter to the power structures of the world. It is this existence in the world, and yet lives constituted by different practices such as Eucharist, which is “ economic sharing” that cement the political nature of Paul’s message. This is seen in texts such as Romans 12-13 which “begins a call to nonconformity. ” Harink explores the validity of the churches non-assimilation, questioning the typesets that are adopted from the outer culture before affirming that these texts (Paul) are indeed unique. Even in “oppressive” socio-economic climates the church can witness to the transforming reality of Jesus Christ by standing in continuity with Christ’s “revolutionary subordination” to the powers.
As this recovery of Paul solidifies the Church as a political people, there is also a movement to regain the irrevocable election of Israel. Harink does this by the extensive critique of N.T Wright, who represents a supersessionist opinion. This is the understanding that Israel essentially failed their mission to witness to the nations, and in the Church has been superseded. This stands against the apocalyptic reading of Paul previously established. Wright, guilty of much according to Harink , paints Israel as fundamentally eschewed by their ethnocentrism. By contrast Yoder see’s the election and narrative of Israel as the model for how the Church may be sustained within the world. It thus becomes a “positive model for the Church’s own faithfulness.” By reading this in a new way, Harink also fundamentally challenges the false dichotomy between “works righteousness” and “justification by faith.” He concludes by affirming that Paul supports the irrevocable election of Israel and through Jesus Christ, the Church.
After the foundations for the recovery of a Paul’s apocalyptic, political gospel have been laid, Harink looks to engage our own cultural context. He does this by paralleling Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. This is especially applicable because of the radically pluralistic worship setting of Corinth and the formation that Paul sought for them, in order that they constitute a faithful witness. Paul did this by announcing the invasion of God into the world, and the release that God offers to those who are bound and held captive by the hallow idols of this world. It is only accomplished through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, who conquers all through his death and resurrection. This is a “new cultural reality.” This was the message that could bind the people of Corinth together as a political refutation of the powers of this world, and it is the message, which Harink proposes can teach us to be faithful at the end of modernity and Christendom. This means an engagement with the other that values their particularity while longing for the other to have fellowship with the Church in the fullness of reality: Jesus Christ. Thus the focus of Paul is not on human experience, but upon the power of God, through the Holy Spirit to elect a people who live according to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Lamb:The Dragon: and the One Who Is

The following draws HIGHLY upon the lectures of Dr. John Wesley Wright- Point Loma Nazarene University Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures.

“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” –Genesis 3:4 (NASB)

The Apocalypse is the completion to a story that begins in the first chapters of Genesis. It is the story of what God is and what Worship is; recognizing God as the Creator, not the created. The book of Revelation is operating on two levels, the first is on the level of surface narrative and the second is a deeper narrative structure that encapsulates the whole of the Christian scriptures. This deep structure, or fibula, is expressed as the repetition of Human idolatry and God’s Judgment, from the suffering saints to righteous vindication.
Genesis sets forth an image of God creating, speaking things into existence from nothingness. It was a story that called the people of Moses to turn from Baal and false idols of stone and worship the one true God as Creator. In Genesis chapter three the serpent tempts Eve with idolatry, she is tempted to be “like God.” It is this sin, idolatry, which is brought to an end in Revelation.
The Apocalypse is a story told so that it’s hearers may be blessed, because it reveals the way that the world really is, it shows that the worship of the power of the beast, of nothingness, is only a parody of the one who sits on the thrown, and the one who was and is and is to come will bring creation to it’s proper telos.
The narrative of Revelation is not dictated by chronology, but rather upon recapitulating tensive symbols. These symbols do not have a one to one correlation with and singular historical event or place, but rather are continually embodied in various ways in history. In the text these various symbols show their polyvalence and are interpreted within the webs of other symbols.
This narrative recapitulation is also present in Genesis. In Genesis one there is an account of creation, God speaking things into existence. Then in Genesis chapter 2 the story goes back to the beginning and tells the same account differently. The underpinnings of the story are the same, the primary actor is God, who creates the heavens and the earth, where humans and creatures are, then the story progresses from union with God, to Adam and Eve’s Idolatry. These narrative elements are presupposed within the text of the Apocalypse, along with the present suffering of the saints and most importantly the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The text is thus drawing upon the images in each of these of these other narratives in order to “reveal” the way that the world really is.
The Apocalypse begins by setting the locations of the story about to be unfolded, but also the timeframe it will take place in. A vision is given to John , into heaven and earth, during the time that God IS. The span of the Story is over God who was, and is and is to come; God thus is the timeframe of the narrative. This marks the Theocentric nature of the story, God is not at all a part of creation because God is defined by God’s ongoing action and existence. This again sets God apart from the creation that is idolized. The strong distinction made in the Apocalypse between the Saints and the world, is that though they are both creation the suffering saints worship the living God, through the living person of Jesus Christ. The text persistently forces the reader to identify with those who are suffering.
In the first four chapters the Story is set up, John is given this vision from God, Spoken through Jesus Christ and delivered by the Angel to the messenger, John. The lampstands are the seven spirits of God and when John turns towards them he falls down dead. The voice he hears is the voice of Jesus, the one who was once dead, but now is living because God in Jesus overcame death. John is now participating in that death, and will be resurrected in chapter four. This marks the story, which is repeated over and over again in the story. John is then given the role of writing down the message of the one speaking, to the churches. These images, including the “tree of life” show the continuity of this story with the story of Genesis. These letters show that the economy of the world, the power structures it sets up are predicated upon the worship of creation, thus those who follow Jesus are given over to suffering. Those who hear the text are blessed to know that the final victory of God in Christ will be for those who suffer in this present age. In Chapter 4 John is Resurrected and brought up into heaven where he witnesses the throne room of God, the one who was and is and is to come. There is eternal worship of God, and the one on the throne is motionless, and holding a scroll. The deep structure is the right direction of the creaturely worship, toward the one who sits on the throne.
In chapter 5 the images are intensified. John weeps at the question “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John has more revealed to him as he is weeping; at the throne is a lamb and the lamb is able to open the scroll because he was slain.
Here the images shift and the story is told again differently. Now the seven spirits are now the seven horns and eyes of the lamb. The lamb now opens the first four seals and they are the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Each horseman is the same person, from a different angle. The one who comes to conquer on the white horse brings war, famine disease and death. Each one of these horsemen are parodies of the creatures around the throne, and the seals are things which are revealed in the world. The fifth seal allows John to seal the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, which were under the altar. These are those who suffer from the conquest of the four horsemen and they cry out “how long oh Lord.” They are the fire under the altar to cook the sacrifice, when they are clothed in white it shows the contrast between them and the first white horseman. The next section again echoes back to Genesis, it marks the rolling up of creation. Now all those in power are the ones hiding,( like the ones under the altar) crying out “the attack of the killer slain lamb!” The irony here is palpable as John is revealing the way that the world really is, begging to be killed and hidden from a bloody dead lamb.
The inverse of these who are crying out for death, are those who are marked for salvation; Twelve twelve’s of God’s chosen people in white robes who have been made clean by the blood of the lamb. Again irony is present; the white robes are cleaned in red blood. After the final seventh seal is opened there is silence, rest that harkens back the seventh day of creation.
After this the symbols are again made over and the same story is replayed. Instead of seven seals there are now seven trumpets. An angel takes the prayers of God’s people from under the altar and hurled it to earth and there is thunder and lightning, audible responses to the prayers. The first four trumpets are not unlike the four horsemen; they bring destruction while again using imagery from genesis to describe the present suffering of the saints. The fifth angel sounded the trumpet and opened the abyss and gave the key to a fallen star (a part of creation.) The smoke that is rising out of the abyss is to be contrasted by the incents and flames coming from the altar of God. The incenses are the worship of the saints, while the smoke is the product of false worship, of idolatry. All of the coming violence comes out of this smoke. The one who is the ruler of the Abyss is a parody of the one on the throne, rather than ruling everything he rules, literally, nothingness, the nothingness from before creation.
The first to come out of this false worship are the locusts, they are a dreadful compellation of non-sense. The imagery is awkward and silly, first they locusts are like scorpion that sting, then they are flying miniature horses. The sixth trumpet is the destruction of a third of the worlds people, this connects back to the previous image of the mountain falling into the sea. Then horsemen come from the abyss, but these are the same as the locusts. After all of this the idolatry continues. In Chapter 10 the angel that comes down holding the scroll is Jesus, holding the scroll that was opened by the lamb earlier. The book is sweet to because it is the answer to those crying out from under the altar, but also bitter because it will bring judgment.
The seventh trumpet is the culmination of all that has come before, the kingdom of the world has now become one with the kingdom of God. The one sitting on the throne is “ the one who is and who was.” The absence of “and will be” means that we have come to the end of the story, and the coming symbols will again go back and retell the story of idolatry and of death and resurrection.
Chapter 12 opens in heaven and begins a new recapitulation. Here is the first time that we see the two signs. The first is a woman who is about to give birth, representing Hope and life, the other is a great red Dragon, which represents death and destruction. Here the Dragon is waiting to devour the hope which is about to be brought into the world, yet in a comedic failure the Dragon is not only unable to devour the child who is scooped up into the throne, but not even able to devour the mother before being cast down to earth and into the sea, again echoing creation. The Dragon now brings the conflict to earth and pukes all over the earth. The Dragon goes to make war against the church, the children of the woman (Mary.) In Chapter 13 the parody of God becomes more pronounced in the Beast. The Dragon gives over all its authority to the Beast, but that is absolutely nothing, there is no authority to give. Just as the Dragon is a parody of the one who sits on the throne and gives all authority to the lamb, the Dragon gives over the false authority to the Beast. The following imagery is an intense culmination of identification. Does the reader identify with the followers of the Beast, who is a parody of the lamb, with blasphemous names and 666 the symbol of false perfection, or with the followers of the lamb whose blood the whore of Babylon is drunk with? This is the idolatry that was the focus of Genesis and is now brought to full contrast in the end of revelation.
As the whore of Babylon is riding, adorned with jewels and Gold and beckoning the kings of the earth into her infidelity we not only see Rome, but all those powers that have been and will be engaged in the world’s idolatrous worship. Weather it is now or during second temple Judaism the fundamental distinction between worshiping God, and worshiping the created remains the same. At the end of the Apocalyptic narrative the final judgment comes, The one who sits on the throne Establishes the New Heaven and New Earth and the kosmos is set back into the fullness of correct worship.
Each of these sections have told the same story using varied symbols, each of them showing the movement from Idolatry and the present suffering of the saints, to the judgment of God and the restoration of creation. This narrative presupposes all that came before it, especially Genesis 1-3, using it to mirror images and draw the scope of the biblical story into the conclusion which is Jesus Christ, The Revelation.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Story of God : An Evangelical Apologetic for Process Theology

The following is a summary of "The Story of God" by Michael Lodahl the professor
who is overseeing my honors project. He and I do not see eye to eye a variety of Issues, however I do agree with him on many others and regardless of the tone of this paper I wish to emphasize my great respect for him.

“We are construction workers and not only interpreters of [God’s] future.”
-Jurgen Moltmann

In the Story of God, Michael Lodahl seeks to introduce Christian theology by setting it within the context of the biblical narrative; he draws his reader not only into a better appreciation of theology, but into the very story about which he is writing. He sets out to do this in such a way that those who are not professional theologians can access it and to does so with special emphasis up the Wesleyan –Armenian tradition.
The book holds in tension the two streams from which it feeds; the narrative of the bible, as well as doctrines that are extrapolated from this narrative. Thus Lodahl is able to explicate how the narrative informs doctrine and conversely how doctrine shapes the way we approach the story that we are called up into as participants. The book espouses a theology that holds human agency at its center.
The book itself is divided into seven different parts. These parts reflect a movement through the protestant canon as well as an important doctrine related to each part of the story, for example, part IV is titled “The Jewish People in God’s Story: The Doctrine of Covenants.” This shows us the place in the story, then the doctrine that accompanies this piece of the narrative.
The book depicts God interacting with creation by relationship. God is not just the author but also the main character within the story itself. It also places humanity within the story, not just as ones acted upon but also as ones who can act. God is most certainly the leader, but we have a say. This is a central argument of the book, and one that influences many of the interpretive moves Lodahl makes. He states “God is not bound like a slave to some predetermined master plan…our Redeemer can repent or turn from one plan of action to another if the humanly created situation dictates it.” Chapter eight is titled “ Human ‘Response-ability’ and sin,” this is a perfect example of how Lodahl is “telling God’s story” with special attention to humanity’s ability to respond and change the story. In fact human agency is what necessitates the formation of Lodahl’s process theology in response to Theodicy.
The first part of the book deals with the “How God’s Story Gets Told.” There are four chapters in this part, each of them corresponding to one element of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Lodahl begins talking about Scripture by tying together history and story, saying that “the biblical faith is rooted in historical events…” this is important to Lodahl because God is at work for our salvation in the very history of our planet, it is again this setup that allows most fully for human agency. This historically rooted biblical faith is concrete in the people of Israel, and in the person of Jesus Christ as found in inspired (pnuema breathed) scripture.
Chapter two is about tradition. Lodahl says that “Tradition is not only something we inherit, as a body of historically accumulated interpretation of scripture, but also something we may contribute to…” Lodahl describes the Wesleyan tradition that informs this book as being interested in Christian perfection. He asserts that Wesley’s understanding of holiness encourages ecumenicalism, a universal attitude toward other Christian traditions.
Chapters 3 and 4 describe the next two sides of the quadrilateral; reason and experience. Lodahl first outlines the various arguments for the existence of God, from the cosmological argument to Anselm’s ontological argument. He explains that none of these things give absolute proof for God, but rather give a “measure of support or justification to those who are already believers.” The fourth chapter explores experience, extremely important to how Lodahl explains our relationship with God. He recounts the story of John Wesley at Aldersgate, when his heart was warmed and he was given assurance of his salvation. From this Lodahl says that experiencing God is a “deep and decisive giving of ourselves to God.” By the Holy Spirit that was in Jesus works to draw us into God’s story. This leads to ”certain attentiveness to lived experience, a true openness to learning in and from the world around us.”
The second part of the book begins Lodahl’s project of working through the biblical narrative. Here Lodahl tells the story of God’s creation, but also uses this story to unpack various doctrines that are incorporated in and tied to creation. Lodahl’s process theology, though thinly veiled, is apparent from the start, when he suggests that a more well rounded way to approach the creation story is as “creatio ex amore” as opposed ex nihilo. It is out of love that God creates, an interpretive move spurred on by Theodicy. Human agency is the answer to theodicy, and Lodahl describes the human divine power interaction as such: “then the Creator truly is love, and divine power is not a ruling fist but an open, bleeding hand. “ This divine gift of agency is granted to humanity, being made in God’s image and thus we are sustained in order that we may make and be accountable for these decisions. It is only within this framework that there is an ability “to love.”
Part three engages the tragedy of God’s story: sin. Lodahl examines the consequences of our disobedience to a “loving seeking God.” This sin is the inevitable consequence of human agency. Lodahl shows how the shift of worship from Creator to creature infests our webs of relationships, and leads to a denial of responsibility. In this part Lodahl not only re-affirms human response-ability, but also describes God’s role in this story, as a “lead character” not merely the author. It is because of this role that God limits his own power and knowledge in order to allow for us to take action. He concludes by quoting Frederick Sontag; “His power is fully adequate to sustain himself against uncertainty.”
In the fourth part Lodahl describes God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. It is one of “human rebellion and divine redemption.” In looking at the story of Israel, he also gives a glimpse of Israel’s God. Lodahl uses images of God changing God’s mind, asking questions and even repenting as a way of showing the apparent discontinuity between the biblical narrative and the classical metaphysical characteristics commonly associated with God. This frames God, not as a distant deity but rather as a passionate and persistent God of relation and of Grace. The Covenants represent that love and Grace for creation. Through Noah, Abraham, Moses and David God is working to bring the people of Israel back to faithfulness. God sets them apart, takes them out of Egypt, and relents to allowing them a King. Through each of these we see God’s willingness to change coarse and “repent.” This again gives credence to the agency of humanity, that we humans participate in a give and take relationship with God. Abraham was called upon to pick up and move towards the future on nothing but the promise of God. This displays a God to which the future is unknown, but even “without a map” we are to trust God on the basis of our relationship and God’s promise. The prophets are ones who speak the truth of God’s desire for participation and faithfulness among God’s people.
In the fifth section Lodahl explains the great “twist” of plot in God’s story, the Person of Jesus Christ, who lives out the story of Israel. In this section Lodahl works through the paradoxes of Jesus Christ: Christ’s humanity and Christ’s divinity, the crucifixion and the resurrection. It is apparent that Lodahl sees it fitting to emphasize the humanity of Jesus Christ, even in the section on his divinity. It could only be for love that God would take on the fleshliness of incarnation, birth, baptism, and death that we may know and enter into relationship with him through the human being, Jesus Christ. Yet “in order to be our redeemer at all” Jesus Christ must also be God; a God that Gregory of Nazianzus describes as “assuming” all aspects of humanity in order that they might be healed. Lodahl places the chapter on Christ’s resurrection before the section pertaining to Christ’s crucifixion. He does so in order to highlight that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning, the founding event of Christ’s Church. In the following chapter concerning crucifixion Lodahl outlines the various atonement theories, from penal theory to Gustav Aulén’s Christus Victor. Each of these seeks to explain the central belief that by Jesus death we are healed.
The sixth part of the Story of God pertains to the Church, the ones called out. Lodahl shows how we are communally sustained in our relationship of grace with God. He opens with the Church’s birthday; Pentecost. The Pentecost event represents an un-doing of Babel. Where humanity was once scattered and torn apart, the Spirit intercedes and binds us into God’s church. In Christ ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries are overcome. , Lodahl explains the doctrine of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, as well as the Trinitarian worship. Keeping with his overall emphasis on human response, he explains that the sacraments are ways that God “gets in touch” with us physically. In taking the sacraments, we can be physically brought up into the story. We are initiated into the Kingdom by baptism and sustained Eucharist. These are the central images of the church to proclaim that salvation is found it Jesus. Lodahl describes various ways the church has seen our reconciliation to Christ, in the end he states that the human response to divine grace should never make us forget we do not save ourselves. In this recognition, we can be sanctified as the people of God. As we live out our calling we are able to move past theoretical debates and distinctions and move towards a Gospel that reaches into our lives to challenge us.
The last part of Lodahl’s book is about eschatology. Here we see Lodahl’s process theology most acutely represented. Lodahl explains the two connotations of the Greek word telos. The first meaning is “the end;” the point of finality, the buzzer at a basketball game. Lodahl acknowledges this, citing Heb. 1:10-12, but Lodahl is more compelled to speak of telos in terms of God’s goal. It makes sense that Lodahl would be drawn to this vision, the future is not yet written, but God can have a vision or a goal for the undisclosed future we are making with God. Lodahl states that “eschatology is not simply about what we are waiting for God to do; eschatology is about the divine vision…which is, at least to some extent, entrusted to us.” Lodahl writes also of divine judgment through this lens of human agency, that we each must be able to give an account of our lives. God is a just judge, who remembers that we are but dust and commits judgment into the hands of Jesus. Lodahl also maintains the Wesleyan conviction that each will be judged according to the light given to them.
The Story of God is a defense of Process theology from a biblically based Wesleyan perspective. Lodahl’s theological persuasion can be summed up in his own words: “ Even more important to God than our salvation is our moral agency…” The Story of God works through the narrative of the Bible, using that moral agency as its lens, and the culmination of this project is a theology of participation.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Michael Scott; A Horrible Player: The Office Through the Lens of Wittgenstein

The show is an artful composition of awkwardness, each line vacant of a laugh track drips with irony and embarrassment. NBC’s The Office is a comic portrayal of how language plays its part in society, bringing the audience into moments of pure, unadulterated tension and keeping them there. In order to create this tension they write characters that are totally incapable of assimilating into generally accepted socio-linguistic patterns. In the later works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, he shatters his previous assertion that meaning is reference. Instead, the Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations claims that meaning is use. This essay will argue that the reason Michael Scott and the rest of the cast of The Office is awkward is due to their inability to properly participate in the language games that make up “proper behavior.” In their breaking of these systems the audience deems “normal” or “common sense” the show creates hilarity. Thus it is necessary to explore the components of language that give it meaning within the late Wittgensteinian framework.
In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein lays out a new way to understand meaning distinct from his previous ideas in the Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus. In this earlier work Wittgenstein describes philosophy as elucidation. In a manner, he is building a bridge with language to what is real, or true. This takes the form of his logical atomism by using the idealized language. From this, what we can say we can say clearly; what we can’t say we show- namely the relation between things. It is this seeking of the discrete that pares language down to a one to one relation between the reference and its corresponding label. Quine calls this one to one relation the “Myth of the Museum.” It describes an exhibit that is labeled by a plaque or sign. In this “myth” the entire meaning of a word on the sign corresponds to the reference, that which is being exhibited.
Learning a language then is the matching of objects with the assigned, static word, which denotes that object. This process could be done with through ostension, a wonderful example of this is a flash card. The picture portrays the object or action which is labeled by the word on the other side of the card. The learner thus connects the image with the word.
If meaning is thus affixed, the clarity of language should be achievable. Words will set out certain relations between proposition that make up the complexities of the world, and because those words are of a concrete nature both parties who speak that language will therefore be capable of comprehending those complexities. This, however, is not the case and The Office is a prime example of the critique Wittgenstein has of his own earlier framework.
Michael Scott is the epicenter of the drama in the show because he tries to say things (and subsequently do things) that are beyond his comprehension. Even in situations where he is able to decipher the dictionary definitions, he is often unable to understand the specific utilization of those words as they are being used within the particular context. Nuances are lost to him because words do not have a one to one concrete correlation, but as Wittgenstein describes in Philosophical Investigations, are parts of webs of relation that construct meaning via use. Wittgenstein asserts, “One will point to places and things- but in this case the pointing occurs in the use of the words too and not merely in learning the use.“
Wittgenstein explains that language acts as webs and systems of tensive symbols, each use set within the context of each other use. These are called language games and each one of these different games are not set apart by distinctly articulated rules, but rather are held in cohesion with rules that are ambiguous and yet intuited. Wittgenstein describes the rules of these games as follows: “ But we say that it is played according to such and such rules because an observer can read these off from the practice of the game- like a natural law governing the play.” In order to find the meaning then, it is necessary to find its use, not its flashcard. One does this by entering into the game and watching those who play by its “rules.” If one were to watch a game of women’s Lacrosse, it is clear that there are a great number of rules, which are enforced. Seemingly every two minutes a whistle blows and the field resets, the girls get into a different formation and the game starts back up again. It would not be simple to learn the rules of Lacrosse simply by being told them. Once one watches for long enough the game starts to look familiar and one can start to recognize movements against the common flow and layout of the play. This is precisely how one is able to learn language, “Don’t think, but look!” Language however does not have a referee that runs out and blows a whistle (even if grammar wishes to do so.) It is not the whistle that then signifies a miscalculated throw, or a misused word. “ But then the use of a word is unregulated, the ‘game’ we play with it is unregulated- it is not everywhere circumscribed by rules…” Wittgenstein also talks about these language games in terms of a picture that is blurred. Even in such a photo the shape and form of the person is apparent. He asks, “Is it even always an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a sharp one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need?” Not only is the indistinctness of language game parameters apparent, it is necessary in order to provide a language, which can contain the possibility of communication. The various nuances of language are given to us by the various uses of words, not by their fixedness but rather by their mobility.
The Office uses the indistinctness of language to provide a backdrop for humor. The show presupposes the initiation of its audience into certain language games that make up our societal norms. This includes how words are used in certain contexts, and what words, phrases or intonation are inappropriate in a given situation. The audience was rarely given the “rules” to these language games, but have almost by happenstance, been thrust into playing them. After a period of time it becomes so natural that the game is essentially invisible, until someone exhibits a behavior that cuts against the grain of these systems. Wittgenstein points us to the “behavior characteristic of correcting a slip of the tongue. It would be possible to recognize that someone was doing so even without knowing his language.” It is also possible to know that someone ought to be correcting a slip of the tongue, but the characters in The Office do not even know that they have violated anything. The audience is thus left squirming, not for a distinct reason, but rather for an indistinct violation of the intuition. It is not unlike watching a horrible game of soccer played by five year olds. It is clear that the kids who are scrambling about aimlessly are not fully able to participate in that thing we call soccer, and humor arises from this parody of what a match should look like. When I was playing on a local recreational league team in first grade I saw the kid with the ball and full on tackled him. My father had to pull me aside and persuade me that this particular game did not allow for my rather narrow skill set. The problem with Michael Scott is that he is 40 years old and has lost the cuteness factor of the above-mentioned five year olds. Subsequently we laugh at him because he is pitiful and ridiculous.
Setting the show within an office extenuates the audacity of these misuses because language games of the work place require “professionalism.” This professionalism presupposes a certain vocabulary, thus when Michael calls things “gay” he gets himself into problems with the company. Oscar is actually a homosexual and is thus rightfully offended by Michael’s inability to discern how to use language within this professional context. In order to fix the problem Michael forces Oscar to “come out” publically. This results in Oscar calling Michael “Ignorant, insulting and small.” While Michael may be all of these things this situation is brought to a head because Michael is inept at seeing how the language game functions, he does not see the contour of the blurry person, he sees a radically different shape, or what is more likely, is that he is playing an entirely different game all together.
Another example of how Michael Scott is unable to differentiate between language games is in the episode titled “Back from Vacation.” In it Michael gets back from a trip to Sandals, Jamaica, where he learned several phrases and behaviors that he wants to bring back to the office. Here it is appropriate to cite Wittgenstein proposing “Of course, what confuses us is the uniform appearance of words when we hear them spoken or meet them in script and print. For their application is not present to us so clearly.” While here Wittgenstein is speaking about the uniform appearance of a word, it is equally possible to talk about the uniform sound of a word. Even if two people pronounce a word the same way that does not mean that within each other’s language game the word means the same thing. This is precisely Michael’s problem; he tries to get the entire office to say “HEEY MAUN” While this was a word that made overweight and sunburned American tourists happy while on vacation, it is not something that makes sense to say within the context of a work environment. Michael also uses the phrase “island living” while bundled up and shivering in his parking lot in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Michael is here trying to transport meaning as if it was static, but the audience can see that he is mistaken.
While Michael Scott is predominantly the source of comedy because of his inability to play language games there are also moments where Michael starts to make sense. Almost seamlessly Michael will move from being incompetent and embarrassing to being a skilled salesman. This is because sales, and some other skills, are actually games that Michael knows how to play. In one episode Michael takes a client out to dinner, while most of the experience is almost painful to watch, when it comes to the actually sales part of the meeting, he comes roaring to life with tremendous skill. This simply highlights that Michael is not just bad at most socio-normative language games, but is good at games that are foreign and more obscure.
Many of the other characters in The Office are unable to participate in the language game of the audience. In fact the only two who are exceptionally skilled at playing the language games are Jim and Pam, who bait the others into saying and doing things that are obviously ridiculous. This comedy of errors is not unlike the Three Stooges; only instead of physical stupidity, there it is a comedy of verbal errors.
The framework that Ludwig Wittgenstein sets up for understanding meaning as use gives us a lens to see our world differently. Rather than a language that is constrained to a direction denotation of reference we are given a complex web of relations that allows for rich webs of meaning. In The Office, we have seen how these language games are played and governed by “natural laws” that make the audience aware that Michael Scott is unable to participate in these patterns correctly. In describing the show one might describe being anxious or fidgety, these are also symptoms of our own language games regulating what we see as “fair play.” While The Office is seemingly void of academic complexities, it displays a comedy of linguistic miscalculation that might have even made Wittgenstein himself chuckle.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Saving and Hoarding...

If one were to take every instance where the Bible speaks about money and cut it out, the book would be in tatters. Over and over again Christ calls us into the riches of Grace, but in following Jesus we must also remember his words, that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. In the Gospel of Mark, Peter proclaims Jesus as the “Messiah.” Here the readers heart leaps, finally, someone gets it! But Jesus, rather than commending Peter, gruffly tells him to shut up.
Peter in this passage envisions the messiah as a warrior, a conqueror. It is like Peter is telling Jesus, “You are the one who is going to beat up Rome!” Yet this is not the nature of Jesus’s ministry; he does not come to conquer by killing, but rather by being killed. The next time that Jesus is called “Son of God” it is by a Roman centurion. In Mark it is not in the power of Jesus that we declare him Lord, but rather in the brokenness that he was willing to consume for our sake.
We as Christ’s church must not forget that it is not in Strength, power, and influence that we find the heart of God, but in those who this world forgets. If we find our end in the security of power and money in this world, than we are declaring Jesus wrongly, just as Peter did. If, however, we see money as a means by which we can give up all the power and glory the world offers, walking humbly, doing justice and loving mercy, then we find our end in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
When we store up money in order to feel powerful and safe, we hoard. If we put money aside so that we may better serve Jesus Christ, recognizing that all we are and have belongs to him, then we are saving. Drawing black and white lines about how much is too much is not doing it justice. There are poor who hoard and rich who save, but as the privileged we must remember how much more susceptible we are to find security in these things. For those who are poor and neglected there is no façade of protection. The danger for us, who have been blessed abundantly, is that we can tend to have false confidence in our own abilities.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Regaining The Inner-Worldliness of Being

In “Six Characters in Search for an Author” Luigi Pirandello writes a play within play. It opens on a frustrated manager who is attempting explain a script by “Pirandello.” Each of the actors complains about the esoteric nature of the script. While the play is strange it is also exceedingly humorous because Pirandello creates awkward moments where he writes critical things about himself. The awkwardness is felt by the reader or hearer due to the meshing of two worlds, the world of the play and the world of the author himself. Though there is no rule about the bifurcation of these two worlds it has become an assumption that they should not interact. This is the project of Martin Heidegger in “Being and Time;” making visible an assumption, which in the apex of modernity has been made invisible, namely that Da-sein exists within the world and is thus is not radically separated from it ontologically. Just as Pirandello through his play highlights the author- character distinction, Heidegger deconstructs the subject object distinction inherent within modern thought.
“Being and Time” seeks to recover the essence of Being, a quest to venture backward through time in order to recover a question asked by Plato and then forgotten. Not unlike a Platonic dialogue Heidegger uses words to grapple and play with the reader so that he or she loses the veneer of confidence in their objectivity.
In this essay I will hone in on a section where Heidegger deals with the father of modernity (Descartes). In this section Heidegger addresses the fundamental separation Descartes establishes between the subject and the object. Heidegger then relocates the vantage point from which Da-sein encounters the phenomenological.
Heidegger asserts that “One look at traditional ontology show us that one skips over the phenomenon of worldliness when one fails to see the constitution of Da-sein of being-in-the-world.” It is important to highlight the being of the world.
Descartes sees the world by extensio, and by this extension fundamentally spatial. The nature of the world is thus based upon the description of the multiplicity of things variant extensions. These things are objectively present, they have depth and length and “corporal substance we call the “world.” Thus Descartes view of the world predicates an assumed notion about it’s being, namely that it is inaccessible. To say that the world is round, or blue or any other adjective is to presuppose its existence. Thus being is attributed to the world and the description becomes that thing which is sought after. Kant who parrots Descartes says, “‘Being’ itself does not ‘affect’ us, therefore it cannot be perceived. Being is not a real predicate.” Thus Descartes completely avoids the problem of being, sidestepping it and attempting to express being in terms of “definite qualities of the beings in question.”
By establishing the search for being as impossible Descartes cements the distinction between the subjective being and the object it encounters. Because the void is mammoth we cannot do anything but look across this canyon and categorize those attributes, which are the expressions of being. The being who looks across this infinite distinction is thus not in the world at all, not a part of it but is objectively present and at the same time objectively distant from its existence.
To Descartes the world is like a play that the audience looks upon in total discontinuity. The actors play out the scene upon the stage, mere feet away, and yet those attending are not at all participants merely onlookers. They experience the play by their observations of its movements from this fixed vantage point. The audience member thus stretches out with their senses and mind in order to take the attributes and motions and sounds and order them cohesively. The narrative must be assembled from what is observed.
Descartes assumes this about the world’s being. It is this separation that is intrinsic within modernity. The concept of objectivity, mental displacement in order to more accurately measure variants, is most poignantly present within “Meditations.” Here Descartes supposes that to be most “objective” is to leave the trappings of ones body and operate by the purely logical, accepting only that which is indubitable. Here Descartes finds what is real by creating space between him and those things that he measures and observes. The underlying presupposition is identical to that which Heidegger destructures by recovering the inner-worldliness of Da-sein.
This assumption made by Descartes has been engrained within the fabric of modernity, and as this fabric unrolls the threads of this subject-object distinction become nothing but the way the world is by nature. Heidegger asserts “the problem [is that]…traditional ontology is at a dead end, if it sees it as a problem at all.” Descartes has been so persuasive and pragmatically significant that his ideas that were once revolutionary are merely societal assumptions. Those who attend a play do not wonder why they are not allowed on stage, it is simply a convention that seems normal and pragmatic.
Heidegger thus makes the assumption, that being is inaccessible, apparent and asks the question of being anew. He is concerned with the being of Da-sein as not merely an objective presence within the world, but rather as having existence in the world. It is not that Da-sein has a place statically appointed within the theater, but that it exists in the theater, as do the actors on stage.
Heidegger is that audience member who realizes that the discontinuity between the actors and the audience is artificially imposed. There is no physical wall between the stage and the seating only that wall which is presumed by a notion of proactive mental engagement. The play is not mere sense datum that is collected, ordered and categorized by the active working of the autonomous mind. Rather the actors and the audience are both within the theater; they are not radically distant but radically contingent.
Da-sein is that being which finds itself existent within the world and thus is able to passively receive the phenomenological. “The being that Descartes is trying to grasp…with the extensio, is rather of such a nature that can be initially discovered only through an inner-worldly being initially at hand.” While Descartes finds himself unable to access the being of the world, which is phenomenological, it is due to the fact that one only finds existence when one exists within the world initially. The question of being then can, and must be asked, and approached, not as chaos to be made sense of but rather as a story that one is taken up into.
Heidegger is able then to ask the question of things essential “thingliness.” It is not a question of its outward appearance, these are pre-phenomenological questions, but rather by the contingency of Da-sein to the things being Da-sein witnesses that which the thing reveals. It is a passive act of receiving revelation.
“In its familiarity with significance Da-sein is the ontic condition of the possibility of the disclosure of beings encountered in the mode of being of relevance (handiness) in a world that can thus make themselves known in their in-itself.”
Heidegger is thus saying that ones proximity to those things which one is inquiring is not a strike against objectivity, but is rather the very thing which enables Da-sein to encounter what Descartes deems impossible; being.
Descartes view of accuracy and precision is derived from the notion of space, of distance. In order to see objectively we must separate out mind from our bodies, and our being from the world, which is infinitely distant. In affirming the inner-worldliness of Da-sein being, Heidegger is critiquing the most fundamental assumption of modernity.
To Heidegger the audience, which thinks that they are fundamentally separated from the play as neutral onlookers, is deceived. Those watching are not safe, not actually distant from the narrative playing itself out but are rather a part of the act. They are able to reach out and participate in the play and in doing so the narrative is revealed to them, not as fragments of a puzzle to put together but as a whole.
Pirandello does not pretend that the play he writes is in some way different and distant from himself, but rather acknowledges that the lines of distinction are arbitrarily imposed. In like manner Heidegger affirms the inner-worldliness of Da-sein and rejects the Cartesian myth of subject-object distinction.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A Cross That Teaches us to Mourn and Rejoice

The beauty of redemption In the Cross is that in its bitterness and raw audacity we see a microcosm of our calling as the church.

The Call of Christ eluminates the most horrendous parts of that which lies within us. The death and decay that we shuffle away to the periphery of our recognition is collected and hung before us, embodied in the crucifixion. Yet the promise of the Cross does not give us an immediate evacuation from this present darkness, but rather drags us deeper into its folds. Just as Christ dove headlong into all that is fearful and decrepit; so we who cling to him dragged into those places the world forgets; The darkest alleys, the deepest dregs of our human hell. We who hold fast to Christ and his Cross drink in the death that surrounds us, mourning, weeping, and paradoxically rejoicing , because God as Made new in us what God will some day make new in all of creation.

We are called not to the abandonment of this hell which our humanity has built, neither by middle class pews, nor spiritual euphoria but rather by the recognition of Christ’s eschatological death we are called to be reconciled and in this way the world will know the Kingdom by those who have been