Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sex & TV

I just finished reading Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? The last chapter I had to read twice, and though I’m feeling better about it, I’m still sorting through some new stretches in my way of thinking, primarily, my own postmodern dilemma with my very modern, Cartesian equation of knowledge with certainty. That is to say, modern rationalism equates knowledge with certainty – Prove it! is the motto – and postmodernity has seen the crumbling of much of what we once thought certain, thereby deducing (rightly, I think, of course I can’t be certain) that certainty is unattainable, and therefore, knowledge is unattainable. The irony is that to deduce that knowledge is unattainable, that we can’t know anything, simply because we’ve had the chair of certainty pulled out from under us, is to still hold to a modern epistemology. It isn’t postmodern at all. It’s simply the natural (rational) conclusion of modernism, which is why I like Middleton and Walsh’s term for our current cultural climate, “hypermodernism.” Smith (Who’s Afraid) agrees with this assessment and urges us to become truly postmodern, to abandon “what is worst about modernism,” namely modern epistemology.

All the stretching of my mind was taxing, so today I decided I needed a break from the types of things I’ve been reading of late. (I’m also reading C.S. Lewis’s Letters To Malcom, which are reflections on prayer. It is not easy.) I could think of no better distractions from theology and philosophy than sex and TV, so I picked up a book called, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity and another one called, The Gospel According to the Simpsons. Both are a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Food For Thought

The following is an excerpt from James K. A. Smith’s, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? I’d love to hear your thoughts as you read Smith’s introduction to his vision for the postmodern church.

Apologetics and Witness in a Postmodern World

[C]lassical apologetics operates with a very modern notion of reason; “presuppositional” apologetics, on the other hand, is postmodern (and Augustinian!) insofar as it recognizes the role of presuppositions in both what counts as truth and what is recognized as true. For this reason, postmodernism can be a catalyst for the church to reclaim its faith not as a system of truth dictated by a neutral reason but rather as a story that requires “eyes to see and ears to hear.” The primary responsibility of the church as witness, then, is not demonstration but rather proclamation – the kerygmatic vocation of proclaiming the Word made flesh rather than the thin realities of theism that a supposedly neutral reason yields.
To put it another way, unless our apologetic proclamation begins from revelation, we have conceded the game to modernity. On this score, I side with an even earlier Parisian philosopher and proto-postmodernist, Blaise Pascal, who adamantly protested that the God revealed in the incarnation and the Scriptures – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus Christ – is to be distinguished from the (modern) god of philosophical theism. But even more importantly, this new apologetic – which is, in fact, ancient – is one that is proclaimed by a community’s way of life.21 As Peter Leithart has remarked, “The first and chief defense of the gospel, the first ‘letter of commendation’ not only for Paul but for Jesus, is not an argument but the life of the church conformed to Christ by the Spirit in service and suffering.”22 The church doesn’t have an apologetic; it is and apologetic.

From Modern Christianity to a Postmodern Church

If I am opposed to the epistemology, or theory of knowledge, that plagues modern Christianity, then I am also opposed to the ecclesiology (or lack thereof) that accompanies this modernist version of faith. Within the matrix of a modern Christianity, the base “ingredient” is the individual; the church, then, is simply a collection of individuals. Conceiving of Christian faith as a private affair between the individual and God – a matter of my asking Jesus to “come into my heart” – modern evangelicalism finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God. With this model in place, what matters is Christianity as a system of truth or ideas, not the church as a living community embodying its head. Modern Christianity tends to think of the church either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires. As such, Christianity becomes intellectualized rather than incarnate, commodified rather than the site of genuine community.
In discussing Christian faith emerging from modernity to postmodernity, however, I rarely speak of Christianity, and I resist talking about Christians as individuals; rather, I tend to speak of the church – indeed, with a capital C. I want to advocate a shift from modern Christianity to a postmodern church, one akin to the paradigm shift experienced by Neo [in The Matrix]. My point here is confessional: as attested in the Apostles’ Creed, I believe in the holy catholic church, and I believe that the very notion of the holy catholic church undoes the modern individualism that plagues contemporary evangelicalism.23 Indeed, we would do well to recover a much-maligned formula: “There is no salvation outside the church.” This doesn’t mean that a particular ecclesial body is the dispenser of grace or the arbiter of salvation; rather, there simply is no Christianity apart from the body of Christ, which is the church. The body is the New Testament’s organic model of community that counters the modernist emphasis on the individual.
The church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery or emotional satisfaction. The church is the site where God renews and transforms us – a place where the practices of being the body of Christ form us into the image of the Son. What I, a sinner saved by grace, need is not so much answers as reformation of my will and heart. What I describe as the practices of the church include the traditional sacramental24 practices of baptism and Eucharist but also the practices of Christian marriage and child-rearing, even the simple but radical practices of friendship and being called to get along with those one doesn’t like! The church, for instance, is a place to learn patience by practice. The fruit of the Spirit emerges in our lives from the seeds planted by the practices of being the Spirit, it becomes a witness to a postmodern world (John 17). Nothing is more countercultural than a community serving the Suffering Servant in a world devoted to consumption and violence. But the church will have this countercultural, prophetic witness only when it jettisons its own modernity; in that respect postmodernism can be another catalyst for the church to be the church.

21. For further discussion of this new apologetic (following Robert Webber), see James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 179-82.
22. Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2003), 99.
23. I remain concerned that, despite all of the talk about community in the emerging church, we have not yet explored the radical implications of it. the next task for the emerging church is to articulate an ecclesiology.
24. Here we do well to return to the rich, sacramental theology of John Calvin as opposed to the thin, Zwinglian theologies that seem to have won the day in Reformed evangelical circles.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Intrusive Spiritual Discipline"

Hello again. Cheers for your comments and emails (I’m trying to be cool like my roommate from New Zealand: “cheers!”); I can’t tell you how much I enjoy them. Earlier I said I wanted spiritual discipline in my life that was “intrusive.” The first step Jasie and I have taken towards that adjective is inductive Bible study. This is not new to me, but it is helpful to be doing it with someone else. Working on a book of the Bible with another person helps me get out of my psycho all-or-nothing mentality: because I don’t expect Jasie to be perfect, it’s much less of a temptation to be so hard on myself. (Wow! Next week I promise not to write about my perfectionism. My other flaws are feeling left out.) One aspect of our study that is new to me is that Jasie and I are beginning by writing I Peter BY HAND. Yeah, that’s right; we’re writing it all out by hand… no computers, no photocopies, mere pen and parchment. In my previous experience I found inductive study easiest when the text was typed out like a normal letter (without chapters, verses, or headings) only double-spaced because then there’s plenty of room to circle words, draw symbols, and make arrows. However, I like writing things out by hand because it incorporates more of my senses and I learn it better thereby. Usually I mumble phrases under my breath before I write them, so I’m getting all my senses in but smell. J I chose I Peter for a change of pace because Jasie has done several of the Pauline epistles already. I shied away from Romans because it’s longer than most of the other epistles and a little bit more difficult too, though some of you know how obsessed with it I am sometimes, so who knows how long I’ll let it haunt me before I buck up and tackle it.

I want to give you a little more insight to my weekly schedule: Monday mornings we have a prayer meeting at 8:45 where we are able to pray for one another and for L’Abri. This is done on Mondays at each of the L’Abri satellites all over the world. Wednesday and Friday mornings we have lectures from the staff; so far, there’s a series on “Science and Theology,” “Re-narrating the Imagination,” and “Art (Film) and Theology.” Wednesday night is movie night. It costs two francs and usually the film is something I haven’t seen and is pretty interesting. Thursday is our day off. We have breakfast at nine, a packed lunch, and dinner at seven (all optional, but I always take advantage of each!). I usually go hiking, but this past Thursday I took a little day trip by myself to Sion, a small village in the valley about an hour and a half from here. It was lovely! Sunday we have breakfast at nine and chapel at eleven. Chapel is nice. It’s usually simple exegesis, which of course I love. Sometimes we’ll sing a hymn or two, but usually, it’s just an hour or so of exegesis – a whole hour! Every other week we look at II Corinthians and every other week at Luke. After chapel, we have the afternoon off (and a packed lunch available to us), and I usually… hike. But this weekend was the wine festival, which was tons of fun. I have some great pics of the vineyards we got to walk through, and one fine day (./’./’), I’ll have a chance to upload them for you to see! Sunday after dinner we usually, but not always, do some activity together. This past Sunday was the annual talent show. I wrote a poem about a hike we affectionately call “Death Hill.” It was well received; people seemed to like it and I had fun writing/reading it. (Again, when I’ve a chance to get pics on the web, I’ll post the poem with some photos of one of our hikes up Death Hill.)

And finally, I wanted to keep you all updated on the books I’m reading:
Who’s Afraid of Postmodernity? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church – James K. A. Smith
Eat This Book: The Art of Spiritual Reading – Eugene Peterson
The Benefit of Christ – Juan de Valdes & Don Benedetto

And for fun:
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Books I’ve just finished:
Faith’s Freedom – Luke T. Johnson
Living the Resurrection – Eugene Peterson (finished this one)

That’s the list so far, so get busy reading and try to keep up! ;)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Confronted by Community

Welcome to L’Abri. The floors squeak and the walls are thin. Opening a window is loud. Opening a door is loud. Closing doors and windows is loud. Everything is loud. No action is quiet or discrete or private. If you choose to live here, you have chosen to live in community; there’s no getting around it. “No man is an island.” You may be able to choose at times how much you wish to be immersed (for example, most of the people in the house have gone out for the evening and I am taking advantage of the silence to write out these thoughts), but even so, every action I choose to make affects another and likewise I too am constantly affected by the actions and choices of others.

I was studying yesterday afternoon (we all study in/near the library during the day) and got up to close the window. It creaked and banged. It was loud. The guy sitting next to me was giving me a hard time: ‘Shhh! I’m trying to study.’ I smiled and said, ‘There’s no such thing as being discrete at L’Abri. You’re forced to be in community.’ ‘You’re forced to be honest,’ he replied. As I sat down I thought for a moment and whispered, ‘Same thing.’

I just finished reading a book by Luke Johnson called, Faith’s Freedom, which honestly wasn’t that great; however, he does make some great points about the role of community in the exercising of our faith. He speaks of God as “Other,” the Transcendent One who is other than every created thing. Other people are also “other” and God uses the otherness of both people and himself to invade our lives, causing us to step out of ourselves and our projects/plans/goals and make room for others’ projects/plans/goals. Johnson writes, “… Other breaks the plane of everyday life, shatters the veneer of predictability, and challenges the presumption of human control” (53).

I’ve been confronted by community before and I was forced to learn things about myself and about life, but this time I think I’m ready to be a bit more intentional about how I live my life within the context of community – a bit less scared to be honest, imperfect, ontological, a bit less scared to be. I’m practicing apologizing. I’m working on being OK with learning by trial and error. (How else do you learn? I know…) That is to say, realizing how silly it is to think I ought to be able to do things I’ve never done before perfectly – working so much in the kitchen is helping me here. Cooking is also helping me to expand my creativity, learning to take creative risks and make mistakes.

Believe it or not, I have made (so far) chocolate-chunk cookies, homemade bread (oven-baked, no bread-maker), and cream spinach soup, all from scratch, and people not only ate them, they liked them! Actually, I was only supposed to be stirring the soup when the person who was really creating it said to me, ‘Have a taste and see what needs to be added.’ As I looked over at her with uncertain eyes that said, ‘You obviously don’t know how little exposure to the creative side of cooking I have,’ I replied, ‘I’m pretty good at stirring, but I’d better leave the taste-testing to you.’ She looked right back at me, smiling and completely un-phased by my self-doubt and said, ‘Nope. You’re in charge of the soup right now.’ I just continued looking at her. Not missing a beat, she almost sings, ‘You can do it; just play with it.’ I thought to myself, ‘She’s calling me out of my perfectionistic, non-risk-taking self and into risk and creativity, ontology and play.’ Well, there’s just no arguing with such a call and I wasn’t about to refuse it, so I took the spoon from her hand, took a deep breath, and tasted the soup to, ‘see what needs to be added,’ as if I could even tell the difference between the spices on the counter. Nonetheless, I carefully lifted each spice to my nose and after having another taste decided to add more nutmeg. I stirred in the reddish powder and took another taste – delicious! How ‘bout that.

This experience with the soup reminded me of a discussion we had earlier in the week during lecture. We all had read the first chapter of A Disciplined Heart by Caroline J. Simon. The book pursues the ideas and connections between love, destiny and imagination. The first chapter sets everything up by providing definitions for the language Simon uses for the rest of her book; about love and imagination she writes:

In order to explore the distinction between love and love’s counterfeits, I will call the insight that is central to love imagination, and the illusions projected by love’s counterfeits fiction-making. This is a technical usage, which differs somewhat from the way these terms are ordinarily used. In ordinary usage both terms have to do with “making things up.” What my special use of them is intended to highlight is roughly the contrast between seeing what may not yet wholly exist, but should (imagination), and seeming to see either what should not and will not exist or what does or will exist, but should not (fiction-making). (14, bolding emphasis mine)

And about imagination and destiny: “Imagination is the capacity to see what may not yet appear but should. Imagination, then, when directed toward persons, amounts to insight into someone’s destiny” (16). So what’s my point? Well, I’m not trying to say that I think it’s my destiny to become a fabulous chef and master of the culinary arts (no comments from the peanut gallery, if you please), but I am happy about becoming a bit more familiar with the kitchen because I do hope cooking for my family is a part of my “destiny.” And the workers and helpers and students at L’Abri are, in Simon’s language, using their imaginations to encourage me in friendly love towards becoming who I should be (both in and out of the kitchen). Hooray for fellowship and ontology!