For new readers, Kristi is blind and in a wheelchair and she suffers from some cognitive disabilities. Kristi is a friend from church who I visit at her assisted living facility, often talking her shopping when she needs something.
Usually, shopping with Kristi is fun and relaxing.
But this time things got stressful.
I'd just helped Kristi get out of the car and seated in her wheelchair. Kristi grabbed the car door and tried to shut it but pinched her finger in the door. She showed her finger to me and I saw her finger was bleeding pretty good.
I didn't have any tissues on me or in the car, so I pushed Kristi inside the grocery store to the bathroom. There I wet some paper towels to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding. By the time I got back to Kristi the blood was pretty significant, running in a rivulet down her hand and onto her pants.
I started to clean up the cut. I was relieved to find that it wasn't all that bad. A small cut, but it was a bleeder. I cleaned up the blood that had run and then took a dry paper towel and wrapped it around Kristi's finger. I took Kristi's other hand and had her wrap it around the paper towel, putting pressure on the cut to stop the bleeding. Given that the cut was small I figured Kristi could hold the paper towel on her finger while we quickly picked up the things she needed and then get the cut properly bandaged by the nurses back at her home.
But for some reason Kristi wouldn't keep pressure on her finger. I couldn't tell if this was because she was blind and couldn't see the blood or if it was a cognitive disability thing. Regardless, Kristi kept letting go of the cut, causing it to bleed again. I was pushing her through the store and she was getting blood all over her hands and clothes. I wasn't overly worried about the blood, as it wasn't much, but it was noticeable, but I worried how the bleeding finger would affect the other shoppers in the store. People don't like the sight of blood.
But I couldn't get Kristi to keep the wound covered and pressured. And so the blood flowed.
Finally we got checked out and I took Kristi back to the bathroom to clean her up again. Smeared blood was on both hands. I got some more wet paper towels and began to gently wipe each hand clean, one at a time.
As I was doing this I was struck by how intimate it all was. Wiping the blood of another human being. Holding and cleaning her hands.
I'm sure it's a feeling nurses know very, very well. But I had not done anything like this since I had done it for my children when they had been hurt and bleeding.
I felt honored to be that close, close enough as a friend to be a nurse. Close enough to hold her hands and wipe them clean.
And I wished, in that moment, that church could be more like this.
A place where we could love each other enough.
Enough to hold hands.
Enough to wipe the blood away when we are hurt.
Plus, I'd like to extend an invitation to your church, university or organization if you'd like to host an event involving me during the month we'll be in the UK, June 2015.
My trip is being built around the weekend of June 12-14 where I'll be with the City Gate Church in Brighton, England. But City Gate is looking for partners to help with the cost of bringing Jana and I over. We plan to spend the month of June in the UK.
So if you are a part of a church, group or organization that would like to book me for any sort of speaking engagement please contact Hannah Bywaters (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is coordinating things for City Gate. While any dates during the month of June outside of the 12-14th are open, I expect the weekends of June would be good times for engagements with churches (e.g., guest sermons on Sundays). Those weekends in June are: June 5-7, June 19-20, and June 26-27.
As far as speaking engagements go I've done weekend church retreats, academic lectures, guest sermons, and coffee house discussions.
It seems that the most common thing that I'm asked to do for churches is talk about the psychological dynamics of hospitality and welcome, equipping churches to open up their hearts to others. These discussions are built around my book Unclean. I've done equipping sessions on this topic for Andy Stanley's church in Atlanta (the second largest church in the US), have spoken about hospitality at multiple universities, have done whole weekend retreats with churches on this subject (I have one coming up in two weeks in East Texas), and have given guest sermons at churches on a "hospitality Sunday."
Of course, I also have two other books and have spoken a lot about them as well. I've given lectures, delivered sermons and taught classes about doubt and the experiences of Summer and Winter Christians working from my book The Authenticity of Faith. (Incidentally, Walter Brueggemann used a lot of material from The Authenticity of Faith in his recent book Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. You might want to check that out.)
I've also spoken about the dynamics of anxiety and love from the material in The Slavery of Death last year at Fuller Theological Seminary's Integration Lectures and soon at the upcoming Streaming conference at Rochester College (where I'm co-headlining with Greg Boyd).
Finally, this year at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures I'm doing a class entitled "Angelic Troublemakers: Spiritual Warfare for Progressives and Doubters." This is material from my Weakness and Warfare series (see the sidebar) articulating a vision of "spiritual warfare" for progressive and liberal Christians. I'm trying out this material to see if it might be the next book I write.
I can speak about all of that, to say nothing about all the other things I've written about on this blog.
All that to say, there are lots of things I can talk about if I were to speak or spend time with your church or organization. So if you'd like to explore having me in June of 2015 please email Hannah to explore this. At this point these are just inquires, but final choices will be made depending which invitations firm up and confirm most quickly and those that can provide at least some honorarium to help City Gate defray some of the cost of bringing Jana and I over.
I hope to see all my UK readers this June!
I am an experimental psychologist. Which means that I mainly teach undergraduate and graduate statistics classes. And from time to time on this blog I've used statistics to illustrate various theological issues or ideas.
One such attempt was using what is called Type 1 and Type 2 errors to illustrate how we make decisions about who is or is not going to heaven or hell. Every week search terms about "type 1 and type 2 errors" link people to that playful but serious post:
As I said, a large part of my day job is teaching statistics. Still, I often let theological issues emerge in my statistical lectures. Worlds collide was it were. For example, consider how Type 1 and Type 2 errors can help us think about who is going to heaven or hell.
What are Type 1 and Type 2 errors? When researchers look at trends in data sets they have to make a decision about if the trend they are looking at is real or illusory. By "real" I mean that the trend is due to some underlying causal mechanism. However, trends can emerge in data by mere chance. Think of the constellations in the sky. We see patterns up there--the figures of the Zodiac--but the patterns are the product of random forces.
In short, given our knack for seeing order in randomness researchers need tools to determine if a given trend is real or illusory. In the social sciences this tool is called Null Hypothesis testing. The Null Hypothesis is the assumption that the trend you are seeing, despite appearances, is illusory. It is "due to chance." Generally, an Alternative Hypothesis is pitted against the Null Hypothesis. The Alternative Hypothesis is the assumption that the trend is real, due to some systematic relationship between the two variables.
In Null Hypothesis Testing you assess the viability of the Null (by using probabilities) to see if the Null or the Alternative Hypothesis is the best explanation for what you are seeing. Starting with the Null the researcher faces one of two choices: "Reject" or "Fail to Reject" the Null. If you reject the Null you think the Alternative hypothesis is the best explanation for the data: You think the trend you are seeing is real. If you Fail to Reject the Null you stick with the Null and conclude that the trend you are seeing is illusory, likely due to chance.
Now what is interesting about all this is that the whole process is error-prone. You could reject the Null (think the trend is real) when, in fact, the trend was illusory. Or, you could think the trend is illusory (fail to reject the null) when, in fact, the trend is real.
In short, there are two kinds of mistakes you can make. The first is called a Type 1 error when you reject the Null (consider the trend to be real) when the Null is true (the trend is actually illusory). The second is a Type 2 error when you fail to reject the Null (consider the trend illusory) when the Null is false (the trend is actually real).
Personally, I find this language confusing. An easier way to think of it is to note that Type 1 errors are "false positives": You make a positive claim but are wrong (i.e., you claim the trend is real but it is not). A Type 1 error is like crying wolf. You reject the Null and cry "Eureka!" But you are wrong. You didn't make the discovery you thought you made. Conversely, Type 2 error is a "false negative." Instead of crying wolf a Type 2 error is a Trojan Horse kind of mistake. You didn't raise the alarm, but you should have. You missed the threat (or that trend in the data set).
To illustrate all this I draw the following table on the board a couple of times a year:
Again, that table isn't very easy to understand so I use the following illustration to help my students get the logic of Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Imagine, I say, a guy who has just started dating a girl. He remembers that on their first date she mentioned that her birthday was coming up this week. But the guy can't remember the exact day. It might be today. Or maybe not. Embarrassed to admit to her that he didn't remember he decides to make a guess. He has two choices. When he sees her today he can say "Happy Birthday!" Or he can say nothing, hoping that today isn't her birthday. The reality behind the situation is pretty simple: Either today is her birthday or it isn't.
The four possible outcomes--guesses plotted against reality--are given below:
Saying "Happy Birthday!" when it is not her birthday is like a Type 1 error. It is a false positive: I'm saying it is your birthday when, in fact, it isn't.
Conversely, staying quiet when today is her birthday is like a Type 2 error. It is a false negative: Today is my birthday and you said nothing to me, you missed it.
Now at this point you are probably wondering, what does any of this have to do with theology? Well, the interesting thing in all this is that Type 1 and Type 2 errors are pretty much everywhere. And they often occur when you have to make decisions about people.
Think about hiring practices or college admissions. On the front end you have to make a choice: Will they thrive or fail? After the selection (the hire or admission) the reality unfolds. They either do a good job or they don't. They either graduate or they don't. In short, whenever we make decisions about people we often make Type 1 and Type 2 errors. We hire people who flake out on us. Or admit people who can't make the grade. These are Type 1 errors, "false positives." But we also pass on people who would have made great hires. Or we deny admission to students who would have graduated. These are Type 2 errors, the "false negatives."
And here is where the theological application emerges. Christians often divide the world into two groups, the saints and the sinners. The saved and the lost. The elect and the unregenerate. The church and the world. Think of this as a kind of "admissions decision." Are you "accepted" into the "church" or not?
And these are not trivial considerations. How does the church define where its borders will be? Where does the right hand of fellowship begin and end? How inclusive or exclusive should we be? Who needs to be evangelized?
Who is going to heaven and who is going to hell?
Importantly, Type 1 and Type 2 errors will be involved in this process. For example, there might be people we fellowship who, in the eyes of God, stand under judgment. These would be Type 1 errors. These are the errors conservatives think liberals are making. Liberals are extending the label "Christian" to people who are actually damned. In the eyes of conservatives liberals falsely extend grace to people who stand under God's judgment.
By contrast, liberals condemn conservatives for making Type 2 errors, damning and excluding people God loves.
What makes these disagreements tense is that this side of heaven no one knows who is right or who is wrong. Which is frustrating for all parties.
But I think something more can be said about the matter.
Specifically, although we don't know in a given case if we are making a Type 1 or Type 2 error we can choose the kinds of errors we will generally make. And this raises a very interesting question: Knowing we are going to make errors, what kind of errors should we make?
What should be our theology of error?
Let me explain what this looks like.
As I said above, Christians, while looking at individuals and groups, make judgments regarding the status of other people. Are these other people "Christians" or not? Likely, these judgments are a mix of doctrinal and moral observations. What do these people believe and what do they do with their lives? Plot these judgments on a horizontal axis, from sinners to saints.
While we are making these judgments God is making God's own judgments. Plot God's judgments on a vertical axis, also going from sinners to saints.
With both axes plotted we have something like the following, with the red dots representing people or communities:
A couple of observations about this diagram. What I'm trying to show here is that, while there is some agreement between God and the judging person, there is also some discrepancy between human and divine judgments. That is, when humans see someone as virtuous or wicked God, for the most part, agrees. However, the association isn't perfect. We might see someone a very virtuous while God knows him to be hypocrite. Or, we might label someone a "sinner" where God sees this person as a saint. That is, generally vice is vice and virtue is virtue, in heaven and on earth. But there are locations of disagreement. Our perceptions of morality don't always align with God's perspective.
Now, in light of these judgments Christians have to make a choice, grouping people into the categories of Saved or Lost. In statistical language, the point at which this judgment is made is called the selection ratio:
You can think of the selection ratio as a kind of "cut off" score where a decision is made. Like a minimum SAT or ACT score for a college admission. Scores above the cut off are "selected," admitted to the college. Scores below the selection ratio are denied admission.
But the selection ratio isn't the only thing in play. In heaven God has God's own opinion about who is Lost or Saved. And God's decision is going to define the ultimate outcome. In statistical language God's decision is called the base rate. God's base rate is represented below:
With these ideas in hand we can now see how the church can make Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Specifically, using some sort of selection ratio the church carves up the world into the Saved and the Lost. The former are called "the church" and the latter are objects of judgment and evangelism. But behind all this is God's base rate, God's own judgment about who will be saved and who will not be saved. And given that human and divine opinions are not in 100% agreement (due to our human limitations) we have the possibility for error. That is, we might see someone as Lost who, in the end, God will Save. Or, we can see someone as Saved who, in the the end, God will damn. These errors can be seen when we plot the selection ratio and the base rate together:
These errors are just like the Type 1 and Type 2 errors encountered above:
Okay, we are nearing the theological payoff of these observations. Here's the important point: By adjusting the selection ratio we can affect the kinds of errors we will make. We have two choices here.
One thing we can do is adjust the selection ratio upward, moving it rightward. This is what we call "raising standards." As the selection ratio moves toward the right fewer and fewer people are selected because the standards are going up. Think again of college admissions. If we raise the SAT/ACT scores we move the selection ratio to the right. This reduces our overall admissions as we become more "selective."
The advantages and disadvantages of increasing the selection ratio are obvious. On the downside we are reducing quantity. But on the upside we are improving quality. And by improving quality we are reducing a kind of error. Specifically, we are reducing our Type 1 error rate. We are making fewer "false positives." By increasing quality standards we aren't admitting people who can't make the cut.
However, and this is the key insight, in decreasing our Type 1 errors we have increased our Type 2 errors. By becoming more selective we've reduced our false positives but have increased our false negatives. That is, we are turning away more and more students from the school when many of these students would have been successful if we had admitted them.
This is, I would argue, a model for how conservative churches are handling the judgments of Saved and Lost. Conservative churches have increased the selection ratio, they raise holiness and/or doctrinal standards. And they do this to be "conservative," to reduce false positives. They want to be sure to fellowship only the true Christians. They don't want to waste fellowship on the Lost. This strategy is shown below:
By increasing their standards of fellowship the conservative church has become more selective, judgmental and discriminating.
The trouble, as we see in the figure above, is that when you move the selection ratio rightward you are, indeed, decreasing false positives. However, while you are reducing false positives you are increasing your number of false negative (Type 2) errors. That is, by raising standards you are disfellowshiping people whom God loves. You think a lot of people on earth are going to hell when, in fact, they are going to be with you in heaven. In short, heaven is going to be a lot more crowded than your selection ratio led you to believe.
So what happens when you lower standards, becoming more inclusive as we see in many liberal churches? This is what happens when you move the selection ratio leftward:
As you can see, when you move the selection ratio to the left, fellowshiping more and more people, you systematically reduce your false negative errors. By casting such a broad net of fellowship you "catch" all the Saved. But your inclusiveness also catches a lot of the Lost. That is, in reducing your false negatives you've increased your false positives. Just the opposite situation we saw in the conservative church.
And here--finally!--we can get to the issue regarding our "theology of error." That is, although we can never know when and where we are making errors (i.e., we don't know God's base rate) we can, generally speaking, choose the kinds of errors we will make. Specifically, we can increase or decrease our selection ratio. We can become more exclusive or inclusive. More sectarian or more ecumenical.
So which direction should we go?
Well, one way to make that decision is to think theologically about the kinds of errors related to those decisions. If we become more exclusive we make Type 2--false negative--errors. That is, we begin disfellowshiping other Christians. We've become stingy with God's grace. Conversely, if we become more inclusive we make more Type 1--false positive--errors. We begin extending fellowship to sinners. We've become too profligate with God's grace.
My point here is that I think these patterns of errors can be evaluated on theological grounds. We can ask questions like, should we be a Type 1 error (inclusive) or Type 2 error (exclusive) church? We have some control over this.
Basically, given human fallibility and sin errors are inevitable. But you can pick your errors. So which error does God want us to make?
In my personal opinion, if errors are inevitable I think God wants me to lean toward making Type 1 errors. If errors are inevitable I should err on the side of grace. True, my "liberalism"--my tilt toward Type 1 error--in this regard will cause me to extend grace where, according to conservatives, I shouldn't.
I am not immune to that criticism, in being "liberal" I know I'm risking a higher Type 1 error rate. But I prefer this to the alternative of running a high Type 2 error rate, being judgmental of people among whom God is at work. And I make that choice for a host of theological reasons.
But of course, others might see this all differently. Regardless, I think this analysis highlights an important issue:
You are going to make errors about God's grace. You can't control that. So in light of that fact, what kinds of errors are you going to make?
Because you do have some control over that.
Steve was the one who made the comment that has stayed with me.
Theologically, the men in the prison study tend toward legalism and orient around a works-based righteousness. Which is strange as you'd think that men in a prison would want to talk a lot about grace and forgiveness.
They do want to talk about grace, but they are also preoccupied with the theme from the epistle of James: Faith without works is dead.
The reason for this focus is because the men see a lot of hypocrisy around them. To survive in prison you have to be a chameleon, learning how to show different faces to different people. Accordingly, when the men come to our bible study they have their "Christian face" on. During the study the men are devout and pious, their discussions in the class full of biblical allusions and church-speak.
But we all know that the minute the study is over a change happens. They re-enter the prison world and the face they wear changes accordingly.
But not everyone's. There are a few in the class who work hard to remain overtly and consistently Christian throughout their day. For these men, the face-changing, code-shifting hypocrisy they witness in relation to the bible study drives them crazy. They see members of the study devoutly pontificate about their commitment to Jesus only to see these same men do something wicked thirty minutes later.
Consequently, our discussions in the class often come back to a works-based righteousness: You can say you love Jesus all you want, but you have to do this stuff. You have to walk the walk. You have to put this stuff into practice. Faith without works is dead. By your works you will be judged. And God is watching how you behave out on the unit.
In short, because many of the men are preoccupied with speaking into this hypocrisy their theological orientation tends toward a judgmental and works-based orientation. Consequently, if you speak too much about grace someone will push back with the worry that we're letting the hypocrites in the room--the men who pretend they are Christians for two hours but who are mainly there for the air-conditioning--too easily off the hook.
This is the backdrop for the conversation we had about God's unconditional love about two years ago. This is the conversation that haunts me because of a comment Steve made.
We were talking about God's love and someone said that God loves us unconditionally. That observation, as you know, is a banal platitude in Christian circles. But I doubt many Christians have seriously pondered the radical implications of that claim, that God loves us unconditionally. Because I don't think people actually believe it. Yes, people might say that God loves us unconditionally, but they don't, if you press them, actually believe it.
And true to form, some of the men in the study started pushing back upon this notion. Again, the idea that God loves us unconditionally might let the hypocrites in the room off the hook. God loves us, these men reminded us, but you have to do stuff. You have to be committed. You have to be holy. You have to put in the work.
And then Steve raised his hand.
"No," Steve said, "if God loves you unconditionally then he loves you unconditionally. If you add any condition to it, any at all, then it's not unconditional."
This observation was met with fierce outcrys of objection. All the men in the study who harp on works starting throwing proof texts at Steve. But Steve was adamant and fended them off with the simple logic of it all. Unconditional means unconditional. As in no conditions whatsoever. Add a condition, even if justified by those proof texts, and you can't say, logically, that God loves us unconditionally. It's not rocket science. It's simple logic.
Anyway, all this launched us for about an hour into the classic debates about faith vs. works and justification vs. sanctification. And, as you might have guessed, we made very little progress in getting all this sorted out.
And all through the discussion Steve kept coming back to his core contention. Unconditional means unconditional.
And as the discussion wore on Steve's comment began to work on me. Unconditional means unconditional. So simple. But so radical and destabilizing.
And then in dawned on me.
Christians don't believe in the unconditional love of God.
They really don't. The love of God as described in most Christian churches is entirely, explicitly and unapologetically conditional. This is a data point so clear and obvious that we don't even recognize it, even though it sits right in front of our noses. The love of God, as preached by most Christians, is a conditional love. God loves you...if.
If you are elect. If you have faith. If you repent. If you are holy. God loves you if.
And yet, if you ask Christians "Does God love us unconditionally?" I expect you'd get almost universal agreement that God does. And yet, as we've noted, few Christian actually believe this. Most Christians believe God's love is entirely conditional. God loves you if you are elect, if you have faith, if you are holy.
During the discussion, and since, my mind kept coming back to Steve's point, the point he made calmly, over and over. "If you add a condition to it then it's not unconditional anymore. I think God loves us unconditionally. No matter what we do."
And in that class, listening to Steve, I began to glimpse the true magnitude of the scandal of grace. I saw Jesus hanging on the cross saying, "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
Forgive them. All of them.
No repentance. No election. No faith. Forgive them. Unconditionally.
Listening to Steve that night I think, for the first time, I began to glimpse the true shape of Christianity. I began to see the outlines and contours of a faith rooted in the conviction that God loves us. Unconditionally.
Sitting in the prison that night I felt I had crossed over some threshold.
I saw something that night so huge and bright and beautiful I knew I'd never be the same. I knew I would never be going back.
For a moment, I think I saw the world the way Jesus saw the world from the cross.
I think I finally saw what it might mean to be a Christian.
I won't share here any details. The story is too intimate and personal for social media. I'm simply writing this to say how important such testimonies are for the church. These are difficult experiences to share and absorb but the silence has to be broken if women are to feel empowered to speak about and escape abusive and violent situations. And the hearts of men must also be sensitized and converted by these testimonies.
The church must repent for not centering, empowering and embracing the testimonies of our survivor sisters.
After being emotionally and spiritually shaken by this dear sister's testimony I am absolutely convicted that churches must, annually and regularly, turn their pulpits over to women who are survivors of domestic violence so that they may share their stories with the church.
The Crucified One is found among those who have been bruised, in body and soul.
This morning Jesus put on dark sunglasses.
A reason why I'm a member of the TCADP seeking to abolish the death penalty in my state was illustrated last week. From Dahlia Lithwick's article in Slate:
The convictions of two mentally disabled half-brothers were vacated and the two men were ordered released by Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser in North Carolina on Tuesday. They were freed from prison Wednesday. Henry Lee McCollum, 50, had been on death row for 30 years, longer than anyone in North Carolina history. He and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, were convicted for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. DNA evidence implicated another man, a known sex offender the police had not investigated, despite the fact that he lived next to the crime scene. McCollum and Brown were 19 and 15 at the time local police were investigating the murder of Sabrina Buie. Both confessed to the crime after lengthy police interrogations. They recanted shortly after—in fact McCollum has recanted 226 times—but were convicted, largely on the basis of the false confessions, even though no physical evidence connected them to the crime scene. Police also hid exculpatory evidence for years.
A cigarette found at the crime scene now implicates a man who lived a block away from the soybean field where the girl’s body was found. He is currently serving a life sentence for a rape and murder that happened less than a month after Buie’s rape and murder.
The two teenagers signed confessions after hours of coercive police interrogation, under the erroneous belief that they’d be allowed to go home afterward. Both have since always maintained their innocence, filing various appeals over the intervening decades. It wasn’t until 2010, when the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission came into the case, that the evidence was re-examined seriously. In July, the DNA on the cigarette butt found at the crime scene was revealed to match the DNA of the known sex offender. This led to Tuesday’s extraordinary release order.
Many people emailed regarding the remarks of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart when she spoke at a Johns Hopkins University human trafficking forum. In response Rachel had a post up reflecting on Elizabeth's presentation.
In sharing her experience of rape by her abductor and reflecting on why many victims stay with their abusers, Elizabeth made a connection with the Christian purity culture. Specifically, Elizabeth noted that, because of the sexual abuse she endured, she “felt so dirty and so filthy,” ruining her for the rest of her life. Such feelings create an inhibition to return to the world where you will be marked and known as "damaged goods." Who would want you--who would marry you--if you escaped or left?
In making this connection Elizabeth described hearing a lecture as a young person on abstinence where sex was compared to chewing gum. From the Christian Science Monitor article:
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
So what’s the alternative? How can we teach young people to value the sacredness of sex and the importance of responsibility without resorting to shame-based, fear-based tactics?As I argue in Unclean, I think the first step here is attending to how we metaphorically frame sexual sin, particularly for women.
Why is the Christian purity culture so toxic and shaming? Where does the feeling of "damaged goods" come from? Why do women carry the weight of this experience more than men?
And what might we do to change all this?
Some of the answers have to do with the psychology of purity.
At root, purity is a food-attribution system, a suite of psychological processes that help us make judgments about whether or not it is safe or healthy to eat something.
One aspect of purity psychology is how we make contamination appraisals. The psychologist Paul Rozin has been a pioneer in naming and describing these appraisals. And one of these appraisals is the judgment of permanence.
To illustrate this Rozin will put, say, a cockroach in a glass of juice and swish it around. He then removes the bug and offers the juice for participants to drink. They, of course, refuse. That's to be expected. But then the interesting part of the experiment begins. Rozin goes on to sterilize the juice in front of the watching participant. He then makes another offer. Participants continue to refuse. This despite knowing, at a rational level, that the juice has been sanitized. So why refuse? Because at the affective level a judgment of contamination continues to dominate. The juice is judged as unclean. Despite all efforts to purify, sanitize, or rehabilitate.
Rozin's demo illustrates the attribution of permanence, which is a key part of purity psychology. The judgment appears to be "once contaminated, always contaminated." The implication here is that contamination--a loss of purity--is a catastrophic judgment creating a state that cannot be rehabilitated. The foodstuff is, as we say, ruined. And if ruined it's only fit for the trash.
As I discuss in Unclean, what happens when we structure parts of our moral experience with the metaphor of purity is that we import the psychology of contamination into our moral and spiritual lives. That is, we start to use the attribution of permanence (along with other purity appraisals I talk about in Unclean) when thinking about moral failure and sin. A loss of purity is understood to be permanent and is unable to be rehabilitated because, well, that's the way purity works.
Now what is peculiar about all this is that we use the purity metaphor in an uneven manner. Most sins don't get the purity metaphor. True, generally understood sin is understood to be a purity violation. But particular sins aren't typically viewed as a purity issue. Most sins are framed, metaphorically, as mistakes or errors, as performance failures. Another common metaphor here is sin as a form of stumbling or falling. What is important to note about these metaphors--performance failures and stumbling--is that these metaphors aren't catastrophic in nature. That is, they can be easily rehabilitated. If you make a mistake you try again. If you stumble and fall you get back up. Inherent in the logic of the metaphor is an obvious route to rehabilitation.
But not so with the purity metaphor. When the sin is framed as a purity violation the damage that is done is total and unable to be rehabilitated. A purity violation creates a state of irreversible ruin.
And with that in mind let's ask ourselves, what sin categories are almost exclusively regulated by purity metaphors in our churches?
Answer: sexual sins, the loss of virginity in particular.
Think about it. I bet most of us would say that the sin most Americans are guility of is materialism. I bet most of us would even say that materialism is the sin most killing the church. And yet, when did you ever hear a talk about "materialism purity"? Beyond never hearing such a talk, the phrase "materialism purity" just sounds weird. And try tacking "purity" onto any other sin. Fill in the blank: "__________ purity." Can you think of any sin--except "sexual purity"--that works in the blank, that doesn't sound weird when framed as a purity violation?
The point is, we treat sexual sins and the loss of virginity very differently from other sins, as a class of sin unto itself. And how do we make that happen? We accomplish this by framing these sins almost exclusively with purity metaphors. And in doing so we recruit a psychological system built upon a food-aversion system, a system driven by disgust, revulsion, and nausea. But instead of directing these feelings toward food we are now directing the feelings of disgust, revulsion and nausea toward human beings. More, we teach our children to internalize and direct these feelings toward themselves.
And I think we can sharpen this point even more.
Based upon my experience, I would argue that male sexual sin isn't generally framed as a purity violation. The loss of male virginity still gets the performance failure metaphor. If a boy losses his virginity it's a mistake, a stumbling. Consequently, this is something he can easily rehabilitate. He's not damaged goods. He can simply resolve to do better going forward. How is this so easy for him? Because his sexuality is being regulated by a performance metaphor.
By contrast, and this is the heart of of the matter, the loss of female virginity is almost exclusively regulated by the purity metaphor. For females the loss of virginity is a bit more than a performance failure. It's a loss of purity that, because of the way purity works, is catastrophic and beyond rehabilitation. And because of this she's got no way to move forward, metaphorically speaking. The game's over. And thus she reaches the only conclusion the purity metaphor makes available to her: She's damaged goods. And all the emotions related to that judgment of contamination rush forward as she internalizes all the shame, disgust, revulsion and nausea.
This is the psychology that makes the Christian purity culture so toxic.
But this analysis also suggests a way forward, a way to attenuate the damage done by purity cultures by consciously attending to the way we metaphorically frame sexuality for both men and women.
If we want to redress the issues plaguing us in America today the labor movement needs to be revitalized and remobilized.
With that in mind, let me alert you to the national strike going on today in the fast food industry. You can follow the "Fight for 15" developments today at Strike Fast Food.
Pre-strike coverage can be read here at the New York Times, USA Today, and Time.
You've likely noticed the text that accompanies my blog header. The lines are from Thomas Merton and come from the prologue to his book Raids On the Unspeakable.
I've always wanted to add the next few lines of that quote, but space doesn't permit. So here is the entire quote I would have liked to use:
You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. You agree? Good. Then go with my blessing. But I warn you, do not expect to make many friends.
Greg Boyd will be a featured presenter.
I'm looking forward to Greg's two presentations entitled "The Unveiling of the True God and the True Human" and "Cross Power and Babylon's Power." There will also be a panel discussion about Greg's recent book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty.
For my presentations I'll be sharing reflections from my recent book The Slavery of Death. My first presentation is entitled "The Power of the Devil and the Shame-Based Fear of Being Ordinary" and the second one is “Perfect Love and the Exorcism of Fear.”
As you some of you might have noticed, the reference in my first title to "the shame-based fear of being ordinary" is a nod to the work of Brene Brown and her book Daring Greatly. Specifically, I'll be connecting my analysis in The Slavery of Death with Brene's work regarding shame and cultures of scarcity. Here is Brene describing the experience of scarcity:
We get scarcity because we live it…Scarcity is the “never enough” problem…Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.As I'll argue it, the anxiety and shame associated with the experience of scarcity--not having or being "enough"--are symptoms of our slavery to the fear of death, and that this fear is the power of the devil in our lives (Hebrews 2.14-15). That is, there is a connection between scarcity, anxiety and moral failure. For example, in Daring Greatly Brene shares this assessment from Lynne Twist where Twist links scarcity, anxiety and moral struggle:
For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is "I didn’t get enough sleep." The next one is "I don't have enough time." Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don't have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn't get, or didn't get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.In my first presentation I'll try to show how this "reverie of lack" along with our "internal condition of scarcity" are symptoms of our slavery to the fear of death and, thus, a tool of the devil.
On the last day Greg and I will have a conversation about the intersection of our presentations and work.
And there will be lots more. Sara Barton, author of A Woman Called, will be presenting on “Cultivating A Cross Shaped Heart for a Broken World." From Pepperdine University John Barton will present on “At the Foot of the Cross in the Middle of the World.” Our worship times will feature the preaching of Ben Ries and Jenn Christy.
Streaming also brings the arts into the mix. This year Jennifer Rundlett, author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music, will lead a time of reflection entitled “Stations of the Cross: An Exploration in Music and Art” using a blend of classic art and music, spanning the centuries from the Renaissance to the Modern Era, along with prayers and scripture readings to create a unique meditative experience.
Hope to see you at Streaming!
Recall from that discussion of New Exodus material that in light of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15-18, many scholars have suggested that Jesus invoked the idea that he was the one Moses foretold--a second Moses leading a New Exodus.
As noted, there were a variety of things that were expected to accompany this second Moses--a New Exodus, a New Passover, a New Law, a New Covenant, a New Tabernacle, and a New Promised Land.
And along with all this there was also the expectation that the Exodus miracles would return with the second Moses. And one of these was the return of manna.
You'll recall the original manna story:
Exodus 16.4-5, 11-15"What is it?" As Pitre recounts, there was actually a great deal of rabbinic speculation regarding that question. And the bible gives some clues. For example, the manna "tasted like honey" (Ex. 16.31) suggesting that the manna was a foretaste of the Promised Land, a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3.8). Supporting this association, that manna was Exodus food, is the fact that the day the Israelites began to eat the food of Canaan the manna stopped:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”
That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat."
Joshua 5.10-12Manna is the food of travelers and sojourners, the bread eaten between Egypt and Canaan, between Liberation and Consummation.
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
More, manna is bread from heaven. Manna is supernatural, the food of angels:
Psalm 78.23-25In light of the New Exodus expectations, the Second Temple Jews believed that one of the signs of the Messiah, as the second Moses, would be the return of manna, the "bread from heaven." Given that expectation, and that in various places Jesus hints at being the second Moses, we can ask: Did Jesus ever speak of the return of manna?
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
Pitre argues that we find one reference to manna smack in the middle of the Lord's Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread.The echo of manna should be obvious in the phrase "give us this day." As you know, manna was collected each day and not kept over for the next. So the frame here in the Lord's Prayer is a New Exodus frame. And according to Pitre there is more.
You'll have noticed a repetition in the prayer: a mention of "day" and "daily." In the Greek these aren't the same word. The first occurrence is the word we all know as "day." But the second word, translated as "daily," is a bit of a mystery.
The word in question is a neologism and it occurs nowhere else in the bible or in antiquity. This is the only time the word is used which makes it hard to know its meaning. The word is epiousios:
Give us this day our epiousios bread.What does epiousios mean? Opinions differ. Ousia means "existence," "being," or "nature." Thus, some translate "epiousios bread" as the "bread we need for being/existence." But Pitre points out that the prefix epi means "on," "upon," or "above." Thus he argues that the better translation of "epiousios bread" is the "bread above nature/existence." In short, "epiousios bread" is supernatural bread or heavenly bread--the manna spoken of in Psalm 78. In light of this, we could translate the Lord's Prayer like this:
Give us this day our heavenly bread.Or, if you want to convey the New Exodus motif directly:
Give us this day our manna.In this translation the Lord's Prayer become an Exodus prayer for a people liberated from bondage and journeying to the Promised Land. It is a prayer for manna, for supernatural sustenance during the journey. It is a prayer for those who have been set free from slavery but who have yet to reach the New Heaven and the New Earth, the land flowing with milk and honey.
While some may question this interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, we are aware of a more explicit discussion of Jesus and the new manna in the gospels: Jesus' Bread of Life discourse.
John 6:30-35We see the New Exodus expectation voiced by the people: If Jesus is the Messiah, the second Moses, then where is the manna? Jesus responds with "I am the bread of life." A few verses later Jesus makes the association with manna more explicit: He is "the bread of heaven."
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
John 6.48-51aThere it is. Jesus himself is the new manna. Jesus is the bread that sustains the Exodus community.
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Pitre is a Catholic scholar. Consequently, when he reads "I am the bread of heaven" he thinks of the Eucharist, of Christ being actually, if miraculously, present in the bread of the Eucharist. In this reading the Eucharist is the manna, the actual body and blood of Jesus. This reading is supported by the final part of the Bread of Life discourse:
John 6.51b-58As Pitre rightly points out, Catholic theology, with its doctrine of transubstantiation, is well positioned to interpret this text, and even more so in light of the new manna theme. The actual body and blood of Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Immanuel, God physically with us in the Eucharist, sustaining us as manna on our Exodus journey. And like we saw with the Israelites, the presence of Christ in Eucharist tastes like honey, it's a foretaste of heaven. The Eucharist is our daily manna, our taste of Christ, until we reach the Promised Land.
"Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
That's a pretty powerful argument for transubstantiation. The Eucharist--Christ's mystical presence among us--is our manna, the bread of heaven that daily sustains the church on her journey to the Promised Land.
That said, I don't think Protestants are excluded from this understanding. Though we don't believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus, we do believe that when two or more are gathered in Jesus's name Christ is present amongst us. And thinking along these lines we might move Pitre's analysis in this more "Protestant" direction.
Specifically, where is the body of Christ? Is it found in the mystical doctrines of transubstantiation? Or in the koinonia of those gathered in the name of Jesus?
True, this need not be an either/or. But if the "body of Christ" can be associated with koinonia, if Christ is with us in the mutual love we share, then might not the corporate body of Christ be the new manna?
Might manna--our daily bread--look like this:
Acts 4.32-35Might our mutual love be our manna--the "bread of heaven," the Exodus food--that sustains us on our journey to the Promised Land?
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Twenty-one speakers giving 21 talks each 21 minutes in length pondering the question "What do you think needs to rise from the ashes of the church?"
Plus 7-21 talks where attendees can take the floor (details here).
Hope to see you in Phoenix!
Recently, search terms looking for "calvin's babysitter" linked to one the final posts in that series which is also a personal favorite.
From a theological vantage, my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips come from a storyline that Bill Watterson gives us in September of 1995.
Calvin and Hobbes comes to an end in December in '95 and in the waning months of the strip we get a two week storyline, ten daily strips in all, devoted to the relationship between Calvin and his evil babysitter Rosalyn.
As you may recall, Rosalyn functions as a kind of satan-figure in Calvin and Hobbes. Rosalyn embodies all the forces arrayed against Calvin. Rosalyn is an impersonal enforcer of rules. She represents the non-relational, non-empathic application of power. Thus, the Calvin/Rosalyn relationship is inherently antagonistic. And the final Rosalyn story in ‘95 begins on just that note:
But the story begins to take a different turn as Rosalyn becomes open to a "deal," a kind of quid pro quo in the relationship:
The game Calvin selects is, you guessed it, Calvinball:
Obviously, Rosalyn is a bit skeptical about this game:
But Rosalyn dons the mask and starts to play:
And soon the dynamic of Calvinball, an inherently relational dynamic, begins to affect her:
And by the end of the night the world is entirely different:
And with that, we say goodbye to Rosalyn. These strips were her swansong. Calvin and Hobbes would end forever three months later.
Theologically, then, what are we to make of the final Rosalyn strips?
As I've described it, Calvinball represents a trusting, non-competitive, relational space. Without rules Calvinball can only be played in a context of trust and mutuality. Thus, only friends can successfully play Calvinball together. This is why Calvinball is the game of choice between Calvin and Hobbes.
So here in the final Rosalyn strips Watterson shows us Rosalyn, the personification of rules, entering into the ruleless world of Calvinball. And by entering the relational world of Calvinball Rosalyn, and her relationship with Calvin, is transformed. This satan-figure becomes a friend.
Rosalyn's distrustful and hierarchical application of power is replaced with mutuality, spontaneity and trust. Rosalyn is saved by Calvinball.
I like to think that Calvinball is a metaphor for church. A place where hierarchy is replaced by mutuality. Where rigidity is replaced by creative spontaneity. Where rules are replaced by relationship and trust. Where coercive power is replaced with the messy anarchy of friendship.
"You see how people lord over each other in the world," Jesus said, "It shall not be like that with you."
And I like to see that place as being the workshop of our salvation. A place where lording over is replaced by loving service, where the last in the world become first, where the least become the greatest. A place, as with Rosalyn, where love begins to slowly unwind us, gently healing how we've been demonically formed and malformed by power and distrust.
A place where we are saved by Calvinball
Out at my bible study at the prison we are working through the entire bible. We're in Jeremiah right now.
And as we've been working through the Old Testament I've been struck by how helpful the paradigm of the New Exodus has been.
In 2011 I worked through some New Exodus material and I find myself referring to these notes over and over out at the prison:
We can begin with the question, what were the Jews expecting of the Messiah?
If you quizzed people in your church about that question my guess is that the #1 answer would be that the Messiah would lead a popular revolt to eject the Romans and restore the Davidic kingdom. To be sure, this was a part of the constellation of ideas surrounding the concept of Messiah. But the expectations regarding the Messiah were actually much richer and broader, more inclusive and even cosmic in scale.
One of the notions that captures this richer vision was the expectation that the Messiah would be a Second Moses. Moses himself predicted that a Second Moses would come with the expectation of a New Exodus. Consequently, many of the Second Temple Jews believed the Messiah to be the fulfillment of this prophecy:
Deuteronomy 18:15-18As a Second Moses leading a New Exodus the expectation was that there also would be a second giving of the Law. A New Law and New Covenant. More, this New Law would be written on hearts rather than on tablets of stone:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
Jeremiah 31:31-33In addition, there would be a New Temple. We need to recall that a lot of the Second Temple Jews thought that the rebuilt temple was a bit of a sham. You'll likely remember that when the old-timers saw the Second Temple they wept, for it was only a shadow of its former glory. We should also remember that after the destruction of Solomon's temple the artifacts in the Holy of Holies (like the Ark of the Covenant) were carted off never to be seen or heard from again (until Indiana Jones found them).
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people."
So in the time of Jesus the Holy of Holies was empty, suggesting that the Shekhinah of God had not returned to dwell among the people. So God was absent. The people were still in exile, despite being back in their homeland. Thus, the expectation was that the Second Moses, who built the tabernacle, the first dwelling for God's Shekhinah, would repeat this feat, building a New Temple that would bring God's dwelling back to earth.
Ezekiel 37:25-28Even more, in addition to a New Law/Covenant and a New Tabernacle/Temple, the Second Moses would bring the people to a New Promised Land. And here's where the vision really starts to transcend the political. The New Promised Land isn't just about restoring the fortunes of Israel. The scale of the New Promised Land is cosmic in scope. It will be a New Heaven and a New Earth:
They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”
Isaiah 65:17-18Finally, if there was to be a New Exodus we'd also expect to see a New Passover meal. Though there is no direct biblical quotation for this it's clear how a New Passover would have been expected in conjunction with a Second Moses and New Exodus. Outside of the bible there is historical evidence, from both Jewish and Christian sources, that the Second Temple Jews were looking for a New Passover, what they called the Passover of the Messiah. (In fact, many Second Temple Jews expected the future Messiah to be revealed during the Passover.)
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
Summarizing all this:
The Jewish Expectation of the Messiah as Leading a New Exodus:Given these expectations, the question readers of the New Testament can ask is this: Do the New Testament writers show Jesus leading a Second Exodus?
1. New Exodus
2. New Law and Covenant
3. New Passover
4. New Temple
5. New Promised Land
Giving a New Law and Covenant? Instituting a New Passover? Rebuilding a New Temple? And leading us to a New Promised Land?
The answers all seem to be yes, which opens up rich and exciting perspectives on the life and ministry of Jesus and ways to link the Old and the New Testaments.
This post is simply a funny exchange I had with my son Aidan on this subject.
Aidan loves Doctor Who. I've only watched one episode. So the other day I was asking Aidan lots of questions about Doctor Who and what he liked about the show.
As Aidan shared I quickly discerned that in most episodes the good Doctor has to deal with a variety of creatures, aliens and monsters.
And then Aidan says, "But Doctor Who doesn't use violence."
I'm intrigued, "He doesn't use violence?"
"Well," I ask, "then how does he fight all these creatures if he's non-violent?"
Aidan pauses and then says, "Well, he runs away a lot. There's a lot of running away."
I wrote this post last week before the Doctor Who premiere on Saturday. Which I watched. The Twelfth Doctor is here! Anyway, the exchange above with Aidan last week made me laugh--the connection between non-violence and a lot of running away.
But if you watched the premiere the show left you speculating about if the Doctor pushed one of those monsters to his death. Sarah Bessey thinks the Doctor did push. Aidan isn't sure.
It'll be something to watch as the season unfolds.
To summarize, in my book The Slavery of Death I talk a great deal about having an eccentric identity, an identity "hidden in Christ." I've not talked directly about the eccentric identity in this series as I've written about it extensively already. This series has been about other applications of eccentricity beyond the description of an eccentric identity.
And so far we've seen how eccentricity can be used to describe transcendence, the prophetic imagination, hospitality, enchantment, the positive facets of doubt, and the economy of love in the faith community.
In this post I want to describe how eccentricity can be a metaphor for missional ecclesiology.
We've already seen a hint of this in Part 2 when we noted how eccentricity can describe the outward-looking orientation of the hospitable community finding God in the stranger. That post in describing this eccentric orientation--facing outward rather than inward--could have served as the sole observation regarding ecclesiology, but I wanted to add one more insight.
Specifically, the idea I have here is the contrast Nathan Kerr makes in his book Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission. Specifically, we should think of the Kingdom less as a territory (e.g., as a city or polis) than as a mission.
As a sojourning, landless missionary community the Kingdom of God doesn't claim and then defend space over against others in the world. As the old hymn testifies, "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through."
To be sure, the pilgrim nature of the Kingdom can tend toward the escapist. But the eccentric metaphor can help here by highlighting that the issue isn't escaping from the world but, rather, being radically in the world. The goal isn't to leave the world but to live in the world without boundaries.
The Kingdom doesn't withdraw and hunker down behind bunkers and high walls. Rather, the faith community is sent into the world as salt and light. Not of the world, but very much in the world. The separation between the Kingdom and the world isn't a boundary but one of vocation and calling.
As my ACU colleague Randy Harris has remarked, perhaps the only good thing that came out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the word "embedded," where journalists were described as being embedded among the combat troops, became a common word. Because the word embedded is a perfect word to describe the relationship between the church and the world.
The eccentric Kingdom doesn't claim territory over against the world. The eccentric Kingdom doesn't erect walls to create a gated community. Rather, the eccentric Kingdom, like salt and leaven, is embedded in the world.
The eccentric Kingdom is the embedded, pilgrim, landless, possessionless, homeless, sojourning, itinerant missionary community called and commissioned to live lives of radical service and availability to the world.
I want to be clear, it is not my place to forgive Darren Wilson or to demand forgiveness from others in the name of Jesus Christ. What I want to do is return to my earlier post to show how I think that analysis can help us think through the thorny issues regarding the relationship between grace and resistance.
The main point I tried to make in my previous post is that our tendency is to narrowly and tightly focus on the moral narrative regarding the altercation between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. What happened? Who was at fault? Who is to blame?
I suggested that this is a mistake. It's a mistake for a couple of different reasons. For example, it's unrealistic to demand victims to be wholly innocent before we'll treat their victimhood as worthy of respect and attention. As believers in universal if not original sin Christians should get that. You don't make innocence a prerequisite for compassion. Otherwise compassion would cease to exist.
But the main reason it is a mistake to focus narrowly on sorting out the blame in the altercation between Darren and Michael is that it creates a causally closed narrative, a tightly bounded moral drama that played out between two people, and only two people, on the streets of Ferguson.
But this story cannot be reduced to what happened between 12:01 p.m. and 12:04 p.m. on August 9, 2014.
This is about more than those three minutes.
To be sure, what transpired during those fateful three minutes is extraordinarily important to the U.S. government, Darren Wilson and Michael Brown's family. Sorting out what happened during those three minutes will be the preoccupation of the grand jury and the court trial should one follow. And Christians should be interested in the justice of how all that plays out.
But a Christian focus should be broader than how the U.S. legal system adjudicates those three minutes. As I stated in the comments to my prior post, in regards to racial reconciliation and justice the innocence or culpability of Michael Brown in what happened between 12:01 p.m. and 12:04 p.m. on August 9 is largely irrelevant. If, for example, it is determined by a jury that Michael attacked Darren in his police car, tried to take his gun, and later tried to rush him, does any of that undermine the validity of the rage among the Black citizens of Ferguson? I contend it does not.
The rage on the streets of Ferguson is historical and systemic in both nature and origin. The rage in Ferguson is not rooted in the innocence or culpability of Michael Brown. And yet, that focus on Michael Brown will be the temptation of White America. Because if we 1) reduce the story to those three minutes and 2) find enough evidence of moral culpability then the narrative causally closes, the moral loose ends are neatly tied up and the status quo can remain intact.
In short, Christians must resist the temptation to reduce the racial issues in Ferguson and the US to the moral drama of those three minutes. We must, rather, consider how those three minutes are historically and systemically embedded in structures of oppression and injustice. Our view must be wider.
In theological language, the moral story of Ferguson isn't about "flesh and blood." The moral story is about more than those three minutes. The moral story isn't about the relative guilt or innocence of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The moral story is about historical and systemic oppression and injustice, about the "principalities and powers" and "spiritual wickedness in high places."
And if the moral frame of Christan resistance regarding the principalities and powers shifts attention away from the culpability of Michael Brown it does the same for Darren Wilson.
To be sure, for Michael Brown and his family focusing on and determining the culpability of Darren Wilson during those three minutes is extraordinarily important. As it is for the U.S. government.
But again, for Christians the frame is wider, which shifts the focus away from the guilt or innocence of Darren Wilson. And it's from within this wider frame where we can find resources for both grace and resistance.
As for resistance, if the guiltiness or innocence of Michael Brown does not allow us to sidestep the burden of resistance neither does the guiltiness or innocence of Darren Wilson.
Because that will be a temptation. Again, if Darren Wilson is "innocent" many will feel safe to move on. And if Darren Wilson is is found "guilty" many will feel safe to blame him and judge him as a sinner. The shooting of Michael Brown would have been caused by one individual's moral failure, a lapse in virtue and piety. A mistake. Or the product of a "bad person."
Which means the guilt of Darren Wilson gets the system and our history off the hook. Guilt can be reduced to an individual, reduced to those three minutes.
Darren Wilson can become the scapegoat for the system.
And that's the point we need to focus on.
The system wants us to scapegoat Michael Brown or Darren Wilson.
The system wants us to keep our focus on those three minutes and only those three minutes. Either Michael or Darren are to blame. So let's blame them. One or both of them. Let's let them carry, for three minutes, the sin and guilt of us all.
But resistance isn't scapegoating. Resistance isn't fetishizing over the guilt or innocence of Michael and Darren. Resistance isn't a battle against the flesh and blood of Michael Brown or Darren Wilson.
Resistance is about the principalities and powers, the on-gong fight against systemic and historical forces of oppression and injustice.
And perhaps surprisingly, by focusing our resistance upon the principalities and powers, we can find here resources for grace. In resisting the principalities and powers we can find grace for flesh and blood, grace for both Michael and Darren.
Maybe Michael did punch Darren and try to attack him. Wouldn't I, if I carried the legacy of young black men in America, have done the same?
And maybe Darren shot a youth in the head as he raised his hands and said "I don't have a gun. Stop shooting!" But am I not, as a White American, complicit in the systemic and historical sins that led up to that moment and which fueled the subsequent resentment and rage?
And if I can come to see myself in both Michael and Darren then perhaps I can come to see how grace for flesh and blood can emerge alongside and from within rage and resistance.
Again, it is not my place to forgive Darren Wilson if he is found guilty. But I will not blame him. Nor will I blame Michael Brown should Darren Wilson's actions be deemed justified.
I will not scapegoat either of them. I will not blame either of them.
But I will blame us. I will blame us for historical and systemic injustice and oppression.
This is about more than three minutes.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is against the principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of wickedness in high places.
And in that battle, I pray, we can embrace both resistance and grace.