Archive for the ‘Things of Faith’ Category

spin-doctorA few weeks back I met with a group of folks who are predisposed to a missional perspective on ministry. Our topic for the day was “What does ministry and mission look like in a Post-Truth Culture?” It is obvious that the current political atmosphere was one of the basis of this topic. First, let me say that this
group of women and men all serve in some form of leadership role within their worshiping contexts. There is certainly reason for concern when truth and facts are manipulated and lies become categorically euphemized as “alternative facts.” Secondly, the purpose of the conversation wasn’t about becoming involved in a political debate, but intentionally opening a dialogue concerning ministry in a culture where lying has become mainstream.

For the purpose of this post, I will lay out my argument that Christians have a particular role to play in this society. This situation in which we find ourselves has in fact been developing over several decades. I remember a time in the late maxresdefault90’s when cheating on tests in college was at times rewarded as being innovative problem solving. People lying on job applications was rewarded as being creative. Deception and lies are as old as time. If this is the case, then what is it about right now that is most troubling? If I were to look at it from the dichotomy of national politics, I would most likely point out the blatant ways in which lies are told to shape a desired “truth.” I would point out the use of “convenient truths” that help to construct perception. For me the temptation is to throw my hands in the air and exclaim with Pilot, “What is truth?”
What I find most clear is that this “Post-truth” culture is not limited to any political categorization. In fact I see it as the logical progression of Modernity. Philosophically speaking, with modernity came a shift in emphasis to facts that support truth statements. Therefore when Kant proclaimed “Think for yourselves” he was essentially calling on the masses of society to check the facts. Question the authoritative statements made by the church and don’t simply accept them as true. What Postmodernity does is take this simple skepticism to the extreme and call all truth claims into question. Some claims that society affirmed as factual fifty years ago, regardless of being simply theoretical in nature, are now recognized as being in error. The perception then is that in the postmodern world facts change. Where modernity emphasized objectivity and empirical evidences, Postmodernity calls into question all factual claims that support truth statements based upon these perceptions. Moreover, with Postmodernity comes an extreme emphasis upon human agency and choice to the degree that one now has the ability to choose what reality, truth, or even facts she wants.

In light of the children of Modernity (capitalism, democracy, etc.) comes the means to create your own personal reality. There is no more emphatic lie than to manipulate stories and facts for the purpose of creating a desired reality. This phenomenon reached its pinnacle in the nineties during the Clinton administration as the sitting president then frantically 535190b95c52e00fc716274e7b3d5316-cfsought to defend himself from a political onslaught. Thus the term “spin” became the term choice as society sought to reframe events to their own liking. As it is now predominately accepted that perspective shapes perception (see Gadamer, Derrida, etc.), it becomes impossible to make truth claims without attaching the Postmodern qualifier “for me.” Admittedly, all objective truth is interpreted subjectively. Where we have gone wrong is with the desire for truth itself. People now believe that they can create truth (as well as facts) by manipulating perception.

Here is my argument. Looking back on the emergence of society’s obsession with fame, one cannot miss the use of lies and deception to create personas that are more spectacle than real. What western culture discovered was that if a person became famous a brand was created that could be used to generate wealth in the media market. A timeless truism is that with wealth comes success and power. Lies are often used to build up a person’s image for practical benefits. However, what has become most striking in western culture is the desire to create reality by means of manipulating facts to create a desired perception. Part of the logic behind this finds its roots in the marketplace as massive campaigns have sought to strike at the hearts of the masses for the purpose of selling them a product. This logic goes as follows: if you tell the lie convincingly consisting of just the right amount of truth; and if you speak it loudly enough; and finally if you speak it enough times it will become the governing reality. In the mind of such logic, perception is everything.

Unfortunately, this is where we are as a society. So the question (at least in my mind) is what is the role of a Jesus follower in such a culture as this? Going back to the conversation of those leaders, what seemed most important was to be representative of “the Truth.” And how does one be such a representative? In spite of the overwhelming obstacles this culture is providing, being a faithful presence, practicing simplicity, and especially emphasizing Jesus’ teaching to “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” But this in itself is not enough. It is not enough to merely speak out when words no longer hold meaning. I am convinced that those who confess that they follow Jesus are essentially called to live according to the truth. What this means is that as a disciple conforms to the teachings of Jesus (particularly the Sermon on the Mount), that disciple’s life will essentially become a living embodiment of the Truth. Therefore a faithful presence is nothing more than living a life that is consistent with the belief claims that the disciple makes. It requires an intentional focus upon the one who claims to be truth. The response must be one where the disciple rolls up the shirt sleeves and begins the difficult work of serving the widows, orphans and aliens in the community. It means that it is time to go to work becoming the truth that our neighbors and world desperately need. In a culture where words have lost their meaning, more is required.

Empire & Hermeneutics

Posted: February 8, 2017 in Hermeneutics, Things of Faith

In his little book, Faith in the Face of Empire, Mitri Raheb writes regarding hermeneutics, “Interpreting a story is an art that requires much creativity and imagination. It is also a science. It is not an innocent science, but very closely related to empire. The empire wants to control the story-line—its meaning, production, and marketing. It does so consciously and often—far more dangerously—unconsciously” (pg. 23). In less than a weefaith-in-the-face-of-empire-the-bible-through-palestinian-eyesk I will be returning to the land where my faith was born. It is a remarkable place with remarkable people. While some have joked that it is a land filled with stones, it is more accurately a land filled with “living stones.”

Over the course of the last five years or so I have learned through the many stories and experiences of the people of the Holy Land that there is no more vivid truth than that this place is an intersection of converging and conflicting narratives. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the power to tell the story is controlled and monopolized by the governing empires. In the United States, the land of my birth, this has taken place in the ways in which the story of history is taught in public, private and home schools and various media outlets. In each context narrative choices are made and claims are put forth as universal truths. In each case these narratives are told from particular perspectives which have been shaped by the governing agencies that approve or disapprove of each telling. In addition there are individual narrative choices made by those in power in the classroom who then directly tell the narrative from a more nuanced and “personal” perspective regardless of any attempts to be objective (whatever that might mean).

Moreover, because we are children of western civilization and more specifically products of modernity we are consequently left with evaluative dichotomies such as, for example, “cowboys vs. Indians,” “north vs south,” “progressive vs. conservative,” etc. Even within academic contexts (where intellectual freedom is supposed to be evident) an underlining nationalistic narrative usually streams through. It is important to recognize that this is not an organic phenomenon. This is an intentional hermeneutical tactic systemic to the institution of nation states that endeavors to not only control the narratives told but more significantly to shape the corporate consciousness in the efforts to homogenize the identity of the resident population. In the United States this took place through “melting pot” rhetoric and intentional attempts to do away with “hyphenated-Americans” (Durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine, pg. 416). Incidentally, the nonviolent communities of the Brethren, Mennonites, Quakers, Amish suffered under suppression efforts during both world wars as a result of this.

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Art Gish, 63, an American from Athens, Ohio, member of the Church of the Brethren and Christian Peacemaking Team Thursday Jan 30, 2003 (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

In much the same way, hermeneutical power is wielded around the globe by the empire in the attempt to shape public consciousness. The effort is to erase the “other” narrative in order to attain or sustain power over society. This, however, does not mean that there is no truth telling in the empire’s narrative, only that those truths told are used to place its own narrative in the best possible light to enable the empire’s pursuit of the expansionist goals. The hermeneutical threat that these endeavors pose to the Christian community is that the metanarrative of empire has discovered that “commandeering” the narrative of the Christian religion can have a semi-unifying result under the guise of “Christian nation,” while attempting to divide the Christian metanarrative along cultural and ethnic lines.

The most explicit effects of this can be seen by how the majority of western evangelical Christianity has turned its back on Palestinian Christians by universally accepting and supporting the modern nation state of Israel. The convergence of nationalism, evangelical dispensationalism and Zionism have had devastating effects upon the Christian population in Palestine. The way that the rhetoric of “terrorist” has been widely embraced and universally applied to the population of that region. The socio-political theology behind this convergence contradicts and marginalizes the teachings of Jesus and his sermon on the mount. While for western Christians this may not seem relevant to their experience, the efforts of the empire to delete or obfuscate the “other” narratives is now becoming evident in western society. The temptation is to see this as merely a political controversy. This phenomenon transcends politics; it involves the globalized corporate identity of capitalism and its partner militarism. The nonviolent discipleship of Jesus (Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, Lamb of God, Immanuel, Redeemer, etc.) followers is more relevant and necessary today than it has been for centuries. The narrative of the “Truth” must be lived and told in such ways that both resist and protest the efforts of the empire. Christians must be diligent in their study and meditation of scripture in the context of humble service to those most vulnerable and oppressed in this world. The hope of God’s kin(g)dom come on Earth as in heaven is nothing more than the liberation of this world from sin and death. What this means is that in the violent throws of the empire, Jesus will be (was, is) victorious through resurrection. The hermeneutical challenge today for western evangelicalism is to find liberation from the universalizing metanarratives of modernity and to re-embrace the “Way, Truth, and Life” of the one who calls them to follow; the one who opens his arms to love even his enemies.

Words of the Day

Posted: December 7, 2016 in Culture and Faith, Things of Faith

While I have not been known to be a sesquipedalian, I am somewhat of a lexophile. Over the past several months of living in the alter-universe where, truth is detached from reality and created by opinionated perceptions distortedmanurehero into a perverted sense of the present, I had to smile at the way in which Pope Francis addressed the emerging post-truth culture. He cannot be accused of euphemizing his judgments.  His analysis of the current context he summed up with two words, “coprophilia” and “coprophagia.” A wonderfully colorful characterization of consumerism and news media. Apparently this was not the first time he had used these terms. However, it was the first time that I heard him use them.

The imagery these two terms conjure are graphically appropriate at a time when the populous is so voraciously devouring news (obviously this term no longer means what it used to) that it is out-pacing the media’s insatiable appetite to report anything (truth has no meaning here) that meets the tastes of consumers. What seems strikingly obvious is that this is but the natural result of a capitalist and consumerist oriented culture. How is it that we are surprised by these developments? What seems almost comical to me is the way in which of the (half or un)truths are being spread by those within a community who are said to worship the one who claims to be the “Truth.” The irony is as deep as the pile of feces being loved and consumed. How is it that we have moved from standing with Jesus and truth-telling to standing with Pilot asking “what is truth?”

truth-and-liesThe immediate problem (as I see it within the United States) predates this election cycle finding its roots in the early Twentieth Century as industrial and religious leaders became partners in the cultural experiment of creating the national religion of Christian Libertarianism.[1] This national religion sought to shape and create a culture in which capitalism, constitutionalism, and a spattering of religious (Judeo-Christian) values were mixed together with exceptionalism. This, however, is only part of the story. The immediate counterpart to this liberal conservativism is liberal progressivism which also shares a smattering of exceptionalism, religious (social) values, constitutionalism and capitalism. Interestingly enough both sides share an unhealthy affection for militarism. They are two sides of the same coin. In as much as they are different, they share many of the same fundamental values

Regardless of which side one identifies with, the underlying rhetoric used is that of fear. The language used has reached apocalyptic levels exalting the stakes so high as if the ultimate hope lies in an a political process or system. I’m not saying that organization and institutions are unnecessary or unimportant, but simply they are not the source of Christian hope. They do not hold the future and they are not what a follower of Jesus is to swear allegiance to. What has happened is that we have become so enmeshed in this culture and so much hyperbole has been used to push political agendas that the evangelical community has become consumers of half-truth and falsity. Like the pop-culture, the evangelical community finds itself asking, “What is truth?” I think it’s time to step away from the dung hill and find something more nutritious to consume. We all know the old adage “You are what you eat . . .”

[1] Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. (Basic Books: New York, 2015).

6a00d83498861169e201b8d0cbe5e9970cI’m sitting here once again considering what it would take to experience the changes I so desperately desire. In the past I would often look to the outside world as a cause for how I felt and thought. To some degree this is the case in that my gaze was fully focused on particular parts of this world that shaped my affections. Yet this is not entirely so either. I’m slowly discovering realizing the meaning that it is not merely the things that I see or even think about that shape my affections. There is definitively that aspect of the human person that transcends a rational consciousness that forms the essence of what I love and care about.

For too long I have intentionally focused my “efforts” on spiritual disciplines with the presupposition that I am primarily and essentially a rational creature. I suppose in this sense I am a creature of my environment (culture). I have lived in a world that has ignored and even mocked the affectual nature that distinguishes human beings from other creatures. In his book, Imagining the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith makes the persuasive argument that desire is the key element to human formation and that human desire is formed by liturgies (particular affectual practices). Essentially he is arguing for a paradigmatic shift in training students from one that assumes students are empty receptacles into which the instructor pours information to an approach that seeks to form the student in a holistic way even shaping the emotions and desires. His argument focuses primarily upon worship (liturgy) as the essential means of this process.

So far I am fully with Smith both in his rejection of the enlightenment approach and assumptions and that liturgies are essential practices by which persons are formed. Smith also rightly states that human beings participate in liturgies regardless of religious background. If a person professes no religious affiliation or more extremely rejects such affiliation, that same person at the very least participates in secular liturgies (which is inevitably formational).

Where I veer away from Smith is not in any principle disagreement of his theoretical argument. However, in the application of it I would argue that Christian liturgy transcend the practices of the cathedrals and the modern understandings of worship services. My Anabaptist sensibilities demand more than an hour singing and saying worshipful things to the transcendent (and imminent) God. Having recently read Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment, I was reminded of the practices of the early followers of Jesus. In the first two centuries of the church it was essential for the prospective Christian to begin the faith journey in service to the poor. I can’t help but read Matt. 6:22-23 (“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness?) as a context for Jesus’ parable about the “least of these” in Matt. 25.

Jesus’ metaphor of the eye essentially concerns hermeneutics in that it addresses the focus of one’s attention. However, itstock-photo-blured-text-with-focus-on-focus-157720016 is more than just that. I am convinced that Jesus is addressing the very things that shape the affections of human beings. If a person continues in the status quo practices that focuses upon the security and survival of the self in exclusion of the other then the affections of the self will be shaped thusly. In the case of the “Sermon on the Mount,” if the follower of Jesus practices the liturgies Jesus instructs on that hill, then the focus and attention of the disciple will requisitely change too. But Jesus doesn’t end his teaching there. The climactic teaching of the sermon addresses the symbols which are representative of survival for a people living at subsistence levels.

For a Christian who was born and raised in the northwestern hemisphere and who is part of the dominant culture (including all that this category means racially and in terms of origin) this teaching is easily misunderstood to simply address greed and wealth. Most significantly it is addressing allegiances, bonds, commitments, and identity. To whom or what have we made allegiances? Where are the sum our commitments focused? To what group, culture or sub-culture are we bonded? How do we fundamentally identify ourselves? As is conspicuous in the articulation of these questions the matter of Jesus’ teachings goes beyond the simple surface interpretation of this passage. In fact the following verses do not address worry in the sense that it has been preached for decades. To a people living at the subsistence level, to actually practice the teachings Jesus presented would consequently lead the disciple to social (and ultimately financial) bankruptcy in the contextual vertical structure of society.

Essentially what I am arguing is that if we practice the liturgies taught in the sermon, especially in light of chapter 25, the proverbial eye will essentially focus upon (and pragmatically serve) that population living on the margins of society (the least of these). The posture emphasized is one that serves in a way that expresses the jubilee claim Jesus takes as his own as recorded by Luke (chapter 4). What has repeatedly occurred through the centuries is the continued attempt to assimilate the kin(g)dom focus of the church into the dominant culture of society. The consequences have grievously been devastating both to the witness (and life) of the church and the population who the gospel intentionally identifies with and for.

Essentially Pentecostal scholars such as Kenneth J. Archer are correct in identifying the orthopraxis of the church. What this means is that practices are absolutely essential in forming the life of believers. I am convinced that before we can become effective disciples of Jesus, our affections (desires) must be reformed (perhaps more accurately transformed) so that even as the disciple loves God with all of her/his life, it is primarily expressed by loving the other. This intentional and directional service is in and of itself an essential liturgy to any rule of life. There is no horizontal worship of God the Creator unless it is first formed through the service to and life with the least of these.