Introducing themes from radical theology in the advent service.
As people came into the building the entrance to the chapel was blocked with a sign asking people to wait. We usually go through into the chapel to start the service but there was preparation to do first. I asked everyone to write their name on a sandwich bag in preparation for the service. I disrupted the normal order of doing things to get people thinking about the traditional themes of Advent – waiting and preparation before starting the main service. Once everyone had settled down the following was read from Isaiah 40:3
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
“Unlike Mary we have already been impregnated by all manner of things and there is little room for God”
This was taken from a transformance art event described by Katharine Moody in her book Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity (I assume it’s from an Ikon event but I’m not sure).
We watched this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_-9cGDiON0) of Peter Rollins speaking about the sacred object.
I then spoke:
“As we heard at the beginning unlike Mary we are already impregnated, leaving little room for God. Our lives are full of sacred objects – idols – gods; those things that have promised satisfaction and completeness but oppress us in their inability to fulfil their promise. Let us, as in the verse from Isaiah, prepare a way for the Lord.”
At this point I asked people to consider the sacred items that they had with them – the items that they believed would bring happiness and fulfillment and to put them in the sandwich bag they had written their name on. Once people had chosen which item(s) they wanted to put in I bought out a bin and asked them to empty themselves of their idols by placing them in the bin (with an assurance that nothing was going to happen to them). Once I had collected them all I asked how it felt to have given up the sacred objects and let people speak.
“As Peter outlined in the video it isn’t just material items that become idols in our lives it can be relationships, career, fame, starting a family or perhaps even belief in an interventionist God. Whether or not these sacred objects are in themselves good they cannot provide completeness and satisfaction any more than the apple from the forbidden tree. Like Lent, a season in which we can experience the death of our gods, Advent is a season within which to empty ourselves of our gods in preparation as we wait to see what is birthed in their place at Christmas.
In the laying down of our idols may we find that love and community in the embracing of the complexity, depth, difficulties, and beauty of life be birthed in their place.”
I asked people to consider the idols in their lives that they can lay down during advent whilst returning the items to their owners – playing Flaws by Bastille as this touches on themes from the service.
I have recently handed in my dissertation proposal ready for my third year studies at uni. I am looking into the role of narrative in personal and cultural formation. The starting point for my thinking leading to this was reading Pete Rollins’ book Insurrection and the chapter Story Crime, in which he says “We all have a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves, a story which we begin identifying with from infancy, and as long as we don’t think too much about it, we re able to maintain this story. But this personal narrative often has little direct connection to the reality of who we are.” We protect the self from the self through the narrative that we tell ourselves and we also protect the self from the other as well. When we have done wrong and we know we have done wrong we tend to build a narrative around the event to help placate our guilt, to justify our actions to ourselves. Sometimes this means that we tell a story about the self, about why we aren’t as bad as our actions would suggest or we tell a story about the other, someone or something else, to help justify why we did what we did, again allowing us to believe that we aren’t as bad as our actions suggest. We are able to protect ourselves from ourselves. These stories probably have very little in connection to the reality of who we are and the world around us but they help us to continue to believe that we are good. The narratives help us to avoid encountering our own monstrosity , often by focussing on the monstrosity of someone else. We can see this happening in all sorts of situations, take a church group, by building up a narrative about why they have everything right and about why the church down the road has it wrong they are able to distance themselves from any thought about what they may be getting wrong, from encountering their own monstrosity because they are able to sustain the narrative that they are good and holy and that it is that group over there that is monstrous. All kinds of church, with all kinds of different beliefs and activities do this, as do all sorts of different groups. It helps form and keep a group identity and builds a protection around that.
I have started to wonder if this offers a way to look at some of the old testament narrative. When the Israelites wage war, attack enemies and pray for the downfall of others they are able to do so through their narrative of being the chosen, holy, ones where as the other group are evil as they do x, y and/or z and as such there is a justification for their violence. They are able to believe that what they are doing is right and good and holy by seeing how monstrous their neighbours are. They are able to believe that God even ordains the war that they wage. Of course in Christ, the prince of peace, we see God commanding a love of enemies, a love of those groups that we would otherwise demonise and commanding that we shouldn’t want tooth for tooth or eye for eye but to believe in forgiveness. I don’t believe that God changed his mind but I do think that through the narrative the Israelites told themselves they were able to misunderstand God’s revelation of Godself in such a way that this became acceptable to them.
Nadia Bolz-Webber offers some thoughts on a similar subject in her sermon “Being good doesn’t make you free. The Truth makes you free.” which really is worth a read or a listen to!
Perhaps we need to become more aware of the narratives that we tell and are being told, the way in which we can use these to demonise others and protect ourselves. To admit when we are doing this and to try to reconnect to the truth. To be able to encounter our own monstrosity rather then just pointing out the monstrosity of others. To lay down our own narratives in order to be able to understand God’s revelation rather then an altered version based on our narrative. As a wise man once said “The truth will set you free”.
A second part to this has been added here: The first will be last: narrative, power and gospel
Related post: The Unchanging word of God?
Lately I have noticed a problem with words particularly within Christianity. People don’t seem to understand the nuances of multifaceted words. For instance the words Evangelical and Catholic. I have noticed people criticising things because “I thought that was Catholic”. But what do they mean by this? Do they mean they think what is happening is from the Roman Catholic church, is it because it related to Catholic thought, is it part of Catholic ritual, or, perhaps they mean that it is part of Catholic spirituality. You can find two different people who call themselves Catholic, and hold fervently to that view who mean very different things by it and so to simply say that something is Catholic as a criticism cannot make sense, the nuance isn’t there to explain what the person means.
The word Evangelical is similar, people use it to mean many different things. And I have noticed that this, or, “I’m a Bible believing Christian” is added to arguments as if to add gravity to a point of view and secondly as if to suggest that any one who does not agree with that statement therefore isn’t a Bible believing Christian or is not evangelical. Like people who define themselves as Catholic you will find a wide variety of views within Evangelicals, it is not a word that allows you to make automatic assumptions about a group of people based on this description.
I have said for a long time that I do not hold the views that I hold in spite of the Bible (as some would suggest) but because of it. My understanding of it is just different. Some people’s understanding of taking the Bible seriously is to take the English translation of their choice literally. My understanding of taking the Bible seriously is to understand who is saying what and to whom, the cultural context that they are speaking within, the language that they are using and the nuanced meanings of the idioms, my version of taking the Bible seriously is one of study and then of application.
I had thought of using the terms “differently orthodox” or “differently Evangelical”. But ultimately I am a Bible believing Christian and, as such, can claim the title Evangelical.
I may just start prefixing any arguments that I make with “as a Bible believing Christian” or as “an Evangelical”, or perhaps I will just let my arguments stand or fall on their own rather then trying to support it with such titles. And please realise that when you see words such a Catholic or Evangelical that you cannot automatically assume to know what that group is like or what they believe, there is probably more deviation within these groups then there is between them.
Quite a while ago I saw the above image, it’s a Christian guy being hugged by a gay man in his underwear. Andrew Marin and a group of Christians went to a pride event in Chicago with signs saying “I’m Sorry”, which had a great response. They were apologising for the hate and general lack of love that Christians are known for showing to the Gay community. It was an image that made me emotional, it was an image that represented reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness. It’s an image that I have been unable to forget. So fast forwards 18 months or so & I have helped organise for a group of Christians to go to a pride event. Our aim is to take a “different kind of Christian presence” to a community that is perhaps more used to Christian demonstrations of condemnation and hate.
We had been thinking that we would just turn up and see what happens, perhaps take signs etc. However last week Mark Berry from Safe Space came to talk to our team of Churches. He briefly talked about the Samaritain woman at the well, a passage that I have turned to over the last few years while thinking about Christian relations with the LGBT community. His community felt that they were called through this passage to start a night time ministry caring for people as they left a local nightclub, offering a safe place to call a cab, space blankets, flip flops first aid etc. He went on to tell us how ridiculously quickly it started after the idea was first brought up (I think they got going in around 2 weeks-ish) and how all the doors that should have been shut in their face where open for them to go though, including being handed the funding they needed without having had to ask for it. He also told us about how he was asked to be on the board for the local football club, having talked to the chairman and having spent time offering love to the football community by sweeping the terraces after the games and spending time with the community in the bar afterwards.
Traveling home from that talk last week the way forwards hit my in the face and I decided to contact the organisers of the Pride event, knowing that getting them to trust us may have been an issues thanks for the reputation of Christian groups with regards to their interaction with the LGBT community. I sent the email and asked people to pray, hoping that there would be a person of peace in the organising team and trusting that God would be ahead of us opening doors if we were supposed to do this. A few days later I received an email from the treasurer who, it turns out, is a Christian himself and had been wanting to get Christians involved in the event as his church had been unable to do so this year. I went on the trust that the doors would be open and was really pleased to have found that they were.
We are looking at what we would be able to give out, a small bag of sweets or something, and offering the chance to ask for prayer in a non-threatening way (perhaps writing down a situation that prayer would be appreciated for and leaving it with us to pray for when we leave). Our way of being able show love, humility and grace.
I had been planning to post about this for a few weeks and then heard that Two Friars and a Fool were finally unleashing their #95tweets project I figured that I would wait, post about that and then follow it up with this.
A while ago at a home group I was a part of we watched a video featuring Fransis Chan and whilst talking about it afterwards several of us agreed that he seemed to use Hell as a motivation for how we act. From what little I know about Chan* he does and says some good things and I have no wish to to take that away from him. But I do disagree with him on this. I think that Hell is completely the wrong motivation for Christians for how we live on Earth. If Hell is the reason that we do or do not do certain things then that is ultimately selfish and done out of love for the self, to save the self and not through love of God or love of our neighbour. But through exploring and reconsidering the doctrine of Hell we can reconsider our faith and our motivation. We can learn to be motivated by the beauty of God’s Kingdom, of the passion to see the world restored. We can be motivated by being part of God’s kingdom now “the Kingdom of God is within you” and bringing restoration to people’s lives and the awesomeness of that, not because we don’t want to go to Hell.
When I have told people that I like Mathew 25:31-end (the parable of the sheep and goats) the reply has been that they don’t. I think, perhaps, that the reason that they don’t like it is that it makes them question their own salvation. The reason that I do like it is that it makes me question my own salvation. I don’t want to be motivated to do these things to be sure of my salvation, but to do so because of love and beauty and the potential I see to help restore the world to how it should be.
A parent doesn’t want their child’s love out of fear, because of what may happen to them if they don’t profess love for the parent. Do we imagine that God wants us to love him out of fear? Is that even true love? Which motivation would you prefer from the people that love you? How much more must our heavenly father prefer for love to be given out of beauty rather than fear.
*Basically having watched this video a while ago and read a couple of quotes on line so I really don’t claim to understand where he is coming from or what he is like I am just using this to illustrate my point.
Two Friars and a Fool is a blog aimed at stimulating the kind of theological discussion you may have with friend over a pint in the pub. A while ago they announced their #95tweets project which, over the weekend, was finally released on the Twitter public. Mirroring Luther’s 95 theses the friars aimed at stimulating discussion whilst demonstrating why they don’t think that belief in Hell is valid or fits with the Christian world view. They tweeted 95 Biblical, Theological or Ethical reasons to reject the belief in Eternal Conscious Torment, and I think they did a good job. Below are the tweets that I “favourited” over the weekend. Click here to see the whole list on the Two Friars and a Fool website, why not get involved in the discussion on their blog, using the #95tweets hash tag or @TwoFriars. I would also love to know people’s thoughts on this.
My 16 favourite tweets (with an explanation of the tweeting format from @TwoFriars):
These arguments are in 3 categories: Ethical (E), Theological (T) and Biblical (B) plus a number
So, for example, the first tweet will be Tweet E1, or tweet 1 in the Ethical category
#95Tweets#T3: Eternal Hell does nothing whatsoever to glorify God, unless the powerful torturing the weak is glorious
#95Tweets#T5: Eternal Hell renders God’s love meaningless – no definition of love could include allowing infinite torture
#95Tweets#B1: The overwhelming majority of Bible verses support some form of annihilation; more support universalism than eternal Hell
#95Tweets#B2: Gen 3:19: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, not dust to eternal conscious torment. Death, not eternity, is our default end
#95Tweets#B7: Hades, translated as “Hell”, is imported from Greek mythology, and is simply the realm of the dead, or the god of death
#95Tweets#B8: Hades, while still not Hell, is thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed at the climax of the book of Revelations
#95Tweets#E11: Fear of (eternal) punishment is the most brutal, crass and callous way to seek to encourage good
95Tweets#E12: Fear of punishment is not effective in encouraging good, it only prevents overt misdeeds while being watched
#95Tweets#T9: Eternal Hell renders God’s power meaningless, since God’s plan to restore all creation can be foiled by human sin
#95Tweets#E15: It is morally untenable to expect any person of conscience to enjoy Heaven knowing that others are in Hell
#95Tweets#T17: Eternal Hell is far beyond even the most evil we could visit upon our children – and are we not God’s children?
#95Tweets#T20: Eternal Hell ascribes infinitude, eternity and finality to pain, horror, despair and terror
#95Tweets#B26: Romans 6:23 Paul says the wages of sin is “death”, not “eternal conscious torment” – an important distinction
#95Tweets#B28: Galatians 6:7-8 – Paul is pretty clear that there is destruction or eternal life, not eternal conscious torment
#95Tweets#B29: Phil. 2:9-11 says every knee will bend and tongue confess, not that most knees and tongues will be tortured forever
#95Tweets#B30: Col 1:18-20 – God reconciles with all creation through Christ…or fails miserably to do so if eternal Hell exists
So what do you think?
Related post: Hell is a Selfish Motivator