Thursday, September 27, 2007

The un/known God

Continuing in Rollins' book How (Not) to Speak of God...

This is a subsection of Chapter two, and in this section of "The un/known God" Rollins' first paragraph helps immensely in our discussion of God's location and relationship to us in the midst of life, creation, the world, suffering, joy, etc.:

"What is beginning to arise from the discussion so far is the idea that God ought to be understood as radically transcendent, not because God is somehow distant and remote from us, but precisely because God is immanent. In the same way that the sun blinds the one who looks directly at the light, so God's incoming blinds our intellect. In this way the God who is testified to in the Judeo-Christian tradition saturates our understanding with a blinding presence. This type of transcendent-immanence can be described as 'hypernymity'. While anonymity offers too little information for our understanding to grasp (like a figure on television who has been veiled in darkness so as to protect their identity), hypernymity gives us far too much information. Instead of being limited by the poverty of absence we are short-circuited by the excess of presence. The anonymous and the hypernonymous both resist reduction to complete understanding, but for very different reasons."

...We've been having a discussion the last few weeks in the adult small group I'm in about the problem of God and the problem of evil, and how to talk about God and evil and the suffering people go through. Which has ultimately led us back to the notion and idea of prayer, and how God "answers" or "hears" or "responds" to our prayers.

I have mostly come to rest in this mystery of prayer as an act of posturing before God, "as the object before the ultimate Subject" or as the human at the feet of God. Prayer helps me to be aware of God's hypernymity in ways that I have been too busy or too selfish, or simply unaware of before. I have a hard time with God being outside of time or space because I believe God to not be distant because God is striking the hiesman pose and keeping us at arms length, but rather God is radically transcendent through being such a blinding light, that I cannot possibly capture God in the fullness of God's being, and totality of the reality of God's movement in the world with my senses. There is this sense that God is at work all around us and in us as a community in the midst of suffering and evil and is beautifully blinding to our senses because we cannot comprehend the abounding goodness and grace of God.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A good weekend and a new friend

This weekend marked the second Summit Lake Fall Retreat for senior high students that I've taken students on since being a youth pastor. We joined about 200 folks in a weekend of reflection, worship, conversation, and fun. The retreat was put together by a team of youth workers from NorthStar Church Network, which my church is a part of, and in the last three years as I've gotten more and more involved on the associational level, I've made some good friends, and been able to help create some positive experiences for students that help to push the confines of the conversation to new places. We were able to incorporate worship stations, great music, powerful breakout sessions, together with a thought-provoking and generous speaker Chris Folmsbee, to help us work into an on-going emerging conversation taking place in a theologically diverse group of churches. Last year my friends Harp 46 played for the entire weekend, and this year they were back for two of our four worship gatherings over the weekend. Hearing Harp 46 play live is such an amazing experience...whether we are singing "worship" songs or not, being in the same room while they do their thing is simply beautiful. Last night as Shey and I were discussing the retreat, we both kept coming back to Harp's worship sets, and how we just miss that kind of reflective, prompting music that offers more complexity and texture than the typical pop-worship we are accustomed to. Harp 46 also has added another member to the band, Amanda Lee, who has a tremendous voice, and did a fantastic job helping lead our students through a time of worship through music.

It was also really great for Shey and I to get to hang out with April and Nuc's son Lukas during their worship sets. There were some cool moments as Chris was talking about the importance of new life and how we are made in the image of God, to be able and look over to see such new life in some of the children there, like Lukas, it was very moving.

So we had a good retreat, and over the last couple of months in conversations and emails, and now after hanging out a bit, it was a blessing to be develop a new friendship. As I mentioned before, Chris Folmsbee was our speaker this weekend. He's the author of A New Kind of Youth Ministry, and is now the Chief Ministry Officer of YouthFront and President of the Sonlife division of YouthFront after the recent merger of the two ministries. (YouthFront and Sonlife) He did a great job speaking and helped urge the conversation amongst our students and youth workers to new places as we discussed being made in the image of God, holistically missional, life change and action, and the importance of being open-minded (amongst many other things). We had a chance to hang out for a bit on Saturday night, and it was encouraging to hear about the ways the YouthFront and Sonlife are coming together to help shape and stimulate the conversation and provide some great resources for future youth ministry. If you have a chance to hang out with Chris, or hear him speak, make sure you do. Thanks for a great weekend and great conversation Chris! Oh, and he's also blogged about his experience with us here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Heads Up

Today is a good blog day. There is a lot of great discussions and articles out there, and just a few to check out:

If you haven't read Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, I highly recommend it, and over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight is doing a fantastic job blogging through the book. Be sure to check it out.

Josh Brown, also of The Nick and Josh Podcast, has a great post raising issues from an article by Thomas Friedman (Friedman's article is also good), questioning whether the micro-level actions of consumers is actually making a difference or enacting a so-called "green revolution." This is a great post.

Lastly, there is an absolutely fantastic article written by Sally Morganthaler over at Allelon called Worship as Evangelism, that offers some strong and profound thoughts on the directions of mega-churches, contemporary worship, and the idea of worship as evangelism. A must read for worship leaders and church leaders. (ht: Jonny Baker)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

good morning

Good morning
Look at the valedictorian scared of the future
While I hop in the De Lorean
Scared-to-face-the-world complacent career student
Some people graduate, but we still stupid
They tell you read this, eat this, don't look around
Just peep this, preach us, teach us, Jesus
Kanye West, "Good Morning"

I had breakfast with Tim today, and after some good conversation and a trip to Target to pick up some fun for my man R.J. who is giving one of his kidneys to his cousin today, I was driving home and listening to Kanye's new album. I think the combination of the two classes I have on Tuesday nights is a recipe for some big change...I am taking a Mystical Theology class where we are studying the early Desert Fathers, followed by a class on preaching. While I am wrestling with both in very different ways, the readings and the classes are wonderful explorations of my most personal and communal theologies. Union with God and community, and the event of preaching.

As I was listening to the first track on Kanye's album "Good Morning", this morning, this verse (above) struck me in a way as another perspective of the promise I made to myself this year. I promised myself to start putting forth more of my own ideas, new theologies and perspectives that I am wrestling with and trying to articulate. Even though the teachers and preachers are often trying to convince me of "the" way to preach, view baptists, understand the reformation, or new theologies or expressions of church, I promised to start speaking up, questioning out loud more, and find my voice amidst the chorus around me. I'm not going to disregard or stop listening to these voices, these teachers and preachers, but I don't want to wake up years from now, and feel like I never digested what I was told or instructed or learned. I might just join Mr. West for a trip in the De Lorean this good morning.

Friday, September 14, 2007

So Two Youth Pastors and a Monk Walk Into a Bar...

And I got no punchline...but, last night I joined my friend Tom Lynch and my new friend Mark, a novitiate who is coming up on his possible ordination and taking perpetual vows into the diaconate in the coming months as he finishes his M. Div., at a bar last night, and couldn't resist the post title. We are taking a Baptist history class together, and thought we'd hang out a bit after class. Unlike my lame post, Mark told a couple great jokes last night, and we spent some time laughing, sharing our stories, and discussing some theology and was one of those times when you are so thankful to have the opportunity to study and dialogue with great people in a positive learning environment. Good stuff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

sunflowers and social justice

I had a pretty busy day yesterday, up early to finish a paper and do some reading, upon which I was late to my Theology of the Psalms class with Dr. Smith that morning because of bad traffic, and then read The Life of St. Antony by Athanasius, and a chapter from Fred Craddock's book on preaching, then went to classes that night. It was a busy day, but it had a reflective start. In front of me yesterday morning was some sunflowers from the garden that reminded me of the need to slow down and live simply, and I was drinking out of a mug urging me to find a prophetic voice to cry out for injustice. Thanks to Andrea for the mug which she gave me after harvesting her garden while she was on vacation...

I hope folks are well. peace.

Monday, September 10, 2007

the goings on

So I preached on Labor Day weekend, and this past weekend I led a seminar for our association on youth ministry titled "Breaking Out of the Entertainment Model of Youth Ministry." If you'd like to download my latest sermon, you can right click here, select "save as" and download the sermon. If you'd like to simply listen to the sermon (I think in Real Player) click here. The sermon was called "Becoming Part of the Story of God" and I preached on the text of Mark 5:21-43.

School is in full swing, and for the most part I am really enjoying my classes. I sort of have these crises events after some nights, where sometimes I am like: "I am doing the right thing training to become a pastor. I love this." Other nights: "What am I thinking. I'm going to drag everyone down to hell right with me..."

I have come to realize that most of the doubts stem from my inability to disconnect what some professors or students believe that the "church" or "preaching" or "the Bible" must be understood as, in relation to new expressions and thoughts of about said subjects, doctrines, or theologies where I might be leaning into. I'm not really sure what I think about in terms of having a "calling" or a specific vocation. Who knows...

The garden is doing well. We have tons of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, and sunflowers. I ate my first watermelon from the garden and it was delicious. Big thanks to the McCarty's for their sharing of seeds, and help getting started. I have already learned so much this year, it makes me excited to try some new methods and grow some different plants next's everybody else?

Oh yeah, I can't forget that we had our first soccer game this weekend. Tim and I are playing on a new team this year, and we won our first game. Seth, you'd like these dudes and our one female teammate as well, she is really good, because they pass, and they work hard. Tim said he'd score a goal and dedicate it to you. He also said that he'd paint your face on his chest and after he scores, he'll pull the front of his shirt up onto his head and run around acting like he's flying, in his dedication-of-the-goal-to-Seth celebration.


Remember Peter Rollins? Well, let's see if we can't work through a bit more of How (Not) to Speak of God. If you remember, I was working through some of this fantastic book. Let's see if we can't work through the rest of it in the next couple of weeks. If you want to read from the beginning, go here, here, here, and here.

Continuing in Chapter 2, Rollins proposes this notion of God as hyper-present, super-present. "It means that God not only overflows and overwhelms our understanding but also overflows and overwhelms our experience (pg. 23)." So often, people talk about this notion of God being close, yet distant. This has to do with the realization that while we try to talk about God and know God, we come to realize that we can't capture God, and that even our best attempts to talk about God are limited. So in one sense there seems to be distance. Yet, in this distance, followers of Jesus also try to talk about God's immanence, the notion that God is not far away, and that God is intimately involved in the events of today. Yet it is hard to reconcile these notions of God being both distant and yet close at the same time.

So as Rollins describes God as hyper-present, the distance we feel or sense in our understanding of God is not because God is actually far away, but in reality, it is because our understanding of God is saturate with "a blinding presence (24.)." God is super-present, or "hypernonymous" in that God is so close, the presence of God in our midst overwhelms our senses and reality and we can only take in so much (24). This acknowledgment of God as hyper-present rests in the belief that God is the "absolute subject before whom we are the object (23)." In this sense, we are the object before God to be known, and rather than the other way around.

Rollins again clarifies saying that, "In this reading, Christ, as the image of the invisible God, both reveals and conceals God: rendering God known while simultaneously maintaining divine mystery. Here the God testified to in Christianity is affirmed as an un/known God (25)." If you sense a tinge of Eastern Orthodox and apophatic theology coming is beautifully mysterious isn't it? I had written a paper on Pseudo-Dionysius in the spring about the notion of knowing God in our unknowing, and Rollins articulates both the point of view of PD and the aftermath of theology in writing: " Pseudo-Dionysius argues that this knowing unknowing acknowledges its profound finitude and inability to grasp that to which the religious individual intends. This divine darkness represents a type of supra-darkness that stands in sharp contradistinction to the sub-darkness of desolate nihilism. While one is brought about by an absolute excess of light, the other results from a total absence; while one represents a higher form of unknowing that subverts reasoning, the other signals mere ignorance (28)." An absolute excess of light...that is a beautiful vision.

So to wrap up this monster post, and Chapter 2, we have talked before about our need to both speak about God, yet realize the limitations in out talk about God, and the need to realize that when we speak about God we are not capturing God with our thoughts, as though God is the object of whom we can capture. Instead, we recognize our need for an "epistemological silence" and as Rollins writes, "We must speak and yet we must maintain our silence, we maintain distance amidst the proximity of God, and we must worship while being careful not to make God into the object of our worship: for God is the subject before whom we worship (30)." Amen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

first sunflowers, what a morning

We picked some of our first sunflowers yesterday. They brighten up the house, and because they are sunflowers with autumn-like colors, they remind me of the coming cool air and fall beauty ready to come. This will be our first full fall at the Owsley's house, and I'm really excited to be out here this fall, to have the leaves change, and the air become crisp. I put up a few pictures above of some of the sunflowers opened up this morning. Along with the sunflowers, I found a cool grasshopper resting on an unopened sunflower, and I caught a moment of the morning sun coming through the trees onto the garden. There is also a picture of one of the bigger pumpkins growing down at the garden. It's nothing compared to a lot of the bohemoths growing in the pumpkin patch that the Owsleys are growing for their "pick-your-own-pumpkin patch," but I'm happy that I got anything to grow this year.

Yesterday morning I had breakfast with Ben and Pedro, two of the high school dudes who live upstairs. Ben is the Owsley's youngest, and only son, (you may remember him from such other posts involving midnight gardening, or our zombie pictures) who has become a great friend. Pedro is the Brazilian foreign exchange student living with the Owsleys this year, and he seems like a great kid; I'm really enjoying getting to know him. We made some kickin' omlets yesterday filled with fresh veggies from the garden. It was sweet.

Lastly, I had a powerful moment this morning after reading a lot about some the Egyptian monastics, especially Antony, one of the desert fathers, and as I went to the garden, took some of the above pictures, and then went for a run in the morning sun and cool breeze...Sufjan Steven's "The Predatory Wasp of The Palisades Is Out to Get Us" came on, and the morning sun was shining bright. There were a couple tractors in the field, who had begun to make bales of hay yesterday. And in the beauty of the quiet morning, and in spirit of the mystics, and the great music, I was stirred in my soul for the first time in such a long time. What a morning.
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