Archives For Stanley Hauerwas

#notbugsplat

Jason Micheli —  April 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

jr_kpk_fullOnce the Roman Empire ‘became’ ‘Christian’ for all intents and purposes war became Christian too.

Whereas in the original centuries of the Church’s history conversion to discipleship required the renunciation of violence and participation in war, after Constantine established Christianity as the imperial religion theological justification reflection became required for the Church.

Credited to St. Augustine of Hippo, what developed over the centuries was a set of criteria for determining when it is appropriate for those in authority to go to war (just ad bellum) and what moral restraint should be shown in the waging of war (jus in bello)- what’s known today as the Just War Tradition.

While I would argue, along with many in the military, that the President’s program of drone warfare violates jus ad bellum, I think it’s a clearer case for how drone warfare exemplifies exactly the sort of violence  jus in bello is meant to avoid.

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The two traditional criteria for jus in bello are “discrimination” and “proportionality.”

War is moral, says the Christian tradition, only if civilians are never intentionally targeted.

Extreme care must be taken even to avoid “accidental” civilian deaths, what in contemporary parlance was once euphemistically called “collateral damage” but now in the age of drones called “bugsplat.”

Proportionality in this context points to the just war claim that even in a justified war fought discriminately, one should use only the level of force necessary only to achieve one’s legitimate objectives.  Restraint should be shown not just to civilians; even enemy soldiers are neighbors who must not be killed unnecessarily.

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Behind the jus in bello criteria then are two fundamental convictions rooted in the Christian faith:

1. Because war is a sin- even when it’s necessary and just- then it is better to die than to kill wrongly.

2. Because it’s better to suffer or die than to cause unjust suffering or death, any warfare that is executed invisibly or secretly is inherently immoral.

Citizens must know the sacrifice what we ask our fellow citizen soldiers to make in our name, and we must also know who is sacrificed in the name of justice, peace, security…you name it.

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Because we believe we’ve seen God in the face of Christ, Christians must always insist to see the faces of our enemies killed in war because, even there, God takes flesh.

Indeed any person who worships in the name of one who himself was an innocent victim of the State should feel solidarity with all innocent victims of violence.

I bring all this up because A) it’s almost Holy Week and B) I came across an art installation that is thoroughly Christian in sentiment if not conviction. It perfectly shows how prophetic art can be and Christians should be.

This is from the website:

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face. 

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The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.

The project is a collaboration of artists who made use of the French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Reprieve/Foundation for Fundamental Rights helped launch the effort which has been released with the hashtag #NotABugSplat

The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to FFR, lost both her parents and two young siblings in a drone attack. 

The group of artists traveled inside KPK province and, with the assistance of highly enthusiastic locals, unrolled the poster amongst mud huts and farms. It is their hope that this will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives.

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hauerwas I first heard of Stanley Hauerwas when I was in college at UVA, waiting tables at the restaurant in an upscale retirement condo complex. One of my regulars, Dr Julian Hartt, was in his 90’s. Happy to hear I was a religion major with designs on seminary, Dr Hartt made himself my fast friend. He’d been a professor of theology and philosophy at Yale for years and later began the religion department at Virginia of which I was a student.

Dr Hartt would invite me and my girlfriend, Ali, up the condo he shared with his wife Elinor, an artist. Projecting intellectual sophistication onto both of us, they’d pour us sherry and talk art, theology, culture.

8086-95369725Sipping sherry and looking at the hummingbirds gathered around his porch, Dr Hartt told me about where his former students were now and how they were ‘edifying’ the Church.

That’s when I first heard about ‘Young Stanley’ in Dr. Hartt’s bemused prodigal tone.

I didn’t really hear or think about Stanley Hauerwas until a year or two later.

I was waiting tables again.

At Princeton’s faculty lunch and I overheard some…ahem…esteemed professors talking about Stanley Hauerwas with the sort of demonstrativeness one associates with flicking a booger off their hand.

The word ‘dangerous’ was used about him. And with cursing of their own, they complained about his proclivity for a foul mouth.

Eavesdropping on them, I thought ‘I’ve got to check this guy out.’

I’ve since read nearly published word he’s written several times over. I don’t know if I would like or understand Karl Barth had I not read Hauerwas in tandem.

Monday night, I heard Stanley Hauerwas deliver a lecture in person. 1779709_649372177667_2135790934_n

I’ve read him to such an extent that I can anticipate what he’s going to say next in an essay or how he’ll answer a question from the crowd, and so on Monday night I found myself noticing not just the dots Hauerwas was connecting but the dots he left unconnected.

Namely, the atonement; that is, what Christ accomplishes through the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension.

Everything Hauerwas writes about Christian nonviolence depends upon a particular reading of the atonement. For example, the foundational statement to his view of nonviolence is this:

Nonviolence is not a strategy by which Christians attempt to rid the world of war but rather, in a world of war, as followers of Jesus Christ Christians cannot conceive of any other way to live.

That makes perfect sense to me.

I know what theological conviction produces such a statement and I can see what conclusions derive from it. But I’m not so sure it’s obvious to everyone who’s not a theology nerd or a Hauerwas fanboy.

For Hauerwas, Christian nonviolence is the clear implication of Cross and Resurrection. We’re called to nonviolence not because it’s an effective means to an end nor because Christians are utopian idealists.

In Hauerwas’ view, Christians are called to nonviolence precisely because they’re Christians.

But such a claim depends upon a particular (correct, I believe) understanding of the atonement that may not be clear to every reader or listener.

Indeed Hauerwas’ work assumes a particular understanding of the atonement that is not shared by many Christians.

In popular piety ~

The problem: Your guilt.

The solution: Jesus ‘died for you.’

The implication: Invite Jesus into your heart.

The purpose: So that you can go to heaven when you die.

What’s missing?

Easter, Ascension, Words and Work of Jesus, the Story of Israel.

Just to name a few.

Behind this popular reduction of the atonement is the understanding usually labeled ‘penal substitution.’ In this view, God became human to pay the penalty owed to God that humanity itself could not possibly pay. So Christ suffers in our place the wrath of God otherwise directed towards us. Having suffered and died the punishment deserved by us, Christ (who is 100% God and 100% human don’t forget) restores fellowship between God and humanity.

While the Church has never made any single view of the atonement the official view of the Church (there’s no mention of the atonement in the creeds), penal substitution has become one of the litmus test fundamentals in evangelical Christianity. As a consequence it’s the view that makes its way into popular piety and even the presumptions of non-Christians.

What’s important to notice is that even in its best formations, penal substitution is primarily individualistic and, in many ways, subjective in that the only thing Christ objectively changes through Cross and Resurrection is how God views us, our fellowship with God.

(But even in popular piety, God’s wrath remains against you until you accept Jesus into your heart.)

You can see why, then, saying nonviolence is the clear implication of the Cross would seem like a non sequitor to many Christians steeped in penal substitution.

But penal substitution is not the only way of reading the Gospel. Neither is it the most ancient.

There’s plenty of scripture to support a rival view to penal substitution:

John:

God’s peace (shalom) I give.

 

Acts’ Sermons:

It’s the (nonviolent) faithfulness of Jesus to God all the way to a cross that defeats the power of Sin and Death. Easter and Ascension are God’s vindication of Jesus’ nonviolent way. (Easter and Ascension are not God’s way of saying we will go to heaven when we die; they’re God’s way of saying the nonviolent, crucified Messiah is now King of the nations of the Earth.

 

Colossians:

In the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the power of Sin and Death have been defeated once for all. Christ unmasked the Principalities and Powers.

 

Hebrews:

Christ’s sacrifice is the sacrifice God uses to end all sacrifices.

 

Revelation:

The lamb that appears as if slaughtered now rules the nations, as Revelation puts it.

 

There’s even a more ancient view of the atonement available: Christus Victor.

These are all latent and assumed in much of Hauerwas’ work but, to my knowledge at least, he’s never supported his central argument by leveraging a fully developed theology of the atonement which would make his conclusions clear.

I think the full force of Hauerwas’ emphasis on Christian nonviolence is lost to many readers (who assume the individualistic, transactional view of penal substitution) because he never specifies his own understanding of what Christ has accomplished.

And so, to many, his call to nonviolence seems odd, unrealistic and political rather than the most theological thing of all. And thus the most political thing of all.

 

 

hauerwasI’ve read nearly published word he’s written several times over. Indeed, as CS Lewis is for Tim Keller, Stanley Hauerwas’ work is so much a part of me that, in interviews, I often know how he’ll answer a question before he answers it.

I even know where the pregnant pun or the pretense-clearing curse word will go.

Last night, though, was the first time in 12 years I actually heard Stanley Hauerwas deliver a lecture in person, and what he said- preached is a better word for it- hit me in a way that was more personal than it may have been for others.

Hauerwas’ stated theme was ‘Why Peace Requires Conflict.’

He began, as he often does, by articulating what is the central Christian presumption for nonviolence; that is, in the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the power of Sin and Death have been defeated once for all.

Christ unmasked the Principalities and Powers, as Colossians puts it.

Christ’s sacrifice is the sacrifice God uses to end all sacrifices, as Hebrews puts it.

The lamb that appears as if slaughtered now rules the nations, as Revelation puts it.

Christians are called then to live according to a reality that is more determinative- if still unseen- than what passes for reality in our world. Better yet, Christians are those people called to make visible the reality that is otherwise unseen by the world. Nonviolence, as Hauerwas likes to say, is not a strategy by which Christians attempt to rid the world of war but rather, in a world of war, as followers of Jesus Christ Christians cannot conceive of any other way to live.

Lest anyone think Hauerwas is an idealist: For Hauerwas, the Gospel contains a bitter, disarming truth:

God’s Peace took flesh among us and we killed him.

That God’s Peace lived among us only to die by us reveals both the depth and propensity to our self-deception; therefore, any commitment to Christian nonviolence requires a correlative commitment to truthfulness.

To truth-telling.

Because, according to Hauerwas, the violences in our relationships and in the world at large are aided and abetted by the half-truths we tell ourselves, by the illusions we prefer to keep and by the realities that are sometimes too painful to bear.

1779709_649372177667_2135790934_nNo where is this more clear, Hauerwas pointed out, than in the fury that erupts in a marriage when there’s no more floor space to avoid stepping on eggshells- when the truth about our spouse can no longer be ignored.

Christian nonviolence then is not merely a discrete decision followers of Jesus bring to bear at times of war.

Christian nonviolence is instead a lifelong commitment that requires the everyday habit of truth-telling.

And an everyday habit of truth-telling will inevitably no surely will provoke conflict.

Ask any married person, no spouse wants to hear the ugly truth about themselves. Often it’s simply easier to live with the illusion we hold about our spouse than to deal with the shit storm that comes with facing the truth about them. That same reluctance to hear the truth applies when extended to neighbors, communities, organizations and governments.

 

Christian pacifists aren’t people who avoid all conflicts; Christian pacifists are those people who are willing to provoke more conflicts than other people.

Accommodating lies and sleepy half-truths are just easier for us and, it seems, a better strategy for survival.

Okay, before the word count gets too high, I promised that this hit me personally and it did so in this way:

Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned quickly how to step around eggshells with all the delicateness of a ronin. Living the lie and accepting the calm was preferable to the eruptions that any truth-telling would provoke.

Living with someone’s addiction results in everyone else being addicted to avoiding conflict. Which, as I’ve learned in my own marriage, creates habits of conflict avoidance that perpetuate themselves in the next generation.

It’s Hauerwas’ whole argument but in reverse, which surely points out that addiction is but one of the ways we’re still in possession to Sin.

So then, I’ve read and listened to Hauerwas enough to know he’d connect all these dots. He’d point out that thinking of Christian nonviolence exclusively in terms of war only reveals the extent to which we’ve ceded the breadth of the Christian faith to matters of personal piety.

He’d probably point out, as he did last night, that if you want to see Christian nonviolence in practice you should check out Jean Vanier’s L’Arche homes where those with profound disabilities are cared for with gentleness and patience.

And then, on this point at least, he’d finish by pointing out that the Church’s ministry to those in addiction is not an add-on to its Gospel mission but, when rightly done, is but a practice of our commitment to our nonviolent King. That helping people to speak the truth to their loved one and helping people hear the truth from their loved ones and accompanying them out of addiction is another way to glorify the Prince whose Peace requires truthfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

Barth_WritingI can’t retrieve enough high school German from the cobwebs of my memory to know if it’s a matter of translation or not, but sometimes reading Karl Barth can feel like the theological equivalent of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

I imagine someone as self-effacing as Barth would take a dim view of someone as self-serious as Tom Wolfe; nevertheless, reading Barth can frequently feel… trippy.

Barth’s playfully meandering rhetoric, his flights of exegetical fancy, his abiding abstraction (an elusive God should lead to abstraction)- it can all quickly feel as intangible as a puff of smoke. Unmoored from the ordinary everydayness of life.

Barth is clear, for example, when breaking down the doctrine of the 3-Fold Word of God. It’s sometimes less clear though what Barth thinks the actual Christian life looks like.

In §18 of the Church Dogmatics Barth turns precisely to this question when he considers how, as redeemed children of God, the Christian life is a life of love and praise.

The topic of love is a dangerous one for Christians, I think. hauerwas

The gravest temptation for the Church in America, at least, is neither fundamentalism nor liberalism but sentimentality.

As Stanley Hauerwas likes to say, most sermons in most churches tell us how Christianity is really just about how we’re to be loving to one another and ‘that’s just bullshit…there’s no reality behind that.’

It’s clear in §18.2 that Hauerwas gets his stubborn realism from Barth, for in §18 Barth insists that we refuse to let our own vague and sentimental ideas of love to be our definition for the love to which God calls us.

Rather- and this is exactly what lies behind Hauerwas calling bullshit on so much of Christian piety- we take our definition of love from the drama of salvation. And it’s in the drama of Christ’s Passion that we discover the necessarily cruciform shape of love.

Saying we love we ought to love one another sounds nice but it’s only truthful if the practice of such love might get you or your children killed.

Both Barth and Hauerwas reject platitudes about ‘the loving Jesus’ that seem to exhibit amnesia about Jesus’ love getting him strung up on a cross.

Any definition of ‘love’ has to make it obvious why people would want to kill Jesus.

Barth goes in §18 to show what many skeptics and liberals forget: that a rigorous commitment to the moral and ethical life (ie modeling Jesus’ life) goes hand-in- hand with a high Christology (a high view of Jesus as the 2nd Person of the Trinity, 100% God and 100% Man). The love revealed to us as ‘for us’ in Christ’s Cross is a love that precedes the Cross. It’s a love that is eternal in that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; therefore, God is love before the first day of creation.

Because the love revealed to us on the Cross is a love that is eternal and constitutive of God’s very identity, what it means for Christians to love is more than simply to receive the grace offered through the cross.

It means more than personally, passively, individually ‘accepting Jesus into your heart.’ It means to embody and enact the cruciform story of Christ in community, for the love we find in the cross is a love that first comes from the community that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To be ‘loving’ then can never be anything but cruciform. Suffering love isn’t for Jesus only because the love we see revealed by the cross is the Love in whose image we’ve been made.

 

lightstock_78926_xsmall_user_2741517No One Marries Their Soul Mate

In fact, as I pointed out in my sermon this weekend, you never even marry the right person.

When teaching about Heaven, I frequently stress the point that ‘soul’ is a concept foreign to scripture. As far as Judaism and Christianity are concerned, you don’t have something called a ‘soul.’

It therefore follows that you don’t have someone called a ‘soulmate’ out there either.

I know we all like to go weak-kneed thinking (a la Jerry McGuire) that there’s a specific, special person out there meant just for us who will ‘complete us’ and that, if we only find them-and they us, we will have married our perfect match.

Happily ever after.

Like two puzzle pieces being fit together.

But here’s the problem:

Puzzle pieces don’t change. Everything else about puzzle pieces, save that missing space, remains the same.

People, especially married people, do change.

As a prank in seminary I once logged into several online dating sites and changed my friend’s profile information to hilarious results.

What struck me then, even on the ‘Christian’ sites, was how they were all premised on the popular myth of ‘compatibility.’

If you had asked me twelve years ago if Ali was my soul mate, if she was the perfect person for me, I would have told you without pause: ‘Damn straight.’

But here’s what I’ve learned from my own marriage and from watching others’ marriages. Here’s the point and beauty of marriage:

Marriage is a means of grace.

Like the eucharist, it’s one of the means by which we grow and become more perfect creatures.

We don’t pick our perfect match because we ourselves are not perfect the day when we say ‘I do.’

Such perfection is only possible through a life lived with our spouse.

We never marry the right or perfect person, we never start out with our ‘soulmate’ because marriage doesn’t allow us to stay the same person we were when we started out. Sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, a life lived and shared together makes us different people.

Marriage isn’t two puzzle pieces coming together.

It’s more like two rough diamonds being polished and perfected over a lifetime.

You don’t marry the perfect person for you.

Your marriage creates the perfect person for you.

You don’t begin your marriage with your soul mate.

God willing, you end up with someone who is your soul mate.

If you had asked me twelve years ago if Ali was perfect for me, I would’ve said yes.

But I was wrong.

I was wrong because back then I couldn’t have anticipated how my life with Ali was going to transform me in unexpected ways. She’s made me a better person. Thus, she’s more perfect for me now than she ever could have been then.

faith1Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian whose own memoir testifies to both the redemption and the pain marriage can bring, puts these same thoughts this way:

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person. just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge is…learning to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

 

Jesus-Christ-With-Shopping-Bags-by-BanksyFor our fall commitment campaign this year, we’re doing a sermon series around Adam Hamilton’s book Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity.

In his warmth, winsomeness and measured inoffensiveness, Rev. Hamilton is like the alternate universe version of yours truly.

We all serve a purpose, right? I suppose if I was a pastor in Kansas where Christians are inclined to conceal and carry in the sanctuary, then I’d tone it down too.

In most Methodist churches the mere uttering of the syllables that come together to form the word ‘money’ gets people’s panties in a bunch to an extent no partisan disputes over sex and politics can. Like it or not (usually not unless you’re unembarrassed by your giving) ‘giving’ calls us to the mat of whether we really believe all we have belongs to God.

Or not.

As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

if you give Christians the choice to turn to their neighbor in the pew and tell them who they’re sleeping with or how much they make and give to their church…almost everyone will opt for Door #1.

Because I’m a contrarian by both nature and desire, I’m supplementing Hamilton’s book by rereading a little book by the postliberal theologian, William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire

Cavanaugh is an Augustinian, which lends a corrective to something I think gets obscured in Enough. Adam Hamilton leverages the anxieties provoked by the Great Recession- and now the sequestration and shut down here in DC- to encourage his readers to desire greater simplicity in their lives.

That’s all well and good obviously, but as St Augustine would point out desire is the root problem.

Ask any sinner- one should be easy to find- and they will tell you that very often our desires are given to us.

They’re not freely chosen.

We do not form our wants and desires like my son composes his Christmas list for Santa. Our wants and desires are formed for us by external forces and powers.

Actually my son’s Christmas list is a good example, containing as it does several things he’s never before expressed a desire for (and I know as his father he won’t enjoy) until he recently saw them in a commercial.

Our economic system is premised on the belief that each should be ‘free’ to choose his or her own ends. I’m free, in other words, to choose simplicity and generosity or I’m free to choose a McMansion.

As Friedrich Hayek says, “the individual is ultimately the judge of his ends. There is no unitary order to our desires.” 

Free market economics, then, assume that choose particular actions and objects based on the wants and desires of which we’re in control.

Freedom so conceived is freedom in the negative; that is, freedom is the absence of coercion. Thus, the ‘free market’ is a market without any external controls or values imposed upon it.

Freedom, in such a context, is not directed to any End, or rather it’s directed to whatever End the individual decides.

For Christians, however, freedom isn’t defined negatively as something that exists in the absence of coercion.

Freedom isn’t freedom from something; freedom is freedom for something. Freedom is freedom for the Kingdom of God.

In other words, as telos-driven (Kingdom/God-driven) creatures we are free only when we are directed towards and participating in the Kingdom, only when we’re wrapped up in God’s will.

Freedom then, as Paul describes it, isn’t independence itself but dependence on God.

When we try to live our lives without acknowledging our dependence on God, our loves become disordered, directed towards some other end but God. As Paul saw it in his own pre-Jesus life, what we think of as freedom is actually slavery.

Augustine saw his pre-faith life in much the same way. In his Confessions, the memoir of his conversion, he says famously that ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee (God).’

Question:

Why is it that the pursuit of, say, material happiness so often leads to sensations of emptiness and meaninglessness? Even nothingness?

Here’s why, according to Augustine.

Because creation is given as a gracious gift, the goodness of creation is only ‘good’ insofar as it participates and points back to God’s greater goodness. Wine is good, for example, because its a sign of the graciousness of what God has made.

However, when you’re no longer directed towards or participating in God’s End, the Kingdom, you effectively strip the material things in creation from God’s goodness. They no longer have the purpose for which God gave them. They no longer have any meaning- like a paintbrush without ever having a canvas.

They are, in the same sense in which we talked about evil, no thing. Think of the pervasive sin of consumerism.

As William Cavanaugh says:

“All such loves are disordered loves, loves looking for something worth loving that is not just arbitrarily chosen.

A person buys something- anything- trying to fill the hole that is the empty shrine (by which he means our having been created to desire the Kingdom).

And once the shopper purchases the thing, it turns into a nothing and he has to head back to the mall to continue the search.

With no objective End to guide the search, his search is literally endless.”

We tend to think of sin simply as an act we do to break one of God’s rules. We think of sin as a free act that violates God’s honor.

Sin is anything but a free act. Sin is a disordered love that upsets the God-given trajectory of our lives. Sin is a privation of goodness in our lives. It’s nothingness that intrudes onto the life God would have for us. In a very real way, the more we sin the less human we become, the less real.

Sin is not a free act or decision at all.

It’s slavery.

That’s why, ironically, ‘desiring’ simplicity and generosity not only isn’t enough but will ultimately prove futile.

Augustine would point out  that our desires themselves are what need rehabilitation. Or rather, the way to simplicity and generosity is by cultivating the right desires.

Simplicity is made possible not by purging away our stuff or simply desiring a simpler life. Simplicity is only made possible by throwing ourselves so deeply into the way of Jesus that we’re given all new desires.

 

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“Look, I know that I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any Mother of the Year awards, but I you to know that not for one second do I think there is malice in your heart. You’re not a killer, and I know that. I know that, so – so do whatever you have to do to keep this group safe. And do it with a quick conscience.”

- Lori Grimes to Rick Grimes, Walking Dead: Season 3

“There is no way from us to God — not even via negativa not even a via dialectica nor paradoxa. The god who stood at the end of some human way — even of this way — would not be God.”

- Karl Barth

I’ve been on both a Karl Barth and a The Walking Dead binge the past couple of nights. One might imagine that the drudgery of the former would militate against the insomnia provoked by the latter but I’m here to report that this has not been the case.

No, the past few nights I’ve dipped back into §1.14 of Barth’s Church Dogmatics and then, very much awake, have turned to Netflix to watch the most recent season of The The Walking Dead.

Today, bleary-eyed with only a few hours of sleep, I’m nearly caught up in both my Barth and my Grimes.

Happy accidents happen when Barth’s ‘strange new world of the bible’ elides into the wasteland of the zombie apocalypse.

Just last night, I was underlining phrases and sentences concerning Barth’s understanding of revelation, in which Barth refuses to countenance any culturally palatable ‘low’ Christology; that is, for Barth Jesus is no mere human teacher of (humanly-deduced) divine wisdom.

No, Barth insists that, in Jesus Christ, God entered history.

The infinite entered the finite.

For Barth, ‘revelation’ names the once for all, decisive interruption of time by God. Better yet:

Revelation = Jesus Christ = The Eruption within Time of God. Barth Homeboy

The incarnation, Barth argues, is the first dawn of New Creation, the light, as John says, shining in the darkness.

The cross, meanwhile, is the perfect sacrifice for sin.

The world changed on Good Friday, 33 AD.

For all time.

Redemption, we profess, has been accomplished by God. In Christ. At Golgotha.

And we know that for certain, we confess.

Through the empty tomb.

And we are to live now as though that were true.

Or, as the Barthian Stanley Hauerwas writes, we are to live in such a way that makes no sense if Christ has not been raised from the dead.

Or, as Barth’s student and Hauerwas’ mentor writes, we are to live in the confidence that people who bear crosses for mercy’s sake work with the grain of the universe.

Now, I admit the above can sound like so much abstract theologizing- just one more example of an esoteric, impracticable intellectual.

Except when you follow your Barth with a zombie chaser.

Because when applied to the deracinated world of Rick Grimes, it suddenly becomes clear just how radically cruciform is Barth’s insistence on living as though the New Age has dawned.

In its macabre exaggeration, the world of The Walking Dead brings to the fore the paradox of faith that is only latent in our ‘civilized’ world:

“…the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished…”

Unlike our present world perhaps, a world crawling-swarming- with walkers/biters/zombies is pretty obviously an unredeemed one. And it’s “unredemption” both necessitates and justifies actions that are rarely redemptive.

The unredeemed world of The Walking Dead excuses any action necessary to insure the survival of its characters.

In Season 3 of the Walking Dead the primary cast seek refuge in a state prison where only a few convicts survive.

Lori, the unfaithful wife of the hero Rick, tells her husband:

“Look, I know that I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any Mother of the Year awards, but I you to know that not for one second do I think there is malice in your heart. You’re not a killer, and I know that. I know that, so – so do whatever you have to do to keep this group safe. And do it with a quick conscience.”

Pep talk finished, Rick goes into the bowels of the prison and offs not just zombies but the members of the ‘other’ group, the ‘unredeemed’ world driving him to do what he never would’ve done before.

There’s an unmistakable sense in which the title of the graphic novel and the show refer not to the zombies but to the survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

Rick, for one, is walking dead in the sense that with each action justified and taken by the world’s unredemption he becomes less and less human.

The impractical challenge of the Barthian insistence that we live as though the cross has initiated the New Creation in which Christ is King is further demonstrated in how the WD’s characters refuse to see the zombie ‘other’ as people. Or former people, which is to say victims.

The a-Barthian way Rich Grimes et al treat the ‘walkers’ is an unmistakable echo of the a-Christ-like way we treat those so neatly categorized as ‘collateral damage.’

How the danger posed to us determines and declares just what we do to others.

Indeed, for someone who enjoyed irony and paradox, I suspect Barth would revel in how the only character in The Walking Dead who persists in seeing zombies as people is “The Governor,” the villain of the storyline, who surreptitiously locks his ‘biter’ daughter in his apartment because he can’t bring himself to dispose of her.

No matter how ‘other’ she appears, he can’t treat her as though she were anything but human. Anything but redeemed.

Read in isolation, sometimes Barth can seem abstract. Irrelevant even.

Read in tandem with Rick Grimes, however, it becomes obvious how the world of The Walking Dead is but a raggedy approximation of our own- a world where abandoning the way of Jesus for necessity’s sake makes a hero like Rich less and less human and where clinging to the way of Jesus makes the Governor a barbarian.

 

 

Felidae-and-Watership-Down-the-duncanlovr-club-13678772-1024-768The following is a small group reflection for our church-planting team:

Richard Adam’s beloved novel, Watership Down, tells the story of a warren of rabbits setting out to make their home in a new place.

That’s right, I’m telling you a story about a story about rabbits.

Bear with me.

Fiver, a small, nervous rabbit, develops what can only be called a messianic intuition, convinced by a hunch that something dreadful is about to befall their Sandleford warren.

Fiver confides his fear to his brother, Hazel, and together they attempt to warn the elder Chief Rabbit, Threarah. Their ministrations prove unsuccessful, and Fiver and Hazel are dismissed as doomsayers.

Marginalized for their belief, the brother rabbits decide to leave their warren. They are joined in their journey by other rabbits like: Dandelion, Pipkin, Hawbit, Blackberry, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Bigwig, and Silver.

As the group departs, their former home is destroyed under a housing developer’s bulldozer.

They set out to make the long journey to what will be the new location for their community: Watership Down. Along the way, the group of rabbits encounter challenges rabbits seldom encounter. They must cross a stream, navigate an open road, sneak through a fox-infested bean field.

Never having made a community in a new location, their challenges go against the grain  of everything rabbits know about being rabbits. They long to stop running, to dig deep down into the earth and stay in one place.

How do the rabbits tackle the obstacles and challenges in their path?

The answer turns out to be a surprising one.

The one thing that unites the rabbits and fills them with hope and courage are their stories- the stories their parents told them, the stories of their past, the stories about their forebears.

[What stories did you learn in your family? Growing up, what stories about your family were you taught?]

The rabbits of Adams’ novel tell especially stories of the clever rabbit hero, El- ahrairah.

Yep, the ‘El’ in the hero’s name is neither accidental nor coincidental. This is meant to be a primal, transcendent story.

With fur and floppy ears.

The first story they learned and the first story they tell is the ‘Blessing of El-ahrairah.’ In it, Frith, the god of the rabbits, allocates gifts and attributes to each species. Frith gives cleverness to the foxes, for example, and sight to the cats.

According to the story, El-ahrairah is so distracted with dining, dancing and mating that he misses out on the best gifts so Frith, realizing rabbits will now be at the mercy of other animals, gives El-ahrairah the gift of strong, hind legs.

Frith tells El-ahrairah, “be cunning and full of tricks and your people will never be destroyed.”

Fiver, Hazel and their community of rabbits hear in such a story their reason for being.

It’s their creation story and their ground of hope.

As they set out to make their lives in a new place, this story reminds them of why they exist at all and how they are to practice and embody that existence.

More than simply “explaining” why rabbits have strong legs, the story illuminates the rabbit’s task in life: to live in the world by trusting their stories and speed.

And each other.

As the rabbits make their journey to their new location, they’re frequently confronted by a challenge and, each time, they stop and seek a way forward by narrating their core stories of El-ahrairah.

The stories remind them of their identity and their purpose.

New places, in other words, point out the importance of old stories.

So not only have I just told you a story about a story about rabbits, I’m now going to tell you that floppy-eared story is actually a bible story.

Yep. A bible story starring rabbits.

Almost 600 years before Jesus was born, Judah’s King Josiah died just as the Babylonian Empire was ascending in power. After a long siege, Babylon finally razed the city of Jerusalem in 587 and topped that destruction with the added humiliation of exiling Israel’s citizens to live in a foreign land.

In a new place.

In that new place, the Jews were allowed to live in their own communities. They were free to build homes, earn a living, practice their own customs and religion.

They just couldn’t return home.

Much like rabbits, making their way in a new place, God’s People turned to their stories.

As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, exiles are driven back to rediscover their most shaping memories and to practice their most critical commitments.

In a new location and the challenges it brings, Brueggemann writes, the stakes are too high. It’s not surprising then that you would turn to the elemental stories to guide your actions and let the unessential fall by the wayside.

As theologian Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Watership Down, observes:

“…all new communities must remind themselves of their origin.

A people are formed by a story which places their history in the texture of the world.

Such stories make the world our home by providing us with the skills to negotiate the dangers in our environment…”

[What scripture story or stories have helped you ‘negotiate’ a particularly challenging moment in your life?]

New communities need to remember their core stories.

Those core stories remind new communities how they’re to negotiate the challenges of their new environment.

You see, a story about rabbits is really a story about God’s People.

It’s a story about the exile.

But it’s a story about any new faith community too.

Having made the long journey to a new location in Babylon, the Jews turned to their stories of ‘journey’ for identity and purpose. The stories of Abraham and Sarah’s journey into an unknown future, of Moses’ long journey in the wilderness, of Joseph’s journey away from home and back again and of Jacob’s journey away from God and back again- in exile those stories reminded Israel what it meant to trust God alone.

Not El-ahrairah but Elohim.

What about us?

Setting off for a new location.

Working to plant a new community.

Facing new challenges.

In Brueggemann’s terms:

What are the most important memories to which we should turn on our journey?

What are the promises given in those memories which we should practice during our journey and even after we’ve arrived?

[Which stories of scripture do you think are essential for our identity and purpose?]

While we don’t have a floppy-eared forebear, we do have Jesus.

The memories to which we turn for identity, purpose and guidance are the stories of Jesus. And the stories about Jesus.

And the promise we should practice- well, the first promise at least- is the promise found in the Church’s very first memory of Jesus.

The “Incarnation.”

Literally, God taking on ‘carne.’

The Holy becoming Meat.

Flesh.

As Paul puts it, quoting an ancient hymn:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Very often the Incarnation is a doctrine employed to ‘prove’ Jesus’ divinity. It’s a dogma that reminds us that ‘this Jesus is really God.’

But like much in theology, the inverse is true too.

The Incarnation is a way of reminding us that ‘Because God is Jesus, Jesus is really human.’

To make it plain: Jesus is how God decides to incarnate what it means to be human.

Jesus is our model for genuine, God-intended-designed-humanness.

Jesus is the prototype.

And here’s the stop-you-in-your-tracks kicker: God was in Jesus, embodying and modeling what it means to be human, a good 30 years before Jesus began his official ministry.

That is, God was in Jesus for 30 years before anyone took notice that Jesus was in any way unique.

That is, God was in Jesus in such ordinary, everyday ways no one noticed that this Jesus was actually God.

Like many things in theology, the inverse is also true.

God was in Jesus in many ordinary, everyday ways that were true even if they escaped people’s official notice.

Allow me an ‘ergo.’

Ergo, God is present in the many ordinary, everyday things we do in Jesus’ name.

[What is one ordinary way you’ve experience God’s presence through another?]

If one of our most elemental memories as Christians is that God was incarnate in and as Christ, then one of the first promises we’re called to practice together:

We promise to be incarnational. 

We pledge to use our ‘flesh’ to convey the love and presence of God in the most ordinary, everyday things we do.

With others. And with ourselves.

You see, according to the logic of incarnation, it’s not that ‘worship’ is where the God stuff happens. Rather, all stuff is where God happens…if we take time to notice and name it. Meetings, small groups, passing out bulletins, welcoming a visitor are all acts- potentially- of worship. A handshake to a newcomer is- potentially- as sacramental as bread and wine.

Incarnation means we treat everyone and everything we do as holy, as receptacles of God’s presence but, even more so, Incarnation means we take Jesus’ way of life as the blueprint for how we are to embody God to, for and with another.

And when you look to what Jesus would do:

You find a willingness to relinquish all desires and interests in the service of others.

You find an openness to go where people are rather than wait for them to come to you.

You find an awareness that the ‘mode’ of ministry is every bit as important as the ministry’s ‘message.’

As Michael Frost outlines it, Incarnational Christianity entails:

 

An active and open sharing of our lives with the community and the invitation to others share their lives with us. Incarnation is the opposite of putting up facades.

An employment of the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus. Jesus used common speech and stories that were accessible to all. He seldom used jargon, technical terms or insider speech. To be incarnational means we presume the presence of outsiders, newcomers and unbelievers.

A preparedness to go to people, not expecting them to come to you. Jesus was unique among ancient rabbis. He didn’t wait for people to come to him. He went out and sought and called followers. To be incarnational is to be invitational in everything we do as Christian community, which of course requires we plan so as to make it easy to invite others.

A confidence that the Gospel can be communicated in ordinary ways, through acts of servanthood, loving relationships and good deeds. Volunteer activities are not means to the ‘real ministry’ of the Church; they are ministry and worship in and of themselves.

Michael Frost clarifies Incarnational Christianity further by stressing how Christians can learn from the success of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls ‘third places.’

Rather than the home or work, third places are those additional spaces in people’s lives where they can easily interact, make friends, discuss issues and develop community.

It’s in third places, says Ray Oldenburg, that we let our guard down and allow people to know us more fully, to share and discuss subjects that truly matter. Starbucks or the traditional British pub are obvious examples of ‘3rd places.’

[What are your 3rd places? Where are you most ‘you?’

What ‘works’ about that 3rd place?]

Needless to say, 3rd places become even more important for Christian communities who do not have a building of their own.

For Christians to be incarnational, Frost argues, they must relearn how to engage others- as Christians- in the 3rd places in their lives. To compartmentalize our faith into something we do in private, in a sanctuary, on a Sunday morning goes against the very essence of incarnation.

Frost also suggests that Incarnational Christianity requires churches to learn from the success of 3rd places in our culture.

 

[Why is it, for example, that a 3rd place like Starbucks is often better than the Church at developing community and connection?]

[Or perhaps a better way of putting the question: what gets in the way of Church being a viable 3rd place for more people?]

 

 

 

 

 

 

matthias-grunewald-947266Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, had this post recently, in which he wildly caricatures Christian pacifists, like Stanley Hauerwas.

First, Tooley lobs the, predictable, Nieburian charge that Christian pacifism is ‘unrealistic.’ (It’s appropriately ironic that Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology is passe to every one but Mark Tooley and Barack Obama.

Secondly, Tooley goes a step further and discounts Christian pacifism as even a legitimate form of Christian witness, which will come as a surprise to Mennonites who for half a millenia have seen no other conclusion to draw from the story of the Cross.

And Mennonites are not liberal.

If you make your own clothes but DON’T sell them on Etsy or post them on Pintarest- you’re not a lefty.

To the second charge, that Christian nonviolence is not a legitimate form of witness to the faith.

Pacifism refers to the rejection of all war or participation in war- by Christians.

Radical? Leftist? Utopian? Unrealistic?

Who would, in good conscience with the injustices of the world all around, support such a way of life?

The first Christians, that’s who.

Like the first 3 centuries of them.

As in, the followers of Christ most proximate to Christ himself.

Like Jesus’ brother, who like his elder, went non-violently to his death having been condemned unjustly by the Sanhedrin.

While there is evidence to suggest the early Christians recognized the legitimacy of war as an instrument of the state, they assumed their primary citizenship (the Kingdom of God) barred their own participation.

There were a variety of reasons for this pacifism.

For some, they had the expectation that Jesus would soon return and history as we know it would quickly be at an end. There is no need even to participate in attempts to preserve order and justice if a new order is about to be inaugurated.

As well, participation in the Roman Army—the primary option for early Christians—involved pledging allegiance to Caesar (a god) which Christians refused to do.

Not to mention, of course, the Roman Army was often involved in violent persecution of Christianity. Obviously, there was little incentive for participation in the Roman Army, and Christians were hardly welcome in it.

Nonetheless, above all these factors, it was the abiding sense that it was impossible to obey and follow Jesus- who’d taught his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, carry their own crosses and who’d died on a cross himself rather than kill- and participate in state-sanctioned killing.

While the commitment to pacifism did not last beyond the first three of centuries (once the Empire was ‘Christian’ it was easy to baptize any cause or action taken up by the Empire) there has always been a significant minority of Christians who have regard participation in war as inappropriate.

There have always been some Christians who refuse to go to war in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and example and as a witness to Christian convictions and hopes.

Other Christians have justified pacifism by also insisting that non-violent means are effective as instruments of justice and order, more effective, indeed, than violence and war, which sow seeds of hatred and disorder that only contribute to an ongoing cycle of discord.

If that sounds unrealistic, consider how the Christian pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr. is now the only non-President on the National Mall.

That is-

Not too far from where the IRD issues its a-theological screeds against Christian non-violence is a hulking huge monument to the transformative power of exactly what the IRD asserts lacks both persuasive power and biblical warrant.

And, to make the point, MLK’s monument will presumably endure much longer than the IRD.

As will the theological legacy of Stanley Hauerwas.

As King himself taught, what Jesus taught was not passivity or acquiescence to injustice, evil, or abuse, but creative non-violent resistance that affirms and expresses the dignity of those who are oppressed.

Jesus’ third way, between violence and inaction or passivity.

Early Christian commitment to pacifism was related to the Roman imperial context in which the early church existed.

A significant body of contemporary scholarship has lifted up the way in which Christian faith and life was understood as a conscious and explicit resistance to Roman imperialism and the theological claims which were used to justify Roman authority.

For example, the earliest Christian affirmation of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” was intended as a repudiation of the claim that “Caesar is Lord.”

Now, to the first charge.

To call Hauerwas’ pacifism unrealistic is to miss (willfully I can only guess, for no one can be that philosophically dense) the radically Christocentric, and thus deeply realistic, character of Hauerwas’ vision.

As JR Daniel Kirk puts it:

The earliest Christians were not naïve about how power worked. They were not blind to the brutal realities of tyranny and the need to stand against it.

That’s precisely why the earliest followers of Jesus lived in eager anticipation of the time when Jesus would overthrow their Roman overlords. That’s precisely why they literally could not hear Jesus’ promise that he was going to die as messiah. That’s precisely why they wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected them. That’s precisely why they thought Jesus a failure after he was crucified.

“But we had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel?”

The temptation didn’t go away. The temptation to imagine that true peace, true freedom, could only be had if someone came who acted like Rome but out Romed Rome–better deployment of troops, better handling of swords.

The next generation of Jesus followers faced it to.

That’s what Mark 13 is about: false Christs will arise saying, “I’m the guy!” What’s the context? The time when Jerusalem’s stones will be thrown down. The time when Rome executes its next devastating act of military victory over Judea in AD 70.

The time when Christians are not to get carried away, thinking that the way to the reign of God, of peace, of justice upon the earth is to be had by way of the sword.

The temptation didn’t go away.

The idea that the transformation of the economy of power in the world might happen by something other than the sword has never caught on. Rome’s been gone for over a thousand years, Jesus is still proclaimed as Lord long after such an acclamation has ever been given to a Caesar, but still we do not believe it.

The innocence of the dove alludes us, even as we call ourselves Christians.

The subversive alternative of the Dove to the Eagle alludes us, despite its descent upon Jesus at his anointing to his messianic office

While I don’t insist the witness of Mennonites is the necessary form of faith for all Christians, I do not think it legitimate.

You would be outraged, wouldn’t you, if I said you must concur with the Mennonite vision to be a true Christian, serious about both the Gospel and the world?

You should be so outraged when someone like Tooley insists on the very same thing but in the opposite direction.