Sunday, December 24, 2006

individuality and theology...

An existential pondering...

"... fundamentally Hegel [my commentary: like many scientists and philosophers] makes men into... a race of animals gifted with reason. For in the animal world 'the individual' is always less important than the race.

But the peculiarity of the human race [my commentary: from a Christian perspective] is that just because the individual is created in the image of God, 'the individual' is above the race.

I concede, this can be wrongly understood and terribly misused. But that is Christianity. And that is where the battle must be fought."

- Kierkegaard

Friday, December 22, 2006

a thought on free will...

"We are all free only to decide who we will serve."

It's a bit of trite phrase, but I really think it's true. Our freedom isn't a matter of being able to control every aspect of our lives... that just isn't possible. We're only free in this regard: We are able to choose what will control us.

For example, to "be free" from over-eating, we must become "enslaved" to the constant pressure of dieting. That is why life is so difficult: No matter how free we think we are, we're never 100% free. Which is why I think it's interesting that Jesus talked about "laying down our burden," and said that faith in God makes us "free indeed." The way God makes us free is to "enslave" us entirely to Him. Which, of course, only works if we believe God is a better master than anyone else, including ourselves. Perhaps this is a bit frustrating to us, with our Westernized views of freedom and individual autonomy. But I am more and more convinced that it is the truth.


I feel like I should add this, just as a clarification... the above statements regarding the limitations of free will should not be construed as an argument against existential individuality or subjectivity, both of which I still hold onto as important realities. I am simply trying to describe the finite nature of human freedom. This does not make freedom any less real with regard to the person and to faith.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

from my former pastor's blog...

Scott Becker, former pastor at Bethany Community Church (where I attend), is finishing his Phd. in Christian Ethics at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Ca. He also recently found out that, after several years, he has developed cancer again and may only have a few years to live. He recently started a blog online (, and I found this recent post on the nature of sin particularly challenging and poignant:

"Martin Luther used the phrase 'se incurvatus in se', the "self turned inward upon the self," to describe the essence of sin, and I believe he was correct in this. Unfortunately, so many modern understandings of sin are shaped by moralistic preaching and scolding, by the use of the word to justify the marginalization of those whose actions fall outside the moral codes of the upper classes, and to cover up the systemic injustices perpetrated by ostensibly upright people, that its theological richness is lost on us.

Sin is not a label to place on the shirts of bad boys and girls before sending them off to sit in the corner. It is the alienation and brokenness common to human existence, the unconquerable self-interest that makes us at once victims and victimizers, the barrier standing between ourselves and one another, which we don't even realize that we ourselves have erected. Sin is the place where Christ meets us, the place from which, one small step at a time, he liberates us, as he leads us into repentance, reconciliation with our enemies, love toward those who are not like us, solidarity with creation, and peace with a future that we cannot control.

If I can understand "sin" in this sense -- if I can acknowledge it not only when I am intentionally behaving badly toward someone else, but even when suffering brings to the surface the degree to which I am still turned inward upon myself -- then it becomes a word filled with hope. For it represents the very thing that Christ has overcome, the dimension to human existence whose power has been called into question. If I can step back and see my own self turned in upon itself, and know that that inward turn no longer represents my truest self, then I know that I am still on a journey into life."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Why I like Kierkegaard...

"It is a positive starting point for philosophy when Aristotle says that philosophy begins with wonder, not, as in our day, with doubt."

" is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand, and what those things are."

"Everyone would like to have lived at the same time as great men and great events: God knows how many really live at the same time as themselves."

"...dread is a desire for what one fears, a sympathetic antipathy; dread is an alien power which takes over the individual, and yet one cannot extricate oneself from it, does not wish to, because one is afraid, but what one fears attracts one."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

becoming a theologian..

"Becoming a theologian is about becoming a beginner. It isn't about whether you're old enough, young enough, smart enough or good enough. It isn't about going to seminary, becoming a church worker or seeking ordination... and it isn't about knowing what you'll "do" with theology.

Becoming a theologian is about accepting God's invitation to get started. Beginners aren't afraid of making mistakes along the way or of having to start over. They don't mind looking and sounding like amateurs. They don't waste time and energy trying to control people's perceptions of them. Beginners just want help. And they want to make progress.


Becoming a Christian theologian is about belonging to the Christian tradition, finding a theological home.

[It is] like deciding to look into family history. It's an acknowledgment that I'm already part of this tradition and am willing to take a closer look -- not just because of what I'll learn about the tradition but because of what I'll learn about myself. To attempt this without a sense of belonging, for good and for ill, is like treating my family history as though it were another family's history... It's like being a spectator instead of a full participant."

- Elouise Renich Fraser