Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve...

Well, I just got back from visiting family for the holidays, and tonight is both New Year's Eve and my birthday! So... any substantial blog posts will have to wait a couple days. :-)

Monday, December 28, 2009

The challenge of Zizek's materialist ontology...

I've finally been getting to the Zizek/Milbank debate in "The Monstrosity of Christ" and I'm planning a few posts in response to the book, but let me begin by quoting Zizek; this is - I will claim - Zizek's challenge to theism, and deserves a healthy response. We will see if Milbank is able to provide that response... for now, Zizek:

"[W]hen people imagine all kinds of deeper meanings... what really frightens them is that they will lose the transcendent God guaranteeing the meaning of the universe, God as the hidden master pulling the strings - instead of this, we get a God [in Christianity] who abandons his transcendent position and throws himself into his own creation, fully engaging himself in it up to dying, so that we, humans, are left with no higher Power watching over us, just with the terrible burden of freedom and responsibility for the fate of... God himself. Are we not still too frightened today to assume all the consequences of the four words ['he was made Man']? Do those who call themselves 'Christians' not prefer to stay with the comfortable image of God sitting up there, benevolently watching over our lives, sending us his son as a token of his love, or, even more comfortably, just with some depersonalized Higher Force?"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A bit of economic theory for this holiday season... :-)

"Pluralism is but a facade for the transvaluation of all practices, institutions, dispositions, and relationships into commodities that can be exchanged in the global market. A pluralist regime stipulates that choice per se is the highest good, and therefore it is committed to excluding any way of life that is 'postulated upon nonconsumerist conceptions of human fulfillment...'

[E]very thing and every body is packaged as a product to be consumed (including marriage, having children, and making friends), and the exchange value of these products is determined by their market share, that is, their ability to satisfy consumers... Substantive understandings of the human good such as that traditionally embodied in the life and language of the church are summarily dismissed as restrictive practices."

(Barry Harvey - "Can These Bones Live?")

Monday, December 21, 2009

Putting the "hyper-Calvinist" argument to rest...

Ok, so that probably will not happen, but here's my take on the whole "faith vs. works" issue that seems to be so often blown out of proportion in the Calvinist vs. Arminian debates:

My thesis is simply the following -- The decision made in faith to follow Christ cannot be considered a "work," precisely because it is not an action which requires an obligatory response from God; in other words, it does not require God to do, or give, or provide something to us. (Romans 4 spells this out pretty clearly, if you're needing a biblical reference point.) Rather, it is the response of humble surrender which results from the recognition that God has already done the work on our behalf, and has given us the gift of faith by the Spirit. Our response, and the acceptance of that gift, cannot be classified as any sort of work, because God is not obliged to give us grace as a result of our faith. God has already given grace and faith to us, and our surrender to that reality is not an action, but a reaction, such that it places no stipulation upon God.

As such, any resort to language of "works" with regard to the human decision of willing to surrender to Christ/God is a straw man; it is simply an argument that results from a misunderstanding of the definition of the word "work." Of course, this does all beg the question of whether God's gifts of grace and faith are given to all humanity -- I believe they are (Scriptural citations available upon request. ;-D). But the bigger question, from my perspective, is whether all humanity will eventually surrender to God's grace, or whether some will remain defiant forever. Unfortunately (or - actually - fortunately!), only God can answer that question. But I think my thesis here is viable and offers a genuine alternative to the rigid "double-predestinarian" view held by some believers. I'm going on record: Five-point Calvinism is incorrect.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More of my favorite lyrics...

This song is just beautiful... "Wait for Sleep" by Dream Theater:

Standing by the window
Eyes upon the moon
Hoping that the memory
Will leave her spirit soon

She shuts the doors and lights
And lays her body on the bed
Where images and words are running deep
She has too much pride to pull the sheets above her head
So quietly she lays and waits for sleep

She stares at the ceiling
And tries not to think
And pictures the chain
She's been trying to link again
But the feeling is gone

And water can't cover her memory
And ashes can't answer her pain
God give me the power to take breath from a breeze
And call life from a cold metal frame

In with the ashes
Or up with the smoke from the fire
With wings up in heaven
Or here, lying in bed
Palm of her hand to my head
Now and forever curled in my heart
And the heart of the world

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kathryn Tanner on the consistency of God's grace...

This is a challenging collection of thoughts from Tanner's book "Theories of Culture":

"God is one and God's intentions for us are marked by consistency and faithfulness, but such unity, consistency, and faithfulness are much odder than anything captured by claims for continuity among Christian practices in virtue of shared traditional materials or claims for continuity in the processes that transmit them.

Even should the human response to God be properly obedient, this God is one who works by the reversal of human expectations - a God who in Jesus dies rather than triumphs, and then, equally unexpectedly, is risen from the dead - a God who, without being untrue to covenant partnership with Israel, brings Gentiles into the people of God without requiring their observance of Jewish law. There is consistency here - the consistency of a God of free grace - but it is a consistency that, because it could not have been predicted in advance, appears to be such only in retrospect."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

thinking about growing older and still being single...

So, I'll be turning 38 in a couple weeks, and I'm still single. That's not something I ever expected, and it's not always easy to remain hopeful, especially when it seems like finding "that special someone" is about as likely as congress finding a solution to health care that makes everyone happy. :-)

But, I have grown a lot (I think!) and I am certainly grateful for all the blessings in and throughout my life. Still, the realization that in all likelihood I will be in my 40's before I'm married and starting a family (assuming that's what God has in mind) is a bit disappointing. So, with this as a backdrop, I now want to make a few observations about Christian relationships from my current vantage point:

I think it's pretty clear that as one gets older, it becomes more difficult to meet (in my case) available Christian women. That is just the expected outcome of a smaller pool of singles who share with each other the qualities/characteristics that make for a potentially successful relationship. There are many reasons why people are waiting longer to get married, but the basic point is that as people get older, they have fewer options. Or, perhaps different options. Options that you wouldn't have considered before suddenly seem viable. Either way, it requires a shift in thinking.

But, there are still a few characteristics foundational enough for me that I won't budge on them (which isn't to say I've perfected any of them!). I'm not sure if these are "Christian" qualities, or that they are the same for everyone. But they apply to me. For example, honest communication and being "real." That is just fundamental for me. Now, most of the women I've dated are this way, and I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. I just can't help but think that life as a whole would be a whole easier if we didn't all pretend so much. But not pretending has a social cost. It makes people uncomfortable, and has the potential to create conflict.

Never mind that often the conflict is a necessary development for growth, many people would rather avoid the pain or embarrassment, so they just avoid it. This is a problem for both men and women. Nothing shocking there. But it's truly unfortunate that Christian people often won't communicate honestly with each other, especially when it comes to relationships. Learn to know yourself and be honest with yourself. Then tell people what you think and how you feel!

[A caveat: DON'T do this if you're aware that it's obviously selfish! Unfortunately that is often the case with people searching for a meaningful relationship. It happens to the best of us. Don't pretend that you aren't aware of that. :-D]

Being honest means facing the reality of a situation from all angles. This has a lot of ramifications, but here's the one I want to mention: Not all Christian men, or women, think alike! Shocking! hehe. But seriously, don't base your assumptions about all men or women on just a few experiences. This can be difficult because it makes sense that having a bad experience will lead one to try and avoid similar experiences in the future. But all relationships are difficult, and running from problems - or trying to avoid the pain that could be beneficial in the long run - is behavior that we must learn to change, if we are to experience truly positive relationships.

This next statement is probably a bit more controversial, but I'll say it anyway: Women, it's OK for men to NOT be a stereotypical "real Christian man," because often those men aren't real either! Let me explain this a bit more. First, I fully agree that many men have shirked their responsibilities and are not living up to their callings as husbands and fathers. But I also know quite a few Christian men (myself included) who would like very much to be husbands/fathers.

Here's the thing about us "non-real" Christian men. We don't want to feel like we're being forced to get married out of guilt, or constantly scrutinized and told that we don't yet have what it takes to be a man. Many Christian men simply need encouragement, but often what we hear is something more like: "A man needs to be mature, have a good job, and the spiritual/emotional steadiness to care for his wife and family!" Well, duh. But not all of us are investment bankers, and most of us don't look like Johnny Depp or write brilliant love poetry every day of the week. That doesn't mean we aren't excellent men.

Additionally, many of us want to be with women who think for themselves and have their own dreams, goals, and visions. I don't want to be in a relationship where I have to pretend like I have everything under control, just so my girlfriend/wife thinks I'm a real man, and feels "safe enough" to have kids. I have nothing against safety, I tend to like it myself. :-) But if love is really a gift from God, that makes it the most dangerous, unsafe thing in the world, and I want to be in a relationship where both of us push each other to love in a dangerous way.

What does this mean? It does NOT mean being irresponsible or foolish. But it does mean developing a relationship where two people have the same desire to build a life together, out of a love that sees such immense value in the other person that it wants to follow Christ by living sacrificially for that person. When two people are living that way for each other, it is really scary, but - if God is True - it is the only way to live in true intimacy. I'd like to find a woman who feels the same way, and, yes, challenges me when I'm wrong. But not one who just wants a man to make her life safe and comfortable. I don't believe that the man bears all the responsibility for directing the relationship, or that the man is required to "lead" - spiritually or otherwise - in all situations.

Now, men: This does not get us off the hook! Too often we are too fearful, lazy, distracted, irresponsible, etc. So, as a man, I say to you (and myself) - Let's not allow ourselves to be less than what we can be! A first simple step in this process (yeah, it's best to make things as simple as possible for guys): Get to know women! Really, honestly, get to know them.

We men (although I''m sure women do this as well) are very good at playing the odds; we may think some girls are "cute" or "sweet" but we are pretty sure that if we hold out a bit longer, we'll find someone who is exactly what we've been hoping for. And, in the meantime, we are missing out on many great opportunities to get to know amazing women.

Maybe some of those will end up being people we marry, maybe they'll just be friends. But what I've grown to realize - and I wish I had realized sooner - is that whether we are married or single, if we really get to know women and treat them with dignity, respect, and love in Christ, then even if they aren't meant to be with us, we are providing a foundation to make their futures even better. That is the true value of Christ's love - even when it doesn't necessarily make us "feel good", it brings about transformation.

If we, as men, could learn this lesson, I have a suspicion that many of the issues women struggle with might start to slowly evaporate. After all, it's no secret that, historically, men have tended to treat women quite poorly. That can only change when we realize that women are worth caring about regardless of whether they will be with us or not.

Anyway, all of this leaves me where I began - approaching 40 and single. It's not what I expected or wanted at this point in my life, but it's where I am. And, whatever happens, I am learning to trust that God is good, and love is only worth sharing when it comes from a place that expects nothing for itself, but only the good of the other. That, thankfully, is a lesson that carries a joy which has the potential to sustain one in times of loneliness and frustration.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Next time you're confronted by... of the so-called "manly man" Christians who think Jesus is some sort of UFC-fighter-tough-guy savior, just respond with this quote from Kierkegaard:

"Only a weak and effeminate man demands immediate justification, demands immediate success in the outer world, just because he is weak, and therefore must have an outward proof that he is the strongest."

(from Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)

haha. :-D

Sunday, December 6, 2009

on a totally different note...

Well, being unemployed has - no big surprise - given me more free time, and I've been trying to figure out how to make the best use of that time. I have been spending more time with friends (old and new) and I've also been trying to focus on reading/writing/preparing myself for further academic study (been working on PhD apps too...). But one other thing I've been doing is returning to music. I haven't worked on any songwriting/composing in a long time, and it's about time I picked that up again. Over the past week I've been fiddling with my synth, software samplers, etc, and I have been reminded of just how much I love that sort of thing. So, hopefully this will also mark a return to some semblance of creativity that I've neglected for some time. Maybe I'll eventually post some of these new concoctions online. We'll see!