Atonement for a Sinless Society

Posted: February 21, 2017 by Todd in Books, Theology

started 1/26/17 Kindle Version
(More) Musings and Methodologies
  • Book has changed a lot since original publication, but the core argument remains.
  • Atonement theories tend to outlive their usefulness.
  • “The Structure of What Follows” – Outline of rest of book
Part 1: The Stories We Tell About Sin and Shame
  • “Sin doesn’t really exist as a serious idea in modern life.”
  • Mann’s point isn’t that sin doesn’t exist, but that our language must change to effectively communicate with culture.
  • Appleyard > “We take sin seriously as a way of making life more exciting.”
  • Note: Don’t disagree, but so far no evidence to prove sin isn’t a serious idea in modern life.
  • Douglas John Hall > We’ve replaced “sin” for “sins” resulting in a petty moralism.
Sin and the Absence of the Other
  • Seems to be an absence of the divine Other, so nothing to sin against, except the self.
  • With the lack of the Other/other, there is a pitiable self-centeredness born of insecurity.
  • Without sin, repentance is meaningless too.
  • Do human rights shift responsibility away from the individual and to the institution or system?
Victimization and Our Therapeutic Liberation from Sin and Guilt
  • Contemporary stories situatate us more as sinned against than as sinner.
  • “In the therapuetic culture of Western society, ‘whoever can claim the status of victim with greater authority wins.'”
  • Mann’s argument >> re-narrations of the biblical story that help people deal with their shame.
Chapter 2: Recognizing Shame
  • Shame has come into sharper focus in recent times.
  • Shame is complex, but typically involves self-judgment.
  • Brene Brown: “Shame is the fear of disconnection; [it] makes us [feel] unworthy of connection.”
  • Shame needs to be countered with “fresh stories by which the self is able to re-narrate their own being if they are to have a hope-filled future.”
Shame Not Guilt
  • People struggling with shame don’t typically want to talk about it.
  • “Shame is too easily absorbed into guilt language.”
  • Guilt (and shame within honor/shame societies) “requires some form of reparative action, which should, in theory, overcome feelings of guilt.”  Yet shame is not so easily dispensed with.
  • In the West, “There is no need for an audience or the presence of others for people to feel shame.”
  • “The shamed person keeps interrelating and intimacy to a minimum to restrict the possibility of being exposed for who he or she truly is.”
“I” and the Search for Intimacy
  • Even in relationships, our focus tends to be on the self.
Shame and the Absence of Self Coherence
  • Shame is a very private affair.  “It heightens self-awareness, and turns up the internal volume of self-consciousness.”
  • There is a desire for a whole, consistent self, but in reality there is a disparity or inconsistency dividing up the ideal self and the real self.
  • “Shame often prevents us from presenting our real selves to the people around us – it sabotages our efforts to be authentic.”
  • “Persons held captive to shame do not need to be forgiven but released.”
Shame and Social Isolation
  • There is a modern inability to maintain interpersonal relationships because of chronic shame.
  • “Chronically shamed people are inherently mistrustful of human relationships.”
  • “If I know the story I am telling you is a cover story, then the most sensible thing to do is presume that the self-story you are narrating does not tell me who you really are either.”
Even Unto Death
  • In shame, the real self sits in silence.
  • Since the self and shame are indivisible, for shame to die, the self must die.
Chapter 3: Shame and Atonement: Some Issues to Consider
  • “Despite liturgies that reflected God’s active immanence with his creatures, it was simply the knowledge of being pardoned from guilt that drove the purpose of the atonement for the pious.”
  • “The condition of chronic shame is a hard one to ameliorate because individually and socially alienated people are, by definition, fundamentally cut off from the individuals and communities who might help them.”
Finding Resemblances
  • “Shame is not sin.” (if sin is defined in a limited way, as it has traditionally been)
  • Shame mus be part of the human plight that we need salvation for.
  • How we define sin determines how we approach atonement.
  • Mark Biddle: “We too easily reach for the ‘sin as crime’ metaphor.”
  • In Scripture, sin is not “willful rebellion/transgression,” but “missing the mark.”
  • “Sin is not solely the prideful effort to transcend humanity, it is also living less than fully human life as exemplified and made possible in Jesus Christ.”
  • Being cleansed, made whole are better atoning images for shame than punishment or paying debt
  • Neither sin nor shame can be reduced to a formulaic description.  But there are “family resemblances” amongst individual cases.
The Problem of Being Pre-Social and Pre-Moral
  • Shame tends to cut people off from the moral community.
  • The narrative of depravity tends to emphasize an unhealthy focus on the self.
  • “There is nothing that one can do by some intentional act to alleviate pain.”
  • Sharing shame can cause us to relive it and therefore compound the pain it causes.  Thus confession isn’t ideal.
  • Cleansing rituals are much better suited to deal with shame than confessional ones.
The Process of Atonement
  • Atonement as a process (rather than once and for all kind of thing) is better suited for shame since “there are no sure, certain, or quick ways of healing shame.”
Part II: The Function of Narrative – Story, Self, and the Shape of Things to Come
Chapter 4: Narrative Now
  • “Narratives…give a coherence to human lives.”
  • “Narrative is the mode by which people try to make sense of the one life they have.”
  • Many people live “with a narrative incoherence – a breakdown in the story they are able to tell, which results in a disruption of self.”
The Pervasiveness of Narratives
  • Humanity has always told stories, yet there is a tendency towards fiction in storytelling.
  • In response to the scientific era, the church started apologetic missiology.
  • Our present danger is that culture has run away in such a way that our theology is no longer meaningful to it.
  • The scientific/academic world is waking up to the importance of narrative.
Narrative and the Self
  • “Life is always-already narrative, in advance of our narration.”
  • “Despite the fact that story appears to be based around questionable, experiential ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us, such as intuition and emotion, the self prefers to trust these inner ways of knowing over and above the public “truths” given by archaic institutions. “
  • “Narrative is ‘an account of characters and events in a plot moving over time and space through conflict towards resolution.”
The Problem With Metanarratives
  • “We are storytellers ‘living among the ruins of…former grand narratives…[making] stories out of the rubble of the old narratives [we] find lying around.”
  • ‘those who would argue that we live in a postmodern age must face up to the fact that in reality this claim is itself simply a “grand narrative, announcing the death of another grand narrative in its rearview mirror.” ‘ (same as Wilber’s critique of Green)
  • Brueggemann has noted that, “as the Bible does not consist in a single large drama, but in many small, disordered dramas, so our lives are not lived in a single, large, unified drama. In fact, we are party to many little dramas.”
  • Therefore, in order to prove meaningful and sufficient, the task of the Christian narrative would not be “a grand scheme or a coherent system, but the voicing of a lot of little pieces out of which people can put life together in fresh configurations.”
  • his [Brueggemann] observation does not deal with the desire for a narrative coherence of the self. Rather, it only serves to perpetuate our fragmented, traumatic, and ultimately meaningless state. If left unattended, as we have been at pains to point out, such incoherence ultimately leads us into the depths of chronic shame.
  • That said, without blurring the issue to utter abstraction, this is not to argue that one needs a single coherent story— only that the self is able to deal coherently with the multivocity with which he or she may choose (or be forced) to narrate the self.
This is My Story, Now Tell Me Yours
  • We increasingly live in an age when stories no longer have to be legitimized by prevailing metanarratives to be taken seriously.
  • “A story is legitimized by its usefulness.”
  • “The only way to legitimately question this storied reality, relative as it may seem, is to offer an alternative story.”
Chapter Five: Narrative Possibilities
  • “Every ‘telling’ of myself is a retelling, and the act of telling changes what an be told next time.”
Narrative Therapy
  • As the exclusivity of the scientific worldview is coming into question, therapy is centering itself more in a “narrative” stream.  This is how people understand themselves.
Employing the Counter-Narrative
  • People identify themselves via story.
  • “The concern of narrative therapy is that too many of the stories we use to shape who we are have become narratives of torment or, as in the case of chronic shame, cover stories— narratively projected ideals to throw others off the scent to protect us from the fear that they may find our real self and despise us. “
  • In narrative therapy, the therapist needs to listen for underlying background that makes the current narrative possible.
  • According to narrative therapy, we are too often imprisoned by our own stories, instead of liberated by them.
Thickening the Story
  • “Instead of acknowledging and engaging the multiplicity of plotlines that amalgamate into the one narrative of the self, the client, especially when faced with her own relational dysfunction, will typically opt for what narrative therapists call a “thin description”. That is, she will have a tendency to describe her plight and its causes in a rather superficial, monistic way— as do others, who may share in creating the context in which the self resides. “
  • Thin descriptions leave the self disconnected from other influential plot lines.
  • Counter-stories much be rich.
“Other” Stories
  • Our stories are always in relationship to others and stories beyond the self.
Chapter Six: Narrative and Christian Soteriology
  • Christianity is one story among many, but one that has the power to transform the storied self.
  • “Conversion is the joining of one’s personal story with the story of the Christian community, and by implication, with the story of God.”
The Story of Salvation
  • “The concern here is not to speak of truth, if by that we mean the proving of something to be an undeniable fact or space/ time event. What is far more important to our concern, and our plight, is whether we are encountering a story that is meaningful and sufficient. Therefore, we should feel comfortable with using terms such as myth and story when communicating soteriology, for by such means human beings express the meaning and significance of life, the mundane and the profound, the immanent and the transcendent. “
  • Standard stories of the Christian atonement have ceased to be captivating, we must consider our missional context.
God is a Storied Being
  • “In the beginning is the relation.”
  • The focus on God shouldn’t be about doctrine, but about relationships
Thickening Our Story
  • We have a tendency to over-simplify and we shouldn’t do so here either.
  • “Therefore, the Christian community needs to work actively, creatively, and imaginatively to furnish our stories of atonement with symbols and metaphors that more appropriately reflect the experience and plight of the self. “
  • This process is likely to be “one of a labored progression – a journey, rather than a sudden and radical decision.”
Confessing a New Story
  • The modern “sinless” person wants to hide, not confess.  Confessing would be to live out trauma.
  • Just as the narrative psychotherapist tells back not the patient’s own story, but a myth, so too “the Christian community needs way to allow those who live in a world of shame to narrate fresh stories they believe to be their own, and so confess, and be atoned for.”
  • “The crucifixion story does things to the hearer that an exposition of the doctrine of the atonement does not.”
  • “Confession is no longer the declaring of my shame to others, but “is that ‘moment’ when the individual believer . .  . is able to reconstruct personal identity by means of what is acknowledged and recognized to be the truth about Jesus Christ,” and so by implication true of ourselves. “
Part 2: The Intent of Jesus in the Gospels: Atonement and Human Coherence
Chapter Seven: Jesus Narrates His Intent: A Story of Coherence
  • “Even from the beginning there are two crosses – the historical event of Jesus’ crucifixion and the theological interpretation of that event.”
A Story Over Supper
  • “Supper with Jesus was a pre-at-one-ment event, in more senses than one.”
  • “Not only are the loaves signs of Jesus’ inclusive mission; now the loaf is his body, his very self. . .  . At this point the offering of bread-declared-body to the disciples becomes a vivid symbol of Jesus’ death for others.”
  • “This death, however, will be different. It will be for, and on behalf of, others. “
  • “For Jesus’ own story to be a narrative of atonement, it must contain a plot that is recognizable to the sinless self. It must also represent an alternative: a narrative possibility, a meaningful, and sufficient counter-story that can be appropriated by those of us isolated through chronic shame. “
  • Jesus maintains relationships up the the last moment.
  • “Indeed, his intent is to give up his life so that mutual, unpolluted relating to self and Other/ other may become a real possibility— even for the betrayer who is dipping his hand into the dish. “
Of Prodigals and Adulterers
  • Story of prodigal son is “apathetic about concepts such as pride and guilt…rather it is a story about an isolated, alienated, and fragmented person who is unconditionally welcomed back by his father just as he is.” [Todd’s note: If I were the prodigal, I imagine I would feel relief, but would it make a dent in my shame – I remain skeptical.]
  • In story of woman at the well, the woman goes from being “pre-moral” (similar to those in shame) to being a moral being.
Gethsemane: The Testing of Jesus’ Intent
  • “Gethsemane has become the place where Jesus wrestles with his ideal self (the one whose intent it is to go to the cross for all) and the possibility that his real self would seek to walk away from the garden, and so by this act, also walk away from others, and from God. “
  • “This being without sin is certainly Jesus’ ability not to act contrary to the will of his Father (God). A more significant, more meaningful, and sufficient understanding, however, is to read this “without sin” not negatively but positively, in the light of Jesus’ own story and actions: it is the presence of a mutual, unpolluted relationship with himself, with others, and with God the Father. “
  • “we are sinners— not because we err in relation to a divine imperative, but because our lives are lived with the absence of the kind of relatedness modeled by Jesus. “
Chapter Eight: Judas and the Disciples: Stories of Incoherence
  • Judas is also a victim.  “He is the self-betrayed as much as he is the betrayer.”
  • Is Judas suffering from shame?
  • “Some shamed people lack a sense of personal worth and value. This means that they may act compliantly and in such a way as to attract approval from outside themselves rather than being concerned to do the right thing or what is best for others. The need to be acceptable may also cause shamed people to lie or be dishonest. ” [Note: To what extent is Trump governed by shame?  If it is a big component, what is the best response?]
  • Judas is ripe with narrative possibility vis-a-vis an atonement narrative that addresses shame.
Judas “Frames” Jesus
  • Gospel narrative suggests Judas act is a “betrayal of friendship.”
  • Judas’ craving of intimacy is selfish; he is having trouble holding his ideal self and this true self together
  • Like Judas, are we not also betrayers in our own relationships and search for intimacy?
  • Luke refuses to name the betrayer – it could be anyone…
  • “The reader is slowly brought to an awareness that Jesus is the only one around the table who is not self-seeking or self-justifying in his intimacy— he is the only one who can be trusted. “
Other Betrayals
  • The other disciples should have realized something was distressing Jesus and taken some responsibility for that.  “Judas is made the receptacle for all the negative feelings in the group.”
  • Disciples are revealed as having no concern for the events that Jesus says are about to happen.
  • “Peter has to endure that which the chronically-shamed fear most— exposure of the real self— though it is not Peter who acts to reveal this in some kind of confession. Surprisingly for the reader, it is Jesus who seeks to expose Peter’s real self, turning to say to him, and all present in that Upper Room: “This is your story, Peter, this is who you are and what you will do. This, Peter, is your real self.” ”  Peter reaches for a cover story.
  • The argument over which disciple is the closest to Jesus (Luke 22:24) is another betrayal.
  • For as Vincent Brümmer points out, “If we love heaven rather than God, then our efforts are directed toward our own interests.”
Out Into the Dark Veil
  • “Indeed, Judas kills himself because he is not at-one with himself, or with Jesus, or with the other disciples. “
  • “tacitly aware of our own chronic shame, confession would be an act that would expose the real self, and relive the moment of shame. That Judas would isolate and exclude himself from this intimate group of friends, even taking his own life, makes far more sense to the shame-filled self reading this story. For we too would seek the complete antithesis to confession and exposure: blocking out the other, hiding the self, or even pulling the dark veil over the soul. “
On to Golgotha
  • “For the biblical account does not portray what they do as a deliberate act, but rather as an ontological failing, something that is beyond them in their present human condition. “
  • Jesus leaves room for the possibility of reconciliation, even after betrayal.
Chapter Nine: From “Death” to Life: The Hope of Human Coherence
  • There is to be no set grammar for the story of the atonement that addresses shame, “after all, no two encounters with the story of Jesus are the same.”
  • Telling the story is a narrative possibility for at-one-ment.
A Purposeful Giving-up
  • “This is not the story of an execution, nor the story of those who put him to death— it is Jesus’ story.”
  • For the shamed: Passion narrative shows Jesus’ resolve to live in congruence with his ideal self.
Absorbing the Absence
  • We, the shamed, live in the absence of mutual, unpolluted relating.
  • On the cross, “Jesus accepts the relationally pre-moral condition out of which humanity acts: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'”
Recognizing the Counter-Narrative
  • Ultimately, our entrance into the story means we must take up the cross and experience a sort of death as well.
Part 4: Indwelling the Counter Narrative: Re-reading the Eucharist
Chapter Ten: A Rite of Identification
  • “Rituals and celebrations mark significant steps in the journey away from a problem story to a new and preferred vision of life. “
An Incarnated Narrative
  • Liturgy is the “finite capacity for the infinite.”
  • Ritual is repetitious and ongoing, just like the process of salvation
Many Stories, Many Tables
  • Liturgy must be open to renewal in order to incorporate the changing story of what it means to be human in the twenty first century.
  • The Lord’s Supper as now used developed according to missional needs in ancient times.
Creating Certain Ambiguity
  • Liturgy and ritual is the encountering of one story with another.
  • “For example, given the plight of the sinless self, what function or interpretation can be given to the prayer of humble access, with its implication of non-specific sinfulness, and personal unworthiness? For the chronically-shamed, to recite over and over that they are “unworthy, even to gather the crumbs from under the table” is unlikely to be a healing mantra, for such acknowledgments are easily distorted by the story the self brings to the table. “
  • “When we line up to receive communion and dwell for a moment in the story it represents, we take our place historically and narratively behind the multitudes on the hillside, behind tax collectors and prostitutes, behind Thomas, Peter, and Judas, and behind those travelers on the road to Emmaus who have all eaten at the table with Jesus. “
  • “Too often, liturgy and ritual serve to flatten out the emotional experience of the self, denying the natural, almost intuitive relationship between our feelings and their public expression through action.”
The Death and Resurrection of the Self
  • The Eucharist is nothing without those narratives in which Jesus reveals his intent.
  • “The recipient is drawn into the story in such a way that Jesus’ intent now becomes the desire of the self.”
Chapter Eleven: A Confrontation with Self
  • “The consciousness of the failure of the self . .  . is a necessary phase in the process whereby human beings are liberated to become themselves. ” (Nietzche)
A Pre-Moral Confession
  • Where is the sin against the self in liturgical practice?
  • “Given time, and the right emphasis, ritual and liturgy can confront the self, and turn chronic shame and incoherence into points of departure towards a counter-story of at-one-ment”
An “Old” Example of the Counter-Narrative
  • The prophet Nathan offers a counter-narrative to David’s own self-narrative.
  • “A similar process is happening in the encounter between the self and the narratives of the Christian community. When the Christian community recites the betrayal of Judas, the failing of the disciples, and the coherence of Jesus, and links such narratives with their liturgical practice, it does for us exactly what Nathan did for David.”
  • “We all take the place of God when we make the world into a world centered around us.”
  • “This is the sin that pervades our sinless society: “our determined effort to live our lives as if God were not the author of our lives.””
A Brief Liturgy for a Sinless Society
  • The liturgy must be able to carry the weight of the self’s own story.
  • Specific liturgy at 2401
Chapter Twelve: An Act of Communion
  • ““Revelation becomes an experienced reality at the juncture where the narrative identity of an individual collides with the narrative identity of the Christian community.” “
Confessions from the Edge to the Center
  • To tell one’s story through the narrative of atonement is to confess.  The incoherent self is put to death.
  • The community becomes a witness to the emerging self.
The Eucharist as Mutual Presence
  • Other stories, even stories other that Jesus’s must be welcomed at the table.
  • Identifying a universal truth, or the story “has a tendency to deny diversity in storytelling.”
  • The “other” has been given little credence in atonement narratives.
The End of the Beginning: Some Closing Thoughts
  • “I remain convinced that the biodiversity that God creates in the domain of nature extends into the narration of personal history. Uniqueness is a universal theme, which denies the possibility of all peoples at all times speaking with the same voice. “
  • Jesus’ story replicates itself producing “ever new, non-identical” versions.
  • These repetitions are the “ever-lengthening shadow of the resurrection.”
  • “Jesus remains distinct even when he submits his personal history to the authorship of God.”
  • “We no longer have to play the role of the victim to be empowered, for our identity is no longer in our own narration but in the words of the Other, our Creator. And in that narration we are declared free from the shame that has haunted us, free from the fear of failing our ideal self. We are, like Jesus, people of coherence. We are finally liberated to seek reconciliation because we are reconciled to ourselves. ” [Note: this perspective would seem to erase any distinction between justification and sanctification]
Started 12/26/16
Heard about it on Tim Ferriss Show podcast
Junger desired for some calamity just so he could be part of a band coming together to survive. (xiv)
STORY – Man gives Junger his lunch; Man took responsibility for Junger (beyond generosity). (xiv-xvii)
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.” (xvii)
The Men and the Dogs
“It may say something about human nature that a surprising number of Americans – mostly men – wound up joining Indian society rather than staying in their own.” (2)
When liberated from “Indian captivity,” many white setters tried to escape to return to their Indian homes.
“As societies become more affluent they tend to require more, rather than less, time and commitment by the individual, and it’s possible that many people feel that affluence and safety simply aren’t a good trade for freedom.” (16)
“As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.” (19)  According to the WHO, wealthy countries experience depression at about 8 times the rate of poorer ones. (20)
Self-determination theory suggests humans need 3 basic things to be content: (1) feel competent at what they do, (2) authentic in their lives, (3) connected to others. (22)
Quote from Journal of Affective Disorders: “In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences.” (23)
Page 24-25 – Discussion about babies/children sleeping alone, Junger claims it is an affluent, Western phenomenon.
Fraud and cheats are always punished harshly in tribal societies; not so in our own
War Makes You An Animal
Junger describes the experiences he has as a war journalist in Sarejevo.
“The one thing that might be said for societal collapse is that – for a while at least – everyone is equal.” (43)
“Despite erroneous news reports, New Orleans experienced a drop in crime rates after Hurricane Katrina, and much of the ‘looting’ turned out to be people looking for food.” (44)
WWII bombing campaigns seemed to reinforce social bonds, promote productivity, and decidedly did not incite widespread hysteria.
“Disasters create a ‘community of sufferers’ that allow individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.” (53)
Men are more likely to rescue someone; women are more likely to be recipients of rescue. (56)
Women are more likely to display moral courage. (57)
STORY – Muslim women refuse to separate themselves from Christians in a stop by Al-Shabaab in Kenya that ultimately prevented the Christians from being killed.  (58)
In male only groups, like a coal mine disaster, some men function in the role of women providing empathic leadership. (65)  Women can step up in rescue roles when no men are present as well.
Many soldiers miss the clarity and importance of their wartime duties.  In Bosnia, many children/youth were happier during the war from the comradary that developed during that time.
In Bitter Safety I Awake
Junger found himself thinking everything was a threat (in America) after intense wartime experience in Afghanistan. (72-73)
PTSD would seem to be an evolutionary advantage, assuming you stay in the stress causing environment. (74)
“The human concern for others would seem to be the one story that, adequately told, no person can fully bear to hear.” (76)
In addition to all its bad, war also “inspires ancient human virtues of courage, loyalty, and selflessness that can be utterly intoxicating to the people who experience them.” (77)
Iroquois had a radically different system of governance under wartime (78).
A 2011 study of street children in Burundi found the lowest PTSD rates among the most aggressive and violent children.
One thing that makes PTSD difficult to recover from is that there are aspects of combat that are positive and worth retaining.  (81)
“A person’s chance of getting chronic PTSD is in great part a function of their experiences before going to war.” (82)
“Among younger vets, deployment to Iraq of Afghanistan actually lowers the risk of suicide, because soldiers with obvious mental health issues are not deployed with their units.”
“Studies from around the world show that recovery from war – from any trauma – is heavily influenced by the society one belongs to, and there are societies that make that process relatively easy.  Modern society does not seem to be one of them.” (90)
Part of the trauma of war seems to be giving it up.  “For the first time in [our] lives…we were in a tribal sort of situation where we could help each other without fear.” (91)  Likewise, “after WWII, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and periolous days of the Blitz.” (92)  “What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender.” (92)
“Northern European societies are among the few where people sleep alone or with a partner in a private room, and that may have significant implications for mental health in general and for PTSD in particular.” (95)
“Lack of social support has been found to be twice as reliable at predicting PTSD as the severity of the trauma itself.” (95)
PTSD is a disorder of recovery. (95-96)
“The closer the public is to the actual combat, the better the war will be understood and the less difficulty soldiers will have when they come home.” (96-97)
“Lifelong disability payments for a disorder like PTSD, which is both treatable and usually not chronic, risks turning veterans into a victim class that is entirely dependent on the government for their livelihood.  The US is a wealthy country that may be able to afford this, but in human terms, the veterans can’t.” (101)
“When they come home they find themselves being viewed so sympathetically that they’re often excused from having to fully function in society.” (102)
Calling Home From Mars
<story> of drunk guys arguing over a plastic viking helmet.  Resolved by filling it with wine and sharing.  (104-107)
“What I liked about the encounter was that it showed how very close the energy of male conflict and male closeness can be.  It’s almost as if they are two facets of the same quality.” (107)
“A society that doesn’t offer its members the chance to act selflessly in these ways isn’t a society in any tribal sense of the word.” (110)
“When they come come they realize that the tribe they were actually fighting for wasn’t their country, it was their unit.” (110)
<story>tearing legs off a spider (113)
Every culture seems to have a version of a myth where someone attacks the tribe from inside.  In our society, it seems to be lone shooters. (114-115)
“A rampage shooting has never happened in an urban ghetto, for example; in fact, indiscriminate attacks at schools almost always occur in otherwise safe, predominantly white towns.” (115)
“Rampage shootings” seem to correlate to the flourishing of a comfortable culture where citizenry is not asked to make sacrifices or demonstrate courage.  Interestingly, there were no rampage shootings for 2 years after 9/11.
“The effect was particularly pronounced in NYC, where rates of violent crime, suicide, and psychiatric disturbances dropped immediately.” (116)
“American Indians, proportionally, provide more soldiers to America’s wars than any other demographic group in the country.” (118)
“In all cultures, ceremonies are designed to communicate the experience of one group of people to the wider community.” (121)
“People speak with incredible contempt about – depending on their views – the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, or the entire US government.  It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime, except that now its applied to our fellow citizens.” (125)
“The US is so powerful that the only country capable of destroying her might be the US herself.” (128-129)
Final words: “That sense of solidarity is at the core of what it means to be human and undoubtedly helped deliver us to this extraordinary moment in our history.  It may also be the only thing that allows us to survive it.” (133)
<story>Junger ties things together with story about an anthropologist who was with an Indian who gives all his flour and lard away at significant personal cost.  When asked why, he says, “just dead inside.”  This was Junger’s answer to why a very poor many gave him his lunch 30 years ago.  “It was the one thing that, poor as he was, he absolutely refused to be.” (136)
  • Try to facilitate the building of strong communities.  This is what is good about “tribalism,” even the “red” of Spiral Dynamics/Integral.
  • Facilitate and engage in acts that allow for personal courage.
  • Put greater value on “rites of passage”

Started 11/29/16, Physical Book
Chapter 1: The Learning Begins
Sterner had a shift in his early to mid twenties in the process of becoming an accomplished musician where he had an “ah-ha” moment realizing that he now loved to practice.  He saught to deconstruct that process and golf offered an opportunity to do that since he’d be traveling from no skill to a place of proficiency.
Life itself is simply one great big practice.  The lessons of this book can be applied to “microskills” and “macroskills” (life).
“Without an understanding of proper practice mechanics, and without an awareness of our own internal workings, we’re almost certain to use up the initial inspiration and motivation that propelled us into our endeavor, leaving us feeling we cannot reach the goal that had seemed so worth striving for just a short time earlier.” Pg. 6
We are so used to multitasking that we don’t adjust easily to focusing on just one thing.
Goal of book is to move us from the rider of a chariot with horses wildly controlling it, to take over as the driver of the charoit, consciously charting its direction.
 “I was having all these ideas for this book, but they were going to have to wait to be written down because my children needed my attention.  I noticed that I had become the chariot driver who did not have control of the reins.  I was allowing my mind to run off the path and work on the book instead of staying on the path and enjoying the time with my kids.”
Chapter 2: Process, Not Product
“We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy.  We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.”
“To me, the words practice and learning are similar but not the same.  The word practice implies the presence of awareness and will. The word learning does not.  When we practice something, we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal.  The words deliberate and intention are key here because they define the difference between actively practicing something and passively learning it.” (22)
“In order to focus on the present, we must give up, at least temporarily, our attachment to our desired goal.” (23)
“Where we fall down in this activity is when we drop out of this present-minded approach and become attached to the outcome of our attemps.  Then we start the emotional judgment cycle: “How could I have missed the first one?  I am not very good at this.  Now the best I can do is two out of three,” and on and on.  If we stay in the process, this does not occur.  We look at the outcome of each attempt with emotional indifference.  We accept it as it is, with no judgment involved.” (26-27)
“If you read about any of the great world religions and philosophies, you will find that at their core is the subject of our inability to stay in the present moment.” (28)
Markers – things that define who we are (bad to focus on)
“Grades, when functioning properly, should inform the educational system about how well the present method of teaching is working.” (29)
“The grading system affects our attitudes toward making the product the priority, rather than the process.” (30)
STORY – Japanese pianos – superior craftsmanship with no supervisors (36-37)
“Credit cards work on the premise of product before process, instead of process first.” (37)
“It would be more accurately stated as ‘Instant gratification , short-term satisfaction’ because anything we acquire in this way has no real, lasting value to us.” (38)
Practicing mind comes down to these rules (40):
  • Keep yourself process-oriented.
  • Stay in the present.
  • Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts.
  • Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention.
“The problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them.” (41)
Chapter 3: It’s How You Look At It
STORY – Perfection of a baseball player (43-44)
“If these images are used for inspiration, they can be very beneficial; but if they are used as a measuring device, they can become our downfall.” (45)
“An ideal implies that it is as good as a particular circumstance or thing can get.  True perfection, in contrast, is limitless, unbounded, and always expanding.” (47)
“It is perfect at being wherever it is and at whatever stage of growth it is in at that moment.” (48)
A flower’s monologue (48)
Beginner’s mind – state of being immersed in activity because you’re learning (52)
We prejudge our activities as work or play.  Not helpful.
Chapter 4: Creating the Habits We Desire
“Expectations are tied to a result or product, to the thought that “things should be this way right now, and until then I won’t be happy.” (64)
“Habits and practice are very interrelated.  What we practice will become a habit.” (65)
A trigger is a device that serves to start the creation process of a new habit. (69)
Chapter 5: Perception Change Creates Patience!
Worrying – anticipating things that haven’t happened yet or questions that haven’t been asked yet (78)
“Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy.  ‘But,’ you say, ‘I have a difficult meeting with someone tomorrow, and I want to have my thoughts together before I get into the situation.’  Fine, then take half an hour to sit down in a chair and do nothing else but go through the meeting in your mind and be there completely, doing only that.” (78-9)
“The second step in creating patience is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything.  True perfection is both always evolving and always present within you, just like the flower.” (80)
Rethinking perfection based on unfulfillment of accomplished person (82)
STORY – Goals, “horizon” (83-5)
“There were no mistakes being made, just a process of discovering what worked and what didn’t. (85)
STORY – Self playing organs – went out of fashion as they didn’t contribute to growth (86-89)
Focus: Achieving over getting (91)
Chapter 6: The Four “S” Words (compare to Tim Ferriss’ method in 4HC)
Simplify – break something down into its constituent parts
Small – break down into small parts (distinction without a difference from simplify, best I can tell)
Short – time brevity
Slow – Work at a pace that you pay attention to what you’re doing
Sterner – tried experiment of working “slowly” and found out that he experienced more peace and actually finished faster
Chapter 7: Equanimity and DOC
Equanimity comes from non-judgment
Judgments are always based on some preconceived idea of perfection.
“Judgments are necessary for us to function in life, but they have a downside: They are not executed with a detached nature.  There is usually some emotion involved, and the amount of emotion is proportional to the perceived importance of the judgment.” (107)
Focus on training and sound decision making, not emotions.
“We must work at being more objectively aware of ourselves.” (110)
“If you are talking to yourself, you probably think you are doing the talking.  That seems reasonable enough, but who is listening to you talk to yourself?  Who is aware that you are observing the process of an internal dialogue?  Who is this second party who is aware that you are aware?  The answer is your true self.  The one who is talking is your ego or personality.”  (110-11)
The ego is subjective; the observer is objective.
DOC = Do, Observe, Correct
DOC can be applied to anything you’re working on.
Evaluating is different than judging.
Move from evaluation to correction, instead of judgment.
Chapter 8: Teach and Learn from Children
Time perception in children and adults – page 124ff
Children typically think it moves very slowly.  Adults think just the opposite – there is too much to do in too little time.
“They don’t see how discipline and effort can pay such great dividends over time, but we do.  This paradox is both their and our strengths and weaknesses in the same instant.” (125)
Chapter 9: Your Skills are Growing
“All cultures begin by expending their energy and resources on survival.  If a culture survives its infancy, its people eventually pass the point of having to spend all their time focusing on staying alive.  They get to a point where they can ask what’s for dinner, instead of asking whether there’s dinner.  Their days have more free time.  It is at this point that the society faces a fork in the road…On one path, you can spend at least a portion of this free time on expanding your spiritual awareness…the other path leads away from this truth into and endless cycle of meaningless self-indulgence that, at its core, is an attempt to fill the spiritual void that many of us experience in our lives.” (135)
“Everything that you spiritually acquire expands your true self and becomes part of you forever.” (137)

Prayer Without Principle

Posted: November 17, 2014 by Todd in Sermons
Tags: , , , , , ,


Hardee’s Sign Introduction

This is a sign that hangs in the Hardee’s on Drake Ave in Huntsville.  Now, I love Hardee’s as much as the next person, but this sign sort of struck me as an odd mish-mash of sloganeering for commercial purposes.  I don’t disagree with any slogan on the list.  I understand that businesses often use populist slogans and positive causes in ways that help their business or even better in my mind – they support issues that align with their mission, which in some cases is deeper than just making money.  But when you have just sort of a random spray of slogans without any clear connection to deeper values, it is hard not to think that the attempt is to hijack the popularity of such phrases and transfer some of that good will into brand equity.



Unprincipled Psalm

This leads me to our Psalm this morning.  It is a Psalm of Petition.  Which is a fancy way of saying, you’re asking God for something.  Typically help of some kind.  It wasn’t obvious to me without the aid of a Biblical commentary, but this Psalm in some ways, is like the ancient version of this Hardee’s sign.  It borrows many phrases and slogans from other Psalms and common sayings in ancient Judaism.  In the Psalmist’s case, the objective is more noble – asking God for help in a difficult situation rather than a nudge towards a Thickburger purchase.  Nevertheless, according to several Biblical scholars, this Psalm is an amalgam of commonly used religious phrases cobbled together in service of asking God for a favor.


Psalm 86 



The Parking Gambit

When you go to the store, everyone likes to get good parking spots.   But this time of year, they are getting hard to come by.  And if you’re like me, you find yourself in a dilemma as you pull down the lane towards the store.  At the back of the lot, there are lots of empty spaces.  If you decide to take one of those, you can be done with it, park your car, and get a head start on what is going to be a longer trek to the store.  But if you’re feeling lucky you might decide to chance it and inch closer to the store and snag an empty space near the front of the store.  But if you’re wrong, you’ve got to circle back around to the next lane.  You’ll probably have to wait on pedestrians taking their time to cross the street and potentially get tied up in more gridlock.  My personal feeling is that if you have to circle back into another lane heading back away from the store, it would have been better to just park in the back and walk.  You’d be halfway there or better by that point.  As, you can tell, I’ve been doing some thinking about this and while I have your attention, I wanted to give you a couple of free parking tips that you might find helpful for the holiday season.  First, if you can find a way to do your first pass through parking spaces by driving away from the store – either by entering a side entrance to the parking lot or by quickly driving around the far edge of the parking lot, then you are in a much stronger strategic position.  If there is a space close to the store, great, bam, you’re in.  If not, keep on going and you’re at the back anyways and you can cut your losses without circling back around.  Second free tip – if you’re going to be using a shopping cart, put a premium on finding a space close to one of the buggy collection centers.  Many people make a critical strategic mistake, thinking they’ve really got a great space up front, only to walk halfway across the lot to return their cart after they’ve shopped.


Praying for Parking Spots

As you can probably tell, my top strength on the Strengthfinders strengths inventory is Strategy.  But not everyone thinks so strategically about parking spaces.  Some people just park.  Others pray.  I’ve never been the kind of person who prays for parking spots to open.  Regretfully, I have been, at times, the kind of person who makes fun of people who pray for parking spots to open.  Behind that arrogance, there has been genuine concern that prayer not be like a genie in a bottle than when rubbed grants you three wishes.  It was a matter of principle.  God isn’t there to maximize your every desire or make every step comfortable for you.  Yet, people do pray for even more trivial things – lottery tickets, sporting events, or even for their enemies to be publicly shamed.  And truth be told, I’ve never thought too highly of these sorts of prayers, either.  Out of principle.

Hail Mary

John Madden Hail Mary Passes

One of my favorite video games to play when I was growing up was John Madden football.  My friend had it on his Sega Genesis.  Football fans, particularly in Alabama, will be quick to tell you that it is important to have both a good running game and a good passing game.  If you’re only good at one or the other, then the defense has an extra advantage in knowing whether you’re likely to run or throw the football.  They can tailor their defense towards the run or the pass.  There is a lot of strategic principle that goes into this kind of balanced play calling.  But everyone knows football is more exciting when you throw the football.  So that’s what I did when I played John Madden football.  I threw the football every play.  Not only did I throw the football every play, I usually chose the most exciting of all possible passes – the Hail Mary pass.  Fourth and inches?  Why not throw the Hail Mary?  They will never see it coming.  If you don’t know, Hail Mary passes are when the receivers basically run as far as they can in a straight line and the idea is for the quarterback to throw the ball as far as they can for a long pass.  On occasion, teams will break this play out as a surprise.  But often they are last minute desperation plays – done at the end of a game in one last final attempt to win.  Teams go to the Hail Mary pass out of desperation, not out of principle.  I wouldn’t cut it as an offensive coordinator in the SEC.  Much thought, careful strategy, and planning goes into constructing a game plan.  And my decision to rely heavily on the Hail Mary pass might be fun to watch, but those who think carefully about the X’s and O’s of the game, would probably make fun of it.


hail mary prayer

Prayer as Last Resort

Hail Mary passes are actually named after a prayer.  A Hail Mary is specific Catholic prayer.   Some of you may be familiar with it – “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.  Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen.”  Isn’t it interesting that it is the last second, desperation type play that is the only football play that I’m aware of that has a spiritual name.

In both the way I approach parking and the way serious football types approach play calling, if we think there is something we can do to help ourselves – we’re much more likely to do that than to pray.  Prayer, in this way of thinking, is a measure of last resort.  It isn’t likely to work, but what else is there to try at this point?

It is a message that we all likely should be reminded of from time to time – we shouldn’t just pray to God when we want God to do something for us.  Out of desperation.  When we have no other options.  This is certainly true and the principled way to pray.  And this is a relatively easy thing to preach about – we sort of all have a sense that we should go to God not just out of desperation.

But I want to push us a little further.  Because that is what our Psalm does this morning.  Psalm 86 is a prayer of desperation.  And I want to suggest that it is a prayer without principle as well.


Prayer Without Principle

That might sound like a strange thing to say, but I hope one of the things we’ll take from this series on the Psalms is that Biblical prayers to God span the whole range of human emotion and experience.  Too often, we think, we have to mind our p’s and q’s when we pray.  I think even our well-intentioned, high-minded principles can get in the way of authentic prayer.  We think we’ve got to be calm, cool and collected before we pray. We think we have to have prayed to God without asking for something several times before we can make a petitionary prayer.  We think we can’t ask God for trivial things, like parking spaces.  We let guilt over asking God for stuff or not asking in the right way restrain us.  We think we can’t bring our anger or jealousy into our prayers.  We can’t curse during prayers.    We get to thinking our prayers to God are like our house when having company over – we’ve got to clean it up before letting anyone in.  In short, we get to thinking we can’t be our full, broken selves in our prayers.


Walk Through Psalm 86

But Psalm 86 tells us otherwise.  Likely a Psalm written by David – David doesn’t pray out of principle.  Basically he tries everything he can think of to get God to do what he wants.  He uses every inspirational quote, every catchy slogan that he saw on Facebook that week to cozy up to God, to portray himself as a really great and spiritual guy.  That way, God would give him what he wanted.  The first verse reminds me of an episode of the Cosby show – let’s take a look. [Watch first minute of this video; Embedding has been disabled.]

This is the sort of principled stance that David opens up his prayer with – “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”  Of course, David is the king of Israel, just like Cliff Huxtable is a doctor.  But both are asking someone for something, making a petition.  And so they position themselves accordingly. Prayer without principle.

David goes on to totally try and butter God up with a mish-mash of platitudes.  Verse 2, “I am devoted to you.”  Verse 5, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving.  Abounding in steadfast love.”  In verse 7, David assumes the best of God saying, in effect, thank you in advance for your favorable response.  “In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.”  In verse 8, he really starts laying it on thick, “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.”  David goes on promising to glorify God’s name forever.  Then in verse 14, David reminds God about how bad his enemies are.  They aren’t like him, continuously praising God.  They “do not set you before them.”  David goes on to repeat another oft used Jewish phrase, “You, O Lord, are a God slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  And to close out the prayer, David gets to what he really wants, in effect saying, use that graciousness and steadfast love on me and not my enemies.  “Let those who hate me be put to shame because of your help for me.”


Pray As You Are

Now, why would such a seemingly self-serving, unprincipled prayer be in the Bible?  Maybe the truth is, we don’t have to have all of our stuff together before we pray.  It seems that God wants real prayers more than perfect prayers.  We let perfect be the enemy of the good.  And it keeps us from authentic prayer.  We don’t have to enter into prayer with our principles intact.  Rather, prayer will draw principle out of you.


In the end, the person who prays for a parking space to open is no different from those like myself who would never pray such a prayer, but still scheme for the best space.  We both have this little desire – so insignificant and small in the grand scheme of things – to get a good parking space, but yet we still want it.  I’m not here to say whether or not God actually opens up parking spaces upon request.  But one type of prayer brings one’s whole self – with its small, insignificant concerns before God, whereas my prayer somehow feels embarrassed to even acknowledge this small desire.  Perhaps a first step at being more real with God for me – is admitting that I get a little self-righteous about people praying for things I consider trivial.  Your carefully considered principles are not a pre-requisite to prayer.  Prayer will draw principle out of you.  Prayer is transformative.  And the parts of you that you leave out of your relationship with God have a much harder time being transformed.


No Wrong Way to Pray

Since I began with a bunch of slogans, let me end with a slogan.  Just as there is no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there is no wrong way to pray.  If you feel the need to rely on slogans you’ve heard (like the Hardee’s sign), by all means, use them.  If you feel pulled to bargain and negotiate with God, to butter God up, it would not be without Biblical precedent.  If none of this is your style and you only like to bother God with larger, more meaningful requests, begin there.  These are fine things to do.  But somehow, over time, we’ll be shaped in certain ways.  I suspect that eventually, if you eat enough Reese’s, that after a while, you’d stop eating them by piercing the center with your tounge.  It just doesn’t work that well, especially when you do it again and again and not just for fun one time.  There are more comfortable ways to eat a Reese’s.  I believe the same is true of our prayers.  If we pray as we are with all of our hurts, pettiness, with all of our biases and assumptions, just as we really are – openly and honestly we have made ourselves very transformable by God.  We release our tendency to strategically control the things we care about, both big and small, in order to first and foremost trust them to God.  And in being so fully ourselves with a God who cares so much, we find that the Hail Mary pass isn’t the only play in our prayer book.  By going to God in prayer without principle, we are paradoxically transformed into people who pray not just in times of desperation – but in all seasons of life – the Psalms of our lives.  Our relationship with God spans the full and beautiful range of the entire book of Psalms – from lament to praise, from individual to communal, from petition to thanksgiving.


And so may you be as real as you can be with God in your prayers.


May you trust that God does something in prayer.


And by being yourself with God in prayer, warts and all, may you open yourselves up to being part of God’s response to your petition.


Would you pray with me?

Lord, we find it difficult to be honest with you.

You’re the boss and we want to get our house in order before letting you in.

Help us to trust you enough to let you into the messy, honest places of our lives so that we can be frank with you about what we really need.  And you can begin to shape us from where we really are instead of where we pretend to be.  Only then will can we become who you need us to be.  Amen.



Richard Kearney
This was a great book.  Kearney doesn’t get into faith development or stages of human development, but his writings would seem to pair well with that sort of thing.  My notes are below.
  • What do we mean when we speak of God? Omnipotent causality or self-emptying service?
  • “Home Rule is Rome Rule” (Irish saying)
  • Kearney > This will be an “anatheist space where the free decision to believe or not believe is not just tolerated by cherished.”
  • “Hermeneutics is a lesson in humility (we all speak from finite situations).”
  • “Hermeneutics reminds us that the holiest of books are works of interpretation—for authors no less than readers. Moses smashed the written tablets; Jesus never wrote a single word (only a scribble in the sand to prevent a woman being stoned); and Muhammad spoke, after much hesitation, but left writing to others. If Gods and prophets talk, the best we can do is listen—then speak and write in turn, always after the event, ana-logically and ana-gogically, returning to words already spoken and always needing to be spoken again.”
  • “God must die so that God might be reborn.”
  • “We choose to remake our story according to the history that makes us.” [more…]
One: Prelude
Introduction: God After God
  • “My wager throughout this volume is that it is only if one concedes that one knows virtually nothing about God that one can begin to recover the presence of holiness in the flesh of ordinary existence.”
  • “Even Christ found himself questioning his Father on the cross—“Why have you forsaken me?”—before he could return to renewed belief in life: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
  • “Without non-knowing (a-gnosis) there would be no motivating urge to know more, to understand differently, to think otherwise, and therefore no possibility of seeking to re-cognize (ana-gnorisis) truth as it begins anew, again and again.”
  • “Philosophically speaking, therefore, the anatheist wager is marked by a moment of radicalized “innocence” (in-nocens) that opens the door to ulterior dimensions of truth. Without disorientation no reorientation.”
  • “The shortest route from wonder to wonder is loss.”
Chapter 1: The Uninvited Guest
  • Kearney discusses Abraham’s visitors (Genesis 18:14)
  • “But, if Abraham is the first prophet of strangeness, he is also the first to experience the temptation of closure: namely, the urge to confound the sacred with the tribe. The temptation, in short, to fold his tent and build a fortress. To reduce divinity to territory and thereby exclude the stranger.”
  • “Loving your Other is more divine than loving your own.”
  • The stranger is only subsequently recognized as the divine.
  • “If divinity moves toward us kataphatically in the face of the foreigner, it also absolves itself apophatically from the immediate grasp of cognition.”
  • The sacred cannot be embodied without openings towards the strangers.
  • Love of the guest becomes Love of God this is similar to Keegan’s subject becomes object = transformation
  • When Jesus insists he is the Way it is the Way of the Stranger, not the Sovereign
  • Islamic traditions honoring Stranger particularly Averroes
  • Kearney also explores the role of the stranger in Hafiz of Shiraz and Kabir Das.
  • Kabir: “If God be in the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?” (beautiful poem at loc 955)
  • “In the beginning was the Word; which means in the beginning was hermeneutics.”
  • A temporary athiesm is necessary to experience God as stranger.
Chapter 2: In the Wager, The Fivefold Motion
  • “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life it is often no louder than the beating of your heart and it is very easy to miss it.” – Pasternak in Letter to Olga
  • Five main components of the “anathiest wager”:
    • Imagination
    • Humor
    • Commitment
    • Discernment
    • Hospitality
  • Components are not necessarily sequential, but “equiprimordial aspects of a single hermenuetic arc.” They are complex, “shrouded in a halo of multilayered motions” and occur “in an instant.”
  • Imagination:
    • Withouth imagination there is no empathy between the self and other
    • Edith Stein: Empathy is the ‘experience of a foreign consciousness.’
    • Empathy can only work my analogy (or imagination) – imagining what it is like to be the other
  • Humor:
    • “By humor, I mean here the ability to encounter and compose opposites: what I see as impossible and possible at one and the same time.” Like Sarah’s laugh.
    • Let the inconceivable be conceived.
    • Bergson: Humor is a creative response to paradox/contradiction.
    • Humor shares a common root with human, humility, etc.
    • “Come and have breakfast” are not the first words the apostles expected to hear from their risen Messiah! (John 21:12)
    • Drama of the “Holy Fool disappearing in presence and reappearing in absence.” (Jesus)5cz x
    • Humor, in this sense, is deep humility before the meaning carried by a divine stranger
    • Eckhardt: “God told me a joke and seeing him laugh taught me more than all the Scriptures.”
    • Grand Inquisitors are incapable of laughing
    • “We laugh or weep when we do not know.”
  • Commitment
    • This is the moment of “Here I Am”
    • We don’t know the truth, but we do the truth.
    • “Orthopraxis precedes orthodoxy. Trust precedes theory. Action precedes abstraction.”
    • Commitment is metanoia
    • Performative truth
  • Discernment
    • Faith leaps are not irrational, but considered.
    • Every seeing is a “seeing as”
    • Prayer is attention to otherness
    • “Discernment is a matter of prereflective carnal response to the advent of the Other before it becomes a matter of reflective cognitive evaluation.”
    • Discernment begins with the carnal and emotional; even the unconscious
  • Hospitality
    • The knowledge embedded in other elements (e.g., discernment, humor) doesn’t necessarily trump love.
    • “Love God (the Stranger) and love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Interreligious Hospitality
    • Linguistic hospitality is the translation of the language of particular confessions between one another
    • Eucharistic hospitality is the acceptance/translation of the self
    • Scriptural interreligious moments: Moses taking an African spouse; Solomon embracing the Shulammite woman; Jesus greeting the Samaritan woman at the well
    • “Crossreading” is a core principle of interreligious hermeneutics.
    • It involves and endless and reversible process of translation between one religion and the next. The aim isn’t unitary fusion, but enhancement.
    • “Only through the shock of affinity through alterity does something new emerge.”
    • At location 1235, see powerful paragraph on interreligious syntopical readings which accomplish the shock referenced above
    • “God may be described as a postdogmatic God”
    • “The greatest danger for religion is to assume sovereign power.”
    • “Theodicy and theocracy are miscreant offspring of theistic Sovereignty”
    • “Jesus resists all attempts to apprehend him in a categorical way. In fact it is only the “demons who claim to know Jesus.”
    • “Christian caritas, as a refusal of exclusivist power, is a summons to endless kenosis”
    • I suggest finally, that we may opt to read the frequent injunctions against idols and graven images in both Judaism and Islam. Namely, as a refusal to possess the sacredness of the wholly Other in anthropomorphic projections.”
    • “Anatheism cherishes the Siamese twins of theism and atheism and celebrates the fertile tension between them.”
Chapter 3: In the Name: After Auschwitz Who Can Say God?
  • “Elie Wiesel sounded the deathknell of conventional theism—namely, the belief in an omnipotent God—when he famously declared that “God” died on the hangman’s rope at Auschwitz. I put God in inverted commas here because the God who died was the Omni-God of celestial Might: the divine grand master who sustained triumphalist notions of religion for millennia.”
  • “The idea that God orchestrates good and evil alike was no longer tolerable.”
  • “no theological statement should be made that could not be credible in the presence of burning children. For what could you say about an omnipotent God when an innocent infant is burning alive? Nothing” (Rabbi Irving Greenberg)
  • “Citing the famous Hasidic line that ‘no heart is so whole as a broken heart,’ Greenberg adds that ‘no faith is so whole as a broken faith.'”
  • as the old Talmudic adage had it, to the completion of the seventh day of Creation. (Yahweh himself was unable to accomplish it without becoming a God of Totality.
  • Post-Holocaust faith does not believe that God could have stopped the torture—and didn’t. It believes that a Messiah will only come (or come back) “when we are able, ready and willing to bring the Messiah.”
  • “we may save the divine ‘name’ by refusing to determine its content.”
  • God is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. (Etty Hillesum)
  • “The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.” (Etty Hillesum)
  • “Ours is without doubt the time when humanity is connected to God by his silence and his absence.”
  • “Resurrection is to be understood accordingly as the event that returns us to the world.”
  • It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith…. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. (Bonhoeffer)
  • “In other words, when Christ said “it is finished,” he meant it.”
Chapter 4: In the Flesh: Sacramental Imagination
  • Kearney > Husserl, Heidegger, and other phenomenologists don’t actually return to the things themselves but in their talking about the things in themselves in abstract terms remain captive to transcendence. Monty Merleau-Ponty (MMP) is the first phenomenologist to actually return to the things themselves.
  • MMP: “The same way the sensible has not only a motor and vital significance, but is nothing other than a certain way of being in the world suggested to us from some point in space, and seized and acted upon by our body, provided that it is capable of doing so, so that sensation is literally a form of communion.”
  • In quote above, MMP makes an case by analogy – things affect us the same way grace does in communion
  • “My point is that, from a philosophically agnostic viewpoint, he [MMP] offers an intriguing phenomenological interpretation of eucharistic embodiment as recovery of the divine within the flesh, a kenotic emptying out of transcendence into the heart of the world’s body, becoming a God beneath us rather than a God beyond us.”
  • MMP: “He is not simply a principle of which we are the consequence, a will whose instruments we are, or even a model of which human values are the only reflection. There is a sort of impotence of God without us, and Christ attests that God would not be fully God without becoming fully man. Claudel goes so far as to say that God is not above but beneath us—meaning that we do not find Him as a suprasensible idea, but as another ourself which dwells in and authenticates our darkness. Transcendence no longer hangs over man; he becomes, strangely, its privileged bearer.”
  • MMP: “some Christians might agree that the other side of things must already be visible in the environment in which we live.”
  • “From the moment when we say that God is Being, it is clear that in a certain sense God alone is” [quoting Étienne Gilson].
  • MMP: “To posit God as Being [in the metaphysical sense] is to bring about a negation of the world.”
  • Kearney phrase: “Kingdom of as-if”
  • Kristeva: Notion of “tran-substantiation” (building on MMP’s analogy) bridges the false divide of transcendence and immanence [Todd: My interpretation of a dense passage from Kearney explaining Kristeva; may not be quite right]
  • According to Max Scheler, St. Francis of Assisi’s major contribution was to “combine love of God with a sense of union of love for God the Father to embrace ‘all the lower orders of nature,’ while at the same time uplifting Nature into the glory of the divine.”
Chapter 5: In the Text: Joyce, Proust, Woolf
  • Kearney of these three authors: “A sense of transcendence is alive in their work, I will argue, but it is one inscribed in everyday immanence. Mystery is preserved, even celebrated, not as ecclesiastical dogma but as a mystical affirmation of incarnate existence: Word made Flesh in the ordinary universe.”
  • “The anatheist paradigm may allow it [art] be both at once: religion as art and art as religion.”
  • Kearney: Epiphanies are “the consecration of ordinary moments of flesh and blood thisness as something strange and enduring.”
  • Ephiphany: “It constitutes an event of semantic reinvention where the impossible is transfigured into the newly possible.”
  • Word: kairological
  • “Formula of the Passover/Eucharist” “remembers a moment of saving while at the same time anticipating a future (“until he comes”).
  • ‘At the beginning of Ulysses the question is asked: “What is God?” To which Stephen replies: “A cry in the street.”’
  • Eckhart: “The abandonment of God so as to recover a God beyond God.”
  • Etty Hillesum: “by excluding death from one’s life we deny ourselves the possibility of a full life.”
  • Word: cryptotheists
  • “All hallows to Halloween, St. Nicholas to Santa Claus, or the Mass of Christ to the commercial holiday of Christmas”
Chapter 6: In the World: Between the Secular and Sacred
  • How do anatheists in a secular age respond to the question, “What is to be done?”
  • Bonhoeffer: “secular and sacred are not opposed but find their unity in Christ….that which is Christian is to be found only in the natural, the holy only in the profane.”
  • Stanislas Breton & Gianni Vattimo both show “how a kenotic moment of ‘nothingness’ and ’emptiness’ resides at the core of a postmetaphysical faith.’ But it isn’t the last word, “abandonment leads back to action, surrender resurfaces as service.”
  • Vattimo: “the Incarnation as God’s relinquishing of all power so as to turn everything over to the secular order: the hallowing of everyday existence”
  • Vattimo: secularization is the “constitutive trait of authentic religious experience.”
  • “W. H. Auden actually held that the point of psychology and psychoanalysis was to ‘prove the Gospel.’ For the natural need to break from the authority of one’s parents involves ‘liberation from the superego, obeyed like the parents whom Christ enjoined us to abandon.’ When asked once about Freud’s influence on his work, he relied that it was the same as what he had learned from the Agony in the Garden.”
  • W.H. Auden: “Thou shalt love God and thou shalt be happy mean the same thing.” Kearney continues, “which is not to deny suffering but to always be thankful for what is.”
  • Auden: “At the last supper, [Christ] took eating, the most elementary act of all, the primary act of self-love, the only thing not only man but all living creatures must do irrespective of species, sex, race or belief, and made it the symbol of universal love.”
  • Auden: “I wondered why I reacted as I did against the [Nazi] denial of every humanistic value. The answer brought me back to the Church.”
  • In The Scapegoat, Girard argues that the only way to combat this is to put our natural violent instincts into check and welcome rather than kill the stranger.  In other words, the antidote to the atavistic instinct for repetitive bloodletting is to acknowledge our guilt and make the radical choice for gracious hospitality over cyclical hostility.”
  • Gilles Deleuze: “God became the animal that was slain [lamb], instead of the animal that does the slaying [lion].”
  • “As if the recognition of God as a ‘nothing and nobody’ enables us to identify with the nothings and nobodies of this world in a movement of loving revolt.”
  • Messiah = “broken reed”
  • Irenaeus: “For what is God if not us fully alive?”
  • “The sacrilization of the secular needs to be supplemented by the secularization of the sacred.”
  • Panikkar: Only secularization can prevent the sacred from becoming life denying, while only sacralization can prevent the secular from becoming banal
  • “The anatheist task, I submit, is to avoid both 1) a dualism that opposes secular and sacred and 2) a monism that collapses them into one.”
  • “Panikkar speaks accordingly of a ‘sacred secularity’ that allows us to reinterpret the secular in such a way that faith becomes a commitment not to some transcendental otherworld but to a deep temporality in which the divine dwells as a seed of possibility calling to be made ever more incarnate in the human and natural world.”
  • “Democratic tolerance does not, therefore, demand a total repudiation of beliefs, Islamic or otherwise, but a modest willingness to expose one’s beliefs to constant examination (in dialogue with others). This, as Fred Dallmayr reminds us, is not relativism but relationism.
  • “To understand God as sovereign rather than stranger is to render divine power all to easily transferable to theocratic power.”
  • Theocratic power enables authoritarian rule
  • “Sovereigns are mirrors of the sovereignty of God”
  • Phrase: “As utopian as the squaring of the circle.” (Hannah Arendt)
  • “There is no reason why democracy should be inherently Western and Absolutism inherently Muslim.” (Lahouari Adi)
  • Anatheism “begins and ends with the epiphany of the divine in the face of the stranger.”
  • See summary of Eastern golden rules on pg 149
  • “The readiness to translate back and forth between ourselves and strangers – without collapsing the distinction between host and guest languages is, I submit, one of the best recipes to promote nonviolence and prevent war.”
Chapter 7: In the Act: Between Word and Flesh
  • “If you have an eye for it, the world itself is a sacrament.” (Augustine)
  • “In each of our lives, Jesus comes as the bread of life – to be eaten, to be consumed by us. Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the bread of our life.” (Teresa of Calcutta)
  • “contemporary materialism neglects the glory of matter.”
  • We are thus confronted with two visions of society: “a vision of the pyramid, where you have to have more and more power in order to get to the top, or a vision of a body where every person has a place.” (Jean Vanier) {log: I Cor}
  • Gandhi “He saw all spiritual paths as “different roads converging on the same point.”
Conclusion: Welcoming Strange Gods
  • The feeling remains that God is on the journey too. (Teresa of Avila)
  • Anatheism is “amor mundi, love of the life-world as embodiment of infinity in the finite, of transcendence in immanence, of eschatology in the now.”
  • In anatheism, the secular and sacred are not synonymous, but deeply interrelated and inseparable.
  • Max Sheler: “A secret resentment underlies every way of thinking which attributes creative power to mere negation and criticism.”
  • “The deployment of a biological term like virus to indiscriminately describe all theists is, I think, disingenuous, especially if you consider how this might sound if one replaced theist with black or Jew or immigrant.”
  • “The Bible, like most spiritual texts, is an assembly of fables, histories, chronicles, polemics, letters, and moral teachings as well as some inevitably primitive prejudices and errors.”
  • “Anatheism welcomes robust critiques of religion wherever religion makes the “category mistake” of trying to explain the world scientifically (e.g., creationism). There is a difference between history and story, and to read sacred texts as if they were records of verifiable or falsifiable “facts” is to misread them. Abraham’s followers told stories—as Thomas Mann brilliantly illustrated in Joseph and His Brothers—and these holy narratives were never meant to be treated as literal, scientific accounts. Theistic fundamentalists are as guilty of this error as atheistic fundamentalists. For both refuse the hermeneutic complexity of truth claims.”
  • “The shortest route from self to self is through the other.”
  • “Precisely here we discover a complementary partnership between an inner move to inef-fable mystery and an outer move to enlightened awareness. And it is at this anatheist chiasmus, I would argue, that theism and atheism can become, once again, allies.”
  • “In encountering strange Gods we are invited to discover hidden aspects of our own God (often congealed in convention);”
  • “For at the edge of every liaison between self and stranger there remains that “untranslatable kernel,” that irreducible enigma that resists complete assimilation into a home whose doors could be definitively closed. This fundamental alterity is what makes reconciling religions at once necessary and inadequate. There is always something more to be said and understood, some inexhaustible residue never to be known.”
  • “The glory of God is each and every one of us fully alive.” -Irenaeus
  • “anatheism might be said to serve more often as an adjective (or adverb) than a noun.”


The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love

Ilia Delio

This is the best book I’ve read this year.  A beautiful theology based on understanding evolution as the human story.  Here are my notes:


  • “In my view, evolution is the story.”
  • The area where evolution has the least influence is theology due to the “misconception that God and evolution have little in common.”
  • Raimon Panikkar: “When theology is divorced from cosmology, we no longer have a living God, but an idea of God.”
  • Zachary Hayes: “If Augustine was able to speak theologically in a world conditioned by neo-Platonism, and if an Aquinas was able to construct a theology using Aristotelian categories to speak to a world wrestling with the Aristotelian world view, is it possible for contemporary theology to do a similar thing, taking a world view from the sciences?”
  • As entities become more complex in nature, consciousness increases or develops.
  • “Anatheism” – a new God rising up from the old God.  (Richard Kearny)
  • Karl Rahner: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not be at all.”
  • “Evolution is ‘wholemaking’ in action, the rise of consciousness that realizes self-separateness is an illusion.”
  • Teilhard: the mover within evolution is God.
Chapter One: The Decentered Human
  • The origins of science are found within the Judeo-Christian tradition, “beginning with the OT and its emphasis on an orderly, rational, and contingent world….things were ordered not only within creation, but everything in creation was oriented and directed towards a telos.”
  • In the Middle Ages, theology was the “queen of the sciences” and it “was not a particular science; rather it was related to the whole.”
  • This privileged place of theology began to erode when scientific understanding shifted from the earth as the center of the universe to heliocentrism.
  • Roger Bacon (c 1216-92) really was the first to articulate a “scientific method,” which was “in the service of theology, the purpose of which was to help prepare for the second coming of Christ.”
  • Mark Taylor suggests that Descartes revives a form of androcentrism; Likewise Wilber suggests that his cogito is a substitute for the cosmos.
  • “Modern atheism is less about the death of God than the death of the human person as human, that is, the absence of the human person from the cosmos story as significant to that story.”
  • Luther’s sola scriptura led to a “preoccupation with sin and grace” and “reflected an ‘age of anxiety’ symbolized by the “wrath of God.”  This intensified during the bubonic plague, creating “a new apocalyptic mentality.”
  • “The widening gap between theology and cosmology relegated religion to a set of abstract, speculative ideas on fixed principles, while science opened up to a world of dynamic change.”
Chapter Two: Wholeness in Nature
  • Evolution is what distinguishes our present modern world from the past.
  • “With emergence, something is constituted from components in such a way that it has new properties that are not reducible to the properties of the components.  (“irreducible novelty”)
  • “Evolution applies equally to life as a whole and to every living creature.”
  • “Evolution is not the background to the human story; it is the human story.”
  • The human person is an “outflow of billions of years of evolution.”
  • “Convergent evolution is directed toward a projected point of maximum human organization and consciousness, which is the Omega point.”
  • Teilhard: Reflection is “the power acquired by a consciousness of turning in on itself…to know that it knows.”
  • Julian Huxley: “We are nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself.”
  • Evolution is the force driving towards greater unity AND complexity.
  • “Matter is not composed of basic building blocks but rather comprises complicated webs of relations in which the observer constitutes the final link in the chain of observational processes.”
  • “Quantum entanglement is nonlocal interaction or unmediated action at a distance, without crossing space, without decay, and without delay.”
  • “If an atom’s momentum is measured, its true momentum is disturbed not only by the momentum meter itself but by a vast array of distant events – events that are happening right now in other cities, in other countries, and possibly other galaxies.”
  • John Bell: “The act of measurement is not a private act but rather a public event in whose details large portions of the universe instantly participate.”
  • Bohm started with the notion of an “undivided wholeness” and considered parts as abstractions from the whole.  Bohm called this unbroken order, “implicate order.”
  • Implicate order is a way of looking at reality, not as parts, but as enfolded relationships among things.
  • Human beings seem separate, but we are part of an indivisible whole, sharing in the same cosmic process.
  • Holomovement describes the undivided totality of the implicate order.
  • “Movement is what is primary.”  Structures are only emerging out of the whole of flowing movement and dissolving back into an unceasing process of becoming.
  • Bohm’s theory of implicate order is based on:
    • Being is intrinsically relational, existing in an unbroken, whole system.
    • Systems are in holomovement.  Any portion of the whole contains information on the whole object.
    • Because reality is based on movement and relationality, it has endless depth
  • Law of the dissipation of energy (2nd law of thermodynamics) >> in closed systems, there’s a trend from order to disorder.
  • Evolution runs contrary to the 2nd law, maintaining that we’re moving towards greater order (and complexity).
  • Ludwig von Bertalanffy >> living systems can’t be described by thermodynamic laws because they are open systems, with energy always coming in and leaving the system.
  • Kant “prophesied” this breakthrough saying that in living organisms:
    • (1) order is “internally emergent” rather than “externally imposed”
    • (2) relation of parts to whole is interactive
    • (3) whole is an interplay of parts
    • (4) whole may provide stability, but is a dynamic pattern that changes constantly
    • (5) relationship structure provides constraint within which the parts develop
  • In living systems, “the product of its operation is its own organization.”
  • Stephen Talbott: Nature is an interlocking network of systems, an “unbearable wholeness of beings.”
  • Various animals have methods of helping one another.
  • Sustained behavior of a species is eventually ingrained into genetic structures.
  • Rupert Sheldrake postulates that repetitive animal behavior creates informational fields that affect similar behavior in unrelated areas.  These are called “morphogenetic fields.”  Morphic resonance guides species towards the same form of behavior.  [Todd: this seems similar to Girard’s mimetic theory]
  • Holons are simultaneously wholes and parts.
  • Holarchy is a “hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function first as autonomous wholes in supra-ordination to their parts, and secondly as dependent parts in sub-ordination to controls on higher levels, and thirdly in coordination with their local environment.”
  • Holarchy is different that hierarchy in that there isn’t value judgment in a holarchy – each “part/whole” is valued for its uniqueness
Chapter Three: Love, Sex, and the Cosmos
  • “Science’s preoccupation with objectivity…has created a partial understanding of life.  What needs illumination is its wholeness, depth, and relationality.”
  • “We understand the details concerning the consequences of…[gravity’s] attraction.  We do not understand the attraction itself.”
  • “Evolution, through all its stages, seems to be an immense complexification of psychic energy that, through different forms, eventually becomes more aware of itself.”
  • Teilhard says the something driving evolution is the “energy of consciousness.”
  • Teilhard’s two forms of energy: “tangential” and “radial”
    • Tangential – “bonding” energy that makes elements interdependent with everything else in the universe; follows 2nd law of thermodynamics
    • Radial – attracts energy in “ever more complex and centered state, toward what is ahead, which is…conscious energy.”  Defies 2nd law of thermodynamics
  • Physical sciences do not account for growth in conscious (radial) energy.  Teilhard says this energy is the “core of evolution.”
  • “Evolution seems to be the unfolding of mind.”
  • “The development of consciousness is a transition from a lower to a higher state of centro-complexity”
  • Centricity is “another way to talk about integration.”
  • Integration is another way of saying wholeness.
  • Teilhard calls the unitive principle undergirding wholeness, “Omega.”  It is operative from the beginning of evolution.
  • God is the energy of love.
  • “For so long we have kept love outside the limits of nature…love is rooted in the fundamental nature of reality.”
  • “Eros…stretches beyond oneself for the sake of oneself.”  Agape “impels one to act wholeheartedly for the other.”  Philia is cooperating love.
  • Love is a cosmological force operative since the Big Bang.
  • “Love is the integrated energy field, the center of all centers, the whole of every whole, that makes each whole desire more wholeness.”
  • Even among the molecules, “love was the building power that worked against entropy and under its attraction the elements groped their way towards union.”
  • “The physical structure of the universe is love.  It draws together and unites; in uniting, it differentiates.”
  • “Being is an outflow of union.”  “Reality is woven through layers of bondedness.”  “Being is first a we before it can become an I.”
  • “Hyperphysics: existence is for the sake of giving.”
  • “love is the end [telos] of all knowledge”
  • Union differentiates, which gives rise to personalization.
  • Evolution is the process of cosmic personalization.
  • Sex is to cut off.  Sexuality is integral to a personalizing universe.
  • “Authentic sexual love is the emergence of spirit.”
  • Altruism has competitive advantages. [Todd: Is this oxymoronic?]
  • Binti Jua, a gorilla, saves a boy who fell into zoo exhibit
  • Richard Dawkins says genes are inherently selfish.  Holmes Rolston disagrees saying genes can’t be either altruistic or selfish, rather they simply transmit information, aimed more at survival of the species than the individual.
  • “Survival of the fittest turns out to be survival of the senders.”
  • “Where there is love there is suffering, because love is always aimed toward greater wholeness, that is, more being.  In a world of limits, the drive towards more being will always encounter resistance.”
Chapter 4: Birthing a New God
  • Religion is necessary not merely for the individual, but to the whole of the universe.  “There is no cosmos without God and no God without cosmos.”
  • Panikkar’s “pantheism” isn’t saying God and nature are equivalent, but rather God renders the cosmos’ existence.
  • Panikkar is panenthiestic, describing God as the “cosmothandric invariant.”
  • “God is not an idea but the living wholeness of reality.”
  • Tillich: When scientists claim to have “refuted religion” by saying no evidence exists that a God exists, they have actually done religion “a considerable service,” by wrestling it away from God as “highest being” in the created order conception of God.
  • “God is not a timeless being without relation to anything in time; nor is God apathetic to the fate of the cosmos.  God belongs to the cosmos, and when this relationship is aborted theology becomes a mere abstraction of a nonexistent God.”
  • Acosmism: a cosmos without God and a God without cosmos.
  • “From the moment we say God is Being, it is clear that in a certain sense, God alone is.”
  • Ontotheology – God as Super Being (Heidegger) – this sort of God “became the great letdown.”
  • Nietzsche: “The death of God was the death of the transcendent moral God but, conversely, in the chaos of human evolution, God was born as ‘the divine artist whose creativity is beyond good and evil.'”
  • Weil: “Whoever says ‘I’ lies.”
  • God simply is.
  • Meister Eckhart: “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.”
  • “Christ attests that God would not be fully God without becoming fully man.”
  • Eckhardt: “God is closer to me than I am to myself.”
  • Tillich: “If every idea and image of God is a projection, it is a projection of something.”  The realm against which it is projected is the domain of “ultimate concern.”
  • “Tillich focused on the human passion for meaning – what gives fire to our lives.”
  • “God does not merely exist; rather, God is existence.”  I am.  “God is not a Being among beings.  God is existence itself.”
  • God does not exist EXCEPT in the paradox of God becoming manifest under conditions of existence.
  • Being cannot exist without form and is therefore dynamically oriented towards becoming.
  • “Everything tends to conserve its own form as the basis of its self-transcendence…it is impossible to speak of being without speaking of becoming.” (Tillich)
  • Cosmotheandrism is a co-inherence of divine, cosmic, and anthropic being, mutually co-existing.
  • Univocity refers to God’s oneness with the created through the concept of being.  (Panikkar)
  • There is no first principle (God) lying outside the created order, but rather “everything makes a piece” of the “unified whole” that reveals the creativity of God.
  • God is the cosmotheandric depth dimension of all created reality.
  • God is not one of many, but the ground of unity.  G
  • “God and creation mutually co-inhere.”
  • [Todd: “Communion” can be central in this type of theology.]
  • Tillich, Panikkar, and Teilhard are overturning the “hellenization of God” that no longer speaks to the world of modern science.
  • “While in the case of a static world the creator is structurally independent of his work, in the case of an evolutive world, the contrary is true.  God is not conceivable except insofar as he conincides with evolution.”
  • “God is a ‘hyper-center’ – that is to say, of greater depth than us.”
  • “The world is not God and God is not the world, yet God is the unlimited depth of love of all that is, a love that overflows into new life.”
  • “Creation is a kenosis of divine love.”
  • “Creation is not merely gift of God; it is being-in-love with God.”
  • We are not saved from the world, but saved to cooperate with it.
  • “The whole cosmos is a theophany.”
  • Creation “emerges out of the innermost depths of trinitarian life.”  “The drama of creation is the drama of trinitarian life.” [Todd: This resonates with Bourgeault.]
  • “God is rising from within evolution to become the God of evolution.”
  • God is up ahead as the future of evolution because God is the fullness of love…God is the One who is and who is coming to be.” [Todd: This resonates with Rob Bell’s God is AHEAD of us.]
Chapter 5: Love and Suffering
  • Religion is to be “bound back.”
  • “Religion is the heart of evolution.”
  • Eckhart: God is the newest thing there is.
  • “God is love” inherently means God is dynamic and creative.
  • The longing for more being in the creative act of loving is a kind of suffering.  Creation still lacks what it needs to be complete.
  • Universe as cosmic womb.  Birth involves suffering and longing.
  • Through the theotokos, we see that creation/birthing is the place where God becomes God.
  • Sin is the resistance to love.  The “reverse side of creation.”
  • Love doesn’t exist in the abstract, but is an “embodied act.”
  • “The pouring out of divine love into wholly other matter is the christification of the universe.”
  • Referring to creation, “There is nothing profane here below for those who know how to see.”
  • “Incarnation and creation are two dimensions of one act of cosmotheandric love.”
  • “All that God is, is given in love. God is hidden in the appearance of being (that is, the Father is hidden in the Word) and made visible by the energy (Spirit) of love.”
  • “The very gift of the parent’s love is in the withdrawal of control.”
  • Creation isn’t about boundless power, but boundless love.
  • Delio’s theodicy: “The theodicy question is not why God allows bad things to happen to good people but why we abandon God in the face of suffering. If God is love, then our only real hope is in God, because hope is the openness of love to infinite possibilities and new life.”
  • To love is to risk being rejected by the other
  • “When God and cosmos are severed, then theology becomes a mere abstraction of a nonexisting God.”
  • Evolution “bears witness” to “divine love” because “every cosmic death” is “transformed into new life.”
  • Every act of creation is a crucifixion (Hans Urs von Balthasar)
  • “Love is not what God does; love is what God is.”
  • Suffering is an inevitable part of love.
  • The process of evolution is cruciform.
  • Beautiful quote from Jewish woman inside concentration camp on helping the God within and admitting that God can’t help them alone (loc: 2007)
  • Merton: “If I find God I will find myself, and if I find myself I will find God” (Delio adds…) “because the essence of who I am lies in God.
Chapter 6: Sacred Secularity
  • The principle consequence of modernity has been the decline of religion.
  • Jose Casanova: Secularization hasn’t dispensed with religion, but unseated it from its privileged place at the core of knowledge and society.  Now it is relegated to its own sphere.
  • “It is not the world that is opposed to God.  It is we who are opposed to God when we try to control God for our own religious purposes.  We are not asked to create an alternative world or to reject this one but to divinize it from within.”
  • Teilhard: the physical universe is the third nature of Christ.
  • Teilhard: We must rid ourselves of the old God of the starry heavens and embrace the God of evolution.  Only in this way can the world be seen as a divine milieu.
  • Evolution as “the new Genesis story”
  • Teilhard > Religion should be more than a personal matter, but should belong “to the whole of humankind.”
  • Amorization > As elements of creation unite, they differentiate, which is the basis of greater union.
  • Merton: “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.”
  • Teilhard > “[Christianity] gives the impression of not believing in human progress.”
  • “The idea that God is dead is already contained in…the death of God.”
  • On the Incarnation: “This is not some anthropological reduction of the infinite to the finite, but a recognition that the infinite is to be found at the core of each finite now.” (Richard Kearney)
  • God works not like a magician, but through the earth’s elements.
  • Beautiful poem on not worshiping God out of fear of hell or reward of heaven by Rabe’a al-‘Adawiya at loc: 2320
  • Hebraic gematriyya of words for love and one both equal 13, and together they equal 26, which is the number for YHWH.
  • “Unless I go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16: 7).
  • Teilhard envisions a future convergence of religions
  • Teilhard > World is not suffering from proliferation of athiesm, but unsatisfied theism.
  • “To recognize the face of God in the face of the other liberates the other from idolatry, as an object of control or rejection.”
  • Namaste: The God in me recognizes the God in you.
  • “Love is what we feel when we become aware of our oneness with what we thought was separate from us: a person, a place, a thing, or idea.”
Chapter 7: Christian Love
  • Teilhard’s “original sin” – sin is the inevitable correlate of incompleteness
  • The relationship between Adam (Original Sin) and Christ is due to Paul and an enhancement of Paul by later writers.  Jesus solution to sin is to heal it.
  • “Jesus appears not simply as the perfect union of divine human and cosmic natures but on the edge of emergent chaos.”
  • Pelikan: Jesus changed as culture changed.  “We can say that Jesus began as anointed prophet and is not evolution’s future.”
  • Teilhard: Evolution is not birthing something, but someone – the cosmic person (Christogenesis)
  • Evolution is not random – but a directed change, organized becoming, patterned process and cumulative order
  • “Evolution is an unfolding theophany.”
  • “Jesus ushered in not a new religion, but a new humanism.”
  • “God is love, not infinite power.”
  • “The greatest evolutionary act of Jesus was his death on the cross, a conscious decision to remain faithful in love despite the forces of hatred and oppression.”
  • “If we seek a monarch, an omnipotent power who will save us from death, we are outside the Christian God revealed in the cross.”
  • “God is the omnipotence of love.”
  • “To realize our human capacity to love is the beginning of divinization because in the beauty of our “I” is the living Thou waiting to be called upon as God.”
  • Clare of Assisi – cross as a mirror
Chapter 8: Love, Learning and the Desire for Power
  • Emmanuel Falque states: “Any strictly theo-logical truth, one that has its roots in God, will no longer be content with its unique objective determination. Such a truth will take on a performative sense, one that is transforming for the subject that states it, or it will not exist. . . . Knowledge through love is the only thing that puts in motion whoever comes to know them.”
  • The scientific shift towards making sense by rational thought alone has disconnected knowledge from a larger, harmonious knowledge rooted in love.
  • William of Ockham helped invent modernity by denying universals.
  • The university has become the multiversity – instead of educating to know the universe as an interconnected web, it is now the study of highly specialized fields.
  • “Only when thought and emotion are combined are we able to obtain real knowledge, that is, a knowledge that belongs as much to the body as to the mind.”
  • “Abstract knowledge is sterile and lifeless.”
  • Catholic as the movement towards universality and wholeness
  • “Knowledge is the energy of desire.”
  • “Information can tell us about things, but knowledge is an exploration of the mind that seeks to form wholes out of thought fragments gained from experience, judgment, and reflection.
  • “As the mind gathers fragments of knowledge into a more unified synthesis, it promotes beauty in the world.”
Chapter 9: Technology and Noogenesis
  • Turing test is when computer generated text is indistinguishable from human produced text.  It shows “thinking.”
  • “Techno sapiens”
  • “As the editors of Nature wrote in 2007, ‘God has competition.'”
  • Kevin Kelly >> “the future of evolution is about ‘the marriage of the born and the made.'”
  • “In the past, evolution proceeded by way of natural selection; today, evolution advances by creativity and invention.”
  • Cybergnosticism is a term describing the rise of a neo-Platonism where the dualism inherent in Platonic thought has to do with the divide between digital and analog/physical.
  • “Cyberspace is Platonism as a working product.  The cybernaut seated before us, strapped into sensory-input devices, appears to be, and is indeed, lost to this world.  Suspended in computer space, the cybernaut leaves the prison of the body and emerges in a world of digital sensation.”
  • Intelligent machines = “Machina sapiens”
  • “Biology is not destiny.  It was never more than tendency.  It was just nature’s first quick and dirty way to compute with meat.” – Bart Kosko
  • “The ‘I-Thou’ relationship has mutated into an ‘I-Phone’ relationship.”
  • R. Cole-Turner: We believe we have created the means to control the self, “when in truth we have only increased the power of the self to control, leaving the self unchanged, yet self-changing.”
  • Noosphere is a new collective consciousness – a step forward in evolution
  • Teilhard makes a distinction between “well being” and “more being.”  More being can only come from spirituality and involves an increase in consciousness and psychic energy.
  • Teilhard: “Science cannot fulfill the cosmic need to evolve.”
Chapter 10: Contemplative Evolution
  • “Emotions are central to cognition” and the functioning of the brain.  The brain is more than raw computational power.
  • “Every aspect of nature is part of an unbearable wholeness of being.”
  • “God is the energy of wholeness and the irresistible lure to greater wholeness.  God is the integral whole that attracts every whole toward greater wholeness.”
  • “This divine wholeness in love – Trinity – pours itself into otherness to become oneness.  God’s love empties into being; God is the being of being, the breath of breath, transcending every breath (leaving us breathless at times), by the sheer excess of love.  God’s love is always the more of what any finite being can express; hence, God is always on the horizon of what we are coming to be.  God emerges from within by means of union in love as ever newness in love and the future of every new love.”  (Seems to resonate with Bourgeault’s trinity)
  • “Wholeness is salvific.” [Todd – Salvation isn’t about any change of status in heaven, but real saving in the real world.  It isn’t theoretical or metaphysical.]
  • Individualism opposes evolution.
  • “The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible.”
  • American Beauty – on the failure of love in life and poverty of plastic consumerism
  • “All things are said to be transformed in the transfiguration of Christ in as far as something of each creature was transfigured in Christ. For as a human being , Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he shares existence; with plants he shares life; with animals he shares sensation; and with angels he shares intelligence. Thus all things are transformed in Christ since in his human nature he embraces something of every creature in himself when he is transfigured.” – St. Bonaventure
  • “Ken Wilber refers to the emergence of this new level of consciousness as the experience of the “econoetic self”; we do not recognize ourselves as merely strands in the web but we try to perceive reality from the perspective of the web as a whole: “You are doing something no mere strand ever does—you are escaping your ‘strandedness’ transcending it, and becoming one with the entire display; to be aware of the whole system shows precisely that you are not merely a strand.”
  • “The challenge, therefore, is not to argue or defend evolution but to drench ourselves in it, to go inward and meet, in silence and solitude, a power no human power can vanquish.”
  • God is the unbearable wholeness of being; the relentless drive of love cutting through all things towards wholeness
  • “Integral thinking is thinking the whole and the parts as wholes within the whole.”
  • “Theological education should include Big Bang Cosmology, quantum physics, systems biology, consciousness studies, as well as tradition and scripture.”
  • “God is not the divine mechanic above but the power of love within – the unbearable wholeness of love pushing through the limits of being to become more visible and alive.”

Vanilla Ice - To the Extreme

I preached this sermon on April 13th, 2014 at Grace UMC.  The text was Matthew 21:1-11.

Jesus has done some interesting things this Lent.  He went 40 days without food and water.  He had a conversation with the devil.  He suggested that people can be born more than one time.  He told a woman everything she had ever done.  He spat in mud and wiped it on a guy’s face.  He brought a stinking, rotten corpse back to life.  If you thought all of this was crazy, you haven’t heard anything yet.  In today’s scripture, Jesus steals some donkeys, performs a circus-like stunt, engages in a daring act of street theater, and incites turmoil in the streets of Jerusalem.  Those who think the Bible is boring haven’t heard this story.


This is a chaotic Bible story.  To bring some order to this chaos, I’ve compiled a list of the top five most chaotic things about Jesus’s triumphant entry.

Chaos #1

First, Jesus commissions two of his disciples to borrow without permission (steal is such a harsh word…) a donkey and a colt from some unsuspecting person in the town ahead.  I wish I could tell you that it was common practice in the ancient Jewish world simply to borrow people’s animals whenever you had need.  But I think it was pretty much like borrowing someone’s car without prior permission in our own day.

Chaos #2

Second is one of the most famous blunders in Scripture.  Matthew seems to misunderstand the poetic oracle he quotes from Zechariah 9:9, which says,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

Triumphant and victorious is he,

Humble and riding on a donkey,

On a colt, the foal of a donkey.


One of the most common poetic devices in Hebrew poetry is called parallelism.  The poetry says one thing on the first line.  Then on the second line it says basically the same thing in different words.

Instead of attributing this second line to its poetic form, Matthew thinks Zechariah is talking about two different animals.  And were it not poetry, it might make sense to read it this way.  In both Mark’s gospel and Luke’s gospel, they portray Jesus riding on a single animal.    But Matthew says Jesus sat on them – plural, two animals.  Whether Matthew gets this one wrong or Jesus actually rides into Jerusalem circus-style, straddling two animals, either way, it is part of a chaotic storyline.

Chaos #3

Third, you’ve got people taking their clothes off, laying them down on the ground, cutting limbs off trees, and shouting as part of an impromptu parade down the gullet of the most important city in Israel.

Chaos #4

Fourth, if this weren’t enough, they are shouting a messianic proclamation.  They aren’t just welcoming Jesus to town.  It isn’t entirely clear from the text, but it seems that there are two different crowds.  The crowds shouting Hosanna seem to be coming into town with Jesus.  And they are doing so with a bold statement.  This is “he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  A son from the line of David.  This guy is the Messiah.  They meet the other crowds already in Jerusalem now in turmoil, asking, “Who is this guy?”  The Jerusalem establishment had already made clear that this guy wandering the countryside is most definitely not the Messiah.  But until this parade down Main Street, Jesus’s movement had been outside of Jerusalem.  Now, Jesus is bringing his bold claims right to the doorsteps of Jewish power.  

Chaos #5

And last, but not least, yes Zechariah prophesied a king to deliver Israel from oppression coming in humbly on a donkey, but overwhelmingly the Jewish establishment looked to some of the more grandiose images of what the Messiah would do.  If we read on in Zechariah and we get a taste of this:

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim

And the war-horse from Jerusalem.

And the battle bow shall be cut off,

And he shall command peace to the nations;

His dominion shall be from sea to sea;

And from the River to the ends of the earth.


But instead, Jesus comes riding in haphazardly on a donkey borrowed without permission.  In fact, it seemed to be intentional mockery of what Jewish leaders expected for their savior.

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city went into turmoil.  Turmoil, intentionally orchestrated by Jesus’s carefully planned and executed street theater right down Main Street in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was in chaos.  Out of control.  By design.

A Rite of Passage

I’ve noticed that the desire for control, the need to know all the details seems to be proportional the level of anxiety in any situation.  This was true for both my parents and I as we navigated a particular rite of passage in my life.

I purchased my first CD when I was 11 years old.  It was an exciting time for me.  I imagine it was an anxious time for my parents.  It was the first time their precious first born child was dipping his toe into the dangerous waters of the music of the age.  What boundaries would they set?  How would the music I listened to inform my identity and values?  For my first CD, I selected what many music experts agree is the finest album ever made.  I’m talking, of course, about Vannila Ice’s, To the Extreme, featuring the hit song, “Ice, Ice, Baby.”  This song was taking middle school dances by storm in the early 1990’s.  And whatever WZYP and middle school dance DJ’s played defined what was cool.  I didn’t see how I could possibly live life as a self-respecting 6th grader without this album.  I bought the CD on a trip to WalMart and was excited to get home and put “Ice, Ice, Baby” on repeat.  But when we got home, much to my chagrin, my parents felt the need to analyze the lyrics of the music I was listening to.  And before long, the verdict was in, my dad would take the CD back to the store.

Both my parents and I, each in our own way, had anxiety that led to our need to control the situation.   I was quickly learning that the music you listened shaped your reputation in middle school.  I didn’t have a collection of music.  If I was going to get one album, this one was the clear choice.  My coolness would be obvious from my discerning musical tastes.  I was trying to control my coolness.

My parents knew that not every album marketed to preteens was appropriate for preteens.  They didn’t want to screw this up.  They were anxious about the kinds of messages I would be listening to.  And so they exercised their parental control.

I was anxious to be cool.  My parents were anxious to train me in the way I should go.  Predictably, in response to our anxieties, we each wanted to control things.  It’s simply the natural response to anxiety.

Elusiveness of Control

But control has a way of eluding us, just when we’re most anxious to exercise it.  Jesus walked into the heart of the control center of ancient Israel just ahead of the most holy time of the year, the Passover, in a way that was designed to unsettle control.  Ahead of the events right around the corner – Jesus’s death and resurrection, Jesus took control away from the control center of Jerusalem.

When chaos happens to control, sometimes it causes death and rebirth.  Other times it causes controllers to retrench and get better at controlling.

Both will happen in a week’s time.

Rap Attack

I know you all probably think my parents were heartless and cruel monsters bent only on ensuring that I would be the biggest loser at Mountain Gap Middle School.  But I think they actually felt sorry for me.  They knew how much this album meant to me.  It represented my coolness.

So when my dad took the album back to the store, he purchased another album for me.  This one was called Rap Attack  – a compilation of rap music from the day.  It wasn’t what I was looking for.  Parents always miss the mark in trying to predict what their kids think will be cool.  But I did come to like it.

The ironic thing about this was that the Rap Attack album turned out to be more vulgar than the Vanilla Ice album.  But my parents never took the time to analyze it.  Control can be a pretty slippery thing.

Jerusalem as Power Center

Perhaps more than any place on earth at the time, Jerusalem, represented control.  It was the only truly acceptable place to worship.  It was the power center of all of Israel.  The ruling class enforced the very detailed and ritualistic law of purity and sacrifice that dominated the Judaism of the time.  Even in other, grander power centers like Rome, the government didn’t seek to control the nitty-gritty of everyday life, the way Jewish leaders did.

Short Man’s Syndrome

There’s a stereotype called “short-man’s syndrome.”  I know it is an ugly term.  And I’m certainly not trying to say that it is true.  As a tall person, I want to tread carefully here.  But the basic idea can illuminate the psychological situation that Jerusalem’s leaders were in.  Short men, the stereotype goes, have gone through life sort of feeling out of power.  Second chair at best.  They didn’t get picked until last to be on the basketball team in gym class.  Their peers didn’t look to them for what music might be cool.  And so they have a tendency born out of their pain to control something, because too often others have controlled or ignored them.  Whenever these folks find themselves in a position where they do get a little control, they go overboard.  Every little thing needs to be micromanaged.

At the time of Jesus’s ministry.  Jerusalem was in a situation like this.  Technically, they were ruled by the Roman Empire.  But Rome didn’t care too much about meddling in internal Jewish affairs.  They wanted to keep the peace and order, but as long as that was not threatened, they were happy to let the Jewish people have a bit of autonomy.  This was humiliating for Jews, but not as bad as it could be.  Not like slavery in Egypt or exile in Babylon.  Being technically out of power – perhaps longing for true and full freedom, they exercised an extra measure of control over areas where they did have autonomy.  They found themselves in a position with a little bit of control.  Something like short-man’s syndrome.  When it came to Jesus, they neither wanted him to rock the boat too much inviting extra attention from Rome, threatening the autonomy they did have, nor to permit him to ignore the rules and regulations over which they did have a great deal of control.  They took their portion of control extra seriously.

Jesus came to knock over this house of cards.  To reveal the illusion of control that prevailed in Jerusalem.  Jesus makes chaos out of the so-called control center of Jersusalem.  Immediately after this triumphant entry story, he would incite even more choas in the headquarters of control – the Jewish temple, upending the tables of the money changers and the dove merchants.

The “short man syndrome” is really just the human condition.  When we feel threatened, when we feel anxious, when we feel pain or rejection – the natural reaction is to do more to control the situation.  There certainly can be appropriate times in our lives to seek more control in many situations.  But sometimes, when we can’t catch the mouse, the answer isn’t to build a bigger mouse trap.  To double down on control.  Sometimes, we’ve got to release.  Entrust our control in something, someone bigger than ourselves.

Rap Attack & Unintended Consequences of Control

I waited a while before I chose to tell my parents that this Rap Attack album wasn’t exactly squeaky clean.  I feared that they would take this album back to the store as well and I’d end up with a Mouseketeers CD or something.  Actively making people do things isn’t the only form of control.  Sometimes control is the selective and curated flow of information.  But eventually I released my control and told my parents that dad’s taste in music was more vulgar than my own.  But they didn’t make me take the CD back.  Maybe they just stopped caring about what I listened to.  Maybe their anxiety had faded somewhat and with it, the need to control.  Or maybe they released a bit of their own control when they saw that I had the capacity to know right from wrong in the music I listened to.

One of the best things that can happen to a book, movie, or artistic creation of any type is for it to be banned or censored.  It automatically creates demand.  Banned books rise to the top of the bestseller lists.  If someone doesn’t want you to read a book, there must be something worth reading in there, we tend to think.

Our exercise of control, nearly always has unintended consequences.  This is true for our personal lives – our parenting, self-discipline, relationships and more.  It’s true for institutions like the church, workplaces, and governments.  Control can be a slippery thing.

Cross as Instrument of Control

The cross was an ancient instrument of control.  People were hung on crosses in public, in very visible places.  Crowds gathered.  By design.  To incite turmoil in the hearts of the masses at the thought of challenging power.  Crucifixions solidified control. 

This week, the powers that be, will double down on control.  Jews threatened by a man claiming to be the Messiah.  Romans willing to permit injustice to keep the peace.  They will raise up a man on Calvary to make a public example of him, to control the masses.  Because they can.  Because this is one thing, they do have power over.  The cross was an attempt by the powerful to bring control to the chaos Jesus introduced.  We participate in this crucifixion in more ways than we’re willing to admit.  The crucifixion is not just a historic event.  It is also a harsh spiritual truth about each one of us.  We too double down on control because it tempts us with a promise to bring an end to our anxiety, uncertainty, and pain.  The cross is our attempt to control; to have things our way.  This week, let’s see how that works out for us.

Would you pray with me?

Lord, we are often so hopelessly reliant on our own sense of control.  In truth we know it is the very opposite of faith.  As we witness the events of the week ahead of us, let us be witnesses to how our need to control, often does ugly, even unspeakable things that have unintended consequences.  But out of the unintended consequences that we’ve created, you bring new life.  And so, let us consider today and in the week ahead, what impulses to control within our own lives we need to surrender to the cross.  In so doing, let us also be witnesses to the fact our desire to use the cross of control is a warning of our need for the cross.  Out of which you birth new life.





Chapter 1: Die Empty

“Before I Die, I want to ________” mural
“The death rate is hovering right around 100%.”
General positive encouragement to be all you can be without excuses.
Chapter 2: Your Contribution
Principle: “Your body of work should reflect what’s important to you.”
“Can I lay my head down tonight satisfied with the work I did today?”
3 Types of Work:
  1. Mapping – “work before the work,” planning, plotting, setting priorities
  2. Making – actually doing the work
  3. Meshing – “work between the work” that makes you effective – learning, developing, etc.


4 Types of Working Profiles
  1. Developer = Mapping + Making + Meshing
  2. Driver = Mapping + Making – Meshing (starts strong, but fades due to lack of innovation)
  3. Drifter = Making + Meshing – Mapping
  4. Dreamer = Meshing + Mapping – Making
Chapter 3: The Siren Song of Mediocrity
Principle: Mediocrity doesn’t just happen suddenly; it develops slowly over time.
Satisficing – selecting an option that is sufficient to meet enough of our ongoing expectations.  Settling for the best available option that meets most of our requirements.
You can’t simply change your external situation without changing your mindset and methods.
The 7 Deadly Sins of Mediocrity (ABCDEFG)
  1. Aimlessness; The key to conquering aimlessness is to concretely define the battles that you need to fight each day in order to make meaningful progress, then focus your efforts on those above all else.
  2. Boredom; Maintain intentional curiosity
  3. Comfort; “At a certain point, past innovations inhibit future innovations.”
  4. Delusion; Cultivate self-awareness
  5. Ego; Don’t be afraid to fail or admit to failure
  6. Fear; Fear thrives on the unknown.
  7. Guardedness; Be relational
Chapter 4: Define Your Battles
Principle: To counter aimlessness, you must define your battles wisely, and build your life around winning them.
Know what your life’s major mission is.
What work am I willing to suffer for today?
Passion often follows action rather than the other way around.
Chris Martin “suffered” for football because it served a higher purpose of getting at risk kids out of bad situations.
Chapter 5: Be Fiercely Curious
Principle: To prevent boredom from dulling your senses, you must approach your work with a curious mind-set.
“While a curious, questioning mind-set may seem inefficient when we’re under pressure to deliver quick results, it actually makes us more effective in everything we do.”
“Some people will never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.” (Alexander Pope)
“Creative Inversion” – “For example, you know that you need an idea for the 4: 00 p.m. strategy meeting, but you have absolutely nothing to offer. Everything you come up with feels like a bad rehash of a previous idea, and no matter what you try, you can’t seem to come up with something that feels fresh and profound.”
Two strategies for cultivating curiosity: (1) Establish Hunting Trails, (2) Develop Possibility Thinking
Hunting Trails: Set aside structured time for this.  Read and reflect.  Think of questions you want to learn about – not just from books, but from encountering things.  Have a space to do this work – (time, energy, and physical space) – the “bliss station.”
Relating similarities of otherwise dissimilar things can help generate new perspectives.
Four elements of possibility thinking: Aspirations, Affinities, Assumptions, Attributes (all can help find the edges of a project, like a puzzle)
Two kinds of “blocks”: Conceptual & Executional
Conceptual blocks aren’t solved by “knuckling down.”
See questions at loc 987
Chapter 6: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Principle: To make a valuable contribution, you have to get uncomfortable and embrace lifelong growth and skill development.
Satisfaction tends to come from saying “yes” to challenging things.
“Don’t allow short-arc comfort to convince you to compromise your long-arc goals.”
“If you could make anything happen in your job right now, what would it be?”
Contingency response – some constraint must change
Ownership response – something one can control must change
Three Kinds of Growth Goals:
  1. Step – short arc (day)
  2. Sprint – medium arc (1-2 weeks)
  3. Stretch – long arc
These all support one another.
Remember to define what you’re willing to give up in order to accomplish a goal.  Everything is a trade-off.
“You cannot pursue greatness and comfort at the same time.”
Chapter 7: Know Yourself
Principle: Knowing yourself will help you counter self-delusion and pursue the unique contribution you alone are capable of making.
Story about someone else taking credit for another’s work
Tap into the qualities of those you admire…like kids taking on superpowers.
Read biographies.
Make notes of very specific qualities in people.  The specificity makes them more emulatable.
Set a timer ever hour as speed bumps for effective work.
ACHE – Method for Evaluating Work:
Chapter 8: Be Confidently Adaptable
Principle: Confidence and adaptability prevent an inflated ego from stalling progress on your most important work.
“Rules become so pervasive that they’re meaningless.”
Ways we exercise control:
  • Playing the Victim
  • Snark, Cynicism, and Overcomplexity
  • Judging your work relative to others’ rather than on its own merits
  • Expecting to be accomodated
Cultivate a service mind-set.  GIFT Acronym:
Forward momentum
Conduct SWOT Analyses
Chapter 9: Find Your Voice
Principle: Find your voice and conquer the fear of failure by taking small, calculated risks each day.
Find what you alone can do.
Calling can often be an iterative, trial and error, journey rather than a clear sense of direction from the beginning.
Factor “experimentation time” into your workflow schedule.
Don’t hold back because things seem “too obvious.”
“Cover bands don’t change the world.”
Follow your intuitions.
Chapter 10: Stay Connected
Principle: Establishing genuine connections with others will prevent guardedness from infecting your life.
There are two common mistakes that lead to decreased effectiveness and regret: avoidance and squashing conflict.  “It’s easy to defer important conversations to a more convenient time.”  [Recall Tim Ferriss: “The quality of your life is proportional to the number of hard conversations your willing to have.”]
Tranquility does not equal health.
Working through conflict contributes to the connecting depth of the group.
Strategies on Connecting with Others:
  • Find Mirrors – people in your life who have permission to speak the truth to you about what they see
    • Identify mirrors (at least 2)
    • Alert them of specific things to look for
    • Get together regularly – prepare a mirror reflection each time
    • Adjust regularly
  • Use Probing Conversations (5)
    • Three “Assassins” of Creativity:
      • Dissonance – things don’t add up; professed beliefs don’t match reality
      • Fear – often a figment of our imagination; thrives when undiscussed.
      • Expectation escalation – this week’s remarkable performance becomes next week’s expectation; talk about expectations
    • Five Conversations
      • The Clarity Conversation – bring alignment and combat dissonance; define the work/expectations
        • Clarity questions:
          • How does what I’m doing tie in to why our organization exists? (Converse: Is there anything we’re doing now that seems out of character for us?)
          • Can you clarify the objectives once more?
      • The Expectations Conversations
        • Do you know what is expected of you?
        • What do you expect from me and am I falling short?
      • The Fear Conversation – “all about shining light into dark, unspoken places and neutralizing fear where it lives.”
        • What are you afraid might happen and why?
        • What was the last risk you took? (Talking about risk is a great way to minimize it.)
      • The Engagement Conversation
        • What’s inspiring you?
        • How do you feel about the work we’re doing?
        • What’s the best thing we’re doing and why?
      • The “Final 10 Percent” Conversation – the ‘parking lot conversations’ or ‘meeting after the meeting’ of stuff left unsaid, but now shared in quasi secrecy
        • What is something I’m doing that doesn’t make sense?
        • What’s the smartest thing I’m doing right now?
        • What’s something obvious that you don’t think I’m seeing?
Chapter 11: Live Empty
Daily checkpoints help refocus on effectiveness (over efficiency).
Five step process to scan life for action points (EMPTY):
  • Focus on your Ethics
    • Look at your appointments, commitments, tasks
    • Consider how to apply your values/ethics to them
    • Consider potential pitfalls
  • Focus on your Mission
    • What will change as result of my effort today?  Step goal?  How will I know if today is a success?
    • What isn’t already represented?
    • What needs to go away?
  • Focus on People
    • Who will you interact with today?  Consider them individually.
    • Are there any open relational loops to close?  5 conversations to have?
    • How can you serve others today?
  • Focus on Tasks
    • Consider your daily priorities (“Brilliant work demands dedicated time on your calendar.”)
    • Define your projects
  • Focus on You
    • What will you do today to develop yourself?
    • What do you need to start moving on?
    • Be grateful.
    • Dream a little.
People tend to respond to questions about their job with, “I’m a ….” rather than “I ….”
Chapter 12: Forward
You alone can find the bears for your life map.
Without drive, nothing in this book matters.
Victor Frankl – Those who fare best through suffering are those that ascribe meaning to their suffering (through narrative).
Existential vacuum – not knowing what the deeper purpose of life is
Not, “What do I expect from life?” but “What does life expect from me?”
The “lag” can zap energy from our work.  It is the gap between cause and effect.
Three things that keep you moving forward in the “lag:”
  1. Confidence in your vision and ability to bring it to fruition
  2. Willingness to say no to other things that tempt you to divert from your course
  3. Daily, diligent, urgent progress
“Hustle is the best antidote to lifelong regret.”
Quitting should be a strategic choice.
Someone who is optimistic expects the best while actively working to bring it about. Wishing externalizes responsibility and hopes that everything lines up according to plan, but doesn’t do anything to actively bring about the desired change.
Two things will paralyze our creativity faster than anything else:
1. We haven’t defined success.
2. We haven’t defined failure.

Go through alternating cycles of tension and release.  Stay out of the “gray zone.”
“Hustle overcomes nearly every shortcoming.”


I preached this sermon on March 30th, 2014 at Grace UMC as part of our Release: Finding Space for the Resurrection Lenten worship series.  The text was John 9:1-41.  Audio is below.

I have a little test for you.  Let’s see how many of you can get this right. 

This is a highly successful British commercial designed to help vehicle drivers become more aware of cyclists.  The idea here is that we tend not to see what we’re not looking for.  The converse is also true; we tend to see what we are looking for.  Our Scripture this morning is a spiritual awareness test.  Those who profess to see are blind in ways that they are unaware of.  Those who are blind, through God’s help can see in ways that go far beyond mere physical sight.  What you see depends on what you’re looking for. 


On the surface, our Scripture is a healing story of sensory blindness.  But you don’t have to read between the lines very much to realize that Jesus is talking about blindness and sight in spiritual ways.  Jesus tells us that he came into the world  “so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  This plays out on both the physical level and the spiritual level.  Things are upside-down.  Sight itself is a kind of blinder.

NCAA Tournament

Every year at this time, I tune in to the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.  I don’t watch even a second of college basketball until the tournament starts.  Then I blindly declare which teams will win.  I’ve only kept up with the results and watched parts of games here and there this year.  There have been times in my life when I was a bit more devoted to watching the tournament.  In college, I can remember cutting class to watch games on Thursday and Friday mornings during the first round of the tournament.  There have been times when I’ve watched the games at work by streaming the games online and using the handy “boss” button on the website which brings up a spreadsheet to make it look like you’re working.  This was before I came to Grace, of course.  I’ve even won a few pools over the years.  But my favorite memory of the NCAA tournament isn’t any of these things or even any spectacular comeback, upset, or buzzer-beater shot.  My favorite memory was a little side wager I had with a friend of mine. This friend of mine was even more into the NCAA basketball tournament than I was.  He was a roommate of mine throughout college and we participated in the same basketball pools.  He is a die-hard University of Louisville fan.  I remember being frustrated with him after sticking my neck out for him to get him a job at a church I worked at managing an after-school program for middle school students.  After only a few weeks on the job, he didn’t show up to work one Thursday.  I called him and he told me he had driven to Atlanta on a whim with some friends to watch the NCAA tournament live.  This guy was seriously into the tournament.  Now there are 68 teams in the men’s tournament – there used to be only 64.  Sixty-four is a really good number to have a tournament with.  If you’re about my age, a 64-team tournament was all you could remember at this point.  Really, you want the number of teams to be easily divisible in equal ways so all the brackets turn out evenly and all teams will have to win the same amount of games to win the tournament.  4, 8, 16, 64 are all excellent numbers of teams to have a tournament with.  I heard on the news one day that there were going to be 65 teams in the upcoming 2001 tournament.  That seemed very strange to me.  65 teams would ruin the mathematical beauty of the tournament.  When my roommate got back to our house that evening, I told him that there was going to be 65 teams in the tournament this year.  It was unthinkable to him.  He thought I must be either pulling his leg or woefully misinformed.  He was so certain that we put a $5 wager on it.  It’s good when you can bet on things that you are 100% certain of.  And both of us were.  Sure enough, he found out for himself and I had my tournament pool fee covered for that year.  What you see depends on what you’re looking for.

Looking for Sin

In our scripture, everyone around the blind man seemed to be looking for sin.  They were as sure as my roommate was about the tournament that sin was to be found somewhere.  Like the number 64, sin is a really great concept for explaining lots of things…like why someone was born blind.  It held certain ancient Jewish worldviews together.  And so they searched high and low for the sin.  They kept asking questions.  Did his parents sin?  Didn’t Jesus sin by healing on the Sabbath?  They ask some really dumb questions – “Could the blind man have sinned causing his own blindness at birth?”  Think about that for a second.  Others ask the blind man, “Did you see where Jesus went?”  The blind man answered rather politely, I think, saying, “I do not know,” when he might have been tempted to say, “No, I did not see where he went.  I was blind, remember?”  And when the answer to the question, “Where is the sin?” wasn’t obvious after all their searching, it began to divide them.  But, they kept on asking and kept on looking because they just knew it was there.

Mom’s Scissors

My mom is a very orderly, determined, and thorough sort of person.  Very little of this seems to be genetic.  One day, her favorite scissors turned up missing.  My mom doesn’t lose things.  My sister and I tend to lose just about everything.  Just this week, I left my keys in my dad’s car.  And so when my mom’s favorite scissors turned up missing twenty years ago, she assumed that like everything else that turned up missing around the house, it must be the fault of either my sister or I.  And so, she made us put everything else on hold and search the house high and low for the scissors.  This emergency household search party wasn’t an unusual occurrence.  Usually, we’d find whatever we were looking for relatively quickly and usually it turned out that my sister or I was to blame for something being out of place.  But the search for these precious scissors went on and on.  I didn’t know where they were.  I didn’t care where they were.  I just wanted to stop looking for them.  We looked everywhere, but when they didn’t turn up, we had to look everywhere again.  My mother knew that scissors don’t just disappear and that they had to be somewhere.  She was determined to find them.  My mom looked everywhere with intensity because she knew the scissors had to be somewhere.

You can imagine my delight when later that week on Sunday, my mom discovered that she had left the scissors in the Sunday School classroom that she taught in at church.  I think God must have orchestrated this event just so when ever I lost something, I could remind my mom, you know, you lost something too one time, if I remember correctly.  You search differently when you’re certain something is out there – like those around the blind man, you keep on looking until you find what you’re looking for.  And if it is something a little less concrete than scissors, something like sin, you start pointing out those things you’ve decided must be the sin you’re looking for.  The more convinced you are of your own rightness, the more susceptible you are to being judgmental.  Judgmentalism always asks the question that the disciples and the Pharisees were asking, “Where is the sin?”   And what you see depends on what you’re looking for.  Judgmentalism is a way of seeing the world that looks primarily for where sin can be found.  Usually, you don’t have to look very far.  But there is another question being asked by the blind man, one that leads him on a very different kind of search.  The blind man asks the question, “Where is God?”  The blind man is looking for God.  When asked about Jesus the first time, he says that he must be a prophet, an agent of God.  In the person of Jesus, he saw God working.  Scrutinized further by the Pharisees, he says, “Here is an astonishing thing!”  This has never happened before in the history of the world!  What further evidence do you need that this man is from God?

Seeing God

The blind man saw what he was looking for as well.  But the search for God is very different than the search for sin.  Jesus reverses things.  You have to be blind to see God.  You’ve got to release that which you’re so certain of.  I think that’s because God grabs us when we least expect it.  God likes to surprise us.  In this case, he hawks a loogie mixes it with dirt and wipes it on a blind man’s eyes.  I didn’t see that one coming.

Many of Jesus’s parables are about searches.  The search for the lost sheep, a lost coin, a pearl of great price, or a treasure hidden in a field.  Too often we think of that search as finding sinners.  But we’re all sinners.  What if the search is more about finding places where, as Jesus said, “God’s works might be revealed.”  One of my favorite quotes from the popular book, The Shack, the character for God, called Papa, says, “I don’t need to punish people for sin.  Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.  It’s not my purpose to punish it, it is my joy to cure it.”  God doesn’t need help pointing out the places where sin exists.  God invites us to see in such a way that we can be part of healing it.  We can help reveal the work of God.

What Do You See?

The disciples and the Pharisees aren’t wrong about sin being all around.  The world is a very broken place.  But when we ask first, “Where is the sin?” instead of “Where is God?”  We judge.  And we’ll find sin – because that’s what we’re looking for.  And in calling it out, or judging others, we neither redeem sin, nor do we see God.  Rather, we find ourselves in a kind of hell – the place where misery, pain, and sin reside.  That’s what we see all around us, because that’s what we’ve been looking for.  What you see depends on what you’re looking for.  But the gospel vision asks a different question, “Where is God?”  God is over here in the fixing of what is broken.  God is over there just waiting to forgive sins big and small.  God is right there within you waiting to help make sense of what you don’t understand.  God is everywhere weeping alongside pain and tragedies of all kinds.  You can’t see God when you’re looking for sin.  But God is there.  God lives in the hearts of sinners.  We see God most clearly on the cross, right between two sinners, taking on the sin of the world.  If you were looking for sin, on the day Jesus was crucified, you would see it up there on the cross.  On the other hand, if you were looking for God, you would see it up there on the cross.  What are you looking for?


dino rock

I preached this sermon at Grace UMC on March 16th, 2014 as part of our Lenten sermon series, “Release: Finding Space for the Resurrection.”  The text is John 3:1-17.  Listen below.

Has anyone every told you a story of something incredible – so incredible that you couldn’t help but to have some doubts about it?  I have.  In fact, it came from some of you.  A couple members of our church, Buddy McMullin and Larry Curry, told me a story one day several years ago.  The story was so incredible that it never really left my mind.  About a year later, I asked Buddy about it again and heard the story for a second time.  And this week I took time to hear the story again from Larry.  Incredible stories often leave one with lingering doubt.  And questions, lots of questions.  How can these things be?

In our Scripture this morning, Jesus speaks of something incredible.  Something that leaves a Jewish leader named Nicodemus with some lingering doubt.  And questions, lots of questions.  Let’s hear hear this story.  I’ll be reading from John 3:1-17.  After the reading, I will give God thanks and I invite you to respond, “Thanks be to God.”

Buddy & Larry’s Excellent Adventure

After hearing Larry’s incredible story – I felt like Nicodemus.  The story goes like this.  Buddy, Larry, and a few others were out riding their dirt bikes as they often do through the mountainous terrain of some backwoods area of Northern Alabama.  This dirt-biking crew were just minding their own business enjoying the brisk ride through the woods when they happened upon an unprecedented archaeological find.  At first it just looked like an unusual pile of rocks.  But it was interesting enough for them to stop their bikes and take a closer look.  Upon inspection, the rocks seemed to be oval-shaped, but had fossilized together in cluster-like formations.  They realized that this was no standard pile of rocks.  This was an incredible find.  This dirt-bike crew realized they had stumbled upon a nest of dinosaur eggs.  And not just any dinosaur eggs – these were Tyrannosaurus Rex eggs.  The ground they stood on was an ancient breeding ground for the mighty T-Rex.  Not only were there eggs, they could see dinosaur parts in the fossilized remains of this rookery.  One of the members of this crew was answering the call to nature, if you know what I mean, when he realized he was doing so right in the middle of a T-Rex footprint, etched into limestone.  The footprint was complete with three pronged-toes pointing forwards and one pointing backwards including the claw marks. [more…]

Todd Doubts the Incredible

Now, I’m not an expert in dinosaurs or fossils, but all of this seemed to me to be a rather incredible claim.  It occurred to me that Larry and his crew may have found something unique, but T-Rex eggs?  “How can these things be?” I asked them.  “Could there be another explanation?”  Buddy responded to my question, “What else could it be?”  Larry said, “if it looks like a dinosaur, sounds like a dinosaur, you can find examples just like them in books, then it’s a dinosaur.”  My doubt remained.  I thought to myself, “These guys aren’t exactly trained paleontologists.”  How can these things be?

Aside from the sheer incredible nature of such a find, I had other reasons to doubt.  They never said exactly where these eggs were found and they won’t tell you if you ask them either.  For the first time, this week, I managed to squeeze out of Larry that this area is near Paint Rock Valley, but that’s as specific as he would get.  Finally, last night, on the eve of my sermon, as if to taunt me, Larry sent me a picture of one of these rocks that he enlisted some local help in smuggling out of the area that now adorns his backyard.  Buddy and Larry claim that if they let the location out, then historical markers would go up, lots of people would travel to the site and the sacredness of this incredible place would be threatened.  They could no longer smuggle fossils out.  This did not help my doubt.  The picture didn’t clear things up for me.  Their rationale for secrecy also has the convenient benefit of preventing anyone else from corroborating their story.  Moreover, I doubted the credibility of the storytellers.  Larry, is a consummate deal-maker, and has been known to embellish on things from time to time.  Originally, I thought I detected his trademark sly grin during the first telling of this story.  Buddy is a masterful storyteller himself and just seems to relish folksy stories such as this.  Both of them are what you might call “characters.”  I could totally see these two “characters” creating an incredible claim, a whopper of a tale, from a small nugget of truth.  I even sensed a bit of pressure during the storytelling.  Pressure to say, “I believe you.”  I even wondered if this was some story that they tell every preacher that comes their way, just to see what happens. I didn’t want to be the gullible young pastor.  Eventually I realized, they weren’t trying to trick me – they believed this incredible thing.

Nicodemus Doubts

I remained doubtful, but neither was I ready to totally dismiss their claims, either.   I was curious, but didn’t want to be gullible.  Doubt is that place between belief and unbelief – it can go either way.   I think this was the space that Nicodemus was in.  Perhaps it was the reason why Nicodemus went to Jesus at night.  The scripture says Nicodemus was a leader of the Jews. Jesus was seen as a threat to the Jewish establishment.  His radical interpretations of Jewish law and startling claims that he was born from above, the son of God were blasphemous.  But, it seemed, that God was moving in Nicodemus’s life.  He wasn’t ready to believe, but clearly he was curious enough to want to speak with Jesus.  But he couldn’t just come to Jesus in the day time – he would be chastised for giving Jesus any credence at all.    The rest of the Jewish leadership might find out and label him as gullible.  But, neither did Nicodemus want to dismiss Jesus outright.  And so he comes asking the question, “How can these things be?”

The Earthly & the Heavenly

In talking to Nicodemus, Jesus makes a clear distinction between the flesh and the Spirit.  Between the earthly and the heavenly.  Like Nicodemus, we don’t have too much trouble believing in either the earthly or the divine.  We certainly all understand the flesh and the earthly.  Likewise, we come to church and talk about Godly things and certainly ancient Jewish leaders like Nicodemus took God very seriously.  But Nicodemus had doubt that the two can ever meet.  That the heavenly and earthly can touch.  This is where we tend to doubt as well.  We think of heaven as only a place where we go once we die.  We think of Jesus as being the single exception where the divine and fleshly live together.  The divine and the earthly are separate.  But Jesus says something incredible: “You must be born from above.”  You can carry the DNA of God within you.  You can be a son or daughter of God.  That changes things.  What is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The Spirit & New Birth 

In Scripture, the Spirit – the breath or wind of God – seems to be present, whenever new life is born.  The breath of God swept over the waters in the Creation story.  God breathed life into Adam and Eve. In the prophets, wind often accompanies God’s promise of deliverance from oppression.  A rush of violent wind came over the believers at the birth of the church at Pentecost.  And here new birth – being born from above – is linked to the Spirit.  The wind blows where it chooses.  It’s unpredictable.  It resides within you, but it comes from a source beyond you.  It is the eternal within the temporal.  Birth in the Spirit guarantees unpredictability.  Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Then Jesus goes on to say that whoever believes this, whoever can be born from above may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, born from above so that we too might be born from above, that the eternal life of heaven, might be the life that we can live right here on earth.  Jesus says that he came not to condemn the earthly, but to save it by touching it with the heavenly.

Doubting That Heaven Touches Earth

This is what we doubt.  We find ways to reduce heavenly and earthly contact just to Jesus.  When we hear John 3:16, we think the belief in him part is limited to our believing that Jesus is the Son of God.  And that this is what gives us eternal life.  The good news is much more incredible.  Much more difficult to believe.  Jesus had been talking about being born from above.  Jesus told Nicodemus that he was not the only one who could be born from above, he said, “You must be born from above.”  The Greek for the word ‘you’ here is actually plural, so Jesus literally says, “Ya’ll must be born from above.”  It is universal.  All of us have the capacity to be born from above, to be sons and daughters of the living God, to carry the divine, the heavenly within our earthly bodies.

Jesus Explains It Again

It seemed that Nicodemus didn’t understand it, so Jesus explained things again another way.  Explaining things through the analogy of new birth didn’t seem to work.  And so Jesus alludes to a story about another instance of the divine touching the earthly that Nicodemus would be familiar with.  The Israelites were being punished with poisonous serpents for whining in the wilderness.  People were dying.  Moses prayed to God for deliverance and God told Moses to make a serpent upon a pole that the people could look upon.  When they did so, they would live.  It was an invitation for the earthly to connect with the divine.  The symbol of the serpent made its first appearance in the Bible as a pull away from God, inviting Adam and Eve away from the heavenly.  The serpent is the ultimate symbol of earthliness.  But in the story of Moses and the serpent on a pole, God redeems the earthly and in fact uses the most earthly symbol imaginable as vehicle for life, the conduit of heaven.

People Hungry for the Word of God

In seminary, I had the opportunity to serve and learn as a chaplain at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.  My job was to check in with patients in the hospital, just to be a listening presence for them.  I would hear their stories and offer prayer.  If anyone needed spiritual support in any way, I would do my best to provide it.  One day, a patient in the ward I was serving came up to me and said, Chaplin Todd, “The people on this ward are just hungry for the word of God.”  Not knowing exactly what to say, I just responded, “Oh, that’s great.”  He grew more emphatic, “No people on this ward are really hungry for the word of God.”  I responded, “Does someone want me to read Scripture to them or need me to request a Bible for them?”  “No!” he said.  Then he held up a Bible that I didn’t notice before. And this Bible literally had a huge bite mark taken out of the corner of it.  And he said again, slowly, “People on this ward are really hungry for the Word of God!”  And then I really had no idea what to say.  How can these things be?  We were talking past one another.

God Does the Incredible

So were Nicodemus and Jesus.  Jesus was trying to connect, but it seemed that Nicodemus didn’t have ears to hear.  He knew what Jesus’s words meant individually, but he missed Jesus’s meaning.  That’s what happens with incredible claims.  We have doubt that such things are even possible. Ordinary people you know making astonishing archaeological finds.  People literally eating the Word of God.  Or most incredible of all – our own bodies being born from above as the sons and daughters of God.  It isn’t so much that we doubt God – it’s that we think we know the earthly so well.  Who are these ordinary dirt-bikers to make such an astonishing discovery?  Who am I to be born of God?  We are too well acquainted with our earthliness to gullibly believe such incredible claims.  The divine and the earthly are separate…but God is bringing them together.  For God so loved the world.  The heavenly so loved the earthly.  Love is an attracting force.  God is always finding ways of touching the earthly.  And when the divine touches the earthly it is redeemed, born from above, healed of poisonous serpent bites, given life.  Life, in all of its incredible, eternal, abundance exists only to the extent that heaven and earth have come together.  Everything else on this earth is perishing.  But God has not come to condemn the world, to let it perish, but to save it. And so the kingdom of God grows – on earth as it is in heaven.  It seems too incredible to believe.  News too good to be true.  How can these things be?  God so loved the world.

Even you.  Especially you.