Friday, July 3, 2009

This is My Kind of Funk

Here are my own 21 Theses, built around Funk's order and choice of topoics. I am putting my theology where my mouth is. Enjoy!


1. The universe has meaning and human life has purpose. Human beings are meaning-finding and purpose-finding machines. I'm actually pretty sure we could not even experience a meaningless universe, or go through our lives seeing them as literally meaningless. The question is what meaning? My society, in aggregate, gives one answer. Pillage the world, hurt your enemies, dull your mind and then you die. That is the default. What I call "God" embodies another way.

2. The doctrine of special creation has been magnified by the discoveries of the scope of the earth in time and space as well as the history and functions of life. Our cosmos, drawn within the lines of the limits of our imagination, is always revealed to be shocking and amazing to each successive generation. I take this as evidence that it came to be through forces and mechanisms that will eternally be outside our understanding. That's pretty damn special. And here we are, apparently able to appreciate this cosmos more than any living creature.

3. Death is natural. So is rape. So is war. To say that death is the enemy is to say something that is true for every person who grieves. Everything we say in the face of death is simply intended to blunt its edge as it cuts us to our core. Is this a punishment for sin? (The "wages" of sin?) If we see sin, in part, as enmeshment in an eternally unsatisfactory world full of pain and suffering and want an injustice, then yes, I think one could say that. What the world pays everyone, for all of their efforts, in the end, is death. This is natural, but it is also tragic, and we seek for things that we hope will transcend our deaths.

4. The Bible is full of instances where God is demonstrated to be unpredictable. Job puts to rest the idea that the righteous are protected from suffering and Jesus and the prophets reverse this entirely, saying that the righteous are promised suffering in a world gone wrong. So will we find an algorithm to determine when, where and how God will intervene? Can we find the on-switch for God's action in our lives? Of course not. No one ever will, and looking will always be fruitless. But is the guy who attributes overcoming addiction to the intervention of God a lunatic or a liar? Possibly neither. If God has no impact on our lives whatsoever apart from our conscious volition, then we need to retire theology forever and find something else to talk about.

5. Prayer is a broad term for a technology of spiritual practice. It is a technique, and a vague one at that. A huge weakness of Protestantism is the loss of the monastic tradition and the majority of ancient spiritual practices that have sustained Christians for millennia. We need to reach back for the broad array of practices that we have forgotten, and build new practices as we find we have needs in a world that is unlike any in the past. If people choose to ask God to intervene, then what good is it to stop them or put them down? I've had a few experiences myself where coincidence and bias don't seem to quite cut it. It just saddens me that our rich heritage of spiritual practice has been reduced to a laundry list whispered to God.


6. I think that Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus is an eternal, ineffible and incomprehensible paradox that as Christians we are to embody, even without really understanding most of the time what it is we're getting ourselves into. Would we dare do so if we really understood? Would we line up to be crucified the way we line up to shake the preacher's hand after the sermon? Doubt it. I do not think we should ever surrender a transformative mystery we are called to live into for the sake of a comprehensible, domesticated, just-another-teacher.

7. Jesus Christ was never, is never, and will never be credible. Jesus Christ is crazy. You know that concept of what your life means, what makes you valuable and good, what you are called to do, and who you are? Jesus shatters that. Then he shatters it again. Pontious Pilate was credible. The Sanhedrin was credible. The credible people are the ones who killed Jesus. It was his followers who had no credibility. We frame these truths in myth because there is nothing else in the human toolbox that is anywhere near equal to the task.

8. Heather Reichgott challenged me here, and I'll go halfway. I think that acknowledging Jesus as coming from Mary's sexuality, at least in part, is important. It also is interesting that men were not involved at all except as a foster parent. I still don't like the virgin birth because I believe it does denigrate sexuality as a dirty thing that cannot really have touched Jesus. If Jesus is human, then he had to come from the same messy, fun stuff we all came from - or as I see it, no deal.

9. Its the classic neon sign, flashing in the urban night; the roadside sign in hand-painted letters on a country road: Jesus Saves. If this is not true, then we quit now and find something that will actually help us become whole. Historically, we've called that "Saving" atonement, something Jesus did at a particular time and place in the past, has done throughout the history of the cosmos from beginning to end, past and future, and seeks to get us to participate in with every moment of your life and mine. For me, penal sub atonement doesn't come anywhere near to covering that.

10. The resurrected Jesus teleports around and passes through crowds, appears and disappears. Clearly the resurrected Jesus, even in a very literalistic reading of the Gospels, was not just Jesus' same body walking around with the same properties other bodies have. The resurrection is a thing, at its core, that we cannot understand fully. We are just like the first disciples and apostles - Paul in particular. The resurrection is something we experience, something we participate in, with our whole lives. Even if a modern nurse could step out of a time machine and do a full physical exam of the risen Jesus, I don't think the resurrection would be affected one bit. If it would be, then it is not the resurrection depicted in the Gospels.

11. Apocalyptic elements have not been part of the main "Christian agenda" for a while now. Well, I guess there's "Jesus is coming, look busy" type evangelism, or fear-of-Hell evangelism, but a lot of even conservative evangelical types look down on this as simply leveraging self-preservation to get people into the pews. I'm fine with tossing that part out. To lose all of the apocalyptic, though, would mean we also have to lose, say, the thoughts and words of Martin Luther King Jr. I am not willing to "expunge" that. When, mere days from his assassination, MLK says he has seen the promised land, he is talking apocalypse. He is talking about the turning of time, the bending of the arc of the universe. Who cares about Jesus floating in the sky and pointing at us in judgement at the end of history like a work of Baroque art? When I read MLK's words, I shiver in my bones, because I know the apocalypse is coming.

God's Domain according to Jesus

12. The Gospels are chock-full of Jesus' suspicion of the essential character of neighbors. It is not about trusting your neighbor, it is about loving your neighbor even when s/he is a certified asshole to you all day long. Even given the guarantee that you will be hurt by others, you are never to hurt in return. That is not a trust ethic, that is a nonviolent ethic. The domain of God is ruled by one who gave up all the trappings of power that we expect and was tortured and executed at our hands. Think of any human government, ever. The domain of God is not that.

13. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet. They are urged not to worry about the future but to be present to the beauty of the moment. They are exhorted not to hold onto their lives but to lose their lives, and in losing them, they find them at last.

14. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy, liberal nor conservative, insider nor outsider, rich nor poor, less nor more abled, gendered nor transgendered...

15. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. There is a state of atonement, when separations fall, even separations between us and God. In the end, we are all in God. We are Christ's body in the perfected sense of God's purpose culminated.

16. For Jesus, the rites of entry into the domain of God are open to all regardless of the things that separate us from each other in other domains. If you can have water dumped on your head, you are in. If you eat bread (or another fruit of the earth for those allergic to wheat or something) then you are in. And now you have to deal with, as family, everyone else who has water dumped on them and who eats food. Good luck :)

17. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they practice it. Forgiveness is the hallmark of restorative justice, in contrast to retributive justice.

18. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and homecoming are the true conditions of authentic existence.

The canon

19. The canon is the collection of writings that have, historically, connected people with God and helped them grown in wisdom and understanding. Throughout history, the Church has made use of other writings, words and practices which are not found in the "canon" of the Bible, and the Church will continue to do this. It is right and good to do this, and we should just be honest about it. "Canon" means "we consistently, across time and space, find a way to God there".

20. We do not use the Bible as a rule-book. If we did, the result would be hysterical. The Bible is not intended to be a rulebook, in my opinion. If you go looking for rules, best of luck. If you go, however, looking for identity - now there's something you might find.

The language of faith

21. In continually articulating who we are and what we are about, we should continue to use the full breadth of human written expression found in the Bible - paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphor, simile, aphorism, epistle, narrative, poem, song, allegory, folktale, martyr cycle, instruction, debate, drama, liturgy and so on, as well as the fuller variety of human expression including music, visual arts, and dance which go beyond a literal text and express meaning in new ways. Our language should be as limitless as creation.


John Shuck said...

How fun! How Fun(k)!

I think you expressed yourself very well here. I doubt there is much to pick at. I have a couple of quibbles but overall I am much more (vastly more) in agreement with you than disagreement.

More than that, I admire and affirm with you your commitment to Jesus' vision.

Doug Hagler said...

Thank you, and I'm glad we can be friends again :)

Aric Clark said...

Damn, Doug. Sometimes you really impress me.

Doug Hagler said...

We all know how low your standards are, Clark.