Here is a short video about ‘public theology’.
Theology can be done with, for, and in public.
Check out a short article on public theology [here]
Here is a short video about ‘public theology’.
Theology can be done with, for, and in public.
Check out a short article on public theology [here]
There has been lots of discussion about Anne Helen Petersen’s article “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” on BuzzFeed.
I have read and listened to some great responses and would like to weigh in to the conversation.
I was a worked with youth from 1996-2016 and saw a severe amount of change. I have also picked up some new tools as an academic that I hope will be helpful.
Millennial generation is burned out. We should believe them.
3 insights to help move the conversation along.
Here is a short video. I would love to hear from you.
Some of the best feedback I got last week, when talking about Social Costructivism being my philosophical orientation within my chosen discipline of Practical Theology, came from WrdsandFlsh
Responding to my sentence: “I do not believe in the autonomous, selective nor the pre-institutional self. I am a social constructivist who believes that we are socialized, groomed and conditioned from day 1.”, She said:
Your social constructionist theory fits well within Serene Jones’ theology of sin. We are given “scripts” form the time we’re born. Those scripts teach us consumerism, racism, patriarchy, etc. So we are indoctrinated into sin in our very language. We are shaped before we have a knowing self into the language, patterns, etc of our families/communities. And, that includes being shaped by the societal institutions of sin.
I think there is much to explore in the idea that we can never get back to our “pre-conditioned” selves. We are always indoctrinated (for lack of a better term) into the communities in which we are raised.
So, my question to you as a Pastor and not as a researcher, is to say, how do you live theology differently with this in mind? (As opposed to study theology).
I am always honored when someone asks about translating a theological idea into pastoral practice. It is literally my favorite thing in the world – next, of course, to reflecting on the perichoresis.
Four things come to mind initially:
A man walks into a lawyers office to inquire about legal council and asks “How much does a consultation cost?”
The lawyer informs him that the fee is $200 for three questions.
Surprised, the man asks “Really?”
The lawyer says “Yes. Now what is your third question?”
Rollins used this joke to reflect on the nature of ideology: we find ourselves deep in the midst of it before we realize that we are even in it.
One of the most helpful things that we can do for people as pastoral leadership in the church is help them to realize the nature of inherited beliefs and assumptions. Through our preaching and counsel we can illuminate the nature of ‘what we are caught up in the middle of’.
While I tend to try and steer away from technological analogies for humanity, this is my one exception:
When people come to us they are often wanting help to fix A) a glitch with the program they are trying to run or B) a problem with the hardware.
Rarely do they want to address the operating system that underlies the problem. We assume the operating system ( the ideologies and assumptions behind that which we can see) and either want to fix the program we already use or to download a better version of it.
Getting people to examine the operating system that is in place is difficult because it is a much bigger undertaking than simply tweaking the program or trading out some hardware.
If what they are using was working they probably wouldn’t come to us – we wouldn’t even know about. Like a medicine woman or a computer repair person we see people when something is broken. Being prepared with how to access the operating system–and not just fixed the program that is running on it–is a gift we can offer people.
I have told this story before but it is illustrative for this point.
A man in my congregation would lose his job at the big factory in town on a seasonal/semiannual rotation. When the economy was in a rut, he remained jobless for quite a while and his family was devastated that God had let them down.
We prayed as a congregation, as we did for everyone, for his employment. It dawned on me, however, during this period that we might be better off addressing the systemic problem of how the major employers in our area conducted themselves.
In many circles the way we pray exposes a gap in our understanding. We are fine to pray for people personally and to focus on their individual piety/spirituality (mirco) And to trust in the heavenly/divine of some transcendent realm (macro). Where we are negligent is in the connective element of systems, structures, and institutions.
The work of folks like Walter Wink on The Powers is essential here.
We do people a great disservice when we neglect this essential component and allow people to conceive of themselves and their lives as individuals – and then jump right to the heavenlies. That enlightenment notion of self and society is deadly both to the soul and Christian community.
Authority: Whether you have a hierarchical model of pastoral leadership or a more egalitarian/communitarian conception, we each have a role to play. That role comes with some level of authority over a sphere of influence.
By first understanding, then articulating a better understanding of concepts like original sin (see part 1 of this post), we recognize and account for the fact that we are all caught up in a web of conflicting desires and motivations. This acknowledgment is essential for the way one conducts her or himself in Christian community and especially leadership within the community.
The people that we interact with and give direction to are as multifaceted, complex, complicated, conflicted, irrational, and erratic as we ourselves our! Knowing and confessing this at the beginning and in the midst of every interaction will necessarily cause us to temper our propensity to be prescriptive and formulaic.
Translation: In the previous post “Wrestling with Original Sin” some fairly elaborate notions of human and societal makeup were put forward. Contemporary work in the fields of sociology, psychology, and neuroscience ( just to name a few) have radically altered the way that we understand and thus talk about what it means to be human and to participate in human social organization (society).
A significant gap forms for Christians who’ve been look to the Bible for direction if they do not account for this. One gift that a Reflective Practitioner brings to a community is the ability to translate divinely inspired pre-modern notions in spiritual direction into the 21st century.
By helping people to understand the reality of the gap between some portions of our sacred text and the lived realities of modern society, we can bless people with the opportunity of insight and clarity. It helps no one to give old answers to new questions and call it being faithful. Being faithful is a willingness to up with new answers to new questions in a way that is informed by the way that the traditional answers were offered in response to questions within that historic context.
This is why I have little interest in the old ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ debates around notions like depravity. They just don’t work anymore. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince people or convert people to a pre-Copernican world view.
Those are the four things that came to mind in response to your comment.
I would love to get your feedback on my 4 and to hear what you might add or substitute.
What follows in the next 2 posts is an attempt to address a theme that emerged out of some vibrant conversations I have been having this week.
We have 3 good contemporary interpretations of ‘Original Sin’ on the table for discussion. I will call them:
Evolutionary Types might talk about our ‘conflicted desires’ or ‘contradictory impulses’. This has been my favorite way to talk about what the ancients were attempting to describe with the idea of ‘original sin’ in the past. Something is wrong and we know it.
Even the Apostle Paul touched on the idea in Romans 7 by acknowledging that we don’t even do the good that we want to do! That is really saying something.
Evolutionary Types are fond of pointing to the conflicted nature of modern men to A) raise their offspring in a stable environment (like the mutually-beneficial social arrangement of marriage) B) that is in conflict with another biological yearning to spread their seed far & wide to make more offspring. That is the most brute and easiest example.
Admittedly, this is not a very ‘christian’ perspective in some people’s estimation but I think that it illuminating.
Reinhold Niebuhr is famous for an approach called Christian Realism. He said some really interesting things about sin.
Aurthur Schlesinger Jr. says Niebuhr “emphasized the mixed and ambivalent character in human nature – creative impulses matched with destructive impulses, regard for others overruled by excessive self-regard, the will to power, the individual under constant temptation to play God in history. This is what is known in the ancient vocabulary of Christianity as the doctrine of original sin.”
James Cone summarizes this way:
“Because human finitude and humanity’s natural tendency to deny it (sin), we can never fully reach that ethical standard.”
He was speaking of love and justice. Cone comments, “Since Niebuhr saw justice as a balance of power between groups, whether classes, races, or nations, he saw it always in a state of flux, never achieving perfection in history.”
A web approach can be heard from thinkers like Terry Eagleton in ‘On Evil’ and was suggested by Bo Eberly (also know as ‘Bo East’).
Eagleton on Original Sin:
“There is a sense in which freedom and destructiveness are bound up together. In the complex web of human destinies, where so many lives are meshes intricately together, the freely chosen actions of one individual may breed damaging, entirely unforeseeable effects in the lives of countless anonymous others. They may also return in alien form to plague ourselves. Acts that we and others have performed freely in the past may merge into an opaque process which appears without an author, confronting us in the present with all the intractable force of fate. In this sense, we are the creatures of our own deeds. A certain inescapable self-estrangement is thus built into our condition…
This is why original sin is traditionally about an act of freedom (eating an apple), yet is at the same time a condition we did not choose, and one which is nobody’s fault. It is ‘sin’ because it involves guilt and injury, but not ‘sin’ in the sense of willful wrong. Like desire for Freud, it is less a conscious act than a communal medium into which we are born. The interwoven of our lives is the source of our solidarity. But it also lies at the root of our mutual harm…
Original sin is not about being born either saintly or wicked. It is about the fact of being born in the first place. Birth is the moment when, without anyone having the decency to consult us on the matter, we enter into the preexistent web of needs, interests, and desires-an inextricable tangle to which the mere brute fact of existence will contribute, and which will shape our identity to the core. This is why in most Christian churches babies are baptized at birth…they have already reorder the universe without being aware of it.”
He goes on:
“Original sin is not the legacy of our first parents but our parents, who in turn inherited it from their own. The past is what we are made of. Throngs of ghostly ancestors lurk within our most casual gestures, programming our desires and flicking our actions mischievously awry. Because our earliest, most passionate love affair takes place when we are helpless infants, it is caught up with frustration and voracious need. And this means our loving will always be defective. As with the doctrine of original sin, this condition lies at the core of the of the self, yet is nobody’s responsibility. Love is both what we need in order to flourish and what we are born to fail at. Our only hope is learning to fail better. Which may, of course, prove not to be good enough.”
In part 2 I will attempt to address how the tangled web of inherited meanings and desires plays out when pastoring – but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on these theories.
* I am not that interested in conserving outdated discussions of ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ and how classical, patristic or Calvinistic understandings of century’s past may have framed it. But if that is where you are at, you can simply state that and let it stand on it’s own merit. I don’t speculate about the details of ‘an’ original sin even while I am interested in the reality behind the concept.
Originally published as ‘The Silent White Guy and Invisible Black Women’.
I am glad that people liked the idea of Critical Theory (from part 1) and the structure of the questions that I put forward.
I did notice 2 places where the conversation trickled to an drip.
Let me give those some background:
My friend Hollie Baker-Lutz tweeted a sentiment that I hear quite frequently
“Uh oh, overheard in the university cafe: “and I can’t say anything in that class cuz I’m a white male, which is the worst thing u can be.”
I get this all the time from guys young and old alike. I think something may be missing from that equation however.
Here are two things it would be helpful to add to the mix:
If you add those 2 things, it has been my experience that people are generally open to hear what you have to say. People are quite interested.
What they are not interested in is the hegemonic refrain. See, here is the problem: because that is the dominant cultural narrative … they have already heard it. They know it well. They may know it better than you because they have had to deal with it – whereas you have only assumed it and benefited uncritically from it.
The second issue came from my friend Janisha when she wrote in response to part 1 post:
I appreciate your article and your attempt to think deeply. I don’t think anyone except for black women can truly determine what are primary and secondary issues.
The place of black women in society as a primary issue has with it endless complications, including “taking back one’s physicality in the face of generations of oppression and marginalization.”
My place in this culture is directly linked to taking back my physicality, because my black womanhood is my physicality. They aren’t different. they cannot be separated. I will argue again, that this conversation is difficult to have unless you are a black woman, because who else can fully understand the implications of Beyonce?
I get what you (Janisha) are saying about the black woman conversation and I don’t want to butt into it, white man that I am. But that conversation would be about actual black womanhood, whereas this one is about public spectacle, one created and much enjoyed by white men. So there’s a white man conversation to be had about why we (white men) have created a category of “black women” who occupy this particular place in our spectacle.
… Bo, I wonder how to tackle the issue of “what place black women hold in our culture” without picking apart actual cases like Beyonce’s half-time show??
MP makes 2 excellent points!
– The first situation I would compare to ‘reader response’ approaches to text. We have the author-text-reader.
In this case we have Beyonce-Performance-Viewer.
So each of us viewers is related to the performance differently so ‘white men’ and ‘black women’ may be relating to the performance differently.
– In the second I just think that we need to be VERY clear the difference between an example and an anecdote. Focusing in one example can be illustrative or it can be problematic.
I would hesitate to use this performance by Beyonce as an example – she is not the only one who dances like this. Lots of performers do. Also white women (like Christina and Britney) do. So it is not unprecedented.
NFL Cheerleading squads do many of the same moves in much the same outfits … the difference is that
A) they don’t have a microphone and
B) we don’t know their name.
Which is a HUGE difference.
If we want to talk about male sexuality and football we should have the Cheerleader conversation. That is every team – every week.
If we want to have the ‘place that black women hold in our society’ conversation, then we would ask a different set of questions. Like ‘where were the other black women during the 5 hour broadcast of America’s largest TV event of the year?’ Since it is a commercial event … maybe we would even take a look at the commercials and ask how black women were represented.
Either way – isolating the one performance by Beyonce is not our best starting point.
Earlier this week I wrote about Dealing with Demons – a progressive take, and in it I mentioned that the Devil was a personification of when evil is too big and too bad for us to comprehend as a human result … we outsource to an ancient, cosmic bad guy. Many were able to track with the demon thing but some hit a snag with the Devil thing.
Then what is evil? Where does it come from? Is it real? Is it ontological?
Let me entertain the 3 suggestions that were brought up by responders to the blog: Augustine, Process and Relational Reality.
Augustine had a theory called “privatio boni”. Back in my apologist-evangelist days I would explain it like this: Evil isn’t something, it is the absence of something. Like darkness is not a thing, it is simply the absence of a thing. Wherever you do not have the presence of light, you automatically have darkness – so where God’s will is not obeyed, you automatically have sin and evil.
Of course, the problem with this is that it predicated by God being “all powerful” or omnipotent. Augustine explains:
For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
An alternative to that comes from Process thought – which does not see God’s power as coercive (able to unilaterally act however God wills) but persuasive, engaging the possibilities of each moment, complete the contingencies of the past, to bring forward the possibility of a preferable future. John Cobb explains in Process Perspectives II that there are many factors that create the multi-layered web of evil. Human sin is just one element. He also names
among others, as potential ingredients in the creation of evil.
I want to make it clear that the systemic evil of degrading the Earth in our current situation is not primarily the result of individual sins of unnecessary wastefulness by those who know they are falling short of the ideal. The systemic evil results from our industrial-economic system. This system came into being out of a great mixture of motives. Some of them were narrowly selfish, and some of the decisions people made in the process were no doubt sinful. But not all. Some people rightly saw that the development of this system brought prosperity to nations and eventually to most of their people…
Since I believe that to some extent we all miss the mark or fail to fully actualize the initial aim, I do not exclude sin as a causal element in the establishment of this system. My point is only that to explain the rise to dominance of this system primarily in terms of sin is extremely misleading. The evil results from a mixture of good intentions, ignorance, and sin. It is also profoundly brought about by the power of the past in each moment of human experience. (p. 135)
A third option for thinking about this is a Relational Approach. I first encountered this through reading Native American approaches to theology with my mentor Randy Woodley (who’s new book Shalom and the Community of Creation just came out).
If you go back to the story of Eden and can resist the temptation to retroject a Greek understanding of ‘original sin’ and substance into the story, you will see that it is primarily about relationship. What happens in Eden is a fracturing and a resulting alienation in 3 directions:
As Genesis continues, the fractures stretch out and the impact of the alienation is greater and greater. Soon brother kills brother, generations are fractured … then tribes, peoples and societies.
I love this approach! Once you get away from the substance/material approach the whole Gospel reads differently! God’s relational covenant with Israel and the resulting Law, Christ’s relationship to the God and ushering in a new covenant which radically altered (and began to repaired) our relationship to God – to each other – and to the earth which sustains us (where do you think bread and wine come from?)
The gift of Holy Spirit re-connects us in an inter-related family of God. The perichoretic reality of the Trinity is about the relatedness of the Godhead and not primarily about matters of substance and matter (ousia). Evil in this picture, is that which results from brokeness and fracturing, which leads to alienation, and is then complixified through exponential increase of family systems, tribalism, social structures, societal realities and institutional frameworks … it becomes so big and so bad that it is nearly unimaginable to our mind. At this point we are tempted to outsource the badness to an ‘entity’ which is the personification of evil.
So those are three really good ways of beginning to address the problem of evil. They all have strengths and weakness – but in the end, they are better than saying ‘the Devil made me do it’.
I will end by quoting Cobb again:
The ways in which even what is good in human nature and society can and does become destructive are so numerous and so effective that the mystery is how good sometimes triumphs over it. This is where I see the need to emphasize God’s directing and empowering call to novel forms of goodness.
John B. Cobb Jr.. The Process Perspective II (p. 137). Kindle Edition which sells for $7.63
originally posted at HBC with an amazing follow-up conversation