“The Lover”

Engaging Laury Silvers’s The Lover: A Sufi Mystery

Laury Silvers brings her reader through a four day journey to solve the mystery about the death of a young servant boy, Zayd. Historical fiction wedded with social justice concerns confront the reader and bring her to ask questions about love and Love.

Invigorating Gospel Proclamation

Tripp Fuller and “Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic…or Awesome?”

If there was ever a book that captured the essence of Tripp Fuller, I imagine Jesus: Lord, Liar, Lunatic…or Awesome?* is it. I’ll be honest, I’ve not read all Fuller has written and so my claim may be a bit presumptuous. However, I’ve seen and listened to a number of his excellent interviews, and from what I can tell of his enthusiasm and energy in those encounters, it seems he’s remained true to himself in these pages. But it’s not merely himself that he communicates to the reader; such a result would defeat the purpose of the book. Rather, Fuller causes Jesus to jump off the page and into the reader’s lap in all his freaking awesome and zesty divine and human glory. Fuller reminded me, chapter after chapter, why I, too, love Jesus the Christ.

The book is broken into eight chapters and each chapter provides a really good intellectual engagement of the various aspects of Christology while making the reader chuckle and smile throughout. Fuller’s approach to discussing these conceptions is accessible to the average Christian. By that I mean, you don’t need a few master degrees and a PhD to discover the intricacies Fuller is presenting in his work. He has the knack of distilling heady concepts into accessible ideas that the reader is then encouraged to mull over and contemplate.

For instance, in chapter 4, Fuller explains the historicity of the gospels and the early church’s reception of these various stories about the Christ. He works in Tatian (!)–whom I just learned about this year–Quelle, Mark’s foundational relation to Luke and Matthew, and does a find job letting John stand on his own. He addresses the conflicts and tension between the gospels, but then by dispelling the fear of errancy, leaves the reader with a more robust conception of the text thus a better relationship to the text. I have to say that everything Fuller covered in this chapter could have taken place in my classroom with high school students; in fact, these discussion did happen and do happen. And I can firmly say: Tripp, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

One thing that I was most impressed by was not only his good representation of Luther’s theological impact in the reformation in just a few pages of chapter 5, but his consistent effort and commitment to being ethically minded. Every chapter gave the reader some sort of actual problem plaguing our society that Christians can and need to engage. Whether he’s advocating for the need for the church today to listen to the various voices of multiple people groups, or asking for concerted concern for the environment and our world, Fuller brings a demand to his reader: what will you do? This is a level of holy conviction that I think often goes missed in much preaching these days.

In the final chapter of the book, Fuller engages with a host of thinkers: Sobrino, Motlmann, Cobb, and Johnson (all of whom show up in substantial form in previous chapters). In doing this, he pulls together everything that comes before and pulls the various concepts discussed together to form a coherent end. On page 164, Fuller writes,

Moltmann developed a theology after Auschwitz, Sobrino is arguing for a theology in Auschwitz, recognizing the crucified people of our present global situation as Yahweh’s suffering servant. Theology’s job is not primarily to explain the world, but to unmask it.[1]

Yes, we as theologians and preachers and teachers must do better to use our platforms to unmask the world and point to where the problems are. We need to provide ample opportunity for an encounter with God in the event of faith for not only those who are suffering and oppressed but for those causing suffering and oppression. To quote Fuller,

The way forward for the church must move us toward the poor and the planet. The needed change is not simply instrumental, like changing lightbulbs, eating less meat, or carpooling. Humanity, and in particular those in power, need a conversion, an existential change, the cultivation of new desires. ..As we start to wake up to the tragedy surrounding us, the theological challenge will be continuing to risk thinking after Christ—to wager putting our present system and the privilege and perks it provides before the cross.[2]

In order for this type of substantive conversion and change to occur, Fuller makes mention that something else has to die (in order for there to be life, a death must first occur). This something else is what Fuller calls “therapeutic believing” and defines it as:

Therapeutic belief is about the existential shape of one’s faith and not (primarily) about its content. It begins by accepting the ‘as is’ structure of our world, church, and self and then asks how we can function better as individuals and how we can make our world a bit better than we found it. In doing so, it takes for granted the very world we received and ignores the kin-dom’s[3] challenge to religion, culture, and politics.[4]

One of the problems I have with some modern gospel proclamation is the use of the gospel to numb rather than to invigorate. There is a way to preach the gospel that ends with the person feeling at ease within themselves and blind to what is going on outside of them in the world. The gospel can become a rock under which believers can live and pretend they can’t see the pain and suffering of the world around them. The gospel can be proclaimed in a way that upholds the status quo rather than challenge it. There’s a significant difference between being soothed and being numbed, the former will result in substantiated selves and the former will still be beholden to the shackles that bind. We need to check our proclamation.

The gospel is the word of liberation that sets the hearer free from the controlling mythology of the day within the world, which traps the person in a relentless cycle of creation worship rather than Creator worship. To come into encounter with God in the event of faith, assisted by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ crucified and raised, is to be propelled into the world as liberated and active and political creatures. There is no need to abstain from such activity for fear of trying to self-justify oneself, because justification happens only through faith in Christ. Activity then becomes just activity; but that activity matters horizontally as those who are silenced and oppressed and marginalized need people who have eyes to see their oppression and ears to hear their cries—we can’t see and hear anything if we’re numb to everything.

Fuller is right to call out the problems of therapeutic believing. From how St. Paul describes the work of the Holy Spirit that binds us together in a bloodline and fellow heirs with Christ, we can’t ignore when our fellow brothers and sisters suffer (we are in a family now). We aren’t afforded the comfort to look the other way to be only concerned with our own salvation. When you hurt, I hurt; only when you are free will I be free, too.

Tripp Fuller has written a very engaging and inspiring work. I’m better for reading it. I learned not only new things, but also found ways to rephrase some things I’ve said before. I recommend taking the time to read this book.

*I was encouraged to read this book after viewing this review from Dr. W. Travis McMaken: http://derevth.blogspot.com/2019/05/jesus-lord-liar-lunaticor-awesome-video.html

Tripp Fuller Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Lord Liar, Lunatic…of Awesome? Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015.

 

[1] Fuller, 164. I did question the comparison between Moltmann and Sobrino, but I lack sufficient knowledge of Sobrino to push back.

[2] Ibid, 168.

[3] For why the “g” is dropped, chapter 3, p. 57ff explains Fuller’s reasoning.

[4] Fuller, 170.

Absurdity of Faith

Albert Camus and “The Myth of Sisyphus”

What if there’s no reason or purpose to anything? What if being alive necessitates an awareness that life is rather pointless? What if all there is, all we can actually know is the absurdity of our existence? And, what if that’s okay?

“What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But , on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divest of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his stetting, is properly the feeling of absurdity. All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.”[1]

I have an entirely new respect for the absurd after reading The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. In fact, Camus gave me words to identify something what has followed me most of my conscious life: what is the purpose? Not merely: What is my purpose? But: What is the purpose of anything? There are times I contemplate beauty and question its reason for being. Think of the multitude of flowers–the vast variety of not only classification but of variations of color, form, size, and smell within each classification—there’s some absurdity there. I get that there’s something explanatory embedded in the theory of evolution, but at the same time the sheer multiplicity of variation betrays that not even the theory of evolution can address why this rose is this way and that one that way any better than just cuz.

Even all of our best efforts to explain all the nuances of creation (of our and the world’s) through the apologetic of the existence for God have never satiated the question. Every apologetic for God and for our purpose has consistently left me with my question still in tact and on my lips, …but why? The only explanation that has ever made any sense was that none of it makes any sense. Even with the notion that God is love and God loves and thus that love–being dynamic and creative–created this world as an object of God’s love, and all that is in it and of it is representative of that love…the reason for God’s love movement is still baffling and doesn’t make sense. It’s alway and everywhere: just because.

One of my very bright and capable of students made reference in one of his papers to the idea and the certainty of the Christian claim that God is love and loves us specifically: why would an almighty being like God deign to care about puny humans? He’s right; it’s rather absurd to think and to make this claim as true. But maybe the underbelly of God’s activity and presence is less about sense-making, but absurdity. Maybe God is absurd. The gift of God’s grace to people who do not earn it (justification by faith in Christ alone)[2] and the righteousness of God that is righteousness that makes righteous,[3] are absurd. The gospel is offensive because of its absurdity and not because it makes sense.

“Any though that abandons unity glorifies diversity. And diversity is the home of art. The only thought to liberate the mind is that which leaves it alone, certain of its limits and of its impending end. No doctrine tempts it. It awaits the ripening of the work and of life. Detached from it, the work will once more give a barely muffled voice to a soul forever freed from hope. Or it will give voice to nothing if the creator, tired of his activity, intends to turn away. That is equivalent.”[4]

Rather than being the fodder of an existential crisis, absurdity, as Camus presents it, is the stuff of radical living. It’s like being able to give up all of your coveted doctrines that you cling to as reason for believing in whatever God you believe in and just believing in that God. It’s scary as hell, but once embraced the freedom is unparalleled. The dark night of the soul is the wrestling with the pointlessness of life and the nonsense of existence and finding in that moment sense and point: just because. The question shifts from …but why? to …why not? The former slows to numbing slumber upon slumber while the later propels into existence upon existence (in quantity[5]). The way Camus plays his philosophy out, the person who sees and performs the absurd of existence is the one who is liberated and thus the one who is given a present defined through revolt, freedom, and diversity. The mundane and banality of the everyday becomes glorious, because that’s the paradox of the absurd, the paradox of grace.

“All that remains is a fate whole outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death, everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world. The outcome of his thought, ceasing to be renunciatory, flowers in images. It frolics—in myths, to be sure, but myths with no other depth than that of human suffering and, like it, inexhaustible. Not the divine fable that amuses and blinds, but the territorial face, gesture, and drama in which are summed up a difficult wisdom and an ephemeral passion.”[6]

 

Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays Trans Justin O’Brien. New York, NY: Vintage International, Vintage Books (Random House) 1955. Le Mythe de Sisyphe France: Librairie Gallimard, 1942.

[1] Camus 6

[2] Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians vol. 26 LW pp. 113-4, “I am saying this in order that we may learn the doctrine of justification with the greatest diligence and distinguish most clearly between the Law and the Gospel. On this issue we must not do anything out of insincerity or yield submission to anyone if we want to keep the truth of the Gospel and the faith sound and inviolate; for, as I have said, these are easily bruised. Here let reason be far away, that enemy of faith, which in the temptations of sin and death, relies not on the righteousness of faith or Christian righteousness, b of which it is completely ignorant, but on its own righteousness or, at most, on the righteousness of the Law. As soon as reason and the Law are joined, faith immediately loses its virginity. For nothing is more hostile to faith than the Law and reason; nor can these two enemies be overcome without great effort and work, and you must overcome them if you are to be saved. Therefore when your conscience is terrified by the Law and is wrestling with the judgment of God, do not consult either reason or the Law, but rely only on grace and the Word of comfort. Here take your stand as though you had never heard of the Law. Ascend into the darkness, where neither the Law nor reason shines, but only the dimness of faith (1 Cor. 13:12), which assures us that we are saved by Christ alone, without any Law. Thus the Gospel leads us above and beyond the light of the Law and reason into the darkness of faith, where the Law and reason have no business. The Law, too, deserves a hearing, but in its proper place and time. When Moses was on the mountain speaking with God face to face, he neither had nor established nor administered the Law. But now that he has come down from the mountain, he is a law giver and rules the people by the law. So the conscience must be free from the Law, but the body must obey the Law”

[3] Eberhard Jüngel, Jüngel, “Living Out of Righteousness: God’s Action—Human Agency.” Theological Essays II. (Ed. J.B. Webster. Trans. Arnold Neufeldt-Fast and J.B. Webster. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995). 243. “What follows will therefore try to explain the extent to which the message of justification brings light and life not only into our hearts and our church but also equally into our world. It is no doubt for this reason that the synod has placed its work under the title: ‘Living out of Righteousness: God’s Action—Human Agency’. Yet already at this point I stop short. The subtitle of this theme can potentially blind us to a decisive point of the message of justification at the outset. For it suggests that human agency directly and exclusively corresponds to divine action. Thus one is given the impression that the relevance of divine action for humanity is ethical and only ethical. But thereby something decisive of what the gospel of justification of sinners has to say is lost. If God’s righteousness brings forth life, new human life, then the question of our being has priority over the question of our agency. And prior to both questions is certainly the question of God himself.

[4] Camus, 116.

[5] Ibid, 72ff. I’d argue that it is both quantity and quality as long as quality doesn’t mean scarcity but substance. I see quality playing out with the reference to Don Juan. And quality is not antinomy to quantity.

[6] Ibid, 117-8

Moltmann in Brief

Stephen D. Morrison and “Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English”

Stephen D. Morrison has stumbled upon an excellent idea: distilling and synthesizing the corpus of intellectual material of notable and influential Christian theologians. As a teacher of theology and religion, I long for ways to get good and accessible theology into the hands of my students. Handing a student a volume from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics or one of Luther’s commentaries isn’t always feasible or advisable. Being a bit of a broody hen when it comes to my students and their theological education, I’m wary to send them off on their own to slog through one of these theologians. However, Morrison is a capable and humble guide and thorough.

 

Morrison does not twist the theologian to get them to say what he wants them to say. Rather, he carefully and thoughtfully organizes his book around their works, devoting a chapter to their major works while incorporating the other writing; this creates a smooth, fluid, and coherent representation of the theologian. He has a knack for creating before the reader’s eyes the living and breathing person that is the theologian under examination and consideration. She will feel as if she’s entered a casual conversation with Morrison and with the theologian she’s reading about. The project “Plain English Series” will prove to be fruitful for academics and lay-scholars alike. You are right, Morrison, it truly is a unique[1] project; I’m excited for more installments of the series to grace my bookshelves.

 

In this particular volume, Morrison looks at the work of one of my favorite theologians: Jürgen Moltmann. (I read Moltmann’s work when I need to take a break from my dissertation research.) Moltmann’s theology is paradoxically confrontational and pastoral; but I’d argue that’s the paradox of Jesus the Christ and the gospel proclamation of Him crucified. Moltmann is deeply cruciform and Christocentric in his approach to systematic theology, from his doctrine of creation, the eschatological hope, doctrine of the trinity, to ethics, etc. Morrison, in my opinion, captures these aspects splendidly; at times the reader will be left wondering if Morrison isn’t in conversation with Moltmann directly while writing. Moltmann’s goal is to bring life to his reader through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; Morrison stays true to this.

 

Morrison begins with a biographical sketch of Moltmann and continues to structure the book by creating 10 sections each primarily focused on one of Moltmann’s works. Each section heavily draws from the work corresponding to it, as mentioned above. But Morrison is a good researcher and brings in other components of Moltmann’s material to bolster the deductions Morrison is making. Thus, Morrison’s explanations and conclusions are well grounded in Moltmann’s conceptions as they are articulated not only in one book but throughout the corpus of his work.

 

Interspersed between the chapters are these short excurses, or “Sidebars.” These sidebars range from further explanatory and instructional words about some of the conceptions of the corresponding chapters (“Peace with God” with “Theology of Hope,” “The Sacraments” with “The Church in the Power of the Spirit,” “Tritheism” with “The Trinity and the Kingdom” to mention a few) to challenges for the reader—challenges Morrison himself received while engaging with Moltmann’s work. These sidebars specifically are exactly what Moltmann would have his reader do: he would want her to turn her eye to the world to see where she and her church are failing to be proactive in the world on behalf of the oppressed and disenfranchised. He would want his reader to use his voice to proclaim the word of God crucified to bring true and radical freedom and liberation to those dying for lack of. In this way, Morrison exposes that he’s a good student of Moltmann; one from whom I can learn a lot.

 

There was one sidebar, though, that didn’t measure up to the others in content, and it is with that sidebar I’ll contend with here. Near the end of chapter 5, “The Trinity and the Kingdom,” Morrison splendidly sums up Moltmann’s Christocentric and social approach to the doctrine of the trinity, “The Triuntiy of God is in their mutual indwelling and interpenetration; it is a unity not found in a hierarchal monarchy or a philosophical one subject, but unity in Tri-unity.”[2] And further explains a bit later, “Understanding the doctrine of God’s Triunity as the fellowship of person leads to rejecting hierarchy in the Church, the state, and in society. We should strive toward a community free from hierarchy and patriarchy, an open fellowship of equals.”[3] Morrison goes on to mention that Motlmann’s conception of the doctrine of the trinity works well and inherently advocates for feminism (as well as for Liberation Theology and Black Theology).[4]

 

Morrison took the right conclusive trajectory from Moltmann’s conception of the doctrine of the Trinity defined as perichoretic triunity. However, in the sidebar associated with this chapter, “Sidebar: God, His & Hers,” Morrison seems to miss an opportunity to put to work exactly what he sees occurring in Moltmann’s conception of the trinity as social force in the world dismantling hierarchies. In defense of feminism in church and theology, rather than quoting from Elisabeth Moltmann extensively (a known feminist theologian), Morrison leans heavily upon Jürgen to validate Elisabeth and the role of feminism in theology and church. Also, there is a lot of recourse to other male theologians to validate the maternal nature along with the paternal nature of God. Thus, the female voice is subordinated to the male one, and upholds rather than challenges the status quo of the hierarchy of patriarchy in church and theology. Feminism is valid because it’s valid in its own right and not because a host of men have seen the value of it.[5]

 

That Jürgen was influenced by Elisabeth (as the story initiating the sidebar indicates) is a beautiful thing, but should not be the basis by which we validate her theology or her feminism. Yet, starting the chapter with such a story[6] situates the reader to validate Elisabeth based on what Jürgen says. Elisabeth is a worthy theologian (Full stop). Considering the title of the sidebar is one of the titles of Elisabeth’s works, she herself can substantiate the validity of both her theology and feminism. A presentation of her work alone would have done well as the totality of the sidebar and placed the reader in a confrontation of having to decide for themselves.

 

Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English by Stephen D. Morrison is not only commendable but recommendable. I enjoyed the accessible tour and my able tour guide and fell in love with Moltmann all over again. We should not take for granted talented authors who can revive such love. I look forward to more installments of Morrison’s series, “In Plain English.”

Stephen D. Morrison’s Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English Columbus, OH: Beloved Publishing, 2018.

[1] Stephen D. Morrison Jürgen Motlamnn in Plain English “Introduction” p. vii.

[2] Ibid, 119.

[3] Ibid, 120.

[4] Ibid, 120.

[5] Especially with the dynamic of what Morrison refers to as “bitter feminists.” We must always remember that women have suffered deadly violence at the hands of men. When we categorically dismiss those who are angry, we will forget just how bad the violence is.

[6] Morrison, 126.

Heath Carter and “Union Made”

My mom has never been very religious but always very concerned about my earning potential. She was worried when I became a Christian and started to entertain church work as a vocation that I’d end up destitute. The church didn’t fit my Wall-Street, southern Connecticut based upbringing and family. However, relief was allayed: I was getting ordained in The Episcopal Church. “Oh!” she said, “The Episcopal Church is a very wealthy church! You’ll be paid well!” The comment went in one ear and out the other; I never fully thought to question why that was even a thing or if it should bother me.

But it does bother me. And now, after all this time since that first conversation, I’ve been instructed in why it bothers me. I give credit to this enlightenment to Heath W. Carter and his book, “Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago.” This book by Carter is a tour de force of the battle for economic equality and the development and fight for the “Union Made” Social Gospel in Chicago’s history. The rise of material wealth in Chicago brought with it the evangelical clerics and their churches. Being able to purchase expensive preachers and pay them handsomely moved the church from a position of working alongside the average working person to a member of the elite class. As the capital trend went, so did the pulpits. Carter deftly explains the ebb and flow of what was the constant struggle for the working/earning class against capitalism’s monstrous appetite that consumes everything even the gospel.

Carter focuses on a specific era of Chicago’s history—roughly the era encompassing the ante-bellum to the early 1900s, tracking the formation and establishment of and the need for (!) unions for wage-earners. The reality is, the thrust of Carter’s work isn’t restricted to that handful of decades. To a significant degree Carter is using history to shine the light on the reality of our current era. That reality is: there is currently a constant struggle against capitalism and an elite and privileged version of the gospel that is plaguing the western world in this 21st century. Thus, while I am convicted and saddened by this reality (and by the part I play and have played in it), I am also very optimistic for the future because this book exists.

To preach the word of God is–for the preacher–to actively engage in proclaiming to all of God’s people the radical and revolutionary wisdom of God, which is in contradiction with the wisdom and the status quo of the world and against oppressive power structures and elite hierarchies. God and God’s word will always side with those who are oppressed and marginalized, with the far off and rejected, with the homeless and the hungry, and the naked. To engage in this preaching, to enter into pastoral ministry for any reason—especially for financial gain—is anathema to the Gospel and an offense to God.

This book is a must read if we want to actually learn from history and not just about it. This book is a must read if we want to embrace the reality that the cries of the oppressed and marginalized cannot be chalked up to or pushed away as mere echoes of a bygone era. Carter writes at the end of his “Epilogue”,

“Now, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, American capitalism appears once more poised to overwhelm American democracy…It remains to be seen whether present-day believers will quietly abide this state of affairs, or whether it will at some point call forth a nation of prophets comparable to those that visited Gilded Age Chicago” (182).

For those who are losing their lives in this constant battle and fight against Capitalism, we, gospel believing, Christ following Christian disciples have no time to lose; let us heed the call.

 

 

I recommend you follow Dr. Heath Carter on Twitter; to do so, here’s his handle: @heathwcarter. And his blog is here: https://heathwcarter.com/

Once More with David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage”: Schnarch, Moltmann, and the Self.

This is the last installment of my intentional engagement with David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage.” (All that to say, since the book hasn’t been shelved and is still roaming about my house, I’m sure I’ll be dipping in here and there in the future.)

Here are the previous posts in this mini series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

This last excerpt is taken from Chapter 14, from the section Self Transcendence and Self-Dissolution.  (bold is mine)

“Sebastian Moore says that our desire of fullness is, in essence, a ‘death wish’: life crises like falling in love, undergoing conversion, or suffering bereavement present the painful and bewildering demands that the ‘you’ whose desire brought this about must die. Boundary experiences arise from confronting the limits of what you can attain as the person you are currently. To fulfill your desires, you  have to change in ways that make that fulfillment possible. This means that the smaller ‘you’ dies as a fuller ‘you,’ a more unique ‘you,’ is born. We desire our self to death in the most positive sense.

“We can consider the paradox from another perspective: throughout this book…we have explored the need to hold onto yourself. But holding onto yourself and becoming more differentiated actually leads to the loss of the self you’ve been holding onto. My clients begin to mourn their ‘old self’ dying in the process of a new self being born. (…) It’s the death that gives life, but they’re often wistful about it. They talk of not knowing who they are, but more accurately they mean who they are becoming. Ironically, they’ve never been more clear about who they are.

This process of your ‘old’ self dying as your ‘new, larger’ self is born is how self-transcendence and self-dissolution go hand in hand…Self-dissolution is as much a part of this process as is self-transcendence.

“Herein lies an important point that is sometimes hard to grasp: many people who seek self-transcendence don’t want to give anything up, and they want the path safe and clearly mapped. However, our unwillingness to give up what no longer fits (i.e., self-dissolution) blocks us from self-transcendence.And once you recognize yourself…as the manifestation of Spirit seeking its own fulfillment, then your refusal to grow is not just a personal shortcoming but also a thwarting of Spirit. This is where sin fits in…

“Sin isn’t about unconfined desire–it’s our refusal to desire and grow, our refusal with denial or rejection of the pleasurable parts of life. But as Lama Yeshe, Tibetan master of Buddhist Tantra points out, religion often becomes a form of suppression instead of a method for transcending our limitations. Instead of viewing pleasure and desire as something to be avoided at all costs, Tantra recognizes the energy aroused by our desires to be an indispensable resource for spiritual enlightenment. This same view is expressed in the Talmud in the words of third-centruy Rabbi Arika, who said that we will have to account to God for all the good things our eyes beheld but which we refused to enjoy.

“It’s not hard to understand why we in this way (not pursuing our own potentials): self-transcendence is fraught with discontinuities–and self-dissolution. Wilber notes that nature progresses by sudden leaps and deep transformations, rather than through piecemeal adjustments. He cites evidence from many fields of science to illustrate that dynamic systems do not evolve smoothly and continuously over time, but, rather, in comparatively sudden leaps and bursts.

The overarching narrative Schnarch is playing with (the dissolution of self) is the death to self that is so common and familiar in Christianity. The death of self is emphasized from every quadrant of Christianity. I believe both men and women suffer under the burden of dying to self; but I believe women often suffer more. Specifically in evangelical Christianity, this is true. Though, I wasn’t raised Christian and was still fed enough bull to believe I was here to be as demure as possible, a substance barely person to make men happy. The “don’t disturb the waters” and “do whatever he wants” was loud and clear. In trying to achieve that standard (expectation?) women (not all, but most) learn the hard process of dying to themselves. The concept of having to die to self, for me, has, is, will never be foreign. I think most of you would agree with me.

What’s foreign to me is the emphasis on the reception of a new self or a self at all; Schnarch is on point to emphasize this aspect of the death to self. But, there’s something he’s wrong about that I want to address first.

Schnarch argues, “But holding onto yourself and becoming more differentiated actually leads to the loss of the self you’ve been holding onto.” (Again, as in previous posts, I’ll be using “I” to simplify my sentences and thoughts.) I’m not sure how I can hold onto myself, holding to my integrity while simultaneously dying to myself to allow the new self to emerge. I’m not very (as in: at all) sold that by pressing into myself more that I’m going to come to the death of myself (for how does this happen while I’m holding onto myself?), and also that from there transitioning through to a new self. I think the best we get there is a weird inside-out version of Lauren (*shudders), not necessarily a new self. Also, by focusing on the self (which I must do to hold onto myself), I would negate the processes by which I would die to myself.

(Side note: this is also a criticism I can use against Ayn Rand and Objectivism’s claim that I can be so selfish that I become other focused: I cannot be so self focused that somehow (miraculously?)–without any encounter with an other, an external event–I’m now caring for my neighbor.)

The dissolution of self is not predicated on the transcending of self; rather, the opposite is true. The transcended self emerges from the dissolution of self. Specifically, the transcended self, the new self is born out of the death that the old self has surrendered to. Thus, there is no “holding on” to the self but a letting go of the self, giving in to the dark pull of the abyss that is the event of the conflict encounter (usually with an other self). Holding on to the self would be a fighting against loss; surrender of the self to the event, to what is occurring and happening, is an embrace of the impending loss of self. So, as long as we are still holding on to self and fighting to be more transcended selves, the less likely the dissolution of self will happen and (with it) a transcended (a new) self is less likely to emerge if at all.

Jürgen Moltmann writes,

“It is much more the question of [a person’s] own personal identity and integrity, for every self-emptying in historical action is a venture, and a way into non-identity. A [person] abandons himself as he was and as he knew himself to be, and, by emptying himself, finds a new self. Jesus’s eschatological saying tells us that ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loess his life will preserve it'” (The Crucified God 15).

What Moltmann refers to as both self-abandonment and self-emptying correspond to self-surrender as defined as a surrender not to the self but away from the self and to the event of the conflict encounter. Very much, I cannot hold onto myself in this equation, but I must lose myself entirely (no dependence on myself in any way shape or form).

So, what is missing from Schnarch is the surrendering (“self-abandonment”/”self-emptying”) to the event of the conflict encounter that results in the dissolution of self which then results in the transcended self. Dissolution precedes transendence because the dissolution begins with that sharp awareness that what was can be no longer and something most shift, change, be altered in the self. The surrender to this awareness and desire for change is (as described above by Schnarch) dramatic and sudden and rarely ordinary and lethargic. But just as quick is the birth of the new self, the transcended self. The self is either dead or alive and never a little bit of one or the other. Thus, the birth of the new self is and is suddenly.

Again, recourse to Motlmann,

“Only by self-emptying in encounter with what is alien, unknown and different does [a person] achieve selfhood…trust in the hidden and guaranteed identity with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) makes possible the self-abandonment, the road into non-identity and unidentifiability, which neither clings to ancient forms of identity, nor anxiously reaches out for the forms of identity of those one is fighting in common” (The Crucified God 16).

The fundamental component that is missing from Schnarch is the God-encounter. For the hearer who is encountered in the event of God’s self-disclosure in Christ and the conflict that ensues within the person in this event of encounter a demand is felt and that demand is to self-empty and to self-abandon and let go not into a dark abyss of nothingness but into God and God’s self. In other words, go ahead and let yo’self go, Boo; God very much got you.

“Becoming is never safe or secure, especially if we’re dependent on a reflected sense of self. We don’t get to stop when we’re scared or uncomfortable, because we grow by going into the unknown, including the Great Unknown” (Schnarch 399).

The letting go of self (not the holding on to self) that comprises the self-surrender, self-abandonment, self-emptying in the event of the conflict encounter with God’s self-disclosure in Christ is that death from which a transcended-self, a new self is born. This death and new life is far from safe and easy; it demands a beautiful desperation that has occurred by seeking our hope in everything but God and having that hope returned to us void, thus thrusting us deep into our own crucibles. The self’s last ditch effort to be an authentic self, a new self is counterintuitive to self-preservation: it lies in entering into that darkness, into death. But rather than the flat-line being the last thing the self hears as it enters into the darkness of death, it hears the trumpet summoning it awake, resurrecting it from death.

Projection and Distortion, more from David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage”

The following excerpt from David Schnarch’s “Passionate Marriage” caught my eye as I was reading a couple of days ago. The chapter is “Your Crucible Survival Guide” and the section is Holding onto Yourself Requires an Accurate Picture. The quote starts on page 333 of a 408 page book, this means that when something catches my eye as I’m trucking through to the end, it’s significant. A concept, statement, or thought, has to be so substantial as to still my quickly moving eye. The following quote is one of those concepts/statement/thought. (Bold is mine.)

We all have distorted views of our own lives–it’s part of being human. We develop ways of stringing together events that are plausible and give them particular meaning. Sometimes we create overly bland pictures of our childhoods; other times we may overemphasize some points and ignore others. Overall, the interpretation and emotional impact of things remembered–not just things forgotten–are blunted. The truth is often hidden–right out in the open–camouflaged as something else. People make a lot more sense (and seem less crazy) when their picture is accurately focused; until then the hazy image can be interpreted in ways that they prefer.

Invariably, poorly differentiated people hold onto the part of themselves that constructed the distorted self-portrait. They demand that their partner understand them, in part, because they don’t really understand themselves. They feel understood, accepted, and validated when their partner sees them the way they picture themselves. Their partner’s refusal to see them the way the want to be seen is upsetting. But the problem isn’t a failure to communicate: their spouse can’t understand them the way they demand, because they view their own behavior and the details of their life differently than their partner does. This discrepancy challenges their inaccurate picture of themselves–which they have difficulty maintaining to begin with.

You may think it’s a problem when your partner won’t ‘accept you the way you are,’ but consider what happens when you demand that he validate the distorted lens you use to look at yourself, your life, and your marriage. The problem in many marriages is not that spouses won’t validate each other, it’s that what gets validated is an inaccurate self-portrait. Distortions and projections keep us from seeing our partners and ourselves. That’s important to remember next time you feel like demanding your partner ‘understand’ you the way you understand yourself.

Here’s what caught my eye: demanding validation for a distorted self-portrait. What does this mean exactly? In my opinion, it means that I demand that another person see me as I see myself. This can work in two ways. 1. I may demand that someone view me as awesome as I think I am, which leads to a worshiping situation. In this case, there’s an automatic hierarchy created in the relationship, which results in one person consuming the other person in order to satisfy the attention appetite of the consuming person. There’s no room here for two distinct selves; just one self in love with itself. Narcissism should come to mind. While Schnarch isn’t talking about this narcissistic attribute in relationships, I think it applies. One can easily up-sell themselves as much as one can down-sell themselves.

And that leads me to: 2.  (The down-sell) I may demand that someone view me as poorly as I view myself. (And, this is inherent in what Schnarch is talking about, but I’ll tease it out a bit differently.) It’s not just that I (and I’m using I to make writing clearer) have a “false” perception of myself that is fabricated from a hyper-focus on a negative event or a glossing over of a bland childhood; it’s that I legitimately have been handed the script for a negative view of self and am refusing to read from any other script. I then force others in my life (and here, again, we can expand from the marriage relationship mentioned above out into other relationships like friendships/work relationships) to read from the same script. The problem is everyone in my life is the worst method actors and can’t (for the life of them) stay on script let alone read it correctly.

In other words, I have had traumatic experiences that have radically altered my self-perception and now I look through that experience and claim it as my identity. Anyone who comes up against that identity with an alternate identity for me (what they say/see to be true) is shut out. To remove from me or challenge my trauma-identity, would result in the loss of myself. My trauma-identity is my shell that protects me and keeps people away and either you play along (validating my trauma-identity) or you fight it and then reject me and (still) validate my trauma-identity. It’s lose/lose for you; I control the whole thing and, thus, it’s win/win for me.

I allow my brokenness to be the genuine thing about me. It also becomes my justification for things, like: not changing, rejecting those who won’t play along, and defaulting to the “see, I knew I was always a failure” when I’m rejected. It’s the defensiveness and anger that rears her head because someone dare ask her not to see herself through the lens of her past. It’s the, “You just don’t get it, do you!?” that flies from spiteful lips or bounces around an irate mind. Who likes to have their identity–that they’ve mistaken for their essence–ripped from their death grip. As Schnarch mentions above, “This discrepancy challenges their inaccurate picture of themselves–which they have difficulty maintaining to begin with.” I need you to play along because I’m barely keeping this act alive;  your playing along helps me dupe myself and is the fodder for me pressing more and more into that distorted self-view.

If you’ve ever become angry because someone pushed against your trauma-identity, then you know exactly what I’m talking about and explaining. The scariest thing in the world is to step out from this broken identity (and I don’t mean identity of brokenness; I mean the identity is broken). To shed the costume of the always victim and leave behind the familiar and over-handled script is to step into *real* vulnerability and the unknown. (I stress *real* vulnerability because I can use my trauma-identity to share my trauma with you as an act of seeming vulnerable but I’m still standing behind that trauma. Vulnerability demands full exposure of the self in the presence of another different self. There’s no standing behind anything in the truly vulnerable.) Being willing to say, “Yes, I will move on from this; I will begin anew” demands a death of the old identity and self, new eyes and ears, even new language. It demands habitually forcing your mind to work in a different way; it demands that you train your own voice to call yourself higher. It demands a dare to believe this other identity. Dare I believe another story about me one that is future oriented and present focused rather than stuck in the past?

And, oddly (at least I find it odd), in this shedding of the trauma identity and stepping into real vulnerability, I’m concurrently stepping into my real self. My real self isn’t my trauma self because the trauma self is dependent on an other validating that story line; stepping out from that distortion demands an alterity and a self-validation. I am more myself as I move forward in the present than I am when I’m consumed with the past.

 

Another Excerpt from “Passionate Marriage”

Previous post here. From chapter 11, “Two-Choice Dilemmas and Normal Marital Sadism” (bold is me):

We have the fantasy that we have the choice between being anxious or not. Unfortunately, we don’t. Our choice is between one anxiety or another. Do something scary–or face problems from not doing it. Make an error by commission–or omission. Face the anxiety that things will change–or stay the same. Do (sexual) things you’ve never done–or forfeit that taste for life. Face the anxiety of growing up–or the terror of facing life as a perpetual child. Confront the fear of differentiation or the dread of marital living death.

These are examples of the two-choice dilemmas inherent in emotionally committed relationships. Such dilemmas arise from our human nature: we are fundamentally separate life forms who value both attachment and autonomy. … Once you realize you and your partner are in two separate ‘boats,’ you understand the nature of your dilemma: you want to steer your own boat–and your partner’s, too. We call this ‘togetherness’–as longs as you are steering for both of you. When your partner does the same thing, however, it’s called ‘control.’ If you want both absolute certainty of your partner’s course and certainty that you’re not controlling him or her–you’ve just run into a two-choice dilemma.

If you check your dictionary, you’ll find the phrase ‘two-choice dilemma’ is redundant–technically, a dilemma is a situation necessitating a choice between two or more unpleasant alternatives. However, many people think of a dilemma according to the dictionary’s secondary definition: a perplexing or awkward situation. In my clinical work I use the term ‘two-choice dilemma’ to highlight that (a) we often try to remain in our perplexing, awkward, and painful situations to keep everything in check, (b) a choice is often required to solve our situation, (c) we usually want two choices but we only get one, and (d) we try to avoid choosing (by remaining in difficult situations) to avoid losses inherent in giving up one option for another (i.e., solution). While not linguistically correct in all cases, clients have found the term ‘two-choice dilemma’ a powerful tool…

There is no point in staying dead in a living dead marriage; doing so is the main reason why monogamous marriage is not able to withstand the blows of alternative relational existences. Why are we letting some of our primary relationships kill us? Why aren’t we fighting to stay alive?

David Schnarch and “Passionate Marriage”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching (heavily and obsessively, I confess) the concept of intimate relationships, specifically marriage and it’s variants. This week I’ve been reading “Passionate Marriage” by Dr. David Schnarch at a devouring and voracious rate. Schnarch is “a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist” (from the back cover). The book is, well, excellent; I’m enjoying every chapter. In fact, it’s even altered my view on the concept of monogamous marriage…for the better. Could marriage between two adults actually look like this? According to the book, it seems possible. Addressing the concepts of self-differentiation and the solid-self, enmeshment and emotional fusion, other-validation v. self-validation, intimacy and desire during sex (to name a few), the book offers a reconstructed idea of what a “good” marriage looks like, an idea I had not previously known was possible let alone actually existed. I recommend reading it (even tough I’m only 2/3 the way through), but not at work…he’s a sex therapist, and the case studies in the book will…ummm…make you wish you weren’t at work 😉

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 9 “Mental Dimensions of Sexual Experience” (bold is me):

We insist on being our spouse’s one and only–even in fantasy. On the surface it may seem like we’re following the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,’ but underneath it’s our narcissism demanding, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods! Worship only me!’ … We don’t want our partner fantasizing about anyone else! It’s not easy to accept, even if we do it, too. Realizing they’re doing it during sex with us adds insult to emotional injury.

Research indicates that, of all sexual fantasies, thinking of someone other than your partner is the most common. These are called ‘partner replacement’ fantasies. When confronted about their fantasies about other partners, many people assume it’s better to deny everything and be glad it’s hard to prove they are lying. They think partner replacement fantasies belong to the category of ‘the few things not said each day that improve a marriage.’

Wanting to be our partner’s ‘one and only’ in fantasy is not just an extension of the principle of monogamy. It has to do with being dependent on our partner’s validation. Our mate’s sexual fantasies play havoc with our reflected sense of self. Validation from our partner evaporates while he or she fantasizes about someone else. We can tell ourselves we don’t have to take it personally. But if we’ve spent our lives pursuing validation from others, we don’t really have much choice but to take it personally when we are not the focus of our partner’s fantasies.

What I’m describing isn’t a problem if you handle it properly. Granted, ti doesn’t feel good at first. But it’s part of marriage’s people-growing machine. You can persist in hating the fact that your spouse’s fantasies don’t always include you, or you can develop a more stable sense of yourself.

For several chapters we’ve look at what happens to marriages dominated by other-validated intimacy. To review the general characteristics of partners in these marriages: (a) they have difficulty introducing novelty into their sexual relationship, (b) they experience anxiety and resist change when their partner does something new, and (c) they have difficulty with maintaining a clear sense of self when out of synch with their partner. More important to our current discussion, they are likely to tune out their partner during sex and focus on body sensations to reach orgasm. Over time, they are more likely to experience sexual boredom and resort to partner replacement fantasies for sexual variety.

Here’s the paradox: the very thing that makes poorly differentiated people go crazy over their partner’s sexual fantasies predisposes them to do the same thing themselves! People wounded by the discovery that they are not their partner’s ‘one and only’ are likely to be fantasizing about someone else. Being dependent on validation from others, they have to lie about it even while they are complaining about their partner. And in the midst of all this, they want their partner to validate them and make them feel secure. Like the exercise wheel inside a squirrel cage, this process drives marriage’s people-growing machinery.

If this pattern rings true for you so far, consider the impact during sex: desire to fuse with your partner actually increases the likelihood of experiencing less intimacy during sex. Your heads are inevitably in different places. you can  feel your partner tune you out even if you’re ‘in synch’ enough to grind.

I’m not saying that there is anything ‘wrong’ with mind-wandering and partner replacement fantasies during sex. I’m putting them in context so you can use them productively. Mind-wandering during sex is probably inevitable–but you can reduce it significantly and increase the intimacy and potency of your sex. The benefit can generalize to the rest of your life, because it involves increasing your level of differentiation.

Humans will always fantasize; that’s not necessarily a problem. The difficulty is that the way we fantasize (and hide it) interferes with intimacy and wall-socket sex. Like hugging, kissing, desire, and monogamy, fantasies operate differently depending on your level of differentiation.

While predominately about sex, the concepts discussed above apply to a number of other aspects that often plague monogamous marriage. And, good Lord, let us hear lest we cease to sense the something-fierce need to overhaul and reconfigure monogamous marriage.

NT Wright and Simply Christian

In advance, the following is a paper that I wrote reviewing a portion of NT Wright’s “Simply Christian”  for an ethics class for my second Master’s degree. It’s not a review of the full book, because our class was broken into groups and each member of the group covered different portions of the book. Thus, in the following, I’m looking at Chapters 8-10. You’ve been warned.

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N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Christian, is a love filled attempt to provide a description of what Christianity is about being an explanation to Christians and commendation to non-Christians (ix).  Every page pours forth love.  There is no mistaking it: Wright is a faithful, wise, and sincere lover of Jesus Christ and he communicates Jesus’ love to others magnificently.  Last week, we covered the first four chapters that discuss the echoes of justice, the quest for spirituality, the desire for relationships, and the draw of beauty.  This week, the reading took us further into the Bible story.  Wright, in chapters 5-7, walks the reader through who God is and what His relation to  Heaven and Earth is (pantheism? Panenthies? Or Overlapping, Interlocking?); who Israel is and what they believed and hoped for; and, finally, Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom.  In chapters 8-10, Wright covers a description of who Jesus was (and is), the Holy Spirit, and the effecting work of the Spirit in the life of the believer (living by the Spirit).  For the purposes of this paper, I will be focusing on chapter 8: “Jesus: Rescue and Renewal”.  There will first be a summary of the chapter, followed by a critique of Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ awareness of his divinity and what I believe to be a lack of discussion of God’s wrath and the Cross.

Wright begins by attempting to answer the question “why did Jesus’s followers hail him as Messiah?” especially since he didn’t act like the expected Messiah (106).  Jesus was not a military leader nor did he instigate any military uprisings (intentionally) (106).  There was no mention of rebuilding the Temple (106).  He spoke with knowledge and wisdom (like a prophet) and he did miraculous works; but, according to Wright, this is not enough to call him the Messiah (107).  The Messiah, it was believed in Jewish tradition, would be a Ruler, a mighty king like David, the one who would lead “the triumphant fight against Israel’s enemies” (Wright 107).  Jesus was none of these.  Rather, He suffered and died; and this, says Wright, His followers could never have understood, no matter how many times Jesus told them (107).

Jesus was a royal and suffering servant, as it was recorded in Isaiah.  “…it is in Isaiah…that we find …God’s coming kingdom, the renewal of creation expressed not least in remarkable healings, the power of God’s ‘word’ to save and restore, the ultimate victory over all the ‘Babylons’ of the world, and the figure of the Servant itself” (107-8).  What was not understood about the Messiah was that in order for evil to have its true end, the Messiah, the propitiation for sins, had to suffer the result of sin: death; and be resurrected to defeat it.  Wright phrases it this way, “God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worst to the Servant–that is, to Jesus himself–and thereby exhausting its power” (108).

Wright then turns his attention to Jesus and his relation to the Temple.  As we know from the bible, Jesus attacks the Temple (for example, turning over tables) with the intent to challenge “…in the name of Israel’s God, the very place where God was supposed to live and do business with his people….God would destroy the city and the Temple, and would vindicate not the Jewish nation as a whole, but Jesus himself and his followers” (109).  The enemy was not Rome, “but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence, powers of evil with which Israel’s leaders had fatally colluded” (110).  The rescue was coming, “not from mere political enemies, but from evil itself, from the sin which had enslaved them.  His death would do what the Temple, with its sacrificial system, had pointed toward but had never actually accomplished” (110).  Jesus was the intersecting point of the in-breaking of the kingdom, turning what people considered truth on its head, just as he had done to the merchant tables in the temple.  He would be the unexpected royal and suffering Messiah (110).  Nothing could have prepared his followers for this: not anything from the history of paganism nor the “puzzling, shadowy prophecy” in the Old Testament (Wright 111).  Wright puts it excellently, “The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the king of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns….Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter” (111).

The next item on Wright’s agenda is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and, subsequently, the rise of Christianity.  He writes, “…we are talking here about resurrection, not resuscitation” (112).  He poses two theories that attempt to contradict the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.  The first is “cognitive dissonance”, which is, “the phenomenon whereby people who believe something strongly go on saying it all the more shrilly when faced with contrary evidence” (112).  Wright explains how this theory fails by using the example of self-proclaimed Messiah, Simeon ben Kosiba, who was killed by the Romans in AD 135 (ref. 106), “nobody went around afterward saying he really was the messiah after all, however much they had wanted to believe that he had been” (112).  The second is the argument that the concept of “resurrection”  was a common characteristic of religions in the ancient Near East.  “Dying and rising ‘gods,’ yes…But–even supposing Jesus’s very Jewish followers knew any traditions like those pagan ones–nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans“ (113).  Wright, I think, comes to the correct conclusion about Jesus’ resurrection and the rise of the church, “…the best explanation…for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost…but as a living, bodily human being” (113).  A bodily resurrection it was; for had it not been (had it been “Ghost” like), Jesus’ well-read Jewish followers would have described his body as a shining star, the way the righteous appear at the resurrection in Daniel 12:3 (113).  Jesus’ interaction with Thomas (plus other examples) indicates that His body was real in His resurrection.

Believing the resurrection is not an easy thing to do, especially considering our post-modern, skeptic, science based worldview (Wright 114).  Believing, says Wright, requires a worldview switch.  “Sometimes, to make sense of the actual evidence before us, we have to pull our worldview, our sense of what’s possible, into a new shape.  That is the kind of thing demanded by the evidence about Easter” (114).  Believing in the resurrection is more than just the comforting thought of an afterlife, which, according to Wright, has been the significant “wrong turn” by Western Christendom (114).  Wright explains, “Resurrection isn’t a fancy way of saying ‘going to heaven when you die.’  It is not about ‘life after death’ as such.  Rather, it’s a way of talking about being bodily alive again after a period of being bodily dead.  Resurrection is a second-stage postmortem life: ‘life after ‘life after death’” (115).  In other words, since Jesus has been raised, God’s kingdom has been ushered in, “and that means we have a job to do.  The world must hear what the God of Israel, the creator God, has achieved through his Messiah” (114-5).  The resurrection is one more event of heaven and earth intersecting and interlocking (Wright 115).  By the resurrection of the Suffering God–one who really does know our pain and anguish–the world and humanity have been renewed and revived, lifted up and given new breath, with a commission to go and “make new creation happen in the world” (Wright 116).

The final portion of the chapter deals with Jesus divinity.  Jesus is, according to Wright, not merely an echo but the actual voice, “a voice which speaks of rescue from evil and death, and hence of new creation” (116).  Historically, Wright explains, those who followed Jesus “had never imagined that a Messiah would be divine” (116).  However, the early Christian Church adhered to Jewish monotheism while affirming that Jesus was divine; this occurred not many centuries later after much thought and contemplation, but within a single generation of the event of the Cross, resurrection, and ascension (Wright 117).

Though the early Church was aware of Jesus’ divinity, Wright explains that Jesus was not (118).  What Wright argues is “…not to diminish the full incarnation of Jesus but to explore its deepest dimension, is that Jesus was aware of a call, a vocation, to do and be what, according to the Scriptures, only Israel’s God gets to do and be.  That, I believe, is what it means to speak about Jesus being both truly divine and truly human(118).  Wright explains, “The closer we get to the cross, the clearer the answer we get to the question, Who did Jesus think he was?” (118).  The closer we get to the Cross the better we see Jesus as fulfilling what God wanted to do: return Israel to himself, to judge and to save, assuming authority over the Temple (Wright 118).  Did Jesus, who had this divine sense of vocation ever think he was mad?  Wright affirms, “certainly”; yet,

“Jesus was certainly shrewd enough to be aware of the possibility of delusion.  But …he was sustained not only by his reading of scripture, in which he found so clearly the lines of his own vocation, but also by his intimate prayer life with the one he called Abba, Father.  Somehow, Jesus both prayed to the Father and took upon himself a role which, in the ancient prophecies, was reserved for YHWH–that of rescuing Israel and the world.  He was obedient to the Father, simultaneously doing what only God can do” (118-9).

Wright closes by emphasizing that Jesus was not aware of his divinity as you and I are aware of our gender or the temperature outside (119).  Jesus’ awareness was closer to a deep awareness of a vocation; like I know I want to be a professor, Jesus had a deep knowledge, “a powerful and all-consuming belief…that within the very being of God there was a give-and-take, a to-and-fro, a love given and received.  Jesus seems to have believed that he, the fully human prophet from Nazareth, was one of those partners in love” (119).

Wait.  What?  What did he just say?

It’s not often I get to see an overlap between 1990’s British Teen-Pop with 2000’s British  Brilliance.  Recently, I was listening to the Spice Girls all time chart busting tune: “Wannabe” (don’t judge).  This song explains what it takes to be their “lover”: essentially, you have to be accepted by their friends.  But there’s more to the song.  The songwriters want to tell you what they really want, (really, really, really want).  But they don’t.  Essentially, they say, “I’m gonna tell you what I want and it’s “zigazig ha”.  Wait. What?  I don’t know what that even is.  I, the listener, am dragged along thinking I’m gonna know, finally, what they really want…yet I end up disappointed with nothing really explained.  I’m left with “zigazig ha”.

This is how I feel here, with N.T. Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ awareness of His divinity.  Wright seems to explain Jesus’ awareness of His divinity as an hyper-enlightened man who intuitively got his vocation right.  “Zigazig ha”.  While I appreciate Wright’s ability to play-up Jesus’ humanity, he simultaneously down-plays (in a significant way) Jesus’ divinity.  With the events of the Transfiguration and Jesus’ Baptism rattling around in my head, I cannot help but be confused by Wright’s language.  How could  Jesus’ experience, at His Baptism, when the dove floated down from heaven with God’s voice booming above, “This is my son.  My chosen one.  Listen to him” (Luke 9).  Or, certainly, if not at His baptism Jesus would have had an awareness (the real awareness) that he was divine (though also human) at the Transfiguration.  In addition, throughout Jesus’ ministry, he knew he had the power to forgive sins, which only God could do; and He said that if you’ve seen Him (Jesus) you’ve seen the Father.  Not to mention all the people recorded as referring to him as the Lord, as in God.  All of this indicates that at some level Jesus was aware of his divinity in more of an active way than just a deep knowledge of a vocation.  I feel that Wright has given his reader “zigazig ha”.

Yes, I am attempting to be comical (Wright’s writing is significantly better than the Spice Girls’); yet, I feel that what Wright has done at many penultimate moments within his book is drop his reader short of really understanding something truly beautiful, truly brilliant.  For instance, in chapter 8, there is virtually no discussion about Jesus being the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the one upon whom God would fully unleash His wrath.  Wright correctly identifies Jesus as the Suffering Servant–suffering for the world because of sin; yet, he seems hesitant to make reference to God’s just wrath over sin and how Jesus is the perfect propitiation, the Judge judged in our place.  This is one of the primary points of the Cross:  we are the ones who failed, we are the ones who deserve God’s wrath, yet, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross God’s wrath is fully mete out, fully satisfied, once and for all.  By faith in Jesus we are justified, pronounced “not guilty”, and able to stand in God’s presence (in Christ, not on our own); this is the message that I need to hear daily.  This is the message I long to hear in Wright’s book, but I don’t.