Get Your Stoic On

Sancta Colloquia Episode 205 ft. Juan Torres

In this episode Juan Torres (@orthoheterodox1) and I talk about his recent pursuit of understanding Stoicism. What’s neat about this episode is that it’s a different perspective and a different discussion than the one I had with John Marc Ormechea (Season 1, Episode 2, linked below). I met John-Marc as is: a Stoic. But I met Juan as a dyed in the wool Moltmannian protestant and now, three years later, he’s deep in Stoicism. I was intrigued with what looked like a shift to me. So, I decided why not talk to Juan and figure this out. And Juan demonstrated the deep connection that Stoicism has with things like a basic understanding of the New Testament and that one of his favorites (Rudolf Bultmann) engaged with the concepts of Stoicism. Juan says, “Bultmann compares Christian understanding of freedom with the stoic understanding of freedom.” So, he started tracking down this line of thought. And he makes many valid arguments for the inclusion of the study of Stoicism to have a well-rounded engagement with the bible. Juan explains that Stoicism is about freedom based on reasoning one’s way through life by making the best possible choices in life, and that virtue is the only good. We are, according to Juan, to do what is right. But not in an individual way. He demonstrates that in Stoicism there’s a strong social aspect and this social aspect influences our use of our reason. Stoicism was originally a communal endeavor like “church”, the young stoic was always guided by the older and wiser stoics. At the end of the day, Juan is trying to give the philosophers a fair hearing and implement their thought into his daily life in practice. What I love about this conversation is that Juan demonstrates what it is to be truly openminded and a full-embodied student to the nth degree. He reminded me: stoicism was first to the scene and then Christianity; when it comes to borrowing it’s only in one direction, Christianity borrows from Stoicism ::micdrop::

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (@seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (@ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (@SanctaColloquia).

Juan C. Torres is nothing more and nothing less than what some call a ‘lay-theologian”. He’s never gone to bible college, seminary, or on of those fancy religion/philosophy scholars’ conferences. All he has is an abiding interest/concern for the core matters of the Christian faith, in particular, he has always been immersed in theodicy and eschatology. Main thinkers who have molded his thought: Barth, Bultmann, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Tillich, etc. (Yes, he has read books/articles by women and people of color, but not the extent that he can list them and talk about their work.) By trade, he is a middle school math teacher. By passion, he is a theologian (in the broadest sense of the word) and most recently a stumbling but practicing Stoic.
You can find more by Juan Torres (and do some extra reading and listening) by visiting his blog and podcast:
https://thecheerfulstoic.com/ (Twitter: @CheerfulStoic1)

Don’t Move so Fast

Matthew 3:13-17 (Homily)

Christmas is over and now we are thrust into the day to day of regular life. Entering the second week of school, it can feel as if we never had Christmas break. Everything picks up where it seems to have left off. Even for me. Even though I’ve an entirely new grade of students sitting at my desks, it’s as if they were always there. Humans are quite remarkable that way: resilient. New becomes normal quickly.

But yet, the events of Christmas did happen. The baby was born. As someone who has had a baby (or a few), I know for a fact that life does *not* just go back to normal within in a day or two. It changes. Forever. And in light of Christmas, the life of the world changes. And yet we seem to skip right over it like we’re in some cosmic competitive game of religious hopscotch.

Our liturgical calendar doesn’t help us either. Liturgically, we moved from the epiphany—the affirmation of Jesus as God incarnate, the long-awaited Christ—to the baptism of Jesus–the affirmation of the affirmation, if you will. So, it would seem we’ve all just moved on from Christmas and are thrust headlong into the descent to Good Friday.

But there’s still Christmas work to be done. This is exactly what happens as Jesus is baptized. As Jesus is baptized and he is affirmed in his divine sonship and belovedness, he leaves the Jordan and will proceed with his ministry. For Jesus, there is Christmas work to be done—it isn’t strictly about getting to the cross as fast as possible. That event will happen and in its own time. But first, there’s healing, feeding, finding, and releasing that needs to be done. African American pastor, author, civil-rights activist, and theologian, Howard Thurman,[1] writes,

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.[2]

However, I want to highlight something that isn’t in the text: I want to add a pause for a moment before we all head out of the Jordan and out of Christmas. Before we do anything, we have to find our footing in Christmas. Before we can even begin to appreciate and understand Easter, we have to locate ourselves in the event of faith in the encounter with God in the season of Christmas. To become substantial actors and doers of the work of Christmas, we must find ourselves encountered by God in Christ born a baby in a manager; we must be encountered in a way that undoes the very fabric of our preconceived notions of the world and of ourselves. Because it is in this encounter where we are brought to the end of the selves we think we are in a world we think we know and ushered into the selves we are but didn’t know in a world we hadn’t seen but see clearly now. We must first lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. We are of no earthly good unless we come to terms with who and what we are; we can’t pull someone else up if we don’t have our own good footing in our known strength and ability.

And in order to do this, we need a moment. We need a pause. And there’s no better week than this week—a week dedicated to your wellness. Take these next few days to just be, to just exist; to feel the sensations of the miracle of breathing, the exhilaration of physical existence, and the weight of emotional life. Take time to look and see, listen and hear, touch and feel; take time to notice the beauty of your friends and of your own wonderful and absolutely amazing creation.

Slow everything down. Live. Take that deep and much needed inhale and release a slow exhale. Be present. Receive and give. Rest. Press into being. Lean. Be aware of your mind and body. Be embodied. And remember you are loved. Beloved.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Thurman?scrlybrkr

[2] https://www.bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/howard-thurman.pdf. This poem, as well as the idea for this homily, came to my attention by mention from a colleague I was listening to recently.

Words, Words, Wonderful Words

Words are powerful. I doubt anyone would argue with that. Anyone enjoying an average day on The Twitters understands the power of an ill-used or well-used word. With only 140 characters, Tweeters work hard to come up with that perfectly and tightly packaged thought; one ill placed word…and their good day swiftly swirls down the drain. Word vultures flock in to consume not only the tweet, but also the Tweeter herself; for this very reason, I’ve stopped having “original thoughts” on twitter because #ImAfeared and #ICantJamMyThoughtsInto140Characters.

But words are powerful. Words and word-phrases like: yes, I love you,  you’re beautiful, that post was inspiring, you did that really well!, I’m so happy to see you, etc. build people up and create life. And then there are words and word-phrases that do the opposite: no, try again, that wasn’t good enough,  just go away,  I hate you, etc; these words tear down and destroy those who are the intended hearing recipients. No one will argue with this; we’ve all–at one point or another–been on the receiving end of life-giving and death-dealing words and word phrases. I’ve been torn down by words and I’ve been built up by them; so have you.

So, words are powerful. But what I find so surprising as a member of this word-speaking group of people called humanity, is how often we still forget just how powerful words are. I recently had an encounter with a (let’s call him) colleague where I chose a word that was funny and wink-wink to me, but offensive to him. It took some time and some dialogue (the exchange of words) to figure out what had occurred. A simple word caused the disturbance. Yet we forget just how powerful words are…we just forget because we are surrounded by so  many and we so often use them carelessly.

But, words are powerful. As a theologian, I’ve been front-seat at a near knock-down drag-out argument over a word. I’ve actually been in those arguments; I’ve also rolled my eyes when a peer says, “Well, I’ve an issue with the words…” and I’m all #FacePalm. Those of us who have invested their lives in the pursuit of understanding the nuances of theology, know full well how powerful words are. From studies in Church History to Pastoral Care, students of theology know without a doubt how powerful words are; and, to some degree, it’s inexcusable when we forget this truth.  We don’t have the luxury of miss using words because often our congregants, our family and friends, and even the random strangers that follow us on twitter have been abused by words.

So, if words are important and we (theologians, pastors, leaders of the church) know just how important those words are, then why do we still try to use words that have caused a lot of damage to our people in the past? I can only chalk it up to the fact that those of us in authority over the sheep stop listening to the sheep, stop listening to their bleats of pain, hurt, anger, and fear. Why do we keep trying to stress “obedience” when so many people coming out of fundamentalism and legalism have been beaten up by that word? Why do we stress “submission” to a group of women coming out of churches where they were held down by that word? Why do we look at those men who have nearly died under the wait of  “headship” and “leadership” and still speak those words?  If our people have PTSD from the abuse of certain words (the above being a small sampling) why do we still use them? It’s not enough to say: well Paul used them so we should. It’s also not enough to try to find a new way to define such words (like: leading is serving) because, at best, our definitions (while true on many levels) are too ambiguous for the mind to understand and comprehend and at worst aren’t heard anyway because we lost our listener as soon as we used the dreaded word to begin with. And, let’s be honest, it’s really hard to pretty-up the club that was used to clobber your hearer to the point of death.

Since words are powerful and also since words have wounded our listeners, we need to use new words to discuss those old themes. How do we do this? A Friend once told me that he had a colleague who had an issue with the word-phrase “Law and Gospel.” I asked him, “Well, how did you work around that?” (at the time only understanding those two terms to define the biblical hermeneutic I ascribed to). He said, “Simple. I switched in ‘Command and Promise’ and ‘Death and Life.'”  With so many words at our fingertips and there for our use, why don’t we employ this word-switch tactic more often? Rather than talk of “obedience”, what if I said, “Just love God and love your neighbor because you have been radically loved”? Is not loving God and loving your neighbor the fulfillment of everything that qualifies for obedience?  Rather than talk of “submission” and “headship/leadership” I said, “Just love your husbands and wives”? Is that not that the goal of Paul’s exhortation in the first place? You might, to both statements, ask, “Well, how do I do that?” Or, “What does loving God/Neighbor/Husband/Wife look like?” It doesn’t matter how I answer those questions, because what’s happened is that the dialogue has been restored; I’ve not lost you. By eliminating the painful words and speaking with new words that you’ll listen to, I can enter into a dialogue with you. I can then say, “Well, submission is actually mutual…sit down, let’s talk more about this.” By carefully choosing words and by carefully listening to you, I can wade through your pain with you while keeping the channels of communication open.

To all those I’ve wounded with poorly chosen words: forgive me, please. To all those who are still listening to me, I promise you: I’m listening to you and to your words because they are so important and tell me how to choose my words. May the Lord help me never to forget just how powerful words are.

 

“Jesus Died to Save Sinners”

I should be working. But I’d rather tell you a story…

The day was like any other day, especially any day I go to Walmart. In and out. As fast as possible. Determination in my step, focus in my eye; deftly weaving and wending the cart through the other customers merely browsing. Watch out; I’ve a mission!  My toddler called out the names of all the things she saw, like a baby Adam on a naming urgency. Ball! Doggy! Kitty! Boon! Baby!

I swept in to gather the few things I needed for the weekend and to capitalize on the rollbacks on school supplies for last year; something I recently learned to do from a new friend.

With everything I needed and everything I could find in my cart, I zoomed up–yes, I know it’s Walmart, but it’s also 8:30 in the morning, so I zoomed–to the do-it-yourself checkout. Waited a minute and then was ushered to an open checkout and pulled up. Typically, my modus operandi is as follows: go as fast as possible and keep your eyes trained on your task at hand, God forbid anyone talk to you… But on this particular day, I was beaming with conquest, prideful with reduced price; I was a lioness returning to the pride dragging a buffalo…Yes, gaze and gawk…I’m just this awesome…

The older lady who ushered me to open checkout flirted with my daughter, who was flirting back. And then I made eye-contact with the lady.

“Looks like you’ve got some school supplies there…” She said.

“Yes,” I replied and smiled confidently. It is a beautiful buffalo isn’t it… I continued, “A friend of mine explained to me that you can school shop for next year just after the current school year starts because the school items are reduced…”

“Oh,” she began. “Just like just after Christmas is the best time to do Christmas shopping…” We bonded over that. Then she added, “I was hoping to retire this Christmas, but it looks like I won’t be able to…”

That’s one of those statements that can’t go ignored, even though I contemplated ignoring it and getting out of there. But, I still had some items on the belt; so, “Oh, why won’t you be able to retire?” I asked her. She explained to me her financial situation, which was tight because it’s just her. She told me of her hopes for eventually getting her social security along with her husbands and that would be very helpful. I nodded to all of this. And then, prompted by something she had said about her youngest child, a girl, I asked, “How many children do you have?”

“I had four kids and I was step-mom to four more and then including the grandson I’ve raised, that makes 9 kids!”

“Wow! Well I’m sure they were 9 well loved kids!” was my response.

She told me more about the other ones who chose her ex-husband over her and a lot more about the youngest daughter who had earned a number of degrees. And then there was a pause; I was now loading my bags into my cart. Then she told me about her step-daughter.

“One of my step-daughters died in a hot-tub…” I all but dropped my bags to the ground. Maintaining my composure, I put the last bags in the cart and turned to her.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could think of saying.

“Oh, it’s all right…she was really messed up and cheating on her husband…She was drunk and still drinking when she drowned in the hot tub” she tried to dismiss it and blow it off, like she didn’t care, like somehow her step-daughter asked for this to happen.

I looked at her. She did care. “You know, it doesn’t matter what the events or actions are surrounding a death like that, it’s still a loss…” is what I said to her.

Her eyes softened. “Well I blame the people who owned the tub, they just left her alone still drinking. They found her when they came down the next morning to close up the tub.”  I nodded; I understood what she was feeling and what she was doing. There was a pause and then another softening of her posture, “You know…she was in such a bad spot, hurting, I’m sure she’s in a better place now, free of pain. She was just so messed up there at the end.” She mentioned something about a troubled marriage. “But I know she’s in a better place now with our father.” She smiled, but it wasn’t any smile it was the smile of hope. She had hope.

“I’m really sorry for your loss,” I said and I readied to leave. She smiled at me again and told us to have a great day; we wished her the same, or, rather, I did…Liza was busy naming things…

As I rolled out to the car my hope fled. The weight of the life of a young woman that was cut short too early–no matter the circumstances surrounding the death–weighed my heart down. The realization that our world is just that broken–something I’m not typically faced with everyday–fell into my lap. I couldn’t help it; I cried. I cried as I loaded my car with my bags and my toddler. I cried as I got into the driver seat. I cried as I drove home. My heart aching; my conscience troubled; my soul grieving.

I came to a stop light and waited for it to turn green. It’s one of those long lights. But on this day, it was a tad longer than normal–or so it seemed. As I sat there behind a big, green, beat-up truck, I stared mindlessly ahead, my mind preoccupied with hopelessness and brokenness. And then, for some reason, my eyes narrowed in on a long, thin, rather bland bumper sticker on this big, green beat-up truck. I avoid looking at bumper stickers in the area I live in because they’re usually just offensive or over-the-top. But this one caught my eye, maybe because it was bland (black block letters on a white background) or because it was long and thin (a non-classic bumper sticker style). And as my eyes focused in on the words, I cried again…

“Jesus Died to Save Sinners”

And hope returned. Because deep down, that is our only hope, that is our only comfort in this very broken world. In this world where lives are cut off too short and at all, we need to know that something has occurred to remedy the broken situation. We need something we can look to, focus on, be reminded of that is beyond or bigger than this broken world and our broken selves. And there is nothing more concrete than:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).

This is the foremost foundation of our hope in the face of brokenness, of loss, of grief, pain, and all types of suffering. Because Jesus’ coming is the manifestation of God’s love for us and the fulfillment of his promise to us that it-won’t-always-be-so–as are His death, resurrection, and ascension, too.

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 8:23-25)

Our faith in Christ (in the totality of who and what He was and is and all that He did from his birth to his ascension) is the foundation of our hope. And not just hope that we will get out of this life and be brought into another one (though, this is part of our hope), but that in the face of suffering and sorrow, loss and grief, pain and turmoil, we can stand with those who are hurting, we can comfort and not abandon, and we can look forward to (and point to) the day when our hope is realized because His words do not fall flat. The Great Promiser who promises will do it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)