Hi Friends. Yes, I’m still “Giving Up for Lent,” and no posts these past few weeks has meant 2 things:
1) I’ve been busy with deadlines for other projects.
2) I’ve been processing a lot of this stage in my journey, and searching for words to articulate it.
These past weeks I have had the luxury of navigating the waters of life and faith without the tethers of the Christian religion and its frameworks and regiments, and there have been a few points of clarity that have helped give language to some things that have been stirring in me for some time. 3 weeks ago, I mentioned 3 shifts for the future of Christianity that arose out of this journey through “Giving Up For Lent.”
The first, and one that informs pretty much everything we endeavor toward in conversation together, is a linguistic transition from theological thinking and speaking about God solely in terms of “logos,” to rather speaking of God in terms of “poiesis.” This is what I mean when I advocate for: a “theopoetic” approach (surprise!) to theology. This approach sits in stark opposition to ways of reading and interpreting both the scriptures and the tradition that are attached to ideas like biblicism and fideism (more on this to come). It is a perspective that doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of a logos, but rather, acknowledges that whatever “that” is, we will not ever reach it by mere reflection and study.
In fact, “existence” is not always the qualifier by which we navigate the conversation, but as Caputo puts it, sometimes “insistence” is more helpful. As in, we may not be able to prove whether or not God exists, but we definitely know that God insists, or rather is an insistence of human experience, or possibly insistence itself. There are more radical branches of theology which aren’t really interested in acknowledging the “logos” or “word” itself at all, but the fascinating thing about the post-theist conversation (which I am a friend of) is that they, too, tend to stay rooted in the dialogue about this very topic. In short, God is always on their tongue, too. What we all can hopefully affirm together, is a rejection of all our conceptual ideologies when it comes to God for the sake of a multiplicitous dialogue on the subject, or “event” at hand.
Peter Rollins wrote in his book, How (Not) to Speak of God:
“Naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God.” (p. 2) He reminds us that Meister Eckhart similarly once claimed that, “The unnameable is omni-nameable.” (p. 13)
In short, our “belief” or our conceptual “naming of God” is always pestered and overthrown by our existence in a space “beyond belief” or beyond “substance ontology.” In fact, it seems that the concession made in this type of theopoetic discourse is important insomuch as it understands this very important facet in theology:
Our belief in a God is always undercut by the fact that whatever conceptual god we speak of is a construct that is fully and vulnerably mortal to the throws of our process…including some of our contemporary philosophical, scientific, and existential critiques.
Thus, “God” is just simply beyond our ability to ensnare godself in a modernistic or systematic enclosure, and is rather that which is always beyond our ability to conceive of it. For, as Eckhart once prayed:
“God, rid me of God.”
Or, “God, rid me of whatever I mean when I say, God.” Even the Evangelicals in the early 2000’s often sang, “Indescribable! Uncontainable!”, but then proceeded to tell you exactly what God was like. What I am advocating for is an anti-idolatry in line with the utmost biblical concept of the term. Embracing a theopoetics means many things, not the least of which are:
Multiplicity, Epistemic Humility, Creativity, Becoming, Dialectics, Mystery, Metaphor, Deconstruction, Radical Hermeneutics, and Interrelatedness.
And sometimes, maybe even Metaphysics…if you’re feeling advantageous.
This approach alleviates the desire within us to master the (or a) subject, here namely God, and also frees us from the more unhelpful temptations of the hermeneutics of the past couple centuries seen within fundamentalism and its neo-reformed cousins.
Now, for a short story:
I was in a conversation with a friend a while back about the topic of hell, when I proceeded to make an argument based upon the Greek text. My friend replied,
“But the KJV says this…”
To which I replied,
“Yeah, but the King James also translates some of the Hebrew text as ‘unicorns,’ so can’t you see that our translating of the words are always culturally constructed?”, assuming this would shut down that argument (see Numbers 23-34, Deut 33, Job 39, Psalm 22, 29, 92, and Isaiah 34 in the KJV if you don’t believe me).
To which, he replied cheekily, but earnestly, “Well…unicorns could have existed.”
To which I thought, “We’re clearly done here.”
This is an extreme example of what plays itself out in various forms of dialogue in the theological transition from a classical view of God to one that is post-classical. The point is, many Christians often allow the Bible to dictate an idolatrous form of God that they may cling to as Truth itself, instead of allowing the text to transcend a more unhelpful biblicism, and lead us to a hypertheistic/post-theistic dialogue or experience of God. By no means do I think that in these 1800 words or so I am tackling the subject of God, but rather, I do think that I am giving my readers the gift of freedom from a detrimental form of bibliolatry that keeps us from a more helpful Christian praxis.
Now that we’ve touched on biblicism, we need to understand that what this perspective often (but not always) begets, is a form of fideism. What is dangerous about fideism is that it causes Christians to embrace truths that often defy reason, experience, or especially: ethics. Grasping too tightly to a certain interpretation of the faith or scriptures can cause us to have to believe in a truth that no longer stands the test of contemporary science or philosophy. It can also cause us to fail to embrace our humanity and rather have to disavow our experience of the world, holding out for some “higher” or “other” existence. Or even worse, fideistic interpretations can lead us to believe terrifying things of God’s own morality, and both embrace and mimic an ethic ourselves that makes God out to be vengeful, jealous, angry, and morally inferior to us. Basically, all the things we’re not…supposed to be.
Theopoetics offers us a way of engagement with the tradition and its derivative theologies that is fully free and open to the endlessly cyclical process of deconstruction (and reconstruction) and deconstruction once again in the name of love. This theological shift, which really is a very linguistic, as in…words matter, turn of the 20th century, gives us possibility for the faith to be sustainable as we look ahead to the 21st. We must uphold beauty over truth, and let both goodness and truth be revealed in the process of getting into bed with the sublime charm of existence, and even the particularities of the tradition.
I know, I know. Particularities?
Giving up on Christianity during Lent has actually led me to a place where I have grown to be even more comfortable with Christianity as a particularized form of religion, and have been able to dive in to all its points of engagement with a fresh set of eyes:
this Jesus, these disciplines or liturgies, this narrative, this Bible, this passage, this word and its root, this kind of theological language, all of it, ours.
It’s only in talking about the particulars that we get to the universals imbedded within this wonderful faith tradition. But, there are ways of engaging the particulars that are nearly more important that the particulars themselves. There is an orientation to the specifics and the histories that can give you the gift of freedom from their trappings and an openness to relate to the ways in which they have displayed both growth and transformation (which is a sign of maturity). This way, I believe, is a theopoetic posture. If what we often stir up in our God-talk is some sort of universal, whether it be: being, ground of being, impetus for an ethical existence, radical political critique, and the list goes on, then the only way to get at it is to embrace the particulars, to point to them, to speak of them, and to live into them. We do this all while now knowing what it means to exist after the death of God (the death of constructs, or as Rollins says: certainty and satisfaction) and to be able to look for the birth of God beyond our gods.
Certain versions of Christianity can lead us to a place which is exactly the opposite of adventure, exploration, and endless fascination with this complex world and its Great Traditions. It is precisely in the capsules of doctrine and language that we can lose the grandness of this whole thing if we’re not careful. In this kind system, those with a more poetic orientation and engagement with life are left feeling as dry as a rung-out sponge. It’s like sensing that you’re hard-wired to be an author, but being cursed with perpetually infinite writers block: knowing what you’re capable of, and being able to express none of it. And unfortunately, it’s in the words themselves that we can feel this prohibition.
…but it’s also in the words that we can be set free.
It’s how we understand their form and function that gives us the freedom to wield their power as a gift that opens us up to the tragic beauty of the world (which is that same offering extended in the Christian faith) rather than a system by which we believe we are in control and understand things “correctly,” and thus numb ourselves to the reality that this whole thing is somehow way beyond all of our articulations.
And yet, somehow, for many of us, we sense that it is at the same time worth the task of exegesis, of excavating reality…possibly even digging for life itself. And the secret to life is, there is no secret.
If it’s not Christianity that we engage, then we will just make meaning in some other story we tell ourselves, some other set of principles or ethics, and that will become our lens to mine the universal. We may even do so by being decidedly (not) Christian. That’s fine by me. I’m not writing for evangelism’s sake. And, I know first hand the experience of how harmful and damaging an aggressive and conquistadorian wielding of a particularized form of the Christian faith can be. What I’m saying is this:
There’s another way to engage it. It’s ok to dance with it.
There is a poetry to it, one that can inspire us to live both within it and beyond it all at once. It is undoubtedly a complete secularization, and it is undeniably a complete dispersing of its sacredness to the whole of life. The Christ-movement must necessarily lead us to places outside its own doors, to explore, to love outside its borders. Maybe it’s fitting that this coming Good Friday, we consider becoming comfortable with crucifying all of our gods for good. This holy week, maybe we may also learn then to search the specific rhythms, texts, and events of our faith tradition for that motive force that causes us to look beyond the particulars themselves for the Love that beckons us all toward one another…
That love that we often call God.
Or, that God that quite possibly is love.
Or that Love that calls us toward Love.
Whoa, one could get rapt in all this love-talk!
EXACTLY! Now you’ve got it.