I was born in 1984. The year Hans Küng visited South Africa, and delivered his groundbreaking lecture on paradigm shifts in theology at UNISA, which became the foundation of Transforming Mission.

I was two years old at the 1986 General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church when the theological support of Apartheid was ended, and the gays were condemned.

I was 5/6 years old when Nelson Mandela en FW de Klerk was discussing the unity of a new South Africa.

I was 6 or 7 years old when white South Africans voted to end Apartheid, knowing that this will be the end of white government in South Africa.

I was 10 years old when we had the historic 1994 election, that went more smooth than anyone could expect. And I’ve lived through the birth pains of our young democracy, and I’ve seen how people could come together even though they absolutely disagree (think about the amazing story of Pieter Mulder and Jacob Zuma for example).

I was trained theologically while the unity conversations between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Uniting Reformed Church was very tense. And even though we still struggle with it, stories of hope did start to develop.

I was a senior theological student when we approached the gay issue again in 2007. I remember saying boldly that I can see no way in which the church can remain united, since we differ so strongly on this issue. But then Malan Nel made a suggestion at that amazing synod meeting, and the moderators found a way of putting unity above doctrinal and interpretation issues.

When Jim Belcher writes about unity he says:

UNITY

Is there a way forward? How do we get to the point where both sides can talk about their differences and learn from each other without being accused of heresy? By first agreeing about what binds Christians together. It is that simple. We have to arrive at what John Stott calls the “unity of the gospel.” All unity has a doctrinal aspect. No unity is possible without boundaries of thought and belief around something. There is always a limit to what any group can tolerate without being torn apart.

Deep Church

For Belcher it’s really simple. Agree with the three confessional statements in the pager following the above quote, and you will be allowed to be part of the “new ecumenism”, and not be called a “heretic”. An if you challenge this? Well, he don’t see a way in which unity is possible without these kinds of limits. Even though he has the examples of Jones and Pagitt earlier in the book.

If we were to use Belcher’s definition, we wouldn’t be one denomination any more. But we are.

If my conservative friends in the church used Belcher’s definition, they would have used the word “heresy” much more, but they don’t (at least not my conservative friends, there are some who do like this word).

And we know that Belcher’s “simple” isn’t so simple. Because real church unity, between people who really differ, on issues of race, gender and background. Between people who have a history of one group oppressing the other. Between people who are really divided on economic grounds, require much more than shared confession. It’s not that simple.

Maybe we found a way of putting a braai first, and listening. Knowing that we really disagree, also on “first-tier” stuff (to use Belcher’s language). But to be open to the possibility that we might be wrong (as David Bosch also taught us). Maybe we should listen to our own voices, Nelson Mandela, Desmund Tutu, David Bosch, Piet Meiring, Coenie Burger and others, when it comes to unity. If I listen to this top-seller, then maybe we have some stories of unity to share with the world that they need to hear, even though we are really struggling with unity.

praise & worship & porn

September 21, 2009

I owe this idea to a very good friend who isn’t blogging at this stage. But as soon as she does, I’ll be sure to link to her thoughts on this.

I’ve been getting more and more disgusted with the Praise & Worship industry for years now. The dishonesty just got to me. The fact that I’m forced to sing about faith and God in a way that simply doesn’t match up with my own journey. The honesty of doubt and questions simply don’t exist in Praise & worship. In Praise & worship the faithful is faithful and life is good for the faithful. God is only good. Heaven is near. Real life looks somewhat different.
The first time I started thinking about porn was when one of my pastors made the comment that porn and nudity isn’t the same thing. Basic insight for anyone who’s been looking into this phenomenon, but new thought for me at that stage.
Porn seeks to simulate sex. Sex without the complexity of relationship. Porn seek to stimulate you sexually. Porn portrays an image the sexuality of another, it provides an image of how someone else is doing it. Porn portrays the image of supernatural sex, the image of bodies and sexuality that is unreachable by the mortal person in a healthy relationship. Porn makes the deepest most intimate aspects of human existance a public spectical. Porn lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of relationship is added, when the whole person becomes part of the sexual experience, mistakes, moods, emotions and everything that comes with it.
Praise & worship seeks to simulate spiritual experience. Spirituality without the complexities inherent to a deep connection and journey with the spiritual being whom we call God. Praise & worship seek to stimulate you spiritually. Praise & worship portrays the image of the spirituality of another, it provides an image of how others are doing it. Praise & worship portrays the image of a supernatural faith, the idea of an undoubting and non-struggling faith unreachable by the mortal person in an honest relationship with a trancendent being. Praise & worship makes the deepest most intimate aspects of spirituality, whether communal or individual, a public spectical. Praise & worship lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of faith is added, when my mind, my rational thought, my struggling ethics, my emotions, my honest questions, my doubts, fears and everything that comes with it is added.
Let me clarify. I know that their is exceptions. I know that others might also use the term Praise & worship and do something totally different from what I’m describing. Not all nudity is porn. Not all sex is porn. Not all music should be described with the porn metaphor. Not all Christian music, not even everything that use the label Praise & worship should be described with this metaphor. But when I look through this metaphor at a lot of what’s happening in the gospel and the Praise & worship scenes, then I’m deeply troubled.

I’ve been getting more and more disgusted with the Praise & Worship industry for years now. The dishonesty just got to me. The fact that I’m forced to sing about faith and God in a way that simply doesn’t match up with my own journey. The honesty of doubt and questions simply don’t exist in Praise & worship. In Praise & worship the faithful is faithful and life is good for the faithful. God is only good. Heaven is near. Real life looks somewhat different.

The first time I started thinking about porn was when one of my pastors made the comment that porn and nudity isn’t the same thing. Basic insight for anyone who’s been looking into this phenomenon, but new thought for me at that stage.

Porn seeks to simulate sex. Sex without the complexity of relationship. Porn seek to stimulate you sexually. Porn portrays an image the sexuality of another, it provides an image of how someone else is doing it. Porn portrays the image of supernatural sex, the image of bodies and sexuality that is unreachable by the mortal person in a healthy relationship. Porn makes the deepest most intimate aspects of human existance a public spectical. Porn lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of relationship is added, when the whole person becomes part of the sexual experience, mistakes, moods, emotions and everything that comes with it.

Praise & worship seeks to simulate spiritual experience. Spirituality without the complexities inherent to a deep connection and journey with the spiritual being whom we call God. Praise & worship seek to stimulate you spiritually. Praise & worship portrays the image of the spirituality of another, it provides an image of how others are doing it. Praise & worship portrays the image of a supernatural faith, the idea of an undoubting and non-struggling faith unreachable by the mortal person in an honest relationship with a trancendent being. Praise & worship makes the deepest most intimate aspects of spirituality, whether communal or individual, a public spectical. Praise & worship lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of faith is added, when my mind, my rational thought, my struggling ethics, my emotions, my honest questions, my doubts, fears and everything that comes with it is added.

Let me clarify. I know that their is exceptions. I know that others might also use the term Praise & worship and do something totally different from what I’m describing. Not all nudity is porn. Not all sex is porn. Not all music should be described with the porn metaphor. Not all Christian music, not even everything that use the label Praise & worship should be described with this metaphor. But when I look through this metaphor at a lot of what’s happening in the gospel and the Praise & worship scenes, then I’m deeply troubled.

Maybe Brian Mclaren says it better than I do in this videoclip:

the lion that ruled the world

September 2, 2009

“Alexander the Great was a lion”, my matric teacher told our class. For the average reader, with a general understanding of language and rhetoric, and who know enough about history that the name “Alexander the Great” is familiar, and who know what a lion is, this statement would be pretty easy to understand. But what if I were to meet someone who did not understand this type of saying?

“Alexander the Great was a lion, and he ruled the world”. The obvious question would then be: “How could a lion rule the world”? And lets say that over time the consensus in society would move to the point where no one would consider the fact that the saying “Alexander the Great was a lion” is a metaphor, some interesting ideas might ne the result. Maybe we would then start a myth to explain that there was a time when lions could talk, when they could mobilize armies, and where one of them, who happened to be born in Greece, became the ruler of the world.

If a historian might then discover a scroll saying that Alexander was a man, the child of a king, who fought many battles. This historian might over time realize that we have a metaphor that was literalized. In his reading of this man Alexander, he might after time decide that indeed, “Alexander was a lion”.

However, when he would try to explain to his friends what he discover, he would have to say that “Alexander the Great was not a lion”, since they have a literal understanding of the saying. Only in a community that understand metaphors, and the metaphorical language, and the history, that gave rize to the idea that “Alexander the Great was a lion” would the historian be able to proclaim tha amazing discovery he made when he read the stories of Alexander. In this community, while telling his friends about Alexander, he would be able to say: “Indeed, Alexander the Great was a lion”.

The story is told of an ancient rabbi who was a storyteller. The rabbi told his disciples many stories to illuminate the reality in which they found themselves, and to open them to the ever mysterious being that they believed was part of this reality.

The rabbi once told the story of a time long past,

when people used to sacrifice people in order to please god. Not only people need to sacrifice people, but a friend needed to sacrifice a friend in order to please the god. In times of war, or draught, or plague, someone would get the message from god that he need to sacrifice his friend.

At one stage there was a draught for many years. Many people died in this time, but nobody got a message from god that he should sacrifice a friend. There was a very devout man, Alinksi, with a friend who was like a brother to him. One night Alinski had a dream in which god told him to sacrifice his friend. Knowing what this dream meant, he told the tribe leader the next day that god had told him to sacrifice his best friend in order to stop the draught. The two friends cried together, they spent time in silence. His friend wasn’t mad, he knew that this was the way the gods worked.

The day of the sacrifice drew closer. And on the day everyone was quite. It wasn’t a day of celebration, but everyone knew how the god worked, and that someone had to sacrifice a friend. The two friends started the ritual of gathering the wood together, building the altar, and the friend climbed onto the altar. As Alinski was getting his knife ready, he heard god speak to him, saying that this offer wasn’t necessary. What is more, he heard god say, people should no longer be sacrificed! I don’t need sacrifices to provide you with rain! I don’t want people to be sacrificed ever, I am a loving being.

Alinski was full of joy. He dropped the knife, and kissed his friends on both cheeks. However, his friend was confused, and told Alinski to continue the offering. “No”, exclaimed Alinski! Didn’t you hear? God has just stopped the sacrificing of people! God told me that sacrifices wasn’t neccesary anymore. Didn’t you hear? “No”, his friend replied. He was sceptical, because he knew that god has always told their tribe to sacrifice people in times of crisis. But he trusted Alinski, and knew he was a devout man. So after some conversation, he was convinced.

Full of joy they went back to the tribe leader, to tell him of the wonderful news. God doesn’t require human sacrifice any longer. “Impossible”, the tribe leader shouted. He wanted to kill these two men, to sacrifice them himself. How dare they try and make a fool out of the holy men of the past who have heard God speak to them over and over again, telling them to sacrifice a friend in times of crisis. But, being afraid of the many people who considered Alinski to be a devout man, he decided to shun them from the tribe, not kill them.

Alinski and his friend traveled for the rest of their lives, bringing people the good news that God do not require human sacrifice.

That, the rabbi told his students, is why we no longer sacrifice humans.

One of his brightest students replied: “But we have never sacrificed humans.”

“No”, the rabbi said, “we have, before the time of Alinski, it is many years ago, many generations ago, but their was a time when everyone knew that god required human sacrifice”.

“How can we ever trust a god that have changed his mind in the past?” the student asked.

“How can we ever live life with a god that will never change his mind in the future?” the rabbi answered.

Albert Nolan wrote brilliantly on how Jesus is not merely the object of our spirtuality, but was also a subject that stood in relation to God, and from whom we can learn about spirituality. The basic thesis of Jesus Today was the historical Jesus research has enough to offer that we can reconstruct the spirituallity of Jesus. Andries van Aarde built his book, Fatherless in Galilee, around the assumption that Jesus found a Father in God, since he didn’t have an earthly father, which also say something about Jesus’ spirituality.

But while this quest for finding Jesus, that prophet, the human guy, who walked around Galilee and Jerusalem roundabout 30 AD, goes on both in the academic world, and also with a growing group of Christians in pews, coffeeshops and slums, another group of Christians is opting for an extreme divinization of Jesus. As someone told me earlier today, in response to my saying that we can learn from Jesus how to live in relationship with God: “Jesus had an unfair advantage, he was divine”.

This is not a new idea, and probably we’ll find this underlying an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which says that the Sermon on the Mount was never meant to be followed, but to show us that we are unable to live as we should, only Jesus could follow that – it should remind us how sinfull we are so that we’ll turn to God, to Jesus. Out of fear that we’ll turn Jesus into just another moral teacher, we divinized Jesus up to the point where both the life Jesus had with God, and the way he lived, is something totally undervalued, ignored, and rather exchanged for a Jesus which is purely the object of faith.

I remember Tony Jones saying back in 2006 that our generation is the WWJD generation. Thinking back on my primary school days I could see where he was coming from. Although on the other side of the world, and definitely less extreme, Adam at Pomomusings probably did an accurate description of the WWJD culture of the time (I never wore more than one, but basically everyone in our school had one). Critique can be delivered against the idea, but in our 12-year old minds we were opposing the idea that Jesus was merely divine, that the way of Jesus couldn’t be lived, and that he’s teaching was impossible to follow.

How we’ve come to this point I don’t know. How we got the church so polarized I don’t know either, maybe it’s always been like this. But somehow I can’t seem to think that the early church ever thought other than that we were supposed to follow the example of Jesus. They talked about the son of God, and about us being children of God. They said that our minds should work in the same way as that of Jesus Christ, we should hold the same view (Phil 2:5). Trying to live life in the way of Jesus is not denying the divinity of Christ (oh how I hate having to qualify things like this, but I’ll do it since I know that some tend imply this), it is simply trying to reconnect with the thinking of the early church. I guess this is part of my attempt at a “Christology from the side“…

Words for how we view God is exceedingly complex constructs. The time where a simple division between Theism and Deism could do the trick is long over, and the list is growing as we notice more and more possible ways in which this can be understood. Theism, Atheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Supernatural Theism (Borg). Andries van Aarde apparently now talks about Postheism, and he, similar to Albert Nolan rejects Panentheism although they don’t fit any of the words in the previous sentence. I myself struggle to get a word for how I view God, maybe we are all just Theists, but just realize more and more that this word can still lead to numerous understandings.

Marcus Borg talked about supernatural theism in his Heart of Christianity. The idea that God is not of this world, but part of the supernatural realm, and breaks into this reality from time to time, a type of wonderworker God, sometimes doing a wonder, sometimes giving a message. but this highly personalized God more and more seem to be missing when he (it’s usually a male God) isn’t breaking into the world.

Atheism in popular Western circles usually defines itself against this view. For them this god simply isn’t breaking into this world.

Somehow I’m starting to think that these two ends of the spectrum might be closer together than we at first would think. That maybe views of God is not a linear spectrum at all, but fits together more complex, with extreme closer together, and those within faith traditions sometimes further apart. Because these two perspectives both seem to work with a similar view of reality, where God is not part of reality, where everything that happens is just science, they just differ on the amount of times that God does wonders, for the atheist never, for the supernatural theist frequently, but in-between these times, what would be the difference between an atheist and a supernatural theist view of the world? Except that for the supernatural theist God has somehow breaked into the reality at some point, and he/she hopes that God will come into this world again.

Panentheism is not the only alternative, and more and more theologians (In South Africa Nolan and van Aarde) is pointing out that this might not be the best alternative. But we do need a view of God where God is part of this reality, part of everything that happen and that is. God would then at the same time become less and more. Less breaking in, but more here. Less in heaven and more on earth.

I’m reading The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello which Cori and Kevin gave us for our wedding. The following story de Mello wrote explains a lot of my own struggle with religion, faith and church. But it’s a story, so you decide what it mean for you:

Nasruddin is Dead

Nasruddin was in a philosophical frame of mind: “Life and death-who can say what they are?” His wife, who was busy in the kitchen, overheard him and said, “You men are all alike-quite unpractical. Anyone can tell that when a man’s extremities are rigid and cold, he is dead.”

Nasruddin was impressed by his wife’s practical wisdom. Once when he was out in the winter snow, he felt his hands and feet go numb. “I must be dead,” he thought. Then came a further thought: “What am I doing walking around it I am dead? I should be lying down like a normal corpse.” Which is just what he did.

An hour later, a group of travelers, finding him by the roadside, begad to argue whether he was alive or dead. Nasruddin yearned to cry out, “You fools, can’t you see my extremities are cold and rigid?” But he knew better than to say that, for corpses do not talk.

The travelers finally concluded he was dead, and hoisted the corpse onto their shoulders with a view to carrying it to the cemetery for burial. They hadn’t gone far when they came to a forking of the ways. A fresh dispute arose among them as to which road led to the cemetery. Nasruddin put up with this for as long as he could. Then he sat up and said, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but the road that leads to the cemetery is the one to your left. I know that corpses do not speak, but I have broken the rule this once and I assure you it will not happen again.”

When reality clashes with a rigidly held belief, reality is generally the loser.

Well, you interpret the story. I’ll keep on telling it for some time I think, because it so beautifully sums up my feelings on so many things I find in the way people approach religion, faith and church.