Integration

Blogsphere confessional: I hate New Year’s Resolutions. Mostly, this is because I’m full of myself. I tell myself that when I see something that needs to change, I just do it. Why wait for a new year to begin what I should have already started doing?

But I now repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Basically, what this tells you about me is that I don’t like something until I own it. Then it becomes the greatest thing ever. At least, until I leave it behind again.

(Note to self: talk to therapist about God complex: things become good by my involvement with and blessing of them, as I see the world.)

So to what do I now find myself needing to commit as the new year approaches? A more integrated life. By this I mean that I can no longer sideline everything else other than working and taking care of the kids.

A few weeks ago I had a flare up of a sometimes-recurring lower back pain. Put simply, this is “sitting on my butt” disease. Sit too long in the car. Sit too long in front of the computer. Your back ends up doing too much of the work, your other muscles don’t support you as they should. The lower back spasms. And you end up wasting a day of your life at the doctor and shuffling around at about the speed of a three-toed sloth.

This was a wake-up call to me: the life that I am given to live on this earth is not just a life of work and family–as important as those things are; it’s not just about mind and community. It is also an embodied life. And more…

So I return to the great command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and am reminded that applying this in my little world means adding some things that I have allowed to fall to the side.

I cannot love God with my mind if I have so neglected my body that it will not allow me the solace to sit and read and write.

Of course, once I start thinking about the holistic calling to love God, other areas of neglect surface soon enough as well.

And so, back to my original confession: I have a few days of vacation here before the New Year. Days in which to not only fret about the syllabus that has yet to be written for next Wednesday’s class, but also to take inventory of a life that does not fully lean God-ward as I would have it.

With a new year, a new quarter, and a newly awakened awareness, I think of restructuring my days and my week so that the care I take of my life might show in action the fullness of integration that I confess to need in theory.

So bring on the new year’s resolutions. And maybe even the actions that make good on them.

“Joy to the World”

Long time readers of my blogservations about the world will know that Joy to the World is one of the two approved Christmas carols.

It is a song that celebrates the arrival of the great king that the earth has needed, and lacked, since almost the very beginning. God creates humanity to rule the world on God’s behalf, and the remainder of the story unfolds the quest to find the king who will faithfully discharge this duty.

The advent of the king is not simply about the loyalty of human hearts—though it is about this in part: “let every heart prepare him room.”

The advent of the king is also about the entirety of the cosmos being restored to order. Not only human hearts, but also “heaven and nature sing.”

This holistic reign of the king we receive is nowhere captured with as much force and brevity as we sing in the words, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

And, this song was not written for Christmas.

The song was originally penned as a song celebrating the anticipated second Advent, a looking forward to the return of the King who had once been born, died, risen, and ascended.

And this is precisely why it is the perfect Christmas song.

Our time of “waiting,” has not been, even through the season of “Advent,” a time of waiting for Christmas per se. Christmas happened two thousand years ago. But in that time of waiting for the arrival, we are reminded that the Christian life is always, at least in part, a looking forward to the time when the reign of Christ will be fulfilled.

God has placed all things in subjection under his feet, we confess alongside the church throughout the ages. And yet, Paul hastens to add (1 Cor 15), we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

We await the coming of the king. We await the time when every ear is wiped away, when the cursed ground produces abundance rather than thorns, when the cosmos is set in harmony from the dirt below to the heavens above and everything in between.

We live between the times. Christmas tells us that the reign of God has begun. The king is here.

And yet, the full restoration of the people of God, and the full restoration of the cosmos still awaits its consummation.

Joy the world is magnificent because, singing it at Christmas, we celebrate the reign that is rightfully that of the newborn king. It forces that vision of the glorious future for which we still long and wait back into our present, showing us what should be breaking through even now.

And, with such a vision of glory, we are driven back to the prayer we have prayed with the church for the past four weeks of Advent, the prayer for the Advent yet to come: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

Insurrection (pt. 1)

We want to believe, says Peter Rollins. It’s natural. We want to know that someone is watching. We want to know that things beyond our control will get better. We need to hope for a brighter future.

And, he says, this is just the problem.

In his book, Insurrection, Rollins makes the case that our ideas of God are, pervasively, sub-Christian, precisely because they hope too much for a happy tomorrow rather than embracing the broken today.

Rollins warns the reader early on that the purpose of this book is, in essence, to slash and burn: this is a work of “pyro-theology,” not constructive theology–an attempt to burn away the husk that has accrued to Christian faith and practice and return to the source.

In the end, this will be both the book’s strength and its failing. Its strength in that it holds up the mirror to the church and demands of us that we take a long hard look at what we say and do–and how these things fail to embody the gospel we confess to believe.

But it is also the book’s weakness as Rollins insists on a “not/but” where he should have constructively engaged in a “both/and.”

First, then, the strength of the book and what the church desperately needs to hear.

The book begins with reflecting on the significance of crucifixion. Christ was crucified. We are co-crucified with Christ.

And, on the cross, Christ was abandoned by God.

Thus, to live into our co-crucifixion is to live in a space where we experience and acknowledge that we are forsaken, that there has been no miraculous deliverance. The church has to create space for this embrace of darkness. Rollins speaks of our common mythology–the one that makes us all want to believe in God–that things will get better because God is present to deliver.

When we suffer, there will always be an army of Job’s comforters who attempt to save our mythologies, and like Job, we must resist them.

What does this have to do with the church? The church, wittingly or not, creates structures that reassure people that the experience of crucifixion isn’t what is truly real. The church’s confident sermons, its songs of comfort, tell us that the co-crucifixion is not ultimately determinative. “The structure acts as a security blanket that enables us to speak of the Crucifixion without ever undergoing its true liberating horror” (48).

The problem as Rollins outlines it is that when we have people celebrating divine presence in dozens of ways, we are enabled “to admit that absence and forsakenness are part of our faith without experincing the transformative trauma of this admission” (70). And, of course, while being the agents of certainty, many pastors secretly harbor the very doubts that they are covering other for others.

Instead, the community should be helping us acknowledge and find life in the midst of suffering. The “new life” of resurrection that Rollins will turn to in part two of the book is lived now as life is found within the suffering and trauma of the world.

Although he uses language and takes it to a level that I am not always comfortable with, Rollins makes a strong and important case in the first part of his book that crucifixion is a crucial component of the Christian life experience–not something to be overcome in order for us to know and live what is true, but something that is to be lived in as where we discover the truth about ourselves in the Christian story.

Next time, we’ll turn to what he says about resurrection. And this is where I’m going to want to part ways with Rollins, in order to embrace a paradox of saying yes to what he advocates while simultaneously saying yes to the hopes of traditional Christian piety.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Speakeasy on Tap book review folks. The Federal Government wanted to make sure you knew this, so that you could have all the information you needed to determine whether I was basically paid advertising rather than an objective reviewer. Of course, I never told the folks at Howard that I’d write a positive review, but they gave me a copy anyway. So, now that you know, you can decide for yourself: will I buy the book, or is this word of Kirk simply too tainted to be believed? I hereby fulfill my duties to the Federal Government.

Barth Together, Year 2

The reading plan for reading through the Dogmatics has been updated on my Karl Barth Reading page. The plan for year 2 entails 35ish pages per week, with breaks sprinkled throughout.

Word on the street is that you can pick up the Dogmatics and jump in anywhere. So if you began last year with good intentions to keep up, but dropped out, jump back on the wagon!

Or, if you never thought about it before, now’s the time to get into the work of “the most important theologian of the twentieth century,” or whatever you want to call him.

The whole set of the Church Dogmatics can be had from Christian Book Distributors for $99.

I look forward to another year of good conversation spurred by brother Karl. Last year’s highlights included getting some thoughts on the table for a more viable doctrine of scripture than most of us evangelicals tend to work with. Who knows what year two might bring?

One year down, 5 or 6 to go! Jump on in!

Advent: Resurrection, Restoration, New Creation

The first advent season, we must imagine, was longer than four weeks. Probably, the season of waiting for Joseph was more like four months, or five. How long would it take before Mary knew she was pregnant? How long before Joseph was told–or noticed?

The first Advent was the waiting-out of a pregnancy. Waiting for the advent of the child that was mysteriously formed.

The beginning of the first Advent was not the announcement to Mary, or to Joseph, by the angel. It was the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our understanding of the work of the Spirit is often so personalized and internalized that we don’t stop to think about an actual physical form being created, taken, sparked to life, by this manifestation of God.

Spirit is what broods over the surface of the deep before the deep is beaten back and life brought forth out of chaos.

Spirit is what goes forth from God in the valley of dry bones, showing Ezekiel that the bones, in fact can live–showing Ezekiel that “dead” Israel can, in fact, be restored to newness of life.

Spirit is what comes upon Mary to bring Israel’s extended exile to an end in the creation of new life, new humanity, new Israel, in the man Jesus.

Spirit is what comes upon Mary to bring to fulfillment the promise God spoke to a people living in fear of the dominion of an opposing king: God has not left you, God has not forsaken you–behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear a son!

Advent is the formation of new life, a calling into being out of nothing, it is a calling into being of a new Israel; it is the promise of life for those who are dead.

Creation begins anew. Israel’s story will be fulfilled.

In righteous Joseph’s season of Advent is recapitulated Israel’s season of Exile. Only now, Israel’s valley of dry bones has already been breathed upon by the Spirit of the Lord, the wind has blown in the womb of the virgin, and the day of Salvation has begun to dawn.

The Stories of Jesus and Paul

Why write a book on Paul for Jesus people? Here’s the quick and dirty:

Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?

Advent and the End of Exile

Matthew begins his narrative with quite the gripping tale. If it takes well-meaning, would-be readers of the Old Testament several weeks before they get mired in seemingly jumbled laws and endless genealogies, it takes their New Testament counterparts all of ten seconds.

Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham–and we get 20+ generations of genealogy to prove it.

But entailed in this genealogy is a story: a story of God’s promises. God has promised a king from the line of David, and God has promised a full restoration of the people–an end to the age of exile.

There was an age of Abraham; there was an age of David; and there was an age of exile (Matthew 1:17). But now the age of the messiah is dawning.

What God had promised to Israel is coming to fruition in Christ. What exile was supposed to do, but didn’t, will now be realized.

“You will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21, CEB).

Of course, this is what the prophet had long ago declared, but which had not yet been realized:

Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her
compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received
from the LORD ’s hand
double for all her sins! (Isa 40:1-2, CEB)

The exile was insufficient to pay for the people’s sins. So not only did the exile endure, so did the sins which were its cause.

Advent is the beginning of the end, the beginning of the age of the Messiah, the beginning of the restoration from exile.

Israel’s story is coming to its culmination.

Or, if you prefer the words of hymnody:

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here–
until the son of God appear.

Telling the story of the story-bound God