Saturday, September 29, 2007

Book Thoughts

How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

Sent to me by my friend Bob Carlton and a huge hit in the emergent community. The point is basically this: we cannot truly speak about God and we must speak about God. God is huger, more complex, more loving and encompassing than we can imagine. The ancient Hebrews put their collective finger on it in handing down God's name (YHWH) which is an amalgamation of letters which are unpronouncable because (1) it has no vowels and (2) it is just too holy. When you come across the Name, you read Adonai instead of what it says. But we experience God in our lives, here and now, intimately. We who worship God do not do so because it makes sense intellectually--it doesn't--but because we have felt the presence of the holy in our daily lives. Thus, God is indescribable and completely describable. How to navigate these waters?

Rollins repeats himself quite a bit, reading like he was given a book contract based on a short paper. That said, it's very readable and well-thought out. Plus it has a second section documenting ten emergent services focused on this ambiguity and creating space for complex interpretations of both God and our experience of her. These services took place (continue to take place) in a bar in Ireland in an inclusive and blurry-boundaried community called Ikon. They are a/theists. They are, in a lot of ways, the future of the church.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Before Retreat

I went on retreat this past week-end to the Nature Center. Before I left, I wrote this:

On retreat. Have resisted it a lot. Long, busy, hard week. AC broke and is expensive. Still unsure about future. Not wanting time away but more time to work on work, get things finished, expanded, perfect. You'd think I'd want a retreat, but I feel guilty for leaving Loving Husband and work, still tied to what's going on back there, frustrated that I didn't bring a novel, and resistant to this experience.

Given all this, I think I really need this retreat. That much resistence to a thing means something. How about in art? I really didn't want to remove all those stitches from "el Shaddai" and it's a good thing I did.

What am I resisting professionaly or vocationally?
-listening to the Spirit (because I don't really want to hear what she says)
-giving myself to art (I might fail, I'll need more classes which take time and money)
-growing up (still)

In batik, you use a wax resist to mark out areas to remain the same color while you over-dye. Those bits get crustier and more prevalent as you continue the project, making a mess, ugly and formless. In the end, you melt off the wax leaving a complex and brilliant pattern. The resist is necessary to the meaning.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Book Thoughts

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
[includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass]

After I read the first book, I bought and devoured the other two in a few days. Pullman is a wonderful writer, bringing his characters and their difficult decisions to life. What will happen? How will they cope? What are they getting out of all this intrigue? What am I getting out of all this intrigue? Lots of people have told me that this series is very anti-God and looked at me a little doubtfully. Would I be offended? I imagine them thinking. Would I be disgusted? Convinced of an a-theistic argument? Um, no.

I fully agree that Pullman has a strong a-theistic bias. Actually, it's more of a Gnostic bias with intense distrust of the Church. Basically, there's this stuff called Dust that the Church thinks is the physical evidence of Original Sin. This one guy thinks, therefore, that it is evil and must be destroyed along with its maker, God. God is not actually God, though, but an angel who thinks he's God (thus, the Gnosticism). Have I lost you yet? Good, 'cause here's the last point: add to this a vast, miscommunicating, and corrupt Church structure of frightened men called the Magisterium. Magisterium, by the way, is what our Church calls the hierarchy, tradition, and pageantry of what we do. And two "children" (actually a 12 and a 13 year old) save the world by turning Original Sin on its head.

What to make of all this? Given the current controversy over Mother Theresa and recent "controversy" over The DaVinci Code, I wonder if we have any idea what we're talking about at all? It seems like everyone thinks the world will fall apart if there's any doubt or criticism, yet we long for controversy. We can't see God or proof of her existence, so we claim that God isn't really God and what we call God is an evil replacement. We can't comprehend how someone could hold such powerful doubt and misery in her heart and yet also devote her life to lepers and orphans--so we make her a saint or we make her a sinner but not both! No, doubt has no quarter in the heart of a saint, nor compassion in a sinner. His Dark Materials can't see the good present in creation alongside the evil and accuses God rather than the Church of corruption. In a book so focused on the goodness of the physical, why call the compass, the knife, and the spyglass "dark"?

See, it's a paradox. Our lives, our faiths, our loves, our deaths--it's all overlapping good and evil, salvation and damnation, beauty and ugliness. You can't separate them out and if you try, you'll destroy both sides. His Dark Material, whether Philip Pullman realizes it or not, is paradox.